Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Planning Cardua Science Fiction

Winter is down time mostly for me. The garden is done. The goats are eating hay peeking out at the bad weather. The chickens are on vacation. I write. This winter I am planning Cardua.

What is Cardua?

It is Earth, except the Arkosans don’t know that. All they know is the little piece of the Ozarks where they are now stranded. They call it Cardua.

planning Cardua landing site

The Arkosan space ship is 30 inches long and 18 inches wide. Still, that requires a good sized rock ledge for it to land. These rocks are a bit small, but the ideal set up. The Carduan Chronicles begins with their arrival.

Science fiction is one of the genres I read lots of during and after university. I liked the science base used by Isaac Asimov. A modern novel in that vein is “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

So “The Carduan Chronicles” became a science-based science fiction survival tale. Nine Arkosans are stranded in an Ozark ravine. They arrive during a February ice storm. Since they are very small, they won’t venture far from where they landed.

That leaves me planning Cardua.

planning Cardua view

Compared to the Arkosans, I am a giant. So I got down to their level to see what they would see out the door lock on their space ship. The trees look a lot taller. The rock ledge has no easily seen boundary. That brings a new challenge in writing this book as I must remember to see the world through their eyes, not mine.

If you were stranded out in the wilderness, no phone, no way to contact anyone or get home, no hope of rescue, what would you need to survive? My list includes water, food, shelter and protection from predators and weather.

Why an Ozark ravine? Because I thought I had the perfect place a short distance from the house. Except I didn’t.

Now I am planning Cardua by using parts of several ravines and creating the perfect place for the story. First, the Arkosans needed a place to land their ship. I found two large, flat rocks sitting one on top of the other that will do nicely.

planning Cardua ravine

This Ozark glacier was a surprise find up in a ravine with the perfect set up for the Carduan landing site, if I move the rock ledge into place. The glacier could add some spice to the story as well. Ice skating anyone?

Second, the Arkosans will need a water source. In the beginning they will use ice from an ice storm. Later they will need a more permanent source.

The Ozarks have lots of springs and seeps. One branch of the Carduan ravine will have a spring. I found this in a different ravine.

Third, the Arkosans will need a place to build homes. I’m still working on this but have a couple of places with possibilities.

Fourth, the Arkosans will need flat land to farm. I found this in a ravine, actually two ravines. The problem is flooding. The flat lands are the mouths of wet weather creeks.

Research is part of writing. The nice part of planning Cardua is the excuse to go out exploring the ravines in winter.

Feeding Starving Cardinals

Winter has decided to remind us this season is supposed to be cold. I think highs in the forties are cold enough. Winter disagrees.

I bundle up to face the cold. Non hibernating wild creatures try, but their main defense is eating extra food. The starving cardinals have arrived at the bird feeder.

starving cardinals wait

Starving cardinals line up waiting for seeds to arrive, then wait their turn in the feeder after the blue jays have come and gone.

There are lots of birds eating at the bird feeder this winter. Mourning doves, titmice, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees and red breasted woodpeckers are the most numerous. Cardinals have been around the last few years, but not in great numbers.

This year is different. This year a flock of cardinals has moved into the area.

Our feeder isn’t fancy. It’s only a platform with a roof over it. The roof is new this year.

starving cardinal

Male cardinals are in their spring finery already making them a vivid red in a gray world. They begin marking out nesting territories in February.

The roof sets down around the platform and is not attached to it. Wind finds the roof is an airfoil. Strong winds lift the roof assembly off the feeder and drop it to the ground a few feet away.

I do tie the roof down, but baling twine wears out. So, every few years I need to repair or build a roof.

Our bird feed isn’t fancy either. Sunflower seeds, scratch feed and peanut butter go out every morning and get picked up every night.

Birds have cleaned off the grass seed, the giant ragweed seeds, the thistles, the chicory. Much of the fall seed crop never appeared due to drought. Lean times are adding to cold this winter.

downy woodpecker

This smallest woodpecker in the area is the Downy Woodpecker. They are common visitors to the bird feeder loving peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

Around dawn each morning I look out the kitchen window toward the bird feeder. As light seeps across the yard, I can see the starving cardinals lining up in the old apple tree.

The other birds are there too. Brilliant red feathers make cardinals easy to spot. They give the now dead tree a Christmas look adorning gray branches with red ornaments.

Later the seeds are out on the feeder. It is rush hour. Birds swoop in, eat, glide away. Some swoop in, grab a seed and fly off to eat in the peach tree.

Simple as it is, the bird feeder does well. It lets me watch the birds, both the regulars and the surprise visitors like rose breasted grosbeaks and towhees. It makes sure the starving cardinals and other birds don’t starve in spite of lean and cold times.

Winter Deer Come Calling

One of the advantages to not keeping dogs is seeing wildlife in the backyard. Some like the possums raid the persimmon trees. Winter deer come to trim the lawn.

Deer do come through the yard late at night over the summer. I find their tracks in the driveway. These deer are no fools. Weekly mowed grass is much thicker and juicier than the wild grass left to go to seed.

Summer deer are tan to reddish brown. Their coats are sleek.

winter deer close by

Much of the time deer grazing through the backyard stay at the rear of the yard near the ravine. Winter deer come up closer to the house as the grass is still longer. This one went by under the bird feeder. Birds are sloppy eaters and sunflower seeds taste good.

Winter deer are different. These deer have traded their summer coats in on dark brown edging into black ones. These are bushy coats.

Hunting season is mostly over. The gun portion is. The deer seem to know this and come before dark.

The dry weather has dried much of the vegetation on the hills. The cold has withered much of the rest of it. Deer need to keep eating to keep warm.

winter deer grazing

Good winter grazing is getting scarce early this year because of the drought. The young deer was eating as much as she could on her way across the yard.

Lawns don’t grow much over the winter. Ours starts a bit long as we quit mowing before the grass stops growing. It’s about six inches tall when the killing frosts put the grass to sleep for the winter.

The yard is in a low area. It stays moist longer than the hills. The grass is still green.

After the sun goes behind the hill, the first winter deer wanders out of the wet weather creek and grazes its way across the yard. This is a younger doe. She goes back into the brush on the other side of the yard.

winter deer on alert

This young deer has spotted me sneaking around from the back porch camera in hand. Her bushy cheeks are part of her winter coat.

A second larger doe then follows a similar route. She is hard to see in the dusk.

There were a couple of younger bucks grazing in the yard before hunting season. If they are still around, they are coming through after dark now. Once it rains again, their tracks will show they’ve been by.

Winter deer like winter birds are a pleasant distraction from winter chores in the cold.

My New Polled Kid

Late kids, especially single kids, are at a disadvantage. They lack the large play group earlier kids have. The kid equipment such as disbudding iron and tattooer are cleaned and put away. This is a polled kid so some of the equipment can stay locked away.

When I first started raising Nubians, polled goats were not difficult to find. Horns are a nuisance at best and a disaster waiting to happen at worst. Disbudding, banding and dehorning are not enjoyable at all. Polled was the way to go.

There wasn’t much of a meat goat market back then. So the uptick in hermaphrodites was a problem. It seemed tied to polled. Polled fell out of favor.

polled kid standing still

Standing quietly beside another doe kid, my new polled kid looks so tame. In truth, I was lucky to get this picture as she is rarely still for more than a few seconds.

I still have polled does in my herd. High Reaches Butter’s Juliette is one of them. This polled kid is her daughter. I have kept another daughter, Lydia, also polled.

One problem goat owners have with a polled kid is knowing whether or not it is polled. The polled trait is dominant so three out of four kids from a polled parent will statistically be polled. Reality can be very different.

I look at the hair on the head. Horn buds have a swirl over the top of them. Polled horn bosses have a ridge over them.

Horn buds are pointed. Horn bosses are rounded.

Skin is supposed to be fixed over horn buds and moves over polled horn bosses. I have trouble with this as a kid’s skin is so loose.

Juliette’s daughter is now a month old. She has no horns. I was right. She is a polled kid. She is also a livewire.

polled kid playing

The edge of the creek is a great place to jump up and down according to this goat kid. She loves to jump up onto things. And she is good at jumping, getting up a stack of four bales of hay! Luckily she knows how to get down again.

The milking room is a great playground. This kid leaps on the milk stands under the does. She leaps onto the hay at the end of the section. She pesters the cats.

To everyone’s relief, the kid has discovered oats. She now spends at least part of the time eating. Unfortunately she still insists on eating out of her own dish and everyone else’s dishes, preferably with hooves in the dish, as well.

Being a live wire and a late kid has another advantage. She has been racing out with the herd from nine days old. She has never been left behind or needed finding.

At three months old, this polled kid must be sold. I hope she goes home with someone who values her lively ways and personality.

Goat kids can be lots of fun or give lots of grief. Capri does some of both in Capri Capers.

Rooster Politics

Somehow I ended up with three roosters. There is one too many according to the hens, but I can’t decide which one should go.

In the meantime, I get to watch rooster politics in action. This is rather complicated.

The oldest rooster is three years old. He is mature, big and solid. He rules the flock and terrorizes the other roosters.

Big Rooster

The old rooster is a magnificent bird. His colors glow. His bearing is regal. His body is wide and meaty. He rules mostly because of his size. His age has mellowed him for the hens, so they like to stay close.

The middle rooster is two years old. He is getting his mature size. He tries hard to get the hens to like him, but they don’t seem to trust him.

The youngest rooster is a year old. All he seems to think about is chasing the hens. Any time he sees a hen by herself, he races off after her.

The hens know this young rooster is after them. They are not happy about it. They play rooster politics to keep the young upstart at bay.

Dominique rooster

Like a middle child, the middle rooster is hanging around. He is too young and aggressive to attract lots of hens to his side. He is too old to pursue them with ruthless abandon. His dream is to succeed the old rooster who is well aware of this ambition and determined to keep it from happening anytime soon.

When the young rooster races off after a hen, she starts giving alarm calls and streaks across the yard toward either of the other roosters. The other roosters head for her to intercept the young rooster.

The middle and young rooster often end up with neck feathers flared and bodies low to the ground. A couple of sparring bouts later, the young rooster leaves. The hen meanwhile has gone back to bug hunting.

When the young rooster is really on the prowl, the cluster of hens by the old rooster gets large. He stands proudly in the center of what he seems to assume are his admiring wives.

In fact, the hens are mostly ignoring him as they busily look for edibles in the area. They are there only because it keeps the young rooster away.

Arcana rooster

The youngest rooster looks great with his fancy feathers. The hens are not impressed as he does little more than chase them. Being smaller and faster than the other two roosters, he gets away with a lot of activities frowned on by them.

The middle rooster announces he has found some delicacy to lure some hens away from the old rooster. The hens are reluctant to go over because, although he is no longer acting like the young rooster, he still likes to put on displays and mount hens near him.

The young rooster meanwhile is sneaking up on the group of hens by circling around them. One squawks and the chase is on.

The old rooster races off after the young rooster. The hens go back to bug hunting. The old rooster returns a short time later to take up his position once again.

Rooster politics seems to be a compromise affair. Each rooster has a place in the hierarchy. Each spars with the others seeking to improve his placing.

In the end, each rooster knows how he fits into the social network. The hens do much the same among themselves.

Finding Protective Mother Goat

November is an iffy time for kids to be born. Newborn kids get cold easily. Having a protective mother goat helps.

High Reaches Butter’s Juliette is such a goat. She is very proud of her new baby born November 1. She was not impressed when I put a goat coat on the kid because she was cold.

Luckily the next day warmed up. The goat coat came off. The kid fluffed up and is fine, even on cold nights now.

During the summer, goat kids must stay at the barn until they are almost a month old. The grass is so tall, they can’t see their mother. Even a protective mother goat has trouble keeping track of her kids.

Nubian protective mother goat and kid

Even in the barn lot standing next to the barn, High Reaches Butter’s Juliette is standing guard over her kid. The doe kid is not worried. She is lively and curious.

Fall is different. A fall in dry weather is even more different. The grass is barely six inches tall. A kid is twelve inches tall and gaining daily.

Like most goats, Juliette hates to stay locked in the barn lot when the herd goes out. She is a herd animal. She stands and calls all day. Since she is a Nubian, these calls are loud.

There is incentive to let Juliette go out for the day. There is incentive to keep her in to feed her kid.

Newborn kids aren’t very active. Over the summer they may lay around sleeping most of the time for a couple of weeks. Winter kids seem to get active much faster. Juliette’s kid was racing around at a week old.

Still, a week is very young to go out tramping around the pastures. I hate to go out searching for lost kids.

Protective mother goat talks to kid

Juliette talks to her kid a lot. At a week old, the kid still listens most of the time.

Late one afternoon, when the kid was nine days old, I let Juliette take her out for a couple of hours.

The kid came in with the herd. The kid had a wonderful time. The kid was standing at the pasture gate with the herd the next day.

Another difference with the fall schedule is morning hay. This means the goats are happily munching through milking time and a little beyond. They don’t go out until noon.

A kid has only three to four hours to keep up. A protective mother goat can keep up with her kid that long.

I opened the gate. The herd walked through. After all, they weren’t hungry.

An hour later Juliette was still by the gate. The kid hadn’t gone over the bridge with the herd, so they were standing by the gate.

I picked the kid up and took her across the bridge with Juliette following. I set the kid down. The herd was close by.

That evening the herd came in. Juliette and her kid were not with them. I went looking.

Juliette was at the top of a hill with her kid. Protective mother goat that she is, she could see the entire pasture from this vantage point. She refused to come down.

I had to go up. Me, in my mucking out the barn shoes with slick soles, had to scale a hill covered with loose gravel (This is the Ozarks norm.) on a forty degree angle. This required using hands and feet along with trying not to think about the trip down.

Juliette stood there and watched me. She yawned. She wandered over to the side of the hill and started going down calling her kid to follow.

protective mother goat in pasture with kid

The kid may think a nap is due. Juliette stays beside her, not grazing more than a mouthful now and then. Danger may threaten. She must be on the alert.

I followed lurching from tree to tree to keep from falling. At least Juliette had trained her kid well to follow her so I wasn’t trying to carry the kid as well as stay on my feet.

Thankfully Juliette and her kid stayed with the herd the next day.

Nubian goat kids can get into lots of trouble. Capri is in top form in Capri Capers. check out this wild melodrama filled with villains chasing Capri’s owner.

Twine Has Many Uses

Cold weather has arrived. Killing frost has eliminated much of the browse favored by the goats. Hay goes into the hay troughs and twine accumulates in the barn.

My old barn accommodates square bales. I prefer them as they are small enough for me to handle. The flakes are easy to count out for the goats.

Each bale is tied with two lengths of twine. Each piece is about five feet long. It’s good twine, too good to throw away.

So the piles accumulate. A long nail is covered. Another nail is covered. they are piled so high new pieces slide off.

twine gate hinge

Over the summer the end of the shade house is open for easy access. When the shade house becomes a greenhouse, a plastic covered piece of cattle panel goes up. Twine makes great temporary gate hinges.

One pile is almost gone now. It moved to the garden.

I started with two cattle panels bent to form a long trellis so the inside could have some shade. That end of the garden got far too hot for most plants during the summer.

Then I thought about covering this shade house with plastic to form a cold greenhouse over the winter. This worked well. In fact, on sunny days the inside was a balmy summer day.

Then the wind began. We’ve always had some wind. A few days here and there weren’t a problem. Breezes weren’t a problem.

Now the wind blows most days hard enough to blow the plastic off the winter greenhouse. Plastic is hard to hold down when its laying over wire panels.

twine over greenhouse

This temporary greenhouse is great for cole crops like turnips, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Wind is a problem as it lifts and destroys the plastic. The twine pieces should keep the plastic from lifting.

Watching the plastic made me think. The wind pulls the plastic up. It also gets inside and billows the plastic up.

I tried tossing some flexible wire pieces over the plastic. These helped, but would slide off.

Twine offered a possible solution. So the pile moved out to the garden.

Three pieces tied together would go over the panels. Each cattle panel had three of these lengths tied to on end.

twine ropes

Regular twine works well in the garden. Plastic twine is great for braiding ropes and lead ropes. These two 30 foot ropes are braided out of six strands of plastic baling twine and are used to tie down hay on my truck. I like a loop in the beginning end of the rope and tie off the other end.

Plastic went on the panels. Twine went over the plastic.

This did present a new problem as the twine kept the plastic from reaching the ground. The side garden beds are now buried under manure and mulch. This blocks the spaces.

The cabbage and Brussels sprouts plants weren’t happy about killing frost. Now they have their greenhouse to thwart the next round of frosts.

An old post has instructions for braiding a lead rope from baling twine. Find it here.

Goats Love Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are for feeding the birds. Except they can be fed to other livestock too.

My goats get fat easily. The usual ration of oats and corn makes them roly poly. This is not good.

Those extra pounds go on easily. They come off only with lots of effort. Goats aren’t concerned with their weight so they won’t put out this effort without coercion.

The corn disappeared from my goat’s diet.

Nubian doe High Reaches Violet likes sunflower seeds

High Reaches Violet is an easy keeper. And, yes, she is a little overweight. All right, she’s fat. But the pasture will put 50 pounds a month on a feeder steer. Her feed is cut back so she shouldn’t gain any more.

Corn does more than add calories to a feed ration. It adds fat which increases butterfat in the milk. Butterfat in the milk improves milk flavor.

Many years ago I put together a special feed mix for my goats. It had oats, corn, wheat bran and soybean meal in it along with some dried molasses and mineral mix. The goats liked it. It produced good tasting milk.

Wheat bran is hard to come by. Corn is off the ration list. I bought some soybean meal. This is high in protein and has fat in it.

When I was learning to milk, I worked with a man who used cottonseed meal for his cows. It made the butterfat greasy. Soybean meal didn’t seem to do that. This foray into soybean meal resulted in greasy milk.

I read some comments about feeding goats. The writers on the group kept talking about BOSS. I hated to ask what this was so I waited. Sure enough, someone wrote it out as black seeded sunflower seeds.

These seeds had fat in them along with minerals and fiber in the hulls. I decided to try them thinking the birds would like them if the goats didn’t.

My goats love sunflower seeds.

Nubian doe High Reaches Spring's Agate eats sunflower seeds

High Reaches Spring’s Agate stays sleek on grass and browse plus six handfuls of oats with a dribble of sunflower seeds a day. At eight months old she is half grown.

There was an unexpected bonus to that handful of sunflower seeds each milking. I’ve always kept old blankets around to put on the goats in the winter, if they got cold enough to start shivering.

The blankets are a hassle. They get covered with straw and manure, pulled off and trampled and torn. Still, the goats liked being warm when the weather turned nasty.

Feeding sunflower seeds has made the blankets almost into a memory. My goats don’t seem to get cold unless the temperature drops to below zero.

Another bonus are the shiny coats on my girls now. Their fur is softer.

My goats aren’t the only ones to appreciate sunflower seeds.

Do you enjoy goat antics? Maybe a few dastardly villains? Check out Capri Capers.

November Madness Writing

Killing frost will probably be this week. Taking plant pictures is almost done for this season. Now is time for November madness to begin.

Most people think about the coming holidays. November is Thanksgiving. December is Christmas or Hanukah. Then a new year begins.

I think of November madness. NaNo is coming! National Novel Writing Month will begin in less than two weeks.

November madness during NaNo

The Challenge: Write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The payoff: A short novel draft, a writing schedule, a feeling of accomplishment.

I am not ready. I am ready.

A writer is supposed to write every day. I do try over the summer, but other activities often interfere.

The garden needs tending. The goats and kids need tending. Wildflowers are blooming. Making cheese takes up one day each week.

This is why I anticipate November madness so much. It makes me get my writing schedule back on the front burner.

Edwina by Karen GoatKeeper

This has been a disappointing writing year for me. I started the year with such big plans. Only two books got done, Edwina and Running the Roads.

Running the Roads by Karen GoatKeeper

There was supposed to be those and Mistaken Promises, the third Hazel Whitmore book; Waiting for Fairies, a picture book; and my Planet Autumn series was supposed to be ready to write.

Instead I focused on plant pictures all summer. It did pay off. I have now completed all pictures for 150 plants with some or most pictures done for another 200. And I’m not finished going over all the pictures I did take over the growing season.

But my writing didn’t happen.

So, November madness is fast approaching. The imagination is working overtime. I’m having trouble staying focused on daily tasks as daydreams, those origins of writing ideas, distract me.

What will I write this November? My genre will be science fiction. My setting will be an Ozarks ravine invaded by aliens. They are in trouble. The Ozarks in winter can be a dangerous place, especially if you are only four inches tall.

November madness Ozark ravine setting

Imagine being four inches tall and negotiating your way around in this Ozark ravine. This is summer. Try this in February.

Will I post my rough draft? Sorry, no. My rough drafts are writing disaster areas. What about the first draft?

I’m planning a serial of short chapters. Yes, they will be available early next year, I hope. Each chapter will need a picture and that will depend on my illustrator’s schedule.

For now, I am creating the planet Cardua and those who will be arriving in the Ozarks.

Hurray for November madness!

Another Goat Winter Looming

What is a goat winter? It’s another winter of milking in the dark; doing chores in the cold, snow and ice; putting out hay; and all the other things that come up with livestock.

Nubian doe High Reaches Julliette

High Reaches Juliette stands looking toward the barn. She knows it’s milking time. She knows she should go into the barn. It’s more fun to make me go out and get her.

Why should I keep bothering with dairy goats? It’s not like I make any money at it. Far from it. They pay their way, if I don’t count labor.

Fall seems to bring up lots of uncertainty. Fall is the portal to winter. The days are getting shorter, colder. Everything is dying back, scaling back. Everything but the work load. That increases.

The garden must be cleared. The final harvest must be put up. The goat barn needs a final cleaning out with the loads going onto the garden. Goats need to be bred for those cute spring kids.

Nubian buck Goat Town USA Gaius hates goat winter

Goat Town USA Gaius looks out under the icicles lining his roof eave after a winter storm.

Did I say cute? Is there really a ray of light in this fall gloom? Is there a glimmer of a reason to put up with another goat winter?

For at least five months I must get up before dawn, struggle into long johns, heavy clothes and jackets. That’s before tromping out to the barn to roust the goats out of a warm spot to come in to be milked and fed. Each of those evenings I get to bundle up again and again roust the goats out of a warm spot.

So the annual assessment begins again.

Nubian doe High Reaches Violet

High Reaches Violet isn’t worried about winter coming. She will miss the grass, but likes the hay.

On the downside of a goat winter is doing chores in the dark and cold, watching the bedding layer mount up knowing spring mucking is coming and taking in less and less milk as the girls dry off to get fat with kids. I want to go places like attend a symposium, visit friends, maybe a book signing. Chores take longer, days are shorter leaving even less time between morning and evening chores, that window of time I can go anywhere.

spotted Nubian doelings will see their first goat winter

These three spotted Nubian doelings find storm downed sycamore trees great places to play.

On the upside of a goat winter is decent milk and cheese. There is that next crop of kids to anticipate. The garden would not do as well without the annual influx of manure.

Another goat winter is coming up. We will all survive. Spring is 170 days away.

Tomato Worm Time

The fall weather is holding at warm with no hint of frost yet. But killing frost can come any time. So the tomato worm invasion in the garden doesn’t worry me much.

I knew the invasion was coming. I was out in the garden one morning and saw a tomato sphinx moth by the tomato plants.

tomato sphinx moth

The tomato sphinx moth is large, nearly three inches long. The underwing has colorful orange stripes.

The moth flew up over a leaf, dipped the tip of her abdomen to the leaf, then flew on. She did this time after time going across the tomato patch laying her eggs.

A tomato worm is a voracious eater. Several can denude a tomato plant so only thick stems remain.

tomato worm eggs

Tomato worm eggs are small. Often they are laid singly rather than in groups as these are. they never touch each other. In warm weather, the eggs hatch quickly.

Generally I spot a worm, snap the stem off and deposit stem with worm in the chicken yard. Chickens like them once the ‘What is this?’ attitude passes.

By October my tomato plants are hanging over their cages. This year their foliage is especially lush. The plants hang over the cages and spread across onto the pepper plants.

We like ripe tomatoes, red and yellow, even striped. By October, when frost is imminent, the vines don’t need to set more tomatoes. They need to ripen the crop on them.

One way to encourage this is to nip off the new blossoms. I never seem to get around to this.

tomato worm

Tomato worms are colored for camophlage. They are the same green as a tomato leaf. They hug the stems looking like part of them. I can look at one and not see it, until, suddenly, my eyes refocus and the worm is obvious.

Enter the tomato worm. It happily nips all this new growth saving me the time and trouble.

There can be too many worms, but that hasn’t been an issue so far. The chickens are waiting, if it does.

The worms do nibble on some tomatoes. But some other critter is passing through nightly and picking a few. The losses aren’t serious at the moment, only annoying.

Besides, I have allies moving in. A small wasp lays eggs in a tomato worm. These eat the worm’s insides, put out white cocoons, hatch out to attack more worms.

dead tomato worm

The wasp larvae have fed, pupaed and gone. The dead tomato worm doesn’t drop off but still hangs grimly onto a plant stem. Tomato worm with lines of white cocoons on them should be left on the plant as the wasps will hatch out, killing the worm and go on to infect other worms.

So the tomato worm invasion becomes an event to watch, but not get upset about. I will probably find a few pupae in the ground later, tucked under the mulch. These are large, dark brown and overwinter in the ground.

Next May, when the new tomato plant crop gets planted, the tomato worm invasion will be a battle with the chickens the benefactors. Not in October.

Fall Feather Storm Time

Fall has arrived in the Ozarks. Between fall and the drought, leaves are turning and falling. Temperatures are cooling off. And the chickens have started their annual feather storm.

Feathers wear out. They get damaged and ragged. So birds replace their old ones with new ones every fall.

Chickens have lots of feathers. There are wing feathers. These are fun to make small quill pens out of.

The big quills are from big birds. Wild turkeys drop these out on the Ozark hills. Once I even found a vulture wing feather.

A chicken’s body is covered with feathers to keep their downy feathers dry. The down feathers look like a shaft of loose threads.

hen feather storm

Some hens never get real scruffy as the new feathers grow in before the old ones have dropped away. This hen has dropped many of her old ones and is still waiting for the new ones to grow in.

Molting time arrives in the fall and the feather storm begins. The hen house looks like the chickens have had a pillow fight. The hens are scruffy.

Everywhere the chickens go, the feather storm goes too. Along the chicken yard fence is paved with feathers. The milk room has pockets of feathers.

No, I don’t really like the chickens in the milk room. But the tin roof faces west and heats the room up to hot unless I leave the door open.

Feathers are made of protein so egg production has dropped. Some breeds stop laying now for the winter. I’m putting out more mice plus cheese to help supply more protein. Even extra milk helps.

rooster after feather storm

At three years old my old rooster is big. He now gleams under his new coat of feathers. His blue tail is starting to grow and will soon compliment his burnished bronze.

Roosters don’t lay eggs. My three have dropped their old feathers and grown new ones already. Their tails are the last feathers to grow in.

The old rooster has this spiffy new feather coat but no tail yet. The barred rooster has grown a single big feather so far. The arcana rooster never seems to have much of a tail.

It’s the hens who are still waiting for their new finery. The new feathers are starting to grow. They look like ranks of dark needles sticking out over their backs.

Once all the chickens have their new feathers, the feather storm will be over for this year. It will take longer to get rid of all the feathers blowing around.

Spotted Nubian Bottle Baby Agate

My book Capri Capers about Harriet and her bottle baby goats Capri and Agate came out long before this year of the spotted kids. So many people like spotted goats, I imagined Harriet would too. So two of her goats had spots and that meant spotted kids.

Yet Capri is not spotted. She is patterned after High Reaches Topaz, a deep red doe, and High Reaches Juliette, my house brat of a kid. I have always liked red Nubians.

Capri Capers cover

Capri needed a friend. So Agate entered the picture. Mossy agate stones can be black with white spots giving her a name.

Raising goats is full of complications. One that came up this year was Spring. She had her kids early one morning with no problems.

I found Spring with a kid when I came out to milk. I moved the pair into the pen I’d set up the night before. Then I milked.

bottle baby Agate as a kid

As a baby kid, some of Agate’s spots were white, but most were brown. Most of Agate’s spots are small and all turned white. Even though Agate’s mother rejected her, she formed a close relationship with her sister.

After milking, I went out into the barn and found a second kid in the far corner of the barn. This kid had to belong to Spring even though she was at the other end of the barn from where I found Spring.

Agate was already showing her independence.

I picked this kid up and took her into the kid pen. I set her down by Spring and tried to get her nursing.

Goats can count a little. Mother goats bond with their kids and know how many there are. Spring had decided she had one kid, not two.

Agate became a bottle baby, my bottle baby.

bottle baby Agate checks on me

Usually the herd wanders out the gate and stands around for a time. Not during acorn season. The herd took off for the far end of the pasture then up into the woods, running away from me as though I were chasing them instead of trying to catch up. Once in the woods, the herd looked at me innocently, pretending not to laugh at having dragged me out a quarter of a mile in order to take a few pictures. Agate now stays with the herd but is glad when I am around. she keeps looking back to see if I am still there and calls for me to return, when I do leave.

Bottle kids bond with people. This is nice when bottle time arrives as the kids come over right away. They will answer you out in the pasture.

Bottle kids can be a problem to get out to pasture. They want to follow you, not the herd. Getting them out requires subterfuge.

I wander out with the herd until the bottle baby is busy playing with the other kids. Then I slip silently back to the barn.

Agate would be right behind me.

bottle baby Agate in the woods

Acorns are falling. The adult does are eagerly eating all they can find. Younger goats like Agate browse on leaves.

My Agate does go out with the herd now. She looks back and calls to me, often waiting until the herd is past her before catching up, still calling for me to come and join her.

When the herd comes in, Agate is beside me. She insists on being petted, pushing other goats away from me.

And Agate is still a bottle baby. She is more than old enough to wean. But she wants that time of bonding so I give her a partial bottle. As my milkers dry up for the winter and getting ready to have spring kids, I will have to wean Agate. But that is another couple of months from now.

Spotted Nubian Kids

This has been the year of the spotted Nubian kids here at High Reaches. These kids are due to the escape artist Augustus.

Silk surprised me with that spotted buck. She did have one spot in the middle of her back. She did have spots in her background. But the spots had gradually disappeared over the generations.

Nubian buck kid High Reaches Silk's Augustus

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk’s Augustus was such a cute little kid. Those big white ears. Those little white spots. At 200 pounds, he has grown into those ears. The spots are still there. His neck is getting thick as he matures.

Then came Augustus. He was a frosted gray with white spots from the time he was born.

This year’s spotted Nubian kids are different. The background black or frosted gray is usual enough. It’s the spots.

These kids don’t have white spots when they are born. They have brown spots. From what I’ve read, these are called liver spots.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

Born July 4th, this frosted gray doeling does have spots. They are still brown but showing white hairs so they will turn white in another month or so.

These brown spots are a problem. They persist for two or three months as brown spots. Many goats are registered by that age and described as having brown spots.

Except, when the kids are two to three months of age, these brown spots can turn white. The description on the papers is now incorrect.

So, why not list them as white spots on the application? Not all brown spots turn white and you won’t know until the kid is four or five months old.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

This twin doeling is black with spots. They are brown but definitely changing to white. The twins were born July 4 to High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie.

This year all my brown spotted Nubian kids have become white spotted kids. The youngest ones are just now making this change.

It is fun to see the spots. Spotted goats are pretty and popular.

one of the spotted Nubian kids

Six months old, independent, grain lover and covered with spots, big on the right and small on the left, this doeling is out of High Reaches Spring.

At one time the rage was for black Nubians. Some people bred their goats for color only. Soon their goats were black but not dairy goats, only pets, as they no longer produced a decent amount of milk.

Will breeding for spots do the same? Or have people learned?

Dairy goats are supposed to produce milk. Having pretty colors may be nice, but the colors don’t put milk in the bucket.

I still have four doe kids to sell. Three have spots. One is a plain brown. The spotted Nubian kids will gather interest immediately. The brown one won’t.

not a spotted Nubian kid

This doeling is so like her mother, High Reaches Trina. She is calm, friendly, but has no spots.

Yet the brown one is from a good milking background. She is friendly like her mother, Trina, who always comes over to stand by me to be petted and fussed over.

I am keeping Agate – yes, Agate, like in Capri Capers, black with white spots. I can only keep one kid.

Perhaps someone can see beyond the spots. Even plain brown can be a lovely color for a goat.

Find out more about Capri Capers and read some pages from the novel here.

Armadillos Eat Japanese Beetles

Lately numerous little holes have been appearing around the house and barn. An armadillo has been spotted nosing along in the yard. Another has been working through the goat yard.

I know. I know! Armadillos are resented here in the Ozarks. They can be terrible pests because of the holes they dig.

armadillos have armor

In spite of big ears, armadillos hear poorly. They do stand up on sturdy legs and can run very fast. Their bodies are covered with stiff, pebbly armor. The nine bands act as joints so the armadillo can bend. The ringed armor on the tail lets the tail bend.

I’ve heard people brag how their dogs kill armadillos. I’ve seen the carcasses along and on the road.

I’ve also heard people complaining about Japanese beetles. These insects destroy roses, okra, grapes and other plants. This has been a bumper year for them.

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles eat out the leaf tissue between the veins. They are voracious and can soon leave a plant with only the skeletons of their leaves.

Japanese beetles lay eggs in the ground. These hatch into grubs that live and grow in the soil over the winter. When warm weather arrives, the grubs molt into beetles to fly off and devastate plants.

An armadillo is interesting to watch. It’s possible to get very close to one as they have very poor eyesight. Their hearing isn’t a lot better. Their noses rival a dog’s.

The armadillo is covered with front and rear pebbly armors. Ozark ones are nine-banded so they have nine narrow plates forming strips between the front and rear allowing the armadillo to bend.

A triangular plate lies down the face. The tail is a series of circular plates. Hair sticks out under the armor.

armadillos stand up

The armadillo is suspicious but hasn’t spotted me yet. It stands up to smell the air hoping to catch my scent. You need to stay downwind to sneak up on an armadillo. Notice those big claws on the front feet.

The front feet have long claws. These make them digging machines.

The mouth has stubs of teeth for grinding up insects like grubs. Young Japanese beetles are grubs.

The armadillo shuffles along. It’s nose sniffs the ground. It can smell a grub several inches down in the ground. A few digs with the claws reveals the grub. Dinner.

armadillos hunt by digging

Smelling some insect down in the ground, the armadillo tears out some grass and dirt to push its nose in further until the prey is exposed and consumed.

Armadillos don’t hibernate. It takes a lot of grubs to keep them from starving or freezing over the winter.

Over the summer armadillos hunt at night. That armor gets hot in the summer sun. When the weather cools down, armadillos come out during the day.

The holes have been around all summer. Now I get to watch the armadillos at work. The one around the house was so intent on hunting, it walked up within a foot of my feet. It realized I was there, turned aside and went another direction a bit faster than on the approach.

armadillos hide from danger

I startles this armadillo. It first backed into the goat-trimmed giant ragweed and hid. When I came another step, it bolted out into a bigger stand of ragweed and disappeared except for the rustling of ragweed plants.

An armadillo is not aggressive. It does not bite, sting or attack unless grabbed. It’s main defense is running away at amazing speed. The claws are formidable weapons used in self defense.

The little holes are annoying as the lawn mower bounces along over the yard. Even without the armadillos the mower would bounce along because of the moles. Between the two pests, perhaps the Japanese beetle population will be less next year.

Chickens Love Mice

My barn is over a hundred years old. It still stands only because oak is tough. Mice infest the area under the wood floor.

Burrowing rats tried to move in. These are large fierce rodents and attack the cats. The black snakes are the only defense against them.

The cats do catch mice in the barn. It’s a hard job as the mice have so many hiding places.

Mouse traps do a fair job. The problem with them is the pile of dead mice.

Chickens grab mice

Chickens are very competitive when it comes to food. It is more than “first come, first served.” It is “first come and can hang onto the morsel” or the morsel is soon carried off by another chicken. This hen is good at grabbing and racing off to a secluded spot, head away from the other chickens to keep from being noticed.

Enter the chickens.

I don’t really remember the first time I saw a chicken catch and eat a mouse. Adult mice have a small chance of outrunning a chicken. Young mice are dinner.

Most chickens have a hard time eating a large mouse. they generally don’t have the problem long as several chickens divide the mouse can enjoy dinner.

chickens eat mice head first

As most birds and reptiles do, the hen positions the prey head first and in a straight line for sliding into the gullet. With neither hands nor teeth, the hen jostles the mouse around until it is in the right place then starts gulping to move the mouse in.

I have a motley group of chickens as I like many different breeds so have a sampling of several. One of my favorites is standard sized Cochins.

My buff Cochins are getting old but are still tough. One seems very laid back until a mouse appears. Unfortunately for her but fortunately for the mice, she is getting too old to catch them any more.

mice go down slowly

Most of the mouse slides down smoothly. The back legs are a problem as they stick out and catch on the sides of the beak. The hen must work hard to get these in too. She is persistent.

This hen is not too old to be first to pounce on mice from the mouse traps. No one steals her mouse or even a taste of her mouse.

Like a snake the hen positions the mouse and swallows it head first. Her mouth and neck look much too small but stretch out snakelike inching up the mouse until the tail disappears.

mice snack consumed

Only the tail is left and it soon slides out of sight. The hen’s neck reduces to normal looking too small to accommodate a mouse. She doesn’t eat more than one at a sitting but will grab another in the afternoon, if there is another available.

Happily the hen settles down in a warm spot to digest her meal. Who needs to chase bugs? Not her.

The mouse traps are again set out. The next mouse course may occupy them in the morning.

Discovering Runner Beans

With my shade house to use as a trellis I started looking for vegetables that vined. Beans were one of them, including runner beans.

Growing up I thought the only beans were the kinds you saw in the market. None of these was to my taste.

That is true of most city people. Their food comes in packages and cans found on supermarket shelves. Only vegetables easily grown in commercial quantities and suitable for transportation make it.

Unfortunately the vegetables with great taste don’t often make the grade. If you don’t garden, you miss out on the myriad of different tastes available.

runner beans on trellis

Runner beans like the weather warm but not hot. Although this trellis is five feet tall, the vines easily reach eight feet. The vines don’t seem to be hurt by reaching the top then going over the top and down the other side.

Beans are good food. Navy, great northern, kidney and green beans are not on my menu. Pintos, Swedish brown, pink and yard long beans are.

Runner beans were intriguing. There are four hummingbird feeders up now as the migration surge is starting to wane. There were five. These beans are supposed to attract hummingbirds.

I ordered Scarlet Runner Beans. They came up, vined their way up over the shade house and began blooming profusely. The hummingbirds made the beautiful red flowers a regular stop.

There was one bean that season. I grow vegetables. One bean isn’t enough for even one serving.

This year I tried another variety, Sunset from Baker Creek Seeds. I also moved them to a place behind the bamboo so they would be cooler, something this bean seems to prefer.

runner bean flower

Runner bean flowers are the typical bean shape like an old fashioned shoe. The flowers are large, over an inch long. These are salmon pink but other varieties are scarlet or red and white.

The new trellis is a piece of cattle panel suspended on two metal posts. It’s five feet high. The bean vines are complaining it is too short.

Yes, the runner beans came up, met the trellis and climbed. Most of them did. The rest were persuaded to use the trellis instead of sprawling across the ground. These twine and have no tendrils as peas do.

Hot, dry summer weather stopped the vines. No growth. No flowers. Suffering persistence.

The weather cooled. The vines have covered themselves with soft pink flowers. These are huge, over an inch long. Hummingbirds regularly whirr overhead when I’m in the garden.

runner beans

The flowers become long pods on the runner beans. They are flatter than green beans and covered with short fuzz. The pods snap. The flavor is sweeter.

Then the beans started. Every flower seems to produce a bean. These are somewhat flat, wide and slightly fuzzy.

Now I am looking for bean recipes again. They are good raw, fresh off the vine. That doesn’t work for dinner. Stir fry, boil, toss with bacon, with new potatoes, the list goes on, along with plans for a longer trellis – not higher as I refuse to use a ladder to harvest – to accommodate these tasty new additions to the vegetable menu.

Solar Eclipse Arrives

All of the publicity about the solar eclipse rolled through my part of Missouri. Maps showed up in magazines, newspapers and online.

Astronomy isn’t my big interest. Stars are nice but they only come out after it’s too dark to garden or take pictures. Still, this big event sounded interesting.

Then the maps started showing Missouri details. The total solar eclipse was only 50 miles away!

That would mean my area would have almost totality. What would the goats and chickens do when it got dark?

I went to a presentation at the library. I left with proper NASA issue glasses. Should I stay home for a partial or go north for totality?

before solar eclipse

This tree was just across the parking lot from where we were settled in. The sun was full on it making the green leaves vivid against the white chat on the ground.

The pictures of the corona were so interesting. I wouldn’t see it, if I stayed home. Where should I go?

The main path was filled with people charging for the opportunity to watch this event. Crowds of people were descending. This wasn’t what I wanted to do, be part of a mob.

But the event was so close.

Three of us opted to drive north 50 miles to Canaan Conservation Area. It’s a little, mostly wooded place we had never been to. It was noted on an eclipse pathway map in The Missouri Conservationist.

The barn light was left on for the chickens. The small pasture was left open for the herd. We drove north and set up in a big, gravel parking lot and waited.

solar eclipse begins

Shadows became more intense. Colors sharpened. The cicadas wavered in their drumming. The light dimmed so gradually, it was easily overlooked.

Solar eclipse viewing glasses are really dark. The only object visible through them is the sun. They made the sun look orange. The moon’s shadow was eating an arc out of the top of the sun at what would be one o’clock on a clock dial.

The temptation to take pictures didn’t faze me as I didn’t have the proper filter for the camera. I chose to take a picture of a tree beside the parking lot at regular intervals to show how the light changed as the solar eclipse progressed.

Slowly the light did change. It gave the appearance of putting on progressively stronger sunglasses.

By the time the sun’s disk was half covered, the sky changed too. It had been a typical blue summer sky dotted with clouds. Now it was dark, not the dark of sunset.

At sunset the sky’s blue deepens, gradually settling into purple that darkens into black.

This sky took on a gray tinge and looked slate blue in color.

solar eclipse sky and clouds

Puffy clouds were scattered around the sky. They were brilliant white against a sky now washed with gray as two thirds of the sun was hidden.

At sunset shadows darken and blend into the darkness of the ground. The eclipse deepened and sharpened shadows so they were stark against the white chat gravel.

The grayness intensified as more and more of the sun’s disk disappeared. The shadows sharpened. The drumming of cicadas lessened.

solar eclipse nears

Even when the sun was mostly covered the parking lot was bright. It looked like the world through sunglasses except for the razor sharp shadows.

Suddenly the sun vanished. The corona burst into view. It was much bigger than I expected.

Tearing my gaze away I found the parking lot was now dark. All shadows had vanished. A deep silence surrounded me.

A cricket chirped. Katydids took up the chorus. This is the night serenade during late summer but it was thin and ragged now. Grayish orange clouds showed through the trees at the horizon.

solar eclipse totality

Darkness turned the trees black, erased the shadows and colors. Jupiter and Venus appeared. The clouds on the entire horizon turned a grayish yellowish orange.

But the real show was still the corona. Even the sight of Jupiter nearby wasn’t the thrill the corona was.

As suddenly as the corona appeared, it vanished as a blaze of light appeared. The moon’s shadow was moving off the sun’s disk.

after solar eclipse

The eclipse is past. The sun is emerging again. Colors and shadows reappear.

Shadows reappeared. Katydids and crickets went silent. The cicadas started drumming. All the sounds of a normal day erased the silence of the eclipse.

Will I be an eclipse chaser? No. But I understand why those who are want to see this sight over and over. Two minutes was far too short.

There is another solar eclipse only a few hours away in seven years. Temptation.

Impatient Bucks Frustrated

My does are cycling. Every three weeks the does stand one by one gazing longingly at the bucks and wagging their tail. Being Nubians this is normally accompanied by loud cries all day.

My impatient bucks hang out over their pen wall blathering at any doe standing close. They don’t care if the doe is looking at them or not, she’s a doe and they are so irresistible.

The does go out to pasture. They march off in one direction or another and disappear for the day.

impatient bucks running

As soon as their gate is opened, my impatient bucks race off hoping the pasture gate has been left open, then check for scents of a doe in heat. Maybe they will come in for breakfast.

Impatient bucks bolt out of their gate racing off to check out any scents left behind. Augustus begins his daily sorrowful laments.

Eventually the bucks get back to the barn to eat what’s left of breakfast. Chickens love oats. I’m not too concerned as the bucks never seem to finish breakfast lately.

All day impatient bucks patrol the fences. They stand on the gym gazing out at the pastures.

impatient bucks waiting

Much of the day impatient buck goats stand or pace looking out over the pastures looking for the does.

All day the does ignore the bucks and their calls. Only one in heat answers them setting off a frenzy in the barn lot.

ignoring impatient bucks

The does go out to pasture and spend the day eating. The calls of impatient bucks are ignored. Eating is much more important.

In between watching for and calling for the does, the impatient bucks jockey for supremacy. Augustus and Gaius are the same size now so competition is fierce. So far the only casualty is the barn wall now six inches out of place.

Gaius is getting older. He is determined to stay boss buck. For now and maybe next year the match will be weighted on his side.

Once Augustus takes over, maybe before, I will need to split their pen to separate the two all night. The barn wall isn’t a big problem as the barn is over a hundred years old, badly built and falling apart. The big problem is the damage the two bucks can do to each other.

impatient bucks checking

When the herd at last reappears, the impatient bucks are there at the fence to check them out.

Last year Augustus leapt the fences. He can still jump but the extra barbed wire seems to keep him at bay. He’s a lot bigger and heavier so he won’t make it over the wire cleanly anymore and he knows it.

That means I get to set my own breeding season this year. That means October. For now the impatient bucks will have to wait.

Do you enjoy reading about goats? Check out Dora’s Story.

Otters Swim by

There was a time when otters were gone from Missouri rivers. Some people wish this was still the case as they eat lots of fish and crawdads.

The Meramec River is a half mile up the road from this place. It’s pretty small here and ignored by most big fish and creatures.

Our creek is even smaller. During dry weather the flow sinks down into the gravel so there is a series of pools. The fish are small minnows, darters and madtoms mostly in the inch to four inch range. A few minnows make it to six inches long.

Ozark creek in dry weather

When rain is scarce, the creek sinks down into the gravel leaving a series of pools. Even big minnows have trouble swimming around except in a few of the bigger, deeper pools like the one around the bridge piers.

When the creek sinks into the gravel, the fish become trapped. Many die. The crawdads feast and raise baby crawdads. They get big, six inches long, and fat.

Crawdads dig burrows down into the water table. They survive the low water times.

Under the circumstances, the last creatures I would expect to see in the creek are otters. Raccoons, opossums, snapping turtles, yes. Otters, no.

otters by creek bridge

Three river otters worked their way up from the river. Each deep pool was a buffet of minnows and crawdads.

Yet three otters did arrive at our plank bridge across the creek. They swam around in the pool around the cement piers and found a hollowed out place under a cement slab anchoring one pier.

For an hour or two there were sounds of big rocks plunking over, bubbling chirps, a growl or two, crunching and splashing. Heads poked up one by one through a hole and disappeared again.

otters look around

The otters found a great place to hunt crawdads. Every so often a head came up to check out the area and get a deep breath of air.

Finally the otters came out again. They climbed up on the bank and dropped back into the creek. Then they moved on, returning to the river.

The rains came. The creek is flowing again. Now would be a better time for these sleek visitors to stop in. At least that is my opinion.

Down in the creek the minnows and crawdads are getting back into their normal routines. They didn’t much enjoy their visitors and hope they don’t return.

Daily Herd Decision

Several years ago my goat herd had a lead goat. She was an Alpine. She was not head goat. that was a different Alpine. When the pasture gate was opened, the herd decision of where to go was solely hers.

The herd went to the gate and stood there, waiting. Loyal wandered out, threading her way through the herd and out the gate. Some mornings she led them north, some south.

herd decision to go out

The herd is usually eager to go out in the morning. The goats race out the barn door and wait for me to lead them to the pasture gate. Enough follow me to convince the entire herd to show up at the gate.

Loyal grew old and died. Dude took over for the next few years, but he was already elderly. He was the last of the Alpines.

Now the goat herd is only Nubians. They have relied on the Alpines for years for leadership. Even a few years after losing Dude, they haven’t found a herd leader. Instead they have a democratic approach.

herd decision for pasture

The herd hesitates at the pasture gate. Some goats graze. Most stand around listening for the horseflies to attack. The big problem is lack of a lead goat to show the herd the way.

Since I open the pasture gate, I am their first leader of the day. The herd straggles along to the gate.

I walk through the gate. The herd scatters as they walk through the gate. Some goats don’t make it out of the gate right away as the giant ragweed is right there waiting for browsing.

herd decision at the bridge

I am only lead goat stand in. I am respected only as long as I go the way the herd wants to go. Of course, if I pull down a tree branch or two, the herd will be glad to join me.

Finally the entire herd is outside the gate milling around. At this point I can go back in and close the gate leaving the goats to stand around. Or I can walk out to pasture.

If I close the gate, the goats look at each other. Some wander off to browse. The top goats are stuck with the herd decision: Where do we go today?

herd decision to cross the creek

There are no railings. There are spaces between the planks. The creek flows underneath the planks, even within a foot or so during high water times. The herd still crosses the bridge to avoid getting their hooves wet.

If I lead the way, the herd decision is put off, sort of. The main path leads toward the bridge across the creek. At this point the herd can go north along the creek or cross the creek to go south.

Most mornings when I lead, I walk a short way north. The herd gets to the bridge and stops. I turn to see them looking at me like I’m lost or something.

herd decision made

There is now a fallen tree for the kids to play on, lots of plants to browse and three possibilities for going out. One or another goat gets hungry and has a taste for some plant out one of the directions and takes off. everyone seems to give off a sigh of relief and follows. The decision is made for today.

The herd decision is already made to cross the creek. I’m not in on the decision. They pity me, turn and cross the bridge only to stop on the other side.

Again some wander off to browse. The head goats have another herd decision to make. They can go left up the hill and around. They can go straight and up the hill pasture. They can go right along the creek and to the ravine.

Finally one goat gets antsy. She takes off one way or another. The herd follows.

Find out more about goats while having fun solving pencil puzzles in Goat Games.

Using Mulch In the Garden

Weather in the Ozarks is boom and bust for rain anymore. Two or three months go by with plenty. Two or three months go by with little or none.

Summer heat coupled with no rain parches the garden. This is one reason for using mulch around my plants.

Using mulch to control ground temperature

My runner beans were planted, sprouted and growing by the time I finally got back to them with their mulch. Runner beans don’t like to be hot. The air temperature can’t be helped, but mulching will keep the ground cooler. Big weeds are pulled before the mulch goes down as there won’t be a paper layer now. Small weed sprouts are buried under the mulch.

Desert farmers in ancient times would powder up the dirt around their plants to slow evaporation. Water would seep to the surface and feed their plants but the air pockets stopped most of it from getting up to the hot sun.

Mulch works on the same principle. Water stays in the ground under the layer, even keeps the very bottom of the mulch wet but doesn’t come up through the air pockets to evaporate.

This is a problem as well as a help. Watering the garden is done often during dry weather. The moisture under the mulch can make over watering easy.

using mulch around beans

The mulch is up to the plants but not touching them. It is four inches deep but will settle to about half that once it rains. Most plants don’t want the mulch touching them.

Lately Ozark temperatures here have been in the nineties. Peppers plants, squash plants and melon plants love this. That doesn’t mean they like their roots that warm. This is another reason for using mulch in the garden.

Desert animals dig burrows. The ground may heat up to over a hundred degrees. In Death Valley the ground can get hot enough to melt rubber soles on shoes. An inch or two below the surface the temperature is comfortably warm.

using mulch around peppers

Mulch went around the pepper plants the day after I transplanted them. During the winter, a thick paper layer is put down with the mulch on top to stop weeds from growing. The paper rots over the winter. During the growing season, only the mulch is used.

Mulch works the same way. The surface bakes in the sun getting hot. Underneath the ground stays cool. The plants get the best of both, hot tops and cool roots.

The weed wars never cease for the gardener. As soon as one batch of weeds is destroyed, another sprouts to take its place.

Some weeds are interesting plants. Some are edible. Some are great for bees and other pollinators. Some are beautiful when they bloom.

I don’t mind weeding here and there. I do mind having a carpet of foot high weeds smothering my vegetables. This is another reason for using mulch.

Most weed seeds are scattered on the top of the ground and need moisture and light to germinate. The sprouts need light to grow. Mulch deprives them of that light.

using mulch saves water

This pepper plant hasn’t been watered in a week. The ground is still slightly damp and the plant hasn’t wilted. When I do water, I use a lot less water for each plant which saves on me as I carry the water in buckets.

Vegetable seeds need moisture and light to sprout too. The solution is to pull the mulch back from where the seeds are planted leaving it in place around this area.

Using mulch makes gardening a much more enjoyable experience for me. My preferred mulch is the wasted hay from the goat barn. Goats consider any hay tossed on the ground bedding.

Using mulch serves another purpose for me. It is a good way to use that wasted hay and gives it a chance to rot down and enrich my garden soil.

Ozark Homestead Early Morning

On a homestead days are filled with activities. During the summer the days are hot and dry. That makes early morning times precious.

Summer days are in the nineties here. That doesn’t sound so hot unless you add in the humidity at seventy percent. Early in the morning the air is fresh and cool.

Milking time will come soon. For now the goats are out enjoying the cool temperatures too. They are out standing around on the goat gym.

goats in early morning

The goats like to sleep inside the barn. This is convenient to the milking room door and breakfast. It is good insurance in case of evening thundershowers. But early morning lures some of them outside.

Later the goats will go out to pasture spending most of their time tucked into the shade. Nubians do like basking in the sun, but the horseflies like sun too. These come in three sizes around here plus deer flies, all packing painful bites.

Sunrises are rarely spectacular here. Some mornings the world turns yellow. Other mornings a pink glow highlights the trees over an eastern hill.

The Althea or Rose of Sharon bush is in bloom at one corner of the porch. It is a rugged, determined thing. We ruthlessly chop it down to stubs and it comes back up to tower over the roof.

Early morning is the time for visitors to these pink flowers. Wasps and bumblebees visit each flower.

The air fills with the whirring hum of wings. Hummingbirds like the flowers too. One by one the birds come by to check each flower for a bit of nectar.

Cloudy cat in early morning

My Cloudy cat stays at the barn most of the time by choice. He expects his breakfast as soon as I open the barn door in the morning. He relaxes on the road waiting for me to show up then leads me to that door.

Cloudy Cat is out too. He is waiting for breakfast which means me to appear in the barn. As he waits, he curls up on the roads watching for anything interesting. There will be traffic on the road later but it is rare at dawn.

Birds are waking up and singing from the hills around the house. With the trees leafed out they are hidden until they decide to fly from one perch to another. Some fly across the sky and I wonder where they are going in such a hurry.

The cool air, the early morning sounds and the quiet make standing on the porch for hours tempting. But early morning is fleeting. The sun is topping the eastern hill to tell the world the day is beginning and it’s time to get started with the chores and activities that fill its hours.

Special Nubian High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie

High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie is a special goat. She is also a very lucky goat.

Pixie is a nice looking Nubian doe. Lots of Nubian does are nice looking.

High Reaches Jewel's Pixie

High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie looks like a normal Nubian doe out grazing. Her disability shows when she tries to walk as her back legs swing and sway. this picture was taken earlier this year.

Pixie is friendly. Lots of Nubians are friendly.

Pixie gives a lot of great tasting milk. Lots of Nubians do this too.

What makes High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie special?

Dairy goats need attention twice a day for milking. Every morning is much the same in many respects. The grain is readied. The goats are let in by pairs in my routine as I have two milking stands.

The goats jump up, get locked into the stanchion. I milk them while they eat. I unlock the stanchion and let them out so the next pair can come in.

High Reaches Jewel's Pixie

Born in 2011, Pixie was a good looking, healthy Nubian doe. She was about eight months old in this picture.

Pixie came in as usual one morning. Nothing seemed odd about her. Nothing was odd as I let her out with the rest of the herd to eat in the pasture for the day. I noticed nothing when the herd came in that evening.

Evening milking was normal. Does came in, got up, got down and went out.

Pixie came in and jumped up on the milk stand. She fell off, flat on the floor.

Shakily, Pixie stood up. Her legs were apart as though to brace her. She shook. She staggered when she walked.

That was several years ago. Pixie never recovered her balance. Her back legs are not steady. She has fits when she falls over in spasms.

Pixie still goes out to pasture with the herd. Many mornings she leads the herd out. In the evening she leads the herd in. She climbs the hills.

Perhaps in a larger herd or a commercial dairy, Pixie would be a cull. She is lucky my herd is small and I can accommodate her. She can’t get on the milk stand so I trim her hooves and milk her as she stands on the floor.

I will never know what happened to Pixie that day. Whatever it was, it left her with permanent brain damage.

Why would I keep such a goat as High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie?

Nubian doe kids

These twin Nubian does are outside for the first time at three days old and delighted to escape the boring barn. Both have liver spots which will probably turn white in a few months. High Reaches Jewel’s Pixie is a proud mother and keeps a close eye on her daughters.

Perhaps this set of lovely twin does is a good enough answer.

Nubian doelings can be ornery and get into everything. See how they fit into the book Capri Capers.