This winter has been good to us. We really did not get any decent snowfall in West Michigan until after the new year, so it has seemed like a short winter. The goats and chickens were able to roam and forage all the way up until January. Since the snow came, they have been living in the shelter of the barn. We open the door most days, so they have the option of going outside, but everyone seems happier indoors, though I can tell they are starting to get some cabin fever. I find myself thinking of "Enrichment Activities" (that's what they call it at the zoo) for the chickens, trying to come up with things to keep them occupied. I like to bring them special treats, like animal bones with meat on them (remember, chickens are omnivores and love meat) or veggies, maybe some leftover popcorn. I scatter the food around the barn, so they have to spend the day searching for it. This makes them happy.
Toro, our Alpine goat, is especially restless. This past February, Lacy, the goat we borrowed to be Toro's winter time companion, came down with pneumonia. Poor Lacy looked horrible. The vet came out and gave her a shot. We were not terribly optimistic about her outcome, as she was a 12 year old goat, but we hoped for the best. And she improved! Within days, she perked up and a week later, she seemed like her old self.
Then, the day before we left for a vacation in Florida, I went out to do the morning chores and found Lacy laying dead in the stall. I was shocked. When we'd put her to bed the night before, she had seemed fine. It was such a sad day. My son had followed me out to the barn without my knowledge and saw her laying there, so I had to explain to him what had happened. He seemed to take it in stride, better than me. The loss of life is so painful, no matter how many times I have to deal with it. I hope and pray that I never become immune to the pain, that I continue to cry over every creature that passes on our farm.
So, now Toro is terribly lonely and we honestly don't know what to do next. Our original plan was to keep Toro as a companion animal for the beef steer that we intend to raise. We had figured on buying a calf this spring, but the more we consider it, we're not sure our newly planted pasture can support a calf just yet. It would be wiser to wait another year. In the meantime, we're considering raising a few goats for meat. The goats will spread their manure on the pasture and help control weeds. Come fall, when their fertilizing and mowing work is done, we'll send them to the butcher. We shall see... perhaps we'll have a bunch of adorable goat kids running around soon. In the meantime, I try to go out once a day to play with Toro. My husband built him a "jungle gym" from old pallets and boards. He enjoys climbing on it (and prances around like he's hot stuff), but only when I'm out there with him watching, of course.
Toro on his "jungle gym"
It's also time to start getting serious about the garden. I'm starting to get a wee bit giddy! Ok, more than a wee bit... My brain has been in high gear, trying to synchronize all my planting schedules for the vegetable garden. Oy. It can be an organizational nightmare trying to to keep track of what plant needs to be started when, when plants need to be fertilized, which plants are cold hardy enough to be planted outside, etc. I try to write everything down in my garden journal and planting calendar, but I'm sure things slip through the cracks. Thanks to my garden journal, which records my numerous slip-ups, I make fewer mistakes each year. That's how we learn right? Lots and lots of mistakes.
On top of all the garden planning, I'm scrambling to map out and plan our small fruit orchard. Last year, I purchased 4 apple trees and intend to purchase an additional fruit tree (peach, cherry, pear, apricot, etc.) each year. This year, my main focus will be putting in strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. As soon as the soil warms up, I better get out there and start preparing and amending the soil so I can plant as soon as possible! Our property is located on a corner with good traffic, so we're thinking we could make a tidy little profit selling fresh organically grown berries at a small roadside stand. And if not, we'll have plenty of berries to share and everyone I know will be receiving a jar of jam for Christmas!
To add to all this excitement, my husband was involved in an accident at work 2 weeks ago. An extension ladder collapsed on him while he was setting it up, and his left thumb got caught in the ladder rails. God was watching over him - I cringe to think what would have happened if his whole hand had been caught. After several hours in the ER, he walked out with a severely cut, mangled and broken thumb... and the doctor's orders of no work for 8 weeks. It's been incredibly frustrating for him as he sees all this work to be done on the farm (firewood to be cut, chick brooders and hog houses to be built, fence wire to be run, fruit orchards to be turned over) , but is unable to do most of it. A broken thumb sounds like such a small injury, but it basically renders the entire hand useless for many tasks. Shoelaces, buttons, jars, doorknobs... we certainly take our opposable thumbs for granted! Somehow, we'll get all the work done. And if not, there is always next year.
Today I saw my first robin, the sure sign of spring, and my heart about overflowed with hope and joy. See you next year, winter. Here comes spring!