It’s that time of year again, the quarterly update from the farm. A time when staff and animal changes are chronicled, and vegetable and flower growth is noted. Actually, it just occurred to me that there has never technically been a quarterly update. Maybe that’s a thing we’ll establish. Or maybe not. I’ve only had one cup of coffee today, so bear with me.
Here’s where I’d like to start: staff changes. There has been so much upheaval in the animal world and so little web updating in my world that changes occurring months ago never made it onto the blog. The biggest news of all being that we are officially down from six to only two donkeys. Now don’t go all snively, this is one area where there haven’t been any disasters or deaths – it was just time to downsize the donkey herd since it was never clear to us why there even was a herd of donkeys here. I vaguely recall thinking our original, small-statured cows required coyote protection, somehow justifying the purchase of two donkeys (Chula and her baby, Boo). Then I also faintly remember agreeing to adopt three miniature female donkeys from a family friend, convinced that we should breed and make money off of them (excuse me while I fall out of my chair laughing). Slowly, I’m starting to recall a stupendously bad idea to purchase a mini jack donkey to breed with the girls. And suddenly, just like that, we had a herd. No grass or pasture to speak of, but six hungry mouths to feed. This is an important time to note that all six never, ever, never showed even the tiniest inclination to chase coyote. The only thing I’ve seen a donkey protect is its own food. I literally witnessed the donkeys stand next to a coyote once, an animal they sort of glared at, probably warning the coyote to STAY AWAY FROM THE HAY but eat all the goats and chickens you want. Since I’ve mentioned our chicken attacks, several people have contacted me with the suggestion to “get a few donkeys.” I congratulate you if this method has worked on your farm, but my donkeys are, for all intents and purposes, lazy asses when it comes to predator control. In the spring, we found a lovely home for all three mini ladies so they could still live together. Chula and her second baby, George, went to a friend’s ranch. And now we’ve got Pedro and Boo, an odd little pair. Pedro’s days here are numbered and Boo’s probably should be, too. But I just can’t quit those two donkeys, despite their constant hay consumption and general uselessness. Also, it’s notable that Pedro has become Boss’s boyfriend during this breeding season, a subject I will not discuss further but thought it was important to highlight.
Then, of course, there are the chickens. Or, the chickens that lived. Of my thirty or so odd hens left, I believe only four lay eggs regularly in the nestbox, the rest of the eggs scattered across the farm, hidden from sight, eaten by my dogs, etc. Chickens have been, hands down, the biggest failure at the farm due to human error and stubbornness since I still refuse to put them into a permanent coop and am too lazy to manage a chicken tractor at this time. Plus, there’s nothing quite like enjoying an adult beverage on the front porch while watching chickens stomp through the yard and fight over blades of grass or sticks. (Yes, we’re easily entertained and no, we don’t have cable TV).
The canine numbers have also dwindled as all of our original three inside, pet dogs died this year. Although it’s created an emptiness inside the house, I don’t miss the epic amounts of dog hair. Hugo, our 9 lb mutt, was raised with the Pyrenees and, although he’s very much an indoor/outdoor pet, he comes and goes as he likes, spending most of his afternoons barking at donkeys, and protecting the goats with the big boys.
And then, of course, there are the goats who are the reason I came here in the first place. In the looks and entertainment department, they have not disappointed. In the milk department – they have far, far exceeded any expectations I naively brought into the endeavor. Although I’ve only milked two girls, Pearlsnaps and Jolene, in this first season, their production is prolific, the quality and taste of the milk phenomenal, the fresh cheeses (tooting my own horn, but theirs too) spectacular. Dairy animals that are relatively easy keepers with complex and hilarious personalities that feed us? That is a win, in my book. I love those gals, like, a lot. Dolly and Bee are my junior does, or the ladies in waiting essentially, to the far superior herd queens who rule the pasture (and dictate my entire schedule). They’ve just been bred for spring babies, and I’m already pacing around with anxiety – it will be a long, five month wait.
Then there are the bucks and the cows. I believe the bucks have been well-covered already during this long, never-ending breeding season that they both prepared for well before necessary (I think Boss started peeing on his own face in April). They currently live in the big pasture with the donkeys and cows but will be moved to a new, smaller pasture next year so that they can bother only each other. It’s my gift to the other livestock. The cows are thriving, and we plan to artificially inseminate Madaline, our Dexter cow, with a small-statured Jersey bull. Rodeo Queen, her baby, is so small that we will give her more time to grow, and there’s Winnie, who we suspect came to us bred. We should know for sure soon enough. This is also the first year we’ve tried rotational grazing and the large pasture has been split into two, approximately 4 acres pastures. The livestock are living in one as the other has been seeded with winter rye, oats, and clover. A lush pasture is an exciting prospect.
Despite my best efforts to kill (ignore) all plant life, flowers around the porch have managed to thrive. Potting plants and planting roses and sage around the house made this place feel more permanent, somehow, although the mortgage and house build should have felt permanent enough. Still, there’s something about plants that feels like staking a claim, and I’m glad these have taken root. You’ll notice a distinct lack of garden photos, not because it doesn’t exist but simply because it’s not very photogenic. This season, Jer spent so much time tilling the garden and adding compost that he broke the tractor (sorry, Jer. Sorry, tractor.). My contribution was to trench in 14 rows, toss down a variety of fall and winter-loving seeds, cross my fingers, and ignore the thing forever. Those stubborn seeds have already broken through the grass and weeds that inevitably grow because of my neglectful gardening. I’m really onto something with this survival of the fittest strategy. It’s a method I strongly encourage you to employ.
And finally, the bees, may they RIP (hangs head in shame). We jumped into beekeeping as we do, you know, everything around here. Although we took a class and did some reading, our novice skills were not enough to fend off some typical problems the hive encountered. Couple this with a lack of maintenance, and the hive disappeared entirely months ago. Their honey was robbed, and we were left without bees, without honey, without wax – frames picked immaculately clean. We will start again this spring and try harder to be better stewards. Live, learn, buy more bees.
I think that covers everything unless you’d like a snake, coyote, hawk, vulture, fire ant, stinging nettle, devil vine, poison ivy update. No?
We’re still kicking out here.