Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Goat Yoga

The goats are here! The goats are here! And guess what??

Goats are hard.

Okay, goat milking is hard. Especially when your milk stand doesn't arrive before the goats do. But once again, I am getting ahead of myself.

We picked up Lucy (black) and Tess (bebe) on our way back from a wedding in Taos (congrats, Mark and Jill!!) this past Sunday, thereby ensuring that the goats trumped the papas on Father's Day this year. Whoopsie. (Sorry Dad and Gabe!!)

This is me, making kissy faces with Tess:

And me again, full gum smile, as we both bleat our hellos.


After a quick milking/hoof trimming lesson from the incomparable Elizabeth Ahola of Lil' Bleats Farm, we loaded up the car with Lucy in a crate in the back, and Tess in my lap wearing a baby diaper. The front seat looked a lot like this, with Lucy chiming in from the back:

You can tell it's early in the trip, as I am smiling and the diaper is fairly intact. The inside of our car sounded much like this:

You can't see Gabe, but he looked a lot like this:

Somehow, we made it home alive, with at least 87% of our hearing. Win.

And then it began. What was so easy with Elizabeth coaching, in the barn Lucy knew, with hands that were skilled, on a milk stand created to make this task easier, was suddenly a barnyard version of WWF. But no one was faking. These wounds were real. After MUCH trial and error, Gabe and I came up with a system whereby I was the human milk stand and Gabe found himself playing the role of champion milkmaid.

I give you, Goat Yoga.

Gabe demonstrates Crouching Teat Squeeze while Danielle masters Goat Stanchion One. Namaste.
We hold this position for 5-8 minutes on each side, while Lucy bucks, yells, kicks and bites. Who can blame her? We are farmers in training...with no training...which basically makes us idiots. Lucy sports a constant WTF/FML expression from the moment we enter the pen.

But we are making progress! What took over an hour the first time now, on day 5, only takes 20-30 minutes.

Tell me the truth - does this goat make my butt look big?

And what do we get, for all of this work? For all the angst we are causing poor little Lucy? For the thigh cramps (me) and achy crabbed milk hands (Gabe)? Milk! Fresh, raw, healthy goat milk.

This is a 2 Qt milking can. For those who failed Math 101, that is 8 cups. 

Yep. Tablespoons and tablespoons of milk. That we can't even drink yet as it's so full of dirt and goat feet that it isn't worth it.

But the milk stand arrives today (come on UPS guy!) and we'll start sanitizing the equipment so that we can drink the milk. And increase Lucy's production since we'll be in a better position to actually milk her out before we all just give up and poop in a corner (Lucy, not us). And when we're not milk wrestling, the girls are really adjusting well. Lucy is a little more reticent (wouldn't you be?) but warming up, and Tess loves us all. The boys are enchanted and the neighbors are supportive, so what more could we ask for?

Hell yeah, we are farmers! (But don't tell any real farmers I said that.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Musical Bees

There was a brief moment yesterday when I thought I was going to die.

Let's back up. Go grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

It has been an odd bee season for us, to say the least. Of my two colonies - which we'll now just refer to as Green and White for ease - one made it through the winter and one died. So my brother Kris and I did a split and thought all was grand. Moving on.

Next on the docket, my bro and I installed a package of bees four doors down at the parents' place. It was an odd package that I am 90% certain had an extra rogue queen (it happens, apparently) and those ladies split themselves on day one...wouldn't take to the new hive...half wanted to live in the package box and the other half took up residence in a fence post...I was stung for the first time as a beekeeper and the 2 bees got stuck in my pant fabric, so it was a doozy...and just when we thought we had it all fixed, a mid-May snow storm swooped in and froze them all. Poor ladies didn't stand a chance.

What to do? Why, email Don the Bee Mentor of course! He pulled a Hail Mary late in the bee season and hooked us up with Prairie Wind Bee Supply out of Cheyenne, who happened to have some extra nucs on hand for a May 31 delivery. Winner winner.

Have you ever picked up a nuc, when lots of nucs are being picked up? It's not like your average package bee pickup, with a bunch of bees flying around but all the girls are a little confused and stoned. Nope. This was different. This was thousands of pissed, angry bees flying around defending their 5-frame homes and wondering what the hell just happened as they traveled from Wyoming to Colorado on the back of a flat bed trailer, through crazy rain and killer heat, for a few hours. Add to that a handful of novice beekeepers trying to prove their beekeeper-ness by standing in the middle of all this, not swatting (Just like they were taught! A+, idiots.), and doing their best to hold the panic on the inside.

What did Kris and I do? We got out of the damn way. And still got stung! This was a mad house. The poor guy running the deal was probably stung a dozen times while we were waiting for our bees. It was crazy times. I'm sure he went back to Cheyenne and contemplated a new career...perhaps breeding dogs? Yeah, puppies are a great idea.

FYI - this is what an average bee sting does to my hand. My hand is that thing that looks like a plump, smooth foot. My pinkie finger turned into a baby sausage. I didn't get stung once in the last 2 years, and now I'm two for two on the new hive. Bitches.

But we did it. We got our bees, my brother and I, jumped into my Outback, and started our hour plus drive home.

At first there was only one bee in the back window, where the nuc was.

And then there were four.

And then we hit a bump, and suddenly there were 20 or so. I sent Kris back with the camera phone while I calmly sped along the highway doing 80 mph. This is what he came back with.

Oh shit. Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit. Hey Prairie Wind, maybe next time, don't skimp on the duct tape? Hundreds of bees spilling into the back of the car, half an hour to go, repeating "Bees and dogs smell fear" over and over in my head. Nothing to do but turn up the radio - thank you, Bob Marley - and drive on.

And we did. And we made it. And the bees were housed.

Kris runs that hive, so we'll call all iterations from here on out KBees. They were transferred into their deep, surrounded by friendly scrub oak and pines. They have a running stream in the yard (fake, but it looks real), and plenty of blossoms to nosh on. All was well. We planned to check them in two weeks.

Meanwhile, back on the Pare Down farm...

Something was amiss with the green hive. It went from bustling to dwindling, while the white hive continued to act as the Grand Central Station of bees. A previous bee check a few weeks back looked fine: queen cups in the green hive, eggs and larva (and the old queen) in the white hive. But that new queen was either poorly mated or eaten by a bird, because when we popped the top yesterday all we saw were drones and a scatter shot of drone cells.

Ruh-roh. It was like LoDo on a Friday night. (A little Men-ver humor for you locals.)

Well poop. Suddenly we were back to 2 living colonies. Can we not catch a break, bees?

Then, miracle.

Kris and I went to check on KBees. They were fine that morning. We had an extra super in hand since we're down a deep and need to buy another, and were planning on a quick peek, add the super, call it a day. We were three days past our 2-week inspection deadline. So what did those girls do, only moments before we arrived? They swarmed! Nature called, and 40% of the bees stayed in the hive with the new queen, while roughly 60% of the bees were now bunched around the old queen on a very tall stand of scrub oak in my parents' yard.

Ha! We bounced those drones out of my green hive (sorry fellas) and decided to catch our first swarm. This looks like a promo for a Jackass movie.

Keep in mind throughout this process that my mom ("I never even wanted these bees!") is taking pictures on my iPhone, and my two kids are watching from the balcony of my parents' house. Our plan, since I am short and weak while Kris is big and brave, was to put the deep on the top of the ladder, Kris would climb up while I held everything steady from below, and he'd shake the bees into the box. What could go wrong?

Ready. Steady. Shake down! And bees went into the box according to plan, but the rest of them EXPLODED around us.

This was the death moment. As I felt the nuclear rain of bees upon my whole body I had the slow motion time to consider the following:

"This was a dumb idea. This was your worst fucking idea ever. You are about to be consumed by the sting of a thousand bees while your mom takes pictures and your children watch you die from a safe distance. Save the bees? Save yourself next time, you dumbass."

But we didn't die!

I wish there was video of Kris jumping off the ladder (like a little girl) and me catching it as the whole shebang almost toppled into the bushes before we both fled to safety. This picture does not do it justice. (Run, Forest!)

We (Kris, me, the bees, my mom who thought she would see 2 of her 3 kids die that day) all recovered quickly. The ladies were confused but just as docile as all the blogs of experienced beekeepers claim. And now that we knew what to expect, the process finished up pretty quickly. 2 more rounds of Operation Shakedown resulted in all bees being successfully caught!

And ten minutes later, the newest version of the Green Ladies were at home and happily exploring their new surroundings. This morning, all is well in the bee queendoms.

So what did we learn today, fellow and future beekeepers?

  1. Don't beekeep in yoga pants. Yoga pants are for in-home drinking and the occasional bout of actual yoga.
  2. Cardboard nuc boxes are lame. 
  3. Always have a roll of duct tape on hand. Always. Wear it on your belt if you have to.
  4. Don't procrastinate, as bee life waits for no man. But if you do, you may end up with a swarm miracle that fills an empty hive. procrastinate. 
  5. Don't do potentially deadly things while your kids watch, even if they are not as deadly as they seem, because your screams of panic will scar your kids regardless of the outcome.
  6. Wine is great (duh), but after an exhilarating bee experience, I recommend a small batch gin and some good lemonade. 

Happy beekeeping.