Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Early Spring Farm Checklist - Western Washington Edition

Technically, it's still winter for another eight days, but I've always thought of mid-March as Spring. Maybe it's because I've been seeing Easter stuff for sale in the stores since February 15th, or maybe it's just my boundless optimism? Either way, bring it on!

This list applies to my particular area (Zone 7B per the USDA's Hardiness Zone index), in this particular  year. The duration and severity of seasons never seem to be the same any two years in a row anymore. Luckily, this year seems to be bringing an early (or at least not late!) Spring. Temperatures have been fairly mild, and we haven't had hard frosts or monsoon-type rains for the past month, give or take, which makes this rain belt farm chick pretty optimistic that Spring will arrive on time this year.

And so, the Spring to-do list must be made, then tackled, one item at a time. We're trying our hands at a LOT of new and exciting projects this Spring, including honeybees, pigs and a brand new kitchen garden, so our list is rather mighty. Between the fair weather and my new knee, I have high hopes that we'll be able to pull this ambitious list off and have a super productive year. This will be our first year in which our little farm will be more than a hobby, but an honest to goodness, money-making business. I'm a big bundle of jangled, eager, excited nerves. It's a good kind of crazy. ;)

March To Do's

*Forage - Stinging nettles & dandelions
*Plant - Start lettuces, cruciferous veggies and hardy herbs indoors. Plant peas out as soon as a raised bed is available.
*Buy - Lumber and other building materials for building two Kenyan Top Bar beehives, a shelter for the pig pen, and at least half a dozen raised beds. Buy 3 weaner pigs.
*Sell - List our buck and 2-3 does with kids for sale, eggs
*Fix - Replace hoses that Rex destroyed, touch up paint job on the big coop, paint east-facing side of the coop with chalkboard paint so that eggs and other farmstand offerings can be advertised for sale.
*Clean- Pick up storm-downed tree limbs that have accumulated over the Winter (feed to goats), tidy up yard and porch. Pull weeds if time permits. Muck out goat houses and chicken coops.
*Build - Finish pig pen and shelter.  At least start beehives. Work on getting a few raised beds in for early veggies.

I know that I must be forgetting some stuff here, because this list looks way too manageable. Uhg. I need to be back up to speed, like, yesterday. Oy...

Bottle Feeding a Weak Kid - The Story of Cookie

Cookie was the second born of triplets to Hop, a two year old mini-Lamancha and first time freshener. The buckling that preceded him presented breech, and was stillborn after having been stuck for sometime. Cookie weighed maybe 3 pounds at birth - a petite little thing from the outset. We gave him some colostrum gel, as we do all of our newborns just in case, followed by a couple squirts of nutri-drench straight down the gullet. He seemed small but steady, so we figured that in spite of his rough entry into this world, that his Mama would take care of him and that, eventually, he'd thrive.

Maybe it was because of his extended wait to be born, or because Mama played favorites with her third born buckling, but Cookie simply failed to thrive and grew weaker by inches every day. Hop didn't pay special attention to her weak boy but old maid Auntie Blue would cuddle up to him, and Sidney, our Alpha Alpine, would let any hungry kid nurse whenever, wherever, so we struggled initially with the idea of taking him away from his herd who were clearly doing their level best to foster him, and hedging our bets and bringing him in to be bottle fed. Yesterday afternoon, we finally decided that he needed our intervention, and brought him in from the goat yard in a Tagalongs Girl Scout cookie box. Hence his name.

Finally having picked him up, we saw the he was almost literally skin and bones. If he'd been nursing at all, clearly it hadn't been enough. We mixed up small batches of milk replacer with a shot of nutri-drench in it, and trickled it down his throat. When he pooped twice, we were encouraged that his gut was working, and that the milk was landing in his stomach rather than his lungs, which can happen when a very weak kid is essentially force fed. I toyed with the idea of "tubing" him, since my goat emergency kit came with a weak kid feeding tube set up. I didn't end up doing it, because if you don't know what you're doing (and I don't), you can thread the tube into the trachea rather than the esophagus, and drown the baby with milk.

So we kept him warm and continued to feed him as much as he'd take - usually not more than a half an ounce - and he'd swallow the majority of it by sheer reflex. Every once in a while, he'd muster up enough strength to be slightly combative with me. We also took that as a good sign. He slept fitfully, nestled inside his cookie box, waking at random intervals to utter a few pathetic moans before drifting back into sleep.

He made it through the night. We thought we'd turned a corner.

Come morning, his breathing remained fast and shallow, and he wouldn't take milk like he had the night before. Most of it was just dribbling right back out of his mouth. I called my goat-wise cousin to see if she thought it was time to tube him. She came over within the hour and ran through a checklist of symptoms and potential cures. We'd warmed him up, fed him and kept his bum-bum from pasting up, but it wasn't enough. Before we could try anything else, our little guy just stopped breathing and slipped away. We don't know if he had a congenital issue that rendered him unable to thrive, if he'd caught a bug of some sort that slowly drained his very limited resources, or if he'd just been rejected by his dam, and hadn't ever had a good feeding, and burned through his reserves. We don't know, which is one of the worst things that can happen when you lose livestock. It shatters your peace of mind. I don't know if whatever took him was contagious, and the rest of our herd is in danger of sharing the same fate, or if he would have survived if I would have plucked up the courage to tube him last night.

Live and learn, I guess. The trouble is that I'm not sure that I've learned anything from Cookie's illness and passing. I don't know what I could or should have done differently or better. Maybe there wasn't anything I could do, and that is the lesson?