Monday, February 14, 2011

Winter Update

Our ewes started lambing a little early this year, with two that popped out the last weekend in January while I was taking a blacksmithing class at Tillers.   Temps dropped to -4F last week.  Though the lambs were under a heat lamp, that's still pretty cold. 

They both developed a cough which we feared was pneumonia (the most common cause of mortality among lambs), but they seem to be holding out alright and don't have a temperature.  One of them is a ram, who I just banded this morning.  "Banding" is the nice term for castrating with a special rubber band.   All things considered, he took it very well.   Better than I would anyway.

The herdshare dairy is doing well, with new customers trickling in as well as existing customers purchasing more shares.  We've purchased our fourth cow, a Jersey we dubbed "Rosie".  She's expected to calve in about a week, which should be just in time.  If we count the calves, hers will put us at 7 cows.   

As a matter of curiosity, I counted the number of teat squeezes it takes to fill our milk bucket. It's about 2,000 squeezes per cow or  roughly 1,000 per gallon.
The cows are going through a lot of hay, which forced us to venture down to the hay auction in Middlebury.  We bought two nice loads which all the cows like (that's been a problem before -- they're *very* picky cows!).

Just as I was leaving the office at the hay auction, I was accosted by the Amish puppy-peddlers who had exactly what I'd been recently contemplating.  Now we have a 9 week old border collie.  "Clover" likes to tinkle a lot, so I've been getting a little less sleep this week while trying to make sure the tinkle action is mostly outside. I'm hoping that someday she'll be able to round up the sheep or cows for us, but for now she's content to terrorize our carpets and barn cats. 

Bobby and I have been getting out pretty regularly, and I decided it was finally time to try a trip into Constantine, the less threatening of our two nearest towns.  The drive there is wonderful -- most of it on gravel roads through a game area, with the balance made up of low-traffic roads through farmland.  We only had about 1/4 mile of "scary" road, where we have to be on the highway to cross a bridge.

The trip to town went well, but it was cold (temps in the teens).   I tied Bobby up to a tree at the boat launch, and then ventured across the street to a cafe for lunch and warmth.  I kept a nervous eye on him, as Bobby has managed to loosen his lead rope and escape when tied up before, but he behaved well this time.  A little girl convinced her mother to stop the car so they could get out and pet him.

As we turned back onto the highway for the trip home, I took the left lane over the highway bridge, knowing that I would have to turn left shortly after we crossed.  Bobby doesn't like semi trucks, btw.  One truck came up on our right and slowly passed us.  Then another line of trucks came at us in the opposite lane.   Bobby started galloping through his own personal hell, despite me pulling the lines back as far as they would go.  I unclenched my bladder muscles and thanked him for staying in his lane as we turned off of the highway and slowed back down to a trot. 

They say sailing is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.  Driving a buggy is a lot like sailing.

Rachel has been taking advantage of the recent snowfall (which looks as if it will be melting this week, unfortunately) on her x-c skis, with me tagging along when I finish my morning chores early enough.  Bilbo the sausage-dog goes along too, but has managed to maintain his portly physique despite the new exercise regimen. 

Henry and I took some time this last weekend to check out the local ski area -- a whopping 10 minutes from our house, with a dramatic 225' of vertical.  He became master of the rope-tow, and by the end of the day was already making parallel turns. 

In case you hadn't noticed, Mother nature is starting to swing her axe, solving the problems we refuse to face with her somewhat unpleasant methods.  In the last 12 months, we've seen major climate related crop failures on nearly every continent but Antarctica, which suffered a 100% crop loss.  Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, China, Brazil, Australia, and now Mexico have all seen significant losses.  The current political turmoil in Egypt is in many ways a result of these crop failures, as they're the world's largest wheat importer.  They also lost the ability to export oil (and pay for their food) last year.  Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC bank in Canada, has an excellent article that spells it out.  Mubarak was the least of their problems.  James Kunstler penned a fantastic blog on Egypt as well.  The first paragraph alone is an absolute gem!

It's only a matter of time before this hits the US, and will likely collapse our questionable dollar which is already burdened by our massive debt and the need to import 2/3 of our fuel.  Do you think the already strained electrical grid will remain running if that happens?  Could you still get clean water if the grid collapses and fuel becomes unavailable?  Food?  Heat?  For most of us, the answer is no, and the results will not be pleasant.  Our fully automated society isn't as resilient as it was even 50 years ago.  Now is a good time to cover your bases, because you won't be able to do it afterwards. 

On the plus side, a collapse of industrial society is our best chance throw a monkey wrench into the processes that the climate models are warning of.  Business as usual will otherwise raise us by 4 degrees C by mid century - which the geological record suggests will drive all large mammals (like us) to extinction.  Isn't it nice to know that us humans are smart enough to avoid such a terrible mistake?


Brad said...

Have you ever done a post on the Michigan law regarding raw milk sales and on how your public is receiving the opportunity to buy raw milk? I'd also be interested in your "policies and procedures" for milking, handling the milk, sanitation, marketing, etc. Wisconsin used to have an "understanding" of sorts that allowed incidental raw milk sales--until the Dept of Ag, Trade and 'Consumer Protection' decided to re-interpret said understanding and shut down the few people who were selling shares of their cows. I don't expect that opportunity to come back here any time soon, but one can hope. And on an unrelated question: do you have a manual pump on your well? If so, what brand and how well does it work?

Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading your story.

David Veale said...

Hi Brad,

Good idea -- I'll cover that in more detail on the next entry.

We do not yet have a hand pump, though we do have a second well drilled for exactly this purpose. It's a long story... email me and I'll fill you in on the details (email link is on the blog, upper right corner)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I really enjoy your blog! How was the blacksmithing class at Tillers? My husband is interested in taking it (but we're 4 hours away -- so I'd want to make sure it's good). We saw their setup at the Harvest Fest last year (yay Heinberg) and it looked nice.

I am envious of your setup and level of learning/preparedness!


David Veale said...

Hi Birgit,

Glad you like the blog!

I really liked the blacksmithing class and definitely recommend it. You get to dive right in and try forge-welding, which is considered one of the more difficult tasks for a blacksmith. Very hands-on, which is my favorite way to learn. The instructor is a professional blacksmith who really knows his stuff.

Not sure if you're in Michigan or not, but you may also want to check out the Michigan Artist Blacksmith Association (