Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Karma is on the fence about which kitty to stalk

It happens so rarely.

Too rarely.

Sitting still outside after a long, hard day.

Just sitting.

Not doing.

Watching and listening to the evening settle in around the farm.

A thought pops suddenly into my mind - "I should see if the bleeding hearts are still in bloom, and if so, grab my camera."

white and pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

I do so love the old-fashioned bleeding heart plant.  I have grown these at every property where I have been allowed to put things into the ground.

white bleeding heart plant

Victorian ladies dancing, that's what these little blooms remind me of. 

pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

The kitties come out of the house to join me, one by one.

ten ladies dancing...
Karma checks out my flowers

All except Kali, who is no doubt out having her own adventure stalking rodents in the pastures.

After snapping flower photos, I go back to the front steps and sit again.

The kitties put on a playful act for my entertainment.

Karma and Zoey take turns stalking Mojo.

Karma stalks Mojo

Can we be friends?

Mojo is not enticed to join in on the kitty games

Mojo pretends to ignore them all, confident that he is still the Big Dog of cats in the household.

Mojo is above kitten playfulness

So they commence to stalk each other.

Zoey stalkin

Karma investigates something to pretend she'snot stalking Zoey

Zoey is onto Karma's ploy

"Hmmm... foiled again."

I breathe the clean air and feel the dusk settling.

The kittens romp and play some more.

Zoey enjoys an evening outside

The grass is cool and smells so fresh.  A breeze flutters the leaves of the maple tree.

I am fully present, and content.

The End

Blessings -

Gypsy Farmgirl writes about kitty meditations

Monday, May 5, 2014

'Lil Liza Jane

We have five new farm flock members!  All three of our Icelandic ewes gave birth to twins last week, which caused quite a stir since we weren't planning for any lambs this spring.

{Apparently the "wethered" rams we got last year weren't entirely "wethered."}

All three little ladies delivered unassisted - Berritt's early Monday and Elli's early Wednesday, with Finn holding out on us until late Friday night.

Berrit had two ewe lambs - dubbed Oopsy and Daisy - and Elli had a ram and a ewe lamb.  Unfortunately Elli's ram lamb died before I even found it in the paddock.  Her ewe lamb is thriving however. She has one black eyebrow and after polling my Facebook friends, we're going with "Shiner."

Oopsy, Berrit's ewe lamb

We would have missed Finn's delivery entirely - probably with dire consequences - had I not been in Minneapolis for the day, returning to the farm around 11:00pm.

Earlier that day we had put Berrit and Elli and their babies and Finn, who looked like she should have delivered several days ago, into a very small electric net paddock to start teaching the babies about electric nets.

Everything on our farm moves around the pastures in electric net fences. It is very important that all of the animals learn to stay away from the fences, for their own safety.  Although touching the fence one time will merely give a little jolt, getting tangled in the fence can be lethal.

So with Berrit and Elli's babies a few days old, it was time to start their lesson.  After herding all of the ewes out of the barn and into the tiny paddock, we stood and watched them for a bit.

Sure enough, a small, curious nose soon touched the fence and the lamb quickly jumped back.  First lesson successful.

I've been told by other shepherds its better to teach lambs about fences when they are quite young, a day or two old, before they are completely boisterous and can run full-speed into the netting.

Everyone was doing fine, and I left for Minneapolis leaving Papa Bear in charge of keeping a close eye on Finn for the day.

Later in the afternoon PB texted me a photo of a little tarp shelter he put up for the ewes, since it had been raining on and off throughout the day.

tarp tent for the ewes and lambs

{Awww, ain't he sweet?}

When I got home that night, he asked if I wanted to see the lambs.  I assumed he meant Finn had delivered her babies, but he chuckled and said no, but would I like to see the ewes inside their little tarp tent?

Of course I did.

Finn with her twins - male lamb and 'lil Liza Jane

So we bundled up and went back outside.  As soon as our flashlight shone across the paddock I counted five tiny white lambs where there should have only been three.

Finn had just delivered her twins!

It was apparent that one was very small and weak.  After watching for awhile to see if mama could get it up on its feet but with no success, we decided to take it inside and get it warm.

Zoey, mama and 'lil Liza

So for the second time in a week, I found myself with a cold, wet ewe lamb on my belly.

After warming her up for awhile we brought her back outside and brought both her and Finn into the warm barn. She was still weak and could not yet stand on her own.

We went to bed around 1:00am, trusting the little lamb to fight for her life and the universe to help her make it through the night.

We figured, if she was alive in the morning, we would continue to assist her.  If not, then she was apparently too weak out of the gate.

She lived.  Not only that, but she was up walking around the next morning.

Papa Bear with Finn's male lamb

However, Finn had bonded only with her male lamb and was rejecting her daughter.  And by rejecting I mean head butting her into the walls whenever she tried to nurse.

We painted her with Finn's placenta soaked in water in hopes the scent would help her mama accept her.

We spritzed both lambs with essential oils to confuse mama's scent-based recognition.

Nothing worked.

It was evident we'd need to try to bottle feed her and get her some colostrum ASAP.

A lamb is born without any immune system at all.  The only immunity they get is from their mama via her colostrum.  Without any colostrum, she'd surely fail to thrive and probably be very sickly if she survived at all.

But of course, we didn't have any colostrum, since we hadn't been expecting any lambs this spring.

So Saturday morning was spent zipping around to everyone we knew with sheep getting lambing supplies - raw milk, colostrum, bottle nipples, lamb replacer, even a catheter and syringe in case a tube feeding was necessary.

Jersey cow's colostrum from our friend Daffodil was the best we could find on such short notice, so after warming it up I tried giving it to the little peanut in a re-purposed Diet Coke bottle with a Pritchard lamb nipple.

Papa watches Finn and her lambs in the Cheep (sheep?) Shed

To my complete amazement, after chewing on the nipple for awhile, she started sucking down the colostrum.


We are still hoping mama will accept her, but it's not likely at this point.  However, we have seen her snitching milk several times while her brother is nursing.

She is nothing if not determined.

So we continue to supplement her with raw cow's milk.

I've been taking to calling her "Little Liza," as in Nina Simone's "Little Liza Jane."  She's just a little peanut - only four pounds at birth - smaller than our Siamese kitten.

But she continues to amaze us with her will to survive, and endear us with her sheer determination.

So, 'lil Liza, welcome to the Little Farm.

Boo checks out the newest members of his flock

Oh I've got a friend in Kendall.... Little Liza Jane....
The alpacas are confused by these little white fuzzballs...  Little Liza Jane.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about Little Liza Jane

Karmalatte in her soft collar

It takes a special kind of person to save little animal lives. 

I am incredibly grateful to the talented folks at the University of Wisconsin Madison veterinary hospital for being those kind of people. 

Last Tues. Karma, our newest kitten, was critically injured. You can read that story here.

After rushing her to my local vet, I was referred to the University of Wisconsin - Madison due to the complicated nature of the surgery she required.

poster in the exam room at the U of W, Madison vet hospital

I am not one to rush critters to university hospitals.  I figure if livestock can't be saved on the farm, then it's probably best if they pass along. 

And if a pet is critically injured, well, I just always figured we'd have to put it down.

But Karmalatte - our Siamese kitten - well, it seems we were already too attached to this tiny peanut with the gigantic purr and the fearless heart to let her die without trying to save her.  

Papa Bear and I agreed - if they could help her in Madison, we'd get her there. 

So I went, speeding through the midnight hour, worrying as her breathing became more and more labored as she sat in her kennel beside me.  

I knew I was losing her.  I prayed she would hold on.

The staff that greeted me at U of Madison was amazing.  They met me at the door and rushed Karma to an oxygen chamber to assist her breathing. 

Doctor Paige Mackey, DVM told me her surgery would be in the morning unless her condition declined enough to warrant starting it sooner.  She asked me about CPR options and treated me with the utmost kindness when I burst into tears all over again at the mention of Karma's possible death.  

Since the hospital doesn't generally allow visitors the day of surgery, and since there was nobody at the farm to handle the next morning's chores, I decided to return home. 

It was 7:15pm Tuesday evening when I first grabbed Karma and headed to my local vet's office. It was 4:30am Wednesday when I finally returned home from Madison and crawled into bed. 

There was nothing I could do now but wait and pray.

Shortly after dropping wearily onto my pillows, the phone rang.  It was the university. They were concerned about her declining condition.  They were calling in the surgical team early. 

I fell asleep fitfully, reminding myself that she was now in the capable hands of the surgeons.

Around 7:00 am I got a call that the surgery was over and everything had gone well. They had succeeded in repairing her ruptured diaphragm. Her lower abdomen organs had pushed up through the rupture, causing her problems breathing. 

Without the surgery, she would have died.

I breathed a big sigh of relief.

They said she wasn't out of the woods yet, due to the traumatic nature of her injury she may develop contusions on her lungs (bruises) which could fill with blood and cause inadequate oxygen levels. They were keeping a chest tube in just in case they needed to drain any gasses or fluids. 

They would know more after 24 hours.

Throughout the next two days I received regular updates from Doctor Julie Walker, DVM, DACVECC regarding Karma's status.  All of the updates were positive.  

I breathed another sigh of relief.

Wed. afternoon I heard from small animal surgery vet Kevin Kroner, DVM that they had taken some additional x-rays of her pelvis and found several fractures.  The recommendation was additional surgery, but we had the option to wait and see if she could heal them herself. 

We opted to wait. 

We got the OK to come and get her Friday afternoon. 

When Dr's Walter and Kroner brought her into our room and handed her to me she seemed a much frailer version of the kitten we knew. 

Dr's Walker and Kroner of the U of Madison veterinary care

She sported a blue "soft collar" which would keep her from licking her incision until the staples could be removed. 

Her front legs and entire belly were shaved and stained from the iodine disinfectant. A long incision ran down her abdomen, held together with metal staples.

Karma's staples after having surgery for a ruptured diaphragm

She was on pain medication that made her sleepy. 

Despite all of this, when I gingerly held her to me, she purred loudly and licked my cheek. 

We were going home. 

We may not be able to afford a trip to Europe in the near future, but after watching her sleeping comfortably in her crate in our own living room, I asked Papa Bear, "Was it worth it?"

The unwavering answer came back immediately -


a happy ending for Karmalatte

Cheers - 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Icelandic ewe Berrit and her newborn lambs

Yesterday found me outside in the cold, pouring rain at 6:30 am slogging through chores before heading off to my temporary job as a dental office receptionist.

Twenty minutes later I was sitting in my empty bathtub, fully clothed, cuddling two cold, wet, newborn lambs to my belly. 

The most ironic part of this story is that these were lambs from Berrit, one of my three Icelandic ewes who are not supposed to be pregnant. 

Berrit chuckles at my ignorance

In fact, we had purposefully chosen not to breed them last fall after bringing them home in October.  We wanted to give them a chance to grow up a bit first. 

And I trusted that the "wethered" ram lambs we purchased last spring were, in fact, wethered.  Now I'm no expert when it comes to ram paraphernalia, but they certainly looked different than the intact ram lambs we had the year before. 

So I believed the farmer.


Oopsy Icelandic lamb cross


Daisy Icelandic cross lamb

The chickens are disturbed about sharing their space...

Berrit faces off against Copper

Berrit doesn't seem to thrilled about it, either.

Barred Rock hen indignant there are sheep in the cheep shed

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about Icelandic lambs

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

the captivating face of Karmalatte

Yesterday was one of those beautiful sunny early-spring days that makes your heart sing.

After putting in a long day at the office (filling in for a dental office while they search for an office manager) I came home and started chores on our farm.

Feed and water the turkeys, chickens, rabbits.  Check the baby bunnies. Check the water in the sheep and alpaca paddock.  Make a mental note that the sheep would need to move soon.  Play fetch with Gypsy.

All of the critters were happy and healthy.

I was just wrapping up chores and thinking about dinner when a friend of mine pulled up to drop something off.

We chatted awhile, distracted from time to time by the antics of Gypsy and Karma.

When my friend was about to leave I offered to put Gypsy into the house because I knew of her bad habit of running right next to and in front of vehicles.  I asked her to wait until I had put the dog in the house.

I did that and when she saw me returning from the back door, began driving forward in order to turn around in the end of our driveway.

That's when I saw Karma bound away from the driveway.

A thought immediately went through my mind - "OH MY GOD WAS SHE UNDER THE CAR WHEN IT STARTED TO ROLL FORWARD?"

I watched her scramble up the front steps and attempt to jump through the cat door.

Her hind end seemed to be dragging a little.  She was rumpled as if she had been tumbled on the ground.

She couldn't get inside the cat door and let out a painful, pitiful "mew."

I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.

I gently picked her up and she clung to my arm as I raced into the house, grabbing the phone and trying to dial with one hand.

I misdialed several times, shaking and all thumbs and swearing, before I got through to my husband.

"I'M HEADING TO TOMAH WITH KARMA, SHE'S HURT.  FIND ME A VET THAT IS OPEN!" I screamed into the phone and hung up.

Racing around still holding her on one arm I grabbed a cat kennel, towel and my purse and raced to the truck.

The entire way to Tomah she clung to my left shoulder, claws digging in.  Only a few pitiful "mews" sounded from time to time.

She was mouth breathing rapidly, shallowly.

I thought maybe her ribs were broken. All four limbs seemed to have function, as I could feel her shift her feet, all four sets of claws set into my torso. I took this as a good sign.

I got to Tomah then found out when the vet called me back that she was in Sparta, so another 20 minute drive further.

I kept telling Karma it was OK, I was here and I was taking her to the doctor. She just clung to me tighter.

At the vet's office a dog that had been badly injured by a pitbull attack took priority over Karma, so we sat and waited.

She was not mouth-breathing anymore but was still breathing way too shallowly.

Finally they came and x-rayed her.  The vet came in a few minutes later. It was clear from the x-rays she had herniated her diaphragm and some of our lower abdomen was starting to push upwards, causing her lungs not to inflate properly.

They could not handle the complicated surgery in Sparta and recommended I head to Madison as soon as possible.

It had taken four hours to travel to two locations and wait for the vet's inspection.  It was almost 11:00 pm when I pulled into my driveway and jumped out of the truck, racing around to shut barn doors, feed the baby turkeys, get all the other cats shut inside the house and let my dog outside to go potty.

And change out of my ripped-crotch farm jeans that I had been wearing to do my chores that evening.

A full tank of gas later and I was pushing the boundaries of the speed limits as I zipped along among dozens and dozens of semi trucks heading towards Madison - the only other vehicles on the road at that hour.

I vacillated between crying, shaking from low blood sugar and feeling nauseous with worry and racked with guilt.

Why didn't I check for her before I let that car move?  I know Gypsy had a tendency to run too closely to cars, but all of my other cats bolt like lightning whenever they hear a car engine roar to life.

I forgot my new kitten was entirely fearless.

And then a thought occurred to me.  As soon as Papa Bear and I made the decision to bring her to Madison to try to save her life, there was nothing else for me to do but get her there.

Whether she lived or died en route was out of my control.

Whether or not they could help her once I arrived was out of my control.

Whether or not she died on the surgery table was out of my control.

The only thing I could control was whether or not to keep my foot on the gas pedal. 

Many times in life things happen that are beyond our control.  We fret and worry and spend so much time living in the past and worrying about the future that we forget that the only thing we can do right now, today, is decide if we are going to keep going forward, or if we're going to give up and quit trying.

For over ten years we sought medical help for our daughter to cope with the effects of anxiety disorder, ADHD and OCD. Life at times was brutally painful.

We spent more nights than I care to remember driving up and down the streets of our suburbs looking for a child that seemed with unarming ease to disappear off the grid.

I worried about her constantly, and slept very little. We had motion sensors on our doors and kept our car keys locked in a safe.  The car batteries were even disconnected.

I wanted desperately to change her behavior. To keep her safe.

But really I only ever had control over one thing - whether or not to keep my foot on the gas pedal and keep looking for her until I found her, or to give up and go home.

Eventually we found alternative healthcare that worked for her where all of the traditional medicine and behavior approaches had failed.

During those ten years of struggling, we had control over only one thing - whether or not to keep looking for answers, for something that would help her, or to give up and quit trying.

We kept on trying, despite all of the setbacks and failures.

Where many parents would have thrown up their hands and given up, blaming God, culture, themselves, we kept looking for answers.

And last night, with the stars streaming across the midnight sky and the tears streaming down my face, I kept my foot on the gas pedal.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about the only thing we have control over

Monday, April 14, 2014

Papa Bear and Mocha checking out the new fire ring

It's been a long winter.  Arctic cold that lingered for months made it seem as though spring would never arrive.

But every now and then between the snow and hail storms we're tasting a bit of spring.

Friday was one of those "I-think-spring-is-actually-coming" days.

A beautiful fire ring by Adler Welding in Sheridan, WY

We packed an entire weekend of things into that one day, from picking up feed and a syrup hydrometer to laying out our hay bale garden.

We also initiated Papa Bear's new fire ring, and had our first grilled hamburgers of the season.

Close up details of our custom fire ring by Adler Welding, Sheridan, WY

Alas, the warm weather didn't last, and rest of the weekend was cold and rainy, with bursts of hail and threats of snow.  We spent most of the next two days inside boiling down sap and working on taxes.

And laughing at the antics of our new kitten.

mocha stalks something in the fringes

I know I said not to boil your sap inside the house, and that is true.  But for finishing syrup when there isn't much liquid left to evaporate it's easy to finish it on your stove top.

This year we invested in a syrup hydrometer (less than $20) to measure the density of our syrup as it neared completion. It has a red line on it and will float at the line when it is at the correct density for syrup.

testing maple syrup

Boil it too long and you'll get maple sugar crystals in your jars.  Done that!

Boil it too short and it will mold and/or ferment.  ahem.  Done that, too.

So, just like Goldilocks, we boiled it down just right.

Canning maple syrup

A word of warning about finishing syrup - it will go from not done to DONE RIGHT NOW very quickly.  Ours indicated the change by suddenly boiling over on the stove.

Be close by when finishing off your syrup to avoid a sticky situation.  yes, i love corny puns.

Out of roughly 6 gallons of sap we got about 3.5 pints of syrup.  Not bad for basically only 3 trees that gave any sap this year.

Three pints or so of maple syrup

{Sorry, not enough syrup to sell to anyone!  We have however planted 25 more maple trees, so get in touch with us in about, oh, 40 years or so...}

We served up some of our newly finished syrup over these gluten-free biscuits this morning and it was NOM.

And, despite the cold rain pelting down outside, it tasted just like spring.

Until I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland.

old man winter strikes again

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about boiling maple sap into syrup

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