Old Chicago Gal in the Northwoods

Weasel in the Henhouse and "Oops" Babies

Jean SilverThings have been unusually quiet and mild in the Northwoods. We didn’t have our first snow until November 19, and it really didn’t cover the ground. I haven’t started barley sprouts for the animals yet because there’s still green grass for them to eat. However, yesterday was blustery and cold. I’m looking out at what may be the last of the lengthy fall season.

The week has been rather unusual in more ways than just the weather. About three weeks ago, Fiona, my favorite Nigerian dwarf goat, suddenly had an udder. She’s always been very consistent in her pregnancies; two and a half to three weeks before kidding, her udder becomes obvious. I’ve read about goats that don’t develop an udder until the babies are here, but all of mine have been more accommodating and showed they were ready and producing milk.

It was pretty clear I was going to have a November baby or two fairly soon.

I had to be out of town part of that time, so I was sweating it. Laura, our critter sitter, was born and raised on a farm and knows more about the animals than I ever will, so I knew she could take care of absolutely anything. It’s just that I always want to be here anytime one of my animals gives birth. As I described before, Bambi probably wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t been here. But Laura updated me periodically, and Fiona stayed out of labor until after I was home.

Since the weather has been gorgeous and the grass and browsing so plentiful, I didn’t want to keep Fiona in the barn unless I had to. Therefore, I was checking her ligaments and eyeballing her morning and night, but letting her out with the others during the day. Then I put her and a companion in at night. By Wednesday morning, her tail was up and she had a heavy discharge. I had to be at work, though, so I couldn’t stay. I gave her fresh bedding, got her a lot of hay and water, turned on the nanny cam (appropriate name, isn’t it?) and waited. By afternoon, it was pretty clear she was in labor. She’d lie down, stand up, push her head against the wall, and talk to her abdomen. I was in a meeting — sneaking peeks at her progress — when I saw the first baby appear. It was pretty hard to keep my mind on work the rest of the day, but somehow I made it through.

In honor of the circumstances of their birth, I’ve named my new babies “Oops” and “Allie.” I’ve heard some experts say there’s no excuse for an unexpected kidding, however I simply don’t know when Fiona got out or the buck got in. Maybe they mated through the fence. None of the rest of the does looks very pregnant, so I really don’t know what happened. Regardless, I have a pair of twins, a boy and a girl, to add to my menagerie for the winter.

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That’s not the only thing that happened this week.

Bob, my husband, took a picture of a weasel near the barn a few weeks ago. It was in its winter white coat. The picture didn’t turn out very well, so I’m not adding it here. But the outline was good enough to know what it was and to know it was one of the big ones: a long-tailed weasel. We set out live trap for it, but didn’t have any luck.

A few years ago, when we first started having chickens, I did what I always do: read everything I could find. Then I tapped the brains of neighbors and friends and just about anybody I could think of to tell me what I needed to know about keeping a live creature before I decided to take the plunge. Then we got some beautiful, fluffy, baby Rhode Island reds from Murray McMurray hatchery and watched them grow. I wanted to be sure nothing happened to them, so I looked over them just like a mother hen would do. I checked on them several times a day and worried if the sky was cloudy or I thought they might get wet. In short, those babies were spoiled.

Because I checked on them so often, I was pretty aware of anything that didn’t look quite right. One day I was standing in the coop door and saw a small rodent dashing back and forth on the roost. It was a bit dark, so I was having a difficult time visualizing it as well as I would have liked. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but too small. Too big for a mouse, but skinny, not like a rat. After a few minutes, it decided to make a run for it and darted out the door across my foot, between one of the little hens and me. Then I got a really good look. I went into the house and announced to Bob that I’d seen a ferret in the hen house. He looked up at me with a dubious expression and asked, “You sure it wasn’t a weasel?” The truth was, I didn’t know what a weasel looked like, but I had seen ferrets in friends’ apartments in the city, and this is what it looked like.

Anyway, I read up on it, found out that ferrets don’t usually run around in the Northwoods, and that what I had seen was indeed a weasel.

The evening after Fiona kidded, I was heading to the barn. It was dusk, so I was a bit surprised to see that a bunch of chickens were huddled together under a platform we had erected for the goats to play on. A little odd. By now they should be headed to the chicken house. I registered the strange scene but didn’t worry about it. I wanted to go see my babies. By the time I came out, it was fully dark and the chickens were still out.

Something was wrong.

I ran over, opened the hen house door, and came face to face with a large, white weasel. It hissed at me and made a high-pitched squeaking, snarling sound. I slammed the door shut, closed up the ramp the chickens use to go in and out, and ran to the house.

We dispatched the varmint humanely and surveyed the carnage: three dead, headless chickens and eleven hens running around the pasture in the darkness. It took nearly an hour to round up the poor, terrified birds, but we did and shut them in for the night. By the next day, they were coming and going as though nothing had ever happened.

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Down three hens and up two baby goats. If I add the dead weasel I guess we broke even.

How To Cook & Can Pumpkin and Live To Tell the Tale

Jean SilverI know pumpkins and squash are supposed to be a gardener’s delight, but this year’s harvest has been downright ridiculous. We have pumpkins everywhere. This is really putting my imagination to a test. I’ve been reading everything that I can about pumpkin recipes and what to do with pumpkins. Of course, if my imagination runs dry, the chickens and goats love to take up the slack for me!

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Sometimes it’s fun to just toss the whole pumpkin into the goat yard and watch them examine it. They push it with their noses. They gnaw at it a little bit. They may get bored with it after they fail at trying to take a really good bite and go someplace else. Once the chickens find it though, the fun starts. They’ll peck at it until they break through the rind, then try to devour it. When the goats see what’s happening, they move back in and take over, finishing off whatever they can find.

I like pumpkins a lot of different ways. We’ll eat them as soup. We’ll eat them as pie and pudding. Pumpkin bread is our specialty. And we’ll can a lot. As of writing this, it’s still not recommended to can pumpkin puree, at least according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I really trust what they say, and usually I follow their recommendations word for word — but not about canning pumpkin. I know people say all the time that they’ve been doing something since they were born, and you have to take things like that with a grain of salt. In this case, though, I really have been doing this since I was a kid. I give it to my children and grandchildren. I eat it myself. I use it in many kinds of foods. So I feel pretty safe in saying that puréed pumpkin, if properly pressure canned, can be quite safe to eat and use.

One thing I have to emphasize, though, is that this is absolutely not a canning bath process. I can’t prove (I’m happy to say) that water bath canning could be fatal, but pumpkin isn’t an acidic fruit by any means, and non-acidic foods should be pressure-canned.

I’m always paranoid about pressure canning. I’m constantly afraid that I’ll do something wrong. If the recipe calls for 10 pounds of pressure for 30 minutes, I use 15 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. It doesn’t seem to hurt the food quality, although I’m not a nutritionist. However, botulism is just not something that I want to risk.

It looks like I’m going to be canning a lot of pumpkin this year. As I get set to start, I’m going to describe the lazy cook’s way to prepare and can this wonderful orange squash.

Just like with apples, I don’t do all the usual — cut open the pumpkin, pull out the seeds, peel the pumpkin with a vegetable peeler, and then cook. Instead, I cut the top off the pumpkin.

pump cooked

If I’m going to dry or cook and eat the seeds, I pull most of them out because they just don’t seem to taste right if I cook them in the pumpkin. If I’m just going to feed them to the chickens and goats, they don’t seem to care, so I just leave the seeds where they are and spoon them out later, after the pumpkin is cooked. Then I put the top back on, put the pumpkin on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 F, and walk away. You do have to watch it. You can scorch the flesh. However, depending on the size of the pumpkin, within a couple of hours it will collapse on itself. If you take a fork and stab it, water will rush out and the skin will be pulling away from the flesh. At that point, I take the pumpkin out of the oven, let it cool, then literally peel the rind off or spoon out the flesh. No big hassle.

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Any further preparation of the pumpkin depends on what it is I plan to do as an end product. I used to always put the flesh through a food mill before canning. However, my 10-month-old grandson dove into cooked, stringy, pumpkin pulp for dinner one night and seemed to love it. Since seeing that, knowing how good the fiber is, I can some of my pumpkin right off the rind. For pies and puddings and soup, I go ahead and put it through food mill so the texture is right for those foods.

The actual act of canning the pumpkin is like any other pressure canning process. For me, it’s 12 pounds of pressure for an hour for pint jars. I should mention that I love those reusable canning lids and use them a lot. For this, though, I just use the old fashioned metal ones. I feel safer that way. I don’t really have anything to show that the reusables would be a problem; I can green beans in the pressure cooker with these lids and think they’re wonderful. I guess the fact that the USDA doesn’t recommend canning pumpkin pulp in the first place is what stops me from using them. Anyway, it looks like the shelves are going to be loaded with pumpkin this year!

Good and Bad Season at Capering Pine Farm

Jean SilverEvery year when kidding time comes around I pull out my books on how to raise dairy goats, veterinary medicine, and anything else I can think of that might help me get my moms and babies through this exciting but scary time of year. I pore over the pages on abnormal presentations and what can go wrong, wondering if I would recognize a problem if it occurred. This was only my fourth kidding season, and I consider myself a novice.

Fiona kidded first. 

And in private. 

When the others went out to browse, she laid down in the stall and refused to go. Twenty minutes later I was back, and there she was with three slimy babies. 

Goat kids

But not everything went as well.

It was the night before Mother’s Day and Bambi, the last one to kid, was in labor. I wasn’t sure that she was at first, because she wasn’t doing the usual things:  pushing her head against the wall, building a nest, lying down then standing up only to repeat. She just seemed distressed. An hour or so later I came to check on her and stayed there the rest of the night. 

Things weren’t progressing. She was clearly in labor. The contractions were quite visible, racking her abdomen. As the night wore on, she seemed to be exhausted.  She would lie on her side for long periods of time; the contractions practically came on top of each other, but no babies.

I knew I was going to have to help.

I followed all the instructions I’d read about for helping a kidding doe.

Gloving up, I put some KY jelly on my fingertips and straddled her. I wasn’t sitting on her, but my legs could keep her from getting away from me, something she immediately tried to do. I brushed her tail away and pushed my fingers into her vagina, widening the view. I could see just the slightest bulge of an amniotic sac.

With the next contraction, I suddenly got a burst of fluid and saw a hoof, which I grabbed hold of. I reached with my other hand and found another hoof.

Waited.

Another contraction and I pulled. Hard. 

I had two back feet in my hands and with Bambi pushing with all her might, pulled the baby out …

to its neck …

and the cervix locked around its throat.

I held onto the feet with my left hand and tried to insert even a finger of my right hand into the birth canal to loosen its hold on the baby’s neck to try to help it get air. But with Bambi bucking me and my muscles giving out, I failed.

Another contraction and Bambi pushed her baby, with me pulling, into the world. I brushed its face, toweled it off, tried to stimulate it to breathe, but nothing happened. It was a perfect little doeling. It was the beautiful fawn color that I like so well. And it never drew a breath. Unfortunately this was a singleton, the first one we’ve had here, so Bambi was kidless.

The next day, I saw one of the saddest things I think I’ve seen in my time of raising animals. Bambi ran out to the pasture, crying. She bawled most of the day. She would charge the other mother’s kids, smell them all over, then run off crying some more. The other moms seemed to understand, and though they were watchful so their babies didn’t get hurt, they let her check out the kids. This went on all that day and well into the next before she apparently stopped looking and went out to browse.

I didn’t milk Bambi. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it after all that trauma. Her udder never got very big, anyway, and it just seemed too cruel. I did, however, keep a close watch for any signs of infection and saw nothing. There was no abnormal discharge. There was no odor. And within a week you would never have known she’d given birth.

I’ve reviewed the whole thing in my mind a number of times since then. I’ve decided that jumping in sooner wouldn’t have helped, since the contractions hadn’t pushed the baby far enough down for Bambi to push it out even if it hadn’t been a breech presentation. I am glad that I recognized there was a problem and did what I could to help. I’ve been worried about this happening ever since we started keeping goats. Now that it’s happened, I won’t be so unsure of myself anymore. I know I can do what I have to.

The apples are coming on now and it’s cooking time.

Kidding time may have been traumatic, but apple season is upon us and there’s nothing scary about that. We make apple wine and apple juice. We dry apples for sweet but healthy treats. And we make applesauce and apple butter.

I’m going to share how I make the latter two. It doesn’t take a lot of time. I don’t peel or core the apples, but I do cut them in half in order to put more in the pan.  If you’re worried about cyanide being released from apple seeds, I suggest reading http://www.thenakedscientists.com and its comments on this. I would also say that I’ve been doing things this way for many years – more than I care to admit to – and I’m still here. 

My recipe for apple sauce and apple butter:

1. Wash and sort apples. Cut out any bad spots, and toss out the rotten ones.

2. Use a pan that will hold at least five quarts of fluid. Put 2-3 inches of water in the bottom. Remember, the deeper the water, the longer it takes to boil off the fluid you don't need.

3. Place the apples into the water. It doesn't have to be boiling when you put the apples in — it'll get there eventually.

4. Boil the apples until they turn into a mushy mess that can be mashed with a spoon.

5. Let cool.

6. Strain through a food mill. The result is applesauce. If this is what I'm making, I stop here, add a few red hots to be pretty and add a little bit of spice, and can it.  No sugar. We don’t need it, and if the sauce is a little tart, we like it that way.

Applesauce

If I'm going to go on to the next step, apple butter, I do the following:

7. Place 3 quarts (12 cups) of applesauce in a crock pot with 3 cups of sugar (I use Splenda for one of the cups), 1-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves.

8. Turn crockpot on high and walk away, returning periodically over the next 12 - 24 hours to stir the evolving apple butter.

9. The sauce will turn tan, then dark brown. When it seems to have the right consistency and the taste you want, it's ready to can in a water bath. This recipe makes about 8 half-pints of apple butter.

That's it. It takes very little time and is loved by all.

Kidding Time at Capering Pines Farm

Jean Silverpearl

We're waiting again. It's that time of year when you kind of just have to do that. The does are becoming more standoffish to each other, but more needy to me. It's her fourth kidding for my favorite, Fiona. (Okay, I admit it. I have a favorite). Every other time she got close to her kidding time, she would start following me around the yard leaning on my leg just like Maggie the golden retriever does. She's getting that way now but I know she isn't due for another week or so.

Pearl, on the other hand, has let me know I'd better stay close. That's her in the picture. The body language says it all.  I wonder if I looked like that when I had my kids? Maybe not, but I remember feeling like it.

If you were born to it, maybe kidding time doesn't cause as much anxiety as it causes me.  The first time I witnessed a baby goat heaving its way into the world was when one of mine gave me twins. Talk about excited! That's not something I ever saw in the Chicago burbs where I lived before making a break for the northwoods.

I worry:

Will I be feeding them adequately? Nobody has died and the only scours I've seen was when somebody knocked over a bag of barley and I couldn't get it cleaned up fast enough.

Will I hurt them when I'm milking them? Doesn't look like it and I still have cheese in the freezer left over from last summer.

Am I doing something wrong? If I am, it doesn't look like it's hurt them.

Five pregnant does, and all with tails up, nice coats and nosy behavior.

So if I'm not doing what I should, my little herd seems to think it's okay so far. I read everything I can about my critters, but as a city transplant I'm sure I have a lot to learn.