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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Smitten by a kitten

It started innocently enough. We stopped at our neighbor's house to talk about baling some small square bales of hay for us again this year.  We were so tickled to find someone in the neighborhood that was still baling small square bales.

Most farmers only make large round bales nowadays, since everybody (except us) owns a skid steer.  If making hay by yourself, large rounds are the way to go, since you can  move them mechanically.  For those of us without any large equipment, small squares are an absolute requirement.

Without a tractor, rake, baler or skid steer, we have to rely on other farmers with equipment to come and do the job for us.  Their pay is half of the harvest.

{Doing it "for halves," is what they call it.}

Because our hay needs are small, this works well for us, and we still get enough extra hay to sell every year.

Papa making a new friend

As we stood around in the kitchen talking about hay cutting patterns and how many days to dry the hay before baling, she found us.  A small Siamese kitten with dark points, a cream mustache, and a gigantic purr.

Papa Bear picked her up right away.  She was extremely friendly.

It was then it happened.  Our hay guy asks, "Would you like to keep her?  She's a barn cat that we had to bring in this winter because she got too skinny.  She's yours if you want her!"

Uh oh.

Cute but awkward!

We left the hay guy's house without her, but a week later we found ourselves asking each other, "have you thought about that Siamese kitten at all?"

Both of us had been.

{Smitten by a kitten}

Then we got to talking and thinking.  When we got Mojo in 2004, we talked about getting a kitten every 5 years, so we'd always have a young cat around whenever we had an old cat.

Our pattern was cut a bit short when we moved to Lindstrom in 2008 and found a tortoise shell calico kitten wandering the woods by our house. We kept her. (Kali)

Then a year later, our daughter brought home two barn cats and we ended up keeping one of them - Zoey.


We were full of cats.

But that was five years ago.  It was time for a new kitten to inject some exuberance into the household and the older cats.

And here she was.

So last weekend we called up our hay guy and asked if the offer still stood.  It did.  And less than an hour later, we brought our new kitten home.

The older cats are less than enthused about her.  But they'll grow to love her.

Sunlight and kitten

We're sure of it.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about smitten kittens

Sunday, April 6, 2014

PB and Gypsy hauling sap and playing fetch

As we settle into our second year on our farm, we are beginning to develop our annual rhythm of things that happen each season.

Ordering seeds, turkeys and chickens; hatching turkeys, tapping trees, shearing, getting the garden prepared, moving everyone out to pasture, mucking the deep litter out of the barn.

PB drills a hole for a maple tree tap

A couple of weekends ago Papa Bear and I went out and tapped our whopping 5 maple trees, and by this weekend we had collected enough sap to start boiling it down into syrup.

Last year we made the mistake of boiling down 8 gallons of sap inside our kitchen.

Using tubing for tapping maples

Do not do this.  Just don't.

So this year we got a turkey fryer to do the bulk of the boiling.

Turkey fryer for maple sap boiling

It's been working awesome so far.  It holds 5 gallons of sap and brings it to a boil SO much faster than the stove.  Plus then you don't get 7.75 gallons of maple vapor running amuck in your house.

Moisture is good.  7.75 gallons of moisture in a small space is bad.

Boiling sap in a turkey fryer

We hope to get a little more sap next weekend and finish boiling it all down.  I doubt we'll get more than a couple of pints this year.  It hasn't been a good run, and we have very few trees.

But we sure have enjoyed the little bit of syrup we made last year, and no doubt we'll enjoy this year's, too. It tastes especially sweet knowing it came from your own land, and the labor of your own hands.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about maple syrup

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