Thursday, April 29, 2010

A storm this way comes

a storm this way comes
sky breathing out its anger
shudders its way forward
covering the heartland in
deep layers of darkness and
roaring dissatisfaction

the air singing with the frogs
symphony of shrill calls and
the heavy humidity that lies
like saturated blankets on the
bed of night and shadows
in a soporific stillness

a brutal hailstorm threatens
leaving the shreds of an
awakening garden in its path
and the broken husks of
flowers like confetti
littering the ground

the rain will follow behind
and in the light of dawn
the pooled water in the yard
will be rimmed with pollen
leaving a yellow haze as
it evaporates into the sullen sky.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A little tour around the garden

The weather here has been reasonably good lately, and with a sudden influx of rain over the past two days, the garden has really begun to show signs of life! I thought today I'd do a little blog about the things I've noticed in the garden over the past couple of days.  

My quince shrub is blooming!  I hope I might get an actual quince fruit on it this year, but we'll have to wait and see.
Some of the irises are coming into bloom. I am particularly fond of irises, and at the moment, I have several different colours of the smaller sized ones that are in bloom. Here's one of my favourites!
The fruit trees have also begun to bloom. I lost a few fruit trees over this past winter, but many have survived and are leafing out well. Here are some cherry tree blossoms...
...and also some apple blossoms that haven't opened yet.
I am a big fan of clematis, and I have several in my garden.  I am slowly acquiring more, so that I can cover one of the side walls of the house with a large trellis and have clematis all along the wall.  So far, several of them are looking rather good.  This one is on a trellis that is about 6 feet tall, so you can see it's really growing with great vigour this year.  At the bottom and to the right of the clematis is an echinacea plant.
Here's another clematis that is growing strongly.  This one is called "Avant-garde" and it has lovely magenta-pink flowers that are smaller than some other clematis.  I need to straighten that stake!
Some smaller clematis are beginning to twine their way up this little wrought iron fence piece.  The clump on the right is a peony, and you can also see an iris in bloom and an Asiatic lily emerging.
There are other perennials that have over-wintered well, including heuchera, Japanese anemone, iris, astilbe and allium bulbs in the picture below.  Everything's coming up green!  You can also see in some of these pictures how the grass is invading my beds.  I'm hoping to get brick edging inset around these flower beds in the next few weeks to stop the grass and also to make it easier to mow.
In the vegetable garden, the garlic is growing strongly.  It was planted last fall - if I remember correctly, a total of 8 different varieties.  As you can see, the weeds are dreadful.  Raised beds are also in the plans to try to keep the weeding more manageable.
This raised bed is very easy to weed and is home to my shallots.  Two varieties of shallots were planted last fall and both are doing very well.  The heavy clay soil is very difficult to weed because the hoe can barely cut into it.  Raised beds will be much easier because the soil can be amended and is easier to work.

This weekend's rain softened the soil and therefore made it much easier for Kelly and I to move about 25 arrow wood viburnum shrubs.  These shrubs were purchased from the state nursery by the previous owner of the house, and he had over 100 of them, along with some high bush cranberry, American hazelnut, and a few others.  We decided to use the arrow wood shrubs to create a sort of "screen" from the road, which will be quite effective as they grow.  Right now they range from about 2 to 4 feet in height, so they will need time to fill out.  Here they are in their row along the crest of the slope abutting the road.  Kelly did the planting...

...and I did the digging up!  Here are the holes from whence they were moved!  But as you can also see, there are more to go.  Hopefully we can move some over the early evenings this week before the soil dries out and becomes concrete again.  
Finally, my mouth waters when I look at this huge rhubarb plant coming along.  I can't wait for the rhubarb and ginger jam that will emerge from the kitchen later this year!
Happy gardening all!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Something to put a smile back on my face

Lucky Nickel shows off her dance moves.  Amazing at 2 days old!  I am so grateful and heartened to see her in such good spirits.  I can't help but smile when I watch her.  I thought she'd make others smile too!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dear Puffin...

Dear Puffin,

I was so very sad today to discover you had left me.  Your soul has departed, but your spirit will live on here on the farm.  I will remember the way that you ran and played with the other goats.  I will remember how you loved to have your neck and back rubbed, especially when you were losing your winter furry coat.  I will remember your perfectly symmetrical horns, and your beautiful dark brown eyes.  I will remember the way that the little white tufts of fur surrounded the base of your ears, and how soft they were when I touched them.  I will remember that I bought you for just $35 at an animal fair in Missouri.  I wanted to give you a good, safe home.  I will remember bringing you home with your friend, Stuffin, and wondering if you were sisters.

I  will remember that you were always one of the first to come to the gate when you thought I might have treats.  I will remember your bleating in the mornings, and your tail wagging when you had peppermint alfalfa treats, or pieces of banana.  I will remember how you didn't seem to care when it snowed, and you just kept looking for treats and hanging around with Coffee.

I will remember how excited I was when Valentino's marking harness showed that you had been bred, and I will remember thinking that you would be a good mother.   I will remember seeing you grow larger by the day, and seeing your udder so full of nutrition for your little ones.

I will remember worrying that you might be carrying triplets or quadruplets, and wondering what on earth I would do to help you care for them, but you just kept on eating, as if to say it was no problem.

I will remember feeling your ligaments on Sunday night, and knowing you were close to giving birth.

I will remember the screams you made on Monday morning, and the feeling I had in the pit of my belly when I knew that things were not progressing as they should.  I will remember holding your head in my lap, and stroking your head, and trying to make you feel comfortable during your contractions.  I will remember trying to reposition your baby, feeling without seeing, trying to make things right.  I will remember calling the vet to come and help you, because I could no longer do so.  I will remember that he tried his best, and I know that you were in pain.  I will remember how much it hurt me that we were hurting you.  I will remember the baby you nurtured, that never had a chance to breathe the spring air.  I will remember the tragedy of your first baby, and the miraculous survival of your second baby.  I will remember your trembling body and your distant gaze when you had given up the lives within you.

I will remember the feelings I had when I saw that you would not eat or drink, even when I brought you freshly picked dandelion greens.  I will remember the faint moan you made this morning when I went into your pen, and what I knew in my heart when I saw you.  I will remember realizing that your last act was in giving life, and I will cherish your little girl and do whatever I can to give her a strong future.

I will remember that you were loved, and that you were so much more valuable to me than your $35 price tag could ever begin to explain.  I will remember the lessons you taught me, and I will cherish each memory I have of you in my heart.

Goodbye, sweet Puffin.  Your body is cold, but your memory shall always be warm in my heart.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lucky Nickel

This is a bit of a disturbing post, but it tells the truth about life on the farm some days.  It's not always pretty.

This morning, my pygmy goat, Puffin, went into labor.  I hoped, as always, that things would go smoothly, as they did with Lotus and Coffee a couple of weeks ago.  Sadly, that was not to be.  I could tell fairly early on that Puffin was having trouble.  She was yelling and screaming a lot, which my other goats haven't done, and she was not making any progress.

I did an internal exam, and found feet, but the head was facing backwards, looking over the shoulder.  I grabbed my book on how to deal with incorrect birth presentations, and it said this was the hardest one to correct.  I tried, for about 15 minutes, with absolutely no success.  I called the vet and he arrived in about 30 minutes.  Puffin was standing there with the legs out, but nothing else.  Dr. Nicholson spent a long time trying to reposition the kid with Puffin in numerous different positions.  Unfortunately, the heartbeat on the kid went silent.  I knew from her size that there was likely to be another kid, so Dr. Nicholson did what had to be done in this situation.  He put a wire around the neck of the dead kid, and decapitated it.  It was the only way to get the kid out, and the only way to potentially save any other kids waiting to be delivered.  I watched this with a kind of detached horror.  I don't get squeamish, but I was none the less stunned by the reality of what had to be done.  Once the head was removed, the body and head could easily be taken out of Puffin.  They lay on the straw in her pen, and it was as if I was watching a movie, rather than participating by holding Puffin while all this took place.

I can tell you that this is one of the harshest realities I've faced on the farm so far.  Cutting the head off a baby so that the second baby and mother could be saved was a very difficult but necessary decision.  Seeing it done was simply numbing.  But there was not time to grieve then....because there was another baby.

Unfortunately, the second baby presented exactly the same way, head backwards.  Because there was additional room in the uterus though, the vet was able to reposition her head and use a pulling device to get her out.  The vet and I were really surprised to find that this second kid was alive.  She had been in distress for so long that we thought the second kid would also be dead.  I learned that Puffin has a very small pelvic opening, which makes it very difficult for her to give birth to kids in proper orientation, and also makes it difficult to reposition them.

I cannot even describe to you the sounds that poor Puffin was making during this ordeal.  I wasn't sure she would survive.  Dr. Nicholson administered some pain killers and antibiotic, and was on his way.  The little doeling tried to nurse, but Puffin was exhausted and could not stand up - she just lay trembling and panting in a corner of the pen.  I brought out the Udderly EZ hand milker and managed to get about 4 ounces of colostrum out of Puffin, which I quickly fed to the little doeling.  She took it well and was ready to explore, but Puffin would not even look at her.  She just turned her head and ignored her baby.

By this time, I'd already missed a meeting at work and my first class of the day.  I took the baby inside and spent some time feeding her a little more and trying to get her comfortable.  I kept going out to the barn to check on Puffin.  Every time, I saw her straining, pushing, as if she wasn't finished.  I finally decided I had to do another internal exam.

I determined that she had something inside her, but it didn't feel like another goat kid.  It felt kind of rope-like and lumpy.  I knew this wasn't normal, so I called the vet back again.  We discussed by phone what I was feeling, and he said it sounded like he should come back.  He did, and meanwhile, I missed my second and third classes of the day.  The vet determined that Puffin had a tear in her birth canal such that her intestines were entering into it, and she was feeling that and trying to push them out.  Dr. Nicholson had to sew her vagina closed so that she can urinate, but nothing else can come out, otherwise, she might have pushed her intestine outside of her body.

So, here I am this evening with a baby goat under my desk.  I've named her "Lucky Nickel" in honor of Dr. Nicholson, without whom she would not be alive right now.

I hope that both she, and her mother Puffin, will recover and thrive.  That said, nature reigns supreme here, and I never know what she's going to throw my way.  I'm thankful that 2 of 3 lives are still here tonight, but I grieve for a third life that was never lived.  Puffin will never be bred again - I cannot subject her to the risks, and I cannot subject any potential offspring to the potential fate of this morning's little life lost.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Love is....a lamb who pees on your foot.

Sorry, dear blogosphere, for being absent of late.  I haven't been blogging much and I haven't been reading many blogs either.  Things have been a bit busy here - a wonderful visit for 5 days with some friends visiting from Canada, sewing tablecloths for an upcoming charity event (why did I think I'd have time to do that?), cuddling baby goats, celebrating my 41st birthday (gulp!) and the usual mess of school (exams approaching in the first week of May), work and other sundry things.  I've scarcely got time to do this post, but somehow writing a blog post is a pleasant break for me, so as I sit here eating my supper at 9:37 pm (because I finally finished the tablecloth sewing), I thought I'd do a quick update.

My friends arrived last Wednesday after long delays in Chicago due to miserable weather.  I was so excited to have friends from home visiting me here.  Although my parents have visited on a number of occasions, nobody else has visited me since I moved here nearly 8 years ago.  Sometimes that makes me sad.  It's hard to make strong friendships later in life when you move somewhere new, so I cling to the old friendships I have but they are all long distance.  Having visitors for 5 days made me stop work, school, and all the usual things, to enjoy their company, enjoy laughter, enjoy having 2 extra pairs of hands to help out with some farm and garden projects, and above all enjoy the luxury of stopping to smell the roses.  Well, the roses aren't out yet, but the daffodils are!  Here's one of the projects we accomplished - edging one of the garden beds with bricks to make it easier to mow around, and to stop the ever-encroaching grass from taking it over.  We also planted 3 new fruit trees to replace some of those that didn't make it through the winter.

The 4 baby goats that have been born so far are energetic, healthy and incredibly cute.  They sleep...

...they get weighed...

...they sleep some more...

...they play...

...and then they sleep.

So, back to the title of this post.  You may recall Amethyst, who was one of the bottle lambs from the blue-faced Leicester ewes.  She had been doing well and had gone outside to live with the rest of the flock.  She fit in well and was enjoying life in the pasture.  Every morning and evening when I took out a fresh bottle, Amethyst would fall all over herself to get to it, and then she would be unable to decide whether to suck on my finger or the bottle, although I could usually convince her that the bottle was the better option.

On Sunday evening, suddenly, she didn't come over when I brought out the new bottle.  I went in and checked her out.  She seemed a little slow...a little lethargic.  No other signs.  I took her temperature - no fever.  I thought maybe she was weaning herself.  I kept an eye on her.  The next day, she still didn't want the bottle.  She was a bit droopy, and she developed a pathetic little lambie cough.  Also, I noticed that as she breathed, her sides were really heaving in and out, and she had some foam around her mouth, accompanied by grinding teeth.  I was getting worried.  I turned to my trusted book - Detecting, Diagnosing & Treating Lamb Problems, by Laura Lawson.  I went through the charts and determined that the most likely problem was pneumonia caused by aspiration of milk into the lungs, which is not uncommon among bottle lambs.  I gave her a shot of Excede, a broad spectrum antibiotic, and hoped for the best.  The next morning, she still didn't want her bottle, and she was still coughing, but she seemed to be having slightly less trouble breathing by the time I got home from work.  This morning, thank goodness, she was eager for her bottle.  This evening when I got home, the bottle was empty and she was eagerly trying to get milk out of my finger once more.  I sat on an upturned crate that I have in the pasture, and picked her up for a cuddle.  She gets all wiggly and excited when I pick her up, and can hardly keep still in her attempts to lick my face, suck my earlobe, and sniff me all over.  Today, in her excitement, she generously relieved her bladder all over my foot.  As I sat there holding her, looking at my wet foot, I couldn't help but smile and hug her a little bit more.  You see, a lamb who pees on my foot is a lamb whose body is functioning properly, who is definitely drinking well, and who is therefore regaining her health, and that was all that mattered.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baby Goats!

It has been a very busy week around here and I haven't blogged in 8 days!  Gasp!  Sorry for the absence but it seems that life is getting in the way of blogging!  I think it might be that way for a little while with all the goings-on around here, but I'll try to keep up to date with big news.  So, speaking of big news...four baby goats have been born in the past 2 days on Whispering Acres!
Both Coffee and Lotus had their babies 2 days early, meaning that Coffee's were born on Sunday and Lotus had her babies today (Monday).  All of them were fathered by Valentino the angora buck, who you may remember from the "Green Goat" post last year.

Coffee had two adorable doelings both weighing just over 2 lbs each.  They are both bright white all over, despite Coffee's dark colouring.
Weighing them is fun - we have a hanging scale that goes to 200 lbs, so it's a little hard to be precise in the 2 lb range!
Coffee is a very attentive and caring mother and is very distressed whenever the cat comes nearby!  Of course, since her two babies aren't much bigger than my bantam white chickens, she probably has good reason to be protective!
I just can't get enough of giving these girls kisses and cuddles.  They are inside the barn to ensure they bond well with Coffee and also because we are expecting some really bad storms over the next few days.

Lotus also had two babies - a buckling and a doeling.  They both weighed just under 2 lbs each.  I'm not sure if that's standard for Nigerian dwarf-Angora cross babies or not.  Lotus was pretty huge herself.  She had some trouble with the delivery so I had to assist with the first baby, but after that she was fine with the second.  Here she is still laying down with her two little ones, immediately after their birth.  I had toweled them off a bit for her.
They, too, were quickly up and looking for milk.  I'm really pleased about both sets of goatlings - they seem very healthy and have good sets of lungs (judging by the sounds they make!)
Some quick internet research seems to indicate that white is dominant in angora genetics, so I am assuming that's why all the babies are white despite their multi-coloured mothers.  I hope their fleeces can be harvested and of course, white fleece is lovely for using with dyes, so here's hoping my F1 "pygora" generation grows up strong and healthy!  In the meantime, I just can't seem to wipe that smile off my face!