I'm a milkmaid!


Rory built the milk stand early this spring. And then life picked up and one night he told me, "we can't milk Darcy. We just have too much going on to add that into the mix." And I agreed, but we were bummed. We have been waiting and wanting to milk her for a long time. But I knew this was probably the best and wisest decision.

But then the next day he said, "we just have to!" And I said, "I know!"

And so we are. And I am SO GLAD we are. I have taken up the lead on this project, the milkmaid, if you will. I have watched youtube videos and read blog posts. I have always said we are so, so fortunate to homestead in the age of google. I made our sterilization spray, bought brand new rags (oxymoron, except it's important to have rags that remain goat-only rags!)

Saturday morning was our very first morning. We put the two goat kids into a separate pen each night at 8pm. Then at 8am we head out and milk Darcy who is ready to be milked. And when we're done, she lets down a second round of milk for her goat kids and they are reunited all day long until 8pm. It means we only milk once a day, which is really great.
This was my face on Saturday morning before we began. And while milking. And after milking. I just took to this new pastime with so much joy! I love milking Darcy! It is awkward. And I have to tell my pinky to pitch in nearly every time. There is a definite knack to hand milking. But Rory is super impressed with my progress and I am so happy to have this farm chore added to my morning routine. I was actually pretty fast this morning, my third morning ever! 

Plus, I love Darcy. If she was a human, we'd be great friends. She's so good to me. A little stomping at first, and the first day she got her hoof right in the bucket. But I don't blame her. She will turn her head back in the stand and make eye contact with me like, "what on earth are you up to back there?" But she's patient and I tell her she's such a good goat. And she let's me keep working. 
This was my first day's milk, and we didn't actually drink this stuff because of the whole hoof-in-the-bucket thing. But the past two days have been clean! I bring the milk in the house and filter it with a coffee filter into my mason jar. Then I put that jar right into an ice water bath for an hour to chill as quickly as possible. I read that the faster you chill your milk the less goat-y it will taste.

After church on Sunday we all had a glass together. And guess what? We loved it. All Groves were in agreement. We couldn't actually tell a difference between this milk and cow's milk. And then it had added points of goodness from "fresh from our farm." That always excites us so much.

So now I'm ordering cheese making supplies. And once again, I never saw this coming. But here I am. Milking a goat. Cheers! (And here's a link to my favorite goat website and a darling milking video that I thought about OFTEN the first day)

hay day

Before we moved to the farm, I had a few favorite fields that I always thought were so stunning when they had big round bales of hay scattered throughout them. But I didn't have any idea how hay was made. So here's a quick rundown if you haven't been around a hay field before. 

When there is a 3 or 4 day stretch of dry weather with no rain in the forecast and the hay is tall enough to be baled a farmer will cut his tall green grass (and alfalfa and clover) with a big mowing implement. That grass will begin to dry out. The next day, the farmer might go back over the field with a "tedder" to toss the grass so the hay can thoroughly dry out. If the hay is not completely dry it will either mold in the field (this happens if it gets rained on too many times after it is cut) or will be too moist to bale, or turn into compost in your barn (due to moisture in the hay) and set your barn on fire. Honestly, you cannot imagine how stressful hay making can be! You are threading a needle in time, hoping for sunshine and low humidity.

Once the cut grass mix is dry and ready, the farmer will go over the field for the third time with the rake to move the hay into rows. Finally, the baler is pulled down the rows of dry grass, alfalfa and clover and bales will pop out the other end onto the field or into a wagon. Then those bales are loaded up and put into a barn or as I sometimes see, shrink wrapped in white plastic. Which does not look lovely, in my opinion. But it must be functional.

After the hay is removed, the grass will begin to grow again and in another month, the farmer will find themselves back in the field doing all of this all over again, looking for that lovely window of sunny weather. You can usually get three sometimes four cuttings in a season on one field. This was our first cutting of the season. And our very first ever with our own tractor and baler!
So that's the how-to of baling hay. But then there is a whole other how-to. Like, how to drive a tractor. How to attach a baler. How to thread the baling twine through the baler. And how to do all of this before the rain comes.

At lunch on Thursday Rory looked at me and said, "I have no idea how I am going to get through the next two hours. I have no idea how to do any of this." And I commented that it was probably like jumping in a pool and figuring out how to swim by kicking real hard. He said, "no. it's like someone set you in front of a computer and tells you to start programming." That helped me understand how he felt! This was all so foreign. Just because we bought the tractor didn't mean he knew how to drive the tractor! (A 1969 John Deere drives completely different than a 1981 Kubota.)

Thankfully we had a neighbor and friend from church, Brian, who stopped by to talk him through each step. It really was so helpful to have them there. Rory drove the tractor in circles around the yard, figuring out all the different gears.
Do you notice the clouds that rolled in for this picture? We did too! It began to sprinkle, which put some serious pressure on the afternoon. But it never actually rained or even sprinkled hard. We were so grateful and glad!
And while Dad learned how to drive a tractor, Hattie was learning how to take turns pulling the wagon. Both were working very hard at learning. And Alden brightened the day, as he always does. He just doesn't know where his pants keep going.
Also, we have great neighbors. We had a whole team show up, including the neighbors who cut the hay on Monday for us (we don't have a sickle mower yet) and raked it and were coming by to bale half of the field with their own baler as payment for doing all of that great work for us. Look at that great team!
 And then there was this supportive peanut gallery:
After hitching up to the baler (like backing up a cruise ship to a trailer hitch), Rory was off on his tractor with his baler in tow. When we saw the first bale begin to stick out my neighbor Mary yelled, "it's crowning!" That was the funniest thing I heard all day. Because it was that exciting! We were doing it! Our own hay in our own field was being baled with our own tractor and baler. It was a big deal for us.
Unfortunately when Rory took the first corner at the end of the field, something in the shaft to the baler busted off. The part was very old and possibly cracked already, but fortunately is replaceable. But baling was done for the day.
And because our neighbors are THE BEST, they said they'd just bale the whole field before it rained. They brought over their big equipment and the kids settled in for more farmlife entertainment.
I believe this is the actual definition of field trip.
After driving the tractor and the broken baler back to the barn Rory told Brian, "I consider this a partial victory. I learned to drive the tractor and I actually DID bale hay." Brian said, "That's right. You drove the tractor and baled some hay and then your equipment broke down. And that's farming."

looking lovely

Rory mowed the lawn the other night right after my dad had weed whipped and all of the sudden our farm looked gorgeous. You know how that takes a while each spring? Our farm went through a real gnarly phase after the winter and we had lots of piles to put away like cinder blocks, a wood chipper covered in blue tarp, piles of wood and lots of weeds. But we have been wood chipping our trees, weeding like crazy and building new fences so that all of the sudden it all looked lovely again.

I have so much to write about it seems, but I can't seem to catch up. So I'll just tell you one thing I've been wanting to share for a while now: Rory and I sheared a sheep together. We had a professional come out last Saturday to do all the sheep, but weeks before he was scheduled to come we had 90 degree days and a Ewe who had five inches of wool on her. We had to help! So we ordered hand shears on Amazon, watched a few Youtube videos of Amish shearing sheep and gave it a go.

I am so sorry we don't have pictures. That will be a regret forever. Because the words 'hack job' come to mind. Though that maybe makes it sound worse than it was. We were decent. It took us two nights, working from "the kids are in bed...let's go!" to sundown. We took turns pinning the Ewe down (think WWF) and shearing. It actually was good fun and every snip felt like we were liberating that sweet Ewe from a northface parka on a July summer day. She actually acted grateful and relaxed after she figured out what we were up to.

So add that to the list of unexpected life experiences. I can now say, "I have sheared a sheep."

When we were all done and walking back to the house I said to Rory, "I just want to point out that you married a really good sport." And he replied, "Well, you knew what you were getting into when you married a computer programmer."

Exactly. 

every age and every stage

A random list of things I want to remember about each kid...

+Recently when I hand Hattie her lunch or breakfast or do something she likes she will yell, "Yayyyy, Mama!" And I think it's so nice to hear such affirming words. I've started saying it aloud to myself after accomplishing other tasks like weeding the front flower beds. "Yayyyy, Mama!"

+When I hold Alden, I often pat his back. It's sort of just a habit I guess. But he has now started patting my shoulder whenever I am patting his back and I'll tell you what. A pat on the back still feels nice. I think he's also telling me I'm doing a good job.

+Elsie's grief with Miracle was very interesting to watch. She cried for hours. She wouldn't go outside for days. Now she goes and sits by his grave and prays for him. She draws pictures of him as a "huge ram in heaven."

That weekend we read two books aloud to help us pass the time and Elsie crawled into my lap and lay like a little baby wrapped into me as I read aloud to everyone. I loved it as I realized at one point that Ivar is too big now to do this, and my days with Elsie this little are passing too. So I'm planning to read a lot of books aloud this summer...

+Ivar is totally seven. Today he asked me, "mom, do you know what the last letter is in The Hobbit comic book? Guess." So I guessed for a while. And then he told me, "it's S. You want to know what word is the last word?" "For sure I want to know." "Goodness. That's the last word." Age seven, man. It's so awesome.

saying goodbye

We knew Miracle’s vet visit on Friday was unlikely to have a good outcome. It had been a week since Miracle stopped walking on his own and he was growing more lethargic each day. Despite everything we tried, nothing seemed to be working. It seemed his muscles just could not keep up with the weight of his body as he grew. He was barely able to lift his head by the end and it was hard to see him struggle. He didn't like being unable to move as much as we didn't like watching his frustration.

So we spent time saying goodbye Friday morning before Rory brought Miracle in. It was terribly sad. We bottle fed Miracle for 10 weeks. He has lived in our house for two different weeks. He knows our family well, and we loved him so much.

Just as we were saying our final goodbyes, a rain cloud moved overhead and thunder began rumbling the earth. And as we cried, the thunder rumbled. Then Rory said it was time for him to leave with Miracle and we all cried and big raindrops began to fall. Rory carried Miracle into the back of the minivan and as we stood in the garage the sky opened up, it poured down and by the time Rory was pulling out of the driveway, the sun was back out. I took a picture of the sky just so I'd remember that strange moment of feeling seen from above.
The appointment went as we had suspected. Rory had been giving Miracle antibiotics, Vitamin B-complex and a host of other shots all week long. After a thorough exam the vet said there was nothing more we could do. Whatever disease was affecting him was only going to get worse. Rory returned home with Miracle's body and we decided to bury him under the tree he would lay under, waiting for one of us to come outside the house.

I will say that these last ten weeks have been very, very special for our family. This little lamb brought us so much joy and love. We slowed our lives down for his little life, set alarms, walked to the barn on snowy, blowy nights at 2am. We do not regret a moment of caring for this lamb, even though the ending was not at all what we expected. Each day I say part of Psalm 34 to the kids as we begin homeschooling. I say, "Come my children, listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies, turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it."

Many times while caring for Miracle I would think those words, "whoever of you loves life" and affirm it to myself again: we love life. Every moment spent working towards the health of this little lamb's life felt worth it. We don't regret a moment of care. I don't resent having gotten out of bed so many nights to go and feed him out in the barn. It was worth it because we love life and we loved Miracle.