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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!

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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

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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….

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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.

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Everyone needs a Dot to greet them when they return home, waiting patiently on the kitchen door step, 2 fences away from the barnyard where she belongs. Everyone needs a Dot to nestle down on the hearth in front of a roaring winter fire, and peck contentedly at a scattered pile of cracked corn. Everyone needs a Dot for their 3 yr old to coddle like a live, feathered baby doll, or snuggle down in their lap while they read a good book. Everyone needs a Dot to tap her beak on their neighbors’ sliding back door, asking politely for cracker crumbs.

And we are one of those fortunate ones because we DO have a Dot! THE Dot, in fact. The FAMOUS Dot!

Sweet Dot, as we call her, is our very special Ameraucana hen. She came in the mail along with 23 other day-old chicks, 3 springs ago, to grace our farm with her beauty and unusual personality. She lays lovely powder blue eggs that are rather torpedo shaped, and follows us around the farm like a family golden retriever. She is small (allowing her to jump through all the fences), very sensitive, and empathic. To date she has “midwifed” 3 of our ailing hens to their deaths, acting as a hospice worker, snuggled up beside them as each made their earthly transitions to chicken heaven. Dot even supported the body of our flock matriarch, Gertie, as she slumped over Dot’s multicolored back in the slow act of dying. Read about that story here. Once her “patients” have passed through to the other side, Dot gets up and goes on about her normal chicken-ish business.

Here is Dot using her own body to support dying Gertie.

Here is Dot using her own body to support dying Gertie.

Although, the idea of Dot acting like a chicken is rather far fetched these days. In fact, she can not make up her mind if she is a dog, a cat, a goat or a human. But in her little pea sized brain, she is most definitely NOT a chicken.

As sensitive as she is, she has always been at the bottom of the pecking order. She does not excel at fighting back or standing up for herself. Gandhi would have been proud of our wee Dot. But the results of her gentle personality was really making itself known early last fall. She was losing more and more feathers from the rough attentions of the rest of her flock – especially Little Willie, the rooster, who had chosen Dot as his personal concubine. She was not holding up well under the strain of this involuntary position. Then one afternoon, when I went out for feeding chores, I realized that Dot had been on the roost in the coop for the entire day. She had not eaten or drunk – anything. It occurred to me that she had simply given up the fight. Life was just too hard for her and she was done trying. I removed the coop window and reached in to take her gently off the roost. In my arms she laid her head in the crook of my elbow with a tired sigh. I took her inside the house and gave her a bowl of grain and one of water. In her new surroundings, she perked right up and soon realized she had no competition for dinner! She DEVOURED everything, and then set about the serious business of getting to know her humans’ house, leaving a trail of chicken land mines in her wake.

It was now my turn to sigh as I followed her about with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of cleaning spray.

But in the days and weeks that followed, we set Dot up on our back porch with her own little house, nesting box and perch, although she usually preferred to perch on our porch love seat and watch us through the picture window. The love seat soon became uninhabitable to her new human family, so she was moved daily to the garden (which was mostly put to bed), and then moved back to her porch box each evening. Her feathers began their natural process of fall molting, and with no flock to yank them back out, she soon had a new set for winter. She filled out and put on weight, and seemed extremely content with the new arrangement. And she became firmly attached to her humans, and absolutely beautiful once again.

Dot and Isla ready the house for our Solstice gathering.

Dot and Isla ready the house for our Solstice gathering.

When winter set in, we covered her house with an insulating blanket and installed a red bulb inside for warmth. The garden was covered thickly with snow so she remained mostly on the porch. It was a bitterly cold winter with dozens of nights in double digit sub zero temps. So after chilly morning farm chores, we would usually bring Dot in to warm up by the fire. She learned that if she was still and quiet, we would often forget about her, and she could get away with hours of fireside time, nestled against the pile of firewood on the hearth, watching our family proceedings through her warm brown eyes, half mast with contentment.

When the worst of the cold had passed, we decided to try some re-integration attempts. The porch faced north and Dot was getting no exercise and no sun as she preferred to stand by the glass porch door waiting to be let inside. The first day back in the barnyard must have been pretty re-traumatizing for her as she quickly escaped to the goat field and huddled alone under a sage brush all day. And that became the new routine as each afternoon we had to go on a Dot hunt in the field to find her chosen bush of the day. Sometimes she would hop out through the field fence and into the big, bad world, full of roaming dogs and coyotes and hawks – NOT a safe place for a sweet little hen. We worried about her a lot.

And then she went missing for 3 whole days. I was SURE she had been eaten by a predator. I was very sad, missing her warm, gentle, feathery bulk in my arms (but not necessarily missing the mandatory afternoon chicken hunts or piles of poop on the porch). And then on the 4th day, Randy came in from milking with Dot in his arms. She was starved and dehydrated but alive! “Where did you find her?” I gasped. “She got stuck in the hay storage between a bale and the wall. She couldn’t turn around to get out.” I later learned a friend had lost one of her chickens that same way with a not-so-happy ending to her story.

DSC05423Spring is once more working to get a foothold on our farm in between a string of late winter snow storms, and Dot is doing fairly well in the barn yard again. She has lost a few feathers, and refuses to use the coop, but we have made some compromises and are working out the new arrangements. She sleeps on the milking stand or in the second story of Isla’s old doll house next to the hay, gets fed separately on top of the hay bales, and rides around on Hazelnut’s back to keep Little Willie from his less than gentle attentions. When she is not on top of the goats, she is between their legs as they eat their hay. She obviously feels safe with the large mammals (I believe it’s because the other chickens steer clear of them). If I am in the barnyard and Little Willie is stalking her, she runs and huddles between my feet, communicating with agitation that she’d like to be saved by my loving arms. She rides on my forearm for chores, like a trained falcon, and huddles on the edge of the milking stand for morning milking. She has as little interaction with the other chickens as possible. And if she ends up in the yard, she goes straight to the back porch and looks continuously in through the porch door, hoping to be let in for some snuggles and attention. If no one responds to her request she will perch on the edge of Molly’s dog bed (a net type bed suspended by a frame) while Molly, our Pyrenees, snores in the net.

My little angel getting back blown by the spring storm.

My little angel getting back blown by the spring storm.

I am blessed to have several friends who I am sure have left their wings out of sight, just around the corner. You know the type: hearts as open as split watermelons, oozing unconditional love and positive energy all around them. What a sloppy, love-filled mess they make. Ahhh. And that, too, is Dot, but she gets to keep her wings on, lucky little angel.

So is a chicken still a chicken if they are convinced they are otherwise? An interesting question that I know not the answer to. But I do know that Dot is one special creature, regardless of species, and we are lucky to have her in our lives. She has been high maintenance to be sure, and caused us no end of worry, but the love and joy she brings us makes it all worthwhile in the end.

Thank you Sweet Dot for choosing us to be your family. May your winged life be long and safe and may your angelic heart touch many.

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I am Scottish. That should explain all, right? Let’s start with my name: MacLaren Scott. If that didn’t clue you in… well, there may be no hope. Sorry. My husband is Czech and German. Fortunately, my clansmen and women still love and accept him, regardless of this handicap. When he accompanies me to the Highland Games, they make him an honorary member of Clan “McKraut”, as it were. This way he feels… included and not quite so silly wearing a kilt of his wife’s tartan. (Besides, if he didn’t he may never have sex with said wife again.)

Now being an honorary member of Clan McKraut, Hubby also received the honor of tasting my newest batch of sauerkraut…. first. Because after all, he IS a descendent of two kraut making cultures. (I get the first taste from new bottles of scotch, so it all comes out in the wash.) Usually I just bring the sample to him, but this time I asked for his help in photographing the experience. He had never seen the disrobing of a freshly cultured crock of kraut before and therefore did not expect the colorful fur coat and pungent smell of roquefort cheese… and worse. He grimaced as he took pictures for me, rivaling only our 3 yr old for the most expressive face of revulsion west of the Mississippi. But once the mold was peeled away, the inverted plate removed, the top layers scrapped off and the inner sides sponged clean, his interest was beginning to grow.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate...

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate…

...and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the other.

…and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the rim of the other side.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper around the sides.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper near the walls.

“Why are you taking so much off!?” he asked with dismay, demonstrating the way his wife’s scottish thriftiness has rubbed off on him. “Because I don’t want to be responsible for killing myself and my family”, I replied evenly. I don’t really think I would kill anyone, I just want to get as far away from the mold layer as I can without wasting too much of the gold beneath. I have never taken the energy needed to send off samples of the mold to see if it is harmful, I just follow my homesteading mom philosophy of “What would Ma and Pa Ingalls do?” Well, they sure wouldn’t be shipping their kraut molds off to a lab and neither will I. After all, I consume blue cheese and haven’t died yet.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

And this is what you've got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage, carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it.

And this is what you’ve got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it, reminiscent of a NM sunset!

“Ya ready Dear?” I asked with a devilish smile. He nodded and opened his mouth like a good little guinea pig. I scooped a fork full from the side where the mold had seemed the deepest and shoveled it into his pie hole. “Mmmmmmm….” he said. He was still standing. “Dats ‘ooood.” “Does it taste like mold?” I inquired. He swallowed. “Not a bit! But what I don’t understand is how something can taste so good that smelled like a never ending fart for 2 1/2 weeks.”

Well, there you have it. Making kraut in a crock may not make friends during the culturing, but those same friends will be lining up outside your door once it’s jarred. Please see the beginning of this process from 2 1/2 weeks ago here. I would have jarred it after 2 weeks, but the entire family was down with head colds. Fortunately, the kraut is very forgiving. Two to three weeks is the window I shoot for, barring death or dismemberment. If that occurred, I am sure it could wait another week or so while we collect and reattach the missing limbs.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to assist me with the last jar.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to help me fill and pack the last jar.

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 med-small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already had takers for half this haul, guess I'd better start the next batch soon!

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 medium/small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already have takers for half this haul, guess I’d better start the next batch soon!

I doubt I need to tell you how to put kraut into a jar. But I will make a few suggestions. You’ll want to stir and fluff the batch first and try to take your spoonfuls (or handfuls) from the bottom of the crock. This is where the juice ends up and you don’t want your first jars to be dry and your last jars to be juicy. Aim for getting some juice in all the jars, and once full, pack it down hard. Continue to add and pack until the well packed jar is full. Screw on the lid and store in the refrigerator. You can certainly eat your kraut right away once it’s jarred, but it will get better and better the longer you wait – up until a point anyway. I sampled a jar from my friend that had been stored in the fridge for 9 months. He shared it with sacred reverence like a well aged single malt and it was quite divine. I try to wait at least 2 weeks after the jarring before I sell or barter any with friends. It’s a long time for them to wait outside in line, but people do it for concerts, right?

And if you find a long lost jar in the back of your fridge one day, and are nervous about trying it, let me know and I’ll send Mr. McKraut over with his pie hole. Just have your fork poised and ready, eh?

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Have you wondered what was involved in the making of goat cheese but were afraid it would be too complicated? Well, then goat chevre is for you (and me!). In fact, it would take great talent to really screw up a batch of chevre, which it why it is my cheese of choice at the farm. Below is the description of how I make chevre, from the milking to the jared product. Keep in mind there are many “proper” ways to make chevre and my way is only one. Perhaps it will work for you, or just give you a place to start from to develope your own particular way. And also keep in mind that we are a VERY small operation. In fact, we have only one milking goat at present and she is about to be dried out for kidding. (But we are freezing jars of chevre in preparation for our few months without milk – it freezes wonderfully!)

Let’s start at the beginning with the milk.

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In my opinion, the three most important factors contributing to the taste of goat milk and goat cheese are cleanliness of the milking area, cleanliness of the equipment, and getting the milk chilled down below 40 degrees F in as short a time as possible (and DEFINITELY within 1 hour). If you, or your farmer, adhere(s) to these rules, your milk should be sweet, creamy, and NOT goatie tasting. (Of course, there are other things that can effect the flavor of the milk, such as the plants a browsing goat may consume, a buck kept with the does, or any medications the goat my be given). And please do not use store bought goat milk from a carton for your cheese making. Believe me – your cheese will taste terrible! In fact, I can not even eat store bought goat cheese anymore since we got our own goats and make our own cheese. Yes, spoiled we might be, but the difference in taste is amazing! It’s the store bought goat milk that has given it a bad name.

So if you are not keeping your own goats, please ask your farmer a few questions before you whip out your wallet and tuck those quart jars into your cooler. Or if you are just getting started on keeping goats yourself, consider following these simple rules:

1. Cleanliness of the milking area

No, I am not talking about haz-mat suits, respirators and stainless steel milking parlors. Although if you want to sell your dairy legally in stores, that’s not too far off the mark. But for the wee farmer down the road (like myself), the milking stand should be kept in a ventilated area as free from the smells of urine and manure as possible. These smells can lay down over the surface of the fresh milk in your pail and transfer into the milk itself. The milking stand should be reasonably clean as well. And your goat should get a quick (at the least) brushing before the milking commences so as to remove dirt, manure and fur that could (and will) fall into your pail. (Milking pail lids with little crescent moon holes are pretty cool but my aim has never been good enough to use them. Plus I like to milk while looking at the morning sun on our southern mountain range so I need the large opening.). I use two squeeze bottles – one with hot water and 5-6 drops of grapefruit seed extract, and the other with olive oil, and a small clean rag (we use our old cloth diaper wipes which are just the right size). Once Hazelnut is on her stand and brushed (especially about the udder and hind quarters), I rinse her teats with the hot water bottle, then my hands, and then dry my hands and the teats on the rag. Next, a squeeze a dime sized puddle of olive oil in my palm and rub it about my palm and thumb webs. This step makes the milking more pleasant for both of us, and keeps Hazelnut’s teats from drying out. A clearing squirt from each teat goes on the floor (or in your shoe if you have my aim issues), and then the milking commences. The bucket needs to be kept as clean as possible during and after milking, so it is best to leave the milking as your last chore in the barnyard and go straight back to the house. This is only how I milk. There are many ways to milk which would meet those “reasonably hygienic” standards you are looking for to make great tasting cheese.

Then that precious milk needs to be strained. We go the simple route and use a plastic tea strainer with a folded piece of cheese cloth pushed into it. BUT, we make sure that the cloth is washed and rinsed and dried well between uses, and the same with the strainer. There are fancy disposable paper strainers you can buy on line but I abhor all things disposable. Why make more waste to fill our landfills when the old fashion ways are usually just fine? When I am unsure of my choices, I ask myself, “What would Ma and Pa Ingles have done?” As Laura Ingles Wilder lived to be 90 years old, I figure their methods are good enough for me!

2. Chill that milk fast!

We use the milking pail itself so we can move it out of the sink if the sink is needed. The strained milk goes into quart sized mason jars and are placed in the pail which is then filled with cold water and ice. This ice bath method is MUCH faster at dropping the milk temp than just placing the jars in the freezer for chilling. I have timed and checked temps with both methods, so you don’t have to do it yourself (unless you are stubborn like me). After about an hour we shift the jars into the fridge affixing the day of the week on each lid.

3. Cleanliness of equipment

Hard to know where to place this detail as it important throughout. Always best to wash anything that comes in contact with milk with COLD water first. Hot water welds the milk onto surfaces (think of scalded milk) and builds up a milk scale over time. After the cold rinse and scrub, then wash with very hot water, detergent that is not scented, and a stiff brush or green scrubbie. Several very hot rinses follow and then air drying. Do NOT air dry upside down on a towel as it will turn into a bacteria breeding hot house! Set your jars, pail, strainer, cloth, cheese making equipment, etc on a metal rack to dry.

MAKING THE CHEVRE

Take a deep breath because the hard part is behind you. For making chevre you will need a cheese thermometer (or any thermometer that will measure liquids between 80 and 150 degrees F), a stainless steel pot, a spoon, a measuring cup, and the chevre culture. I purchase my cultures through either Cultures For Health or New England Cheese Making Supply Co. I buy many at a time and store them in the freezer to save shipping costs.

So! Measure out a gallon of fresh goat milk and pour it into your clean stainless steel pot. When I say fresh I mean no more than 5 days old and kept chilled in the fridge throughout. Heat the milk to either 86 degrees F, if you want raw chevre, or 145 degrees F if you want pasteurized chevre. I used to pasteurize but now make all my cheese raw as I trust our milking hygiene and prefer to have the beneficial enzymes and bacteria remain in my cheese. In either case, stir continuously and watch your thermometer like a hawk. You will be shocked at how fast the temp will spring over your mark – the pot itself holds heat, even when removed from the unit. If you are pasteurizing, once your milk reaches 145 degrees F, stir and keep at this temp for 30 minutes (or so I have read, although I never did this myself), and then place the pot carefully into an ice bath (ice and water in your sink) and keep stirring until the temp is almost down to 86 degrees. Be careful not to let any of the bath water slip over into the milk. In either case, raw or pasteurized, 86 degrees F is your goal. Obviously, if going the raw route, just bring your milk up to 86 degrees and you will have no ice bath to fool with. This is the temperature the culture prefers and does best at. Once you reach this temp, shake in the contents of the culture packet and stir for a couple of minutes. Then set the pot on a counter with a lid and leave undisturbed for about 12 hours. Honestly, this time is very flexible – sometimes I let it sit for 8 hrs and sometimes for 16. But I aim for 12. The packet instructions say to let the milk with added culture sit at 72 degrees F but I assure you I do not adjust the temperature of our house to accomodate the cheese making! Our house is usually between 65 and 70 degrees and my cheese is just fine.

Can you see the 3/4" of cream on the top here?

Can you see the 3/4″ of cream on the top here?

We scoop this off and freeze it for later use for making butter or ice cream.

We scoop this off and freeze it for later to make butter or ice cream. It is, of course, fine to leave the cream in the cheese too! But as we do not notice the difference when consuming the cheese, we choose to skim the cream first.

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter's mouth for a treat....

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter’s mouth for a treat….

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Measure out a gallon of milk...

Measure out a gallon of milk…

...pour it into the pot...

…pour it into the pot…

...raise the temp up to 86 degrees F...

…raise the temp up to 86 degrees F for raw chevre (I take the pot off the unit when the temp is about 84 degrees as it will continue to rise)…

...stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it's magic.

…stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it’s magic.

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Once the desired time has passed, prepare another pot, with a colander set on the top, and line the colander with butter muslin cloth (you can purchase butter muslin at the same stores that sell the culture). Gently ladle the solid curd into the muslin and scrape the pot bottom to get the remainder into the cloth. The whey will immediately begin to drip through sounding like rain pattering on a tin roof. Place the lid over the colander and let the curds drain for… oh 4-18 hrs… depending on what consistency you desire. If you want very soft, spreadable chevre, go for the shorter end of the time spectrum. If you want dryer chevre to put on salads, go for longer. And remember, it is not rocket science. Chevre is very forgiving in my experience. Many people will tie up their muslin cloth and hang it from a sink faucet, but I find it does perfectly well sitting in the colander (and I need my sink!). But hanging will lessen the needed time for the draining so keep that in mind.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Ladling the curd.

Ladling the curd.

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All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

Don't forget the lid!

Don’t forget the lid!

Once your chevre is at your desired consistency, lift the cloth out and let the cheese fall into a large mixing bowl. Then smash and fluff it to blend it evenly. If you want to add salt, this would be the time to do it (we do not). Place your cheese into pretty jars, drizzle the top with olive oil, and decorate with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few peppercorns. Or a chive blossom, or nasturtium, or mix in honey and dried lavender buds. Let your imagination run wild! So many flavors are wonderful with chevre. And don’t throw out that whey! Mix it with your dog’s kibble, feed it to your chickens, or soak your beans and grains in it (mixed with the same measure of water). Many people like to drink it straight! We use it for all the above and also freeze it in quart jars to use later for cultured vegetable making (see my sauerkraut post here).

This is a nice middle ground consistency - note the cracks on the surface of the cheese.

This is a nice middle ground consistency – note the cracks on the surface of the cheese. If the bag of cheese was hanging, you would have to give it a squeeze test to check consistency.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it's pulled up.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it’s pulled up.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Then jar as you choose.

Then jar as you choose.

The whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Here’s the whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Jar that whey up and save it for later tuse!

Jar that whey up and save it for later use!

A note about washing your muslin cloth: Rinse it with cold water first, then wash well in hot, soapy water, rinsing many times. If your cloth develops an odor, boil it in a pot of water with some baking soda added and rinse afterwards. Air dry. When I feel lazy I have been known to shove the cloth into the regular machine wash with our clothes and have had no problems. Just be sure you are using laundry soap that is free and clear of chemical additives and fragrances.

TALLOW UPDATE:

And while I am posting, my faithful readers may like to know what happened to the rest of the rendered goat fat. (If you are reading for the first time, check out the previous post here.) Here are a few pictures of that solidified disk of fat I previously wrote about:

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggies and placed in the freezer with the tallow muffins.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggie and placed in the freezer along with the tallow muffins.

And now ALL the fat has been rendered a second time, is clean as a whistle, and waiting for my future adventures in the arts of making soap, salves and lotion bars!

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I love looking at a fresh head of cabbage: the pale underground quality of the spring green, the slight waxy sheen of the surface, the sturdy leaf spines ending in curling ripples, like a gentle ocean wavelet, sucking back down a steep, sandy beach. I love the crunch of my heavy 10″ chopping knife as it reveals the secretes within that dense head.

Good thing, because I had nine of them to chop which meant a lot of cabbage brains spilling over my counter top. But that was where friend Marian came in… with her superior Japanese cutlery and sexy bamboo cutting board. Whew! Off the hook.

Here's Marian hard at work.

Here’s Marian hard at work.

And so my morning began, with “Mare” on washing and chopping detail and Isla and I on the food processor, sea salt, caraway and whey song and dance (maybe I’ll include a video of the literal song and dance when we jar the kraut in another 2 weeks, for there actually IS one! Hasn’t everyone made up a kraut song with their 3 year old?). We alternated purple heads with green, grinding in a large carrot with each. Then 1 tbsp of coarse celtic sea salt, 3/4ish tbsp caraway seeds and 4-ish to 5 tbsp of whey left over from my last batch of goat chevre. Isla and I filled the hopper, I ground while she covered her sensitive, wee ears, I dumped the pile in the massive metal bowl, I measured and Isla dumped in the condiments. Then together, with very well washed hands, we stirred it all in , inquisitive fingertips tickling one another inside of the grated mass. Most of it stayed in the bowl. The vegetables dwindled as our multi-colored mound grew, and pretty soon it was time for clean up and hugging Mare goodbye. And here is where I let the salt and whey do their jobs. There is very little kraut bashing with this method. I just leave it to rest on a counter top with a clean towel draped over it, and get to work on something else.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey....

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey….

...mix, cover, and wait!

…mix, cover, and wait!

The next something else was re-rendering our recently rendered goat tallow. I had noticed at the end of the first rendering, that there were a few bits of meat on the bottom of the last batch of tallow muffins. Read this post for more info on that first rendering job. I was not interested in goat meat showing up in future soaps, lotion bars and pastry crusts, so I set a massive pot on the stove top with about 4″ of water in the bottom.

While that got to boiling, I moved onto the third something else – boiling up a whole chicken for bone broth, gelatin, and meat. As I rinsed the expensive, organic chicken carcass, I vowed that we would buy straight runs of chicks this spring. I wanted my fall freezer filled with mean roosters from my back yard. No more $12 chickens from the store!!! I plopped the gold gilt bird into our crock pot with water and reached for one of our onions. This was when I received a horrible shock! No, not an electrical shock, a “we’re almost out of onions” shock! In fact, after this one, there was only one left!!! Our harvest had lasted until Feb 6th. Honestly, I was quite proud, but still weepy, as I sliced through the brittle, brown skin and into the white, seeping flesh. Oh. Well of course I was weeping – it was a yellow onion.

We try to boil up a whole chicken about once every 2 weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

We try to boil up a whole chicken once every 2 or so weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

Crock pot loaded and topped, I checked the pot on the stove. Boiling – good. Outside to the deep freeze on the porch. Molly, our Pyrenees leapt repeatedly into the air, channeling her border collie alter ego, hoping to catch a falling goat roast as I juggled the bags of tallow muffins. I dumped them ALL in, undeniable proof of my characteristic impatience.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Now what? I put away some dishes, blended up some kefir mango lassies, sliced some pears, spread chevre on the slices, and called back in my daughter for her elevensies (oh woops – at 12:30pm. Dear me. Don’t think I would impress any parenting specialists today.). And then, thankfully, it was quiet time. Isla read “quietly” on her bed (which means in a loud whisper to her doll Sarah) while I read a parenting book on mine, in hopes of getting a higher rating from said specialists. And as an aside, this is one of my two most favorite parenting books and I am reading it for the second time. How to Talk So Kids Will listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. (And here is the second of my 2 favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting”.)

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir.

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir mango lassies.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture. It should be ready to consume in about 2 full days.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend's farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend’s farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender. If we feel the need for more sweetener in the cup, we add a couple of drops of stevia.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Rest “hour” always feels like it is only 10 minutes, but the clock argued with my opinion loudly. Back in the kitchen I checked the tallow. It was melting nicely but there were still plenty of chunks. The “golden chicken” in the crock pot was simmering cooperatively, and it was not yet animal chore time. So back to the kraut went I.

I washed and rinsed well the 5 gal crock. I say this in such an off hand manner, but this is probably the hardest part of the the entire job. Have you ever tried to lift a 5 gallon, stoneware crock? No? Well start preparing the discs in your spine for some serious air time because they are about to be blown from your back in all directions. And then once in your sink – your teeny, miniscule, stainless steel sink (where you realize with terror that you have swiveled the spigot to the wrong side of the barely movable crock-a-saurus) – you have your eye balls shaken and teeth set on edge by the barest of movements of this mountain of ceramic against that teeny sink. Think fingernails on chalk boards. After this heavy weight wrestling match you still need to dry the leviathan and beach it onto the seat of a chair. Let’s hope the legs of that chair don’t promptly retaliate against the whale you dropped in their lap.

Next, with carefully wash hands, the kraut is transfered lovingly from the bowl to the crock, by double handfuls. (Make sure the crock is on a chair and not the floor as with all those missing discs, you will no longer be able to bend over.) At this time, if I were adding fresh dill instead of caraway, I would layer in a dill sprig after each couple of double handfuls. If you feel the need for some anger management, you are welcome to bring out a kraut bat at this time and pummel the kraut into submission. But it really is not necessary as the resting with the salt should have pulled the juices out of the grated vegetables by now. The addition of the whey will have given you plenty of juice. Give it a check by pushing your open hand down on the surface of the kraut. See all that juice rise up between your fingers? If you are answering “no”, then you probably weigh under 100 lbs and need to eat a lot more kraut. LEAN into it you light weight! THERE is that juice! I have to admit I like to abuse my kraut just a wee bit before I shut it up in the dark for 2 weeks. I have tried stomping in the crock with meticulously cleaned bare feet, but with size ten battleships, it was not terribly comfortable. So I usually just use my balled fists and puuuush in, alternating hands. I have not yet identified this gene – the one that entices me to do more work than I need to – the same gene that convinces me to knead my no-knead bread dough. But there it is.

Transferring the kraut from bowl to the crock.

Transferring the kraut from the bowl to the crock.

Punch it out baby!

Punch it out baby!

There's that magic juice!

There’s that magic juice!

Now I slip in an upside down dinner plate, well washed and rinsed first, of just the right size to cover as much of the surface as possible with out getting hung up on the sides of the crock (because ceramic grating on ceramic is only second in line behind ceramic on steel). Then I burp out the trapped air by pushing hard on one edge of the plate until all the bubbles release from under the concave surface of the plate. (You are welcome to use a truck with a cherry picker to lift the crock to your shoulder if you would like to attempt the burping in a more motherly fashion.) Then I fill a half gallon, or 2 qt jars (meticulously washed and rinse before hand, inside and out) with water, screw the lids on tightly, and place these weights on the protruding rump of the plate. This is merely to hold the plate down and keep the kraut under the juice. Lastly, cover the crock with a clean towel (I use a thick bath towel doubled over), and hire your neighbor and his back hoe to move it to a quiet spot in your house where it can remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. Join me in said time to see what our cheese whey and nifty, household microbes have created by clicking this link here.

Plate in and weighted with a half gallon jar filled with water.

Plate in and weighted down with a half gallon jar filled with water.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it's final resting place to do it's thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it’s final resting place to do it’s thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

OK. The tallow. It had melted and was at a rolling bowl with the water, hopefully as clean as a whistle. Then I simply repeated the previous rendering steps of ladling out the clear, liquid fat, straining it through a butter muslin-lined strainer, into a 4 cup measure, then pouring from the measuring cup into the muffin tins. Soon after, I discovered the process was not proceeding as planned (or previously experienced). It seems my impatient personality (that other unwanted gene) was not allowing the muffin tins enough time to chill in the freezer. So learn from my T’s and T’s (trials and tribulations) – let the tallow chill until some surface cracks show on the muffin tops. Do not try to extricate the muffins before this time (unless you want to bring in your neighbor’s heavy equipment again). Once the surface cracks are visible, run hot water over the bottom of the tins (quickly as they will want to leap from your overturned tin and break themselves in the depths of that teeny, weeny stainless steel sink with the ceramic scrapes on the edges), and pop the remaining muffins out onto a sheet of wax paper by inverting the tin again and pressing the center of each muffin cup. Slip the muffins into a gallon zip lock, suck out the air with your mouth, and store in the freezer.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

But I did not finish muffinizing all the tallow as animal chore time, laundry folding, hot bath, speedy dinner, and a movie with Marian preempted the rest of my greasy project (and I highly recommend seeing “Silver Linings Playbook”, by the ah, “whey”). So today I have a cool pot of water (I presume) with a thick circular block of solidified tallow on the surface (guessing at being 5″ thick without taking a core sample to verify). As I have been writing, I have not had a chance to tackle it’s removal. And I am about to make the drive to pick Isla up from pre-school now. (But you can see what it looked like at the end of this later post.)

I think I’ll just call my neighbor on the way and hire his power auger. I’m sure that will do the trick!

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner.

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner that evening.

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(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III)

And then it was simply another Back Porch Farm work party.

Day 1: Friends were laughing and cracking jokes and knives were hacking. Bill, Chuck and I made a concerted effort to keep each other’s fingers intact while Randy, Deedee, Drew (who’s arrival I had barely been aware of), and Carrie, with wee Larka asleep on her back, chatted and watched, asking questions when curious. The carcass was hung by carabiners snapped through the hind leg tendons. The biners were then laid over hooks screwed into a previously set 2×4, cantilevered out from the shed wall. The skinning was awkward, but after some direction and correction from the boys, I got the hang of it. I wish I could have had hours to simply study the warm pile of entrails – seriously. It was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be. So many closely working parts. These organs had been in complete dependance on each other, and had danced their dance in perfect synch to keep that body functioning. I felt like I was back in my high school biology classroom on dissection day. It was necessary to follow plumbing in all directions to be sure nothing was punctured or breeched. After all this, I was certainly not going to taint the meat! The guts did NOT just “fall out” as I had read. It took a lot of investigative effort to detach each organ at the right spot, and we (or “I” at least) were also trying to save as much of the white sheets of fat as possible from within the cavity. I had visions of bricks of clean tallow for cooking, soap making and candles.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

I am getting started on the skinning.

I am getting started on the skinning.

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Chuck, Bill and myself at work.

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We are finally in the abdominal cavity.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Once the cavity was cleared and the massive liver set aside, Chuck, Bill and I continued with the hide removal. Finally, somewhere on a shoulder, our blades met and the hide fell the the earth. I want to do SOMETHING with it, but I still don’t know what. I have been warned that it is an extremely tedious process to tan a hide, especially without chemicals. I just don’t know if I am up for it. The alternative would be to scrape and salt it and let it dry rigid. Then I could use it for a rug. But do I really want Bucky on our floor? Um, honestly, no. It is starting to look like it will end up as coyote food, although it is still hanging safely on our porch as I write. And then there is Marian, who keeps eyeing it thoughtfully….

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Hide is off and we're working on backstraps and tenderloins.

Hide is off and Chuck is working on a backstrap.

Next were the back straps (the strips of muscles along each side of the exterior of the spine) and tender loins (the strips of muscles along each side of the interior of the spine). We were instructed to treat them like gold and not share them with anyone. They were basically our fillet mignons. Then the ribs skirts were sliced off (thin sheets of layers of fat and stringy muscle below the boney ribs). Next were the rumps which meant the entire hind legs, and they were removed whole and hauled off to the prepared table inside the warm house. This is where the roasts would come from. The party meandered slowly back to the porch, away from the melting snow and gray skies, to the warm house, thick with smells of baking bread and pungent stew. It was 11:30 and we had been at it for about 2 hrs. Glasses were passed out and the scotch bottle followed and soon there was the chorus of “Slante!” and “Prost!” and “Cheers!” and a few others. Isla big sistered Larka with tenderness while we all dug into bowls of stew and heavily buttered slabs of hot, einkhorn bread.

I leaned against Randy’s tall, broad form with a deep sigh. I was caked in mud, blood, bile, grease, and melted snow. I was tired. I was relieved. I murmured, “Did you hear what Bill said to me?” He shook his head and waited, his mouth stuffed like a chipmunk’s. “When he cut off the head and looked for the bullet holes, he found the entry hole was dead center below the nob, just where I wanted it. The exit hole was through the center of the lower jaw – also right where I wanted it. He said I split the tongue clean in half.” I smiled shyly as it seemed a strange thing to brag about. Especially seeing as I had no memory of firing the shot. Marian told me later she suspected I had a lot of “help”, said with a glance to the heavens. I heartily agree with her opinion. I can only surmise I was channeling some mighty Amazons warriors that gray morning.

Working on a hunk of rump.

Trimming fat from a chunk of the rump.

Once appetites were satiated, Carrie and I sat down at the meat table, each with a hind leg in front of us, and set to work. Bill and Deedee said their farewells, Chuck took over child care, Randy began clean up and the brewing of a large pot of tea, and Marian (our duplex mate who had collected the 2 young girls under her wing for the first part of the morning) worked out the idiosyncrasies of the borrowed vacuum sealer. After another hour and a half, Marian and I were the only ones left. Randy and Isla had laid down for nap time and everyone else had returned to their own homes. Finally, after the 2 legs were packaged into nice little roasts and a bunch of soup bones, the 2 of us were spent, and said goodbye, she to walk across the courtyard to her apartment, and me, after a bit of this and that, to slip eventually into another hot bath.

Once more in the red glow of the bath candle, I stared out the picture window at the low, moody sky and gray dusk, watching the drops of rain wind their serpentine paths down the misty glass towards Mother Earth. The weather had been above freezing the entire day, melting our snow cover and dumping us into an early mud season of sorts. It was the first day above freezing in many weeks, and would be the first above freezing night as well. It added greatly to the surreal feeling of the day as we had just emerged from a winter lock down of weeks of sub zero temps. But the gloomy, darkening sky did not match my mood. I felt light and relieved and…. proud. And I knew that a full wolf moon was rising above the eastern hills as I soaked my bones and sipped my scotch. How interesting that this goat harvest had surrentipitously fallen on a full moon. Then, with a deep breath, I began my prayers of thanks. I thanked my higher powers for keeping my aim true, for keeping my arm steady, and for letting Bucky pass from this world with the least amount of trauma and suffering that we could offer. I gave thanks for my amazing friends and community, for all the support I had received during the preparation for this day, and for the friends (and even strangers) who had left encouraging comments on my blog and Facebook posts. I could envision this network of support surrounding me for many months prior, like a web of love and understanding… of shared strength.

And then I remembered entreating the Amazon warrior/mothers the night before. I let out a little chuckle. For I realized that not only had I received their help and support, I had become one of them. I had walked across the coals of initiation and passed the test. I was the newest member of the Amazon tribe.

Day 2 saw Randy back at his paying job, Isla set up with a pad and her paints, Marian grinding trimmed fat in the food grinder, and me hacking at the front legs for sausage. Alternately we would assist Isla with “oooos” and “aaahhs” while admiring her Picasso in process, or plop another mound of fat into the simmering crock pot, or ladle off a few spoonfuls of clear, greasy liquid, or drain these ladles into muffin tins through a cheese cloth lined strainer. Once the tallow muffins solidified, they were popped out and moved into gallon zip lock bags to be stored in the freezer. They were clean, white, and odorless. I fantasized mixing them with my melted bees wax, some of our honey, some goat cream I had been slowly collecting in the freezer, essential oils and healing herbs, and whipping out some mighty fine soap and lotion bars. Our hands were already soft as babies bottoms just from working with the dense fat.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it's in small pieces.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it’s in small pieces.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Marian posing here as the Queen of the Fat. She ground for many hours.

Marian posing here as the Queen of Fat. She ground for many hours as you can see!

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins.

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins. The cracklins were a mix of deep fried meat scraps, connective tissue, sinew, and etc. left behind once the fat was removed. They did not temp me in the least, although I know some people like to munch on them.

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

And once solidified....

And once solidified….

...we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

…we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

The pile of hacked off sausage meat grew larger while a matching pile of stripped, gleaming bones collected. I found the rib skirts hiding in the platter of fat and set to work trimming them out. Not sure that was worth the effort, it was so tightly layered, each layer of alternating fat and meat extremely thin. A late lunch and naptime for the Nugget separated us from Marian once more and Isla and I got happily horizontal. It wasn’t for nearly long enough in mama’s opinion. Randy had agreed to take the afternoon off from his paying job, so once I was back with the living, I set him to sawing ribs off the carcass that was hanging inside the shed, and hacking sausage makings off the second front leg. I kept up with the fat rendering and our wee lassie.

By nightfall, the house was a greasy, waxy disaster. The tall freezer on the porch was mounded high with bowls and platters of meat and bones. This lumpy burden reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s interior beneath mirrored it’s handicap with a bulging belly of assorted goat meat cuts and bags of rendered fat muffins, nestled around our 1/8 of a local, pasture-raised cow, 2 of our turkey tommies, one last mean rooster, a venison gift from friends, the remaining stores of frozen garden veggies and strawberries, and frozen jars of tomato sauce, homemade soup, bone broths, goat milk, goat cheese, cheese whey, salsa verde, roasted pablanos, (take a breath) and you get the picture! And I was brain dead – not even the energy left for a shower. I was on the get-the-kid-ready-for-bed-march-of-death brigade and tucked my crusty body in beside her with the shortest book I could find. My angelic husband continued to hack meat and clean up way past bedtime. God I love him.

Day 3 began with the arrival of Drew and a nice preliminary chat over black coffee. Isla was playing nicely alone, so Drew snuck out back with a bone saw and began to disassemble the remaining backbone and pelvis. There was only soup bone material left so this job was quick. Then he got on the vacuum sealer while I warmed up the food grinder. Laying out my bowls of freshly ground spice mix, my rendered tallow disks, cutting board, knife, package of organic bacon, wax paper sheets, platter and massive bowl, I pushed up sleeves, donned my apron, and dove in. And I ground sausage meat for what felt like hours. Well, it WAS hours! About half way through, Drew got a hankering to TASTE some sausage. Heck, I had been planning to give a little space between the carcass processing and the actual EATING of it. But he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

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The sausage set up.

Grinding, grinding, grinding....

Grinding, grinding, grinding….

I formed him up 4 patties with my goopy hands and he popped them into the cast iron skillet. A delightful aroma filled the kitchen as the patties sizzled happily without any extra oil. He cracked open a turkey egg each for each of us and fried them up beside the goat meat. (Holy crap! That was sausage from our goat! From BUCKY!) He was grinning ear to ear with anticipation and couldn’t serve our plates fast enough. I then had a very emotional moment while bracing myself dramatically against the kitchen counter. It was not about Bucky, per se. It was that I was really, truly living my dream life – the homesteading life I had imagined for so many years. Eating our mean roosters was one thing, but one of our goats? I was about to do just that! I was about to sit down with my good friend and my daughter to have a lunch of goat sausage and turkey eggs, which both originated a stone’s throw from the back porch. And just to amp up my fragile emotional state, I cracked a fresh jar of my own canned apple sauce to spoon out along side!

Ooooh baby!

Oh my!

Isla was non-plussed. In fact I had to stop her mid bite to say grace and give thanks to Bucky before chowing down. She said little but kept shoveling. Drew took a bite and then closed his eyes to savor it. “Oh – My – God.” he said slowly. “That is divine.” I was struggling. I stared hard at my plate, I cut off a hunk, I stabbed it with my fork, and I stared some more. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and it disappeared into my maw. My first reaction was a violent shiver from head to toe. Then a slight gag reflex. Then my taste buds found their anchor point in the familiar hint of bacon, and the bite slithered down my throat. And the next bite. And the next. And the egg and the apple sauce and the fresh cup of coffee. I seemed to have developed a mild, full body tremor that was humming from within. Drew summed it up with sparkling eyes when he said, “Wow. I’ve got a little buzz going. That sausage has some potent life force in it.” Yes, that was it! In fact, I wanted to go running around outside and do a half gainer and donkey kick off a play stump in the goat pen! This was Super Food! And it was going to take some getting used to – small portions. I would have to warn my friends when I passed out thank you packages. WOW. I could FEEL it. This was real food – food that I had loved and cared for, food that had had a happy life, food from a very healthy animal, food from my friggin’ BACKYARD!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, give the Bucky sausages a thumbs up!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, gives the Bucky sausage a thumbs up!

I had DONE IT!!!

And yes, Drew and I finished packaging EVERYTHING that afternoon, including the liver. And all the fat was rendered and the deep freeze is bursting at it’s seams. I have yet to finish cleaning the house, but it will happen this weekend. The massive Kitchen Aid food grinder we borrowed is still claiming the western third of the dining room table, but I am rather getting used to it.

Perhaps with luck, Wes won’t even miss it.

Post Script:

That very afternoon, after nap time had past, Isla and I cleaned up the vacuum sealer, loaded up a jar of our goat cheese and a 6 pack of goat sausage, and headed out into a freshening snow storm to Thomas’ house. It had been his generosity that had provided us with the use of a vacuum sealer. It was a quick pass off and short greeting as I was anxious of the mounting storm, and Isla and I were soon back on the highway headed home. The blizzard quickly turned into a white out and I shifted into 4WD and slowed down to 25. I was acutely aware of the dropping temps, watching the car thermometer like a hawk. 33 degrees. Treacherous driving conditions to be sure. As we slowly took the turn onto our own road, the temp dropped to 32. I was creeping along, dodging pot holes, taking my time. Then, with a completely out of place flash of lightening, and boom of thunder, the LED display dropped once more to 31 degrees. It was literally the first time it had gone below freezing since the morning Bucky was shot. For 3 days the weather had remained perfect refrigerator temperature, between 33 and 41 degrees (which was significant as we did not have a walk in fridge to store the carcass and waiting parts in).

That night it was in the teens once more, and the following night back to sub zero winter weather. It was sunny and biting cold. A fresh, cleansing mantle of snow laid over the mud, ice, and blood of the days before, hiding the evidence, granting us a grateful closure, and allowing us to move forward in our lives.

Back to winter.

Back to winter.

Post Post Script:

Several people have been curious about how Bucky’s demise affected the remaining goats. I had also wondered if we would sense any discomfort on their part. I can say that in the week leading up to the harvest, I had verbally “warned” all 3 goats (Auntie Hazelnut, Cousin Fiona and Bucky) that Bucky would be leaving soon and they all needed to prepare and say goodbye. And I can say that before I led him from the pen on the morning of, I told them all to say their farewells, that Bucky would not be coming back. The shot was taken around the corner of the house, away from the barn and barnyard, and the hanging of the carcass was not in their view.

I feel we must never underestimate what animals understand. I certainly do not think they understood my conversation in human english as I talked to them, but I think on a spiritual, energetic, or psychic level, they got the gist just fine. And I also think animals process emotions in a very different way than humans. They are in the here and now, just like young children. There is food and there is water and they are healthy, comfortable and feel safe. As long as they are cared for properly, they do not worry, or really think about much but when their human will visit again and when dinner is being served.

But back to the question at hand: All the goats were fine and unstressed – including Bucky! I can honestly say he never knew what hit him. He was not anxious in any way when I led him out of the pen. Hazelnut gave her normal quantity of milk the next morning, and Fiona and her never seemed to be “looking” for Bucky. They showed no indication of any sort of distress at all.

I have to say I was very relieved to witness this!

 

The tally sheet:

11.35 lbs of sausage patties

13.25 lbs of rendered tallow (several pounds went back into the sausage)

14.35 lbs of soup/bone broth/dog bones with minimal meat left (several bones has already gone to Molly our Pyrenees before the weighing)

4.50 lbs of ribs

1.45 lbs of liver (currently researching liver pate recipes)

2.65 lbs of rib skirt (really this should have all gone into the sausage, but we’ll try a stew)

.75 lbs tender loins

3.85 lbs back strap

10.45 lbs rump roasts (I would like to attempt some jerky out of the biggest one)

5.95 lbs of cracklins from the fat rendering which we are slowly feeding to the delighted chickens

———————-

68.50 lbs total (head, lower legs, and offal were offered to the coyotes in a distant arroyo. Hide is still being deliberated over as it hangs on our porch.)

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I crunched up the hill in rhythm with my steaming breath, planting my poles alternately, wishing I had found my gaiters in the car. The snow wasn’t super deep, perhaps 6 or 8 inches, but deep enough to find it’s way past the cuff of a boot. Another gust of wind stopped my progress as it whipped my stinging cheeks. I turned away from the blast, eyes tightly closed and watering profusely. The gust quieted and I remained standing still, taking in the winter wonderland scene. Oh! The snow had not been simply blowing off the heavily laden conifer branches. It was coming down again with a will.

And the white out was beautiful!

This was my first moment alone since the Big Event and my mind was deeply engaged, assigning descriptive words and phrases to the jumble of emotions within. I had been dying to sit down at the computer and write, to pour out all my feelings and document my experience of the first 4-legged meat harvest on our farm. But for 3 days after the gun shot, it was all about processing, getting the meat in vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer. Three days!! And each night I had collapsed in bed beside my 3 year old, too exhausted to even consider getting back up for “adult time”. Visions of muscle groups, connective tissue and bone saws flitted behind my red-rimmed lids as I felt my own muscle groups relax heavily against the mattress. I had had no idea how much work it would be. After all, 3 of us processed an entire cow elk in 12 hrs! But, I reminded myself, that was from a skinned and gutted hanging carcass, and with 2 men who knew exactly what they were doing.

WE had started with a walking buck goat, a needy 3 year old child, and had only 2 knowledgeable friends in the fray and only for the first few hours. Thank god for Bill and Chuck, as they helped me angle the rifle barrel correctly, made sure everyone was safe from ricocheting bullets, taught us to skin and gut, and then got us started on how to process the carcass. But that only took us until lunch of the first day. The remainder of the days it was me, with either Carrie, Marian, Drew or Randy, depending on the moment, and all of us completely inexperienced, and continually interrupted by Isla and her constant 3 year old needs. After all, I AM a mother too. We also rendered ALL of the fat in that time which was a massive job – and strong evidence that we had grossly overfed our buckling.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first fill in the missing parts of the story leading up to the Big Day. If you haven’t been a part of the previous posts, I recommend reading Part I and Part II before you continue with this Post. And here is where my liability waiver comes in: if you can’t handle reading about the killing and butchering of a meat goat, then use your brain, stop reading now, and find a blog about kittens and butterflies.

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Nine days ago, four days before the harvest day, a good friend took me to a local shooting range to have me shoot the gun I was to use. This was yet another part of my continued personal preparation for the job ahead. Seemed like a smart notion, considering I had not shot a gun since I was 13, and had never shot a rifle (I am 50 now in case you are dying to do the math). It was a beautiful Mini Ruger 14, .223 caliber, that I had inherited from my father. When Dad was in the throes of downsizing and selling his house to move into a retirement community, his gun collection was up for grabs. Of course my little brother got the majority, many of which were antiques and non-functional for all practical purposes. But I did voice my desire for just one usable gun. I have to say I think I got one of the best. It is stainless steel and walnut, a beauty to behold, and smooth and balanced to fire. It has a magazine that will hold 5 bullets, making it a semi automatic. It will fire those 5 bullets as fast as my finger can tug the trigger in succession. This is not a hunting gun – my dad had carried it on his boat when he had plied the seas around Florida and the Caribbean in his more adventurous years. It was his official pirate gun!

Justin laid out all the safety rules for me and showed me how to load, aim and fire. It was a rush! I LOVED shooting my gun! Here is my target after firing the first 2 magazines:

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And a token picture of meself:

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After firing 4 or 5 magazines, I dug out a pen and sketched the back of a goat head on the lower part of the target. I wanted to really press home what I was going to do come Saturday. I stood a foot away, aimed, and fired. The lower part of the paper target exploded! VERY different from shooting from 15 yards. I would post a photo of the target at the end of that session, but the bottom is completely gone. At least that showed me it would do the trick.

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The next 4 days leading up to the harvest were difficult. I was racked with a vast array of violent thoughts that kept me awake most nights. I played and replayed the pending act, as I imagined it, over and over in my tired brain. I prayed. I asked my higher powers for help. And I spent time with Bucky, scratching him in his favorite places, and reminding him it was almost time to leave.

The night before the Big Day, I was up late, getting a beef stew simmering in the crock pot and starting bread dough rising. I did not want to have to think one iota about feeding our support group the next day. Then I ran a hot bath, lit my red bath candle, poured a wee dram of the Water of Life, and sank gratefully into the dark, steamy waters, glistening with a slick, red sheen from the flickering candle. I breathed. I breathed more. And I began to pray again. I prayed to have a clean shot through the back of Bucky’s skull with an angle towards the lower jaw, to have the courage to take that shot, to have the grounding to stay present and focused on the job, and most of all, to have the grace to keep my heart open and not leave my body. I had a strong desire to entreat some appropriate minor deity to stand behind me as spiritual support. I was rather tickled at what came to mind – the Amazon hunter/warrior/mothers of the distance past – the courageous women of history who bore their children, nurtured them and protected them with a fierce matter-of-factness passed down from generations of mothers and grandmothers before them. These were the true mother bears. And I would need them tomorrow.

The next morning I awoke, fairly well rested, and ready. As ready as I would ever be. I kneaded the dough as my pot of green tea steeped and laid the loaves in pans for a second rise. I stirred the stew and added a bit more salt. I boiled up some oats and raisins for the family and ate quietly, moving through the motions with a peace I did not expect. I was no longer deliberating. I was no longer visualizing. It was all done. Everything was set out and ready. I was just waiting for 9:30am. I sharpened our quiver of knives while the clock kept track.

At 9:26am the first 2 cars pulled in – Bill and his girl friend Deedee (who I did not expect and had never met), and Chuck. Bill was an avid hunter of large game with a great deal of experience. He was also a law enforcement ranger. Chuck was a hunter as well, and a nurse at the nearby hospital. I felt well covered by their presence. Carrie, Chuck’s wife, pulled in a few minutes later and hefted 1 yr old Larka out of her car seat. Carrie had grown up on a farm and had harvested multiple chickens, turkeys, and a pig. Not only was she a tough chick, she was also a mother. My support group was assembled and my courage bolstered. I had my gun handlers, my carcass handlers, my medical professional, and my tough mom. It was time.

I stepped into the bathroom one more time, even though I had already peed twice in the past 30 minutes. I washed my hands, slowly brushed my hair from my forehead, and tied it back from my face. I pushed my pearl earrings through my lobes and looked in the mirror. I smiled, and thought of my old high school friend who is in a woman’s shooting club on the east coast. She target shoots in make up, pearls and a little black power dress. I thought she would be proud of me donning my mother’s pearls for this very special day.

But something was still missing.

I was slightly aware of the kitchen murmur of voices and clinking coffee mugs as I pulled out my top drawer and reached far into the dark shadows. There it was. The little deerskin pouch that I had made from the pocket of my Poppy’s deerskin shirt. And inside was my hawk talon neckless. I had made it after a fatally injured red tail hawk had dyed in my lap, as I sat on the tail gate of my truck on the side of some Illinois highway. In that moment, as I felt the raptor’s soul release and fly free, I was introduced to the second of my 2 totem animals. And it was that experience which guided my pencil, and the tattoo artist’s hand, as together we memorialize this fierce hunter on my lower abdomen in permanent ink. It was also at that moment that I left my vegetarian life and drove on down the road in search of my first burger in 10 years.

I snapped the clasp beneath my ponytail and walked out tall.

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It was a friendly but subdued gathering in the kitchen. The smell of strong coffee was tempting, but I needed to stay in the space I was in, unaffected by a blast of caffeine. I avoided eye contact and collected the items I had set out – the bucket to catch the blood (which I wanted to give to the compost pile), the 4 very sharp knives, my 5 bullets to fill the magazine (kept separate from the gun), my water bottle, and a smudge stick and box of matches. I got Randy’s attention and nodded. He nodded to Chuck and all conversation ceased mid-sentence. I walked out to the pen gate, lit the smudge stick, breathed deeply and cleansed myself with the sacred smoke. I emptied my mind and then filled my heart with strength and love. The gate stuck momentarily on the melt-thaw glacier of runoff as I pushed inside the pen. Goats crowded warmly around me with soft breaths, Fiona lipping my coat zipper, Bucky pressing his forehead against my arm, and Hazelnut standing patiently aloof, waiting for me to come to her. I smudged Bucky, speaking to him soothingly, and told all the goats it was time to say their farewells.

Walking with Bucky.

Walking with Bucky. Hazelnut, Fiona, and visiting King Arthur calmly watch his exit.

Then, without further adieu, I looped the rope through his collar, and led him out, grabbing the bowl of grain on the way. Randy was there waiting. He took the bowl from my hand, and followed a respectful distance behind me, knowing full well I was in an altered state. My friends were waiting at the shed where the event was to happen. We threaded the loose end of Bucky’s rope through the eye bolt screwed low in the outer corner of the shed. Randy dumped the grain on the ground and Bucky happily got down to the business of Second Breakfast. I laid my hand on his knobby head and whispered, “Go with god, buddy.” Then I picked up the gun and snapped the magazine into place, saying each step out loud. “Magazine in. Safety on. Chamber charged. Breathe.” There was a short period of readjusting as I discovered I could not get to his head from where I had planned. Turning 180 degrees to shoot towards the east instead of the west, solved the issue, but resulted in a few more seconds delay while everyone readjusted their own positions of safety.

Time seemed to stand still. I raised the butt to my shoulder and the peep site to my right eye. I flipped the safety off, as if in a dream. His knobby, fuzzy head moved animatedly, but in slow motion, changing my own angle of aim. I thought clinically that I was lucky to be 5′-10″ as a shorter person would not have been able to get the barrel between their shoulder and his head. I exhaled. He moved. I exhaled. He moved. He raised his head and looked around, then put his mouth back to the pile of grain. A muffled shot rang out beyond my ear protection and in fast forward motion he was blasted flat again the snow. It was clean. There was little blood. Some unchewed grain fell from his mouth. His eyes glazed over and his legs began to kick – more than I imagined they would. I knew he was quite dead and it was only the muscle twitch of death, but it was still uncomfortable to witness. His head remained motionless and heavy, as if it were a tremendous weight glued to the ground. I knelt beside him, my canvas covered knee sinking into the slush and mud, and laid my hand on his warm, multicolored side. I murmured, “Let go little boy. Let go little one. Be free my dear.”

Kneeling beside Bucky after the shot.

Kneeling beside Bucky immediately after the shot.

Everything was so crisp and clear, so immediate and now. The impossible crimson color of his blood, blooming on the melting snow, his galloping legs reminding me of my old Pyrenees when he would dream, the unusual humidity in the air, the dead silence in the wake of the shot. His legs became still and I reached for the sharpest of the knives, noticing the intricate details of the smear of mud on my sleeve. It took a few passes to breach the fur, but soon his arteries and windpipe were severed and the blood flowed freely. I removed my ear muffs and the world flooded back in. Then the hands were on my shoulders, gently patting my back as the quiet congratulations found their way to my ears. “You did well MacLaren. You did well.” I heard, but I am not sure who said it. It was then I realized I had no memory of pulling the trigger. None at all.

I stood up, blinked, and stepped back. I noticed Chuck taking care of the gun but did not remember giving it to him. I did not cry. But I did need many deep breaths to return from the world I had just been in. A world of extreme focus and deliberation, a world void of emotion, but not of love, a shadowy world of death. And of life. And I was OK. And Bucky was gone – very gone. All that was left of our buckling was a hunk of meat at my feet and days of work ahead. It was over. Finally, gratefully…

Over.

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