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HOMEGROWN Life: A Tiny Life, Remembered

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

HOMEGROWN LifeWe lost one tiny life today on the farm. One so small, if you weren’t really watching, you might miss it.

One of the turkey chicks was showing a little weakness yesterday as it wandered around the garden, being carefully watched over by both it’s parents. It was back in the coop in the evening, eating with the other little ones so I thought maybe it had just gotten a little tired exploring all day. When you’re only 3 inches tall, it’s a big world out there.


But then, this morning, when I opened the coop to offer the new flock it’s breakfast, I noticed the same little one was not looking refreshed and seemed to be struggling. I snatched it up and took it to the barn. I have an emergency station set up in case of needing some extra heat or a bit of sugar water for a weak chick to give it a boost. I popped this little one in and turned on the warming light. It was standing, although it was obvious it was making a great effort to do so. I prepared a tiny dish of water and added a drop of molasses to it, instant energy. I offered it a bit on the end of a dropper but it was spending all it’s energy just staying upright so I didn’t force it.

Knowing that sometimes, just a bit of extra heat can make the difference between life and death, I left it standing under the light to provide it additional warmth. A sorry substitute for snuggling under Mom or Dad admittedly, but Mom and Dad were pretty busy at the moment getting their breakfast and keeping their eye on the other tiny yellow bits in the coop.


Every 15 minutes for the next couple of hours, I went out to the barn to check on this little one. After the 3rd or 4th check, it was receptive of a drop or two of the vitamin rich molasses water. It opened it’s tiny eyes after having them closed from the time I brought it in the barn, blinked, and I was hoping we were maybe, just maybe, turning a corner.

I wish I could say there was a happy ending to the morning but, there’s not. The little one lost it’s battle with weakness.

What difference does it make that one tiny farm animal doesn’t make it? After all, there are plenty more where that one came from, right?

But when I think of all the effort that went into bringing this little one into the world, I feel a little sad for losing it. It’s Mom spent 3 weeks, laying one egg a day to create the nest of 21 eggs, nestled in the catnip bed. She spent the next 4 weeks sitting on the eggs, carefully turning each one daily, rotating them under her to spread her warmth evenly over them.

I covered her with the wheelbarrow at one point, to shade her from the blazing summer sun and the rains and offered her dishes of water and food to keep her comfortable.

When the eggs hatched, 15 new Royal Palm turkey lives filled the garden and the coop with their tiny yellow fluff and little feet, following their Mom and then their Dad wherever they went. Now, there is one less.

Losing this little one brought back memories of when I drove across country with one of my son’s friends. If you’ve never done it, put it on your bucket list. We were crossing Iowa. The land out there is so huge, you can’t imagine it. Fields of wheat stretched to infinity. It was then it occurred to me how small we all are. Specks. It also occurred to me the importance of each speck.

This tiny chick was an important speck on the Bittersweet Farm, even for it’s short life. I’ll miss you little turkey. You gave it a good fight, and you left a tiny mark on this humble farm. I won’t forget you.



HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.


HOMEGROWN Life: A Rough Kidding Season (or How Trouble Always Comes in Threes)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENWe knew the morning of April 12th that Kahlua was going to give us kids by the end of the day. Her ligaments were gone, her udder was filling and she was getting restless. She showed all the typical signs of imminent labor. We kept an eye on her throughout the morning while we did our usual spring chores – prepping and planting garden beds, harvesting artichokes, feeding animals.

By noon I decided to sit with her and soon noticed she had started having contractions. They weren’t close together so I knew I had a little bit of time. I called my friend, Brande, who has been present for all of our kiddings (it’s always great having another set of hands to help catch and clean kids), and Tom down to sit with me.

And then we waited. And waited some more. Her labor had stalled out. We were all getting restless. 8pm passed. 10pm passed. We were starting to get concerned. In the meantime I was texting goat breeder friends. Lynda at Foggy River Farm said that sometimes the stalled labor is due to a malpresented kid. Fantastic.


At 11pm Tom laid down on the ground to take a nap. Not 30 sec after covering his eyes with his hat Kahlua siddled up to him, laid down and started pushing. Well if that’s all we had to do we could have gotten this over a long time ago…

At first things seemed to be working until I saw a nose. Just a nose. Well that’s a slight problem. Yep, Lynda called it. A normal presentation is a kid in the dive position. Both legs out front with the head following. There were no legs. Just a head and Kahlua was pushing as hard as she could.

Progress seemed to be going very slow and there was no room to get a hand in. The best thing I could do was get the kid’s airway cleared so it could breathe in case the umbilical cord got pinched off and try to get that kid out carefully and quickly. I was finally able to get my hand in far enough to grab the kid and add some traction while Kahlua pushed. The next kid shot out with little problem. While being a pound larger the second kid was in the normal position and came out very easily.

Both kids are healthy and growing like weeds now. But that wasn’t the end, unfortunately. Kahlua started to go off feed. We were able to get her to eat using Fortified B injections, which can act as an appetite stimulant but by Wednesday she was yawning a lot which can signal pain. She didn’t have a fever yet so we held off on giving her antibiotics and just gave her some banamine. By Thursday, however, it was clear something was going on. She was grinding her teeth and now had a fever of 104.7 (normal is 102-103.5). A quick call to UC Davis and the vet was pretty sure we were dealing with metritis (uterine infection). The first antibiotic they recommended didn’t seem to be knocking back the metritis like it should have so another call the UC Davis and they had us switch. 7 days of treatment and she was back to her normal self.

We had just over 3 weeks before we were to expect the next two does to kid. We were only hoping that they would go smoothly. Unfortunately we were very wrong.

Tuesday morning, May 5th, it was clear Maggie was going into labor. She was unusually loud and obnoxious so I put her in the kidding stall and called Brande. Her labor seemed to be progressing a lot faster than Kahlua’s labor, but I noticed something concerning. Her discharge was an abnormal color – rusty brown and opaque. Not a good sign, but nothing I could do about it while waiting.


After just a few hours Maggie started pushing. The first kid came out quickly with little problem. The second kid shot out like a bullet in the dreaded breech-butt first position. This was exactly how Maggie was born. Made me glad she got her mom’s wide rump and that the kids were pretty small. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when the back feet of a dead kid emerged. Fortunately it came out easily but being the only doeling in the bunch made it even worse.

Because she had two bucklings we decided to just leave them with her for the time being. We were going to get them used to the bottle for when we took Maggie to shows or had milk test. Unfortunately we soon noticed that Maggie had a fishtail teat (looks like two teats fused together and has two working orifices), which is a disqualifying trait. I put her up for sale as a pet-only and within only a couple of hours she was reserved by the lady who bought her herdmate/paternal half sister, Trouble (now named Ranger).

Just one kidding left and they say that 90% of all kiddings go perfectly fine. The odds were in our favor. Except when they aren’t.


Friday, May 8th, Rainicorn went into labor. Like Kahlua’s it seemed to take her sweet time. Not a particularly good sign but contractions were strong. When she finally laid down around 4pm to start pushing nothing seemed to be happening. The bubble showed up and ended up drenching me in birthing fluid but nothing was in it. There was a problem. Another problem. I gloved up, and lubed up and went in. There was the issue. 4 hooves and a head. There were two kids and they seemed pretty large, trying to come out at once. Fortunately there were three of us and we got to work. After a quick call to Sarah, at Castle Rock, we had Tom pick her back end up and pushed the rear legs of one of the kids back in as far as we could. After 20 min we realized we were going to have to take her to the vet. The one kid trying to come out correctly was too large.

The question was, which vet do we go to? UC Davis or Cotati Large Animal Hospital? We were half way between the two but being that it was Friday afternoon we decided to go to Cotati due to Highway 80 being gridlocked with everyone trying to get out of town.

An hour drive got us there to find 2 vets and 2 vet techs waiting for us. They also attempted to get the kids out vaginally but found it impossible so the only next option was an emergency C-section. Anesthesia is not without its risks in general, but that goes doubly so for goats. They aren’t known for handling it very well. It was incredibly nerve-wracking watching the surgery and just hoping everything would turn out fine.


The doctor ended up pulling out a single, very large buckling. The breeder’s worst nightmare is a first freshener with a single buckling. There weren’t two kids like we had thought. He was simply trying to come out with all four feet and his head. Things weren’t looking so great for him when he was laid down in the towel lined rubber bin. He wasn’t breathing at all but the second vet worked and worked on him. She didn’t give up and it’s what saved him. By the time Rainicorn woke up he was trying to stand and had a very good suck reflex. I definitely attribute her smooth and speedy recovery on having him with her.

Our kidding season is finally over after getting progressively worse – I’m just happy everyone is fine.


Rachel-Dog-Island-Farm1Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: Bryce on Growing Up in Farm Country

Friday, May 8th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150Ahh, the glories of spring. Morel mushrooms. Dandelion bacon salad. Mornings with extended sun. Frisky livestock. Weekly lawn mowing.

OK, so maybe I could go without the lawn mowing, but I suppose it’s a small price to pay for nutritious and growing pastures and plants (and correspondingly animals).

In my neck of the woods, spring is also a time for the annual ritual of reflecting on one’s school years. This year that reflection is an incredibly rich mix of joy and regret and memory. Maybe it’s because my wife is a teacher. Maybe it’s because I can’t believe my boys are already concluding their third and fifth grade years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting ready to attend my 20 year high school reunion here in a couple of days.


Regardless, I’m feeling a swirling bundle of thoughts pertaining to what it means to grow up in farm country in today’s world. The complexity is interesting.

Take the graduating class of souls at the little country school where my wife teaches art, creativity, open-mindedness, and lessons on growing up in the city (my wife is from St. Louis originally). There are seven graduates. Yep. Seven. It’s a class filled with good kids most of whom have grown up on multi-generational family farms. They have been expected to work with their families to help out where they can. They have learned skills regarding mechanics and biology. They have absorbed worries of economic disparity in the farming sector, moral questions about how to be a good person, confusion about an urban dominated media landscape (local radio and TV stations are sent out to us from Kansas City) and tenuous positions as modern teens trying to figure out what they should do next.

In most ways, they are similar to graduates of public schools in small towns before them. In other ways, I feel like they face some important differences. Mostly, I am feeling a bit of despair for them as they struggle with questions of continuing their education, getting into the workforce, or joining the military.


I should say now that no one gave me a word of caution when I came up through my small town school about whether or not I should attend college. I didn’t give a minute of concern as to whether or not I would be able to pay for it. My older brother was in college, and we were the first generation in our family to attend University. I was a good student, got good scholarships (the best I could get from Missouri’s public University) and still left school with thousands of dollars in student loans.

The big difference is that these 2015 graduates fully understand their possible college debt load. They’re scared of it, and rightfully so. They’re making some important considerations for what this debt load would mean for them in their life to come. That’s a good thing for these students. Remember, we’re talking about seventeen and eighteen year old kids here.

My big questions to throw into the great bonfire of public discourse here are: how do we as a society help a gang of confused Farm Belt graduates make good choices within the parameters of their understanding? Do we want to maintain the status quo of developing a pipeline of military prospects from the places with questionable economic futures? Or should we rethink our educational system and try to develop new pathways of economic opportunity for the future leaders coming up through our public school system every year?

The choice is an important one. And the lack of a public dialogue about these important issues is disturbing. But maybe this, like the issue of student debt, is something we can illuminate in the important years to come.

There is much, much more to write about this topic. I’ll keep thinking about it as I attend graduation and alumni and reunion festivities over the next few weeks.

My hope is that society will do the same.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.