Crofting: In Due Season

We are under a mist of freezing rain. While our goats are in the barn and eating hay, and the chickens snuggly in their pens, out of the weather, it is a difficult condition for wild things to face. Once the layer of rain freezes over the veil of snow, deer and other animals that paw to find grass, lichen and barks will not be able to get to that source. Small wild birds become saturated and freeze if they can’t find shelter. There isn’t much snow cover, so burrowing animals will feel the freezing cold. Weather like this is a killer for wildlife.

A warm spell in winter also may force the swelling of tree buds, which then freeze in the next cold snap. New growth for setting flower and seed is lost.

Uist croft

Some of this cycle may be the vagaries of nature, culling the weakest in the harsh winters, but some of it is most definitely the result of the unnatural patterns of modern life, warming the atmosphere, dumping high levels of carbon and other elements into the air and the water. Tree cover is gone in parts of the world that for millenia have been the lungs of the earth. Polar ice is melting, old glaciers that predated the last ice ages and the appearance of humanity on the earth are gone. The reindeer may leave the tundra, which will dramatically alter its life cycle. The great bears and marine mammals of the north are disappearing or shifting their territory. The bio-mass of great shoals of fish in the oceans are dwindling. The loss of movement and interaction of these creatures will, in a short time – less than centuries – adversely affect the weather and the flora of the north. If the equatorial rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the polar regions are the brains. Once their delicate functioning starts to shut down, the whole bio-system will fail.

In our small way, we are finding it easier to live the life of boreal herdsmen. Consciously and unconsciously we are reducing our need for the worldly system in which we have swam as little fishes for  a long time. It has meant giving up some of the trappings of civilized life such as fashionable clothes, social expectations, luxuries of food. We are tied to the small house because we heat with wood and cannot be gone for 24 hours without risking a complete freezing of our water supply. We have animals under shelter, so we need to make sure they have adequate supplies of food and water.

It is winter. We are sheltering, rarely journeying far. I have to go out about once a week now, but in the next month we plan to be snugged in for most of the rest of the season. We can’t afford to keep the truck in legal registration with the province. Repairs, taxes and fees are beyond our income right now. I will need the money we put into truck expenses for more vital expenditures such as medical care and my immigration fees. So I have to make sure we have food, firewood, medicines, grain and hay to last three months or more. I do hope we will be able to get some alternative transportation this summer, or we will gain enough extra income to license a vehicle again.

This is how poverty affects many here. Gradually, they lose the accoutrements of civilization – vehicle, appliances, even electrical and phone service. Some cope well. I think we do. Some fail to find a way to make up the difference. They run cars illegally, often dangerously decrepit vehicles with bad brakes and no headlights. If they get caught, they ignore the fine and even the court dates until they are picked up by the law for another violation, and then they spend a little time in jail. Some turn to petty crime to get by – a spot of shoplifting, stealing items from barns and garages to resell, cutting their firewood on a neighbour’s woodlot. I would rather starve than steal.

So this coming year we will have another go at small scale crops, get more chickens, perhaps get a few sheep. We are getting farther away from the demands of civilized life that drive people to keep an eye on the clock and calendar.  I hope to do more reading in how to manage a small isolated croft. Oddly, we have neighbours – near neighbours, too – who live a life no different from what we lived in the suburbs of a large city. The commute to scheduled jobs, have two cars, go away on vacation, decorate seasonally. They could in Richmond Hill, outside Toronto, or Silver Spring, Maryland. We are not isolated in being cut off from all human contact, but it is still rare, as they live the artificial day of electric lights and shift work. This is not to say that they are wrong, but to say that I expect that the nearly neolithic life of herders and shepherds will have to find a co-existence with the dominant American culture of supermarkets and malls. There will have to be a heightened and mutual accommodation and tolerance.

It could all fall apart quickly. Or it could all improve quite a bit. If we can discover the root of my health problems (possibly thyroid) then I will be able to put more time and energy into the croft work. If I can increase our income a bit we will be able to make other improvements. We are exploring, via internet, the 21st century’s equivalent of a monastic library, how to live closer to the old ways.

Things Accomplished

Amish Doll Clothes from Missouri

I am making Amish dolls. I have orders for four and I am now more than half way done. It would go faster if I didn’t have so many other things to do at this time of the year.

The garden is slowly getting put to bed. I still have pumpkins and squash coming, with the hope that they will not rot in all this rain. I have pulled most of the bean plants, feeding them as fodder to the goats, after removing the dried pods. They would eat the pods, but I am trying to save the seed.

Wood is getting stacked and split; the barn has been mucked out. We either have a small leak in the roof or the goats have amused themselves by drinking lots of water. I’m sure bean plants aren’t that diuretic. I usually muck out every couple of days, but when we have four or five rainy days, it is less than a pleasant task – and it is no one’s favourite. There is also the problem of mooring the goats to something while working in the barn on a rainy day.

We are getting one or two eggs a day, but never three. I suspect the girls are taking turns laying, and they all like the same nest box. The chickens had a bit of a scare the other day. They were out scratching around in the garden while I watched from an upper floor window. Suddenly they all ran for cover behind the trash bin, the rooster sounding an alarm. A bald eagle passed above, headed for the river. I had wondered if they had enough instinct about eagles and hawks to get out of the way. They don’t panic over crows, though, although some of our crows are almost eagle sized. they stayed in hiding for several minutes, too.

We lost the last of the little silkies, leaving us with three bantam sized birds who are doing well. She just didn’t grow; Nicholas found her hunkered down and drowsy in the barn, so he put her in the hay box under the lamp. When I went in an hour later to feed them, she was dead. All I can think of is that the little ones that died had some sort of deficiency similar to what calves and lambs have when they develop white muscle disease.

I have discovered that I am reacting to a large number of foods, especially high-histamine foods like tomatoes. So I am on a low-histamine, low salicylate diet, which means a very limited repertoire. It is largely vegetarian, low on fruit (except peeled apples) and fairly bland. I am tapering off coffee and have given up tea. I miss the tea more than anything. Lightly toasted bread and butter are now my favourite snack, as not much else is left!

So I am in the midst of making applesauce, starting by peeling the apples, a tedious job. I bought a huge bag, about 30 pounds, of apples for $10. They are called deer apples here. I buy them, make applesauce or apple butter, feed the cores and peels to the goats and chickens, and feel satisfied that I did not spend $1.30 a pound on apples in the store.

Crofting: Goats at Rest

We’ve had an exceptionally nice day today, with more of the same expected tomorrow. I harvested more beans and our first zucchini. It may be our only zucchini, but it was really good in the garden vegetable supper I made.

I’ll have more on this at “In a Plain Kitchen” later tonight. (

The goats enjoyed the sun and cooler temperatures. The grass and clover are still growing, so they had a lovely meal all afternoon. And they basked.

basking, right?

And one stretched out for a nap.


Crofting: Goats or Monkeys?

My little alpine doe, Tara, is surely a true Alpine. We find her in the strangest places. Like the back of the truck.

Not a great photo, as it was taken through the kitchen window. She found that if she was in the truck, she could see what I was doing in the kitchen.

She’s been getting out of the barn and the small chicken pen, and we couldn’t see how. I thought she might be nosing the door open, and squeezing through the gap, but that wasn’t it. She will get out of the pen without doing any damage, and then she will get back in if we don’t catch her right away. She has discovered that the chickens have grain in their own pen, to which the door is shut if she is in the barn. During the day, when the goats are out, I leave the pen doors open so chickens are free to roam about the little fenced yard and back in for water. Tara has been taking advantage of that for a couple of days, as she has eluded me two days running, and had the freedom of the yard. She won’t travel far from the other goats, so I don’t worry if she slips the picket lead or breaks free. I am not risking my ankles chasing her around a rutted old field.

But yesterday and today she got back into the barn, and we couldn’t figure out how. At first we thought she had climbed the barricade between the garage and the stalls, but that was removed in the course of friends building a new, bigger stall in the garage part, and replaced with a high slatted gate which has no purchase for goat paws.

We now know her secret. She had been loose this morning, then back in the barn of her own volition. Having disposed of the chickens’ leftover grain, she must have wanted access to the clover in the field. When we went out to the barn to start closing in the chickens, there was Tara, balanced on one of the 2x4s that frame the top of the outdoor pen, four feet off the ground. She was balanced on her dainty little hooves on the not-quite 2″ rail. She has been scrambling up onto that and a crossbar, and jumping down into the pen where the barn door is open, or between the gaps in the netting stretched over the top.

I wasn’t able to get a photo this time, but she paused in her high wire act, looked at us with great surprise, and couldn’t quite decide what to do, whether to jump back into the pen or to take off into the field. A bucket of grain in my hand was the deal clincher, and she went graciously to her own pen.

I had laughed uproariously at the sight of this elegantly poised doe, while Nicholas hushed me. “Don’t give her the idea you find it funny!’ he said, “or she’ll keep doing it!”

Crofting: Disorganized Day

She's just biding her time.

The day started badly. The smallest chick left got smothered during the night, probably trying to huddle under the larger birds. She wasn’t growing as she should, and since yesterday’s swollen eyelid incident, I had thought she might not be strong enough to make it. There’s no use in coddling along the ones who have something wrong with them, as eventually they weaken the whole flock either by breeding or by getting an illness that might have been otherwise avoided. I wish Nicholas wouldn’t get so attached to the weak ones. I can look at it as part of life – not all chicks can survive – but he is a softie at heart.

The surviving four seem to be getting bigger and are healthy. If I lose anymore, I am going to complain to the seller. We take exceptional care of the chicks. They aren’t crowded, the crate is clean, they always have feed, grit and fresh water. I haven’t tried putting them in the barn yet, as our nights get cool about this time of year. They will start spending some time out there once they have fully fledged. They can have lots of hay for bedding, with pine shavings underneath. I think I’ll invest in a reflector lamp and a good extension cord as well.

Three items that don’t seem to stay on a farm long: Heavy extension cords, good 100-foot hoses, and battery chargers. They grow feet and shuffle off down the road, I suppose.

The dead chick put me in a pensive mood all day, with just an undercurrent of anxiety. I don’t want to have put a sum of money into what I hope will be our future egg and breeding stock and lose it to unknown causes. A friend down river says she had the same thing happen recently with her rare chick purchase, losing three out of eight in a week.

The goats went out on the west side of the house, under overcast and breezy conditions, but by the time I got home from a run to get a prescription for Nicholas, the heat and humidity had risen, and Vanilla was panting like she was in Lamaze class. I transferred them all to the barn, leaving the sliding door open into the new fenced pen, now known as the goat porch. It is really for the chickens, but it is useful to be able to leave that door open with goats loose in the barn. Tara, though, remembered what I suspect is an old trick, and tried leaning out through the fence. It is reinforced with upright 2x4s, and screwed to supports top and bottom, but she put a big bow in it until I grabbed her by the horns, pushed her into a stall, and shut the door. She was not pleased. The other two made use of their freedom to enjoy the pen. Vanilla settled down after about fifteen minutes and a drink of fresh water. The goats are so fussy about water. They had a bucket of water, but apparently some minute insect fell in it, and they wouldn’t touch it again.

Laundry got out on the clothesline, and supper made; the food blog post got written. (New posts for “In a Plain Kitchen” are at I will fix the blogroll link here soon.) One bathroom got cleaned. I can never seem to get both done in the same day.

When I was a young lass, a new mother, and a working wife, I would be close to frantic tears on days like this. Every task was interrupted at least once. I would start something, find I needed to move something, clean something, or find something before the next step. Every time. Every step. Just to do laundry I had to grate soap, relocate the borax (removed to another room for cleaning), run extra hot water to dissolve the soap and borax, find a laundry tub, empty goat drinking water out of tub, load tub, pick up the spilled compost (thanks to the dog) from under the clothesline, clean up after the dog under the clothesline by first trying to find the shovel which was in the garage, and then the rake, which was in the garden…

I survived the day. I did it without loss of temper. I have learned this important lesson: There’s tomorrow. It may be better than today or it may be worse or it may be the same but in a different way. That’s okay. We can live with it. We are not being judged on how well we got organized. God looks at the good heart within. Pass through each day with love and not with anger; pass through each day as if it is your last here. Pass through each day as if you have eternity before you – because you do.



Crofting: Sunny Skies, Stormy Skies

We had several days of rough weather, with rain and wind. Goats and chicks had to stay indoors, which was not what they favoured. We had the goats out on picket and when the first storm came up in the late afternoon, Bucky would have nothing to do with it, and pulled himself loose. He wedged his tether under the lilac though, and he stood there and bawled like a toddler until I rescued him.

The smallest chick suffered an injury to her face last night. I suspect that things got a bit rough around the feed dish, and she took a beak to the noggin. One eyelid is swollen. She seems fine otherwise, eating and drinking, even chirping and beginning to roost on the edge of the dish. We will see how that goes. I checked her frequently today to make sure she isn’t getting bullied, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Silkies are famous for their good temperaments. I do remember a bit of a squeak from the crate last night, so that may have been the moment of conflict. When I went in to check, all was settled.

Nicholas has the hen pen almost finished. We have made some changes to reinforce it, so that goats can’t rampage through the wire. I’m hoping that these almost fledged chicks will soon be barn residents. Nicholas keeps their crate immaculate, but pine chips and chick chow seem to dribble out. I cleaned the barn today, after goats had been penned for two days. That’s about as long as I will let it go. It’s bad enough that this is housefly season. We have been chasing and smacking flies for three days, but there always seem to be two or three who are clever and get away. The barn gets a bit nasty with them after a few wet days, and I had to use a kennel spray to keep down the population. It is safe for animal bedding, and it works well. I don’t spray the whole barn, just the worst spots, and pen the goats away from the spray for 24 hours. I’m being overly cautious, but they can take some peculiar ideas into their hard little skulls, and I don’t want them tasting the walls.

Would you trust that face? I don't.

We are eating peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and onions from the garden. The tomato plants are setting fruit, so I am anticipating a good crop. Plenty more beans coming along, a few sunflowers, and cucumber and squash are wending through the wild yarrow. All my herbs are doing well, too.

Today was one of those perfect Canadian summer days. The sky was clear as a cold water spring, the breeze was sweet and not too stiff. The air sparkled like a diamond. We reminisced about perfect summer days when we were young. In August, about this time, my sisters and I would spend all the time we could outdoors, riding our bikes, walking in the woods, helping in the garden. (I also spent hours in the kitchen turning the food mill as that produce got canned, but that’s another story.) Nicholas remembered a day like this, late August, when school had just started. He was sixteen. The bus pulled to the curb; he and his good friend Tom got on. They had their brown bag lunches with them.

They looked out the window at the little white clouds scudding by, off Lake Ontario. “Come on,” Nicholas said. “I’m not wasting today.”

“Where are we going?” Tom wanted to know.

“The lake.” They got off the bus, hiked over to the waterfront, and rigged Nicholas’s OK dinghy. They sailed all day, getting sunburned, heading home late. There were consequences, but as Nicholas still says, “It was worth the lecture.”

“Was your dad angry?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was more that he was jealous.”

via daily mail


Crofting: Goats, Chicks, Husband

Nicholas finished the tiny fenced yard outside the barn. I wanted a yard primarily for the chickens, but also a place to quickly stash the goats when I am working in the barn. It is quite securely built, with top and bottom rails to stretch the fence wire across.  We need to block off a few small gaps to keep chickens in, and I will sew a cover for it out of old sheets. Tied to fence posts at the corners, it will make an effective shade and anti-hawk cover. I’ve done it before with chicken yards. If it rains, it doesn’t get weighted down like a tarp. It lasts a season, but old sheets are cheap at rummage and garage sales. The silkies don’t fly like other chickens, which was the reason I made one before. The average chicken can roost in a tree 4-8 feet high, and my chickens were choosing to fly out of their pen to socialize in the trees.

The chicks are growing fast. The biggest one is twice the size of the smallest one. I haven’t had any more losses, so I suspect that the runt got accidentally smothered or trampled. The little  ones cuddle under the wings of the bigger ones. Silkies are good brooders and good mothers. They  aren’t prolific layers, since they go broody, but these, if enough of them are hens, will provide a few eggs for us. I will get laying pullets later. Nicholas is enjoying caring for the silkies, so that is good enough for now.  The eggs are usually buff or brown, but I’ve seen silkie eggs in blue. Some of ours may be crossbred with bantams, but it isn’t noticeable. They are a nice looking, gentle chicken, known for being friendly and pet-like. They would be a good choice for children raising chickens. Even the roosters have parenting instincts and are easy to handle.

silkie hen and chick via wikinut guides

I  have the goats out on tether as the weather is very nice. I had to shorten Tara’s lead a moment ago, as she and Vanilla have decided that lilac has a nice taste. I don’t mind a little trimming, but they nibbled a three-foot high swath out of the back of the bush. These are big old bushes, but I still would like blossoms next year. Lilac only blossoms on old wood. If you cut your lilac blossoms, you will get fewer next year.

I cut a little clover this morning, but it was just too warm for stooping down in skirts and a bonnet, so I will do some more and hoe the garden tonight. We are eating radishes, lettuce and peas from the garden now, with lots of tomatoes coming along, and beans due in a week or so. This may seem late, but due to weather and the lightning strike, everything got planted a month after it would usually go in. Doug and Nikki brought us replacement tomato babies. The surviving squash and cucumber are blossoming like mad, big yellow and orange blossoms. I may have to improvise row covers to carry them through the frosty weather. I have an abundant dandelion and yarrow crop as well. That was unintentional. I will let the yarrow grow, as I use a lot of it in the winter. I will dig some dandelion roots.

We have plenty of food for the month, although funds are very short. I am saving the rest of my gasoline to go to an appointment with Immigration Canada on August 23rd. I’m hoping some sort of document can be provided so that I can cross the border without trouble. I would then have the option of working in Maine at least part-time, and I could see my family and American friends again. I have not had a meeting with Bishop Miller yet. He is on vacation right now, and I have asked if it would be possible to meet when he returns.

I do want to work. My husband pointed out that I do keep writing, even if the pay is almost nonexistent. He would like me at home as much as possible. I think he is still very uncertain about staying alone. I think we can find ways to manage if I can return to work.

But I was called to ministry, and I do what I can even if I am not licensed, nor get paid for the work. Laboring in the vineyard of the Lord is its own reward. It isn’t light work, even if people have the impression that is indoors with no heavy lifting. It is a state of mind and spirit as much as anything, a refusal to get sidetracked by the world, a sharp focus on following Jesus Christ rather than the beguilements of a popular culture of indulgence.