Monday, December 31, 2012

What I *did* accomplish in 2012

Huh. Where to start?

I milked goats once or twice a day most of this year, except for a short period when the does were pregnant and dried off. Bast gave us triplet daughters, who are the cutest things EVER to arrive at Blessed Acre Farm.

 I used the wood-burning cookstove more and more, both for heat and for cooking.

Lydia with Lily, ten weeks
Lydia, ten weeks
I accomplished another of my long-term farm goals by acquiring an English Shepherd puppy to be my farm partner. Lydia is gorgeous, very smart, and my darling.
Lily and Lydia wrestling
Lydia and Lily playing tug-o-war


I nursed Sheba and Decker through their last days, and grieved their passing long and hard.

I taught several sessions of after-school "Wednesday Club" knitting classes to older elementary school students, and was delighted to have both boys and girls in my classes. I went on several field trips with my children. I raised 25 meat-breed chickens for the freezer, and partnered up with Christina for butchering. My brother went on a big field trip in my place with Andy, bless him. Amanda had the lead in the school play as "Harriet the Spy," and she was amazing. I did not get to visit my brother and his family at the Cape this summer due to scheduling hassles from my former spouse. I had my stovepipe cleaned by a genuine chimney sweep. I had the central vacuum serviced/repaired. Adam went to Boy Scout camp, had a great time, and inspired all of his siblings to become Scouts, too. I was chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for my church for a while, though I was happy to hand it over to someone else. I was part of the fledgling Grow Food Amherst program and helped organize a gleaning event in the fall. I learned more than I really want to know about climate change/'chaos' and have become more committed than ever to minimizing our footstep in this household. I replaced the switch on the whole-house attic exhaust fan - successfully - all by myself! Adam started high school. I took Amanda for an eye exam and learned that she needs glasses to see at distance. This was important, as she started middle school this year! I relied on friends when I needed help, and I helped friends when they needed extra hands. Amanda played volleyball for the middle school team, and had a great time. We found a new piano teacher for Andy. Amy Charlotte took up playing the cello. I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for several folks starting out in homesteading-type activities. I survived more legal harassment from my former spouse, who just won't give it up. I started a series of allergy shots, after thinking about it for a solid year. (I'm allergic to way too many things... dog, cat, feathers, mites, tree pollen, etc.) Andy joined Adam's Boy Scout troop. We found a 7th grade Cadette troop for Amanda, and I agreed to co-lead a 4th-5th grade Junior troop for Amy Charlotte.

Jade, indoor cat until spring

Harry, king of all he surveys
We adopted four cats, one of whom is an indoor cat, and another of whom was injured and has become an indoor cat until spring. I hate litter boxes. There's a reason I self-identify as a dog person.

Spot - good outdoor cat!

Lydia, 11 months
Cheyenne - see her collie face!
We also adopted a cousin of Lydia's, Cheyenne. Chey is 7, and is half English Shepherd and half some kind of collie. Both dogs are considered "Farm Collies," though. So now we have Lily (8), Cheyenne (7), and Lydia (almost a year). We still miss Sheba and Decker.

Current count of hens is ~150, and they are laying like crazy. I have 50 rabbits out of nest boxes, and a few babies too young to count yet. The current spread of breeds are American Blue, Cinnamon, Creme d'Argent, Palomino, and New Zealand. The Cremes and Palominos are on probation at the moment; the Cremes are fussy to breed and not fabulous mothers, and the Palomino does won't breed. If they haven't accepted the buck by May 1st, they're outta here.

That mostly sums up 2012. I'm sure I've forgotten more than I've remembered, but that's par for the course.

And now to begin to wrap things up...

I see that I didn't do a wrap-up post last year. I'm not surprised; I was pretty damn sick all year. Here's what I hoped to do in 2011:

Follow the plan with spreadsheet and tame the beast that is a house with too much stuff in it.
Verdict: FAIL. It was May 2011 before I really got over September 2010's illness.

Get moving parts working properly, and keep them that way. PT and home exercise are essential to this goal.
 Verdict: Partial Success. My back has been behaving moderately better, and it's been almost a year since my last cortisone injection.

Manage weight. Yup, need to do that.
Verdict: FAIL. Huge fail. Working on it again/still.

Continue to breed for show, meat, and breed preservation. Select for excellent growth on pasture.
Verdict: Moderate success. I did breed, and added some new breeds to the farm. I did NOT pasture any rabbits last spring; the weather was too dodgy.

Show the rabbits - it's good for the breeds, and it's good for sales of brood stock.
Verdict: FAIL. We showed at Cummington only.

As mentioned above, put up fencing, get dairy goats and beef cow.
Verdict: SUCCESS! The fencing went up between May and October 2011, and we brought in four Nigerian Dwarf goats in October. I lost one in January 2012 to bloat (it was horrible to witness and I felt like a really bad farmer) and successfully bred one, who gave me triplet daughters. Had to give up the dream of a beef cow, though, due to conservation restrictions.

Contact the local Adult Ed folks and set up to teach some classes - I'm thinking knitting, mending, cooking, menu-planning, gardening, sustainable living, food preservation (canning, both methods; freezing), life skills for children. Suggestions are welcome!
Verdict: Partial Success. I did offer classes. Only one ended up happening, 'how to turn strawberries into jam.'

Pursue licensure to sell rabbit to the public. Nobody is quite sure whose purview this is - I've talked to town hall, state ag folks, and federal ag folks. Everyone thinks it's a great idea; nobody knows who's on first. *sigh* Well, it's not the first time I will have blazed a trail, right?
Verdict: Still in progress. Humbling, isn't it?

Get back on my bike/drive less. This is good for health, thrift, and the planet.
Verdict: Mostly fail. I didn't get on my bike at ALL in 2011, though I did ride some in September and October 2012.

Inadvertent progress

Does losing five pounds because you're sick count? I'm saying heck yeah... being that miserable has to be worth something.


Am joining Weight Watchers for the New Year. I've had good success in the past using their online service.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lydia wins!

As of 9:15 this morning, Lydia has recaptured all of the escaped rabbits. Well done, Lydia!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mass breakout at Azkaban... er, back of the yard

Lydia, the farm collie, was just chasing something in the back yard. I went out to see what she had... if it was vermin, then "Good dog!" And if it was a rabbit, then "Good dog!" and catch the rabbit.

It was a rabbit, a baby Cinnamon. Hm. There shouldn't be any way for a baby Cinnamon to get out of its cage. The cages are all fairly new, solid, and without any holes in the wires.

Except... where the feeder goes. Ah. It was the cage with the doe who keeps chucking all her food out of the feeder, and she managed to dislodge the feeder itself, and she and her entire litter escaped through the hole. Swell.

6:35: Lydia catches the first of the babies.

6:50: Lydia catches the mother rabbit.

Oddly, I'm not stressed out at all, as I would formerly have been at the notion of an entire litter being out of its cage. I have every confidence that by sundown, Lydia will have recaptured every last rabbit. At the moment, she seems to have them all trapped under the shed. They'll come out eventually, though, and she's got nothing but time!

Three more babies to find....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cummington Fair, 2012, junior division

Black Eyed Susans
 Yes, this will involve bragging. No, I won't apologize. Would you?

Amanda entered some Black-Eyed Susans. They grow like crazy in front of our house.
Amanda's knitted scarf

Her sewn goods were really impressive, though! I don't have a photo, but she won a plaque for Best Sewing Display. Not bad for twelve years old!

Did well in cherry tomatoes...
Did very well with paste tomatoes...

We swept the Green Beans...

Also swept the grapes...
Not bad in bread-and-butter pickles, either!
The birdhouse Adam made in wood shop
And the canned green beans...
Amanda's painted rock

Amy Charlotte's dolphin watercolor
Amanda's Four Seasons painting
Andy's pencil drawing of a Halloween train

Amanda's marker drawing of a horse

 I gave up on trying to make these photos go where I wanted them. And the egg photos - while repetitive - just wouldn't format at ALL. Take my word that we won half a dozen ribbons for eggs, please.

Cummington Fair, 2012

My children and I always look forward to the Cummington Fair. Of all the agricultural fairs around here, it's my favorite. It's big enough to be fun and exciting, and small enough to be manageable and not intimidating. We were introduced to the Fair in 2008 by a friend, who invited us to enter Peanut Butter, our first Cinnamon buck, in the rabbit competition. He won a blue ribbon - that he was the only one of his breed entered didn't really matter to us. Since then, we've expanded our entries. Here are photos of (most of) my ribbons. (The baked goods' photos came out poorly, because they were all inside glass cases. You'll just have to take my word for them.)

I entered eggs in five categories - medium and large, white and brown, and "any other" eggs. I won a red ribbon (2nd place), two white ribbons (3rd place), and a yellow ribbon (4th place).

Apparently the brown eggs were supposed to be all the same shade of brown - but where's the fun in that?

I entered three tomato categories - heirloom, paste, and yellow cherry. My heirloom "Brandywine" tomatoes won a red ribbon - yes, I know they're cracked, but the first-place plate were only slightly less cracked. My paste tomatoes did much better - a blue ribbon! The yellow cherry tomatoes also won a blue ribbon, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that they were the only entry in the category.

For "exotic vegetable" I entered an artichoke, which also won a blue ribbon. There were other entries in the category, but I don't remember now what they were. And my green Concord-type "Niagara" grapes also won a blue ribbon! There were some purple grapes entered in that class, as I recall.

 In the upstairs hall, I entered baked goods, canned goods, and knitted items. My white bread won a white ribbon, the 'marble square' bar cookies likewise won a white ribbon, the brownies won a red ribbon, and the banana chocolate-chip muffins won a white ribbon. My multi-grain bread didn't place, though.

I entered a bunch of canned goods - grape jelly, diced tomatoes, green beans, bread-and-butter pickles, all of which failed to place. What did win a blue ribbon, though, was the grape jam, made from the Niagara grapes... and it's the MOST DISGUSTING shade of olive I've ever seen. I was quite bewildered!

The fingerless gloves I entered as 'knitted novelties' didn't place.

However, the baby blanket won a white ribbon. The bed blanket won a red ribbon.
And - finally! - after three years of entering sweaters made from the same Icelandic pattern, I won a blue ribbon!!!

I'll show the children's accomplishments in a separate post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I joined Planet Fitness on September 1st. Naturally, my children had three sick days within the first week of my membership. I made my first trip on Tuesday, September 11th. I biked there (1.6 miles each way) and did no more than the PT exercises for my back before heading home. I thought my legs would fall off.

I went again on Saturday, September 15th. Unless I specify differently, assume I biked there, which I did on Saturday. I did my PT exercises, followed by a very modest tour of the machines. I focused mostly on my arms, since biking is as much as my legs can manage yet.

Next visit was on Monday, September 17th. Again I started with my back exercises, then did a slightly more ambitious round of machines. So far so good - I have really been careful about starting slow, lest I utterly cripple myself.

My fourth visit was today, Wednesday, September 19th. After my back exercises, I added a little bit more weight to the machines I have been using.

I have noticed that my legs are strengthening a bit - biking there didn't leave me sucking wind today (despite a stiff breeze in my face) like it did the first day.

And - best of all - 1 pound gone! 193/145... 48 to go.

EDIT:  Whoa - I just looked at that first day's post, and the news is even better - THREE pounds gone! (still have 48 to go, though)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New beginning

I have a plan. I'm doing pretty well sticking to it so far!


More to come.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

August 2, 2012 - RIP Decker

Decker and Sheba, 2001
Oh, what a sad day here at the Acre. Our beloved Decker went to the Rainbow Bridge to join Sheba and Mickey (and Draco and Amber, barn cats). The vet came to the farm to give the goatlings their vaccines, and helped us say goodbye to Decker. I wept and wept. It's awful to say goodbye to one dog, but to lose two in one summer was almost unbearable. Bless Lily and Lydia for keeping us company still.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The times they are a-changin'...

Rest in peace, Sheba 1996 - 2012

Since my last post, we've gone from 4 dogs and 5 cats to 3 dogs and 4 cats. Sweet Draco was killed by a car a week ago Friday. The vet came to the house on Tuesday evening to help us ease Sheba's passing. I cried so hard for her. Sixteen years is a really long time, and she was so faithful and loving. There's an entirely different feel around the place in her absence. I'm thankful we have Lydia, the puppy... her effervescent presence does help. Sheba's remains are being cremated, and once Decker has gone and also been cremated, I will place their remains plus Mickey's (1988-2000) in my garden. I think I'll want some sort of commemorative markers.

Californian rabbits
I'm making some changes in which breeds of rabbits we raise, too.  The Californians are decent producers, most of them, but I don't love them. They're one of the two most commonly raised meat breeds - if you read up about meat rabbits in almost any sustainability book, you'll see recommended Californians and New Zealand Whites. They're boring. Mine are extremely fidgety and not very friendly. I've had trouble with sore hocks, and I won't breed an animal with sore hocks. And, on my pastured-growout trials last summer, the Californians did the WORST of any breed I have. By a longshot. Totally unacceptable. So - I'm getting out of Cals.
Thrianta rabbit

The Thriantas were really an impulse acquisition. They're a beautiful color - deep, rich, Irish-Setter red, but... they're small. They're fairly rare, but that's because they're relatively new to the US. They're not a heritage breed. I don't love them enough to devote the cage space to them any longer.

Cinnamon rabbit - and terrific boy
I started out with Cinnamons, and I like them a lot. They're great producers, sweet and cuddly animals, and meet my criteria of being both rare and heritage breed. They definitely have a future here.

 New to the farm this year are Palomino rabbits. I have only a pair of these (one buck, one doe) and their first litter. Still, the doe has the meatiest back end I've ever seen on a rabbit. They're another rare and heritage breed, they're gorgeous, and they're meaty. I look forward to getting to know this breed better!

Creme d'Argent rabbit

Creme d'Argents are... different. They look quite a bit like the Palominos as babies, but as they  mature, silver guard hairs grow in, giving them a different sheen. They're another rare and heritage breed, they're beautiful, they generally have a nice disposition, but I have had more trouble getting them to breed, and produce good-sized litters, than other breeds.  I'll keep them for the sake of genetic diversity, but I just don't love them as much as....

American Blue rabbit - see how differently it's shaped?

...the American Blues.They are far and away my favorites here. They have an entirely different body shape than any other breed I raise - semi-arch rather than commercial. See the swooping rise behind the ears? The other breeds don't have that. When I got my first Americans, three does and a buck, there were something like 500 breeding adults in all of North America. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy had them listed as "Critical." That was in November 2009. Recently, the breed club received the fantastic news that they have been upgraded to "Threatened." You can read here about the history of this gorgeous breed. They are definitely keepers here - and will in future have more and more cage space allotted to them. I can also report that they did the best of any breed in last summer's pastured-growout trials.

New Zealand Red rabbit
Remember I mentioned above how the most commonly mentioned meat breeds are Californians and New Zealand Whites? Turns out that New Zealands come in other colors, too - notably, for my interest, Red. I have a trio of these beauties heading my way early in June. Why these instead of Thriantas? Size, mostly - these are a commercial/meat breed, with adults in the 9-11 pound range, while Thriantas' maximum showable weight is 6 pounds. EDIT: photo of New Zealand Red courtesy of Martine Forget at Thanks, Martine!

So - that's what's going on around here. I'm a big fan of heritage breed livestock, just as I'm a fan of heirloom vegetables. Genetic diversity is soooooooooo important, and so much has been lost in the past 100 years, due to breeding for criteria other than depth of gene pool. I'm happy and honored to have a part in perpetuating some of these fantastic animals!