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August 2013

The two goats in milk return from their farm life in summer camp tomorrow. It has been a remarkably short summer. August mornings have been traditionally cold in these hills. However, the days and nights have been as well. I sit before a blazing fire, six thirty in the morning. It may warm up late afternoon. It is almost as if September is making an appearance one month early. The milk goats, Verity and Prudence, the latter whose name changes regularly, nothing seems to stick, shall go to the barn proper and I shall milk in my old outdoor milking parlor under the barn bridge way. I have loved it there. The stone floor needs to be swept, but no longer dug. No guesse under there this year to create a pack. One of my two favorite trees nearby has died. It shall be cut down. I used to love to watch it gradually spring into leaf and then into blossom when I was milking. My other most favorite tree is also in that sweet yard behind the carriage house. It too is dying. It is a willow that needs to be trimmed to be relieved of a main branch that is dead. Its trunk is split however and I fear I shall not have the pleasure much longer of watching it awake, spring time, curving over the stone stairs leading into the yard. That yard has alternated between being in a kind of chaos of debris when I first came here, and relative order, now. I planted Sweet Cicely to come up along the great stone wall of the bridge way. It took a few years to expand and create a low fern like hedge against the wall. I cut the burdock for the goats out of it and may have managed to eradicate it. It now is so very pretty. Sometimes a goat or two are tethered there and mow the lawn, quite nicely, thank you. Unfortunately Sweet Cicely is one of their favorite foods and unless the lead cord is short enough, they will nibble it down to the ground along with the burdock. I love the look of the Cicely against the stone wall, and cut it after it flowers to rebound again to grow until the fall. There is some as well around the curved wall of the carriage house that forms another side of this pretty yard. They can’t reach that yet. I am looking forward to milking having finally acquired some of the things that I need to make cheese, including the best book ever on cheese making. I keep it by the bed and reread the methods and recipes over and over. One of the disadvantages of being an experienced cook is that I tend to follow recipes. That is not unreasonable, except when I am making something that I’ve never made before. There is a recipe in said book that is for Ricotta Salata which, in theory, is a keeping cheese. Something I really need to make here. Victoria is a first time milker. Her kid is quite nice, good looking and filled out. He is supposedly being picked up at the end of this month to become someone’s dinner. He has learned to be milked at the summer camp. I’ve started drying comfrey feed as food for them. It is reputedly a milk maker. Prudence nursed twins. Looked a little weary during her first days at the camp. She hadn’t been milked here, either, this year. However, she seems to have picked up. It shall be very interesting to milk this fall.
            My latest lambs, the Ile de France, Dorset, have managed to join the flock. Not my choice. The ram with them broke out of the south pasture. They figured out within a day how to escape as well. With any luck I may be able to recapture them. However, I have about six very handsome ram lambs left to sell. And have just raised their price. The French-English ewe lambs shall have to live in the carriage house in the eventuality that they are bred. I’d like them to freshen in there. The best to come for them.
            It is August. And winter intrudes now in my thoughts. Sitting in front of the fire encourages that of course. I am a paper and pencil farmer and scribble seemingly endlessly numbers. One goat milking, four pounds grain a day. One hundred and twenty pounds a month. Each. Five bags a month for two goats. Approximately seventy-five dollars a month. Does this come out of the monthly food budget or the farm income should there happen to be any? Ever. It may come from the sale of their kids. I was told by an agriculture business professional that the value of the milk should be deducted from the cost to produce it. Retail value of goats’ milk even in WalMart would far exceed their grain and hay costs when they are in milk. Of course retail for cheese would make the expense sheet look even more appealing. However, I’d never buy either of those products. Therefore, the math will never work out. Except on paper. So be it.
            One of the principle attractions is that milking does give form to the day. This summer I succumbed to a rather formless life. And found it very much to my liking. Far more “got done” in the long run then when I’ve forced myself to follow my own instructions and attempted to organize my tasks in an orderly, sensible, practical manner. Inroads were made in areas as I encountered them and in the final analysis I found closets gradually sorted, pens randomly shoveled, manure placed around the leaks in buckets full after a week or two found themselves in a crucified state that would never had been had they worked on under orders. My orders. Suddenly rooms, closets, buildings, are now found to be in order. Nicely. For that matter.
            Guilt lifted its relentless ever encroaching head yesterday and moved on only to wait, in the background of course, for a new opportunity to take hold of my conscience, self esteem and integrity. But it did leave me. In an unexpected moment. I had found, upstairs in the barn, a new born chick, racing madly about, looking for its mother. I caught it. Brought it into the house. Tried to convince it to drink milk, or water, or milk soaked bread. I failed. It died. A day or two later I saw one of the few grey hens outside under the Pound Sweet apple tree surrounded by five black or dark grey chicks. Do I capture them? Put her in a cage outside and let her mother the chicks. The little ones could slip out from time to time to learn how to forage. The hen would, of course, call them in when they seemed to go too far from her watch. At night she’d bring them in and tuck them under her wing. I have saved chicks on a number of occasions, in the past. But the chicks must be chicks this way on their first day out of the nest where they were born or they will be too knowledgeable of the many nooks and crannies in which to hide. If any are left behind and not rejoined with their mother they surely will die.
            I watched them for awhile and decided to let nature take her merciless course and left. Every day I looked for the hen and her chicks. A grey hen would turn up from time to time. Without chicks. So be it. Although it seemed to be rather fast to lose all five. How that hen maneuvered so many from grain of the upper level of the barn to the north barnyard, so very far away was beyond my comprehension. That is not an unusual thing for me. All of my animals have taken turns in confounding me. In part, that is what keeps me going. But a chicken possesses a much smaller brain. brain then the other livestock who live here. Certainly far smaller than mine. Yesterday I saw a grey hen scratching madly under the apple tree. Surrounded. Yes. Surrounded by her five chicks. And guilt fluttered away on little grey wings.

Sylvia Jorrín

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