Archive for March, 2012

And I do mean that literally.

I will freely admit to being a city kid.  And a dumb one at that.  I knew nothing about animals when we started this.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I could tell the difference between a cow and a horse, or a chicken and a turkey, but that was about as far as my livestock knowledge extended.  In the past two and a half years since we started farming I’ve learned so, so, so much about animals and their healthcare and management needs.  But one thing I’ve always been terrible with are feet.  Honestly, they gross me out.  Even my own feet.  There’s just something about them that makes me a bit gun shy.  I do try to keep the goat hooves trimmed on a fairly regular schedule, although the milk goats get much more attention than the other guys do, but that’s because they’re right in front of me twice a day and I can see they need trimmed.  However, as much as I dislike feet I suspect in the next couple weeks I’m gonna have to learn to get over that.

Two Saturday’s ago we get a mid-afternoon call from one of the neighbors next to the farm.  It seems Laverne and Shirley, our two Belgian mules just didn’t like sharing their pasture with the four cows.  A high speed chase ensued and the gate was thrown off and everyone decided to head for the hills.  Thankfully we have awesome neighbors who were more than willing to herd everyone back into the pasture and put the gates back up while we were on our way.  Did I mention they are amazing neighbors?!  However, when we arrived we noticed that Laverne was limping a bit on her right front foot.  Ugh.  So I picked it up and used a piece of a stick to get some of the muck out of it.  Mind you, I’ve never looked at the underside of a horses’ hoof before in my life.  So I scraped the surface mud a bit and some chunks of manure and mud fell off.  There were a couple little stones embedded in the mud as well.  Being the dumb city girl I am, I assumed that was good and I’d gotten it all cleaned out and she was going to be just fine.

As the evening progressed we noticed her limping began to get more pronounced.  Both Sam and I figured it was just a sore muscle or a light sprain.  After all, the girls don’t get any exercise and we figured that they were like us and just really out of shape.  I know if I took off running right now I’d probably be limping around for a week afterward too.  That is, if I didn’t die of a heart attack in the process!  So we thought we’d give it a couple day and see how she did.

Every morning when I’d go out to feed I’d run my hand down her leg and feel for ‘hot spots’.  There weren’t any.  Then every couple of days I’d pick her foot up, and using the goat trimmers I would scrape some of the muck out of the bottom of her foot thinking maybe there was another stone or stick up in there somewhere.  But I didn’t find anything really huge or out of the ordinary.  At least I didn’t think so.  And as the past two weeks have gone on, she seemed to be getting slowly but progressively better.  She’s still limping a bit, but not nearly as badly as before.

Finally, on Sunday Sam and I decided to take the girls out of their pasture and walk them around along the outside perimeter so they could munch on some of the tall grass and clover, and to give us a little bit of bonding time with them.  As we were walking the girls Laverne began to limp a little bit.  It wasn’t every step, but enough that I noticed it.  At first I didn’t think much of it because we were on the drive way and there’s some pretty big pieces of gravel.  But at one point I was walking behind her and I began to smell it.  The smell of icky, rotting flesh.  I knew immediately this wasn’t good.  As we got back to the pasture Sam held onto her halter and I grabbed my goat trimmers (I didn’t have a proper pick at the time) and began to dig around.  This time I decided I needed to go a little bit deeper.  And as I dug around I a great big chunk of her front hoof started to crumble off.  There is a crack in that same area on the front of her hoof and it had been there for several months.  Our farrier had looked at it before and never seemed to be too concerned with it.  But now as I dug around in there I found a pea sized stone wedged up in the crack.  This was probably pushing up and up and up, cracking her foot open a bit more with each passing day as she compacted more and more mud and muck into the hoof from the pasture.  Ugh, this didn’t seem good.

So Monday morning I called the farrier to ask his opinion.  I explained the crack and the way it seemed to be breaking away at the bottom of her hoof.  Based on my explanation he suggested it was an abscess that had blown out when they bolted the pasture and would need to be cleaned and poulticed.  Oh great.  Something new for me to learn….on my own.  So I promptly went to the feed store and purchased a proper hoof pick, some epsom salt poultice gel, and various other odds and ends.  That evening Sam and I headed back to the pasture with a bucket of sweet feed, my newly acquired hoof pick and this jar of thick green gel.

As usual Laverne easily handed me her foot and I went to work.  Pick, pick, pick.  Scrape, scrape, scrap, Pick, pick, pick.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  Repeat.  I vaguely remembered reading a horse care book years ago and seemed to recall that feet had some kind of strange triangle in them somewhere, but I couldn’t remember exactly where that was or what it looked like, so I worked slowly. Very slowly.  Thankfully the girls are super patient and whatever I was doing obviously wasn’t causing her too much discomfort so she let me go at my own pace.  As soon as I finished getting the majority of the gunk off the bottom of her foot I globbed on a huge handful of the sticky green gel.  The menthol seemed to cover up the slight odor that was coming off her hoof, but it also made her wince.  Feeling pretty proud of myself I gave her a good scratching and watched her gimp her way back to the hay before I left the pasture.

Now one of the things you should know about me is, I’m not a terribly patient person when it comes to one of my animals being injured.  I worry and fret and stew over them for days.  I lose sleep over them.  Beating myself up for not knowing enough to recognize the signs they give me when they’re in pain.  In my defense, having never been around livestock before we started farming I really don’t know what’s considered ‘normal’ to begin with, so I can only judge my animals based on the behavior they’ve come to us with.  But still, we tend to err on the side of waiting too long and hoping nature will take care of itself rather than jumping in and calling the vet at every sniffle and limp.  So even though the poultice directions said to wait 24 to 36 hours before re-dressing I just had to get in there this morning and check it out.

So as soon as I finished my regular chores I grabbed my pick, some feed, and a brush and headed to the girls’ pasture.  As usual they met me at the gate.  Since  I was working by myself I tied Laverne off to the fence post and slowly began working on her foot again.  As I picked away I decided to not be so timid and really try to get down to the sole.  So I scraped a little bit deeper than I had the day before.  She didn’t seem to mind this so I continued my picking and scraping, always watching for the whitish color of live hoof.

And then I found it. I was working at the back of her hoof, by the heel. As I picked a large chunk of muck from between the heel bulbs it hit me.  The smell is unmistakable.  Nasty, black, vile smelling, mushy hoof tissue.  It was thrush, I was sure about it.  That was a smell I learned to recognize  right away from the goat’s feet.  And the whole back of her foot was covered in it.  So I promptly headed back to the feed store for a bottle of Thrush Buster.  Poor girl.  She was so patient as I once again went to work on her hoof, picking and scraping the muck off.  I washed her foot and dried it off, and then promptly squirted on a good dose of the Thrush Buster.  I probably over did it, but I wanted to be thorough.  I’ll give this a couple days to work its magic and for her to not feel like every time I walk into the pasture I’m going to create discomfort for her and her feet.  She’s a good girl though, and I’m hoping this potion lives up to its advertising and works in one dose.  I’m also hoping her lameness is just temporary and will clear up as the thrush does.

This has been one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn.  These girls are so sweet and have such a huge place in my heart that I just ache to know that I’ve failed them, even if it was just for a short time.  I realize that with our wet winter and spring and the fact that their current quarters seems to be more bog than pasture I should have been expecting this.  In speaking with other horse owners I’ve learned that thrush is a common problem during this time of year.  But my lack of knowledge just didn’t push me to that conclusion before it was too late.  Thankfully our animals have an abundant supply of grace and forgiveness, and mules are notoriously hearty and generally bounce back from injury or illness much quicker than horses do.  That doesn’t make me feel any better, but at least I know that I’ve done all I can do at this point.  Now I just have to practice my patience…

Update from Sam:

Vet came out today and reassured us that it’s only thrush and that we are treating it properly.  She did say that it looks like Laverne has an abscess that will burst in a few days and that’s why she appears lame.  We feel bad for her, but we’re relieved that it’s only a minor issue that should be resolved soon.

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If you’re like me one of your favorite summer past times centers around family barbeques and picnics.   Everyone pulls out their time-honored, classic recipes for fried chicken, slaw, potato salad, jello salad, grilled corn, and strawberry pies, and packs them neatly into the old picnic hamper you’ve used since you were a kid.  Big blankets are spread out on the ground and colorful plastic plates and silverware are passed around for everyone.  Kids romp in the sun and wear themselves down while the adults enjoy ‘adult conversation’ for an afternoon.

Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older one of the things that I have to watch for are all the carbs and sugar in most of the traditional old favorites.  I love ’em, but they just seem to stick around my hips longer than I’d like for them to. So this year I’ve come up with a newer twist on one of my favorite potato salad recipes.  It’s quite simple actually, but the results still yield that same satisfying potato salad taste.  So if you’re trying to watch what you eat or you just want to shake things up a bit I hope you’ll give this ‘faux-tato’ salad a try.


Faux-tato Salad

1 pound cauliflower florets, cooked ’til tender and cooled

1/2 yellow onion

3 stalks celery

1/2 c. sugar-free sweet pickles (or you can use dill pickles, if you prefer)

1/2 c. olive oil mayo

3 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard

1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

6 farm-fresh eggs, scrambled

In a food processor, pulse the cooked cauliflower until it reaches the consistency you like (or use a fork to break up the florets and stems if you don’t have a food processor).  Move cauliflower to a large mixing bowl.  In food processor pulse onions, celery, and pickles until they are finely diced (or just finely dice them).  Add the vegetables to the cauliflower.  Mix in mayo, mustard, cayenne pepper, and season with salt and pepper to your liking.  When the salad is seasoned to your taste, stir in the scrambled eggs and serve, or refrigerate for later.  Enjoy!

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It’s garden season here in the burb.  Not that you’d know it by looking at our garden.  Every day, I say, “Must work in the garden tonight”.  Every night, I find another chore to do.  Yikes.  I need to go back and watch “Multiplicity” again and see how Michael Keaton did it, because I need more of me.  Well, at my girth, not more of ME, but more copies of a leaner me. Well, you know what I mean.

Our sun room is loaded with tomatoes and peppers that need to go out, but they must wait a couple more weeks, in the unlikely event of one more frost.  I have bags and bags of seeds begging to be unleashed into the earth.  Unfortunately, the garden beds and containers are unprepared for their arrival.  In other words, I’m BEHIND.  Oh, that the Keebler elves would do me a kindness by sneaking in and take care of that for me one night.  Perhaps they could even leave behind some of those little cookies with the yummy fudge stripes on one side; that would be nice. Sorry, got side tracked.

One of the things I’m excited about this year is our compost.  People who actually know what they’re doing, say that one sure sign of good compost and earth is the presence of worms.  If that is the case, then we are in luck this year.

First, as previously recorded here, after our worm bed box was flooded last year, B tossed the soggy contents into a compost pile we have in the garden.  Somehow, a few of the little wigglers lived.  The survivors tackled the rabbit manure with vigor and have turned it into something spectacular.  And, Boy Howdy, have they reproduced.  It is so much fun just to go out to the compost pile and turn over a fork full of it and watch the worms dance.  Am I a cheap date, or what?  I can’t wait to get some tomatoes into that compost.

Hold on, there’s more.

Out at the farm, we have a compost heap made up mostly, of mule waste, with a little side dressing of donkey and cow manure.  It has been steadily growing, and shrinking, for months.  On Saturday, I stuck a manure fork into it and turned it over to see how the compost was doing. Oh my gosh, it was like all my compost Christmases came at once.  First, the stuff is black and rich and smells like earth instead of, well, instead of what it smelled like when it was first produced.

What really painted my wagon though, was the number and size of compost worms.  They were everywhere and they were huge!  These are not night crawlers, these are compost worms.  They found our heap and said, “Oh, baby, we’re home.”  That pile of, well, you know, is to worms what Cracker Barrel is to a fat man. They have buffeted themselves into obesity.  The compost is ready.  And I have snacks for the chickens, too, not to mention a tasty trap for some unwitting bluegill in Lake Acworth a little later this spring.

Yep, we have the best compost ever.  It should translate into the best garden ever. Well it should if I ever manage to get my buttocks into the garden and get it ready, that is.  And I’m on it.  I really am.  Just as soon as I finish looking for those fudge cookies.


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Adult Coppernose Bluegill

All I wanted to do was add some bluegill and catfish to my aquaponics plan so that we would have some cold water hardy fish for extending the vegetable growing season.  Since both species tolerate cold water exceptionally well while Tilapia require specific temperature ranges to thrive (survive) it seemed like a good idea to buy some.

One week ago today, despite being quite ill (unabashed self pity), B and I went to the feed store to pick up some hay and get some fish.  A pond stocking company would be there for one hour selling a selection of fish.  Unfortunately, there was a 100 fish minimum.  I only wanted 30.  I should have walked away when I heard that.  I’m not very good at walking away, though, when I’m on a mission.  Besides, my head was not clear from being sick.

At any rate, I proudly put 70 Coppernose Bluegill and 30 Channel Catfish in the back of the truck. They were in oxygen infused bags of water, of course.

Things went downhill from there.

First, we had to stop at the farm to do evening chores.  Those take an hour or so when B and I are both there.  That would be no problem for the

Pan Sized Channel Cat

fish.  And, it wouldn’t have been, but we got guests.  Some neighbors stopped by to chat.  We have lots of visitors. We love the fact that so many people enjoy dropping by to shoot the breeze and hang out with the animals.  That extra hour was not good for my fishies.  It certainly was no good for the water quality.

I had prepared an aquarium to hold them for a day or two while we fixed up a big aquaponics tank.  I did the usual acclimatize the fish slowly routine, then put them into the tank.  They seemed to adapt nicely, if a little crowded.  Mission accomplished.  NOT!

The next morning, there were dead fish everywhere and the water was almost black.  Obviously the filtration wasn’t large enough and/or there was just an overload of ammonia and nitrites from the little bit of bag water that made it into the aquarium.

I removed the dead fish and treated the water, but had to get to work.  Brittan emailed me with the news that more fish were dying.  To assist me in overcoming my panic, she set up our 300 gallon stock tank.  That would do the trick.  Later that evening I transferred the survivors to their new, larger digs.  I was confident of the larger tank’s ability to remain stable.  My confidence was misplaced.  By morning the water looked like the aquarium water and there were more dead fish.

Over a three  day time frame about 80 of the fish died. I was in a panic and the garage was stinking to high heaven.  Finally, in desperation, I took a 20 gallon aquarium, and set it up with two filters, one for a 50 gallon tank and one for a 30 gallon tank.

After cycling the system, I caught the surviving fish, put them in an isolation bucket for an hour or so to kind of wash them off and acclimatize them again, then put them into the new, smaller aquarium.  Today is the third day since doing so and the fish are ok.  I added a pre filter last night. The pre filter is just a home depot bucket with some filter material and a drain.  A pump sucks up water from the bottom of the tank and shoots it into the bucket.  The filter material catches the solids and the water drains back out into the aquarium.  I am hoping this system will work until I can get a larger system set up this weekend.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine running disaster recover for pond fish. Tilapia are easier.  Such is the life of a wannabe homesteader living la vida loca in the Edible Suburb.

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