Sunday, March 30, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions and Stuff

I love getting your emails. LOVELOVELOVE it. And y'all ask some great questions! So great that I think I should share them with everybody else. So here goes, in no particular order.

How do you do so much?
You know, this is the question I get asked the most and I would love to say that my life works because I am so organized but that would be a total lie. I am forever running out the door without the keys to my truck, my camera, my laptop, etc. 
I don't think I do all that much more than any of you really. Remember, I don't have children yet, so my nights are pretty free. I don't know how I'll manage it when I'm toting a baby on my hip, but we always seem to make it work somehow. I also have Patrick here to help out Monday through Thursday mornings. (He spends every weekend in New York with his kids because he is an awesome dad.)
I get a lot of farm work done on the weekends and in the evening after work (thank you Daylight Savings Time!) Also, I don't have much of a social life. This past Saturday, I spent the entire night skirting fleeces from last fall's shearing while watching Hetty Wainthrope Investigates on DVD. I. Have. No. Life.

How did you learn to do all this farm stuff? Did you grow up on a farm?
Nope. I was a child of the suburbs and knew absolutely nothing about livestock six years ago. My life as we know it today started when I bought a book called Barnyard in Your Backyard at a little bookstore in Carmel, CA. At the time, my (now ex-) husband and I were getting ready to move from L.A. to a brownstone in Harlem, NYC, so owning sheep was absolutely out of the question. But once I get an idea I don't let it go easily. Within a year we bought a 139 acre farm in the Hudson Valley and I had my first flock of four Babydoll Southdowns.  A year after that I was divorced, but that's another story for another day.

Why do you need to be there when the kids are born? What do you have to do?
Unlike lambs and other goat kids, angora goat kids are very, very fragile when they are born. They have lots of hair at birth (not kid mohair- that comes later) and they chill really quickly. Their moms do their best to lick them until they are dry, but in the Northeast, unattended births too often end with dead kids. 

That's why we make such frequent barn checks during kidding. Obviously, short of moving in to the kidding barn 24/7, we can't always be there when a kid is born, but checking often means that a kid will never spend more than a couple hours without our attention.

What I do when a kid is born is try to get them dry as quickly as possible by rubbing him/her vigorously with towels (we are forever washing towels!) and holding them under the heat lamps until they are really warm. I also try to hang around until the kid has taken their first drink from their mom. It can be hard for a newborn to find their mom's udder and even harder to latch on once they do. They can use so much energy trying to find it that they collapse from exhaustion. It's really important for a kid to eat from their mom within a couple of  hours of being born or they may not make it.

If I get there too late and a kid has already become chilled, the most important thing is to warm them up from the inside right away. The fastest way to do this is to submerse them up to the tip of their nose in hot water. In our current kidding barn there is no hot water so this isn't a great option. A kid could easily die while I drive them back to the house for hot water. Another way to warm them is to drop a tube into their stomach and pour their mama's milk in. It's really not as dangerous as it sounds but it's not something I like doing. By the way - the moms really don't appreciate being milked out. 

What kind of medical supplies do you keep on hand?
I try to keep most things I could need around, particularly since we moved to Martha's Vineyard, because the feed stores here don't stock much and mail order can take for-flippin'-ever. Basically I have a couple different injectable antibiotics, Betadine for cuts and dabbing on newborn's umbilical cords, a topical hoof rot medicine, lots of disposable syringes, four plastic drenches- a sort of plastic shot without the needle that you stick in an animals mouth to shoot medicine down their throats, wormer, Pepto Bismol for scours (diarrhea), Pedialyte, a topical antibiotic, an antibiotic ointment for eye infections, a couple of vaccines that we give once a year, a product that helps clear up mastitis (udder infections), screw worm spray, blood stop powder for deep cuts and bloat medication. We also use something called Power Punch that has lots of vitamins and minerals in a molasses base that is great for weak kids or adult animals that have no energy. My friend Liz Thompson owns Smith Bodfish Swift Company (our local feed store with the coolest name) gave me a home remedy she uses for weak animals and it works like a charm! You drench 'em with a mixture of black coffee and molasses.  The caffeine gives them enough get-up-and-go to graze, and once they have some food in them they are on the road to recovery.

I do all the injections of our livestock, because it would cost a fortune to call a vet every time we need to give a shot. Like most things, I learned how to do it from a book.

How can you afford to have a farm on Martha's Vineyard? Isn't it really expensive to live there?
Martha's Vineyard is crazy-stupid-expensive. Gas is $4.00/gallon right now and probably our single biggest expense. I have a Toyota Tundra dual cab truck and it goes through gas like nothing you've ever seen. But everything is expensive here, especially real estate. We own a townhouse that we are trying to sell right now so we can find a house with at least a little land. We don't own enough land for all our animals so we lease land from the Land Bank and have an agreement with Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary to keep animals there. You don't need to own acres and acres of land to have animals; you just have to be creative.

What do you do in your free time?
I read a lot. I also listen to lots of audiobooks while I'm working on the farm and while I'm knitting. But mostly I enjoy being with my animals. Whenever I'm not in a huge hurry, I love to sit down in the pasture and watch the sheep and goats. Before long, the dogs will come over and lay down next to me, followed by Jack and Roquefort (last year's bottle babies) and soon I am surrounded by sheep and goats happily munching on grass and getting their heads rubbed. Some of them seem to enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs. 

I am also a big fan of sleeping and try to be in bed no later than 9:30 pm. 

Got any more questions? Email 'em to me at susangibbs1 [at] mac [dot] com


Joan said...

Susan - I can see how you'd want to spend time with all your animals. They're adorable, obviously smart and funny too. Some people should be so
I am learning so much about the sheep and goats that I didn't know before and I can't wait until I meet some of them.
Two years ago I was at the Ag Fair and was quite taken with a little girl goat whose name I think was Lily!! She was so sweet and adorable and as much as I wanted to take her picture I didn't want to scare her. Wonder where she is now? Would be funny if she was one of

Writer bug said...

Great post! I learned so much about you and farming. FYI, Brian and I just bought a house with an acre of land! I'm scared to buy Barnyard in your Backyard because I know we'll want animals STAT. Maybe after we move, that'll be a little housewarming gift to myself. :)

Susan said...

Wow! Writerbug that is awesome. An acre i plenty big enough for a couple of sheep or maybe three of four pygora goats. And of course you'll need some laying hens...

woolies said...

great post Susan. I love to just hang out with my animals - sometimes I just watch my horses munch their hay - I love their smell too.
and forget it with my dogs, I'm always surrounded.