The kids are all right

On Saturday, The Husband and I left The Toddler with Grandma and drove an hour and a half into the heart of Amish country to pick up three young Nigerian Dwarf goats we found online. Their owner was selling them as almost year-old wethers (the name for neutered male goats), as she has milk goats and her herd was getting too big.

We ended up cramming the poor guys into a dog crate in the back of my Subaru hatchback because we need to do some repair work to the cool but temperamental old yellow 1972 Ford F250 we co-own with our friends. The ride home was a quiet but tense one, The Husband gripping the steering wheel and doing his best to keep the turns smooth and slow on the winding back roads, carefully passing Amish families in buggies while the goats stumbled around in an increasing puddle of urine in their crate. Not an ideal way to start the relationship, I’m sure, but they were exceedingly patient with us.

They arrived at our house and we corralled them into an area we have cordoned off with portable electric fencing very near our house. This is one of the big garden beds my grandparents used to manage, but which has over the past decade or two become utterly overrun with poison ivy, wild roses, blackberry bushes and feral garlic (from the time my grandmother threw some old, sprouting garlic cloves out her window. Advice: Do not do this. All last spring and summer the overwhelming scent of garlic wafted through our windows.)

Anyway, to answer a few questions we’ve been getting:

  • The goats’ main purpose is to help us manage this overgrowth (they prefer “browse” or “forage” to pasture–they like reaching above their heads to eat, more like deer than cattle. So the brambles and vines and saplings are prime eating for them.) They will also serve as pets. Also, their poop makes great fertilizer. Also, they’re pretty cute.
  • We have no interest at present in running a dairy. Nigerian Dwarf goats are bred for milk, but you have to breed goats about annually to keep the milk flowing, and breeding goats brings an overwhelming element to the adventure that we’re not willing to entertain right now: stinky, aggressive bucks (non-neutered males), helping with deliveries and keeping kids alive in the dead of winter, when they’re usually born, twice-daily milking and figuring out what to do with all those extra goats.
  • We haven’t picked new names for them. They’re still pretty leery of us (they were quite friendly toward their former owner, but being a year old and only with us for a few days so far, they’re taking their time warming up to us). So we’re keeping their old names for now in hopes that a little consistency in that regard helps open the lines of communication. I’m not going to get into what the currently are, because it’s kind of a longer story than you’d think, but we’ll let you know when we settle on new ones.
  • The Toddler adores them. He can see them out his bedroom window, and they have been added to the good night tour each night along with the chicks.
  • The Dog, poor Louise, got a nose full of the (honestly potentially not strong enough, it feels only slightly worse than getting a static shock from socks on a rug) electric fence when she first encountered the goats, and holds me personally responsible. She’s avoided eye contact with me since Saturday.

Here are some photos for your enjoyment… I hope as the goats get more used to us, there will be better shots, but I can’t get very close right now (and if I am, I have a spoonful of molasses in one hand and a lead in the other, which doesn’t make for easy photography.)

Nigerian dwarf
One of the guys before we brought him home. (Behind him is one of the bucks from the herd, saying his goodbyes.)
Nigerian dwarf goats
The boys stayed shoulder to shoulder the whole first day they arrived, but did nibble on some forage.
Nigerian dwarves exploring
This photo is from today. They like to stand on that falling down fence, and here they are nibbling some wild roses. Get it, guys!
Tucking in for the night
This is where they sleep in the barn at night. Check out my Instagram @arkayokay to watch a video of them basically sprinting to the barn on leads as I try to mimic the “praise voice” their former owner used (embarrassing).
20170326_194730
The apparent leader of the herd in his favorite spot. They started to let me get a little closer today so long as I sat still.

In chick news, the girls are getting bigger and bolder and feathering out nicely. I bring them a treat each day (either hard boiled eggs… yep, the original chick feed, as weird as it sounds, or smashed chick peas, or raisins or freeze dried meal worms, but eggs are their No. 1 jam) and they hop into my hand and go nuts. A couple of them have even been testing out the mini perches we put in their brood box. So cute!

They also survived an attempted massacre by my cat while we were out picking up the goats. Fortunately, everyone was accounted for soon after we got home. We have reinforced the boxes to keep that from happening again (I hope.)

In parenting news, The Toddler is 15 months old now. He’s absolutely a toddler, exploring everything, throwing tantrums, picking up more and more words (his current favorite word is “gouda.” Ha!) and being equal parts heart-explodingly sweet and unbelievably challenging. I am addicted to his hugs.

This week, The Husband is on spring break from school so we’re finally working on a gentle approach to night weaning. (Yeah, I know a lot of moms figure this one out 6 or 10 months in or whatever, but we’ve been lazy and he’s been down to one quick nurse a night unless he’s sick or teething.) Anyway, every night the husband is “on duty” no matter what for an increasingly longer amount of time. Usually if I send him in, The Toddler screams and points at the door for me until we cave, but he’s going to have to take comfort with his dad for longer and longer period of time until he figures out we can’t all get 3 a.m. milkshakes every night.

Speaking of 3 a.m. milkshakes, The Toddler’s dwindling need to nurse, coupled with my persistent attachment to frozen yogurt and string cheese and buttery toast, means I’m starting to gain back a little of the baby weight that fell off so easily from breastfeeding. So today starts a conscious effort to pay attention to my appetite and get some exercise. I went running outside for the first time in eons. It felt like I was running with a backpack full of bowling balls, but I got through it and it felt good to break a sweat. Here’s hoping my saying it on the Internet will help me stick to it.

Time for a very desperately needed shower! Until next time.

The kids are all right

Bringing home baby (chicks)

Yesterday was the big day… chick day! My brother accompanied The Toddler and I to the farm supply store to retrieve our flock (he traded shifts with someone at work, explaining he was going “to pick up chicks with my sister,” heh, heh. So he was my wingman, wink, wink.)

Anyway, I would have posted yesterday but The Toddler decided to nap for only 20 minutes and I spent all that time trying to convince the chicks to love me.

I promised lots of baby chick photos, so here you go:

baby chicks in a box
Our chicks came home in a donut box! There are two Golden Buffs, two Dominiques, one Buff Orpington and one Wyandotte.
Chicks on the ride home
Chicks snuggled up on the ride home – that sock you see in these photos is filled with rice and black beans (a combo I sorely regretted as it smelled like The Toddler had taken a giant stinky dump for the entire ride there and the entire ride back… pro tip, use just rice). Anyway, I microwaved it a few minutes before we left and put it in the cake box so they had a temporary heat source for the ride.
Chicks in the brood box
Water, scrambled eggs, grass and dirt for a welcome home feast. (The chick feed is in the other “room,” accessible through the “chunnel” you see on the upper right.)
New chicks
Temperature regulation has been the toughest part of all this. I’ve learned chick behavior is way more important to watch than a thermometer. Two of the chicks are a week old and want it a little cooler (were panting a bit), but the group as a whole doesn’t dig the recommended 90 degrees and stuck to the perimeter when it was that warm. I’ve been keeping it closer to 80-85 and they seem happier. The chick in my hand is the Buff Orpington. She’s currently the smallest but will outpace everyone eventually!
Cat watching chicks
Bills, our mellow-AF former tomcat, is enamored with the chicks. They’re pretty secure in the box, and he seems to just watch them like TV, but I don’t super trust him. (Note, that chick is fine. Just sleeping. Sweet baby!)
Cat sitter
This is what I discovered at 4 a.m. when my cat (who usually sleeps on me) disappeared for awhile. He’s babysitting the chicks IN HELL!!!! (J/k, infrared heat lamp for nighttime.) I’m researching alternative night heat sources that better mimic a mother hen because I’m a mom and they’re motherless and that makes me weepy… there’s a feather duster in my Amazon cart that will likely end up in here soon.

There you have it! Day one of the chicken adventure. I hope they like me!

Bringing home baby (chicks)

Cooped up with kids (and life is sweet)

Good morning, Internet! As I’ve alluded… we’re going through some exciting additions to TLMB household and I’m thinking of shifting gears to a more hobby farm/parenting blog… workshopping the title, which I hope will make sense to you soon as it is basically one clever turn of phrase after another.

Cooped up

I have been up since 3 a.m. with inexplicable insomnia. Except it’s not really inexplicable… If I’m being honest, it’s a shadow of the sleeplessness I felt waiting for The Baby to arrive, fed in equal parts by sheer excitement and my obsessive need to plan. Because, my friends, in two short days I will be welcoming six new babies into my house.

Fluffy little chicken babies.

dominique_chicken
Dominique chicken By gunthercox (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, The Husband and I are taking the leap into hobby farming with a half dozen chicks, who will, if luck prevails, provide us abundant eggs and entertainment.

I’ve trawled chicken blogs, researched breeds, assembled a brood box (though I still have to finish the second one and build a “chunnel” today), bought feed and bedding and heat lamps. We thought about building a coop, but¬†after careful reflection on our carpentry skills and less than ample free time, we decided to buy a ready-made one that is now waiting for us at Tractor Supply to see if we can get our old yellow truck started to pick it up. (Note: A Subaru Impreza hatchback is not large enough to transport an 8 chicken-sized coop, even unassembled.)

First thing Tuesday morning, The Baby, my brother and I will head over to Grace Brothers Nursery¬†to pick up the girls (which, despite its lackluster website is a great small business… and while we’re now closer to the North Royalton location I highly recommend anyone on the West side of Cleveland check out their urban farm shop on W. 65th.)

We’ll get some combination of the following breeds, selected for their temperament, hardiness, size, egg production and status (as available) as heritage/threatened breeds:

  • Golden Buffs (apparently a.k.a. Golden Comets or Red sexlinks, I think). This is a hybrid bird, and the sexlink means that female chicks are one color while males are another. They are bred to lay a lot of eggs.
  • Buff Orpingtons. These are extremely common, extremely big/puffy, and known in chicken circles as the “golden retriever of chickens” for their friendly, easygoing demeanor.
  • Dominiques. This is the breed I’m most excited about, as they are among the oldest American breeds, developed by some of the first European settlers to North America. Their barred black and white feathers provide camouflage against predators, they are extremely active foragers, very cold hardy and friendly. They’re also medium sized, I think about on-par with the Golden Buffs.
  • Silver-Laced Wyandottes. These are probably the showiest of our selection… check out those feathers. They’re big like the buff orpingtons and cold hardy, too. Perusing the chicken forums, I suspect these might have the greatest potential to be less friendly, but they’re still considered pretty easygoing and docile.

The chicks will spend about 6-8 weeks indoors getting bigger and growing feathers before they move out to their coop. I’m excited to see how The Toddler takes to them! (Don’t panic: No small children or dogs or cats will be left unattended with the flock. Handwashing precautions and kissing bans will be in place to prevent salmonella.)

So that’s the news in chickens.

With kids.

We still just have the one human kid (15 months old now. How?!) But in a week, we’ll be adding three literal kids to the family. Goat kids.

The Husband and I found three Nigerian Dwarf wethers (neutered males) available for sale from a lovely woman who lives in deep Amish Country, about an hour and a half south of us. We went to “interview” them a couple weeks ago and decided we had found the pets/weed eaters for us. They’re actually almost a year old, so maybe not kids much longer, but they’re super cute!

nigerdwarfgoat
Nigerian Dwarf goats. Ours have different coloring, but you get the idea. Cute! HoppingRabbit34 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
No, we’re not doing dairy goats. I know we’re already teetering on “more than we can handle” territory and can’t imagine keeping up with milking, let alone having to breed regularly and deal with newborn kids. And no, despite our jokes and hypothetical talks last summer when this crazy idea first crossed our minds, we’re not raising them for meat. They’re going to eat all our poison ivy and wild roses and enjoy the sunshine and sleep in the barn.

What I’m most nervous about with goat ownership is parasite/worm control. There is definitely a learning curve, but the woman selling the goats has already been really helpful in sharing resources, and we’ve been doing a lot of research and reading on our own. There’s no greater teacher than experience, though, right?

So on Saturday, we’ll go get our little herd. Today we will be setting up the electric fence and finishing setting up their barn stall and outdoor shelter to keep them out of the rain. And finding a mouse-proof place to keep the goat pellets we bought that isn’t the dining room.

More on goats as the story develops.

And life is sweet.

beekeeper

Our smallest new charges will arrive by the thousands in April. This is the piece of the hobby farm pie I’m most nervous about, as it seems you need an advanced degree to keep up with all the maintenance and disease prevention, but we’re going to start beekeeping.

We’ve been taking classes with the Medina Beekeepers Association over the past month, learning about bee anatomy and hive dynamics and mites and pollen and honey. While it will be really nice to have fresh honey if it works out, I feel a moral duty to at least try to take on this task, as honey bees continue to die out and be threatened by insecticides and pesticides and mites.

I don’t have much more to say about beekeeping yet because I still have so much to figure out, but by late April we’ll have the hives installed, and if the weather conditions are right, we might be able to harvest a little honey by the end of the season.

So there you have it. Our little homestead is taking shape, and my days of reading books and folding laundry and freelancing will also be days of sweeping a coop, trimming hooves and checking hives. It’s going to be a big change for our family, and thus a big shift in topic matter for the blog. I hope you don’t mind. Stick around–if for nothing else than the many, many pictures of baby chickens I’ll inevitably post in the coming weeks.

 

 

Cooped up with kids (and life is sweet)

Thoughts on raising a son on International Women’s Day

Oh, hey guys. I’m glad I didn’t recommit to regular blogging during my last post, because that obviously didn’t happen. I would say that I’ve been super busy, but I’ve talked about how much I hate that as an excuse, and also lots of really busy, badass people (for example my girl Melissa) find time to post almost daily. It’s just not a thing I can (or am willing to make the effort to) do.

Before I get into the real topic of the day, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on at the old TLMB household over the past few weeks:

About a half hour after I published my last post, my dad came over (he lives across the street) and got the phone call while he was sitting at my kitchen table that his dad had died. My grandpa had been in hospice for about a year, and in a nursing home for almost 18 months, so while it’s hard to say goodbye, it was a relief to us all that he wasn’t suffering anymore. Ever since my grandma died last year, he had been really going downhill.¬†I will always miss them, and always be grateful to have had them in my life.

We are, indeed, moving ahead with our plans to get a little taste of the farm life: We’re taking beekeeping classes and have ordered bees, we visited some goats over the weekend (and got lost in Amish country, with a carsick and subsequently nearly naked toddler, on the ride home) and will be picking them up sometime in the next few weeks, and I’m prepping to pick up a half dozen baby chicks in the next couple weeks. It’s overwhelming how much there is to learn, and I’m a little terrified, but we decided that the only way to tackle our goals is to jump in with both feet. So stay tuned for more on that. (I’m even thinking about closing the books on this blog/starting up a new one to sporadically document this new chapter, because why not start yet another blog I’ll inevitably neglect?)

I’ve also been keeping up with freelancing and have made a handful of sales on Etsy. End of update.

Raising a feminist son: Reflecting on International Women’s Day

What I meant to talk about today is what I wish for my son, and what I hope to instill in him, as I reflect on International Women’s Day. Feminism is no less important to me because I have a son rather than a daughter, because it’s about equality. So here’s a list of hopes I have for my son as he grows, in the spirit of International Women’s Day:

I want my son to be someone who treats women as equals and also who doesn’t suffer or inflict the consequences of toxic masculinity.

I want him to be able to express the full range of human emotions without feeling like he has to censor anything that might be considered effeminate.

I want him to understand that compassion and sensitivity aren’t ¬†the sole purview of women.

While yes, there seem to be some seemingly innate differences between girls and boys (whether because they’re truly in many kids’ individual natures or because they’re reinforced despite our best efforts to avoid gender stereotypes), I don’t want my son to feel like he can’t do something because it’s “girl stuff” or to judge anything “girly” as less than. He can like pink. He can nurture his baby doll. He can smash trucks together. He can cry when he falls down and be comforted. He can be afraid of snakes. He can dance.¬† He can get muddy.

I want my son to understand that sexuality — his and anyone else’s — is not something shameful, nor is gender identity. I don’t want him to ever be afraid to tell me who he is, gay, straight, male, female, questioning or non-conforming. I want him to grow up knowing that I would be equally proud to be his mom in any of those scenarios, and eager to support him and learn what I do not know in order to do so.

I want him to understand consent. I want him to know that respect and basic human decency don’t “entitle” him to anything as a man, and that “friendzone” is not a thing.

Just as I would want a daughter to have the full range of career options open to her, I¬†don’t want my son to feel discouraged from being a preschool teacher or a nurse, if that’s what he wants to do.

I want him to understand his privilege and use it to help uplift others.

I didn’t expect this post to come full circle, but I had to eulogize both my grandmother when she died, and my grandfather just last week, so I’ve done a lot of reflecting on their lives, and it’s vividly apparent how inequality shaped their lives and their relationships.

They were lovely people with a lot of amazing qualities.¬†But my grandma died with a lot of regrets and resentment about how her life had gone. As I cleaned out their things, I came across ample evidence that she was frustrated and unfulfilled in her role as a housewife. My grandparents’ marriage almost never seemed happy to me, and my grandfather’s role as the “man of the house” certainly was to blame for much of it. He was demanding, domineering, and disdainful of anything that seemed like weakness. My father suffered under this environment, and I grew up watching my brother endure a lot of the same ¬†ridicule. Of course, their unhappiness is a complicated subject, and was their responsibility just as much as it was a product of the patriarchy, but looking back I can’t help but wonder how different it could have been had they seen each other as equals.

So… one day late, now, because The Toddler took an hour to go to bed last night and I just didn’t have it in me to finish this thought, I hope I can instill the importance of equality in my son as he grows up. Happy (belated) International Women’s Day, everyone.

 

Thoughts on raising a son on International Women’s Day