Goat Milk?

Janie The Precocious Goat is still making milk.

Back at the beginning of May, I wrote a piece about Janie making milk without having been bred (you can read that post here: http://applewoodfarm.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/shes-not-kidding/).  At the time, we really didn’t know whether the milk would continue and, for a while, it did seem to taper off.  A couple of weeks ago, however, I noticed that her bags were REALLY FULL and she clearly needed to be milked.

Since we hadn’t milked in several weeks, I did the ol’ pump-n-dump (a favorite for breastfeeding mommies who went ahead and had that second glass of wine, thank you very much), contributing the milk to the bottomless charity that is the pig trough.  This system went on over the next week or so; Janie would need to be milked every other day and the milk would be immediately donated to the pigs.

Then, last week, I went to feed the goats, saw Janie’s milk-packed udders, and realized I’d forgotten to bring a container.

The thing about goats (ours anyway) is that once you’ve gotten within 100 feet of them and/or they’ve heard your voice, there is no going back.  The bleating starts in earnest and they run around as though they’ve been trapped and abandoned forEVER and they have not had anything to eat since last month, and I don’t care what you forgot, get in here NOW!

So, I looked around for something improvisational.

The only even remotely possible substitute was the plastic quart container (think Chinese soup take-out vessel) that we use to scoop their feed/alfalfa mixture.  A total absence of choices always makes decisions easy.

Milking Janie, backwards, on the stanchion

Milking Janie, backwards, on the stanchion

Now, unlike most goats, Janie will not be milked in the stanchion.  She hates it.

I can’t say that I blame her, really.  I don’t imagine it is pleasant to have your head locked in a brace that prevents you from moving, even if there is a bunch of food right in front of you.

Luckily for me, she will allow herself to be milked as long as we do it wherever she happens to be at the time.

Sometimes she’ll actually stand right on the stanchion, but backwards.  I have to admit, I kind of admire that level of defiance.

So, I’m milking her into the quart container and she’s got A LOT of milk this time.  As I’m going along and the foam settles, I realize that I’m precariously close to the lip of the container and Janie’s bags are still quite full.  Hmmm…

I stop for a moment, bring the container around to her face, and let her smell it.

She dips her tongue tentatively into the warm froth and then, without hesitation, she literally sinks her entire muzzle into the container and almost drains it within seconds.

And now there is room in the container for me to finish milking her.

Sometimes these things work themselves out.

We go along like this for a day or two before I get a call from my friend Sue.  Sue is connected to a wonderful wildlife sanctuary nearby called The Wildlife Center.  She is wondering if we have any goat milk to spare for a small group of fawns who are being rehabilitated and cared for prior to being released back into the wild in a month or so.

Well, Sue… funny you should ask.

So, we start milking Janie to SAVE BABY DEER!  We went from chucking it into the pig trough, to returning it right back into the goat from whence it came, to really making a huge difference for four beautiful fawns.

Sure, it'll probably get hit by a car or shot by a hunter, but for NOW… so cute.

Sure, it’ll probably get hit by a car or shot by a hunter, but for NOW… so cute.

The girls and I had the good fortune to meet said fawns during today’s milk drop-off.

And before you go on and on about how the deer population is out of control and the last thing we need are MORE deer and isn’t this all just nature’s way of dealing with a problem… just look at how sweet they are.

I’d never come into physical contact with a not-dead deer before.  They are soft and sweet and beautiful and friendly and they chew on everything.

In fact, the fawn pictured here was trying to eat the button right off the pants I was wearing–the same button that the goats are always angling for.

They are like some perfect dog-goat hybrid and I’m pleased to be able to help give them a running start before hunting season.


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These Chicks Have Two Mommies (or, It Takes a Village)

One by one, our hens have gone broody over the past two months. Fifteen new chicks have joined our flock in that time, hatched from four broody mamas.

And now there are even more.

These new chicks came from a clutch of nine eggs that had been started by a broody hen who gave up on being broody after a couple of days. I don’t know whether she got bored or distracted or just had a change of heart about becoming a parent, but whatever her reason, she left one day for a pack of smokes and never came back.

Two broody hens, sitting on nothing but pine shavings.

Two broody hens, sitting on nothing but pine shavings.

As luck would have it, two of our other hens went broody that same day. They plopped themselves side by side in the small coop and hunkered down for a sit. The only problem was that neither of them was on any eggs.

You’d be amazed at how unimportant the presence of actual eggs seems to be to a hen ready for sitting. I always wonder if they think the chicks will appear miraculously at some point; I certainly do my best to help maintain the illusion.

Noticing this shift in parentage, I grabbed the nine abandoned eggs and stuffed five under one hen and four under the other. Then we all waited three weeks to see how many MORE chicks we’d have (answer: seven).

But here’s the really interesting/weird/unusual/it-takes-a-village/co-parenting/communal-living/when-two-hens-love-each-other-very-very-much part: The two mamas are almost never out of direct physical contact with one another.

This is exceptionally strange because new mama hens are territorial, hyper-protective, and even aggressive, if need be.  They typically want no one, hen nor human, anywhere near their babies.  I’ve never seen one act any other way.

Until these ladies.


Raising chicks the Dr. Sears way

All of their eggs hatched within eight hours of each other.  Another eight or so hours later, I moved them each down to a crate on the floor with their respective chicks.  When I checked back later, they had moved themselves together.

I decided that the one hen must have moved because the sideways bin was easier to access than the upright milk crate.  I figured they’d eventually come to some sort of highly-evolved, civil agreement that would sort itself out in the form of a shared living arrangement that suited everyone.

But, no.

Outdoor snuggly antics

Outdoor snuggly antics

This morning, they took their snuggly antics outside.

And lest you, dear reader, are misled to believe that these ladies are too besotted with one another to care properly for their young, please rest assured this is not the case.

If you look closer, you will see evidence that they are not only snuggled together, they are also snuggled atop their (now shared) clutch of newborns.

All seven of the little ones are tucked safely underneath both mamas.

The Gang of Nine

The Gang of Nine

And this Gang of Nine goes nowhere without each other.

At no time does one mama break away from the pack with her own chicks.

I’m starting to wonder whether they even know which chicks were hatched by whom.

I’m starting to think that neither of them really cares.

And I’m really starting to wonder if this hen couple wasn’t already a couple long before being further united by broodiness.  I mean, this whole story reads quite a lot like our two girlfriends who wanted children and found a sperm donor and ended up with triplets.

I’m just sayin’.



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How to Hard Cook an Egg

We harvested our garlic today.

Garlic is one of the few crops that seems to require almost no farming experience, to say nothing of its self-sufficiency.

You don’t need to weed garlic; heck, you don’t even need to water garlic. It is the only crop we have that grows exactly like a weed. Except way more delicious.

For the past three years, we’ve planted garlic in the late-autumn/early-winter and then harvested it sometime in July. From each harvest, we selected the biggest, firmest, most beautiful cloves to set aside for seed garlic for the next year’s planting–an exercise in allium eugenics that would’ve made Francis Galton proud.

You can't make this stuff up.  Oh, wait... yes you can!

You can’t make this stuff up. Oh, wait… yes you can!

And that exercise has paid off. This year’s garlic harvest is unquestionably the most fantastic and robust so far.

From the 200 or so plants we (Dave, actually… I wasn’t even home) pulled today, we’ll again choose the biggest, fattest ones to set aside for the fall.  Estimating roughly five cloves to a head, we choose however many heads will give us the yield we want for next summer.  Since we can’t seem to leave well enough alone, I’m guessing we’ll be looking at stashing somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 heads so we can have 300 plants.

Because… y’know… that’s even more.

But what does any of this have to do with hard-cooking eggs?  Well, let me tell you.

So, to make room on the drying rack for today’s harvest, we had to take down the remnants of last year’s harvest.  There were roughly two dozen heads left–scraggly, humiliated looking things that had been left on the drying rack (in the barn rafters) over the endless and freezing winter.  The resulting product was frozen, yet usable; but not plump or pretty, to say the least.


Frozen, yet usable. Not plump or pretty.

I grabbed a large egg carton to hold the heads as I cleaned them.   As I was cutting away the stems and roots of last year’s leftovers to prep them for storage, I noticed instructions printed on the inside lid of the carton.  It said, “HOW TO HARD COOK AN EGG.”

Intrigued, I paused from my bulb bathing to see what wisdom the box lid would impart.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the box lid gave horrible advice!

When you can’t even trust the inside lid of your egg carton, who is there left to trust, really?


How NOT to Hard Cook an Egg

Anyway, what it said was the same thing almost all of us were taught from our mothers, home-economics teachers, and even (yes, it’s true) culinary school chef-instructors.

It said to put the eggs into cold water and bring it to a boil.  It said that once it’s boiling, to cover it with a lid, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for 12 minutes.  It said to cool the eggs under running water and then peel.  And then, in the added “TIPS” section just below, it said that if your eggs are difficult to peel, you can roll them in your hands to crack the shell.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to call Shenanigans! on this misleading bit of direction.

We all know that this method doesn’t always work; it has frustrated countless humans; it is imperfect and there has to be a better way.

And there is.

And here it is.

HOW TO HARD COOK AN EGG:  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add eggs.  Boil for 15 minutes.  Cool eggs immediately in an ice bath.  Peel.  That’s it.

I personally guarantee that if you do this exactly this way, every single egg you ever hard-boil for the rest of your days will be perfectly cooked and ridiculously easy to peel, every single time.

And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you a head of garlic.



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Ripe for Renewal

Growing up, I had two brothers and three first cousins with whom we were very close.  The six of us didn’t see one another very often, but when we did get together, it was fun and familiar and the connections were strong.

As we grew older and went our separate ways, we saw less and less of each other.  In 1992, my first nephew was born.  He was the first child born to any of the six cousins.

Immediately following his birth, my aunt (the writer Sue Sussman http://www.susansussman.net/), wrote a letter to my brother and his wife.  As a writer, she had some lovely turns of phrase and beautiful insights.  The one that stuck with me to this day, however, was her comment that our family was “ripe for renewal” and that Judge’s birth signalled the start of that renewal.

Now, 13 children total comprise the next generation of our family, ranging in age from five to 21.  We have been sufficiently renewed.

I thought of Sue and that phrase today as Dave and I were setting up The Chicken Nursery.

As you may or may not know, we have endured a spate of chicken losses over the past couple of weeks and we’ve really, quite frankly, had enough.

As fate would have it, all but two of our broody hens have hatched their eggs over the past three days.  We have now replaced our seven losses with ten beautiful new chicks, all snuggling with their mamas in (what we hope is) their safe new enclosure.

The chicken renewal is decidedly cuter than our human one (no offense, kids).

Here are several pictures of mama hens and their adorable, newly-hatched chicks for your viewing pleasure.

IMG_4817 IMG_4816 IMG_4814 IMG_4811 IMG_4802 IMG_4796


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What’s Eating You?

Everythings seems to be disappearing.

So far this month, we have lost seven chickens, three rows of beet greens, and four rows of rainbow chard.  All just gone.

The handsome devil himself, bottom right

The handsome devil himself, bottom right

Now, we know that the first three chickens were eaten by foxes, but the second three were flat-out just not there when we closed up the coop one night.  Among the second three taken was our beloved Black Copper Marans rooster and all-around ladies man, Tough Guy.  We were all quite sidelined by this discovery.

Much has been written (by me) about Tough Guy over the past couple of years,  (starting here: http://applewoodfarm.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/the-outcast-roo/) and deservedly so.  In many ways, Tough Guy belied his name.  He was a lovely rooster, both in demeanor and physicality; he took excellent care of his ladies; he did not crow gratuitously.  As roosters go, he was about as good as it gets.

And now he, too, is gone.

And so is one of the orphans.

... and then there was one.

… and then there was one.

As a result of the fox attack, our two newest chicks lost their mama and had only one another.  They managed quite well together and navigated the farm as a team, nervously zipping away from humans and the bigger chickens, roosting in some tucked-away corner each night, side by side.

But today, only one came home at bedtime.

I can’t help but think that the remaining orphan has seen some serious underbelly-of-life shit in her short time here.  No doubt she was present to see her mama eaten and, since the orphans travelled as a pair everywhere they went, there’s no way she didn’t get a front row seat for her sister’s offing as well.

In the absence of Poultry Grief Counseling, I guess we’ll just have to hope for the best for our lone survivor.   It may be interesting, down the road, to note whether PTSD affects egg production.

Stay tuned.

Stop thinking it's cute!  It's not cute!  It's pure, unadulterated EVIL!!

Stop thinking it’s cute! It’s not cute! It’s pure, unadulterated EVIL!!

The foxes are not the culprits when it comes to the missing garden veggies, however,  This dastardly deed is undoubtedly the work of the lowly and despicable vole.  If you haven’t had the pleasure to encounter one, voles are mousey rodents who burrow like underground bulldozers, creating complicated networks of tunnels just below the surface of the ground.

My neighbor and I were commiserating about the havoc voles have wreaked in our gardens lately.  They are greedy, destructive, jerks and they seriously need to be stopped.

Last week, we came out to find that all of our beet greens had been munched right down to the earth.  This will push back our beet production by a couple of weeks, while the plants put their energy into regrowing the greens, rather than being able to focus on creating the beet underground.  And that’s only if the little rats don’t come back and do it all over again.

They did exactly the same thing with our beautiful rainbow chard; they helped themselves to every last leaf, leaving nothing behind at all.

Interestingly, the idiom “to go the vole,” means to venture everything on the chance of great rewards.  Which is exactly what these garden pirates are doing.

Except that there’s not much venturing going on.  We’re pretty easy to rob.

So, I guess the next step is to train the foxes to eat the voles.

Wish me luck.



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Girls’ Night Out

We are still in a chick-hatching place at applewood farm these days.

Our egg numbers have been down for about a month due to Excessive Broodiness.  Six of our hens have gone broody thus far: one hatched two chicks, one hatched three, three are currently sitting on three eggs each for another week, and one had to be broken of her broodiness when none of her eggs hatched.

The mama that hatched two chicks was a good mama.  I believe really that all hens are good mamas.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch them protect their chicks and teach them how to be chickens.  Even before their chicks hatch, every broody hen will protect her eggs in the same semi-aggressive, possessive manner.

Two-chick mama was among the casualties on Fox Lunch Day http://applewoodfarm.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/the-sacrificial-chicken/, however, and her two orphans have now struck out on their own to make their way.  They are growing and thriving; their mama gave them a great start before she left.

IMG_4625The mama that hatched three did not end up in the belly of a fox and may be seen scooting around the farm with three little chicks zipping around at her heels.  They spend their days roaming, scratching, pecking, and hiding in bushes.  At night, they sleep all together in a hay-lined milk crate in one of the coops.

But the other night, their crate was empty.

All of the other hens were roosting when we went to close the coops, but the mama and her chicks were nowhere to be found.

We counted and re-counted.  We looked and looked and looked.  We could not find them.

Then, we started to theorize.

This is never an optimistic exercise.

“Maybe the foxes came back and got the mama and the chicks didn’t know what to do and they scattered and then the foxes got them too!?”

“Maybe a hawk got the mama and the chicks tried running after her and they got so far away that they couldn’t find their way back and now they are lost and scared and hungry?!”

And so on…

We gave up our search after awhile and decided that we’d check back in the morning and hopefully figure out what happened.

And that night, a rainstorm came.  Complete with house-shaking thunder and rapid-fire lightening.  And it went on for hours.  In the morning, our little pond was filled back up and the world was soaked to the bone.


The view from our bedroom window.

Dave looked out our bedroom window, smiled, and said, “There they are!”

And there they were.

In the very back corner of the back garden, the mama and her babes were scratching and pecking and just being chickens.

Like no big deal.

It reminded me of when I was a teenager and I’d come home really late, or the next day, and my mom would ask where I’d been.  I’d shrug like it was no big deal, get annoyed, and say that I was fine.  She, on the other hand, would be beside herself saying, “Well, I didn’t know you were fine!”

At least she didn’t have to worry about chickens.


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The past couple days have been unusually chilly, overcast, and drizzly.  Surprisingly, the gardens seem to be thriving in this unexpected gloom; the herbs and vegetables are taking off in a big way, and the promise of a sizable harvest next week is pretty real.

I’m not one to get depressed by a rainy, grey day.  I quite like them, for the most part.  There’s something about an overcast sky that I find comforting.  I think, more than anything, it’s probably because an overcast day gives you options.  If it’s sunny and warm outside, there’s no excuse not to hang the laundry on the clothesline, mow the lawn, till the garden, plant seeds, work on that loose board on the chicken coop, etc., etc., etc.

A grey and rainy day gives you permission to throw the clothes into the dryer, catch up on Facebook, and grab a coffee with a friend.  Sort of a license to be lazy, if you will.

I know I will.

But I will also continue to notice the progress of the farm as everything is growing toward its eventual summer bounty.  And recently, I noticed how many flowers are popping up all over the place.

I don’t mean the sort of beautiful flowers you see planted alongside people’s houses or the beginnings of decorative summer blooms.  I mean the kinds of flowers that are a promise of what’s to come.

While weeding the other day, I realized that our tomatoes, raspberries, wine berries, and squash had already sent a memo that fruit was on its way.  And if these don’t brighten up the gloom, I can’t imagine what would.








Wine Berries

Wine Berries

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