Friday, December 19, 2014

Fears Cast to the Wind

Here's what I think every mama does: looks at those comforting statistics that say hey, once you get past about 20 weeks your chances of miscarrying drop drastically to about 2%. But that statistic becomes a huge anvil coming at your head when you realize, wait - two percent means that two mamas out of every hundred lose their baby. Then the odds seem much more real and less on your side. In fact, the odds weren't in my favor or in Wendell's favor and that is a hard thing. 

We are on the verge of trying for our second baby, our third child. It is exciting and confusing and I feel a little mixed up but then again not really because I know, I know, I know in my heart that Wendell will always be with me. He'll always be my firstborn son and I will always love him and wanting another baby doesn't change any of that one iota, any more than creating Wendell and loving him changed my love for Maggie. Each of my children are individual and precious and that's set in stone.

We are barging ahead, full speed, fears cast to the wind because the alternative is to be bogged down in terror and that's not what I want. And the alternative, for me, would be to negate the joy of Wendell's existence. I'd conceive and carry him all over again a thousand times, even if I knew that every time would have the same outcome, that he'd never get to come home with us. Even though he didn't survive, he still existed. He was still part of our family. He still grew inside me and I got to hold him closer than I've ever held anyone besides Maggie. We still got to meet him, hold him in our arms, see his sweet face, tell him we loved him. The honor of all those things, the honor of knowing Wendell, that made all the pain worth it. 

The doctor who delivered Wendell told us that he doesn't know why our baby died. In something like 60% of stillbirths the cause is unknown, so parents usually don't ever get a conclusive answer. Thankfully, the OB who delivered Wendell has no reservations with us trying to make another baby. I've got a point in my favor that I've carried a healthy pregnancy already - Maggie Mae is living proof - so I don't have to fear a blood clotting disorder or other issues that some mamas of stillborn babies have to tackle. I'm thankful that my body was up to the task of carrying and delivering Wendell, that it was not due to any known mechanical error on my body's side that we lost him. That gives me faith in hoping for another baby.

But I'm sure the truth is that I will have fears whenever my next pregnancy happens. I trust it will be when my body is ready, whenever that is. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later. There is still an ache in me to carry a child, to feel kicks inside me, to give birth in a home environment with my husband and midwife cheering me on, to nurse my little one, to be sleep deprived and gobsmacked in love with a tiny new creature that I created with Josh. I know fear will come with pregnancy, but doesn't it always, anyways? What I'm hoping for and praying for is to not be paralyzed with it -- and to approach that new experience, when it comes, with open hands.

When I carried Wendell in my body, I was learning the art of being present. I have such a slippery, meager grasp on that art but it began to grow as Wendell grew inside me. He was my sidekick in that venture, as my most frequent practice time was when I would finally settle into bed after a long day on my feet, with Josh sleeping soundly beside me. Without fail, the moment my body came to rest, Wendell would begin to kick my belly. I'd sit and breathe. Sometimes silent, sometimes repeating a mantra of love and gratitude and peace.

More of that, a deeper understanding of serenity and being present in the moment, is all I can hope for in my next pregnancy. I do pray I will get to meet my next child while he or she is alive and healthy. I hope for longer than just seven short months in utero. I hope I get to bring my next baby home with me. But even if seven months in utero that is all I get, even if I get less than that, I want to rejoice over that time and live it fully and love my baby even if I only get to do so from outside my body. I read a beautiful story of a woman who lost multiple babies through miscarriage and stillbirth. Rather than shutting down during her subsequent pregnancies, clamming up with fear and hoping to squash her feelings so she wouldn't feel attached to her baby, she dove in head first to making each pregnancy a beautiful time with her baby. She embraced the time she had, knowing that although she had no guarantee that she'd get to bring her baby home, at least she'd have this time with it to cherish and make the most of.

That's what I want -- to love my next baby with all I've got, just like I loved Wendell. With my whole heart and without reservations. I want to walk in gratitude rather than fear. To love hard and strong without regret, because any baby I bear is my child to love regardless of how long or short his or her days may be numbered.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I had dreams of a deliciously fat baby boy, with ponderous drooping cheeks and legs like the Michelin man. Maggie had the chunkiest cheeks even in her skinny-old-man preemie days; they were gloriously paunchy and sagged beneath her gigantic luminous eyes that are so like her dad's. I dreamed that Wendell would have those same cheeks, but that he'd be chunkier at birth than his big sister.

Instead his body was small and floppy, already broken by the time he exited the womb. He was so unsubstantial, so fallen apart, and the brokenness of his body didn't make me love him any less but it did break me. Because that wasn't my dream, to hold the broken, still, silent body of my firstborn son. I hated that his tiny body never had a chance to even take one single breath out in this big beautiful terrifying wonderful world.

Last night I unearthed a treasure trove of photos and videos from Maggie's infancy. As I scrolled through them, I couldn't help hollering out to Josh to come look at just one more, because my baby girl was so sweet and lovely and crinkly and bug-eyed and perfect. And as she grew up, six months then nine months then a year, the short video clips showed her emerging personality, this beam of sunshine and joy even at that tiny age.

And I had such joy remembering that little Maggie baby, but also such devastation -- because I wanted all that with Wendell, too. I wanted his first episode of crazy baby sleep with eyes rolled back in his head and a fluttery half-smile, his first attempts at crawling, his first time recoiling at the touch of grass on his tender hands. I wanted all that with him, just like I had had it with Maggie. I wanted him to be my baby through all the stages of babyhood, to get to bear witness to the miracle of his discovery of life and love and sunshine and grass and sky.

But he only got to be my baby in utero. He won't ever be older than 28 weeks 6 days gestation. He won't ever see the sky or sun or his mama's face. And as much as I do have peace, and I still have joy, and I am not broken or despairing, and I still have hope, and I am glad I got those seven months with him growing inside me -- even with all that being true, it will never be an okay thing that I don't get to have Wendell as my baby for the rest of my life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week on the Farm: August 30, 2014

This summer has been a good one on the farm. We haven't had any animal casualties lately (except ones that we ourselves decided on and inflicted), everyone looks fat and happy from all the nice green forage that the pasture is providing, and our ducks have begun to lay eggs! With the addition of thirty-four ducklings to the crew, our current count of outdoor animals is up to fifty-three and that will soon grow as we're expecting to begin breeding the rabbits in the next month or two once the weather cools down.

Tiberius, our Katahdin ram, has been ornery as usual lately but he's gotten easier to manage using a squirt bottle full of vinegar. I spray him indiscriminately in the eyeballs when he gets anywhere near me so he's better about leaving me alone when I'm in the pasture caring for the chickens and rabbits. This weekend we experienced his first real aggression -- he often will lean his head against Josh's leg as a challenge, but he's never tried to butt us. We were out caring for the ducklings this morning when a giant horsefly landed on Tiberius' flank and when Josh went to shoo it off the fly must have bitten Tiberius because he wheeled around and charged towards Josh. We got out of the ram's way quickly, but felt kind of sorry for him since he clearly got his feelings hurt thinking Josh had been the one to pinch him!

Wendell is growing and thriving and I'm 24 weeks along! This pregnancy has been a challenge, as I've had to slow down the pace of life and let Josh help out with many farm and household tasks I'm usually in charge of. It's been great practice in learning to stop rushing, to be present in the moment, to put down my to-do list and focus on where I am today and what I can enjoy this very minute.

Today is processing day for some of the chickens we got as chicks back in the spring. We bought the chicks unsexed (it's hard to tell sex of a tiny little chick) and out of seven we've got at least three roosters -- there may be a couple more left, but we're not positive about those so they get a temporary reprieve. I've enjoyed seeing the roo chicks grow up - these ones asserted their malehood pretty early in adolescence - big bulky thighs and legs and an unmistakable testosterone-driven strut and way of carrying themselves. Unfortunately for them, we've got no use for roosters with our small flock and if we kept them they'd be nothing more than pets, animals that we have to pay to feed but that don't give us anything in return. So into the stewpot they go! They will make some delicious chicken and dumplings.

The horde of ducklings! This is twenty-nine of them, I think. All Mallards (the brown ones) and Muscovies (the black/white/mottled ones). They fit well in the big hoop coop (best $50 we've ever spent on the farm! We've had it for 2.5 years and it's still going strong) and I think will continue to, since we will process ducks in batches depending on who grows out the fastest, so the group will slowly get culled down to just the few Muscovies we will keep for breeding.

The garden has become the hot weedy mess that I expected it to be by the end of summer, but I feel very satisfied with my garden work this year. We've produced about 150 pounds of delicious, fresh, organic veggies and things are still growing! The tomatoes are still producing a little, a second sowing of green beans and bush lima beans are kicking in, and I've got a small spot planted with some fall crops: kale, salad greens, three different kinds of turnips (I realized this year how much I love them!), radishes, carrots, kohlrabi, sweet peas. 

I love these gorgeous Christmas lima beans. I've never grown limas and I didn't grow up eating them, but these were too beautiful to not grow. I'm excited to serve them tonight alongside cheddar scalloped potatoes, grilled lamb chops, and fresh green beans from the garden. It's lovely when we get to enjoy a dinner full of foods grown right here on this tiny piece of land that we love so much.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Duck Adventures: Khaki Campbells, Mallard, Muscovies

It was on a whim that we got our first ducklings back in March, during an impulse stop at Tractor Supply where I talked Josh into letting me get some tiny brown ducklings for my birthday. I'll admit, I questioned my snap decision quickly: indoor ducklings make a holy mess. Since we bought the Khakis in early spring, temperatures were so cool that they had to be kept in a brooder in the garage and it was quite awhile before it was warm enough to move them outside. We had at least a month of cleaning nasty, disgusting messes up in their small garage brooder. Once they got to go into an outside coop things got a little better, though they were destroying the grass/ground almost instantly and slathering the area with generous servings of brown gloop.

Caring for them got exponentially easier when we decided to release them to free-range and they now require little from us. They mostly stay within our pasture, though even fully grown they are small enough to fit through the field fence and will go visit the puddles in the neighbors' yard or hang out in our backyard by the thornless blackberry brambles. We rarely feed them grain, since the sheep would gobble it up before the Khakis had a chance, but they are thriving on forage and are nice and plump from whatever grasses and bugs they find. All they need from us is clean water in the kiddie pool. It's hard to get photos of them because they're highly suspicious of us and won't let us get very close, but having some mostly self-sufficient animals is decent tradeoff.

The best thing about our Khaki Campbells is the eggs! We ended up with a drake (male) and two hens (females) and just this week we found our first cream-colored eggs hiding in the grass. These glorious ducks eggs were perfectly timed -- I had used the very last chicken egg from our old hens (who were all either sold or eaten) and that very day was when I found the first of the Khakis eggs. Ducks aren't as easy to train to a nest box like chickens will do and we've got some ideas we may try to get them to lay in a spot we want them to lay that's protected from the elements, but for now we're just happy they're laying in a spot that is easy for us to find -- they seem to like laying right next to one of the rabbit cages. That has resulted in a few casualties from sheep tromping over the eggs, but mostly it has worked out fine.

One of the unique qualities of duck eggs is a thicker shell, which is lucky because their eggs come out much dirtier than chicken eggs do. In dry weather our chicken eggs stay pretty clean and it's only when it is rainy and muddy, or a hen poops in the nest box (doesn't happen often), or a hen breaks another egg in the nest box that we have to worry about washing their eggs. In contrast, the duck eggs just come out kind of dirty, and the light cream-color does nothing to hide the dirt. I don't mind washing eggs before I use them so this doesn't bother me one bit, but ducks are absolutely dirtier birds than chickens in every way.

It has been interesting learning about the other differences between chicken and duck eggs especially nutritionally. I already knew duck eggs were preferred for baking, as they make baked goods fluffier and richer, but beyond that all I knew was what I could tell of the duck eggs -- the shells are thicker and the whites seem firmer. Actually, duck eggs are nutritional powerhouses in many ways -- they are higher in all kinds of vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, calories, and cholesterol. Some folks might worry about the cholesterol, but our ducks feed on pasture so the balance is heavily in favor of their eggs being a great healthy food.

We may be losing our minds because yesterday we traveled down to Moulton, about an hour's drive, to pick up thirty-seven ducklings of various ages and sizes. The photos in this post are only of the smallest eight, so keep in mind there are twenty-eight not pictured! They're all Muscovies and Mallards and the youngest are only a few days old and so teeny tiny. The oldest and biggest are a couple Mallard drakes who may be big enough to process within a couple weeks.

Josh made me proud with this whole duck escapade -- impulsively going to get so many ducks with no warning or planning is usually something that I would do, but Josh is generally a planner and a thinker who doesn't like to dive into things without thoroughly pondering them over. So far so good though, the ducklings are all healthy and happy (I was worried they had been badly cared for or were diseased, but the lady we got them from had free-ranged all her ducks and was simply tired of having them on top of all the other farm animals she's got), we're working on good accommodations for them today (they'll be in the big chicken coop once we cull the roosters and move the hens to a smaller coop), and I'm looking up duck recipes and anticipating roast orange-cranberry-glazed Muscovy for our Thanksgiving meal.

I had almost forgotten how adorable ducklings are. When we got our Khaki Campbell ducklings for my birthday they were older and bigger and terrified of us, and though they were really cute that cuteness got overshadowed by the incredible mess they created in their little garage brooder. These new babies are thankfully almost old enough to keep outside all night long with the weather being as warm as it is.

I'm pretty sure the Mallard ducklings are the ones with striped across their eyes and the Muscovies are all the rest of them (they come in a wide variety of coloration), but we'll have to wait and see when everyone grows up. The "teenage" ducklings are much easier to tell, especially once their feathers are in.

We won't be keeping any Mallards, but I've been reading up on Muscovies and am excited to keep a few to breed. We'll probably keep two or three hens and one drake and let them breed to raise more duck meat for us. Muscovies aren't prolific layers like our Khakis are, but they are great parents (both the mama and the papa will work to care for chicks), will hatch out as many as twenty ducklings at a time, and grow out to butchering size within 3-4 months. They're also great foragers and don't need to be fed much to get nice and chunky. Males get up to 15 lb and females are around 7-8 lb, which is good because that means they probably won't be able to fit through our field fence (the Khakis are small enough to and like to visit the puddles in our neighbors' yard, oops) and will stay in the pasture if we clip their wings so they can't fly.

I mean, come ON now. The cutest.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Birth with The Farm Midwives: Prenatal Appointments

When we decided to go to The Farm midwives for this birth, I was curious about what prenatal appointments would be like compared to the appointments I had during my pregnancy with Maggie with an OBGYN. We've had several prenatal appointments so far -- after our initial visit, which was at the actual clinic on The Farm, our other visits have been at Joanne's house. We've gone once monthly and the visits will increase once it gets closer to my due date (December 22).

Having my checkups at Joanne's house has been so nice. She lives in the tiny town of Hampshire, TN, about ten minutes away from The Farm. Her small, cozy home is tucked in a little valley, shaded by trees and greenery. She and her husband have an abundant garden behind their house, with a grape arbor, ornamental plants, and a vegetable garden. During today's visit we were offered freshly-made grape juice from their Concord grapes, tangy and pulpy, bright purple and delicious.

We begin the checkup sitting on the couch in Joanne's living room, which has a relaxed atmosphere and is filled with tiny Buddha statues, arrowheads found locally by her husband while working in the fields at The Farm, and tapestries and fabrics from around the world. Joanne always takes a minute to make sure Maggie is comfortable, bringing her books and toys to occupy her while we chat about any questions or concerns I have. Joanne asks how I've been doing, making sure all is going smoothly, and asks about my diet is going and whether I'm making sure to exercise. Having Maggie along at these checkups means that I have a tiny accountability partner -- this week she got onto me about how I needed to be walking because "Joanne said so!"

As I've shared about my pregnancy, I've heard stories about Joanne's pregnancies (she's had six!) and how those went. While in the throes of my own first-trimester nausea (debilitatingly bad, I lost 12 lb because I could not stand food!) she shared her own pregnancy nausea story: during one pregnancy she also had severe nausea, but since everyone on The Farm ate only what they grew themselves, she didn't have much choice in what she had to eat. She said it took years for her to be interested in eating eggplants and sweet potatoes again, as that was what was in season during her nauseous period.

Once we've asked all our questions, we go into a back room of the house that's set up with a bed, a desk, and a rocking chair. The bed is covered with a beautifully-made Amish quilt that Joanne got as payment for attending the birth of an Amish baby. The rocker is also Amish-made and was also payment for a birth. Josh takes the rocker while I sit in the desk chair for Joanne to take my blood pressure.

I then lay down on the bed and she measures my belly to see how the baby is growing and checks the baby's heartbeat. Today she started out using something called a Pinard horn, a fetoscope that's commonly used in Europe but is rarely used by US doctors. It's a primitive-looking instrument but is actually more precise than the Doppler device that most US obstetricians use for detecting fetal heartbeats. Joanne also used the Doppler this afternoon, which meant we got to hear Wendell's heartbeat out loud, galloping along like a racehorse. Today I also got my cervix checked, something that usually Joanne won't do until a woman is close to term, but as I've had some worries about preterm labor and bleeding, she checked me out to give me some peace of mind.

Our visits usually last around an hour and we leave feeling happy and cared-for. It is great to be building a relationship with the woman who will not only catch Wendell as he comes out into the world (my OB with Maggie was in the room for only the last 20 minutes or so of my labor), but who will be with me through the entire labor and delivery process, no matter how long that takes. Building that trust in Joanne over the course of my pregnancy will only help the labor process go more smoothly, as I know she understands the type of birth I want, knows my fears and concerns, and will be with me from start to finish.

Though we've got an hour and twenty minute drive to get to Joanne, our visits have felt like mini-vacations because Josh has been able to take off work and we always stop somewhere fun along the way. Today after my appointment we went to Davy Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg, where we ate a picnic lunch and spent some time by a waterfall, splashing in the shallow creekbed. It was gorgeous and the weather could not have been more perfect. During our time in the park we saw wild turkeys, deer, crawdads, fish, and butterflies.

Cherry Tomato Crostata with Fresh Goat Cheese

The tomatoes, oh! The tomatoes!

They've been coming out of our ears, truly. With today's harvest, which may be one of the last since my plants are petering out, we hit the fifty-pound mark! I've been keeping track all season of how much we've grown and to know that fifty pounds of tomatoes came right out of our front yard garden is very gratifying. All that hard work paid off!  That harvest weight doesn't even include the many tomatoes we lost (mostly the heirloom varieties, which I won't likely grow again) to splitting, cat-facing, and worm holes -- but even those yucky tomatoes found a use as chicken feed! The chickens think tomatoes of any kind are the best treat ever. Even moldy, wormy, sludgy ones.

Josh and Maggie aren't fans of fresh tomatoes, but I've been eating them atop salads and sandwiches and cooking them in as many ways as I can. I refuse to do any tomato canning, as I've found that freezing them whole is a much simpler and much less time-consuming way of preservation. But we haven't even had that many tomatoes to freeze, what with a glut of amazing recipes that use tomatoes in one form or another. Here's some of them that we've tried and loved:

Fresh pizza sauce (of course I used fresh tomatoes vs canned)
Pimento BLTs (adapted to use Hannah's pimento cheese recipe that uses a box grater vs food processor)
Tomato and fresh corn quiche

Tonight we tried out a new recipe, small tomato crostata with fresh goat cheese.  Goodness, this crostata! I found it via the blog The Yellow House, through an e-book with different recipes for using up summer's bounty of tomatoes. Amazing. Simple and easy, even for me, a novice at pastry making. I used some of our red cherry tomatoes from the garden and fresh chèvre from our local artisinal and highly-lauded goat cheese makers, Belle Chèvre.

 Served with pesto salmon and a green salad, it was a simple meal with little prep work -- I made the pastry a couple days ago and was happy to read that it can even be frozen then thawed. Straightforward, easy, delicious, healthy. My favorite kind of dinner. All three of us polished our plates! Though I'll be honest, Maggie picked the tomatoes off and then had to eat them plain afterwards. Josh and I enjoyed ours much more atop the crostata where they belonged.

Though we're coming to the end of the tomatoes from our own garden, I've got about ten pounds ripening on my kitchen countertop and waiting to be experimented with before the fall veggies begin to roll in (soon we'll be harvesting spaghetti squash and pumpkins!). 

I've been aching to make this fresh tomato sourdough bread ever since I stumbled upon the recipe. During my nauseous first trimester, Josh was being sweet and cleaned out the fridge (a lot of things were going bad, since I could barely eat and couldn't stand the smell of food so Josh couldn't cook either, and I definitely couldn't clean out a fridge full of stinky old foods) and let me know that he had cleaned out a particularly foul-smelling Mason jar full of gloop... which ended up being my healthy sourdough starter, that had been doing just fine until it was poured down the drain. At any rate, I've now got a brand new starter bubbling on the countertop and as soon as I get enough I will be making that tomato bread. 

What tomato recipes have y'all tried and loved? Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Feeding Rabbits Naturally: Organic Herbal Vitamin Supplement

Well, we've had to do a bit of troubleshooting with our natural rabbit feed system. It's been almost six months since we began mixing our own grain-based feed for our rabbits and the transition went pretty smoothly. No one had any tummy issues adjusting to the grain and though our two new rabbits took awhile to adjust to living on pasture rather than in cages off the ground, both eventually adjusted digestively to the new feed.

Unfortunately we had a few problems that may have to do with vitamin deficiencies, most likely either Vitamin A or Vitamin E. First we had a litter of kits that had two kits who didn't develop normally. They weren't putting on weight and seemed to have some muscular coordination issues. Their mother's next birthing was prolonged (it began two days early and ended two days later), unsuccessful (all six kits ended up dead, and fairly gruesome, with some decapitation. This doe had had two litters and been a great mama, so our speculation is there was something wrong with how the kit fetuses developed and they just didn't come out right. Vitamin deficiency is often a factor in aborted / unsuccessful kindlings.

We began brainstorming, feeling terrible that our rabbits were having these struggles but still hoping to stay close to our natural feed aspirations. We realized that part of the problem is although our rabbits are in pasture pens, they aren't getting the amount of forage daily that they need to. We've remedied this by beginning to collect a big bucket full of plants to give to the rabbits daily. We've also slacked off on feeding fodder and are beginning to add that back into our feed system, as it should have been all along.

In addition to adding those extra greens in the form of forage and fodder, we've looked for a vitamin and mineral supplement solution to feed the rabbits daily. Another issue we realized was that we were not incorporating healthy fats (flax seeds, black oil sunflower seeds) into the mix as we needed to be. We had planned to do it originally, but had failed to execute getting those seeds into the mix. Without those good fats, our rabbits weren't able to absorb vitamins as efficiently. We've since remedied that issue and our rabbits are looking chunkier in a healthy way now.

As a short term fix we ordered Vitadrops, drops that can be added to the rabbits' water. It is cost prohibitive to use this long term (it takes 32 drops per rabbit water bottle and we fill five water bottles daily!) but we'd like to bulk up on vitamins short term to get back everyone back to healthy condition.

After finding Vitadrops for the short-term, I searched all over the internet for a good long-term vitamin solution. There aren't many vitamin supplements of any kind out there for rabbits, as most folks feed their rabbits commercial pellets which are formulated to provide a balanced diet including all vitamin and mineral needs. So when I stumbled across this organic supplement for rabbits I got excited. I was even more excited when I realized I could easily mix up my own version of it using bulk herbs for less than half the price.

I ordered the organic bulk herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs, whose reputation online is stellar for high quality product and reasonable prices. Here's the mixture I've come up with:

1 cup dried stinging nettle
1/2 cup red raspberry leaf
1/4 cup dandelion root
1/4 cup dandelion leaf
1/4 cup rose hips
1/4 cup hibiscus

This mixture costs about $17/lb, compared with $30/lb that the premixed organic supplement cost. I think a pound of the mix will last us at least 4 months, maybe longer.

I throw everything into a quart-sized mason jar, shake it up, and keep the jar in our big feed bucket.  Each rabbit cage (which has either one adult rabbit, or up to 5 kits) gets about a tablespoon of the supplement sprinkled on top of the feed daily.

The herbs I chose for the supplement have a variety of medicinal uses and lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Stinging nettle is a powerhouse herb that has been used to treat a variety of medical ailments including congestion, arthritis, anemia, and internal bleeding. It is a natural multivitamin containing plenty of vitamins A, B-complex, and K, plus calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron.

Red raspberry leaf is most widely used for its health benefits for pregnant and nursing women -- it can strengthen the uterus, enabling more effective labor, and helps balance out hormones. It is also known to be an overall reproductive health tonic for both women and men. I'll increase dosage of this for our does during breeding season to support healthy pregnancies and kindlings. The vitamins it contains include vitamin A, B-complex, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.

Dandelions are considered a nutritional powerhouse, labeled by a 1984 study as one of the top green vegetables in terms of overall nutrition.  Dandelion root can be used to treat anemia and high cholesterol and contains vitamins A, B, C, and D as well as calcium, zinc, iron, and potassium. Dandelion leaf is helpful to the liver and gallbladder, aids in digestion, and contains vitamins A, B, C, D, folic acid, and riboflavin.

Rose hips contain high levels of vitamin C and also are a source of vitamin A, B, lycopene and other antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and zinc.

Hibiscus is often used to treat high blood pressure, has anti-inflammatory properties, has high levels of antioxidants, and is a good source of vitamin C.

I may add in some other herbs, specifically yarrow and chamomile, once they become available via Mountain Rose, but for now this is the mix we're trying out. I think there's a good balance of vitamins and minerals, all from whole plant sources.

The major benefit of using herbs as a vitamin supplement is that not only are they natural sources of vitamins, they also do not cause any toxicity due to too-high levels. Rabbits are particularly susceptible to "overdose" of vitamins and having too much of a vitamin can cause just as many problems as having too little.

It's a long-term goal of mine to establish a establishing a medicinal herb bed full of all the above herbs plus others like echinacea, chamomile, calendula, and yarrow. I've been poring through The Forest of Wild Fruits on etsy, as they've got an extensive selection of medicinal herb seeds. The rabbits would benefit from freshly picked herbs and we could dry and mix herbs for a winter supplement. And of course we'd get to use the herbs for ourselves, too!

In closing, I want to state a disclaimer that I am not a veterinarian or medical professional of any kind. This is simply the herbal mixture we are using for our own rabbits and as always we are doing this as part of a learning process to care for our animals well.

It's tough having to go through some trial and error to figure out what will work best for our animals and our farm, but my hope is that in several years we will have learned to be better caregivers of our livestock and our land. Farming is such a learning process and one that takes time, a lot of reading and research, and grace when mistakes are made.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This Week on the Farm: July 17

The weather has been lovely this week, with highs a balmy 80 degrees. In July in Alabama, we sure will take it! We even got to eat dinner outside tonight because it wasn't sweltering.

Yesterday we had a big scare with the baby. It was one of the most frightening nights of my life and hearing the baby's heartbeat on the Doppler was one of the most emotional moments I've ever experienced. Today we got to see our baby via ultrasound and he is safe and healthy and all is well. And yes, the baby is a he! I wasn't planning on finding out the baby's gender, since our midwives don't do ultrasounds, but with this emergency ultrasound happening unexpectedly we just couldn't resist.

The name we've got picked out is Wendell Lyle Clark. Wendell Berry is one of my favorite authors, an agrarian advocate who writes prolifically and farms 40 acres in Kentucky with his trusty team of mules. Lyle is my grandfather's name, my mom's dad. I've really appreciated getting to know my maternal grandparents in adulthood; they're both neat folks. I feel like the baby's name is old-fashioned, humble, and perfectly suited for a farmer's son.

As far as the garden goes this week, it is still busting out all over the place! Harvest is necessary every two to three days. Today I picked a Crimson Sweet watermelon, two and a half pounds of yard-long beans, eight pounds of tomatoes, seven pounds of butternut squash, and a stray zucchini. I've had to do plenty of cooking and preserving to keep up with everything. So far I've made pizza sauce, fermented salsa verde, and have frozen lots of zucchini and green beans.

Not all of the produce has been a raging success; my big tomatoes especially have had issues with worms and splitting and molding. I've taken to picking the tomatoes when they're just starting to change colors from green to red/orange/whatever color indicates ripeness. That seems to be helping with helping them ripen indoors away from the dangers lurking outdoors. And luckily we've also got our trusty chickens who act as a garbage disposal for any produce that's not good enough for us to put on the table. They more than happily consume wormy tomatoes and old zucchini and watermelon rinds!

Friday, July 4, 2014

This Week on the Farm: July 4

It's been a lovely week. I'm enjoying the "honeymoon" second trimester and the weather has been surprisingly temperate. Lots of time to get out into the garden and to spend time with our animals.

The thornless blackberry canes that I planted last year are going crazy! We've only got maybe twenty berries, but the canes are multiplying and sorely in need of a trellis system. I'm excited for next year, when this plant will produce lots more blackberries and when we can finally let our blueberry bushes grow some berries.

Oh, these ducks! They're four months old now and much less of a pain to clean up after now that we just let them free-range in the pasture. There's some risk that a predator might get them at night, but everything has been fine so far. Although they're not nearly as filthy as they were when they were in a contained space, they do manage to dirty up the water containers very quickly, as you can see here. 

The middle fella in this picture is definitely a male; he doesn't look that much different from the other two but is beginning to get some iridescent green feathers on his head, which identifies him as a drake.

Spottle is my favorite of our two older ewes. We developed a special bond during the short time that I milked her. She's just got a sweet, gentle disposition and is a great mama.

Little Sassy. She's Spottle's ewe lamb, almost seven months old now and as sweet as can be. She is looking more and more like her mama as she grows. She's not nearly as skittish as her unnamed twin brother, who wants nothing to do with us (which is smart on his part, since he's our freezer lamb!).

Tiberius and Sassy. Tiberius is a naughty, naughty boy (I don't risk going in the pasture with him anymore unless he's tied up or put in the pen), but I just think he's gorgeous and his nose wrinkles are adorable. I hope he passes down his red coloring to the lambs he sires.

Since Tastebud lost her winter coat she's been looking so pretty and clean. Well, as clean as a white sheep can be when it wallows in the red dirt all day. I love her pink nose.

Our chicks are growing up! We've got seven total and I think at least three of those are roosters. Hard to know for sure until the roo's start crowing. The ones here are Buff Orpingtons (the yellow ones), Easter Eggers (the red ones), and Speckled Sussex (the white and black ones).

The bush beans have quit producing already, but the pole beans are just getting started. These are yard-long beans, which really do get a yard long. I've been experimenting with cooking them; they're not as crisp as regular green beans so they do better with being sautéed than with being steamed. I may try roasting them in the oven and cooking them in a curry.

We've got plenty of green tomatoes on all eight tomato plants, but these first ones to ripen have been full of worms. I'm not too worried, since we've got several grape and cherry tomato plants and worms tend to leave those alone, plus our chickens are thrilled to get the wormy tomatoes that we don't want.