Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Welcome Primo

Early this morning, around 5:30 am, I heard a commotion among the herd near the bull pen. It's the kind of commotion that denoted excitement, not fear. I wasn't entirely surprised when I walked out and saw a calf.

The baby belonged to Shadow -- who, if you remember, surprised us with her calf last year, little Ninja.

Shadow, still in the hormonally-deranged phase that happens right after giving birth, was distressed that so many others wanted to see the baby.

The baby was on his feet, but still wet -- and we weren't sure if he'd had his first critical drink of colostrum either. Shadow had not yet dropped the placenta, so I'm estimating the baby was born around 5 am.

Cows just loving having newborn calves in the herd.

But suddenly Shadow -- who, as I said, was still hormonally-deranged -- got into a rip-roaring fight with Sparky. They went back and forth, bashing heads together, and the calf got knocked off his feet. Fearing he would be trampled, I didn't waste any time -- I scooped up the calf and hauled him into the corral and closed the gates. The poor little guy stood in a daze, swaying on his feet (he wasn't too steady yet) while Shadow and Sparky continued to whale on each other on the edge of the woods.

Other animals milled around near the gate, watching the newcomer.

Meanwhile I broke up the fight between Shadow and Sparky, but Shadow took off into the woods. I knew what was coming: she would wander around for a bit, then return to where she'd last seen her calf, but not know how to find him (remember, cows aren't bred for brains).

The baby waited patiently. "Are you my mother?"

Don and Younger Daughter were still asleep during all this, of course. So when Shadow came back to where she'd given birth, looking for her baby, I tried but failed to get her into the corral with the calf (who was by then curled up in a corner, sleeping.)

Later, when Younger Daughter got up, she assumed Gate Duty on the corral while I went looking for Shadow. I found her down in the woods in a dense grove of bushes and trees, eating the placenta. It's a revolting thing to watch, but it's instinctive and even arguably healthy (blech).

The fact that she had passed the placenta was good news, so I left her alone until she finished consuming it.

Once Don got up, it was a fairly straightforward matter to get Shadow in with the calf. Took a bit of work, but we did it.

By this point it was abundantly clear the baby was a boy.

We named him Primo -- not only because he's the first calf of the season, but because he'll be "primo" eating in two years.

Shadow is a good mama, attentive and protective.

Newborn calves are unspeakably darling.

As is typical for very newborn babies, everywhere Primo went, Shadow, well, shadowed him. Dogged his every step.

This got pretty funny when Primo tried out his newborn muscles and did the happy little skippy-hops and short-burst runs of a healthy baby. Shadow trotted after him, udder swaying, mewling in concern.

This intense attention will decrease over the next week or so as Shadow's hormones adjust.

This is the first of as many as eight -- eight! -- calves we're expecting this year. Yikes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Northwest Preparedness Expo

I'll be speaking at the Northwest Preparedness Expo held in Prosser, Washington on May 7.

I'll be giving two talks:
  • Preparedness 101
  • Moving Rural for Greater Self-Reliance
I hope some of you can make it!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chocolate-peanut butter balls

I wanted to make something a little different for dessert for our weekly neighborhood potluck. After some thought, I decided to make chocolate-peanut butter balls.

These are similar to peanut butter cups, but I didn't bother with trying to shape them into the standard Reese's shape. Balls were easier.

I found a recipe here. These are the ingredients:

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
4 cups milk chocolate chips (two 11.5-oz bags)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening

Since I was making these for a group, I doubled the recipe.

I started by melting the butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar on the stove.

It melts very readily.

While it heated, I measured out the powdered sugar I needed.

I added the powdered sugar a bit at a time, rather than all at once.

By adding the powdered sugar a bit at a time and stirring after each addition, the peanut butter mixture turns grainy and thick and is no longer "liquidy."

At this stage, have cookie sheets lined with waxed paper ready.

Then I made a mistake: I chilled the peanut butter mix. Wrong thing to do. Chilling makes it too brittle to roll into balls, so I had to re-heat the mix in the microwave to make it malleable again. Lesson learned: roll the mix into balls while it's still warm. Then chill.

Next step is to make the chocolate coating. Though I doubled the recipe, I only "singled" the chocolate part, figuring I could make more if needed. As it turned out, it wasn't needed.

Melt the chocolate chips/shortening in the microwave in 30-second increments. Everyone's microwave is different, and you don't want to go overboard on melting the chocolate, so take it slow.

Once the chocolate/shortening is melted and mixed, it's time to dip the peanut butter balls. A slotted spoon didn't work for me (the slots were too small and the chocolate didn't drain from the spoon), so after a bit of juggling, I ended up using a fork to sort of roll the balls around the chocolate, then fished them out with tongs.

I laid the wet balls on waxed paper.

When everything was dipped, I put the cookie sheets in the chest freezer for a few hours, just to harden things up.

The results are positively addicting.

I recommend keeping them in the refrigerator, but it's almost guaranteed they won't last long.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cute birdie pix

This blog post has nothing in it but cute pics of Young Daughter's Quaker parrot, Lihn. She was taking a bath in a bowl of water and was just too durn adorable to ignore.

High five. Er, four.

Think of these photos as just a bit of brain candy, a little mental break from your busy day.

That's it. Bath-time is over.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

At this rate I'm gonna live forever

The Washington Post had an article today entitled Why living around nature could make you live longer.

It seems a new study came out of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives which found "people who live in 'greener' areas, with more vegetation around, have a lower risk of mortality."

The methodology for this study seems a bit odd, however:

The research relied on data from a vast long-term Harvard study funded by the National Institutes of Health called the Nurses’ Health Study, which has collected health information biennially on more than 100,000 female registered nurses in the U.S. since 1976. The new paper analyzed participant data from between 2000 and 2008, taking note of any deaths that occurred and their causes. At the same time, the researchers used satellite data to assess the amount of green vegetation surrounding each participant’s home during the study period.

(Did they ever talk to homesteaders? Organic farmers? Nursery workers? Anyone else who works outdoors in rural areas?)

The article continues:

This is all in line with the ways previous research has suggested greenness can affect health. Places with more vegetation are generally thought to be less polluted, and the presence of vegetation, itself, can help keep air cleaner. And green spaces like parks can help encourage people to get outside, exercise and engage with other people — all factors that can improve overall health. The effects on mental health may be somewhat less straightforward, but nonetheless important, as this study suggested.

What, you mean being surrounded by huge buildings and endless acres of concrete and air pollution and traffic and constant tension isn't good for you? Who'da thunk?

“We were really surprised to find that the mental health pathway explained about 30 percent of the relationship between greenness and mortality,” said Peter James, the study’s lead author and a research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

He's right. Half the benefits of rural life is being able to decompress by stepping outside.

Still, much remains uncertain about the exact mechanisms by which exposure to nature can improve health, Frumkin noted. And scientists are still trying to figure out what type of contact with nature works best.

“Is a it a view out the window or do you need to get out and walk among the trees?” Frumkin said. “Does a bush do the trick or do you need a tree? Does it need to be in leaf during the summer, or does it work during the winter when it’s lost its leaves? There are lots of questions about the mechanisms and specifically about what form of nature contact offers benefit.”

Well, one thing's for certain. At this rate, I'm gonna live forever.