Feb 24, 2010

Goodbye Chicken Dog

One of our baby goats, Little Sammy, died during the night.

Sammy had already had a close call with death.  He was born small with peculiar traits.  His sister was small too, but learned how to bottle feed once she was weened and is thriving.  Sammy, on the other hand, never developed a suckling reflex and when placed in the pen with other babies would separate himself and stand, motionless, staring into the corner.

He never played. He could drink milk, but only in small amounts which you had to pour down his throat.  A little over a week ago he was found at the bottom of a kid pile.  Flat and motionless, he looked like a goner but on closer inspection his eyes twitched and faint breathes were detectable.  We moved him to the office to warm up and started tube feeding him to get some milk back in his deflated body.

Sammy slowly got better, but not much better.  He could stand up on his own, but was lethargic and didn't like to eat.  On the night before Valentine's Day Joe and I decided he needed more attention and moved him into our house. 

Sammy's favorite thing was to sit as close as possible to our gas heater.  I was sure he was going to set himself on fire, so a constant negotiation of how close he could actually be ensued. We fed him throughout the day, tiny amounts of milk, but a steady stream.  And we started giving him a calf supplement of sugar, vitamins and iron that the vet recommended.


Sammy made sounds like a chicken.  He never quite mastered walking on our hardwood floor. We'd  come home to find Sammy spread out, legs in every direction, stuck and making distressed chicken clucks.  He tripped us walking through the house and peed on our  new bathmat.  But despite all his awkwardness he was our sweet Sammy.  We took to calling him our "chicken dog."  Following us around the yard clucking he seemed confused about what kind of animal he was.

But mostly, Sammy just seemed confused. 

After a week of concentrated attention and ear scratching, we started seeing improvements.  He was gaining weight.  Once or twice he even really suckled and could drink a whole third of a bottle in one feeding.  Most important to me, though, was that he was responding to us.  He cried when we left.  Wagged his tail when we came near.  Followed us around the house and out into the yard.  He seemed more engaged with the world than the newborn kid who stared off into the corner.

Still there were things that were never quite right- he couldn't consistently suckle, his jaw clicked when he moved it and his teeth were abnormally large and crooked.  Sammy was definitely different, but we took him as a survivor.  We eventually put him back in the barn with the other babies to see if he could integrate into the group.

He lived outside for four days.  He still needed to be bottle fed and was smaller than even the newest newborns, but seemed happy.  The weather's been warm and he slept in the kid piles with his sister and even played with the other babies.  Or at least tried to in his own weird Sammy way. 

This morning I found him dead in the pen.  His body was limp and stretched out flat. I thought he might come back to life like he did the last time.  But he didn't. The other babies nudged his nose and looked at him in confusion.  I went ahead with the morning feeding and milking and the babies followed suit, happily eating and dancing on the milk bucket, forgetting all about Sammy.

The truth is that Sammy was going to die.  Almost all the baby bucks have been pre-sold off the farm for meat.  An enterprising young man from Siler City's large Latino community has bought them to raise and sell to local families.  So I knew from the beginning that even by trying to save Sammy I would only be saving him to end up the main course at a Christmas goat roast.  I thought about that when I bottle fed him.  And he wasn't a pet.  I thought about that when I held him at our kitchen table and brushed his fur with my fingers.

Sammy was a part of the farm's livestock.  I repeat these words to myself separately, "Live. Stock."

You can't save every baby and you sure can't pour all your farm's resources into saving every sick animal while the others wait for your care and attention.   And while I've written about two deaths so far, the fact of the matter is that we've delivered over 50 healthy and vivacious babies that clamour for my attention upon stepping foot in the barn.  And we are now milking 30 strong mothers.  Only a very small number don't make it.  But those small numbers stay with you.

I carried Sammy out to the burying place in the rain.   The llamas in the pasture acknowledged my passing with their periscopic heads as I made my way towards the forest.  Sammy's eyes stayed open, his little legs swung back and forth in a walking pattern.  Other animals have died, but this was my first time dealing with a body.  I walked past some of those dead bodies when I entered the forest.  A hog who hadn't made to slaughter lay sideways, his mouth open and grotesque, his eyes eaten by birds.  An adult goat lie further down, his body twisted, legs missing and neck torn by fox and coyote.  I covered little Sammy's eyes and moved quickly.

Maybe it was the rain, the mist, or my somber mood, but the forest this morning felt otherworldly.  Like something out of a Greek myth, there was a passage Sammy and I made from the cultivated earth of the farm to the haedes like wilderness of the forest.  On the farm, animals live, there is order.  We have rows, pens, scheduled times for feedings and milkings, sheets with data.  In the forest, fox and coyotes plot chicken raids, bleached bones lay on rock piles, plants grow without being watered, animals reproduce without husbandry and the order and rhythm of things isn't measurable by the punch of a time card in the farm office.  The only animals that regularly move in and out of these two spaces on our farms are four llamas who walk the perimeters of our pastures like stately centurions, guarding our flock from attack by wild creatures.

I buried Sammy near a rock pile and tried to pin down exactly what I felt.  Was it stupid to be torn up about a baby goat?  Especially a baby goat that was so obviously not going to survive and clucked like a chicken?  Had it been cruel to try and keep him alive in the first place?

I placed some pine cones around his resting spot and searched for some kind of... something.... a feeling, a realization, a lesson, the right words for the moment.  All I could come up with was, "Sammy, you were a good goat and you really loved to sit by the heater."

We'll miss you chicken dog.

Feb 23, 2010

Celebrity Dairy featured on North Carolina Weekend

Last week we were featured on UNC-TV's travel show, "North Carolina Weekend."  I am so proud of my babies!  They looked great on camera.  You might recognize me as the headless farm hand, feeding babies from a bottle in one of the shots.

Watch the full piece here.

Feb 22, 2010

happy birthday to me


yes, joe bought me a cake for my birthday.  the lady at the bakery down the road asked, "you want it to say what? well, as long as i'm not giving it to her!" joe also treated me to an incredible wine paired dinner at chapel hill's bonne soiree and a night of dancing at a durham house party.   31 doesn't feel so old.  like 21, but with a better wine selection. 

Feb 14, 2010

A Love List

There are so many new experiences, sad endings, exciting ideas and turning thoughts I have to write about, but not tonight.  I am headed to bed after a week and weekend working, but so grateful.  Grateful for my tired body, exhausted from hard physical work and staying up late laughing with new friends, and grateful for an emergent confidence coming from challenging myself in ways I've never imagined. So, before I fall happily into my bed, a short Valentine's Day love list:

1.  Joe.  Valentine's Day marked our second-year anniversary and it still seems surreal that I somehow found, or more accurately was found and relentlessly pursued by, this truly amazing and good, good man.  Joe took me out for Saturday morning brunch, a trip into town where he put a down payment on our wedding rings and surprised me with a slender gold bracelet he'd had made by the same craftsperson who is making our rings.  He also bought me some books from one of my favorite bookstores including a new collection of older essays by Wendell Berry called, "Imagination in Place."  I'm just now getting into the book and I can't wait to write more about it. 

For Joe, I made some homemade treats to please his sweet tooth.  Knowing that he loves pistachios and coconut I went hunting for a recipe that might include one of the two, but didn't have to look far before coming across a recipe for pistachio macaroons on one of my favorite blogs, eatmakeread.  The only thing I'd add to this recipe if you plan on making it is lemon zest and consider baking it in the 
 oven a little longer to get the right toasting effect.  

Green is the new red.

A little bubbly for the chef never hurt nobody.

Is there anything eggs whites and sugar can't do?

My satisfied sweetheart.

2.  My complicated life.  I love redefining my limits, my muscles, and (re)discovering.  Most of what I've discovered over the past year is how much I don't know; or more correctly, thought I knew but now know I definitely don't have a clue!  And I am grateful for the disillusionment, even though the lifting of illusion and acceptance of ignorance is painful and hard.  I'm just not always sure how to navigate it without becoming a little, oh, shall we say... jaded.  Or worse, closed off from others.

Like when very well meaning people over-romanticize what my life must be like..."Ah, the simple life...", or worse, carry with them a certain... I don't know what... internalized prejudice?  No, that seems too strong, maybe just a misconception, about what a life working with your hands, with livestock, farming, or doing "domestic" type work must be like....Simple! Relaxing! The "Good Life"!  Something they might do themselves if they didn't have a "real" job.

But I think the biggest misconception that bothers me is that farming, or cooking and working with food in general, is somehow easy and requires little to no skill or training. That it is something anyone can just fall into instantly and "become." I think that I used to think this too. And who can blame us?  We are fed narratives about individuals, families, couples, leaving behind their complicated big-city lives to get back to basics, find a return to the pure, their roots, to something a little more true and more authentic than before.  A return to that place, that time, to quote folklorist Robert Cantwell, "when we were good." And "poof" it just happens!  One minute, the disgruntled worker is sitting in his/her cubicle and the next they are in a field, a successful farmer!  A successful farmer- Ha!  I'm always reminded of hearing farmers at our local market joke about having to take off-farm jobs to support their farming "habit."  Sorry, that's my jadedness coming through.

It is a good story, it sells a lot of things. And it is true for some people, but there are also many failures.  And for those that do manage to craft a life as a small scale farmer, not originally from a farming family, what normally gets left out in the uplifting news story is just how much time and energy and money and frustration and learning went into the transition.  I don't know of any examples where it just happened.

Don't get me wrong,  Joe and I have made these changes in our life for a reason.  And I'm not upset with people who think I've somehow opted out of my former life or left the "real" world behind.  Maybe I'm more frustrated with my former-self for having internalized that kind of thinking.  And for not breaking out of a polarizing mindset sooner.  I love my complicated life.  I love doing things.  Making things.  Fixing things.  Being a producer.  Learning things in unconventional ways.  Tasting, really tasting, things.  Being proactive instead of reactive.  Creating instead of resisting.  Being present and taking care of people and animals and places.

But it is confusing and complicated and most of the times I end up feeling like I'm going backwards, every day being a little less sure about the line between what I know and what I have yet to learn, than the day before.

From Wendell Berry:

"When I am called, as to my astonishment I sometimes am, a devotee of 'simplicity' (since I live supposedly as a 'simple farmer'), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here.  In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place.

My point is that when one passes from any abstract order, whether that of the consumer economy or Ransom's "Statement of Principles" or a brochure from the Extension Service, to the daily life and work of one's own farm, one passes from a relative simplicity into a complexity that is irreducible except by disaster and ultimately is incomprehensible.  It is the complexity of the life of a place uncompromisingly itself, which is at the same time the life of the world, of all Creation.  One meets not only the weather and the wildness of the world, but also the limitations of one's knowledge, intelligence, character, and bodily strength.  To do this, of course, is to accept the place as an influence."

- Imagination in Place (2004)

3.  The people I work with.  I love 'em! From listening to slow jams and singing along in the cheese room with Mary and Caitlan to working dinners and hanging out with Brooke in the kitchen, I'm incredibly grateful for the other people I work with at Celebrity Dairy and to Brit and Flemming for giving me this opportunity. And of course- I love my goats!  It's a joy to be a part of such a talented and fun community here on the hilltop.

This photo by David Polous.  More of his pictures of Celebrity Dairy at: www.CamerArt.com.

The Milk Maid

A Postscript to my blog entry:  Reading over my post this morning I feel like I do sound jaded. Sorry, I'm working on that.  I just wanted to reprise my thoughts by saying that ANYONE CAN DO THIS!  It's what is great about taking control of your life and why I love the diy movement whether it be about crafting, farming, baking, bikes, gardening, creating community, art or music.  What I get frustrated about is when I feel like people consider what bakers, cheese makers, food artisans, farmers, etc. do is somehow an escape from the "real world" or something that is simple to do.  Something a little less than serious intellectual, important or activist pursuits. 

Some of this I attribute to more domesticated pursuits being designated as "women's work." Wendell Berry writes about this beautifully in his essays on the "country housewife" and in a defense of his own wife's work.  Friend and former employer, April McGreger of Farmer's Daughter, did a great blog post about this that I often return to when considering these things and in need of a little inspirational push on days I feel like I must be crazy for pursuing my dreams.

I think much of this though, admittedly, is about me and untangling myself from years and years of being pushed to achieve, to spend all my efforts on academic and institutional learning.  Anyone can become these things and should!  Even if it just means baking your first loaf of bread or making your own yogurt.  I know, it's terribly uncool and cheesy to proclaim such idealistic values as this, but I believe in our personal and collective power to create social change in our everyday lives.  I believe that every step we take away from our consumer-based lives is a political act of love.  I fully support anyone's efforts to follow their dreams of "the simple life."  You will be met with moments of total disillusionment, and find that simplicity is actually incredibly complex.  

Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about this some more and for some reason the Wizard of OZ came to me as a good metaphor for the process of following one's dreams, meeting the truth, and in the process coming to terms with fears, expectations not met, and finding strengths we've had all along: 

(sorry, youtube won't let me embed these videos!)

Trust that there will be love, joy and openings to new possibilities of being returned for your efforts.  And just like Dorthy, you might just find that there's no place like home.

Feb 9, 2010

The beginning of Februrary

It feels like I've been living under overcast skies for months.  Snow, rain, rain, snow.  The fields are muddy and just walking across the yard from our house to the barn seems like a major feat in weighty boots.  Wet and dirty clothes are piling up by the backdoor as we refine living strategies to keep the farm on the farm and not in our living room.  The Persephone Months of winter have me tired and feeling a bit slowed and down.  Being indoors does have its advantages- a friend bakes bread, wine in front of the fire, long mornings with Joe and coffee, naps and time to read for (gasp!) pleasure.

On the farm not too much is new.  The hogs left the farm a couple days ago to go to Matkins Meat Processors and are now back in a variety of cuts.  We're looking forward to trying the bacon and sausage- these were some special pigs, so more on that in another post.

We are experiencing a break in births.  So far, a total of 56 babies have been born on the farm and we are currently milking around 27 does.  All of the babies are doing well and have been weened to feed from buckets that we fill with fresh goat milk and milk replacer.

I'm proud to report that I am now able to milk all the does by myself, two at a time.  Our milking parlour can hold 16 does and I am finally getting acclimated to them and them to me so that I can get them all done in two shifts, with each milking session lasting about 30 minutes. My time each night in the barn averages 3 hours, which I think is pretty decent given the prep time, actual milking time, clean up time, and feeding time for both the non-nursing adults and the babies.

My nightly routine goes something like this:  walk through the barns and check in on everyone, prep the parlour by setting up all the mechanical milking equipment and setting out food, put out alfalfa for the milking mothers to lure them into one section of the pen that I close off, feed the non-milking mothers and mix up milk formula for the babies, bring in the nursing mothers to milk in sets and then clean up by sweeping the floors, depositing the milk into the dairy, and washing all the equipment.  The only part of my routine that hasn't gotten easier is when the goats need to be physically moved  - they are surprisingly strong, but more than strength they can be incredibly stubborn and willful animals.  I'm not strong enough at this point to pick up a heavier goat that has dug her heels in and refuses to step up the milking ladder, but I have gotten better about using my body weight to try and position them to move.  But the way it usually works is that once I give up and it's obvious that I don't care anymore, the doe jumps willingly up onto the milking stand.  It's a funny dance we do in the parlour.

Over the weekend we hosted our first Open Barn of the year to welcome our friends and customers over for some food and a tour of the barn and new babies.  To prepare,  Joe and I found a free plastic play set we picked up for our girls.  I can't believe how fast they are growing up.  Suri, our first born, has already hit four weeks old and seems more like an adolescent than a baby.  Her body has plumped up but her head is still tiny and delicate.  I imagine her as an awkward junior high student growing into her self.  The babies are full of energy and testing the abilities of their bodies.  When it's not raining or snowing, you can see them shooting through the pasture like rockets, then stopping with urgency to change directions before jumping into the air and kicking out their legs with a little twitch. And now thanks to craigslist they have added sliding to their acrobatic routines.

We finished the weekend off with a farm Super Bowl party- an excuse to stay up late, eat chicken wings, drink beer and yell at the tv in a room full of friends after a weekend working.

Feb 1, 2010

Snow Day

It was a quiet, snowy day on the farm.  Everyone was home from school and work including our neighbors Mary and Zans and their two children.  Mary made some delicious pizza and it was fun to spend time together with everyone in the Inn taking a slower pace to their day and enjoying the weather.

Tonight during my feeding and milking chores, I think I finally made a breakthrough.  Milking has not been easy for me.  I really enjoy hand milking, but that is only sustainable with a small number of goats.  At this point we have about 20 goats a milking, so we use a machine.  It's similar to a cow milking machine, but smaller and for two udders instead of four.  Many of the goats now milking are yearlings and being milked for the first time.  The past couple weeks I've been met with quite a bit of resistance from the mothers and my inexperience has been no help at all.  Unsure about the process and annoyed by my inability to properly use the equipment makes for frustrated goats and an even more frustrated milk maid. But tonight went rather smoothly.  For the first time I was relaxed and felt confident; I think that transferred to the ladies.

From this weekend: Suri's first trip off the farm

Here's a quick shot from this weekend.  North Carolina was hit with snow, turning the farm into a seriously beautiful winter wonderland.  We had previously scheduled a visit to our local co-op, the Chatham Marketplace to promote our upcoming Open Barn (y'all come!).  With our  4X4 power and a hunger for brunch we set out with our first born doe, Suri.  It ended up being a great day- we talked to a surprising number of people and made some children very happy- one exclaiming, "Goat cheese ROCKS!"  Suri had a blast.  She definitely loves to be the center of attention.  Here's a snap of Joe teaching Suri to jump off the stairs in front of the Marketplace.  The two would run up and Suri would take a flying leap usally ending up sliding down the stairs, hitting the snow below and taking off running back to do it again.  Pretty adorable.

First signs of life