Monday, March 25, 2013

the magic hay tree

Cloud Harvest Cashmere: where hay grows on trees!

I think most goat-owners will agree: while a goat will seek out with single-minded determination three oats that have fallen into your cuff, they are extremely wasteful when it comes to hay.

A goat will pull half a bale out of a manger, piece by piece, to get to that one special stem or one perfect seed head or one horribly wonderfully prickliest of thistles.

And that would be fine!

Except all the hay they pull out in order to reach that delicacy is now on the ground, or the floor of the barn.

And that would be fine!

Except now they won't eat it.
Because it is on the ground.
Or the floor.


My two cobbled-together hay feeders have been working fairly well.  But when there's nice clean snow on the ground (again!), it's tempting to just throw down a flake of hay for each goat, far enough apart to discourage squabbling.  There is waste, but not as much as when the hay is on the ground.  Apparently snow acts as a sort of tablecloth, keeping the hay ewww-proof.  A goat will munch at one flake for a while, then move to the next, and the goat that was eating that flake will move down, etc.  It's Musical Goats, but no one is ever "out" as there is always a spot for each goat to eat.

Unfortunately, some goats will eat what they want of a flake then immediately lay down on the rest.  Does the expression "dog in the manger" come to mind?  It applies, believe me.  Because not only can no other goat eat this lovely (and expensive) hay, but when that resting goat gets up, she (I am naming no names) pees and/or poops in her haynest before walking away.


One of my semi-solutions is the "hay tree" pictured at the top of this post.  I stuff a flake of hay between a few sapling poles left standing when I cut the tops off a couple of years ago.  The goats were going to kill these saplings anyway, by stripping the bark as high as they could reach.  So cutting the tops and dropping them to the ground meant more healthy browse for the goats to enjoy.

I started with Black Birches, because they would have lost their leaves early in the autumn.  The Red Oaks were saved for last, when most other deciduous trees would be leafless and the oak leaves would be a special treat.  That's what you are seeing in the picture above.  Two happy goats, and a rapidly dwindling supply of oak leaves.

When cutting tops, I would cut the poles at about six feet, higher if there was a rock to stand on, and then leave the poles standing.  The goats would gradually eat every bit of bark, and the next time I needed a pole for the garden or a hen roost, I knew just where to find one.  Lazy? Maybe.  I've never seen anyone else do it this way.  But it works for me.  And the goats enjoy using the thinner poles to scratch that hard-to-reach spot right between their horns...

like there...

and right there...

  Ahhhhhhhh!  :)

So, back to hay.  One trick for reducing waste is to keep the hay from hitting the ground for as long as possible.  With their hay tree, the goats first have to reach way up to grab a mouthful. They enjoy this!

Goats are "top down" eaters, to borrow a sock-knitting term; they tend to go for the higher vegetation first.  A pasture full of lush grass is not a sight to gladden a goat's heart.  But turn them loose on a stony hillside covered with scrubby, shrubby, and even wincingly thorny vegetation, and you can almost hear them humming the theme from The Sound of Music.

The hay tree approach takes advantage of a goat's natural inclination to start high.  Here, Lily of the Valley stands on her hind legs and demonstrates The Reach...

...then the simultaneous Pull and Munch.

As more hay gets pulled out, some of it falls.  It lands first on a big rock, which is still better than having it go straight to the ground when there is no snow.

Now Lily is joined by her sister and best friend, Violet.  Between the two girls, most of the hay will be eaten while it is still on the rock, so scattered wastage is much reduced.

Aren't they lovely?  Maybe I'm just biased.  I may be a bit biased.

And doesn't this remind you of the spaghetti scene from
Lady and The Tramp?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dear Quilters: advice, please?

Dear quilters and other fabric folk,

could you please advise me on the safest way to clean a quilt?

I recently inherited this quilt, made for a double bed.  It has personal significance, but even if it didn't, it is a beautiful quilt in its own right - the amount of work that went into it is both staggering and inspiring.

It is in fantastic condition as far as I can tell, apart from a few small stains of unknown origin; you can see two examples above the ruler, in the 5-7" area, in the pink and white fabrics.  I would guess beverages, but it is a guess.  The certainty is, that the stains have been there for a good long time.

In fact, I feel certain the quilt has not been washed or cleaned in years.  It has probably been folded up at the bottom of a bed in a spare room.  So even if this was good sun-bleaching weather, the entire quilt should still be cleaned in some way, just to get years of what I imagine as sneakily infiltrating dust out of the fabric.

My washer is a front-loader, and I could fit the quilt in it easily, but I wonder about the potential hazards of the spin cycle...?

Thanks very, very much for any and all suggestions!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

not a morning person

I woke up at 3 AM to find several inches of fresh snow, and more falling.

A few hours later, before suiting up and booting up for chores (snow still falling, by the way), I plodded into the parlor as I do every morning, in search of my Somewhat Faithful Sidekick.

Every morning I greet Piper with a cheery,
"GOOD morning, Pipergirl!  Would you like to go OUT?"

And this is the look I get:

I wait, trying not to laugh.  Piper does not move a muscle:

Piper is using the power of her mind.
She is willing me to go away, so she can go back to sleep.

This almost never works.

Today, after breaking away from the mesmeric stare, I peered out the window and saw nary a goat in the paddock.  They were still abed, perhaps watching the snow fall, and very likely nibbling leftover evening hay.  They certainly were not standing at the fence, staring at my bedroom window and waiting for their breakfast.

So today, Piper's amazing powers of mind control actually worked.  At least for a couple of hours.

I can now expect a challenge to pretty much anything I ask Piper to do in the next couple of days: come along, find your toy, go to the barn, etc. 
It will all result in The Look.
Piper is a very, very smart dog.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lights! Camera!

"Are you getting my good side?  Because if you are NOT getting my good side, I am SO NOT DOING THIS!!"

After a year of pondering, I recently bought a very low-end wireless camera to install as an experimental "barn cam" during kidding season.  If it works as hoped for, this gadget will communicate directly with my laptop and reduce the number of times I need to disturb the does before and during labor.

One doe in particular.  That one, up there.  I love her, and she puts the heart across me with her scary birthing behavior, which makes it impossible for me to really ignore her, but I always wonder if ignoring her would reduce the scary birthing behavior, but since it is SO scary, I can't ignore her, and around we go.

After the "excitement" of last year's kidding, I began dreaming of a way to monitor without disturbing, and discovered (again) that I am way, way behind the times.  Lots of people are doing fairly inexpensive online monitoring of their wildlife, their horses, their babies.  Well, move over, because here comes...

Goat Cam!

Maybe.  If it works.  We'll see.

"Can't wait.  Call me when you're ready for my close-up.  I shall be in my chalet.  It is the one with the big STAR on the door."

Since it is very sunny today (sure, I've had to knock the ice out of the water buckets three times, but it is sunny, which feels very pleasant indeed!), I decided to experiment with my little camera.

It needs to be plugged in, and I'm not sure how far it can be from my router, so I put it just outside the back door where I could step in and out and adjust things easily instead of running back and forth to the barn a dozen times.  Not that the barn is far from the house; it's not.  But every time I take even one step toward the barn, the goats think Room Service is arriving, and they all start hollering encouragement.

It gets old.

For all of us.

So, camera by the back door!

Shortly after I set it up, the camera emailed me pictures of these suspicious-looking characters:

And oh-oh!  This must be the ringleader:

Funniest email I've received today  :)


Before I can put the camera in the goat barn, I have to cobble together some kind of simple housing for it, to keep it from being destroyed by the ever-present dust from hay and grain.  And goats.  And chickens, come to that; they love to scratch through the bedding in the barn and find every last seed.  They do an excellent job, but the dust is unbelievable.

The housing must also have clear glass in front of the camera.  As you can see, the image quality is Not Great, and that's in lovely, delightful sunlight!  Inside the barn at night the camera will go to infrared, and images will look murky at best.  I could build something nice, but keeping expenses down is key.  Maybe I can find a little thrift-shop aquarium, turn it upside down, and pad around the bottom leaving room for the power cord...that might work.

Meanwhile, at least for today, it's...Chicken Cam!


"Oh, is that so?  Fine.  I'm calling my agent."

Friday, March 15, 2013


 Remember the four-dollar lettuce?  This is was the last tiny bit, and it was as delicious as every leaf that came before.


Wish me luck!
(I chose the hardiest variety at the feed store.  Also the variety with the shortest growing time.  Because the less time I have to accidentally kill a plant before the appropriate harvest time, the better.  Still...please wish me luck!)

Monday, March 11, 2013

simply delicious dip

Saturday I had an appointment in a city an hour away, which meant an opportunity to shop at grocery stores with lots of organic options, including fresh vegetables. For a special treat, I decided to buy the most delectable-looking organic greens I could find.

Fresh veggies don't keep well in my fridge; it's a tiny old fridge with two options:

1) keep all the fridge contents teetering on the edge of freezing


2) have meltwater from the little freezer compartment dripping down and pooling on everything below.  This option also makes opening the fridge door an adventure, let me tell you.  Nothing quite like opening the fridge first thing in the morning when you are not yet fully awake, and having a little wave of extremely cold water pour onto your feet.  Sometimes, my life is a bit like a cartoon.

3) Bonus option!  I just realized that a third choice would be to crank the dial all the way down and use the entire fridge as a freezer.  But then I would just fill it with frozen french fries and ice cream.  Or possibly just ice cream.


I generally choose the first option, which means most of my food is very, very cold, but not frozen solid.  The downside is, fresh vegetables don't have much of a chance.  They must either be eaten up in a day or two, or made into something else, such as soup or a casserole, that can take colder temperatures.


Here are the greens I selected on Saturday:

It seemed a little odd to be in a store boasting a massive display of loose produce and then to choose something prepackaged in a bag, but the three romaine hearts looked so perfect and clean and 100% edible, that they seemed like a fair deal.  I can't say "bargain" because the price was high, at least by my frugal standards: $4 for 12 oz of lettuce.

The above picture is what was left in the bag this morning. There were many outer leaves that have already been eaten.  They were delicious.

But the title of this post suggests a dip recipe, and here it comes.

Maybe everyone already knows about this, and if so, I hope I am not boring you. Perhaps the luscious lettuce leaves are worth the visit, at least for those of you who are, like me, still living in Winter? I hope so! 
I must also say, this is not much of a "recipe" but what else to call it?  "Trick" sounds sneaky or dishonest.  Suggestions for an alternative word welcome, as this will come up again.  My "cooking" and "recipes" are often of this level of complexity.

Here is my favorite way to make a dip or spread.  It is delicious.  I have taken a big bowl of this dip to parties, and people have begged for the recipe.  Seriously.  Begged.

It is versatile.  By modifying the ingredients slightly, or by serving it colder or warmer, it works as a thin dip or a thick dip, a chunky dip, or a sandwich spread.

It is simple to make.  There are TWO ingredients:

cream cheese


I've used many types of salsa, of varied heats and ingredients.
So far, every experiment has been a success.
Every time.

This dip is a great way to try out new salsa flavors and brands.  I've used everything from generic grocery-store brands to fancypants "gourmet" brands that were on sale, like this one:

If you start by experimenting with a few ounces of cream cheese and a good glug of salsa, you can taste as you go, knowing that more cream cheese makes it sweeter and cooler.

Or you can start with this simple combination:

8 ounces of cream cheese
6-8 ounces of salsa, depending on how thick and/or hot you want the dip to be.

Know also that the flavors will blend and change when the dip is in the fridge.  So exciting!

Of course the very best thing would probably be to use salsa one has put up from one's own garden vegetables.  I know lots of you do have lovely jars of homemade salsa glowing on your pantry shelves, and I admire you wholeheartedly.  If you try this dip, please tell me how awesome it tastes with homemade salsa!  Gardening inspiration needed, especially after the Flooding and Mudding Debacle of 2012!
To make your dip, all you have to do is warm the cream cheese a bit - I use 5-second shots in the microwave - then add the salsa and mix thoroughly.  You have a choice here: warm the cheese enough that it mixes completely, or a bit less, so there will be little chunks of cream cheese scattered throughout the dip.

You can also vary the taste and texture by adding more or less salsa.

These are the type of choices I can handle in life.
There is simply no way to lose.

Oh, and if you use a salsa that contains large chunks of tomato or such, you've got some excitement ahead!
Will the tortilla chips break under the load?
And will that stain ever come out of your favorite halter top?*
Yesterday I made a very thick batch, to spoon onto torn pieces of lettuce for a finger-food snack.  It was so good, I made it again for breakfast this morning.  

I wish you had been here to try it  :)

And here's an example what was left from the bag of lettuce:

Can't even call it "waste" because what you are looking at here is goat treats.  There will be Big Excitement in the paddock today, for about 30 seconds!

*No, that stain will never come out completely.  You will eventually admit defeat and cut up the halter top.  You will use the unstained piece of material to make a pincushion that will evoke memories of lovely summer days and remind you to buy cream cheese.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


The light may be too low for good photographs, but this morning after chores I set myself a little photographic task:

sharing the experience of Piper in the snow.  

Ready, Piper?  Action!!!

"Piper, go!"

"Piper, come!"

"Piper, sit!"

"Piper, SIT!"

"Piper, SIT!!  Piper...."

Perhaps next time I won't attempt action photography quite so early in the morning...
the light is low and my reflexes are not fully functional.
But Piper made me laugh, and I hope she made you laugh, too  :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

more snow, anyone?

It snowed all day yesterday.  Just a light little snow.
The kind of thin, light, tiny, piddling little snow that looks like nothing will come of it.

That is the first indication: something will very likely come of it.

Around 4PM it occurred to me to check the weather report.
The prediction for the entire day and night, through to this morning, was "up to 4 inches possible."

We already had more than that.

Aren't we lucky that snow can be so pretty?

Even when you're starting to think that maybe - just maybe - you've seen the last heavy snow for the season?

Still pretty!

Fortunately for me, I had a lot of help with chores this morning.

Can you see there are no pawprints on the steps leading up into the goat barn?  Just one mighty leap for Ms. Piper, and she was poised to leap right back down again when I took that picture.

It's really hard to get a picture of Piper in the snow, because she is in constant, explosive motion.  She comes very close to flying.

Piper loves the snow.

It makes it difficult for her to actually focus on getting the chores done, but that's okay.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

string now optional

When Julie Andrews (as the Sound of Music sort-of-nun Maria) sang:

"Brown paper packages tied up with string
these are a few of my favorite things"

I felt that Julie/Maria and I were totally kindred spirits.  I have always loved brown-paper-wrapped packages, especially packages that come in the mail, and most especially of all, packages that are a surprise.

Now, I knew an exciting little package was coming from my bloggyfriend Lucy Locket in England, and I knew what would be inside: a lovely little crocheted flower pin.  This was a special treat, because I don't crochet.  It is as exotic to me as handknit socks are to some folks.

And even though I knew about the flower, I had not seen a picture of it was still going to be a surprise!

Well, look who I found today, sheltering from the latest snow, snug inside the letterbox:

It's the QUEEN!!!

But when I gently removed the package (just kidding! I grabbed it and yanked it out if there, possibly with a little whoop of excitement) it soon became clear there was more than a crocheted flower inside.

Much more.

And it's brown paper packages!!!

I tried to guess what might be in each one, and a smooshy one seemed likely to be my much-anticipated flower, so I opened that one first.

But...even that was a surprise, because Lucy sent two flowers!

There's a charming white one for my coat.
I love the wooden button center!

And there's a cushy camelia of an Autumny-colored one!
I have a flower wardrobe now!  This one is going to brighten up my (previously boring) bag immediately.  :)
Next, I opened what I suspected might be...could it be...I do hope...


The "easy reclose" package made me smile...I mean, does anyone ever close a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar once it has been opened?


Wait, you do?

Oh.  Well, maybe I'll try that, then.  ;)


And after the flowers and chocolate, I must report that all pretense of calm, adult behavior was out the door, and I gleefully tore open each brown paper package with deep gratitude that there was no string to slow me down. 

Lucy, honestly, you are so sweet!  Thank you very much for all my lovely treats.

And thank you for not using string.

Apparently this is where Julie Andrews and I part company after all!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

a bit of brighter

It occurred to me that it would be nice to see a bit of bright color, as a complement to the recent trend of greys and grey-greens and grey-duns and grey-blues.

I thought, "hyacinths!"  I love hyacinths, with their sweet, heady smell of Spring, and their soft palette of pink and white, or my lifelong favorite: deep violet-blue.

There is a small florist shop only a few miles away, and perhaps twice yearly I treat myself to a little soul-enrichment there. It is a very pleasant shop to visit, with its original oak-framed cooler full of chilly roses, and its pleasant proprietor and staff.

I should go there more often.

Although the trip was going to be a short one, I invited Piper to come along for the ride.  Piper's world teeters on the brink of  collapse when anyone goes down the driveway without her, so I try to bring her along whenever possible.

Any invitation to go for a ride causes Piper to leap repeatedly into the air, and race madly back and forth.  It is her self-imposed duty to show me the way to the car which is in plain sight about 50 feet away.  She gets me there, every time, without fail.

After all this build-up, Piper doesn't really enjoy riding in the car.  She frets, and talks to herself, and points out that other dogs are permitted to hang their entire heads out the windows of moving vehicles instead of having to conform to my arbitrary "safety" rule of just two inches of snout.

No, she really doesn't enjoy the ride.  But she really, really enjoys getting into and out of the car.

Piper is a complex individual.

The photograph at the top of this post probably gave you a tip-off:
there were no hyacinths at the shop.

Well, there were, but they were poking their green leaves only about an inch out of the potting soil.  They are being carefully brought along by the florist for Easter blooming, nearly four weeks away.

The florist said that if I brought them home into 70-degree conditions, they would bloom in about two weeks.  Here's the problem with that scenario:

first, my home is closer to 60 degrees; as high as 64 for an hour or two if I'm feeling chilled to my bones.

second, I am a hazard to plants.  Sad, but true.  Water? Too much or too little. Light?  Ditto. The sweep of a happy Piper-tail or the bump of an awkward elbow...smash.  Any sensible plant would prefer a brief indoor visit at the height of health and bloom, followed by planting outdoors where one must contend only with the New England climate.

A few hyacinths I planted many years ago are still bravely rising from the forest floor each year, looking increasingly like wild flowers:

A charming little miracle.

It will be some time before the hyacinths (and violets! and lilies of the valley!) are blooming outdoors, though, so I plan to go back to the florist in three weeks for my delayed dose of hyacinths.

Meanwhile...carnations!  Miniature carnations, in fact. Did you know they exist? I didn't. They are rather sweet.

Just a few stems of carnations and a bit of fern and baby's breath (now there's a common name I have never understood...can anyone shed light on the origin of that one?) gave me enough material for one milk-jug bouquet where it will be seen most often, one small arrangement by the kitchen sink, and one miniature posy in a tiny antique bottle I found years and years ago.

The little bottle is on the windowsill next to my bed, and when I looked out at dawn and saw snow falling this morning, it was a heart-warming pleasure to be looking at that snow through a cheerful group of little flowers.