Garden Planning Redux

I realize that the middle of winter is not a time most people are thinking about vegetable gardening but…..on these shorter, colder days when I miss being outside working in the garden, the only way I can “garden” is to create my garden plan.

My 2014 garden looked like this:

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So, wanting to ensure that I rotate through the years, for 2015 my plan is to move everything one row to the left, taking the far left row and moving it to the extreme right.  This does mean that one row of tomatoes and one row of greens occupy space that grew the same things this year, but over time each vegetable will grow in a different space, taking what nutrients it needs to without depleting the soil too much.  My plan for 2015 – so far – looks like this:

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We grow only those things that we eat (duh!) so the garden will always contain many of the same things: greens, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions.  However I like to experiment with varieties, always searching for those that grow best in our climate and environment.  For 2015 I am adding several new varieties of tomato and pepper, a new onion and a couple of new varieties of Kale and Mustard.

I expect that between now and Spring, my plan will be tweaked numerous times and the final draft will probably look substantially different than this, the first draft.  But, I had to start somewhere.

HWA and I have also been discussing the possibility of a completely new garden space next year – one which will be devoted to pumpkins, squash and melons.  Since these are all things that like to spread, we are picturing a space fenced off (to keep the animals out) in which we will simply throw seed out and let them grow.  We’ve even considered not weeding, hoping that the spread of the vines there will largely block the growth of other things.  How lovely it would be to be able to harvest a large quantity of squash and melons without expending the labor-intensive hours weeding and tending.  We shall see.

Our Goat Herd Doubled Last Night

Our perpetually pregnant goat is….pregnant no more.  Last night she delivered – apparently without difficulty – a set of twins.  Is there anything cuter than a newborn lamb or kid?  If there is, I don’t know what.

We have been on kid watch for weeks now with the doe giving me several “false” signs of early labor.  More than once she exhibited with mucus dribbling out of her vulva and I thought “here we go”, only to have it dry up and for life to go on as usual.  Meanwhile the goat has grown steadily bigger and her udder became impossibly huge.  By the end the poor thing was practically waddling due to the effort of moving her back legs around the basketball between them.  Here she was a few days ago:

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And this was her udder last night:

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As you can see above, she had mucus again last night but like the boy who cried wolf, I was less inclined to think of that as a sign of imminent delivery.  A better sign to look for in goats is softening of the tail ligaments.  For several weeks I have been feeling daily for signs that the ligaments were softening in preparation for birth.  Last night I thought they did feel a little mushier than before but they were definitely still palpatable.

But as the night wore on they apparently softened altogether and by this morning I was greeted by this:

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Mom is Savannah and Dad is a Boer.  The kids have the coloration of Boers though interestingly they are both dark brown while Dad is light brown.  Mom is still recovering from birth so I didn’t want to stress her further by trying to pick the kids up and examine them but after getting a quick glimpse at each rear end I am cautiously hopeful that they are both bucklings.

Too much excitement

We had more excitement here yesterday than we needed.  Mid-morning I looked out the window and could see that one of my Dorper ewes – a first freshener – was in early labor.  Signs to look for?  She had lost interest in grazing, eating hay out of the hay walls or even staying with the flock.  Instead she was off by herself, head hung low to the ground.  I ran out and moved her into one of the lambing jugs and then went back into the house to take a shower.  Sheep seem to be a little shy about giving birth with an audience and more than once I’ve left for “just a little while” only to miss it altogether.  Yesterday I figured the best way to ensure the lamb was born, was to leave for awhile.  However by the time I returned, nothing much had changed.  I decided to wait her out since I really did want to be present at a birth, and my Dorper ewes, being the calmest and friendliest, seemed the best candidates to allow it.

So I pulled up my lawn chair, grabbed my Kindle and with a thermos of hot tea, I was all set to wait and watch.  After some time had passed, during which she moved around a good deal, pawed, lay down, got up, walked some more, pawed, lay down….over and over….I looked up to notice there was a bag of fluid hanging out.

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I expected things to move pretty fast at this point, but over the next hour or so, not much changed.  Eventually I saw a tiny pair of hooves emerge and based on their orientation I decided there was nothing to worry about – they were facing the right way for the lamb to be presenting front legs first.  However an hour and a half later she hadn’t progressed at all.  She was pushing hard and on each push the hooves would emerge but would then recede back inside in between contractions.

It is hard to know at what point to intervene but with this being the first time for this ewe, and with her being a smaller ewe bred back to a large ram – and knowing that my other ewes have delivered in far less time – I decided to glove up and see what was going on.  On the next push, I grabbed the little hooves and tried to pull when she pushed.  The lamb was vigorously objecting to me pulling so I was glad to know it was still doing okay, but after many tries, we had made no more progress than before.

The ewe was starting to get distressed, bellowing with each contraction, and getting up and changing positions every couple of minutes, clearly frustrated that her hard work was not producing results.  I was also getting quite anxious.  I didn’t want to lose the lamb but more importantly, I didn’t want to lose this ewe.  I donned a fresh pair of gloves, lubricated with some KY Jelly, and this time inserted most of my hand, trying to feel for the problem.  I could feel the lamb’s head – and even stick my fingers in its mouth – so I knew the presentation was correct.  The problem must be that the shoulders are stuck.

Honestly at this point I’d love to say I knew what the solution was, but in reality I just got lucky – and learned something for the future.  When the shoulders are stuck, pulling on both legs at once doesn’t help as it doesn’t change the position of the lamb.  Where I got lucky was that on the next contraction I grabbed just one foot and pulled – quite hard – and suddenly the leg slipped loose and emerged almost the entire way.  I now realize that by rotating one leg all the way forward, it “slimmed out” the shoulders so that they could pass through the area in which they were stuck.  Having delivered one leg, on the next contraction I was able to ease the head out, and from there the rest of the lamb slid out easily.

The ewe immediately started licking off the lamb – a little ewe lamb.

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And within a short time the lamb was on her feet and figuring out the nursing thing.  Two hours later, when I took the ewe some grain, the lamb was dry and getting the hang of her long, gangly legs.

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This was the first ewe who needed assistance and I’m so glad I was there.  I’m also glad I put together a “birthing kit” a few weeks ago “just in case”.  Not knowing for sure what I’d need, I put in some old towels, disposable gloves, KY Jelly, a nasal aspirator and some antibiotic ointment.  Under duress I was thankful I’d done that as I was able to run up to the house, grab the kit and be back to help her in no time, once I realized she was struggling.

Freemartins….or no?

Several years ago I learned about a phenomenon that occurs in cattle wherein the heifer (female) calf out of a set of male/female twins will almost always be sterile.  She is either born without ovaries, or with non-functioning ovaries and although outwardly she appears female, she will often behave rather masculinely. Last year our flock of sheep consisted of a ram and three ewes, so we anticipated at least three lambs.  However only two of the ewes produced lambs leading us to wonder if the third ewe had miscarried or was sterile.  It was not until a few weeks ago that in researching something else, I stumbled upon a reference to the freemartin syndrome in goats and sheep and learned that it happens “occasionally” in both.  A lightbulb went on.  We purchased the three ewes knowing very little about them, including whether they were the result of single or multiple births, so there was every possibility this ewe was the result of a male/female twin birthing and therefore could be a freemartin.  She does not behave with any masculinity – in fact, she is the shyest of all of them – but as I’ve watched some of the other ewes grow larger with obvious pregnancies over the past few weeks, and watched their udders slowly develop, I gave up looking for the same signs in this ewe, believing her to be infertile. Until last night.  While they were grazing I caught a glimpse of her vulva as she lifted her tail for a second, and it was noticeably pink even from my distance.  So while graining I determined to check for signs of udder development.  She made that easy for me when the time came, getting down on her knees, butt in the air.  I wasn’t certain but thought – maybe – her udder was slightly less flat than it was a few weeks ago when we trimmed hooves.  Maybe. I reported to HWA that our freemartin might in fact be pregnant, though she clearly wasn’t anywhere close to delivery.  We’ve been on kid watch with our goat doe for several weeks now and feel sorry for her carrying an udder the size of a basketball around with her.  We have two other ewes with well-developed udders as well. This morning I checked the flock at 6:30am as I do every morning, and even before I got to the pasture, I heard a new little voice bleating.  To my astonishment, when I got to the gate, I saw a very newborn lamb – still soaking wet – lying next to……the suspected freemartin.  Who just last night I noticed for the first time might be starting to develop an udder. No pictures yet.  This ewe really is skittish and moves away any time I try to approach.  I’ve not even been able to determine if the newest member of our flock is a ram or ewe lamb yet.  Either way, we shall call it “Surprise”.

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Liver and Onions

I mentioned here that I would provide the recipe I use to cook liver and it really couldn’t be simpler.

First I dice up an onion or two and sauté in a little of the fat I save from every bird I process.  While it is sautéing, I cut the liver into bite-size pieces and dredge thoroughly in flour that has a little salt and pepper added to it.

Once the onions are golden brown, I remove them from the pan, add a little more fat if needed and wait for it to heat, then add the liver.  It only needs to cook for a few minutes on each side until the flour is browned and crisp.  Then I add the onions back in to mix and reheat and a minute or two later it is ready to eat.

I am no nutritionist so I won’t try to provide the specific benefits to eating liver except to say that it is high in many valuable nutrients.  It is an acquired taste – I can’t say I loved it from the first bite, though I grew to like it quickly – and after eating it, I feel good; energetic and like I can take on the world.

Modern society shuns organ meats but in my book they are definitely worth revisiting.

Surprise, surprise

While on kid watch (still no kid(s)!), I’ve been checking on the flock/herd regularly to make sure no one is in labor and needing assistance.  However even with regular checks, it is possible to surprise me.  I did an early morning check at 8:30am a couple of days ago and found no one obviously in labor.  A mere four hours later I hauled more water out to check again and was greeted by a couple of new – and very young – voices:

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This is our first set of twins and the black/white combo was a huge surprise.  We’ve temporarily named them “Ebony” and “Ivory” until they can be tagged.  The white is a ram while the black is a ewe lamb.  Mother is a second time Mama who is taking it all in stride, cooing to them in that particular language the ewes reserve for their newborns.  Despite extremely cold temperatures in the 72 hours since their birth, both lambs are doing well, nursing and learning to operate those long, long, legs.

Kidding

It was Charles Dickens who wrote in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  That is what I am feeling today as our one and only goat doe prepares for her first kidding.  On the one hand, we are excited to finally have a kid (or kids) after the trials of raising goats for the last 18 months.  On the other hand, the weather forecast for this weekend uses words like “arctic”, “ice”, “snow” and “wintry mix.  And, the overnight lows on both days of this weekend are forecast to be around 7F (-14C).  In other words, lousy conditions to bring babies into the world.

Because our doe and buck are together all the time, I did not see a mating occur, so had no idea of due dates.  Two months or so ago, I noticed that the doe was looking rounder, but wasn’t sure how much to attribute to pregnancy and how much to putting on some winter weight.  However around Thanksgiving she started to develop an udder, which was the first clue that she was closer to delivery than we had hoped.  The udder development can begin up to six weeks before birth, so over the last few weeks we have been keeping a close eye on her, but other than slowly growing larger, she wasn’t giving away too many more clues.

Then, two days ago her udder suddenly swelled to dairy goat proportions and we realized that delivery was close at hand.  Here is how she looked that morning:

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And this morning it was obvious that she had lost her “plug”.  As birth typically occurs within about 12 hours of losing the plug, we are on high alert today, checking every hour for any sign that active labor has begun.  So far though, she has spent her day much like any other: wandering out to graze with the sheep, calmly munching on hay from the hay walls, and snoozing.  However the discharge continues, and she has also “dropped”, indicating that things are moving slowly forward.