Sunday, October 24, 2010

Travelogue: Into Africa

I will be traveling to Rwanda and Kenya October 27 through November 16 with my pastor, Father Ken Schmidt, and his associate Sharon Froom, a licensed therapist.  They have developed a worldwide reputation for their work in trauma recovery and were invited by the Rwandan Catholic Church to provide workshops for priests, educators, and health care workers who work with survivors of the 1994 genocide.

My role on this trip is to document their work.  This will be my first trip to Africa and my first gig as a "foreign correspondent."  I am keeping a separate blog called:  Trauma Recovery Associates in Rwanda, taking photos and videos, and writing stories that will be published subsequent to our trip.

Wish us a bon voyage.  We leave for our two-day journey to Africa on Wednesday.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farm Journal: Moving Day for the Animals

Like Noah and his Ark, Ron invites the goats and buffs into
the trailer that will take them to their new home, Windshadow Farm

Animals don't voluntarily hop on a trailer to be carted off to an unknown place. Usually, they have to be cajoled with food. That's how Ron got the big 1,800-pound water buffalo to board the trailer for a ride to their new home. 

The buffs gathered at the side of the pen where the trailer was parked. Ron called them and shook a white bucket filled with grain. They wanted the grain but they were leery of the trailer. Dave ___, who operates an animal-moving business, positioned himself behind the buffs and moved a portable fence closer to the trailer. He slowly “convinced” them that the only way to go was into the trailer. Once all were on board, he closed off the buffs' part of the trailer to make room for the goats.

The goats during this whole time were their characteristic curious selves. They'd jump in and out of the trailer as the buffs were being led in.  They acted as if this were a new game Ron had invented for them and they were willing to play.

The llamas were another story. Their big, dreamy eyes were wide open with confusion about what exactly was going on. At first, Ron wasn't certain how he'd get them into the trailer but once again, the white bucket invited them to consider the idea. One thing that probably helped was their instinct to protect the goats. So wherever the goats go, the llamas follow.

Once all the animals were on the trailer we immediately headed for Bangor.

Dave transports animals for a living and it is a highly-valued skill that not many people have. He drove his trailer with the same ease that I drive my little Scion. In fact, he transports animals all over the country. One time he moved 300 cows in 30 trips. On another occasion, he drove animals all the way from Michigan to Texas in 30 hours. He hauls zoo animals, including wildebeests, but he's never hauled elephants. He is gentle but firm with the animals, careful to make sure that none of them is hurt or missing. He's very efficient and time-conscious without rushing, and laconic during the loading and unloading. He's a master of his craft!

I asked him what the animals do while they're in transport, especially since they're not used to being in a closed, moving vehicle. He said they mostly stand but some lie down.

New Digs
Buffs emerge from the trailer to check out their new home.
The buffs and goats seemed comfortable enough when we arrived at Windshadow. The goats, the first ones out, walked off the trailer and into their new pen like a bunch of school kids on a field trip. The buffs ceased their fear of the trailer and had to be coaxed out to leave it. They probably wondered where they were.

Once the animals were all in the new pens, they spent a lot of time just looking around, studying the place, and then “baptizing” it both in liquid and solid form. Ron had built the barn so that the buffs and goats were separated, unlike their arrangement at Dancing Turtle Farm where they lived together.

Ordinarily when we lay new straw in the barn, both the buffs and goats come in from pasture utterly amazed at its transformation. They wander all around to check it out, much like humans do when they move their furniture. In this new barn, they were curious but probably more puzzled with their new digs.

Goats check out their new pen
I watched to see if any of them would stake out their territory as they did in the old barn. The only pattern I saw with the goats were the twins who lay together in the southeast corner of the goat pen and Shadow who took the southwest corner. They will undoubtedly create their new “spots” before long but this barn is quite a bit different from the many nooks and crannies of the old barn. This one is rectangular and open. It also has several 4x4 black locust posts driven into the ground, from which temporary stalls can be constructed to accommodate different needs like confining a sick animal, separating kids from the older goats for safety purposes, and providing birthing stalls.

In the center of the barn is a milking station that has not yet been completed. The animals have their own walk-up ramp that leads them from their pens to the milk machines, which have yet to be installed. Ron has been milking the goats by hand but that will change as he increases the herd from about a dozen goats to 40. The nine water buffalo will also be milked by machine. This will increase milking efficiency and ease the pain of those precious hands that will milk so many animals.

It was my job as the “goat whisperer,” as Ron sometimes calls me to help the goats feel at home. What a trial! I got to hug and kiss the goats all day long, watch them adapt to their new surroundings and to brush them. Brushing is probably the most intimate thing you can do for a goat next to milking. Some love it more than others but clearly, brushing is its own reward. Some of the goats, like Lucy, Lil Man and Ella couldn't get enough of it. When I tried to spread myself around, they'd cut the line and try to get a second brushing.

The buffs had to take care of themselves as far as easing into their new home. , Ron was too busy with other things and I don't go into the pen with them, especially when LeBon, the bull, is there, so I couldn't interact with them to any great extent. In the past year they've been in three different places with a couple alterations of the pens at Dancing Turtle Farm. However, when I was in the goat pen and close to the adjoining buff pen, they all came toward me as if to ask: “whassup, girl?”

M131 got a “front row seat” at one point and licked my hand and forearm as I pet her jowls. Then I noticed that she had been crying. Lilly, one of the older does, tends to cry a lot and here was a buff crying. These animals, as big as they are, have feelings, too! Tomorrow, Ron will put them out in the pasture, which has already been prepared with clumps of hay scattered all around the pen. He will spend more time with them now that he, Soo, and all the animals are at one farm. They will surely like that!

Meanwhile, the llamas walked all around the barn and the new outdoor pen surveying the territory so that they could be at-the-ready to protect the goats. I'm sure they felt a little off-balance from the move because both llamas came right up to me as if they wanted to be petted but then walked away when I reached out my hand. They usually just avoid me.

After we were at the farm for a while, Cathy Halinsky and her husband, Tom, came by with the three bucks in their small trailer. One by one Tom led Leonidas, Tiger, and Latte Boy out of the trailer and into their new homes, which was at this time a makeshift pen. He tossed a bale of hay over the fence and the bucks went right at it. (None of the animals had been fed yet to avoid a massive poop-in on the trailer.) I later brought them some water in their usual green bowl. There was no hose hook-up like we had at the old farm so I had to carry water in a bucket from the hydrant next to the animal barn to the buck pen, which was probably about 50 yards away. After I poured the water over the fence, the bucks stopped eating and took a drink. But they were more intent on eating.

Before the bucks arrived Ron had me put up a temporary electric fence. I stuck the plastic, white posts into the ground and pushed them as far as I could with my boot but the clay soil made it difficult to get the posts down as deep as I wanted. I then strung the wire in four places on the slots of the post. Ron returned from doing something else to see how I did with the fence and then he had Tom hook it up to the electrical system, which is all run by a solar-powered set-up.

Hi Neighbor and Tapping into a Forgotten Dream
One of the wonderful things about rural life is its neighborly quality. Maynard Kauffman and Barbara Geisler had prepared a nice picnic lunch for all of us and set it up in the Klein's new kitchen. It consisted of tuna sandwiches with sides of onions, tomatoes, and salad greens; potato chips; and apples. They greeted us with their red-and-white checkered paper dishes when we made the second delivery of goats and buffs. It was like something out of the Westerns I had seen on TV in my youth. Now here I was living it!

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was living a childhood dream of living on a farm. We don't have horses like Joey on the Saturday morning show, “Fury,” but we have goats, buffs, guinea hens and turkeys. We don't have Lassie, but we have Max.

Well, I don't live on the farm. I just work there and I do it as a volunteer. And what a farm it is! Who wouldn't want to be here? In fact, lately many people from around Bangor have been stopping by to ask Ron if he's hiring workers. That says something about the impressiveness of this operation. It also illustrates the poverty people are experiencing in Van Buren County, which is a lot poorer than Kalamazoo County.

Poor Shadow, Queen of the Herd
The move of the animals went smoothly without a hitch, so to speak, except for Shadow. Somehow she had gotten hurt by ramming her butt end into something sharp. At first, Ron thought she was aborting her baby, however, she had only been mated two or three weeks before, so that was unlikely. When Cathy examined Shadow, she noticed that the cut was deep. Ron called the vet immediately.

While we waited for the vet, Ron and I brought straw to the Animal Barn. Earlier in that day a farmer brought the straw and stacked it on pallets in the Hay & Straw Barn. We needed two bales for each pen. Ron carried one bale and flipped it over the fence with ease. He tried to get me to do it but the fence was too high for me. Instead, I got a wheel barrow both to carry the bale AND to use it as a prop to get the straw over the fence. It was awkward and I'm sure a hilarious sight to see, but I did it. I “tossed” three bales into the pens. Ron spread the straw in the buffs' pen and I took care of the goats' pen. As we worked I noticed that Shadow was isolating herself from the herd and standing in a corner of the barn.

"That is bad when they do that,” said Ron. who by now was very concerned about Shadow. He didn't say it but I began to get very worried about the doe's fate and started to tear up over her. Then I got an idea. I'd pray to St. Francis of Assisi, the protector of animals. I first prayed that he'd help the veterinarian arrive there real soon. Then I prayed that St. Francis would help Shadow heal and survive this terrible wound.

Shortly after my prayers, Bob, the vet, arrived. He brought his beautiful little daughter, Jill, with him. Someday, she wants to be a vet, too.

Vetenarian Bob in surgery on Shadow as
Ron and Cathy Halinsky assist.
Bob took one look at Shadow and quickly realized he needed to stitch her up. Ron and Cathy put together a makeshift surgery center in the milkroom. The vet gave Shadow two injections of an anesthetic, one on each side of her neck. She stood still for a minute and then dropped. The three of them lifted the 120-pound goat and put her on the table.

Bob had been very meticulous about laying out all his tools, bandages, and meds before he gave Shadow the anesthetic. Then he went to work. He first wiped the wound clean of its rich, red blood and examined it. He said the rectum was not damaged, which would have been a very bad problem. The vulva, however, had been separated and needed to be re-attached. He sewed up the wound and explained each step of the way to Ron and Cathy. I took still shots and videos of the operation.

As Bob worked, Shadow breathed heavily. Her saliva dripped out of her mouth. That was good, he said. In the background of all this the other goats were munching on the freshly laid straw and not paying much attention to us. The buffs were lying down and chewing their cud. Occasionally, one would drop a pot roast nearby us.

“Whoa-ho,” said Ron. “That's good!”

Tom Halinsky watches over Shadow,
who is a bit wobbly from the anesthetic.

The surgery only took about half an hour and Shadow soon woke up from her anesthetic. She was a little wobbly so Tom held on to her and walked around a bit with her. She looked a whole lot better already. When I first noticed her wound, her eyes were sinking back into her head. She was obviously in great pain. I tried to comfort her but she would not accept it from me so I backed off and respected her wishes. I'd learned that lesson quite a while ago.

Most of the goats left her alone because they were too busy exploring. However, after her surgery she would be too vulnerable to their butting her if she weren't protected. That's what goats do; they pick on the weak ones; it makes for a strong herd. So Ron built her a small stall in the northwest corner of the goat pen. It will be interesting to see if she subsequently adopts this area as her own after she recovers or if she chooses another. The vet said she would be fine and fortunately, she will have a long time to heal before she has kids. We'll have to watch her to determine whether she'll need a C-section or not, he said.

It was about six o'clock and Soo was ready to take me back to Dancing Turtle Farm. She needed to pick up Max, the dog, and Mickey the cat. Together they would all spend their first night in their new home at Windshadow now that all the animals were there.

I hope they had sweet dreams as they now were nearly ready to begin their new adventure as a commercial goat dairy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Farm Journal: Moving Day to Windshadow Dairy Farm

Soo guides the tractor with a load a hay to the Hay & Straw Barn

Ron and Soo have been gradually moving from Dancing Turtle Farm to their new Bangor place called Windshadow Dairy Farm.  I helped them on Thursday and Friday.

I hate moving.  All that packing, re-organizing, tossing, and heavy lifting is a real burden.  Kurt and I have moved eight times over our past 20 years of marriage. 

However, moving a farm with animals is a tremendous undertaking.  Of course, the Kleins have been working on the move every day for months.  And they did it all without a PERT chart. 

On Thursday I helped Soo with packing at the house by wrapping up and boxing wall hangings.  Then we loaded the truck with boxes of clothes and other house items.  We still had room in the truck and went down to the barn to pack some of the equipment like the honey maker, bee boxes, and and outdoor goat shelter. 

It's a good thing Soo is strong.  She can lift heavy and awkward things while I really strain and drag them along.  She wheeled a full dolly up the ramp to the truck and hopped on and off the truck several times to open or close the back door like a pro.  She could also pull the ramp that is attached to the truck almost without effort.   

Mike Sullen, the Kleins' new neighbor across the street from Windshadow—and the excavator of the property, had loaned them his blueberry farm truck.  Soo's expert driving between Kalamazoo and Bangor didn't escape the notice of the neighbors.  She was offered a job to drive the truck during blueberry season next summer!  Needless to say, she declined.  She'll continue her legal work and make delicious goat/water buffalo cheese at her new cheese plant.

Once the truck was loaded Soo and I stopped at Asiago's to buy some sandwiches.  Half an hour later we arrived at Windshadow and immediately tore into our sandwiches.  Well, Ron and I did.  It was 2 p.m. and we were both famished.  Sue gave up her sandwich to Ron because she ate power bars on the way to the farm.  They keep her going and seem to be sufficient for her during these busy moving days.

Hay & Straw Barn
We had to move the hay from the Equipment Barn to the Hay & Straw Barn, a white, covered structure that matches the animal and equipment barns only without sides.  ___ operated the ___(name of the machine) and we all stacked the hay.  Well, I didn't do so well with these heavy and awkward bales.  The trick to stacking hay is to criss-cross it so that it stays in place.  Then, getting the bale on the pile takes a little kick with the knee on the bottom of the bale and a swing upward.  My muscle strength couldn't manage the kick or the swing so I wasn't much help.  Walking on the pile was equally challenging as there are holes in between some of the bales and it's a little unstable.  But Soo could do it.  She was at the top of the pile arranging the bales that Ron, ___, and later Maynard Kauffman (who is in his 80s!) threw up to her.  What a woman!

Ron hoists a bale of hay onto the pile
as  Soo prepares to arrange the bales on top
Eventually, Ron needed to get the pens ready for the animals who would arrive the next day.  There was a lot of lumber and debris left over from the construction so I followed him and began the pick up and sweeping detail.  I was much more useful with this work—until I inadvertently let go of a heavy black locust 4x4 that hit Ron's shoulder.  Ouch!  I was mortified.  He can't afford to be sidelined with an injury now! 

Ron also needed to put up the fences inside the barn and I helped with this, too.  He had me wrap the hog's rings around the wires of the adjoining fences to tie them together.  I had to be very careful not to drop any of the rings on the floor because the goats and buffs would eat them, and the metal would stay in their rumens.  Not a healthy thing for them, especially as milking animals.

It was 9 p.m. by the time we finished all this work and Soo drove me back to Dancing Turtle Farm where I retrieved my car and went home to take a hot epsom salt bath, down a couple Motrin pills, warm up a heating pad for my knees, and then sit down to a hot bowl of oatmeal that Kurt made for me.  I tried to watch a movie just to unwind but fell asleep sitting up.  Then I went to bed about 11 p.m.  Tomorrow would be another exciting day:  we bring the animals to their new digs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Farm Journal: Qué Desastre!

At first it took me a while to see what I was seeing.

Lots of sand and tire tracks over what had once been a garden.

A month or two ago half of the sunflowers had been removed to make way for the new septic system and I thought that was all that would be lost. 

Today, three-quarters of the squash field and a third of the raspberry bushes were gone.  Unfortunately, they was still more fruit left to ripen. 

Then, when I looked at the potato field, I couldn't believe what had happened.  Green stalks that were turning yellow were now withering brown vines.  A few unearthed potatoes sat on top of what had once been a hilled potato plant.   Tire tracks now covered the field.  I dropped the two white buckets I brought for harvest out of disbelief.  What had happened?!? 

Last summer I had spent entire days in the hot, 90-degree sun hilling the potato plants so they would be protected—and so I could find them easier during harvest.  I learned that from last year and wasn’t going to make that mistake again.  But now the hills were flattened.

June 20 -- shoots starting to come up
Instead, I found the plants by spotting the brown vine, which was bent over but still stuck in the ground.  I pulled it out and dug out a batch of potatoes.  Luckily, most were still good.  I tried another plant and most were still good.  But as I continued digging, I began to see a pattern of the real damage.  Green potatoes lay on top of the ground and had to be thrown out.  That was to be expected because rain had washed away enough of the soil to expose them to the air and sun.  Truck damage, however, had left several wounded spuds.  Rotted potatoes that had been cut or squished open were obviously no good.  The squashed potatoes or those with cracks in them had to go, too. 

It turned out that I was tossing between one-quarter and one-third of each plant on the compost pile.  A plant yields about five pounds of potatoes or more.

The earth was also quite packed down from the weight of the trucks and it was hard in some cases to dig the potatoes out of the ground.  I now saw the effects heavy equipment has on the soil and why some people advocate “no till” farming.  This soil had largely been composted, grown and cultivated by hand over 25 years.
Early August -- flowering potato plants

I suppose it hurt to see this destruction of the squash and potato fields because so much work had been put into them.  In June, Ron and I had planted 100 pounds of potatoes and were expecting between 500 to 800 pounds at harvest.  He then taught me how to grow a squash field by a cross-hatch method of measurement:  you plant a seed at the intersections.  The ducks ate half the field by chomping off the tops of the young plants.  On the other hand, we got so many squashes and zucchini with just half a field, I didn't regret the loss.

It took two times of rapid weed growth to learn that I needed to cultivate the plants at least once a week so I usually spent Saturday or Sunday weeding.  I hilled the plants twice and on the second hilling created a mound as high as I could get.  It sure took a lot of muscle and sweat to move earth by hand! 

Farmers who visited the farm told Ron how good the fields looked and they remarked on the obvious care I had taken.  That sort of encouragement gave me some pride in my produce and in my work and I suddenly understood why farmers’ eyes gleam brightly at the markets when they sell their stuff. 

I would pick the crops as they matured.  Some of the zucchini and summer squash went to the goats because they like it and because we had so much.

When the potato plants matured, I harvested them in small sections so we could eat just-dug potatoes.  Then I systematically cleared the field of the dead vines by collecting them in various compost piles around the field.

First shoots in June and first harvest in late August
I began to identify with the potatoes and even gave myself a new name, the Potato Lady.  I admired my dirty fingernails and used them as cause for a conversation about gardening.  I began talking with Matt and Kurt Wiley about potatoes, conferred with Dennis Wilcox at Blue Dog Greens about storing them over winter, and used the Internet to learn more about the plant.

Until today, the biggest problem I had was what to do with the expected surplus.  I began looking for ways of distributing the potatoes because I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.  Besides, I wanted to share these good-tasting beauties with others.

Carrie Young agreed to sell some at the Texas Farmers Market and reported they were "a hit" with customers.  Family, neighbors and friends gladly took them.  Ron brought some potatoes--and squash--to the workers at the new farm.  Chef Channon and her boys gladly took some potatoes, squash and raspberries after they finished cleaning the barn.  Kalamazoo College had a harvest fest and I gave away a few potatoes to the students there. 

There really were more potatoes than we could eat, so the lost potatoes really won’t make that much of a difference in us giving us our share.  It’s just that it was hard to see the garden ruined.  We had even dodged potato beetles, blight, a prolonged hot sun, an overabundance of rain, and animals taking their portion of the crop. 

What we couldn't fight, however, was the new septic system that had to be installed.  Well, now that’s done so I’ll just harvest and store the rest of the plants.  It's just one more lesson in why we give thanks for our food.  You never know what can happen to your crop!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Farm Journal: Barn Cleaning and Pen Mating

Ron put me in charge of cleaning the barn today while he and Soo were busy setting up at the new farm.  This was the first time I was on my own for this project and all went well.

Channon Mondoux and her sons, Jim and Luke, scooped the poop while I put it on the compost pile with the tractor.  We worked as a team, got the job done very efficiently and finished in about three hours.

Jim was marvelous at guiding the tractor.  His physics skills came in handy.

Channon has been lifting weights for the past six months and she has enormous strength, which is what it takes for lifting a pitchfork full of straw and water buffalo dung. 

Luke excelled in throwing the fresh straw down from the loft, which enabled us to spread it all over the barn in no time.

After we finished, Channon and the boys picked raspberries while I harvested a bucket of squash, onions and potatoes for them to take home.  She said they would have done this work for nothing just to help Ron, but since we had food to give, we were glad to share it with them in gratitude.

Thanks again Channon, Jim and Luke!!

Pen Mating
Tiger has returned to Dancing Turtle Farm after a brief rendezvous with Anne Cavanaugh's goats.  Rone put Tiger in the pen with the does so that he can mate with them as each goes into heat.  This is called "pen mating."
It was a sight to witness and not at all like the tender, loving mating ritual I witnessed the other day when Shadow was with Leonidas. 

Tiger spent most of the day cavorting with the does in the north pasture and in full view of us as we cleaned the barn.  He was especially interested in Shadow who apparently didn’t take the other day when she was with Leonidas.  Once a doe is mated, she is no longer in heat and therefore no longer “available” for mating.  This is all hormonal.

Meanwhile, Ava and Dina, two of this year’s kids who have now grown into big girls, were hanging around Tiger and Shadow.  So was Maggie, a year-old doeling.  Apparently, they were all in heat.

Leonidas was nearby in the buck pen watching and anxious to get to the does.  He and Tiger were both groaning with excitement in the ruff ‘n ready buck way.  Ron warned us that Leonidas might try to bump heads with Tiger through the fence.  The two of them had spent a lot of time butting heads a couple weeks ago, which is all preparation for mating season.

During our barn cleaning, Tiger and the does spent half their time romping with each other and half their time sitting down on the ground and resting.  But they rested with each other.  That surprised me because I expected some kind of mating exuberance among them—but it wasn’t long before I got my wish.

After Channon and the boys left, I prepared the gates so the goats and buffs could get into the barn.  I attached three heavy chains back on the north pen gate, secured the locks on the side gate near the barn and opened the pasture gate so the animals could get to the barn.  I was still on the north side of the pen when Tiger and his girls came for water and that’s when the real action began.

Several more does had joined Tiger, which meant that he had his pick of whoever was ready for him.  Shadow had begged off at this point but still hung around the area.  Maybe, as queen of the herd, she was “supervising.”  (There I go again:  anthropomorphizing!) 

The pace in the pen suddenly picked up as Leonidas, who was in the adjoining buck pen, began groaning more intensely.  He also stuck out his tongue.  These are signs of a ready-to-mate buck or as Jim described it to Luke, “Leonidas wanted to get layed.”  The buck was so excited, he tried to squeeze through the gate at one point and I feared he would, especially since he somehow got out the other day.  He would have hurt himself badly if he had!

Tiger seemed especially intent on Mary (a.k.a. Haley), one of this year’s twins, and she was more than willing to oblige.  They went around each other for a while licking and positioning themselves.  He mounted her several times but without successful penetration. 

Maggie, a year old doeling, had followed Tiger to the north pen along with Ava and Dina.  Then Lil’ Man came on to the scene.  He got into the spirit of the day by trying to mount a doe or two even though he is castrated!

Ava began to imitate Tiger and mounted a couple of the girls.  At one point she tried to mount Tiger and he snapped his head back and pushed her away in disgust.  She is a doe who likes to please but sometimes she doesn’t understand the way things work.

The intensity increased.  The goats went around and around in circles hungering after each other as if in Dionysian revelry for a good 15 minutes.  Tiger mounted whomever was in front of him and this changed frequently. 

Leonidas seemed to get more excited and I feared he’d jump his pen.  What would I do?  I then thought my presence may have drawn these goats to this side of the pen so I left them to finish digging potatoes.  Eventually, the goats ceased their frenzy and all went out to pasture again.

This was all quite an amazing sight to see in the lives of the goats.  Not your normal idea of a pastoral farming scene, but obviously very much a part of it.