Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Proud Mama and Two New Additions

I've known that I wanted to raise dairy goats ever since I read (twice, back-to-back) The Year of the Goat. However, raising dairy goats requires breeding (since no mammal will lactate without first giving birth) , and that was intimidating to me. Not just the logistics -- arranging the "stud" visit, learning about kidding, purchasing the supplies -- but also the more philosophical considerations. I would be conspiring to knock up an animal and produce new life in order to get milk. It felt like a big responsibility.

But, I forged ahead, because without milk production the goats are just basically adorable (resource-consuming) pets. We bred Dasha, our older goat, in early October. I diligently recorded the date on my calendar and counted ahead to her due date -- April 8th. About a week ago I went to a rural animal supply store to purchase all of the items my vet recommended. I've studied birth pictures and read books, and repeatedly told myself I would stay calm (i.e. not panic and get really anxious) during the birth.

Last night Brian and I went to a neighborhood restaurant for our weekly date. We were gone for about an hour and a half. During dinner I told Brian, "You know, as Dasha's due date gets closer, we're going to need to arrange things so that one of us is always home. We're not going to be able to leave like this." He agreed, and we also made plans to pack a "kidding bag," so that I could easily grab the supplies I'd need at a moment's notice.

When we pulled into our driveway after dinner, our next-door-neighbors (literally) bounded out the door, waiving their arms at us. "Your goat is in labor! Your goat is in labor!" Apparently it wasn't terribly loud, but it was loud enough for them to come over and investigate with a flashlight, discovering a newborn baby goat. They ran over to our other neighbor's house to see if she had our phone number (she didn't -- I know, we're bad neighbors). That second neighbor called a friend of hers who grew up on a farm delivering horses. The friend said that since the mama goat was licking the baby (and there was plenty of hay and water in the barnyard) that everything was ok and they should all leave the goats alone.

By the time we got to the barnyard the delivery was over, and there were two beautiful baby doelings (girls) being attended to by their mom.

She delivered them -- perfectly -- all by herself. Funny how that works, huh? I did help towel them off (and Dasha licked them) until they were perfectly clean and dry. I cut their umbilical cords and disinfected their little stumps, and gave the babies an oral vitamin booster. The babies were trying to nurse on everything (including Dasha's fur and the straw bale), so I helped them located and latch on to her teat. Brian and I stayed outside with the new goat family until late in the night -- it was just so fascinating to watch these little girls learn to walk and start moving around.

Today the baby goats started exploring the barnyard beyond their shed. Their mom still generally stays no more than 2 steps away from them. They continue to nurse like champs. The babies will stay with us until they're 8 weeks old and weaned, and then they'll go to a new home. We haven't officially put the babies up for sale yet, but we're looking forward to meeting the people who will end up raising them. We hope these little girls bring them as much happiness as we've received from Dasha and Peaberry!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Big Dig: Tracey's Garden

Having a bit of trouble getting the pictures uploaded... full post coming soon!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Denver Triples Some of Its Fees for Food-Producing Animals

A few days ago we celebrated a happy anniversary at our house -- one year since bringing the chickens (well, at that time they were baby chicks) home. Unfortunately, since we have yet to change Denver's ordinances regarding Food-Producing Animals, it also meant that it was time for me to go to Animal Control and renew my permit.

Last year I paid $50 for a general Livestock Permit, which covered my hen chickens and dwarf goats. (Incidentally, I also paid $100 for a zoning variance.) I understood that the Livestock Permit has to be renewed annually.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Animal Control and was told that the cost to renew my permit would no longer be $50 -- now it's $150.

See, Animal Control submitted new rates for many of its services to City Council, who approved the increases. The new rates went into effect September 1, 2009. Now, a chicken-only permit costs $50. A goat permit costs $100. If you have both, you better cough up $150. In other words, if you own a goat your permit fees doubled, and if you maintain chickens and goats then your fees tripled. I understand that Animal Control raised the rates on many things, but I don't imagine that any of the other fees doubled or tripled.

My friend Derec pointed out that those of us who pay into this system aren't getting a good value from the city for our money. Remember, last year I went through a lengthy zoning process and paid a total of $150 for the "privilege" of keeping a few small animals in my backyard. I went a full year without any complaints -- my animals did not create any work for Animal Control or Zoning. And now, after a year without problems, I need to pay an additional $150.

Urban Food-Producing Animals are a way for people to supply their families with affordable, healthy food. And now, during a recession, the city of Denver wants to make the permits even more expensive?

What do you think about this? Is a double or triple rate increase fair to people who are just trying to sustainably produce a little food? Should we even have such an extensive permitting process for urban FPAs, or should we allow a limited number as a use-by-right (like cats and dogs)?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Denver Post: Colorado's "Smart Meals" Plan Holds the Smart

You may be familiar with the term "greenwashing," whereby companies make superficial (or just PR-based) changes to make their environmentally unsound practices look green. I think we may need to add a new term to our lexicon to describe something else that's becoming more and more common -- maybe "healthwashing"?

I read yesterday about how Pepsi is teaming with Yale Medicine to open a lab devoted to nutritional research, specifically diabetes and obesity. Now, please forgive my cynicism. In theory, a large, multi-national, multi-billion (trillion?) dollar corporation funding nutrition research would be a fantastic thing. However, there is a history of partnerships like this mysteriously resulting in studies that support the consumption of previously-regarded-as-unhealthy products.

And now Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment (the same organization that keeps you safe by not allowing you to buy bread that your neighbor baked in her kitchen, lest it be contaminated) is partnering with McDonald's to promote some of their food items -- like chicken nuggets, for example -- as healthy options for those busy, "on the go" kids.

Excuse me?

Susan Greene wrote a column about this for today's Denver Post:

"Coloradans are the fittest of all Americans. Now state health officials aim to make us even leaner by partnering with McDonald's. The announcement issued Monday by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment read like a headline in The Onion, minus the satire: 'State and McDonald's Addresses Childhood Obesity.' ... 'We are busy people, with kids in the back seat of the car. This is just an easy recognizable seal for parents to rely on to make healthier choices,' states Shana Patterson, a dietician and nutrition coordinator for the state's Smart Meals initiative."

Click here to read the full article. If you're so inspired, please leave a comment on the Denver Post webpage to let them (and Smart Meals, because you can bet they'll read the comments) know what you think of this.

Monday, March 8, 2010

LA Times: Orange (city) Officials Sue Couple Who Removed Their Lawn

I'm beginning to get whiplash.

I'll be cruising nicely along, learning about city after city that is allowing its residents to produce their own food with hen chickens or dwarf dairy goats, and then I'll attend a hearing in Greeley where - after an absence of debate or any logical reasoning - the city council will vote down an extensively studied pro-chicken ordinance. Or, after reading article after article about school gardens, edible landscaping, and urban farming projects, I'll come across this article about a couple in Orange, CA that were sued by the city for letting their lawn die during a drought.

This couple was motivated to make a change in their yard after they had a baby and started thinking more about the future. They decided that spending hundreds of dollars a year to maintain a lush green lawn in the middle of what is (essentially) a desert didn't make sense.

Their annual water usage went from 299,221 gallons in a year with the grass, to 58,348 gallons per year once they stopped watering their lawn.

The city ended up charging one of the residents with a misdemeanor that carried a possible fine of $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail.

There's more to the story, of course, and you can click here to read the full article. The couple eventually agreed to the city's demands to plant more vegetation (because apparently mulching with wood chips just won't do). Click here to read the follow-up article.

It's almost disturbingly "retro" when things like this happen. So many cities (and individual citizens) are making sustainable choices, and yet some places (and individual people) seem determined to keep us locked in a 1950's technicolor suburbia.

But as disheartening as stories like this one (and the episode in Greeley) can be, I believe they point to the fact that things are changing simply because the stories are so absurd. Whatever the reasons folks have for opposing these common-sense sustainable living choices (usually some antiquated notions about what will affect their property value) they're becoming vastly out-numbered and out-reasoned.

And speaking of property values, I have a friend who put his house up for sale in October 2009, even though he knew the market was in terrible shape. He and his wife allotted themselves 6 months to sell their house before moving out of state. By the way... his house came with a chicken coop in the backyard, raised garden beds, and it was equipped for solar.

Want to guess what happened? The house sold within a week at the full asking price. My friend and his wife ended up having to rent an apartment for 6 months so they'd have somewhere to live before moving out of state. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Seed Starting: Miracles Abound

I know it may be kind of hokey and un-farmer-y of me, but I just can't get over seeds. It's just so miraculous to me that a little bitty seed can grow into a seedling, then a big plant... then give pounds and pounds of food!

Our seed starting system is by no means perfect, and we struggle with keeping the soil at the ideal temperature, so we start early to give ourselves some leeway. Our seeds were started in mid-February, and after some setbacks they've finally popped up out of the soil.

We have tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings -- a few hundred, with more to come! Our squash, cucumber, and herb seeds will start their lives in mid-March.

Even though we may get more snow, it's growing season inside our little greenhouse!

Urban Goats in USA Today!

Although urban chickens have been in the news for years, urban goats don't get the same coverage. I'm glad to see that these fantastic animals are getting some attention.

"Herd the latest? Miniature goats, 'tame' as dogs, blaze trails in U.S. neighborhoods. Looking for a pet that can live in your urban yard, answers to its name, wears a leash for strolls -- and might produce milk you can drink or turn into cheese? Meet the miniature goat."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goat Snuggle

A relaxing afternoon hanging out in the barnyard...

You know how cuddly it is to have a cat snuggle in your lap? Try doing it with the sweetest goat there ever was!

Yeah... we're comfy.

Taking a little snooze.