Monday, October 31, 2016

Out in the Dark

Boo!  A ghostly white dog glowing in the beam of a flashlight seems an appropriate image for a post made on Halloween, doesn't it?  Especially since a Windigo is an angry spirit creature summoned by cannibalism. Yikes. I can't think about spooky things before I venture out into the dark to check on all my creatures though.  We don't have electricity in the coops and animal barn, so Wendi and I roam the dark by headlamp making sure everyone is comfortable before we go to bed.  

I like to glance behind me at the comforting glow of the windows in the house, but I'm also aware of how alone our little house looks in the dark on nights with no moon.  There are no neighbors porch lights or street lamps to help me keep my baring, and rarely does a car pass down the road with a streak of light.  There are thousands of twinkling stars in the big sky.  

We make our way to the mobile chicken coop that's parked in the garden, first.  The coop has reflectors along the bottom which gleam in the beam from my headlamp.  

Wendigo usually sniffs along the perimeter while I go through the garden fence to check on the flock and close their door.  I'm used to seeing her giant white body show up in my peripheral vision now, but she can still give me start when she pops out from behind a dark obstruction.  She's whiter than any other object on the farm and her eyes glow green in a flashlight beam until she looks away and then there's a flash of red in her eyes.  Spooky!  

The chickens and guineas are all tucked away for the night, and I do a quick head count by color to make sure everyone one is accounted for.  I've noticed that the mamma chicken and the mamma guinea sleep side by side with their chicks against their bodies.  Goodnight chickens.

All of the animals stare at me from their beds with blank expressions at night.  I talk to them sometimes so they know it's me, but I can tell that they can't see my face.  At least they know that the night creature with glowing head that stops by each night isn't a threat, and they don't bother getting up.  

Rufus lays in his stall with his backside near the goats and his face looking out toward the open pasture.  The goats snuggle in their hay against the gate by the donkey and under their lean-to shelter.  Goodnight Rufus.  Goodnight Goats.   

This rooster casts a cool shadow.  I can make cool shadows too!

Look out chickens, it's a giant lama rabbit trying to pinch your heads!   Aah!...  Chickens have no sense of humor after dark.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rufus is the Cutest

Isn't Rufus adorable?  I know everybody thinks their donkey is the cutest donkey, but I really think my donkey might actually be the cutest of them all.  

He's got the softest nose.  And the fuzziest face.  And, he takes a good selfie!  

His teeth are a little scary sometimes, but even though I continue to get warnings from people about how mean an intact male donkey can be, he's never tried to hurt me.  He's still very young though.  The good thing about a donkey is that they show all their emotion with their ears, so I can tell when he gets wound up or nervous.  I saw him bite Peaches right on the face when she was being obnoxious and sticking her face in his pen and crying for his food.  He tucked his ears flat against his head, tucked his tail between his back legs, and grabbed her whole snout in his teeth and pulled hard.  She cried.  She also stopped being so obnoxious.  

The goats and the donkey all hang out together in the barn, but I always keep the gate between their stalls closed, and they take turns with the pasture.  Most of the time, if Rufus has his freedom to roam, he hangs near the barn with the goats, and they do the same thing.  Only twice have they all been together without a fence separating them, and both times Rufus chased the goats into the barn while they ran for their lives and cried.  I'm not sure what his motives are.  I think he just enjoys chasing them, but they don't seem to enjoy being chased!  For now, we follow the good fences make good neighbors policy.  

Since we only have one fenced in pasture right now, our workday routine is for the goats to have their door open to the pasture as I leave for work, and then Rufus gets his door open when I get home and the goats get shut in and fed some hay for dinner.  This allows Rufus all evening, night, and early morning to graze, and the goats can graze during the day, which is usually when Rufus is snoozing in the shade anyway.  Whenever I feel sorry for Rufus locked in his stall, I remind myself that his stall is a similar size to my office, and I don't even have a window!  We have plans to build a dedicated yard so he has more room when he's put up, and also have plans for him to have a donkey buddy too.  It's a good thing he's patient.    

What a belly!  I don't know why I was worried that giving him wormer would be hard to do.  He was calm when I squirted the apple flavored worm medicine on his tongue, and didn't try to spit it out.  I read that a wormy donkey will look pot bellied.  Maybe I should give him a second dose!

There are some advantages to sharing the pasture like he's doing with the goats.  Apparently, goat parasites are not the same as donkey parasites.  And the parasites are deposited on the grass in the manure.  If they both eat the grass, they will eat each others parasites and reduce each others exposure.  Gross.  Also, keeping Rufus put up during the day means that it's super easy to collect his manure for the garden, since he leaves it in the stall instead of out in the field.  I was bragging to a work friend about how great it is to get an entire scoop of manure everyday for my garden compost, and he said "You are so weird."  He has no idea!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We Have Fire! And Camouflage.

It's so warm!  On Sunday Brandon and I were able to finish the stove pipe that goes from our new wood stove into the chimney liner inside the old brick chimney.  We had to use a hacksaw to cut some pipes to the right length, and use some special metal screws to hold it all together.  So far, everything is working like a charm and we don't have any smoke escaping.  Now, before the glass door gets all smoke stained, it's lovely to watch logs burn while we sit on the couches.  Steam comes from the dragons nostrils quickly, because the stove gets hot fast when the damper is open.  

Brandon thinks the stove pipe and the stove in front of the fireplace looks kind of strange, but I don't mind it.  I like strange.  You can see the heat shield that we installed over the horizontal pipe near the wood ceiling.  When Brandon told me the chimney liner installer said we needed a shield to protect the ceiling, I imagined a big shiny metal thing, but this is just a slightly larger black pipe that rests on ceramic spacers on screws on the chimney pipe, so there is a gap between the pipe and the shield. It looks okay to me.

This stove came with an electric fan that bolts to a plate that covers the back of the stove.  There's an inch or two of space between the back of the stove and the plate, and the fan blows air into this gap and sends warm air blowing out of that space and into the room.  Nice!  It's like setting a box fan behind the stove to blow the warm air around, which I've seen people do.  The fan is kind of noisy, but it has a handy switch so we can turn it off if we don't want it to blow.  I like being able to stand near the stove and have a warm breeze.

Now that we have a working stove, and Brandon has filled our wood shed, I'm almost ready for some cool weather.  Did you see the frost on the grass this morning?  Our hot tub has been out of order for months now, but a new part is on its way, and Brandon has a repair plan.  Once the hot tub is working again, I'll be ready to accept that winter is coming.  To block the cool breeze from the goats and donkey, I hung a lovely camouflage tarp on the north side of the shed, and on the gate near where the goats sleep.

Rufus was terrified of the tarp at first, but I think it was because he didn't want camouflage decor!

Peaches wasn't sure about the pattern either, but she has enough manners not to complain.

Once Rufus got used the flapping tarp, he discovered how much fun it is to yank on it and create chaos playing with the tarp.  I have a feeling we are going to be winterizing the barn with more sturdy materials very soon, since the tarp isn't going to last long now that it's his new favorite toy.  Silly donkey.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wood for the Winter

If you remember my posts from last fall, we were busy building our rocket mass heater stove.  Last winter we used a combination of electric baseboard heaters and kerosene most of the time, since the rocket mass stove we built wasn't very reliable.  This year, the plan is to use our new wood stove, once we get all the pipes put together.  Just as a comparison, the rocket mass heater had hours and hours of labor invested in it, but only a few hundred dollars worth of duct work, straw, and perlite, since we scavenged the bricks and dug up the clay from the yard.  The new wood stove only took a few minutes to carry into the house, but the cost of the stove plus the expense of having a professional install a new liner in our chimney puts it closer to two thousand dollars.  If we get what we pay for, then this stove better work!  

We have some firewood already stockpiled, but we don't think it's enough to get through the winter. Fortunately, all of our big pretty ash trees that grow in our fence lines have died over the past few years due to the emerald ash borer.  This is sad, but also nice that we have several years worth of firewood standing and drying out, just waiting for Brandon to chop up.  He felled a few small ones, and then this big tree.  

Because the tree died recently, it still had most of the small branches, and when it crashed to the ground they broke into kindling laid out in a tree shape!  How handy, right?

 Now comes his favorite part - chopping up the logs!  Chop, Brandon, chop!!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Past Time for Pie Time in the Kitchen


It's past time for pear pie season to start, for sure, but with most of my energies focused on my new goat and donkey friends, I haven't dedicated much time to kitchen projects lately.  With my parents here for a visit though, we managed to pick some pears right off the tree, slice them up with the handy apply corer machine, and bake them into buttery crusts.  

I made these crusts with that delicious Kelly Gold butter, and they were some of my best so far.  We made a pear and cinnamon pie with a crumble topping, and a pear and vanilla custard pie, and took them both to a family Oktoberfest party.  I didn't get a picture of the final pies before we decimated them, but these pies were so good they were inspiration for more pie.

Sometimes our kitchen is such a disaster I have a desire to take it's picture and show you (is that Grimace in the window?). By the end of every day, after cooking breakfast and packing lunches (three cheers for cutting back on eating out!), and all the other things we're doing, every surface in our kitchen is cluttered.  I like that our kitchen is a work place, and it's small enough that I can get it back in good enough shape to fix a simple meal pretty quick, but we can clutter it up even faster.  How do two people who are gone most of the day make such a mess? Brandon and I once gave each other New Years resolutions.  I resolved that he should throw garbage in the garbage can instead of leaving it on the counter, and he resolved that I would close the drawers and cabinet doors after I open them.  I was never that good at resolutions.

The kitchen isn't exactly finished either.  There still aren't handles on the cabinet doors, and there aren't even doors on all the cabinets! Despite the kitchen's small size, our storage is better here than at our old house, but there are shelves that we planned for that haven't been built yet.

Whew, I can breath a little easier once I get the kitchen picked up and wiped down, and ready for the next mess to be made.  

One of the messes I've been making this week is to boil rice in too much water to make rice water for Wendigo to drink.  Wendigo had an upset stomach for a couple of days, and I read that one way to help is to do a rice water fast for twenty-four hours.  

Wendigo has a big appetite to match her ever growing giant puppy body, so denying her food for a whole day was a little like torture for her, and us.  Also, she does not like Pepto Bismol, so in my struggles to squirt it in her mouth, we would both be splashed with bright pink spots.  But, she's all better now without a trip to the vet or any medicines, so hopefully it was worth it.  The chickens enjoyed all that mushy rice.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Everybody Loves Leashes

Hooray for Rufus - he finally got his head tied to a post! As you can tell by his expression, of all the new games we've been playing, like taking the halter on and off, or having ropes or towels draped on his back, being tied to a post was not his favorite game so far.  But this was a big accomplishment for us, and I was nervous to try it.  It's a step we needed to make before we can call the farrier or the vet, so we celebrated with nibbles of sweet feed until we both got used to the idea.  

Rufus actually seems to like the attention of getting his halter put on.  He comes right to me, and holds his head still.  The leash (my horse owning friend says I'm supposed to say "lead rope") isn't scary to him anymore either, and he lets me clip it to his halter.  Yesterday, he even let me lead him by the leash (yay! our first walk with a lead rope!) to a sturdy post so we could try tying him up.  

A few days before, Brandon and I stood outside the fence and called him over, and then tied him to the post while we were on the outside.  Tricky of us, right?  Then we sat in the grass and watched him while he figured out he couldn't get away.  I was worried that he wouldn't want to lead to the post since he might remember being tied, but he was cool with it.  For a few kernels of sweet feed, he might do anything!

Our game was interrupted, again, by Wendigo.  Rufus is staring into the distance at that little white spec, which is Wendigo, chasing the route of the neighbors car after it sped up their driveway.  Sigh.  I had to untie Rufus and go bang on the dog food can until she came home.  But, once she was back, Rufus let me lead him to a different post and tie him up again.  This time I left him while I went to retrieve the curry comb and when I came back he was calmly waiting with no tension on the leash.  I think we got this!  

The dogs and I are getting better at walking as a pack too.  Unless I'm trying to manage them both with one hand, while I take pictures with my phone with the other, I'm able to keep us organized and be the confident pack leader that I know Caesar the Dog Whisperer wants me to be.  When we get out of sync, we stop and wait for Rufus to catch up with us.  When things are going well, they calmly sit side by side and wait for me to stop talking baby talk to the donkey over the fence.  

This is what happens when I loose my focus - a doggy pile up!

Walking with Peaches on a leash is a different experience.  She darts and pulls in every direction looking for tasty nibbles.  I like to bring her out of the pasture so she can eat a diversity of plants and brambles, but I have to stay within site of the other goats or she gets upset.  No one is happy when Peaches is upset, believe me.  

She likes to climb into little trees and eat the leaves and little twigs.  If she ever gets ten minutes alone with one of my fruit trees, the tree will be toast!  She's taller than me when she's on her back feet, and she knows how to bend the branches down and call for the other goats to help her hold it in place so she can eat it.  I'm tempted to just let the goats out without any leashes, since they like to follow me, but I'm afraid I would loose total control and they would end up on the roof of the house eating the satellite cables or something equally destructive.  We like leashes.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I Watch Them Eat

A friend of mine recently said to me, with sort of a confused look on his face, "I just can't imagine spending so much time with goats."  Since I can't imagine spending time sitting in his basement watching soccer games on TV, I can see why we don't hang out more.  

Do you know how many animals we have now?  I had to write it down because I don't have enough fingers to count them!
  • 2 dogs, 3 cats, 1 donkey, 3 goats, 5 guineas, 4 roosters, 12 hens, and 3 chicks

That's thirty-three digestive systems in action, so just feeding them and managing their manure gives me daily reasons to move my muscles that I enjoy. Despite my parents best efforts to encourage physical activity in their bookworm daughter (as a child I tried t-ball, basket ball, marching band, karate, water aerobics, gymnastics, and gym memberships), other than swimming and hiking for fun, I've never really gotten hooked on any hobby or sport that requires physical effort, but I like gardening, composting, and taking care of animals.  I really think spending time with goats is good for me.  Besides, I like to watch them eat.  Maybe that's weird to televised soccer enthusiasts.  

Peaches is especially fun to watch eat.  She eats like she really likes her food.  It's fun to bring her samples of different plants and see what she likes, or walk with her while she takes bites of different plants.  We both like plants, so we get along pretty well.  She even ate a bunch of sorghum leaves, which later I read are on the poisonous for goats list! 

If you look at my recent YouTube posts, it's mostly boring clips of my animals eating.  And I watch them!

Watch Rufus eat his first pear (it's like watching a sloppy toddler!). 

Watch Peaches eat some leaves (It's filmed in real time - she actually eats that fast!).  

Watch Rufus eat some sorghum seeds. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

More Goats is Better

I overheard Brandon talking on the phone to a friend who must have asked why they never see us anymore.  Brandon said "We've made a series of strange life choices..."  and I think he was referring, in part, to the fact that on Friday I brought home two more goats!  Peaches, our female Nubian, now has two little Nigerian goat friends.  They are twin brothers with blue eyes, and came with the names Light River and Dark River.  

Peaches is relieved to have goat companions.   Rufus the donkey and I are relived that we don't have to be goat companions.  Unlike the River Brothers, who's little cries sound like a baby goat from far away, Peaches can project her loud goat scream directly into the brain of whomever she thinks should come pay attention to her.  Ack!  I wasn't sure how the answer to an obnoxious and pushy goat could be getting more goats, but that's what I was told, and so far, it's worked wonders.  

In my quest to find a goat, I made contact with a lady who breeds top notch Nigerian milk goats.  Her does were out of my price range (my range was right about even with with an obnoxious and unwanted goat that had been mauled by dogs and trampled by horses - hello Peaches!).  But even still, this lady offered to have me come to her facility and learn about goats.  On Friday I spent three great hours watching her and a team of young people manage her heard of over a hundred adorable goats.  These goats were fat and glossy and treated like thoroughbred horses - extensive barns and paddocks, top notch hay and grain, daily monitoring of their condition and milk production, plus they were doted on by the farmer and her crew, who knew every name and their bloodlines. 

I got to practice milking a goat, trimming hooves, and squirting an herbal mixture down a goats throat as a preventative against worms.  I got to meet the stinky male goats with their impressive beards and silly expressions, and see the breeding pens and watch an attempted goat mating.  I even got to give a tiny baby goat a bottle!  We lounged in the grass and played with an entire herd of mamma's and babies while we talked goat and they chewed on our clothes and climbed in our laps.  

At the end of my visit, I was gifted a bale of excellent hay, an entire bag of top quality goat feed, some mineral supplements, some herbal wormer and the required syringes, and Light River and Dark River.   The farmer said she was thankful that I would give a home to two of her wethers (castrated males), since she had extra's, and said she hopes I will call her whenever I have goat questions.  Peaches and I are thankful, and my goat keeping confidence has been boosted after getting to watch professionals in action and getting some practice.  
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