Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Long Time No Write

But now I have something exciting to share! We were featured in our hometown newspaper, the Taos News. Here is the link: http://www.taosnews.com/news/business/article_87160406-9109-11e4-bc57-9f94cf94aded.html.

And I have a new website for purchasing our newest product – Organic, Sea Salted Goat Milk Caramel Love Bites: http://www.lovebitecaramels.com. A better website will be coming over the next month, but this one is getting the word out and getting the orders in!

I am in the process of deciding whether to combine the two websites, or continue with both. Many changes coming down the pike for 2015.

Happy New Year farm fans!!

Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Papa and Isla work on Fred, our Jack-O-Lantern.

Ahhhhh….. the season of the honey harvest has arrived! Beeswax candles are solidifying in their forms on the counter. Golden honey drips from crushed comb in the colander. Pit pat, pit pat in the pot. The pints and half pints full of liquid gold continue to collect. And I spend the day following my child and husband around the house with sponge in hand. EVERYTHING is sticky! And what is not sticky is embedded with bees wax.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this back out to the bees and they do the first stage of honey clean up for us.

Randy cuts comb from a frame to crush and drain. In the foreground is the bowl of drained comb. We take this out to the bees and they do the first stage of wax clean up for us by removing the remaining honey to add to their winter stash. We are left with dry, clean wax!

I actually had to go buy a putty knife just for cleaning up in the wake of chewing, slurping family and friends. But is there anything better than crushing a freshly harvested honey comb between your teeth and letting the burst of sweetness flow slowly around your tongue? This comb crushing has such a satisfying feel as the perfect architecture of the hexagonal cells collapse under the pressure of your jaws. The wax warms with your body’s heat, slowly releasing it’s exquisite stash, which mixes with your saliva, and trickles thickly down your throat. The wax that is left behind congregates into a malleable wad as your chewing continues and every last drop of goodness has been swallowed.

A small bowl sits next to the stack of honey frames that are waiting their turn with the colander and potato masher. This sacred bowl slowly fills higher with teeth imprinted hunks of chewed wax. Next begins the task of melting all the chewed or crushed comb, all the scrapings from the hive boxes and frames, last year’s collection and perhaps even the year’s before. In the process, propolis is scraped off and set aside. This year I melted and cleaned 3 years worth of diligently collected bees wax. It amounted to an impressive quantity for only 1 hive.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted.

Heating water to melt the wax in. There are several containers of collected wax scrapings in this picture as well as the bowl of chewed wax wads. This shows about a quarter of what we have melted so far this fall, as well as the disk of clean wax from 3 years ago.

We have also been collecting used pint sized 1/2 & 1/2 cartons for months. Today, Halloween morning, at our daughter’s Waldorf school, with 31 children aged 2 1/2 – 6 years watching attentively, I poured that cleaned and remelted wax into six 1/2 & 1/2 cartons. This hot wax included the chewed wax wads from every child who had sampled the comb that morning, while smearing sticky, happy hands across their Halloween costumes. One pillar candle remained behind for each of the Early Childhood classes. The remaining ones we took home to burn throughout the cold, dark winter on our dining room table.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey.

The beekeeper smokes a worker bee at the Waldorf school to encourage her to gorge on honey in case of a fire evacuation from the hive.

Said worker begin begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

Said worker bee begins the gorging process. This will make her docile and her abdomen too full to bend. She needs to bend in order to sting.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

A brave knight and a quiet king wait in anticipation for their turns to gorge.

Most of 3 year's of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works for candles.

Most of 3 year’s worth of wax accumulation now in the form of 6 pillar candles. I plan to stretch out the remaining wax with goat tallow and see how that works as a back up.

I love pillar candles. I love the smell of burning bees wax. I am told that bees wax candles purify the air, and it’s easy to believe while watching a small puddle form around the wick like a moat around a castle. The smell alone has a calming effect on all present. Perhaps this is why the Waldorf school uses only bees wax candles – they too must be in on the secret.

And now, as my stuffy, hoarse 4 yr old heads out with Papa for trick or treating on the Plaza, I relax at home, gratefully alone and quiet. My legitimate excuse to bow out was that my bee costume had lost it’s buzz. My stripes were falling off from the 3 hours of beekeeping presentation that morning. After all, an hour with scissors and safety pins is not meant to create a family heirloom.

So I look out the frosty window at what is still left of this morning’s wet snowfall, and type. A small pot on the stove warms a pint of our honey, with 6 of our onions – diced, 6 of our garlic cloves – pressed, the juice of 7 lemons, the zest of 2 lemons, a palm sized hunk of fresh ginger – grated, 3 shakes of our XXX cayenne, 2 tsps of ground cinnamon, and about a cup of our recently harvested propolis. I call this concoction “MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup”. As spicy as it is, Little Isla always asks for more. Once strained and jarred, this batch should last us through the year. And hopefully it will get our wee lassie back on her fairy princess feet before the tea candle in Fred the Jack-o-lantern burns out.

A pot of MacMama's Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

A pot of MacMama’s Miracle Cold Syrup is brewing.

As a get-well compliment to the cold syrup, a second, larger pot boils up one of our recently harvested meat roosters for bone broth and chicken veggie soup. Soon I will add some of our carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, kale, boletus mushrooms from this year’s harvest, and fresh spices. I feel that cooking with food we grow on our farm, or food we harvest from Nature, gives a certain healing magic to our meals. There is a discernible life force in our farm meals that I do not detect from store bought food. With one family member down with the Halloween crud, I am doing my best to get my Nugget well while keeping the rest of us healthy.

I tear off the form of one of the fresh pillar candles. The glow of the white wick and the scent of sweet honey that this candle emits, brings me peace and tranquility. As Father Sun dips closer to the snowy horizon, Little Willie and Nico crow, Thomas gobbles and Molly barks. A hot bath is running. All is well.

The first candle is released from it's form and lit.

The first candle is released from it’s form and lit. Heavenly!

(Continued from PartI)

The next morning was all about packing gear, food, personal belongings and loading it into truck and trailer. Packing for a group, multi-day raft trip is never a simple task, especially when a pack of kids will be part of the crew. But we were rolling down the highway by noonish, bound for the Rio Chama put-in below El Vado dam. The sky grew more ominous the closer we got to our destination. Although we had told our friends to go ahead without us, they were still on the bank waiting patiently. I liked thinking they loved us too much to leave but also realized we were the only ones who knew the river. In any case, we were grateful for the help rigging the raft and loading our gear as we raced the fast approaching electrical storm.

As Randy and I like to say – If you want it to rain, head out on a 3-day Chama trip!

Jagged bolts of lightning streaked the grey clouds and booms of thunder rumbled above us. Isla huddled on the porch of the BLM cabin, whimpering in her river clothes and rain suit as I simultaneously sung cheerful songs to her while swinging gear down the bank to Randy. But the pelting rain eventually drove us all under cover. It was the first rain we had seen in a long, long time and we sucked in deep breaths filled with the pungent smell of wet sage and damp earth. I was sure I could hear choirs of angels singing all the way from our garden in Taos!

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Lars helps Randy with the loading of our raft.

Despite the storm, by 3:10pm the 3 families and 3 rafts were finally launched and drifting downstream under a bruised sky and light drizzle. We waved to the ever present geese, and oggled at the mud swallow’s nests, hanging incredulously from beneath the rock cliff ledges. A mother mallard tucked herself and her 10 ducklings into the overhanging grass of the river bank as we drifted quietly past. In no time at all we had arrived at the hot springs, across from the ruins of the old Ward Ranch. This historic ranch had been vandalized and burned to the ground the previous year. It had always been one of our favorite stops and left a heaviness in my heart as we cruised past the twisted pile of tin roofing. We tied up and lowered our chilly toes into the hot spring, which immediately surrounded us with it’s stench of sulphur. Happy smiles lined the grassy edge of the steaming pool. 6 yr old Nils and his 8 yr old sister Ella slipped further and further into the stinking, grey muck that was hiding our feet, eventually floating happily on their backs. I gave Randy, who was holding Isla between his legs, a stare that could level a city. My message was clear,”If you even THINK about letting our child into this reeking pool past her knees, the two of you will be sleeping out in the rain!” He got the hint without losing his warm, dry tent space.

Our ever present companions.

Our ever present companions.

Toasty toes for all!!

Toasty toes for all!!

I could smell the sulphur on them 48 yrs later - I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

I could smell the sulphur on these kiddos 48 yrs later – I jest not! But Ella and Nils sure enjoyed it.

Wet and chilled, we pulled our flotilla ashore at the next available campsite on river left. Boats were secured onto stout juniper trunks, gear hauled up the bank, and river wing (massive tarp) set up with the group kitchen beneath. Then each family found their own tent spots and changed into warm, dry, evening clothes. In the process 2 perfect snake skins were found, compared and admired by kids and parents alike. Then blessed Amber made all the adults G&Ts, winning our hearts and devotion for the remainder of the trip. Dinner was cooked while Lars serenaded us with his ukelele, the rushing river contributing subtle harmonies. More accurately, a few dinners were cooked. Like I said, we weren’t going to starve on this trip! As we sat in folding camp chairs, laughing and eating hearty platefuls of Mediterranean pasta and brats, the setting sun illuminated thousands of cedar moths that were alighting from the trunks of the massive junipers surrounding our camp site. They fluttered in an enchanted, back lit aura around each tree like millions of tiny fairies come to bid Father Sun adieu. As dishes clunked in the wash basins and dusk began to fall, Brian pulled out his banjo and began to accompany Lars. I was itching for an instrument and could not believe we had left our guitar behind!  However, I donned my headlamp and helped a bit in the vocal department until the insistant cedar moths drove us all to our warm, cozy nests. When Lars pulled out his music book in the morning, dozens of moths had been perfectly pressed and preserved between it’s pages.

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

2, 4, 6, 8! Who do we appreciate!? Orrin (2), Isla (4), Nils (6) and Ella (8).

Serving up dinner.

Serving up dinner.

Lars serenades 2 year old Orrin.

Lars entertains 2 year old Orrin.

Our second day dawned with promising sunshine and we made comfortable time eating, packing and launching. The morning was spent teaching Ella and Nils to row, watching the flight of osprey and heron, and being escorted downriver by a small flock of Western Tanagers. Their vivid yellows, oranges and reds blew the dull brown dipper birds right off their rocks! Then, in the late morning, we began to smell smoke. We speculated without concern that perhaps the wind had shifted, pushing smoke from any of the many neighboring wildfires into the river valley. Then we heard, and soon saw, a spotting plane… and in another 1/4 mile could clearly make out a dark plume rising over the ridge. It was looking like we had our very own wildfire! The 3 families eddied out to discuss the situation and decided to head on down regardless. Afterall, what else could we do? And we would not truly know the location of the fire until we got further along. Within 30 minutes we were there. And I mean THERE. The fire was RIGHT THERE, already over the ridge and descending into the river valley. Randy used to fight wildfires, so this was not terribly new to him. But it was the closest I had ever been to a wildfire! We drifted past, looking high on the slope, searching for flames. I guiltily hoped to see a tree explode or something equally impressive. Although the smoke rising from the other side of the ridgeline told a tale of hungry flames and fully consumed trees, our side was out of the wind and merely moldering it’s way quietly downhill toward the banks of the river and Leaning Tree campsite, leaving tall, charred skeletons behind it.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Nils was up early for some dawn fishing.

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

Ready to load the sunlit rafts!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

OK, that is DEFINITELY a plume of smoke downstream!

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it's way down to the banks of the Chama.

Passing the Aragon Wildfire as it molders it’s way down to the banks of the Chama. Note the helicopter about to fly into the plume.

We pulled over at the Tiger Wall campsite for lunch, crashing the lunch party of another group and a solo BML ranger. The 3 groups stood chewing, eyes glued to the fire and the helicopter with it’s massive water bucket trailing beneath. Repeatedly the chopper would dive down to the river, out of our view, then rise slowly back up, laden with it’s brimming bucket of river water. It would maneuver itself over the worst of the fire, all but hidden in smoke, dump it’s load, then zoom out of the grey-brown plume, it’s empty bucket trailing almost horizontally behind it. We could have watched for hours, but the thunderheads were building and the wind had shifted. It was time to find a campsite.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it's job.

Isla and Ella watch mesmerized as the fire chopper does it’s job.

Thunder rumbled between the canyon walls as we neared the high, yellow, sandstone cliffs of Chama Wall. Pit pat pit pat came the rain in big heavy drops. I scrambled to get Isla into her rain gear, which is no easy feat, saying a silent prayer that the fire would be extinguished by the storm. It had obviously been ignited by the lightning of the storm the day before – the epitome of a catch 22. We got a bit ahead of the group and pulled over to scout a campsite. It was not ideal – only 1 flat tent site, the rest off camber. So we continued downstream as the group reconvened. Site after site was taken by other groups and the rain continued to drench us. Randy, Isla and I sang rain songs at the top of our lungs to pass the wet miles: Raindrops keep falling on my head… If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops…. Singing in the rain… you name it, but we could not find an available camp site. A commercial group caught up with us and together, we discussed the remaining sites ahead. It was decided we would try for the second site in Huckbay, and they the 3rd. It would be a hard grab (if no one was there already), as the eddy was tiny, the current swift, and we had 3 rafts – one a 16fter.

We were first in line. I perched precariously on the bow, flaked bow line in hand. My heart was beating loudly. “Now!” I yelled, and Randy punched the oars forward, pushing our nose expertly in just behind the grassy point. Rocks groped at the raft bottom, knocking us off course, and we were coming in fast at the bank. The bow smacked shore with a thud and I launch onto the wet grass, landing hard on my knees. I jumped to my feet and leaned back against the taut rope. There are times when my hands feel quite handicapped from my Lyme inflamation, and I was feeling it then as the rope cut hard into my palms. Could I hold it? My feet were slipping in the mud as I caught sight of Sheryl and Lars’ 16fter coming around the point fast. It was all I could do to hold my ground, my hands screaming in pain, but I knew this was our last camp site option for many, many miles. If I let go, our raft would be swept away by the swift current and this site would be lost to us. The two rafts lurched together as Sheryl leapt for the shore, arms outstretched like wings. Then we were leaning back side by side, sliding further into the willows as Brian and Amber burst around the corner, rope at the ready. I grabbed Sheryl’s line and she ran to catch Amber’s. All was chaos as boats slammed together, bouncing off rocks like pinballs! “I can’t hold this much longer! Can some one help me? PLEASE!” I don’t remember who came to my aid, but all 3 boats were finally secured to tree trunks and the 4 kids handed safely ashore.

Isla, staying obediently away from the river under threat of death and dismemberment, stretched full length in the mud, lifejacket and rain suit squelching beneath her, to help Nils excavate a new set of bank steps with sticks and fingernails. I sighed, shook out my cramped hands and stretched my back, and turned to the river to help Randy unload. It was a nice campsite that I had been to before and I was relieved to be here, although I did not remember quite so much docking drama on the first visit. The group kitchen was quickly set up with so many willing hands, the chores heavily lubricated with bottles of Mike’s Hard Limes. The rain lightened, and then stopped, the uke came out, and personal tent setup began. Once our tent was erected and Isla’s dry bag unearthed, I hauled my mudcaked offspring to the river’s edge and dunked her unwilling body into the chilly river on wash cycle. Then I rinsed her lifejacket, rain coat, rain bibs, and rubber boots, all inside as well as out, and carried her shivering form up to the tent. “I want my skirt AND my dress!” Someone needed a snack – FAST! “Not THAT shirt Mom-eye!” Oh dear, where did I put my Mike’s? Finally dry and dressed in the many layered gypsy outfit of her choice, Isla ran off to play with the kids who were careening down the dirt bank one at a time, over and over – even 2 yr old Orrin.

And now – MY turn to change. Ahhh…. dry cotton feels divine after a day in poly rashguards and neoprene. With my attitude completely re-adjusted, I walked happily toward the music and singing under the group tarp, reaching unconsciously to my throat for my neckless.

MY NECKLESS!!! It was gone!

You may be thinking, what’s with all the drama? But this was no ordinary neckless! It was a simple black leather thong, threaded through a green serpentine stone. This stone was ground from a chip left over from the carving of our son Rowan’s gravestone. And inside the stone, was a wee bit of his ashes. I had a lapidary friend shape 6 of these stones and drill out a cavity in each. Then I filled the cavities with a pinch of Rowan’s ashes, and plugged the holes with matching plugs my friend had made, gluing the plugs into place. Then this lapidary ground the plugs flush with the stones’ faces and polished each with loving hands. He refused to let me pay him for his beautiful, tedious work. I gave a stone to each of the people present at our son’s birth, and death: our two midwives, our friend Joanne, one to Randy’s parents, and Randy and myself. Then I had hung my platinum and diamond wedding ring on the cord beside the stone, for with my Lyme inflammation, I could no longer wear it.

I was aghast.

I remembered putting it around my neck before leaving the last campsite, so it was either here, in the raft, or in the river. I searched the ground around the tent, inside the tent, and inside all the river clothes I had just wriggled out of. I searched the ground beneath where each article of river clothing hung drying from tree branches. Randy searched the bottom of the raft, hoping it may have been caught before the self-bailing action flushed it into the stream. In the end, there was nothing more I could do. I filled my travel mug with red wine, took a deep breath, and turned back towards the beautiful gathering of old friends, new friends, and adventurous children that made up our perfect group. The neckless would always be here, most probably on the river bottom, and somehow that seemed appropriate. With this trip being my 10th Chama trip, and marking 10 years that Randy and I had been together, a little bit of Rowan, and the symbol of our marriage, would be forever embraced my the arms of this rushing river.

That, I could deal with.

I distracted myself by learning chords on the banjo and then the uke. And then ate a delicious red Thai curry cooked by Lars. Isla was losing cabin pressure fast, so I excused myself and my whining child and headed to the tent. With teeth brushed, PJs on and dusk settling over our tent, I knew I was not going to make it back out. I laid down beside my daughter and pulled her warm little frame close into my arms, drifting lightly into pre-slumber with my cheek on her matted head. Twice she awoke me with two important questions: “Mom-eye?” “Mmmm?” ” Why are there rocks on the side of the rock steps up to the campsite?” Then back into slumber.  “Mom-eye?” “Mmmpph?” “Why are there waves in the river when there is no rock beneath them?” And then back to sleep. And I slept the sleep of the dead, dreaming of rivers, necklesses, and my mother-in-law.

Day 3 found us awake earlier than the previous morning as apparently the group had followed my example and retired soon after my departure the night before. We packed, cooked, ate and loaded boats as the morning sun worked it’s way down the pine strewn cliffs on the opposite bank. As sunlight finally made it to our tentsite and filtered in through the trees, I searched one last time for any sign of the missing neckless. Then comforted myself knowing it would always be here, waiting for me on my next Chama trip. And my next…

The day proved to be the most glorious yet with warm sun and cool temps for the majority of our river time. Six year old Nils perfected his rowing, tackling his first “rapid” mostly solo. Isla got a turn on the oars, Ella paddled the sit-on-top kayak, and Orrin refused to let mama Amber stop dunking him over the side. Randy and I jumped in for a swim, and water fights commenced by water guns, bailing scoop and well placed oars! We floated lazily through the flat stretch past the Christ in the Desert Monastery, soaking in the expansive view of the open valley rimmed on either side with towering red and yellow sandstone cliffs. Then the rapids picked up after the Chavez launch site and we had a bit more excitement.

A glorious day on the river!

A glorious day on the river!

Nils run his first "rapid"!

Nils running his first “rapid”, which we promptly christened Nils Rapid!

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Isla take a turn on the oars.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Orrin gets a non-stop baptism as we float past the monastery.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Eight year old Ella in the sit-on-top kayak.

Randy told the story to Amber and Brian of how he had only flipped a raft once in his life, and it was on this river, just up ahead on Undercut Rapid. He still blames it on me (although he had been alone). We had just started dating, and he had been daydreaming about the last time we had been together and when he would see me next. That daydream had been harshly interrupted by a screaming right hand turn along a rough grey cliff wall. His raft had been pinned vertically on it’s side and he was dumped into the drink. He had climbed ashore, hiked back upstream, and managed to climb down the cliff to stand on the side of his pinned raft and lever it off the cliff wall. Then he had launched himself from the cliff, landing smack on the bottom of the overturned raft. Quite the super hero feat, and he does his own stunts too!

We all chuckled togther and slipped the rafts apart to prepare for the run through Undercut Rapid. I was at the oars and feeling a bit nervous. I am not that much of a rafter – a canoe is my craft of choice. But here I was, plunging towards a cliff wall that had once upon a time flipped my experienced rafter husband. I pulled back hard on the oars to set up for the right hand turn. OK. That seemed like enough clearance. Pivot the oars, turn the raft to the right and ride it out down the train of haystacks! But the current was still pulling me in towards the cliff. Crap! I’d forgotten it was undercut! I had no idea what was going on beneath that underwater ledge but I was getting sucked closer and closer to that cheese grater of a wall. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I knew I needed to push the oar handles behind me and wing the blades forward and inside the boat. But it was all happening so fast! I fumbled, felt I did not have enough clearance left for the swing, and instead pulled the oar inboard through the oar lock and across my lap as the cliff loomed closer. But the blade caught in the oar lock and was still protruding about 10″ outboard. I saw in slow motion what was about to happen but was powerless to stop it. Fortunately Randy, seated on the bench ahead of me with his arm around Isla, saw as well and started to duck. The oar blade caught the cliff wall, was push back with tremendous force levering the 6′ shaft and handle of the oar forward from the pivot point of the oar lock! The shaft smacked Randy on the back of the head as he was starting to duck, knocking both he and Isla off the bench and into the forward well! Then the raft hit the nasty sandstone wall and bounced back off into the current. A soon as I could regain control of the oar, I pulled hard to the opposite bank and beached the raft on a gravel bar. “Are you OK sweetie?” I was very shaken and very concerned. Did he have a concussion? Or worse? “That rapid is still trying to get me – and it is still your fault!” he mumbled with a faint smile. “Ow.” I sighed with relief as he rubbed the fast forming goose egg. “I’m going to have a hell of a headache,” he grimaced. I shook my head. An inch or 2 lower and I could have broken his neck. I checked his pupils, calmed the crying Isla (who was fine but rather rattled), and pulled the raft back into the current. And I stoically bore the well-deserved razzing of my attempted spousal homicide for the remainder of the day.

Randy took over the oars soon after as there was a long stretch of rapids that I felt uncomfortable with. We are not talking BIG rapids here, just a lot of technical maneuvering. Being Sunday, the water flow had been cut at the upstream dam before noon, so we were slowly losing flow as we continued downstream. This made for some boney conditions and I was already very shaken up by my nasty mistake upstream. After a late lunch stop on a muddy bar, we packed back up food and folding table and worked our way down closer to the Big Eddy take out. Just before that final bend, Sheryl and Lars pulled over to look at some stunning cliffs freckled with swallow’s nests, and found a snake coiled inside one of the mud nests just at eye level! What a find! Always something magical and amazing awaiting us around the next turn.

1025652_10201454530994855_466837883_o

What was later identified as a gopher snake, coiled inside a swallow’s nest. The easiest way to exit was definitely a free-fall drop into the river, but I have no idea how this snake managed it’s entry!

We rounded the final bend to behold the worst take out zoo scene I think I had ever seen. I am sure that every group trip on the river that weekend was taking out simultaneously. Cars, trucks, and trailers were lined up forward and back on the access drive and boats and gear were strewn everywhere. It was the epitome of a proverbial yard sale! But we nosed into the fray and added our own chaos, once again racing a threatening afternoon storm. We unloaded, de-rigged and wormed our truck and trailer into position, all the while with thunder bouncing and rolling between the valley walls. Isla shivered on a rock, wrapped in towels and rain gear, watching the proceedings with blue lips. We loaded up the truck and trailer, tied down the raft and frame and pulled carefully past the long line of rafter’s vehicles to park in the lot. Then I could finally get my daughter into dry clothes, with myself close behind.

When we walked back down to the river we found Sheryl had pulled out a whole watermelon and was slicing it into triangles for all! Oh my, sweet nectar of the Gods! As I slurped and gulped unabashedly at the cool, juicy fruit, I noticed a new face amongst our pack of kids. “Well hi there! Who are you?” I asked the sun hat bedecked munchin. The little girl swallowed her mouth full and said “My name is Marian! I am 3 years old,” and her face disappeared once more into the hunk of pink melon which perfectly matched her hat.

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

Nothing beats chilled watermelon after a raft trip!

After everyone’s boats and gear were loaded, and the requisite group pictures taken, we gave heartfelt hugs all around and climbed into our respective vehicles bound for 3 different towns in 2 different states. We had no idea when we would see the each other again, but planned for it to be in Oct for a 5 day raft trip down the San Juan River. We crossed all appendages that there would be enough water when the time arrived.

Randy pulled our rig through the lot and up to the pit toilets for a final pee stop at the “fancy groover”. Another group pulled in behind us for the same reason, a group we had seen often on the river and been beside at the take out. I pulled out our carton of hard boiled eggs that had made it through the trip. “Want a hard boiled egg from our own chickens?” I called out. “Heck yeh!” was the answer. I opened the carton of multicolored eggs and said, “Your choice, but you can only take 2.” “Let’s see, I’ll take that one and this one.” I pointed to the olive green egg in the man’s dirt-caked, water-logged, oar-callused hand and proudly said,”That is Noche’s egg, and that blue one is Dot’s. They are very nice hens.” “So would that one there be Noche’s too?” he asked, pointed to another olive green egg still in the carton. “Yep!” I replied with a laugh. “But I can’t tell you who these 3 belong to. We have too many hens that lay this tan color.” He walked back to his gear-laden car, reporting to his rafting mates the names of the chickens and which egg was who’s. I smiled, clipped the Nugget into her carseat, and hopped in the passenger seat beside my tired husband.

We drove home through the verdant Chama valley of the village of Abiquiu, following our river downstream, and thinking ahead to our farm life back in Taos. Dot would be waiting, and Noche, and all their friends and relations. Skye was milking the girls as we drove, and we would return to our calm, happy household ready to explode our dry bags and retrieve our everyday lives.

But Rowan’s ashes and my wedding ring would remain behind, forever marking our presence on the Rio Chama of New Mexico, where we would return again, and again…

… year after year.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

Our 3 family group, happy, tired, and sunburned.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.

The Nugget patrol: Orrin, Nils, Isla and Ella.

Addendum:

Sometime during our drive home, a terrible miscalculation was made on a wildfire in Arizona. A crew of hotshot firefighters were sent in to cut line without an adequate safety zone to retreat to. The monsoonal thunderstorms shifted the wind unexpectedly and trapped 19 of the 20 person crew with no exit. They all deployed their fire shelters and were burned over. None of the 19 survived. This same crew had been in our home area fighting our own fires for the 2 weeks prior to this assignment. We were floored by the tragic loss of these fine, brave people. It was the worst tragedy in firefighting history.

We also discovered that 3 fires had been sparked off by lightning in a tight area to the west of the Chama River from the storm we waited through at the put in. The fire we witnessed was named the Aragon Wildfire.

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

Randy and me, happy to be back on the river again!

“Honey”, I said calmly into the phone, “it appears you left the coop door open. The goats got in, knocked over the chicken feed bins and there is a lot missing. They gorged so heavily that they walked out on their own. You know what happened last time. There is no way I can go.”

And with that sad statement, our annual Rio Chama raft trip was canceled, on the morning of the afternoon we were to leave. The farm was in crisis mode waiting for the life threatening goat bloat to manifest, and we had to bail on our friends who were packed and ready to roll, dependent on us for all the group gear and one shared dinner. We felt numb and way beyond disappointed. And we were in deep fear for the lives of our goats.

Our friend Skye arrived at 9am to help us prep for leaving and clean the house. It was serendipitous that it was she, as Skye used to run an animal rescue farm for many years. Randy arrived back home and Skye kept us grounded, doing what obviously needed doing without direction, while Randy and I stood around paralyzed. “Um, so what do we do?” we said over and over. I got on the internet to research remedies, and emailed my goat mentors in TX. Bloat is very serious and often fatal, and we only had a few hours before it would raise it’s ugly head. I called all the vets in a 100 mile radius (as if I thought they had suddenly decided to treat goats after all), looking for a drenching gun. Next, all the feed stores from Alamosa, CO to Santa Fe, NM. I was ready for a long drive, but there was no drenching gun to be found. I still had the 2cc syringe I had fed our buckling colostrum with, so decided to improvise. I mixed up an olive oil/baking soda slurry, grabbed the turkey baster and syringe, pulled on my overalls, and lead Randy out to the barn. He was feeling horrible, although we both new it was possible the coop door HAD been latched and the goats had worked it open. In any case, I was careful to keep all guilt trips under wraps as he was doing a fabulous job without my help.

We grabbed Fiona first and got her on the milking stand and in the head gate. I mentally reviewed the YouTube video I had watched, and the drawings and photos I had seen on line, grasped Fi’s mouth, pried it open, and shoved in the turkey baster while Randy tried to squirt the contents of the syringe into the open end of the bulbless baster. Ever played the game Operation? Well that’s a start. Now imagine playing Operation while riding on a bucking bronco. You’re getting closer. Needless to say, more oil got on me and Fi then down her gullet. Straddling her out of the headgate with her butt wedged in a corner was only a slight improvement. As we paused to catch our breaths, Randy said “Look at Hazie!” And there was Miss Hazelnut, demurely lapping up the remaining contents of the mixing cup that was actually slotted for her. “Good Hazel!” we praised. We tried holding the cup for Fiona, but were too late. She had already developed an association of that particular smell to the heavy weight wrestling championship she had just won.

We gathered the train wreck of bowls, cups, baster and syringe, called it “a dose each”, and dragged our oily selves back inside. Meanwhile Skye gave each doe accupressure once an hour. It was obviously helping as they both passed gas and berries after each drenching and accupuncture session.

We brainstormed some possible scenarios: Randy taking Isla to the put in and staying overnight in the BLM cabin (where we were all supposed to be staying tonight with our friends) and contacting me the next morning for a status report…. he and Isla could check permits together Friday morning, as that was his job as a BLM ranger…. if the goats seemed OK, I could drive the trailer with raft and gear down to meet them in time for the 12 noon scheduled launch. We decided this was a decent Plan B, but we would pack the gear together first… just in case I COULD join them. But I was settling in for some serious goat drama over the next 32 hrs and had small hopes of seeing a river this weekend.

A few hours later, Skye and I headed out to try to drench the goats once more. She knew the proper wrestling positions and with her securing each goat (this is a relative term of course), and the removal of the turkey baster link, I was able to get a wee bit of the oil mixture down each of their throats with the syringe alone. But it was hell on earth. That made for an easy decision as I could not do it alone once Randy had left for the river, and I assumed they would need many more drenchings.

We fully canceled our trip and sat down defeated, waiting for our goats to bloat.

But nothing happened. The goats continued to be fine. Had they gotten into the coop after they were already full of hay and therefore ate less than we thought? Had the oil, baking soda and accupuncture thwarted the worst of the reaction? Because the last time this happened, they both experienced explosive, projectile diarrhea for 3 days and came close to dying. But currently out in the barnyard, their sides were not even protruding – the most obvious sign of bloat. Needless to say, the chicken feed bins, now considered a “controlled substance”, have been very inconveniently, moved out of the barn and barnyard, forever.

Scratching our heads in wonder, I asked Skye, who had demonstrated her obvious competence with the goats, how she would feel about farm sitting. We had already canceled on our scheduled farm sitter as neither us nor he was comfortable being left in a potentially precarious position. Skye was fine with it. We called up our friends. “Well”, I said, “It’s gone from a 2% chance to a 95% chance that we can still make it tomorrow.”

“Oh,” they replied. “Great! Um, we already invited another family as we needed the group gear that you would have been bringing.” There was a brief moment of awkwardness as we humbly squirmed our way back onto our own trip with tails between our legs. Food had to be quickly discussed once more and we decided to just BRING FOOD and worry about sorting it out once on the river. We were sure, at least, we would not starve.

We went to bed exhausted, overwhelmed, emotionally drained, extremely relieved, and excited once more for the trip. Skye had had her milking lesson (with all her animal experience, she had never rescued a goat in milk) and farm orientation, and we felt confident she could handle it. But we still had to pack!

(Story continued in Part II)

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.

No bloat here! A perfectly healthy, happy, herd.

DSC06432

Bucky is doing a little teething on his play set.

Silver Linings

“Well, I know if I wear a skirt she will go into labor,” I said with a shrug to my gawking husband as he stopped in mid stride carrying out the big bowl of salad greens to the table on the grass. It’s not every day he gets to see Farm Boss in something other than dusty Carhartt’s. He cleared his throat and replied, “I thought throwing a party on Fi’s due date would be enough,” and thoughtfully studied the rear view of my retreating skirt.

With the grill heating up, the folded table laden with food, and our friend Wes moulding burger patties, we were ready for Randy’s first staff appreciation party hosted at our farm. Being the big boss, he was anxious to make an impression. And believe me – an impression was definitely made! I just didn’t think it would be the barnyard making it!

There had been none of the pre-labor signals that Hazelnut had given me over days. True, Fiona did have a bit of milky lube on her vulva that afternoon, and her babies dropped into her deep keel rather abruptly, leaving her looking surprisingly slim and trim once more. And then hollows in front of her pelvis began to appear and sink deeper. It’s true, too, that all this happened in just a few hours. But Hazelnut had been in labor for 3 days! I did not think we would see a thing until the next day at the earliest. But a quick farm check after I hoovered down my burger sent me scuttling back to the house with skirt flying, blurting quick orders to Randy who, having been wrapped for a few hours in a 4 yr old straightjacket (that would be our party-shy daughter), had only just piled up a plate of food. “Towels honey! Babies are coming!”

I stripped off my skirt in the living room and yanked up my overalls, dust and barn odors emanating from the crusty folds. I THINK I had washed them since Hazelnut’s kidding. Tim, our 83 yr old camp ground volunteer might have gotten a free show but I did not take the time to find out. I fumbled the birthing kit into my arms and trotted back out the back door, dodging masticating guests, betadine bottle bouncing into the grass behind me. “HONEEEEEEE! A bucket of warm water!” I yelled over my shoulder. By now I had gotten everyone’s attention, for sure.

Fifi was in the dirt entry of the barn, nosing the slimy puddle of amniotic fluid on the ground. She was barely even grunting with each push, I noted incredulously, remembering my own births accompanied by a continuous stream of furious sailor’s curses. A single word burbled up from the catty recesses of my mind: “Bitch.” But I didn’t say it out loud. I also did not say it out loud to all the young mothers who just HAD to share their orgasmic home birth stories with me! Grrr.

“A HOOF!” I exclaimed, dropping to my knees. My arms were dripping with water and betadine. I reached my hand back and my husband/assistant plopped a fresh towel into it. I squirted a dab of KY onto my fingers, feeling very confident after Hazelnut’s tragic kidding, and inserted two fingers into Fi’s vulva,  just to help stretch her perineum. She was a first timer and her opening was straining to the max. Another hoof pushed past. I was breathless with anticipation. “A nose!” I reported more calmly. A little mouth pushed forward and it gave a funny one sided grimace. “It’s alive!” I whispered, choked with emotions. A few more pushes from Fiona’s youthful body, and the little black buckling was in the towel in my arms, wriggling and squirming with it’s first breath. Our first live kid! I wiped it’s face, wobbling on it’s little neck. Hazelnut was right beside me and immediately pushed her way in to lick off her grandson. Fiona stepped aside into her stall, lay down, and pushed out a seond while we were all engrossed with the first!

“Another!” said Randy. I heaved myself up from the ground, shoving past Hazelnut and assorted bodies, and knelt next to the second kid. She was wriggling too, quite alive, but something was… not right. Another towel in my hand answered my verbal request and I wiped her face and body. Oh dear. I inspected her quickly, my heart sinking deeper with each new realization. She was horribly deformed… and trying gallantly to draw her first breath, which, with a look at her issues, I doubted would ever be possible for her. I stood and stepped back, hoping this poor little doeling would do for herself what I would otherwise have to do for her. A quick image flashed behind my eyes – my hand holding her under in a bucket of warm water – then vanished as I turned my attention back to the buckling with a disappointed sigh.

He was a fine, braw laddie, being knocked about lovingly by his grandmother’s fierce attentions and warm tongue. I heard a friend’s voice say matter-of-factly, “She’s gone MacLaren,” and knew he was referring to the doeling, who’s heart had beat on involuntarily for a few minutes without the required oxygen. I asked Randy to move her body so I could tend to the new mom. Fi had meanwhile blown an amazing red balloon from her vulva opening! Christian had told me over the phone during Hazelnut’s kidding that placentas were actually in their own bags. Obviously that was what I was witnessing. I popped the balloon to help the process along and Fiona rose to her feet, assisting in the removal of her own placenta. Then for the first time she turned around and met her wee son. She sniffed as Granny Hazelnut continued her attentive cleaning, the bond growing deeper and deeper between grandmother and grandson. Fiona seemed mildly interested, probably wondering where that huge poop went that she had just pushed out. For I am sure she had no clue she had just given birth! We love our Fifi, but she has never been one of the sharpest knives in the drawer – always one ant shy of a picnic. Granny nosed the buckling as he attempted to gain his sea legs. He listed upwards, capsized to port, then tried to right himself once more. Finally he bobbed upright, lurching precariously from bow to stern, legs splayed awkwardly. Then he immediately tripped off to find his first meal.

His mother, Fiona, would have nothing to do with his nuzzling at her teats! She stepped away at his every attempt, knocking her hungry little nugget off his barely gained legs. But he was determined, and continued to try for another 10 minutes or so. I finally assisted by clipping Fiona to the stall partition, and holding her teat out for him, but she still had enough play in her collar to step back and forth over her buckling’s body, very effectively preventing him from nursing. So he tried Granny. She stood as still as a statue and even nudged him in the right direction.

And that story is pretty much told. Over the next 24 hrs, Fiona continued to reject her kid and Hazelnut continued to bond and nurse. And after 32 hrs, Granny would not let Mommy even get close! Fiona cried and cried, confused and rejected by her own mom, not really understanding she had just rejected her own offspring herself. Her crying was so pitiful, and so annoying, that I actually contacted several Nubian owners asking if they had any does with kids for sale. I thought some company for Fiona would solve the issue before we were kicked out of our urban neighborhood. But now, a week later, the issue has solved itself as the buckling has begun prancing about playfully. Fiona, still full of her own kid-like playfulness, has become his sort of sister/aunt. He prances and she raises her winglike ears into airplane mode and jumps about like she was a few months old. She has stopped crying, and is standing still on the milking stand, most of the time. In any case, we are quick to move the pail out of the way of her hooves which sometimes threaten to plop into the bucket of frothy, fresh milk, and sometimes succeed. She is not a stellar milk producer, but we hope to see an improvement.

And dear Granny Hazel finally has a baby. Her heart is healing from the recent loss of her quadruplets, and she is giving us over a gallon of milk a day, while still holding back enough for her adopted grandson. We are drowning in delicious, sweet, creamy Nubian milk! Tomorrow I meet with a few chefs from the higher end restaurants in town with samples of my chevre. And I cross my fingers they will love it as much as we do.

Some say that there is a silver lining to all life’s trials and tribulations, that there is always a gift and something to be learned. We lost 5 of our 6 kids in our first kidding season ever, ending with one live buckling alone, bound for our freezer some 10 months from now. It has been devastating. But we have 2 healthy does in milk with only one baby to feed, which translates into a LOT of milk and cheese to sell to supplement our inadequate income. I have gained an immense treasure chest of knowledge and experience including repositioning kids in utero, administering injections, tube feeding colostrum to newborns, and as of yesterday – disbudding. Castration will soon follow. But most importantly, I have gained a level of medical confidence and curiosity, and have learned that I unknowingly create an eye of calm in the midst of a medical malstrom. Randy told me he was amazed at how focused I was, how in charge, and how people just… did for me as I asked. I had assisted Fiona’s kidding with a barn full of people in the midst of an intense electrical storm. I had not been fully aware of either until Randy told me later on. It had been just me, the goats, and the kids, even though there was no emergency present. With Hazelnut’s tragic kidding loss, my focus had been ever so much more intensified. This newly acknowledged “gift” is now leading me toward the possibility of a fresh vocational calling — that of an EMT (and eventually WEMT). The medical field has always interested me, but I would never agree to put up with the crazy sacrifices of med school, internships and residencies. But I can still get my toes wet in the river, so to speak, and lend a hand from the bank.

So, I believe that out of all this tragedy, I have found my silver lining: a way I can help my community. I have found a way I can save lives as I saved Hazelnut’s; a way I can keep my family and friends safer on our wilderness trips; and a way I can make a difference for others….

Be they human… or animal.

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

Hazelnut was in her kidding window.

I had gathered my kidding kit together: piles of towels, string in case the umbilical cords did not break on their own, betadine and a jar for dipping umbilical cords (and for the unlikely event that I had to scrub up before reaching in to adjust the position of a kid, God forbid), a sharp knife for cutting string and umbilical cords, nail clipper to make my nails super short while waiting, K-Y jelly, a bucket of warm water for washing, a bulb syringe for sucking mucus from the kids’ mouths and noses, and all 3 of my best goat books with my reading glasses on top. Oh yes, and camera, tripod, head lamp and extra batteries for both, and the all-important cell phone. I had a separate bucket ready for mollasses/cider vinegar water for Hazelnut, and a bag of raisins for treats. Hazelnut was 7 years old and had kidded twins twice before without incident, or any human being present. I fully trusted she could do this on her own, but I was NOT going to miss it for the world! I had never before witnessed the birth of a kid and I was ready to snuggle some goat babies in my lap!!

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, "assisting" my stall mucking attempts.

The Thomas Turkey Family are, uh, “assisting” my mucking attempts of Hazelnut’s stall.

Thursday arrived with clear skies and the promise from the weather site of another day of strong spring winds. With the kit assembled and piled aside, I focused on the busy day ahead. Molly, our Pyrenees, and I headed out for our Thursday morning hike. It was a lovely spring day and I was giddy with anticipation! Kids! Babies! The first ever on our farm! It was imminent!

We returned home and I let Molly in the side gate. She beelined it for the fish pond to drink next to the trickling waterfall. The wind had begun to pick up, adding the swinging song of the wind chimes to the relaxing backyard sounds. I stood by the back door, devouring a ripe peach, staring out at the barnyard, as is often my habit. As I wiped juice from my chin, I became curious about some strange behavior in the teenager chicken pen. Our 4 month old rare chicken flock of 14 (originally 16), were running back and forth along the fence line shared with the main barnyard. How odd. Suddenly, there was a streak of orange and I saw a small red fox rushing the flock! I yelled out to Randy, stumbled into my slip-on farm shoes, and ran out the door bellowing obscenities! The fox wisely altered course and leapt over the 5′ fence without even touching the top!! I was dumbfounded by it’s agility, and stupefied by it’s courage to attack a farm in broad daylight – with humans right in the house! I was also quite terrified by what I would find in it’s carnivorous wake.

With the fox fleeing up the acequia, we trotted into the enclosure to assess the loss. Gracie, our beautiful lavender Auracana pullet, was stuck in the fence door, having wedged herself while trying to escape. We freed her, and set to counting survivors. Eight was the tally. Just 8 birds left of our original 16. Our rare flock was cut in half. The F-ing fox had obviously been in the pen for some time, systematically eating one bird at a time. He had devoured 6! I was heartbroken and furious! Interestingly enough, at least one of each of the 5 breeds remained – a small consolation prize. It had been a full year since our last predator, a grey fox, had attacked, eating a mama hen and her 14 chicks in the early dawn hours. Since then we had created a Fort Knox of our barnyard and attached 6 Niteguards to it’s perimeter. But they only flash at night – not in broad day. And the teenagers were in a separate enclosure off the main pen.

We had little time to grieve as a friend was coming over to visit the farm in a few minutes. We gave her the tour, told the story of the fox attack, visited over some iced mint tea, and said goodbye. As we waved farewell from our southern window, we saw a smoke plume rising to the south behind Jicarita Mountain in the Pecos Wilderness. The Tres Lagunas wildfire had begun.

Late afternoon was spent preparing for dinner with one of our favorite families. Both of their daughters were heading off to school soon, one to her freshman year in college, and one to her junior year of boarding ballet school. We were desperate to get some quality time in! We had a lovely dinner of grilled shrimp and grill zucchini and salad, and comfortable conversation that only old friends can have. As the meal wound to a close, I headed out to put the animals to bed, closing multiple chicken flaps and checking on Hazelnut.

By God, Hazelnut was in labor!

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

Laying out my kidding kit on the milking stand.

I made the announcement in the house and Kiersten, who just happened to be the midwife of both of our children, gave a sharp intake of breath, followed by a smile. She was not on call tonight. She wanted to stay. So did her girls. Not only did they once own a goat, all three had experienced a goat kidding; I was in luck!

Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

Under the eerie red heat lamp, Treska and Fiona watch labor progress through the stall partition.

The long hours of waiting marched forth into the darkness. We lounged in the barn, bundled in dog blankets, Treska, the 17yr old, wrapped like a burrito in Fiona’s as-yet-uncleaned stall. Her head rested against Fiona’s bulging side. “Fifi”, Hazelnut’s yearling daughter, would be entering her kidding window in a bit more than a week. The red heat lamp hung above Hazelnut giving off a bit of welcome heat, illuminating our vision, and allowing the goat’s pupils to dilate to human-like orbs. It was an eerie effect, as if they were constantly surprised. With headlamps we routinely checked Hazel’s vulva for the status report. We dozed. We drank tea. We listened to Hazelnut’s rhythmic moaning as contractions came and went.

But nothing happened.

Around 2:30 am, we gave up and headed inside and Kiersten and her daughters crashed in the guest room. I stretched out on the sofa in my sleeping bag, one ear tuned to the groaning on the baby monitor, one ear stuffed with an earbud as I watched Star Trek, the movie. When Hazelnut would have an especially big grunt-push, I would pause the computer and go give her a check.

Still nothing.

Friday‘s dawn was announced by the startling crow of Little Willie broadcasted throughout the house, compliments of the baby monitor! It was 4:45 AM. I had just begun watching the Sherlock Holms series and almost dropped the computer off my lap! I started steeping a pot of green tea and headed back out for a check. I wasn’t feeling too great. Not a wink of sleep, 2 days of serious wind, a night in a dusty barn, and I could feel the telltale signs of a head cold creeping in. Bad timing.

And still no bouncing baby goats.

The house slowly awoke with smells of coffee and raisin toast. Teenagers stared bleary-eyed from the sofa, coffee mugs warming their fingers. Kiersten and I did morning farm chores, Randy started breakfast, and Isla slept on. Eventually, our sleepy friends headed out to their respective days, Randy took on Isla and Hazelnut duty, and I laid down to get some sleep.

Hazelnut’s contractions spaced out and slowed down. False labor. And a second wildfire started to the southwest, the Thompson Ridge Wildfire up in the Jemez mountains. It was going to be a smokey summer in our high southwestern desert.

Saturday I awoke with a full blown head cold. It was Randy’s work day, but he delayed departure to care for me and Isla. Kaya, Kiersten’s 15 yr old, had planned to come over to help with Isla, so child care was gratefully covered. I slept, watched movies in bed, and slept more. The 2 plumes of smoke increased in height, billowing with the afternoon wind as the hungry wildfires devoured pinon, juniper and ponderosa trees. A smoke-laden dust storm careened through our farm, whipping tree branches against the house and flattening dust devils in it’s violent path. The day could barely have been any nastier.

Hazelnut continued to have light contractions that were spaced far apart. The rest of us were biding our time, waiting for the kidding train to leave the station.

Sunday morning, the worst of my cold had past and I was gratefully turning the corner. Randy came in from morning farm chores with the announcement that Hazelnut had a lot of mucus and glop coming out of her vulva. I hurriedly pulled on my overalls and trotted to the barn. Sure enough, she had blown her mucus plug, or at least I assumed so! Labor was once more underway. Randy headed to work and Isla and I spent most of the morning in the barnyard, petting chickens, turkeys and Fiona, and checking on Hazelnut. “Bloody show” soon followed with stronger contractions and even pushing. Without knowledgable goat support people, and being solely in charge of my child for this first ever kidding, I was feeling jumpy and anxious. Then her water broke! More hard pushes, fierce grunts, curled lips, bellowing…. where was the first kid?

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Hazelnut hefts her bulk up on her feet to give a push.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

Isla cuddles with a concerned Fiona.

It was then I saw a little ash-grey ear fall from the vulva slit and hang there in the opening. Oh crap! The first kid was trying to come out with it’s head sideways! It was stuck!! SHIT!! “Isla!” I yelled. “Go get Marian, QUICK!” As Isla scurried out the gate, I fumbled for my cell phone. I had been introduced via a Facebook friend to a goat dairy couple in Texas the previous year. So far, they had mentored me through getting the goats and every possible question I had regarding goats. They were indispensable. I had already been on the phone with Christian several times with Hazelnut’s false labor. Together we had deduced that I had inadvertently stimulated contractions when I had milked out her painfully engorged udder that Thursday afternoon.

Christian thankfully answered his phone. “I see an ear Christian – not a nose, but a little ear! It is hanging out. Do I need to go in?” I was shaking. “Yeh, you need to turn it’s head so it’s coming out nose first, and try to hook a hoof with your finger.” I washed my hands and forearms in the bucket of water, almost knocking it over in my nervousness, and doused myself with Betadine as Marian, our housemate, came trotting back with Isla. Christian and I continued our conversation with my ear bud wedged in my left ear and my phone in my right front pocket. I positioned Marian at Hazelnut’s head and squeezed the K-Y on my hand. Deep breaths, left hand on Hazelnut’s flank, I slowly started to explore with my right, past the little ear and into her birth canal. Christian continued to talk me through as I reported back to him everything I could feel. I got the kid’s head turned so it’s nose came out, then it’s eyes, and I continued attempting to hook a hoof. Finally one hoof pulled through, and with another mighty push, the little goat slipped out into my hands. I wiped mucus away from it’s nose and mouth. It was not moving. I rubbed more briskly with a fresh cloth and used my finger to scoop mucus out of it’s mouth. Still nothing. Using a towel, I grasped it’s hind legs, slick with birth fluid, and swung it gently upside down. It was not reviving. I massaged it’s heart and rib cage, then took a deep breath, placed my mouth over it’s nose and mouth, and blew gently. It’s little rib cage rose with my exhalation. As I pushed back down over it’s heart, a tremendous amount of mucus came bubbling back out it’s mouth. I continued CPR. Swung it upside down once more, rubbed vigorously, but the little doeling remained still. Hazelnut turned around and began to nose and lick her little dead daughter. My heart ached. She looked just like her mom and her auntie Fiona. How could she be dead? The first ever kid on our farm!

“Put the kid aside and focus on Hazelnut and the next kid,” said Christian’s voice through the ear bud and my grief. I wrapped the still kid in a towel and set her aside, then gave Hazelnut the bucket of mollasses and apple cider vinegar water. She drank deeply. After 40 minutes more of fierce pushing, I called Christian back. “You’ve got to go back in,” he said. I washed up once more, smeared my arms in betadine and K-Y and began my second intrauterine manipulation. I found the next one’s head in the birth canal, but it’s feet were back like the first, still lodged in the womb. The proper presentation for a goat kid is front hooves leading slightly in front of the nose. I reached slowly through the tightly stretched cervix while Hazelnut bellowed and Marian calmed her as best she could. OK. This one was also right side up, and there was a hoof and wrist, so to speak. I was able to get a finger behind it and pulled forward with the next contraction. One more push and the kid slipped out. Same thing. Non-responsive. I tried even harder to resuscitate this second doeling who resembled her previous sibling to a ‘T’. Hazelnut began to lick her baby but another was coming right on it’s heels! Triplets! I quickly got the second dead kid aside in time to meet the first proper presentation of nose and 2 hooves, in classic position. With a dry rag I grasped the two slippery hooves and pulled with the next push. Out he came. Unresponsive. I repeated for a third time the CPR and upside down swinging and vigorous towel rubbing. Nothing. This little buckling was black, like his father.

I was shell-shocked. I had not expected triplets and I never thought there would be an issue. 3 stillborn kids? How could this be possible? Though my eyes remained dry with disbelief, my heart ached. “I don’t mean to sound harsh MacLaren, but put the kids aside and take care of your doe”, said Christian. “She needs you.” I hung up the phone and turned my love and attention to Hazelnut. More mollasses water, a handful of raisins, heartfelt love and empathy. While she rested, I called Randy at work, then texted Kiersten who was ironically in a grief and loss workshop. I removed the sodden wood shavings. I wiped Hazelnut’s vulva with a warm cloth with Betadine. I petted and hugged her, and I carried her dead kids out of the barnyard.

Randy came home from work, and held me against his strong body for a long time. He picked up our shovel, walked to our northern fenceline, and dug a grave for the 3 kids. Then we collected Isla, who had been quietly present in the barn for each birth, and conducted a little ceremony, tenderly laying each goatling in the arms of the Greatest Mother of all. We said prayers and tossed in freshly picked flowers and sage. Then we filled the hole with our dry, chunky soil and walked back to the house, hand in hand.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Isla looks on as I unwrap the 3rd kid for burial.

Two doelings and a black buckling - all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

Two doelings and a black buckling – all perfect and fully grown. So terribly tragic.

But as the day waned, Hazelnut continued to labor. I called Christian again. He informed me it was unusual for a goat to experience pushing contractions when passing the placenta. There is one placenta, regardless of the number of kids, and it sort of oozes out over the next 24 hrs. Usually. We discussed drugs to give her (oxytocin) but as we have no large animal vets in Taos, options were limited. But Hazelnut was in such distress and bearing down so fiercely, I was growing very concerned I would lose her. While Randy fed animals and Marian stayed with Hazel, I called as many medical resources as I could, but being a Sunday evening, that was pitifully few. There was one vet on emergency call for 3 clinics, she lived an hour away, and she was being extremely difficult. She said we would have to meet her at the clinic with Hazelnut, but we could not get Hazel to walk, and only barely to stand, with a shaking back end. It would be impossible to move her. As far as human medical resources, my ER doc friend was camping with his boys, and my retired GP friend was rafting the Grand Canyon. Hazelnut’s previous owners were in Hawaii. Even my next door neighbor, a small animal vet, was out of town. And the pharmacy was closed anyway.

I was completely on my own.

As dusk settled on our farm, I returned to the barn. I had a gut feeling and I had to follow it before I lost my sweet doe. “Marian, I’m going back in again,” I sighed with furrowed brow. I washed up a 3rd time, without phone support, and began the slow, careful intrauterine exploration as my goat became weaker and weaker. She bellowed in pain. I steeled my resolve and reached in further. I knew I was her only hope of survival. My finger tips touched something hard that was no placenta. “There’s another kid in here, Mare!” I gasped in disbelief. I closed my eyes and leaned my cheek against Hazelnut’s flank. Her cries faded from my ears and I slipped into an altered state – just me, my hand and this very wedged kid. The cull kept tangling in my fingers making movement difficult, like being caught in a huge spider’s web. I finally realized I was hitting the side of the cervix, so I slipped my arm back, repositioned my fingers and slipped inside the womb. I could not sort out what I was feeling and I was starting to panic. “Breathe,  MacLaren,” I heard from outside my bubble. I breathed, and tried again, my arm being crushed by Hazelnut’s contractions. I still could not find the head, but I had to get this baby out – not for the baby’s sake, who I assumed was long dead, but to save Hazel. “I think it’s a chest,” I whispered into Hazelnut’s fur. I grabbed as hard as I could on what I was assuming was collarbones and shoulders, and on the next contraction pulled, wiggled and shook. A better grip, another contraction, and more of the same. After the third try, the kid busted through the cervix! In the birth canal I found the head which had trailed behind the chest, hopelessly turned back on it’s spine. I hooked a hoof, and the kid slid out.

It was black. That was all I could register. I did not attempt resuscitation. I was shell-shocked and utterly exhausted, but not nearly as bad off as my goat. She was hoarse from bawling, and trembling on her side in a mess of blood and birth fluid. Her head was in Marian’s lap. She was too spent to even look at her 4th and final kid. I wrapped it in a towel without checking the gender, then slipped out into the night air to get my breath. I could not stop shaking and felt near hysterics. I paced across the barnyard and stared up at the stars screaming WHY?! inside my head. I bent over with my hands on my knees and took 3 deep breaths, noticing the faint, acrid smell of smoke from the wildfires stinging my nose. When I stood I saw a pale shape in the goat water bucket. Was that a mourning dove? Had it drowned somehow? I walked over and bent to scoop it out, realized with a knife to my chest that it was another turkey poult! We were now down to 2 from the original 7.  I did not know how much more I could take.

I returned to the barn, slid my back down the wall into the shavings next to Hazel, and laid my blood crusted, trembling hand on my dear goats’ flank. She was breathing shallowly, but calmly, with exquisite relief. She softly moaned out her grief and pain with each exhalation. “I just found a poult drowned in the water bucket,” I said quietly to Marian. She sighed and closed her eyes, stroking Hazelnut’s neck and knobbly head. We sat in the stall in silence for a long time, listening to Hazelnut’s breath, and Fiona’s still-pregnant moans. “You did it MacLaren,” said Marian. “You trusted your gut feeling and you saved her life.” I blinked. Yes, I guess I did. I did the unfathomable. I repositioned kids in utero –  3 times. Only one out of 4 would have come out on it’s own. And I hoped to God I had saved my goat’s life. Time would tell.

Marian stood and stretched and I took her position at Hazelnut’s head, resuming the stroking and love. “Hazel,” I said, gazing deeply into her half open, caprine eyes, “You were a brave, brave mama. You will recover your heart and your body. You will be OK my dear friend. And I vow to you now, I will never, NEVER breed you again. I love you Hazie.” I said as I kissed her on her classic, Roman, Nubian nose.

I administered a weak betadine douche with a turkey baster, per the vet, and let her rest beside Fiona. Then I roamed through the house in a daze as Marian returned to her apartment and Randy and Isla slept. It was many hours before I found the relief of sleep myself, interspersed with anxiety dreams of reaching blindly into a bottomless pit and pulling out a 5th kid.

A small farm miracle of the year's first poppy that morning.

A small farm miracle of the year’s first poppy that morning.

Monday morning, Willie awoke me with his 4:45 AM crowing and I dressed and stumble out to the barn. Hazelnut seemed slightly better but could not stand without shaking terribly, and was still having some mild contractions. She ate her grain rations heartily and drank her mollasses water deeply. She gazed at me with thankful eyes, filled with pain and loss, and moaned hoarsely.

I sat on the porch step holding my undrunk coffee, staring at the northern mountains, vaguely aware of the rising sun. The shovel chunked into the hard adobe soil as Randy worked on the grave for the fourth kid. I could not even join him, nor did I include Isla, as he buried the last babe, and the dead poult, in a grave beside the previous kids. As he walked solomnly back to the house with the towel and shovel, he touched my slumped shoulder and said softly, “Another doeling,” and slipped inside to get dressed for work. The early morning sun glinted off the pond into my eyes and I blinked back my tightly held emotions. Then I returned to the barn and Hazelnut and sat beside my friend. “The last one was a girl, Hazie,” I said numbly. And then the flood gates opened and I sobbed and sobbed for a long time while stroking her reddish brown fur. I cried for Hazelnut, I cried for the 4 lost lives, I cried for the bouncing, playful kids that would never entertain us, and I cried for my son, Rowan, who we had lost at birth. I had remembered his warm, limp weight in my arms with each kid I laid in the grave. I had remembered bathing his perfect body with each stillborn kid I rubbed briskly with my resuscitation attempts; attempts to rivive these beautiful, perfect, furry beings; to magically revive my beautiful, perfect son. Oh God Hazel, I am so sorry! I am so sorry I could not do more! Oh Rowan, I miss you so!

**********

I met the vet at 8:30 AM at the clinic to purchase penicillin and oxytocin shots. The potential of infection was high with my necessary invasions and I still was not sure the placenta had passed completely. I say I “met” the vet, but she actually completely ignored me. There was no “How is your goat doing?” or even “How are you Ms. Scott?”. She did not even introduce herself. It was like salt dumped on my wounded heart.

We poured Hazelnut’s rich colostrum down the drain as, laced with antibiotics, it was undrinkable. I remembered with deep sadness my own colostrum that had leaked from my engorged breasts – nourishment that my baby would never taste.

Hazelnut slowly improved and gained strength. After a couple of days she walked out of the barn to greet us at dinner time. We were overjoyed! I mixed her up a special concoction each evening of her whole organic oats and barley, whole sunflower seeds, seaweed, molasses, diatomaceous earth (for worming as Christian had warned worms could take over a weak goat), acidophilus, and organic live yogurt. Each morning I gave her a bowl of raisins with her penicillin injection. It’s been 6 days since her kidding and I feel certain now she will make it. She is jumping up on her milking stand, and acting alert. Other than being alarmingly thin, she seems quite normal. In another week we can start keeping her milk and get back to drinking and consuming our favorite milk and cheese.

Yesterday I cleaned Fiona’s stall in preparation for her kidding. She entered her kidding window today as she is 5 days out from her due date. Am I nervous? Hell yeah! But I am feeling more calm with each day that passes. My heart is healing as Hazelnut heals, and I am healing at a deeper level from the loss of our own baby, 8 yrs ago. It is slowly sinking in that I truly saved my goat’s life! I am pretty sure I now have more experience with goat kidding than the vet I had called the night of! I notice I am walking a bit taller, my shoulders back and my back straight. I am looking strangers in the eye with a sad, but confidence smile. I hope to God I never have to experience that again, but at least I know HOW, if the need arises, to reposition kids in utero – lots of kids – and deal emotionally with the sad, senseless loss of new lives.

After the last few days of processing and recovery, I finally get it that there was nothing I could have done to save our Rowan either. Nor was there anything the doctors and midwives could have done. Absolutely nothing. And that comes as some relief, as I forgive myself for my own helplessness, and wash away another layer of grief and anger.

Our first poppy at sunset the day after.

The illumination of the setting sun.

Many years ago I became convinced that Guinea hens were from another planet, in another solar system, in a far away section of our galaxy. They are streamlined, like wee flying saucers, and have those odd appendages on top of their heads which must be signaling devices, or GPS LARAN positioning systems, or perhaps steering controls when traveling at hyperspeed. Even their markings look like a milky way of stars scattered over a twilight sky. So, living in New Mexico, capitol of alien abductions, flying saucer crashes and government conspiracies, it seemed appropriate we should have guineas.

And even MORE significant was the fact I refused to spend another summer removing squash bugs by hand and squashing them individually. I needed to acquire another farm species who would work for their rent, and guineas are famous for their exquisitely detailed control of insects – especially squash bugs!

I had planned to tuck several store bought guinea keets under our broody turkey hen when she wasn’t looking, hoping she would assume they had just popped out of one of the chicken eggs she had been setting on for 3 weeks. But the same morning that I was heading to the feed store, I saw a post on Facebook, looking for someone to adopt 2 adult guinea hens. Well, I’m your huckleberry! After a few days we arranged a pass off at Randy’s work and he returned home with a dog crate of guineas.

Wow. They were SO much more beautiful than I imagined! I honestly had never seen guineas close up – only in internet images. I had somewhat prepared myself for their calls with a quick Youtube search though. Wow again. Randy summed it up concisely: rusty water pumps. Yup. On a PA system. The mom was named Lighty and the daughter was unamed. Isla quickly took care of that. “Can she be Daisy, Mama?” And so she was.

I hastily raked out the coop and nesting shelf, adding fresh wood shaving to both, and brought their cage inside the coop. Fresh water and feed awaited the birds as a welcome basket of sorts. I excitedly opened the cage door and stepped back. Ahhh….. there they were. The mother was ash grey with a spray of white dots, and the daughter was black with white dots matching her mother’s. And there was that rusty, squeaky water pump! Whoa! Someone bring me some oil for that hinge! They were agitated and curious and REALLY wanted to get out (being somewhat feral). But I was determined to imprint them on their new farm so pulled out my best tough love act. “Staaaay, ladies.”

I left them in the coop for another hour or more and then opened up the flaps and herded in the chickens and Thomas the turkey. There was no commotion as there would have been with a new chicken. They must have been terrified of each other. In the morning, Randy opened the bird flaps and everyone piled out, guineas included. Within minutes, much to his surprise, they both flewn over the 5′ high barnyard pen fence that the previous owner thought would contain them! Then they commenced to get to know the larger boundary of our dog fencing, our boundary perimeter, our driveway, our neighbor’s driveway, and then back into our yard, and even back into our barnyard pen! And did I forget to mention our barn roof? Able to leap tall fences in a single bound was no joke. There was no fence on our property that could contain them! But at least I always knew where they were, unless I had my earplugs in.

But then they started up the acequia. Isla and I got ahead of them, but when we weren’t looking, they skittered by on the opposite bank like two scaled quail on steroids. With a large expanse of thick sage brush and a 4 year old in tow (who insists on me holding her hand as we walk), it was impossible for me to pursue them. A bit later, my duplex mate watched Isla for 30 minutes while I investigated the area where I could hear them calling from. But when I got close to their sounds, they quieted down and I could not pinpoint their location.

A second time I went off alone in pursuit of their calls, this time leaving Isla in the house with a promise I would return in 5 minutes (OK, it was 6). I knew they were around my neighbor’s enclosed back yard and attached carport, but again I could not pinpoint the location. I knocked on the door each time but no one answered.

After Randy got home from work I wrote up a note, grabbed a roll of tape, and headed back up the acequia. This time someone was home and I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting my delightful neighbor Cecilia, an older woman who had already met Randy and Isla on our neighborhood trail. She took my number and said she would call if she heard anything resembling the guinea hen imitation I demonstrated for her (sounding more like a miniature donkey I am sure).

The next morning, as I was leaving to take Isla to school, Cecilia called. She had heard a strange noise in her backyard and thought they might be the guineas. I let her know I’d be there as soon as I could after dropping Isla at school. A bit later she called again saying she was pretty sure they were under her tree in the yard. Then a third time to say she had heard the sound in her carport and saw some feathers there. Well, I hustled home as fast as I could, changed my clothes, grabbed the cage, a sheet and a can of scratch, and hiked up the acequia toward Cecilia’s. I enter the carport and immediately saw the evidence: a pile of beautiful ash grey feathers sprayed with white dots, definitive evidence of Lighty’s demise. My heart fell into my shoes. With slumped shoulders and aching heart I search the backyard area but found no sight or sound of Daisy. I could only hope she had found another farm with guineas, or that her ascent to join her mother in guinea heaven was a quick one.

I gathered up the alien feathers and plodded slowly home towards the setting sun.

Lighty and Daisy

Lighty and Daisy

If you read my blog post entitled Down in Birdland, you may be wondering what happened with our turkey hen, Isabelle, who had been broody since mid January. We last left her setting on a clutch of 10 chicken eggs, with no idea if this arrangement would be successful. Well, strange things happened over the 3 weeks of incubation: eggs disappeared (was she eating the unborn chicks?); she finally started laying her own eggs again for the first time since January; and then, in the midst of all my playing God, she allowed Thomas to mate with her, for the first time I was aware of since last spring when she hatched her own clutch! I covered my eyes and shook my head, not to give the lewd couple privacy, but because it was sinking in that after all my fancy arranging, Izzy was now capable of setting on and hatching her own clutch!

Of all the nasty tricks.

Meanwhile, I had timed everything to the nth detail, like a finely choreographed ballet. I “gave” her the chicken egg clutch exactly 21 days before the feed store was to receive day old royal palm turkey poults (she and her mate, Thomas, are also royal palm), and day old guinea keats. If she wasn’t going to kick out of the broody phase, she was not going to lay her own eggs, and her eggs would not be fertile unless she came out of her box long enough to let Thomas mate with her! I wanted poults for Thanksgiving and sausage! And, I very much wanted guineas for squash bug control. And I also ordered 22 chicken chicks (yes, in addition to the 15 I had been hand raising for 4 weeks already) – 16 cockerels (young roosters) bound eventually for the freezer, and 6 more pullets (young hens) to further supplement our laying flock. The plan had been to stage a fantastic adoption caper, shoving 3 different species under Izzy for her to mother.

Perhaps I was overzealous. Perhaps this plan was a bit bold. (Ya think?) But, hey, I always say, why just get your toes wet when you can dive straight in? Right? (Plus I had a Plan B – to raise them by hand if Izzy should fail.)

Well, the first paragraph of oddities should have clued me in that Mother Nature does not like to be upstaged. The next sign definitely had me looking guiltily at the cloudless sky. The mail order chicks arrived 4 days before I expected them!! As I was uncomfortable putting to-be-adopted chicks under Izzy before her own clutch started hatching, this sent me for a loop! I got the call from the PO and had to do some serious scrambling of setting up the wee chick scene once more. I was out of wood shavings, I was almost out of starter feed (the teenager chicks could now graduate to grower feed), and I needed another heat lamp as the first was in the teenagers’ outdoor house. However, everything was ready for Izzy’s adoption set up (she would be the natural heat lamp and already had her own feeder and waterer), of course.  Add to this stress the fact that the PO called me at 6am on a SUNDAY, and were, of course, closing for the day as soon as the truck was unloaded. I did not get the message until 7am – MUCH too late. So the wee babes had to sit in the PO for 24 more hours – rather heartbreaking for a maternally-minded mom such as myself.  At least it gave me time to prepare…

Weds, “hatch day”, came and went. No chicks appeared. Thurs arrived and still no hatchings. The poults were getting older, waiting at the feed store for me to collect them. I did not want to offer Izzy poults that were too old for fear of the adoption backfiring. Never knew that raising poultry was much akin to rocket science, did you? The same morning I saw a Facebook posting for 2 adult guinea hens who needed a home. Hmmmm…. It was time for some decisive action. I messaged the guinea woman, got in the car, and headed to the feed store. Two hours later I returned home with 4 royal palm poults of unknown sex, peeping with confusion and fear.

I carried the wee ones inside, out of the wind, and set to filling feed trough and water bottle. This time, with the sad experience from last spring, I added small gravel to the water ring so the poults would not drown in their own waterer (chicken chicks do not need this sort of babying – they are a lot smarter). I stacked all the supplies on top of the towel draped box of babies, and headed to the barn. Fiona, our first time pregnant goat, heard the cheeping as I opened the gate, and tore to the opposite corner of the barnyard in stark terror. Goats can be so darn goofy. Hazelnut did not seem to care and escorted me to Izzy’s enclosure, presumably because she smelled the corn in the feeder. I shut the gate and opened Izzy’s hatch. Immediately she heard the peeping and stretched her neck up inquisitively. She slowly raised her massive, white body up off her chicken egg clutch and peered out of her broody box like some prehistoric dinosaur. Just the mere sound of peeping babies caused her to answer in characteristic pips and coos. I felt encouraged. I opened the peep box and removed the first poult, tucking it gracefully beneath Izzy’s raised body. She looked between her scaly legs and tucked and shifted as I added the remaining 3. Her eyes took on a misty look of pure bliss as she continued to shift and adjust. I tried to roll the 5 remaining chicken eggs out from under her but she was having none of that and rolled them right back beneath her chest. As I left her, she settled back down with the utmost care, not a poult to be seen, not a peep to be heard, her eyes happily at half mast.

I sighed with my own happy smile. The newest chicks would be moved outside in another 10 days or so, then after a month they could be joined with the teenagers. I would introduce adult guinea hens for squash bug control as soon as I could pick them up, without having to raise them from keats. And Isabelle finally had her babies. Now I could gratefully push this series of poultry stresses to the side and focus, with renewed calm, on what was next on our plate…..

Our first experience with goat kidding (GASP!! CPR! I NEED CPR!).

Three weeks and counting. 🙂

The adopted poults are dwarfed by Isabelle's prehistoric bulk.

The adopted poults are dwarfed by Isabelle’s prehistoric bulk.

And here is exhibit B, Izzy's poult disappearing act!

And here is exhibit B, Izzy’s poult disappearing act!

************************************************************************

Addendum:

Turkey poults are very fragile little beings, and very, very intellectually challenged. Within a few hours of adoption, I returned to check and found one poult already dead, squashed between the eggs, and another squashed pretty flat, but still alive. I helped revive the latter poult, helping it to it’s water and food. It drank clumsily for about 5 minutes straight – obviously dehydrated. I forcibly removed the last 5 eggs at that point – their time had come and gone in my opinion and they were now a danger to the poults. Randy and Isla cracked them open to check and found 4 to be unviable and one with a fully formed, but dead, chick. Sad. I tried reviving that one too but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I jumped the gun on removing the eggs, but it was either them or the poults it seemed. The good news is that at least we now know that turkeys CAN incubate chicken eggs.

The next morning I found a second dead poult. But as I gently lifted Izzy up to her feet (I can barely believe she lets me do this), the remaining two came running out looking chipper and healthy. If they made it through that night, I feel hopeful they will make it in the long run.

Later still:

It’s been almost a week now and I have brought home 3 more poults, and lost 2 more. We seem to be leveling out at 3 healthy babies. It’s been hard to be sure, although I try hard to be a tough chick myself. But those mama tears just keep escaping each time I remove another limp baby.

But of course, no one said being a farm girl was easy….

Painting the new hive in preparation

Painting the new hive in preparation

Isla helping me assemble the frames with her own little hammer.

Isla helping me assemble the frames with her own little hammer.

Sure, I’ve installed packages of bees before. Not a lot, but at least 3. You wait by the phone on the predicted day of arrival for that exciting call from the USPS annex. You jump in your vehicle and speed over, ring the back door bell, and the postal person leads you in from the loading dock, as he or she is not usually comfortable bringing a cage of 10,000 bees TO you. Then you set them in your car and whisper loving endearments to this seething mass of the insect world as you drive them slowly home, to their waiting hive. And then you install them, but that is another story.

But USPS no longer ships bees.

And I had no idea what was in store for me when I headed south to meet the bee truck from Texas.

After the relaxing 1-1/2 hr drive to Santa Fe (alone, by God!) through the Rio Grande Gorge and it’s serpentine tumble through class 3 rapids, and my requisite stop at Trader Joe’s in said town, I went off in search of the pick up spot. I passed it 3 times before I finally figured out which drive it was. House numbers do no good in emails when they do not exist in reality. I pulled in and waved to a man who was separating bee cages with a pry bar. Bees were swirling in a cloud around his unveiled head. I was obviously in the right place. He asked my name and carried over 2 of the 4 cages I was transporting.

But something was very wrong.

There were bees flying everywhere and several hundred clinging to the outside of the cages! WTF? How was I going to get these cages into the back seat of my truck? And then home?

I inquired as to why the OUTSIDES of the cages where coated in several layers of bees. The man said that was the nature of a bee truck delivery – the bees were shaken into the bee package cages on top of the queen cages and a bunch more attached themselves to the outside, waiting for their new home, just like the trapped ones inside. I mumbled under my breath that USPS never delivered my cages covered in bees …. on the OUTSIDE. Of course I knew that hiveless bees have no instinct to sting as there is nothing to protect. But it was more than a little unnerving to think of driving 65 mph down the highway for the next 1-1/2 hrs with bees swirling at will about my head inside the truck!

He brought the next pair of cages over, slightly less bee coated, and I stood back waiting for the upset creatures to land once more. I had no gloves, so took a deep breath, grabbed the protruding slats, and hefted the first pair slowly and carefully into the back seat. Because it was obvious HE didn’t want to do it for me! Same procedure with the second pair of cages. Now the cloud of verklempt insects was IN the truck. I leaned in the driver’s door slowly, reached for the keys, turned on the ignition, and opened all the windows. Then I very carefully slid open the back slider window.

I stood back for about 5 minutes and watched the cloud alight, one by one, back on their cage of origin. When there were only a few dozen airborn cruisers, I slipped slowly into the drivers seat, being careful to check that I was not about to sit on a stray, closed the door, and rolled out of the drive with my knuckles already clenched white on the steering wheel.

In this pics the flying bees have settled down and are clinging quietly to the outside of the 2 farthest away cages.

In this pic the flying bees have settled down and are clinging quietly to the outside of the 2 farthest away cages.

For the nerve-wracking drive back to Taos, I made all moves in slow motion. I adjusted and readjusted the airflow from the windows to create a suction out the back slider. Fortunately, many of my unwanted passengers exited the truck in this exciting, high speed fashion. I blasted the airconditioner to chill them down a bit, hoping to encourage them to clump together for warmth. As it was barely in the 40’s outside, my fingers were beginning to grow numb. I finally broke down and blasted the heat on my sockless feet, leaving the windows opened as they were. As I waited for feeling to return to my frozen finger tips, I started thinking rather hysterical thoughts, quite obviously borne from my intense nervousness. “I bet Randy never thought he could fit 40,000 ladies into his truck at once. HA HA HA HA!!” (And yes, that estimation was about right, give or take a hundred.) I shivered to my core and switched hands – one for the wheel, the other jammed between my thighs. The bees and I settled to our travel task over time, but stopping at lights was always the hairiest. The lack of motion triggered them to fly again and without the air flow through the windows, they tended to fly into the front of the cab to check me out. I was grateful to have worn a hoody, and kept the hood pulled forward as best I could. This, at least, eased my fear of curious bees crawling down the neck of my shirt.

I wound my way up out of the Gorge to look north across the town of Taos and the intermittent snow squalls marching eastward across the mesa. What I could see of the mountains were blanketed white with their fresh burdens, so characteristic of our mountain springtime.  Heather met me at the gate to her yard with camera in hand, and I escaped my buzzing jail in record time. In the reflection of her car window, I spotted one of the wee lassies crawling on the back of my shirt. Heather brushed her off, we took some pictures through the open door, and I carefully carried her two cages into the wood shop. Then it was back to the bumpy dirt road, bound for our own farm, about a mile away.

Once parked safely in our driveway, I was greeting by my duly impressed husband (and flexed my muscles for him a bit), who had completed the readying of the apiary in preparation for my arrival. The 2 hives were leveled with a slight tilt forward for moisture drainage, the old frames (full of honey still from the hive we lost last winter) were interspersed with the newly built frames (split between the old and the new hives), the sugar water was in the 2 boardman feeders, the entrance reducers were in place. All looked good. I carried the pair of cages from the truck to the apiary (without protection, just to impress the cheering crowd… in my mind), and we retired to the house to don gear as the next wave of squalls moved across our farm.

Prying the cages apart.

Prying the cages apart.

A blast of wind and a flurry of snow whipped the house. Randy and I looked at each other in disbelief. Didn’t we install our first hive in a snow storm 3 years ago, we asked with our arched brows? I felt badly for the poor bees out in the cold wind and fumbled hurriedly with my suit and veil. Randy was wearing his Christmas bee suit for the first time and was extremely excited. As he was always on kid duty, he had NEVER seen the inside of our hive in the 3 yrs we had kept it!  We also crowned Marian (our housemate) and Isla (our 3 year old) with veils of their own. Once the squall passed (which only took a few minutes, in high desert fashion), we raced back out to the apiary and began the process.

Removing sugar water cans and queen cages.

Removing sugar water cans and queen cages.

Sugar water cans were removed from the cages, queen cages removed next and attached on a frame in each hive, and bees tumbled in a clumping ball over the top of their queens. The girls immediately crawled down inside their new homes and got down to the business of housecleaning, comb drawing, and tending their royal mistress.

Shaking the package of bees over the queen cage.

Shaking the package of bees over the queen cage.

The worker bees moving down into the frames to get to work.

The worker bees moving down into the frames to get to work.

Um, that would be approximately 10,000 bees.

Um, that would be approximately 10,000 bees.

Replacing the inner cover.

Replacing the inner cover.

We replaced inner and outer covers, adjusted the entrance reducers, and leaned the bee cages against the landing boards. There were still many hundreds of bees in the cages and it was important to give them an easy path to their new digs. Marian and Isla watched from nearby, the former madly taking pictures. Then Randy and I stepped back, took a deep breath, and exhaled with deep satisfaction. While we took turns brushing stray bees from each other’s clothes, the next wave of weather came in, peppering us with small, bouncing hail balls. The grand finale was a resounding clap of thunder! We shook our heads and giggled into the frigid wind. This was April 20th??

The 4 of us rushed inside the warm house, a hudle of 4 beaming smiles. It was done! Our babies were safe. Our apiary was doubled in size! We had gotten the new hive ready in time. We did it!! And no one had gotten stung.

Isla and Marian, our cheerleaders!

Isla and Marian, our cheerleaders!

After stripping off gear and passing around some well deserved high fives, I scurried back out into the driveway to close up the truck and bring in the boxes from Trader Joe’s. I checked the truck interior first for any lost bees, then reached for the box of 2 Buck Chuck.

“OW!” (And if you really think that was the word that came out of my mouth, you can think again. Please note I used to sail on tall ships.) I shook the squashed bee off my palm and scraped out the stinger she had left behind. Then I belted out some more colorful sailor jargon to ease the pain. Had I truly survived a harrowing drive, installed 2 new hives, and then got stung carrying in groceries? I entered the house with a wry smile on my face, which got much bigger when Randy passed me a shot glass of tequila and a wedge of lime! “Oh yeh”, I sighed with a clink of glass – he was speaking my other language (which fits in quite well with sailor talk). “Slante!”

Well at least we all got a good laugh at the absolute irony of it! And the thought of the fall honey harvest was well worth my few new gray hairs. With the existing crop sprouting from my rumpled head, I truly doubted anyone would notice.

Down in Birdland

My little Nugget with HER little nugget, "Sweetie".

My little Nugget with HER little nugget, “Sweetie”.

The kitchen door opened beside me. Randy walked in juggling 3 cloth grocery bags. “Hi Honey.” I stood to give him a peck on the cheek. Then bent automatically to kiss my daughter Isla who I assumed was in line behind him. But Dot, our house chicken, hopped up on the threshold instead, clicking across the tile floor behind Randy. And THEN came my 3 yr old.

Yes, this is farm life, and it’s spring again here, which means I am working hard on my Poultry Plan once more. And I had high hopes for Dot and her assistance this year. I thought, “Oh, our sweet, sweet Dot…. certainly with her tender personality and loving demeanor she will adopt my feedstore bought chicks?”

HA!

So there were the chicks – 16 balls of down and constant peeping. Five different breeds between 1 and 2 days old. I had just brought them home in the cat carrier. How could a potential mother resist those adorable little nuggets of fluff? Dot hopped through the door and I lowered the carrier down to her height…. expecting…. what was I expecting? A tender moment? A cosmic shift as the love and nurture began to flow? Instead, Dot jumped a few inches into the air with a loud squawk, ran in place on the tile for a second or two before her talons found purchase, then ran bucking and flapping into the playroom and around the corner into the bathroom, skidding out on the slick wood floor! I kid you not! I was disappointed, but still in hysterics! So much for THAT plan of flowers and butterflies. So now we are down to hand raising the little sweeties, which for any of you who have done this before know, is a lot of work. That is why Nature invented broody hens.

1st day with the chicks, after Dot squawked "RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!"

1st day with the chicks, after Dot squawked “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

The new chicks love their outdoors play time!

The new chicks love their outdoors play time!

Which brings me to Stage II of the Poultry Plan. Well, we DO have a broody hen. She has been broody since mid January!! But the problem is – Isabelle is a turkey hen, and we need a chicken hen. And since Izzie refuses to get out of “the zone”, she has stopped laying her own eggs. So she continues to stare at the inner walls of our broody box, tucking each chicken egg beneath her massive white chest as the chicken hens leave their deposit beside her and hop out to enjoy the rest of their day. And then afternoon comes and we lift Izzie out of the box, take the chicken eggs she has left toasty warm, sigh heavily, and go about the rest of our chores. Izzy takes enough of a break to get some food and water and then hops right back into her now empty nest. Day after day as Winter progressed and Spring began, her mate, Thomas, strutted back and forth beyond her box, hoping, hoping, for a little action. Because this time last year, this Royal Palm turkey pair had been having turkey sex every morning, Izzy had laid a large clutch, sat on 18 eggs and hatched out 5 poults.

Isabelle mothering last years turkey poults

Isabelle mothering last years turkey poults (with a chicken mama sharing the box!)

But not this year. Thomas has lately taken to relieving his sexual frustrations on the pan of scratch, and we are missing our delicious turkey eggs. And what will happen come Thanksgiving with no young poult to harvest for our table? Randy said,”Why don’t you just let her sit on the chicken eggs?” But I feared her weight would be too much – first on the eggs, with their thinner shells, and then on the hatchlings (if any hatched) whose bone structures are certainly designed for tucking beneath a chicken hen, half Izzy’s weight. But it was getting ridiculous as days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and mating season had arrived.

So I have succumbed to his suggestion. All we can do is try, right? And as Izzy is so darn broody I am sure she would mother a litter of puppies, I am going to try to take advantage. Three days from now, I are going to let her keep her daily collection of chicken eggs… and set. We will mark Wednesday’s and Thursday’s eggs with a marker, and go back to removing any daily donation from thence forth. Turkey eggs hatch in 28ish days – chicken eggs in 21. Hopefully that won’t throw her off too much. I read that chicken mothers hear the peeping of their babies through the shells. I wonder if Izzy is fluent in bukbuk-ese by now and will be able to hear their calls.

And being a thrifty, Scottish, opportunist, I am not going to stop there either. I have chosen this particular date of April 17th because on May 8th, 21 days later, a nearby feed store will receive day old Royal Palm turkey poults… and day old guinea keats. And just to test her mothering skills further, I have a box of day old chicken chicks arriving in the mail simultaneously. Yes, you guessed it. I am hoping that Izzy will adopt and raise 3 separate species of poultry, all within a day or 2 of age, only a fraction of which she sat on and hatched herself. The adoption aspect has worked a few times before with broody chickens. I have successfully tucked store bought chicks under the wings of moms who have just hatched a chick or two of their own. I pray to the patron saints of poultry parents that it will work with Izzy too.

And my business plan? Well, I tried last year but was foiled 3 times. 1st the 18 rare eggs I bought and shoved under a broody hen never hatched (actually, were never fertilized as I cracked them open when they were overdue to check). Then I ran out and returned home with 17 store bought babies who were successfully adopted by that mom, but all eaten by a gray fox 5 days later – the mom included. Then another broody hen sat on a clutch of our eggs. At the same time I ordered chicks through a woman in the midwest who promised she’d get the eggs in the incubator on the right date and airship the hatchlings to me. But she never got the eggs going, and never let me know. So we ended up with one chick last year, from our own flock’s eggs, and 4 adult layer deaths. It was a bad year for our birds.

Our one 2012 chick, Noche, who lays a wonderful olive mocha egg!

Our one 2012 chick, Noche, who now sports a gold neck ruff and lays a wonderful olive mocha egg!

My seemingly simple goal has merely been to add more layers and create a more colorful carton for selling. At least these hand raised chicks are doing well. I have 3 Cuckoo Marans who will lay chocolate brown eggs, 4 Auracanas who will lay blue-green eggs, 3 Anconas who will lay white eggs, 2 Welsummers who will lay a dark terracotta reddish-brown egg, and 2 Rhode Island Reds who will give me a dependable supply of light brown eggs. (These will be added to the 2 Americannas and 10 light brown eggs layers we currently have.) Isla has been enjoying the chicks’ company in her playroom, and it’s been great fun watching them explore and exercise in their outdoor play pen. After this next week of cold temps have passed, I plan to move them outside permanently with a house and a heat lamp attached to their pen.

And on May 8th we will find out if turkeys make good adoptive mothers. If not, I guess I’ll be quite busy mothering the second batch by hand. In addition to the poults and keats, the mail order will include 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 NH Reds, and 2 Speckled Sussex – all light brown eggs layers to offset our aging current flock. Also 6 Dark Cornish roos and 6 White Giant roos for meat.

I think you will all agree that Izzy is going to be one busy bird.

%d bloggers like this: