Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Great Race and Other Critters

EmmaLouMoo needed a return trip to the vet. Her mastitis hadn’t totally cleared up and as I had to drive into town to get the medications, I figured we might as well take her along and let the vet administer it since needs to go in the back of her ear and I am in no shape to wrestle with her. Luckily, the mastitis never got to the point where there was any heat or swelling or blockage, the milk just didn’t filter properly so I wanted to nip it in the bud.

On our last trip to town there were 20 bald eagles going after something in one of the hay fields. We were amazed as we have never seen a group of eagles like that before. It made us feel very patriotic, but only for a minute then considering the state of our country and the character of our leaders just made us feel profoundly saddened.

Focusing on the task at hand is the only way to put those thoughts aside. We checked in, the vet was in surgery so we grabbed a quick breakfast and came back, ran Em through the chute and she was good to go. A couple of hours in the farm store looking for parts, a few minutes at the grocery store picking up salt and such things and we headed home through a heavy hail storm.

It was a week both challenging and satisfying. We picked up turkeys on the last trip and they have grown considerably. Never having had turkeys before (with the exception of inheriting an old tom turkey who would chase cars and prevent anyone from getting out of their pickup trucks) it is a new and fascinating experience. With chicks, when you put your hand in the brooder to feed or water, they generally scatter in fear. The turkeys however, are curious, they crane their little necks out and sneak up to have a look. One  of them, who we call “Mr Peepers” because he is so vocal, has become so tame already that when I put my hand in, he runs across the brooder and jumps in my hand. He likes to be held. We have been totally captured by their personalities. I think I see the possibility of a pet turkey in our future.

Mr Peepers was really raising a ruckus one night so we took him out and put him on the floor to see what he would do. He was distressed to be alone so we grabbed one of his buddies and put them together. First he began to strut, which sent us into paroxysms of laughter. Then the two of them began running unbelievably fast around the room, ducking under standing dogs who froze in place, not sure what exactly was taking place. They ran and peeped and squeaked and whistled and did figure 8’s all around the room. Randy and I were holding our sides with tears running down our faces at the hilarity of it all. Then Mr Peeper’s actually revved up his engine to an even greater speed and ran smack into the old milk can standing by the wall.  I have no idea what he thought he was doing, but only a couple of minutes later, his buddy did the exact same thing. That was the end of us. It took a very long time to recover and get Mr Peepers and his buddy back in their trough. I am pretty sure I sprained my face and we both came very close to needing diapers. Between the road runner turkey poults and our hooting and gasping, the Maremmas didn't know what they should do. They just stared at us with perplexed looks on their faces which didn't help our case one bit.

My cheesy greenhouse made of aluminum frame and greenhouse cloth was crushed last winter by a snow slide off of the roof. We put up cattle panels wired to T-posts this time, for greater support, cut some drip hose to put over the ends so nothing sharp would damage the cover, and put it all together. It was a nearly perfect fit and all that is left to do is put cement block around the bottom to secure it, put in a heater and my seedlings and the turkey poults can go in until they are big enough to live outside.

I was in the bedroom folding laundry when I heard a *crash*. I searched the house to see what had made the sound and noticed there was no red reflection coming out of the trough the turkeys were living in...
sure enough, the bulb was shattered. Mr Peepers was directly under the heat lamp. I could swear I saw a halo of little stars spinning around his head. Earlier in the day he had nearly succeeded in jumping out of the trough. His compatriots were huddled on the other side as far as they could get from it, but shards of glass were even sticking out of their new little feathers. Afraid they might peck at the glass and injure themselves, I gathered them up, shook them off, scolded Mr Peepers, who I believe was the guilty party and carried them out to the green house. I made a makeshift pen for them and waited for Randyman to return to help with a more permanent arrangement.

He brought cement block in from the ranch boneyard and we fastened down the edges of the greenhouse, made a suitable home for the poults and Randyman put up my 12x12 corral for Sushi while I milked Emma. It is Sushi’s last chance to sweeten up and get friendly before I decide to haul her off. I am hoping she will turn her attitude around and make a good milk cow, but if she doesn’t I will have to sell her or send her off to freezer camp. So far, she does seem to be responding, now that she has no way to run off. She’s very intelligent for a cow, which is part of my problem. If she would only use it for good instead of for evil...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feathers and Strokes

Sometimes things take planning and other times they just come together. I am sort of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl so planning, orderliness and organization really isn’t in my skill set. But I do try and accomplish a variety of things everyday, at least on the days when I am feeling bouncy-happy-almost-painfree. I milk my cow daily and that sort of sets a precedent for a bunch of other chores I have...such as processing the milk, skimming off the heavy cream to use in sour cream, whipped cream and other products or yummy heart attack on a plate sauces. (My alfredo sauce is literally to die for) Actually, it’s just not so that my whole milk is not good for you. It does pack a lot of calories drinking it this way tho. I digress. Sometimes I have little visitors that help with the milking chores.

With normally just me and the Randyman to consume, I have a LOT of excess milk. Em gives me 2-3 gallons a day on once a day milking. So some of it goes to making mozzarella, cream cheese, ice creams, ricotta, hard cheeses, etc. For someone who has never liked domestic type work, or cooking, I find that making our meals from scratch to be a lot of fun. I also hate running to the store for ingredients so it makes sense to me, to have the basic elements on hand to make whatever we need. One of these things is a grain mill and another is a pasta roller. Now a pasta roller would have been a TON of fun when my kids were little. 

I had a hankering for lasagna. I had plenty of mozzarella and I also had ricotta that Is made from the leftover whey in making mozzarella. I went down the list of ingredients and lo and behold, I had all we needed, if I was just willing to take a little more time putting it together.

First off I needed meat, so grabbed some of the ranch beef out of the freezer and a bit of italian sausage I had made earlier from ground pork butt. (the pork butt was from the store). With the tomatoes I canned, I tossed all the stuff I needed to make the sauce into the pan. Meanwhile I grabbed some fresh eggs, the ricotta, parsley I had dried over the summer out of the garden and the cheese filling was ready to go.

I then grabbed a couple more eggs (warm them to room temp) and mixed them with a cup of freshly milled soft whole wheat flour to make my pasta.  After it rested a bit, I ran It thru the pasta roller a few times, cut it to lengths I liked and hung it to dry for an hour. I then assembled the lasagna, put it in the oven to bake and stood with bated breath while Randyman tasted it. He went back for more so many times, half of the 9x13 casserole dish was empty! He made sure to ask me to make that dish again...and again...and again. It was a bit labor intensive but it was worth it.

Ain’t nuthin’ like the real thing, baby!

Meantime, drastic weather changes which affected me, I suspect they also affected my old Golden Retriever, Cider. I came in from milking to find Cider by the door, unable to rise. I thought maybe he'd had a seizure or injured himself. I petted him carefully and gave him some time to relax as he was very rigid. He's been getting skin tags and knots and I was worried about cancer as well. He's going gray and not able to catch just anything we throw like he used to. It's hard to see him slowing down.

Cider was a gift from my son and a friend one Christmas. He's been my constant companion and personal jester. He has helped bring laughter out of my tears through some very sorrowful times. He's just that kind of a guy.

He is also a champion babysitter to all things cute and small...

 Little spuds

Orphaned newborns


and small....

He's usually pretty relaxed and laid back...

He's really quite simply, irresistible.

I was really concerned about him, and frankly, both Randyman and myself were afraid we would wake up in the morning to find him 'gone'. I had laid him down behind the chair I sleep in a lot. Next morning, I steeled myself for what I might find and when I arose, I turned to find an empty space where he had been. Assuming he had passed away and Randy had gone to bury him so I didn't have to see him that way, I burst into tears. I headed into the bathroom only to find Cider asleep on the papasan chair pillow Randy had put on the floor for him. I guess he had managed to get up in the middle of the night and stood by the bed for over an hour until Randy finally realized he needed help.

He spent a miserable night, in pain, unable to rise or lay down by himself. I filled him full of Rimadyl, a canine painkiller/anti inflammatory and we hauled him 2 hours to the vet the following day. She verified he had indeed had a stroke, but he was improving rapidly. The hours of rigidity threw his back out which caused all his major problems so he is on seizure watch and medications and doing really well. He's back to his old self already. Hopefully we will still have a couple of years before I have to say goodbye to him, my best of friends.

While in the booming metropolis of Burns, Oregon, which is so large, it even has a Dairy Queen, we went by the farm store to buy him a new toy. We also found turkey poults. So Cider got a new squeaky toy and the Maremmas got baby turkeys. I love happy endings. Don't you?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What a weanie!

Sushi Moo continued to outsmart us in our attempts to wean her from Emma. She first managed to pull the teat thru the bottom of the mud-flap we put on her halter. I resorted to a medieval torture looking device with prongs on it to discourage her. She managed to maneuver a teat through the hole on the top of her weaning ring. We taped that closed so she could no longer work it thru to her mouth. 

Things went along swimmingly for a few days. Then Emma’s milk production started dropping off a little more each day. I felt guilty, as I was apparently late for milking each day, because an unhappy Emma was always standing at the gate dripping from an overly full bag, looking miserable. Then one night, I noticed that one of her rear quarters was quite definitely less full than the other. That night the milk wouldn’t strain, indicating congestion. That explained the full bag. She had been letting down for Sushi early in the day, who only took a little bit, not relieving the congestion in her udder, making for one unhappy cow.

Sushi had managed to figure out if she turned her head sideways, she could push the ring out of the way and grab ahold of a teat from the bottom. It was more a slurpee experience than a full on meal, but she could get Emma to let down her milk again for her, instead of for me. The result of doing this to her mother several times a day resulted in Emma coming down with mastitis in the quarters that were continually full. She also got her into the habit of letting down for her and not for me.

I quickly stripped her out and administered an antibiotic teat infusion. There was a large knot in the back of her rear quarter, though no heat and apparently no pain so I was hoping I had caught it quickly. I milked her 3 times a day to keep the udder as empty as possible to discourage bacterial growth and applied lard and cayenne over the knot at night and a mixture with peppermint oil by day to help break up the mass. The mass was a wee bit smaller but I didn’t want to take any chances, so we made an appt. to drive her into town to the vet. That way if a culture needed to be done, it could be done and we could use whatever antibiotics would be effective.

I was going to have to get up early and drive her the almost 2 hours into the vet clinic on my own as they were busy putting together the ‘Beach Hut’ down at the hot springs. For years, people have come from far and wide, trespassing on the ranch’s private property to soak in the hot springs and using the internet to invite all their friends and strangers to do the same. Multiple efforts have been made to discourage this, including a fancy sign that was routed out, on posts sunk in cement, alerting people that it was private property and access was by permit only. The trespassers built a bonfire and burned down the sign. The boss had his guys build a fence across it. Someone drove their truck thru the fence.They painted ‘private property’ on the galvanized tin that was part of the windbreak by the spring. They tore the tin off. Increased risk of cows getting out or hurting someone, the liability for someone acting stupidly and getting injured on the property and trying to sue, the amount of trash, wine and beer bottles left around, a few unsavory visitors, naked gay guys, more than a few naked young people, graffiti and the family having to chase people off when they themselves finally had some free time to go down and enjoy their own springs, brought the inevitable conclusion that  if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So a lot of work is being done putting in a parking lot, camping sites, showers, private tubs and a ‘beach hut’ where supplies (like trunks) can be purchased. With a ton of work to do on that, while still running an enormous working ranch with a large population of cattle, everyone was busy all the time, Randyman included.

Having only 1 vehicle for the past 10 years I don’t do much driving. Actually, truth be told...I don’t do ANY driving. I can’t say I was looking forward to the experience, but I didn’t want to let things with Em get worse before we got a handle on it. Randy mentioned to the boss, that I was going into the vet with her by myself and he immediately made re-arrangements with everyone else’s schedules to allow Randy to drive me in. I love our ranch family. Not everyone works for someone like that. Not everyone even KNOWS someone like that and that consideration and compassion seems  to be a character trait ingrained in most of his family.

We borrowed my nephew’s horse trailer since ours is full of hay, and loaded up EmmaLou, Annie and Shugar, the baby goat. I decided since we were already making the trip, I’d let the vet disbud Sugar as I am not comfortable holding her still enough to do it. The last goats we disbudded didn’t turn out so good. Out of 6 goats, we got back 11 horns. I decided it was time for a demo.

Putting the Maremmas in with the sheep we bounced down the dirt road to the booming town of Burns, OR. Emma did not enjoy her ride there and was anxious to get out of the trailer. She wasn’t paying much attention to where she put her feet and missed the step down, landing on her knees and nose, sort of melting out onto the ground. Somewhat embarrassed, she shook herself off and we cajoled her into the hydraulic chute. Things looked like they were progressing pretty well. The vet felt she is pretty much over the mastitis, but one more infusion and some banamine to help fight inflammation and hopefully take the nodule down a bit more would do the trick. I just need to strip her out for 3 more days and we can go back to our regular milking again. I have no idea what we are going to do with Sushi.

While there, we decided to have Emma preg checked. The vet said she “felt like she might be bred, but her tract is too long and I can’t get my hand far enough where it drops off to be sure”. She decided to use the ultra sound. This time it looked less likely that she is bred. Instead, we took some blood for me to send in to BIOpryn to see if they can give us a better idea. I have suspected she is not, but there is no way to be certain. If she isn’t, that means I have to milk her through, which means we are not likely to be able to go to California next winter. Not a good thing, as family only stays a few days, if they are able to make it up here.

As we ran around town doing our errands, I pondered again, how folks are in SE Oregon. Total strangers always offer a friendly hello and start a conversation wherever you go. Sometimes they offer information a Californian would never want to give out, one fellow not only giving us the general direction of where he lived, but telling us landmarks of how to get there. Where I used to live,  a person would be nervous someone might come and break in, steal, or harm you or your property, if they knew how to find you. You never gave information about where you lived. In SE Oregon, folks hope you will come by and enjoy a visit. Of course, in California, most people have little more than a bolt lock, pepper spray and a cockapoo for protection, in SE Oregon everyone has rifles, shotguns, handguns and a slew of working dogs. Not many rely on locks here and there’s not much crime. In fact, the West Oregon shooting this year was stopped by a citizen with a CCW pulling out his gun. The shooter saw it and turned his own gun on himself. So yeah, we feel fairly safe here.

Folks are neighborly and life here is more like a Norman Rockwell painting than the sadly tarnished and crime ridden culture that has overtaken much of the country. With so many out of work and so few jobs for youth these days, there isn’t much for them to do besides get in trouble.

One of the things I notice that is very different from when we lived in the city is that when we go into the local township, we mostly see men instead of women, out and about often with toddlers in their arms or at their sides. This is a culture of working ranchers and farmers mostly and there is a strong sense of family. Dads are able to find the time to run the errands for Mom while they are picking up feed, tractor parts or whatever other errands they themselves might have. Kids here have an opportunity too few kids have today and that is unlimited access to their fathers, as most families work, eat and play together. 

We made a last ditch effort of weaning Emma. I ordered a case of weaning rings with NO holes, but has nasty bumpies and pricklies which this time, I faced outwards towards EmmaLou. I figured if SHE didn’t enjoy the experience, perhaps she herself would finally take the necessary steps to convince Sushi that nursing was no longer an option. One night she gave no milk at all, her bag completely dry. The next I got a gallon and a half. Last nite I got 2, but she had already let down and was dripping. The milk was getting hard to filter again, so I don’t know if she is letting down for Sushi, if Sushi has found a way around THIS weaning ring as well, or if it is just coincidence. I suspect Sushi has something to do with it. She always seems to be in the center of a problem. If so, she’ll be leaving soon. Maybe to go live with some of the boss’ cows, maybe to a freezer near you. Not sure, just know I am awfully unhappy with her at the moment! 

BioPryn contacted me. EmmaLou is not pregnant. More bad news.
I'll have to ask the boss about borrowing another bull before they are ready to breed the ranch cows. He's always been very generous to us about such things. Like I said, who wouldn't want to work for them?

I have begun milking little Annie. She is a fabulous little goat. She stands perfectly still, even though she had never been milked before. She is NOTHING like my drama queen Nubians were. She is dainty, quiet, well mannered and delightful. The only drawback is, I am getting only 1-2 cups of milk. But Shugars is nursing full time and Annie is a first time mama so I won't judge her poorly for not supplying me better.

Oh well. Back to soaping. Summer is almost here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mundane and Miraculous

It was a wonderful week full of renewal. In the space of just a few days my little flock of sheep all lambed and Annie, the goat, had her baby. They were all doing so well together I decided to turn Annie and ‘Sugars’ out when Sug was just a day old. All the animals were enjoying going out to the pasture and wandering around looking for weeds, while the Maremmas watched over them. There have been a couple of nice days in between storms. This particular day there was intermittent wind and hail but the animals could access their normal pasture with its protective shelter if they needed to, so I didn’t worry.

Bruno helping midwife Thing1&Thing2

Salty's ramlet

Rosemary and Thyme

Sugars and Bruno

I neglected to remember the different habits of sheep and goats, however.
Ewes tend to keep their babies very close. If the lamb cannot keep up, the ewe remains back with it. Cows will usually find a babysitter cow and leave their calves with her. Goats...well, goats tend to hide their kids somewhere and then take off for the day. Annie was bred very young and it was a concern for me how she would do having her baby and what kind of mother she would be. The wind was blowing terribly and hail was coming down and actually hurt as I wandered down to check on everyone, finding all the sheep and lambs together with Annie. Just Annie. No Sugars. She could have hidden her ANYWHERE! She didn’t seem the least bit concerned, although of course, I was. It’s just my nature.

I trekked thru the weeds...LOTS of thistle, downed trees, branches, all to no avail, while Annie followed me! I was worried she had forgotten all about her kid. The sheep fell in behind me and everyone went to their night pasture. I checked around in there, in each tire that sits around a sprinkler. In all the trees and brush piles. Every depression that Cletapotamus has dug. No goat baby. It was getting cold and dark. I was worried she was out somewhere in the pasture alone where she would starve or freeze. At least predators would not be a likely demise with the Maremmas around. The cold made my back spasm and ache. I desperately needed to sit down somewhere. There is a large plastic 2 step mounting block I have out there for just such a purpose. I settle down on it, praying about this poor little goat and appalled that Annie would leave her. Annie stood by me, sniffing me and nibbling on my clothing.

 I turned away from her and reached down to pull some leaves that were sticking out of the hole. That is a cut out in the back of the step for storing hoof picks, brushes....

...and apparently baby goats. Sugar was inside, snug and dry. She was, however, unable to get back out. There wasn’t enough room for her to get turned around. She began to cry and Annie got hysterical as she would not come out, so I lifted the block up onto a feeder where I could better reach her. Grabbing ahold of her back legs I struggled with her as she was now in a full blown panic, sure I was going to pull her out and eat her. After a few traumatic moments I extricated her. Trust me, it was easier to pull her out of Annie’s caboose then out of that mounting block.

The last ewe to lamb was my psycho ewe. She went into labor in the morning and I observed her out in the pasture. She wasn't making any progress at all. Hours later I decided something had to be wrong so I spent 2 hours trying to get her and her bad attitude into the lambing shed. I left for 20 minutes to see if she would settle down, relax and have her baby but she was clearly struggling. As she is very difficult to catch and hold, I grabbed my gloves, lube and other birthing tools and headed out to find help. My nephew, the ranch cowboss was breaking horses in the round pen and kindly came to assist. It still took a good long time to deliver her ramlet, as he had his head tipped back above the pelvic rim and one front leg all the way back. To add to that, he had a huge crowned forehead that wouldn't fit through her exit. Once I got his head positioned and was certain all the parts were his and I'd fixed all I could fix, she hollered and every time she pushed, I pulled. Eventually we got her boy into the world.The ewe had been traumatized by hours of discomfort and an agonizing delivery. She was breathless and fearful. I quickly cleaned all the stuff away from the lamb's face and set him in front of her. Everything that had transpired in the past several hours was totally forgotten as she excitedly licked her newborn and welcomed him to the world. I am always amazed at the miracle of life. It is something to behold and I never get tired of witnessing it or being a part of it.

The babies have all been spending time with the Maremmas, who are like their kindly ‘uncles’. They are all perfectly comfortable with them and the pups clearly adore them. They are never but a few feet away. There have been great horned owls hanging around the house lately and Randy has been afraid they might nab one of the lambs. I have seen them pick up a cat, so its not too much of a stretch to think they just might. The dogs have been working hard to try and discourage them from landing in any trees near the stock. Lately, Cletus has had to sleep inside with the sheep while Bruno patrols on his own. All in all, they stay pretty close to home and don’t really like the lambs out of their site unless they are on their ‘visiting hour’ in the house with us. They only agree to that when the stock is safely locked up in bed. Pretty amazing, these dogs.

I had a couple of glorious days where I was feeling strong enough to play with one of my horses. Mister seems to appreciate the attention as he’s had a lonely winter back in the pasture by himself. I can’t turn him out with the cavvy for a couple of reasons.
 #1 They would eat him alive as he is a sissy stall potato horse from California 
#2 He would freeze his caboose off as he is a sissy stall potato from California
#3 He has no social skills and no idea how to interact with a herd because he is a sissy stall potato from California
#4 I like having him in close where I can visit him whenever I want, instead of having to wait until the cowboys bring all the horses in, early, early, obscenely early in the morning to catch their mounts before turning them out again. This way I can ride when I am actually awake. 

I did have a couple of truly horrible days too, where the autoimmune issues just kicked my butt. I cannot stand to let things go undone. On one morning when I was particularly indisposed with pain, I decided there WAS an activity I could manage. The seeds need to be started.

So I managed to gather up my trays, seeds, plastic spoons, tweezers (kept with the garden stuff for just this purpose, uni-brow be d@mned.)
 I soaked the peat pots in the tray before moving. I then set it on a large metal tray and carried it to the ‘craft table’ which is a big plastic table that is in the back of my very small house to do things such as cutting out patterns and sowing seed. The biggest problem I have had in the past has not been getting the seed to germinate, but keeping track of what everything was. So  now I put a sticky dot in front of each row of seeds labeling what it is, the row number and the date. Afterwards, I break part of the end off of plastic spoons and mark it again, placing the spoons INSIDE the cover, so everything is twice marked.

 Once they germinate, they will go into the bathroom window, which is the only garden window I have. From their they will be put in the greenhouse...which at the moment is laying in a heap. I think I can salvage the cover and use cattle panels to rebuild one. Oh, what a woman can’t do with cattle panels, t-posts and baling wire. It has been the substance of all things sheltery in my life.

Anyway, I was able to just sit quietly and use my tweezers to poke seeds into the soil of the little peat pots and set them in their rows. So far there are San Marzano tomatoes, jalapenos, a chocolate colored hot pepper, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. I have others I will do in a day or two. Other than the stiffness in my hands, it was a good activity for me in the current state I was in and it put me in a better frame of mind, dreaming about what will be when these seeds produce fruit. I stared at the little cabbage seeds in wonder. They are blue because they were treated but they are tiny. So tiny. I marveled at how something like these...

can produce this....

and help to sustain our lives. If that isn't a miracle I don't know what is.

That afternoon, the clouds lifted, the sun came back out and my pain levels went from an 8 to a 2 in a matter of minutes, as quickly as it had come on. So strange that the barometric pressure should be able to have such a powerful affect on a body when I have lived with it all my life! At any rate, I was so happy to feel good, yet again, I grabbed Mister, we had a good ride and Randy got a quick pot of spaghetti for dinner. Things are looking up!

Everyday miracles. They are all around us. Go forth and enjoy!