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Gloves (2 layers).  Krocs.  Barn coat. Hood, hat. Cowl. Hoodie.  Totally dorky snowpants.  Sweatshirt.

Gloves first? Yes, I’m back after the third barn trip of the day. We’re warm-blooded crustaceans out here. Cold is a predator, and overlapping garments are armor. Once encased, I can face anything. Now I’m molting.

Kidding season hasn’t really begun – they bred to kid at the end of January – but it’s off to a poor start. Monday they were calling for single digits. After feeding grain, I filled the hay nets in the stalls and coaxed them in,  including low goat Trillium, her daughter sly, agile Zinnia, and Edie, who kidded in August and wasn’t allowed to breed again this season. Either the boss goats had been chasing them outside at night, or they had just been keeping themselves away from the charging and butting. But this night, every bit of warmth and muscle mass would count. Once they were shut in, I let go of worrying and concentrated on keeping the house snug for the night.

At 7:3o AM Tuesday, the kettle of hot water from the woodstove went into a water bucket along with a cup each of corn oil and dark molasses – tonic to prevent ketosis of pregnancy. My cardio for the month has consisted of lugging this to the barn and doling out portions to each doe while the others jostle her for more than their fair share. This gives me the chance to count them – well, call their names from eldest down – and in doing this I missed Lilly, and heard her, still in the back stall, bleating.

There she stood, the sturdy 2-year-old, nuzzling at 3 limp shapes in the trampled straw: two half frozen, one just cold. She had done her best to lick them dry, and they were well-developed, but skinny, most likely premature. Either they were born dead, or died a few minutes from hitting the cold air: apparently none of the three ever drew breath.

What could I have done? Well, if I had even considered the possibility that she would go into labor ten days before her due date…OR happened to check the barn at midnite and seen her pawing the litter – OR… gone to the barn at 6, or 5, or 4…

This Winter began with deceptive, lulling warmth & sunlight

This Winter began with deceptive, lulling warmth & sunlight

Still glad the beehives were sited to catch the early sun.

Still glad the beehives were sited to catch the early sun.

Glorious: but the angled clouds forebode a change of weather.

Glorious: but the angled clouds forebode a change of weather.

Lilly, one week before

Lilly, one week before

On the coldest night of Winter... buck triplets, dead at birth

On the coldest night of Winter… buck triplets, dead at birth

Most likely there was nothing I could have done. What would I have tried? What I’ll try now: have a laundry basket of dry towels by the door: keep a pan of warm water on to thaw a jar of frozen colostrum: set the alarm for every four hours, sleep in work clothes, get up, pull on snowpants, slip on cowl, hoodie, hat, hood, barn coat, Krocs and gloves, and take the tiniest flashlight I own, to keep from startling or waking them. Walk out in air that feels at first breath like a cool drink, and later like inhaling sand, step inside the barn door and stand listening – for pawing, grunts, restlessness (a doe in labor will get up, lie down, get up, lie down…) or worse, a shrill but thready bleat. Or two, or three.

It’s been quiet in the darkness, the last three nights, and early mornings: just the soft steady crunch of cud. So I quickly run the light across the sleeping shapes: one or two blink at me, nicker softly and settle their chin on their mother’s or sister’s or daughter’s back. (My flock now are all related in some way to each another. I should make a chart. ) Relief… short brisk walk…molt armor… bed.

Every year, a new concern, a new response. Last year, too-rich feed led to triplets and even quads. How to tube and feed a cold kid. This year, premature labor, which could happen to any of them, but didn’t have to happen on the worst of the cold nights.  And the decision: no more September breeding: no more pushing to have meat processed by April: no more putting them, or me, through this. Friendly, motherly Lilly, her mother, aunts, sisters, will be resting till October.

My life theme this Fall/Winter has been something like, “Headache of the Day.” In truth, things have been going well: most worries have resolved themselves without much fuss. But every time one fades, another crops up.
Kidding season is approaching, and the does have begun to bag right on schedule… that is, if my notations of when they were likely to have been covered are on target. It’s usually 2 or 3 weeks out, but last year, Aggie #17’s udder began to distend around Dec 1, suggesting a due date I knew to be impossible, to a point where it hurt just to see her lie down. And she didn’t kid until January 26, when it proved to be quadruplets.
Things look much more normal this season, but we’re never free of worry. 7 sets of twins would be fine. Plenty. Perfect.

Nightshade was depressed and off her feed for a day or two.

Nightshade was depressed and off her feed for a day or two: tonic cleared that right up.

Her granddaughter Lilly, awaiting her second twins, has a lame right forefoot.

Her granddaughter Lilly, awaiting her second twins, has a lame right forefoot.

Edie' Aggie's sister, is on inactive duty this season after 5 in '12: but I'd like to see her fatten up.

Edie, Aggie’s sister, is on inactive duty (after 5 kids in ’12) but I’d like to see her fatten up.

The weather has been more merciful than in many earlier Winters: no prolonged bitter cold, requiring breaking ice in buckets 3 times a day.  The horses have been up, to let them dry off when the temperature was dropping, just for long enough to leave a good accumulation of fertilizer where I can easily shovel and haul it.  But rain!! Days of incessant drip, squelch and drumming on roofs, and the consequences for garden work that really should be done in January.

Waited patiently for Winter; only to learn Apricots are best pruned in Summer. So, waiting patiently...

Waited patiently for Winter; only to learn Apricots are best pruned in Summer. So, waiting patiently…

Garlic roots growing too fast, thrust cloves out of the soft ground. Too wet to dig them back in, for now.

Garlic roots, growing too fast, have thrust cloves out of the soft ground. Too wet to dig them back in, for now.

It's becoming a theme: squash vines were pulled right after the hard freeze, but haven'r dried out enough to burn them.

It’s becoming a theme: squash vines  pulled right after the hard freeze, haven’t dried out enough to burn, a critical bug control measure.

Heavy, promising buds on the Water Maples will be good bee forage... as long as the heat doesn't tempt them into bloom in January!

Heavy, promising buds on the Water Maples will make good bee forage… as long as a warm spell doesn’t tempt them to bloom in January!

Yes, always something. Seed orders are fun and inspiring, after thorough sorting finds lots of viable leftovers.   But it would be nice to know for sure that one of the local Farmers Markets can accommodate my full season as in years past… and where that will be. You’ll hear it first!

From my favorite suppliers.. even the catalogs look good enough to eat!

From my favorite suppliers.. even the catalogs look good enough to eat!

In childhood, there were always those who came home from play with a pocketful of rocks. (One predictor of becoming a successful geologist must be “tolerant Mom.”) A pity no one in that place, at that time, thought of recommending geology to young women as a career!

Well, I still come home from walks with pockets full of rocks. And rocks often intrude on the garden work (see below).

Lately, encouragement from friends  has revived my interest in geology, never really dormant.  Our dense clay (with a decade of tillage and  compost, it makes good garden dirt) covers, to a depth of 2 to 5 meters, some 3000  feet of sediment from a single period, the Ordovician, when most of Ohio and Kentucky was covered by shallow tropical seas. It makes for fairly monotonous fossil hunting, when rocks everywhere yield the same shattered corals and mollusk shells.

Still, all that calcium gets due credit for weathering into the dense rich soil that supports pasture, garden, goats, horses, bees, vegetables and us.

On yesterday’s hike to gather greenery, a few things got settled about all this. No, I’m not shopping for a display cabinet: the thing for me is to find, identify and relate, not collect.  No, I’m not going to travel Kentucky  in search of other ages and specimens (though I do keep a rock hammer in the truck for tempting road cuts).  But I’ve come to think of the Ordovician with its amazing abundance of shelled creatures, as part of time here, like the fragments of oxidized glass and stoneware. or the flint points – the deep part. I want to know these creatures by name, as I know the weeds, trees and insects, and how they related: for example,  were  the infrequent cephalopods the top of the food chain, hunting and devouring fragile sea lilies ? Why did this epicratonic sea apparently not support trilobites, the most successful life form in all of world history?

And I can’t resist passing along a handy reply, if you run across anyone who thinks a.) all this could happen in 6,000 years, or b.) that 6-foot slab of calcified shells was left by 40 days of high water. To wit: if the Ordovician, for example, lasted only 456 years, then just by the math, the mud that lay at the bottom of the pond when we moved here in 1988 ought to be rock by now. Anyone want to go check?

Readers, just make allowance: Fall garden-keeping is undramatic, and on the drab side, image-wise. On the other hand, it is restful: sometimes the plants seem as ready for dormancy as we are.

On the other hand, there is always beauty for those who look. Thank you for seeing!

…. comes in several forms:  1, a huge oak limb crashes onto the tractor road – volunteer fuel…

9. and last, warm gratitude (from one who can’t start a chainsaw) for all who helped it to happen.  Steve.  James.  Jess.

My first Fall hive check: 3 hours’ work these images barely sum up. And we’re not done: there are acres of asters still budding out, and they’ll gather while the temperature permits them to be active.

Some things I have learned, besides the obvious “How to Look After Bees” points:
– don’t “just stop to peek at the hives” in red check barn coat. Bees see red as black, and me as “bear!” Left eye swollen shut x 4 days.
– Really not allergic to bee stings, parents just over-reacted. Nice to learn after 50 years, glad I didn’t let it stop me.
– Smoker works on “campfire principle” – gets  burning real good just when you close up the last hive/run out of marshmallows.
– Garden yields the last ten years had clearly suffered more from decline in pollinators, than I had any idea. The difference this year for squash, beans, chiles and tomatillos is four-fold.
– Walking the woods and fields has taken on a more personal dimension. Now every tiny golden blur in a patch of clover, a locust tree, a blackberry cane or a clump of asters and goldenrod, might be “one of my bees.”

My posts have been kinda veggie (or even buggy) lately, so here’s some Goat Appreciation. … at a sad time for a number of reasons. I will miss milking, especially calm, biddable Trillium. But it’s breeding season, time to plan for next year’s kids. And I will miss the milk, especially on Frosted Flakes (my secret weakness). But on chilly mornings lately, I have walked to the barn thinking No, I don’t want to keep doing this thru Winter. I will miss pounds of creamy soft chevre every week, and friends and family will too. But this Summer I never did get to make Romano (the mold I needed didn’t arrive) or Mozzarella (the friend who was going to show me didn’t either).

And out at the barn or pasture, among the flock, there is always change:

To everyone this year who shared in milk, cheese, cajeta, milking or taking care of goats, and those who gathered for and helped with August’s Goat Roast, thank you very much and I hope you enjoyed it all as I did.

Goat Roast weather was hot and dry. The day after, it seems as if your friendship and fellowship brought one last blessing.

Rain, and memories…

Against all probability: “Summer” squash, well into Fall.  Such a gift, after the first sowing gave up in July, from heat, insects and drought.

No squash bugs so far to be found. But admire the blossoms as you can, here: you won’t see them at Market.  I am leaving  them for the Bees. Seems like the least I can do!