Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bella's Baby Blues

last night was hard. i shed some tears and am still extremely tense. friends who are boarding bella and button called. bella's showing signs of birth/labor, but there's no baby. we went over immediately and sure enough there was string of gunk hanging out indicating that her water had broken. the sheep are extremely skiddish. we stood in the pasture with a flashlight on her from 20' away and watched her contract and push... or at least i think she was pushing. that went on for 20 min or so. then we left the pasture but stayed outside. i fed the baby and watched, wondering what to do. it had been a long time. was she culled from this big sheep farm because the farmer saw something that i don't know? i got really concerned- with our goats, when they start pushing the baby comes right out. me too. the body does the work until the very end. if there's pushing with no baby, something is likely tangled up. So we went back in, this time forming a human wall with the 5 able bodies we had, and slowly crept in on them (this was after several minutes of them running frantically before we had our act together). We cornered them and caught Bella, got a collar around her, and held her down. I then gloved up and...

Stop reading here if you're squimish.

... went in. I immediately found feet. I pulled them out some, determined they were front feet then went looking for the head. That was a mess. I was all in there and completely unable to detect a head for quite some time. I finally did find it, but couldn't get it lined up. This is where I started crying. Bella, it seemed, had given up. She laid there doing nothing. No contractions, no pushing, nothing. I felt the baby move so was moderately encouraged yet at the same time, knowing this baby needed out. Farmer Hub gave it a go and too, would find the head, line it up, go to pull then lose the head again. He and I traded places again. We didn't know what to do. Who do you call at 9pm on a Friday night? We're not country enough for anyone to really know more than me... not that I'm an expert. My summers on a dairy farm is all I really knew about birthing livestock... and this sheep was not behaving like a cow. Everything would seem lined up fine, but when we'd start to pull, Bella's bones would close up tight and not let the head into the birth canal. She'd close up so tight that I could barely get my hand out. I started to really get scared. Finally, our friend called a friend just to get advice. That advice was to line it up as best as we could and leave her alone. She was scared and stressed and that was causing the pinch. So that's what we did. As soon as we took off the collar and stepped away she was up and running. We cleaned up some and sat in their living room for a stretch while one read online about lambing problems. We then remembered we still needed to do our 3rd milking for the day. The kids, on the other hand were having a great time playing with our friends' kids. Farmer Girl could have been left behind and wouldn't have missed me at all.

Me being rather emotionally spent, Farmer Hub did the milking while I got kids clean and tucked into bed. I kept praying for a call that all was well. None came.

This morning I woke up rather early, my back and neck screaming from the stress and tension. It was a couple hours later when we heard anything... and that was still no different. Right now she's laboring and pushing hard. She's laying down and working. Everyone is giving her space. We were supposed to bring the sheep home today anyway so, basically, we've made the decision that if the baby's not out by afternoon, we'll bring her home, put a bullet in her head and do our best at a quick c-section. If she can't deliver naturally, we really can't keep her anyway. We would butcher her and fill our already full freezer with mutton.

This is an extremely tough call. But I don't know what else to do. Even if we called in a vet, we would have to deal with the fact that she's not able to deliver... or at least that's all we know of her. How many attempts do you allow a ewe to do before she's culled? Oddly enough, I feel much better with this plan than when I was digging around, elbow deep and not having a clue what to do. I came home beating myself up thinking the stress of catching her and feeling her was what did her in, and maybe so, but I think, more realistically, that we really did make the best decision and have the best plan we can think off.

And we just continue to pray that her body will open and allow her to push out this lamb. I'll be happy if either of them, mama or baby, survives at this point.

And here's the update... when we got there this afternoon, I knew immediately that the lamb was dead. There's an unmistakable smell and once you've smelled it, you never forget it. I was immediately transported back to one of my first days on the farm where a c-section was needed to get out a stuck twin. They had me assist the vet... probably to see what the city-girl could handle. The calf came out badly deformed, grotesque and unmistakably dead. Same smell today. We caught Bella pretty quickly and given that I could barely get my hand in, I know she was worse off now than last night. We brought her and Button home. Button was set free in the pasture and is doing rather well with the goats already. Bella... was put out of her misery as quickly as possible. This is where I asked my husband if I needed to be tough or could I wuss out. He and our friend gave me permission to busy myself elsewhere. So I left to buy ice just as the shot was fired. I busied myself milking while the baby was pulled out. I went to the neighbor's to retrieve the kids while they butchered her.

I've shed a lot of tears now, for a baby who was supposed to live, for a mother who was supposed to nurture. Though hind site says we should have made the tough call last night, I would never want to do so that quickly. I don't think I would have done anything differently. That helps my own emotions some but I still have 2 dead animals. I can just hope for better for Button, who actually is much smaller. I picked out Bella (and our friends' Valentine) because they looked bigger, older, like they were proven mothers. I chose Button because she looked younger and would have more years in her. But I do specifically remember at the breeding ewe show at the county fair, the judge discussing the wideness of the hips. I thought I was watching for that too, but maybe there's more to look for than just how wide apart their legs are when standing.

Its the end of a very sad story. One more class in the school of hard knocks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Garden Update

What a rocky winter its been for a garden! It seems since summer I've managed to have a single crop keep us in veggies! Right now we're getting lots of lettuce, eating off our sweet potato stores, occasionally pulling some radishes, but the rest is sorely lacking! And then I've discovered this "thing" growing in one garden where we'll be planting next month. I don't know what it is. I saw one loose in the back yard a couple months ago and thought it was a chew toy from the neighbor's dog.

Given the horrible conditions for growing seeds, I've started some inside. This is sitting on our old kitchen table in the family room with absorbant "chucks" and a towel underneath. I've got a 90 watt halogen flood light on it for about 15 hours a day. We'll see how it works! We're going to build a mini green house in the fall so this doesn't happen again.
In other garden news, I'm baffled as to why 100 years ago the local farming community got on the map because of cabbage farming where now I can't get a single plant to head up. I've grown them all winter, fertilized faithfully, and they just won't form a head. And yes, they are heading varieties. None of my brassicas have done anything worth while but bok choy. I'm looking forward to spring, longer days and constant temps... even if the bugs come too.


Here's a quick picture of Angel. She's very good at what she does and very unsure of what she's supposed to do.
We purchased a shock collar to help with her training. I've heard great things about these tools, but I'm hoping it gets better than our first experience. She was completely unresponsive to it until she was wimpering in pain. Its clear she wants to please us so I think its just going to take more time until she recognizes the lighter tingle (or better yet, the sound) as an indication that she's doing something wrong.
With that said, let me share a story from yesterday. Sunday night, Noel went flakey on us. She started to leave the pasture in her normal 3rd place milking turn, but then bolted deep into the pasture. Normally she lets me approach her and scratch her ears, etc, but not then. It took Farmer Hub and I both to catch her to milk her out. Monday morning, same thing... only Farmer Hub was already gone to work. Angel was in the pasture but Dulcinea doesn't let her get too close to the goats... in fact Dulcinea, being rather big, is quite mean to Angel. Another issue to figure out. So, I locked Dulcinea in the dog kennel so Angel could work with me. Keep in mind, this dog is basically completely untrained. She could tell I was chasing goats so lit in chasing Fudge and Copper. But she quickly figured out that I was only after Noel. In a matter of a minute or less, Angel and I had her cornered where Angel then chased her straight into my arms where I had a leash waiting. I tethered Noel to spare her the stress for the next milkings. This morning, she was very cooperative!
And now with THAT said, it seems she doesn't have a few characteristics I'd like her to have. For example, she frequently gets ganged up on by Dulcinea and Copper and she just runs away. This morning, I look out the window to see a strange man walking across the yard. It was only the meter reader, but there wasn't a single peep from Angel. How do I train her to be at least a BIT more guarding? Do I soak pictures of coons in blood and wave them under her nose? Any advice will be appreciative. I still think we got the right type of dog, that is herding vs. guarding... I just need to know how to train her to do what doesn't come naturally.


Another goat buckling was born last week. I had the notion to see about swapping 2 bucklings for a doeling, We got way better than that!

Here they are loaded into our hatchback to travel through bad weather.

And here's Dulcinea, a 3/4 lamancha milking doe who kidded last tuesday. It was a short trip and she laid down the whole time but she still just barely fit in the dog crate!

Here's her sawed off horns. Her only downfall. We like our animals to keep the defenses they have, but if you insist on having hornless goats, do it while they're young... but sawing??? Poor girl.

She's got a great disposition. This is her first kidding, she's 2 years old and she's better on the milking table than our veterans.

This is what was left of a day's milk. Milking 3 times a day and drinking it happily! We're getting about 3 quarts a day from our 3 does.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Noel had been looking large for a while. Every morning I'd check her tail tendons to see how close she was to birth. Putting a finger on each side of her tail, right in the little pockets, you generally feel what feels like a thin pencil on each side. Those get soft as birth approaches. I checked her on Friday evening (Jan 22) and said, "It won't be tonight." Famous last words.

We went to sleep and were woken up at 3am by my phone ringing- it was a friend calling to take us up on the offer to help her get her newly adopted Haitian children who were coming into the Sanford airport that morning. I was thrilled to get the call- her kids were coming home! As we got the details, we heard Noel making the unmistakable sounds of labor. Farmer Hub went out while I finished the phone call... he delivered his first goat before I ever got there.

He's a beautiful, blue-eyed buck who looks just like his daddy, Copper. Noel did a great job cleaning him off. The only reason I interferred at all was because I wanted to make sure he could nurse before getting back to bed. We named him Prince (for Port-au-Prince). Noel continues to be a great mother though I'm struggling getting milking back into the daily schedule. When she's giving more (and he's getting less) I'm sure it will be more exciting to do. Now, well, its an awful lot of work for 3 oz.

And while my friend's children did not get to go home that day, they are home now and doing GREAT. Glory be to our Most High God who delights in adoption- He adopted us!

Bella and Button

The crazy catch-up continues.

The same late night excursion that involved the dogs also involved 3 pregnant sheep. While on looking for dogs, I happened to notice katahdin sheep for sale at a good price. I've been keeping an eye open for them closer to home to no avail. So being able to get sheep and dogs in one foul swoop, be it 6 hours round trip, we jumped at it.

We wanted 2 pregnant ewes and some friends also wanted us to bring home one for them as well. We found ourselves at a huge farm near Inverness where the owners of the sheep opened up a barn containing about 100 ewes and said to pick. We grabbed 3 that looked for sure to be pregnant. 2 looked bigger (assuming older and proven) and white and one was small, light brown, presumably younger. They were rather unhappy about moving but we did eventually get all three loaded into the back of my father-in-law's truck. Farmer Hub rigged up his orange construction fencing contraption and we went driving down the road rather paranoid that they were going to have some issue with our transportation method.

After picking up the dogs we headed for home and stopped by at our friends' house and dropped off all 3 sheep. Looking at them again, I think the farmer may have been culling them based on the state of their tail dock (they were recent acquisitions of his). 1 tail was quite short, another quite long and the little brown one not done at all. That's fine... they'll do fine for us. If we thought getting them into the truck was hard, getting them out was even harder. I ended up getting my shoes, socks and much of my shirt rather saturated in sheep pee. The sheep have been happily mowing our friend's pasture all week where, had we immediately brought them home, we would have been supplementing all their feed given that the pasture is quite brown right now. They also would have been in a tizzy getting used to the goats and dogs all at once. So glad we can bring them home later!

This past Friday morning, my friend calls excitedly saying there was a lamb born! I hurried over and found a sweet white ram born to the ewe they had claimed. They named him Valentino, which I find to be rather appropriate given that we hope they will keep him for us to breed our ewes with next time. Our sheep, whom we named Bella and Button, are still pregnant and looking large. Hopefully we'll have them home before they lamb, but if not, I know they'll still be in good hands.

But no getting attached to lambs... they will likely be named Chop, Roast, Samosa or something of the like. I may be able to attach a picture soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Puppy and His Boy

So after Farmer Hub crunched the numbers and valued a laying hen at about $80 a bird, we decided a dog would quickly earn its keep in a year. And thus began the adventure. We started reading about Border Collies and Australian Shepherds and decided to go with a Border Collie. We didn't go with a more protective dog for several reasons... we didn't want a MASSIVE dog. 50 lbs is about my limit, let alone that big dogs flat out eat more. Secondly, we haven't heard of a good guard dog that can really handle our heat. I don't think I'll mind it coming into the air conditioning on a REALLY hot afternoon, but I don't want it to need that to thrive. Thirdly, we're not dealing with coyotes, wolves or anything really nasty. We need something to chase off racoons, possums, jagarudis, a fox and very rarely a bobcat.

So, why a BC? The "care bear stare" as I've called it, began looking more desirable versus nipping the more I got considering that it will want to herd our children as well. I've also read that Aussies tend to be a bit more hyper on the watch dog end... meaning it could bark at every little thing that moves. BC's are supposed to be a touch smaller than Aussies also.

The hunt began... and quickly ended. I checked an "Ocala 4 Sale" and found 2- 7 month old border collies being given away. I called and other than them not being fixed, they sounded great. The owner wanted the 2 to go together. Her hours had changed and the dogs were stuck in a crate for 10 hours a day. Knowing we wanted only 1 dog, we still took both thinking we could at least give it a better temporary home while we found a permanent home. We also thought they would help each other through the adjustment from being total inside pampered dogs to total outside working dogs.

I was wrong.

We headed out Friday afternoon, crossing almost the entire state, to retrieve these 2 dogs and some sheep (for another post). The adventure began. Little Farmer Boy #1 happens to LOVE puppies. His birthday followed a few days later. I was so busy with the acquired animals that I had no time to neither bake his birthday cake nor construct his tire swing gift. I made a quick batch of cookies and we decided the puppies would be his "gift" (though the tire swing will hopefully be constructed tomorrow). The pictures are of him interacting with said puppies. The top picture is Angel. The darker faced dog is Saint.

We've decided to keep the female (whom we re-named Angel)... who just seems a touch more intelligent. She's also a bit more wiley, but does her job with MUCH less barking. Saint (the male) is a joyful, affectionate handful. He's WAY too into his new job. When we first let them into the pasture, they immediately herded the goats to about a 50 square foot area. Then I was able to keep them separated by a poorly constructed dividing fence for a couple days. They soon found a way over the fence and continued to torment the poor little goats. Angel alone allows the goats space. Saint, alone or with Angel, now insists on the goats being ALL the way in the BACK of their little shed and then proceeds to BARK CONSTANTLY. We end up just putting him back into a chain link kennel (which has been graciously lent to us by some neighbors). I read bits in a dog training book where it advises ignoring the dog for bad behavior. Right. That's like giving public high school students "the eye" to get them to obey. Its gotten me a big fat nowhere. Besides, the dogs are so distracted by one another that I can't work with them at all anyway. We're really hoping to find a new home for Saint as soon as possible, but honestly, would rather see him put to sleep than used as bait for dog fighters (the fate of many dogs listed for adoption).

But as for Angel, we're making headway. She's been tested for heartworms (negative), has had her rabies shot, has an appointment to be spayed in several weeks and has a proper dog house and training collar on order.

And what to feed them? Well, we can't do anything by the book... or at least not conventional books. We didn't quite believe all we were reading about commercial dog food being the best food for a dog. That they can't digest and will get horribly sick from raw meat and bones. So we read what Weston A. Price had to say on the subject: Feed them raw meat and bones. A vast many health problems stem from them NOT eating what God designed them to eat. So... I fed them a couple big raw beef bones I had for broth. They LOVED them! And this from dogs that have shown almost no interest in food at all, including these prized "doggie treats" that dogs are supposed to love. Then, yesterday as we were slaughtering chickens, we fed them each a chicken neck. Angel was enjoying it so much she was thoroughly PLAYING with her food! They ate them quickly and were begging for more! Now, I'm sure any dog owners will freak here and say that chicken bones are too splintery and will puncture their intestines. Please, read the article linked above. It was QUITE convincing that this is a lie that almost everyone has come to believe. My midwife doggie-sits for a family who feeds their dogs an entirely raw diet comprised of mostly chicken parts. So... we saved the wingtips and necks of the chickens and have them in the freezer for future meals. We'll be making their change slowly so as to not totally disrupt their system. We also may not be able to make ALL of their food, but hopefully commercially processed food will be only a small fraction of Angel's standard diet (given that Saint will be gone before we are fully into a raw food regime).

And there's the start of yet another adventure... and hopefully the end to loosing chickens to predators!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

stay tuned

im woefully behind. so much has happened in 2 weeks. farmer hub is axiously awaiting the beginning of today's slaughterfest. im nursing while waiting for some friends to swap us birds for kids (they're watching the older 2 while we slaughter their chickens. we totally got the short end of that stick!) so... stay tuned for reports on:

1) our acquired dogs

2) our acquired sheep

3) goat birth

4) garden status

and of course 5) todays slaughterfest.

let the fun begin!