Sunday, October 9, 2016

Eggs and milk

October 7 , 2016

It’s 11 am and I just collected three eggs from the chicken pen as I let out the flock (three hens, one rooster, and seven 3-month-old cockerels and pullets) for free-range pasturing the rest of the day. At sunset they will go voluntarily back into the 8 x 12 ft pen to roost safely for the night. In the morning I feed them corn and keep them enclosed so that they’ll lay their eggs where we can find them.

Our chicken pen: the roosting area is protected from the rain, and there are two nests in boxes in the covered area. A passion fruit vine covers the rest of the pen, including the extension.
Last month two of the three layers went broody, meaning that their hormones changed, they stopped laying and started sitting on the nest day and night, even though we’d removed the eggs. For those who aren’t familiar with chickens, brooded eggs hatch after 21 days and the hens spend another six weeks or so protecting their chicks and keeping them warm at night, before starting another period of producing eggs. To bypass the 9-10 week brooding and little chick phase it’s necessary to break the hormonal cycle by cooling down the hen’s body which has heated up to hatch the eggs. Some say to dunk the hen in ice water, which I’ve tried several times without success. Instead we put our two hens in little elevated cages with wire bottoms and left them there for four days with only a bit of water and corn. It worked but still took another week and a half for them to start laying again – about three weeks without eggs. Any day now the third hen will probably go broody.

The separate extension provides an area for little chicks. Right now it houses six Rhode Island Red pullets.
To the left of the main chicken pen is a smaller extension (4 x 8 ft) where my six Rhode Island Red pullets live. I got them by special order in Anapolis, five day old chicks that I raised in a cage in our pantry until they were old enough to be outside. Now they’re about nine weeks old and have joined the older fowl for the run of the property where they gobble up insects, worms and bits of choice vegetation. Thanks to Grace’s work in January and February we have two enclosed garden areas for our vegetables, protected from the chickens.  Two or three months from now nine pullets will begin laying eggs, and we’ll finally attain our goal of all the eggs we can eat plus plenty to share.

The Rhode Island Reds grazing in the open range - enclosed veggie garden (fallow now at the end of the dry season)
and the goat pen in the background.

Our newborns, doeling at left and buckling at right. (Guy's photo)

Polly, one of our original goats, nursing her newborns (Sept.20th) Guy's photo

This morning we started milking Polly, the mama goat. Eighteen days ago she delivered two kids, a buckling and a doeling. This is her second birthing and we hope to get more milk, three or four cups a day, which is enough for our needs when it’s just the two of us here. Guy and I have learned to house and feed and to milk the goats in the past year, since June 2015 when we got our first two pregnant does. Our little herd is up to six and one of the does that was born here is off at a neighbor’s to get pregnant from one of his billy goats. We don’t have enough space to keep a buck.

2011: Clearing the old foundation - a jabuticaba and a mango tree.

2012: another angle, a second jabuticaba tree; babassu palms in the background.
We’re entering our sixth year on the farm. The photos above show our land before we started building anything. Now our brick and mortar house sits on the old foundation we cleared, and just beyond the little jaboticaba tree on the other side of the foundation we’re building our cob house. I plan to write an update on the cob house very soon – hopefully by the end of the month we’ll have a roof!
Guy sitting in our future sitting room. The foundation was completed last week. 

The first house, brick and mortar, completed in November 2012. The two houses face each other.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Catching Up


Cerrado flower (photo by Sofia Hart)

Posts on this blog show that since December we've been busy with our guests, Grace and Jaqi. What does entertaining and hospitality have to do with permaculture and saving the cerrado? Why fill these blog pages with stories about our guests and the adventures we share?

The second guest room in the cob house

From the start of our experiment here I’ve thought of Scott and Helen Nearing as an inspiration for us (see post from September 7, 2012). In the nineteen sixties and seventies they received scores of young people who worked on their farm in Vermont, learning the skills of homesteading and organic farming. Now the world is seeing a new back-to-the-earth movement as people, especially the young, look for ways to take back from huge agrobusiness the production of food and the care of the soil, water, seeds, plants, animals, and forests. Our tiny part in the movement puts us in the position of offering a place for people to examine what it means to live on the earth sustainably, and to begin to learn alongside us some of the skills to do so.

The Cerrado comprises a large little-known biome covering the central states of Brazil, including the vast highlands where we live. We want to introduce the Cerrado to our friends, show it to you through this blog, and welcome guests that would like to get to know first hand this amazing and beautiful place. 

Sofia gathers grasses on a high spot near our farm.

Why have I called this blog Save the Cerrado? According to our Wildlife Conservation Society book, Birds of Brazil, The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil:
            Though barely known to foreigners or even many Brazilians, the Cerrado    is a national treasure. It has one one the greatest plant biodiversities of any savanna in the world … But all will vanish if the march of industrail agriculture is permitted to continue across all of what was once the wild Cerrado.

A gathering of macaws (photo by Sofia Hart)
In early March Guy and I took our guests, Grace and Jaqi, to a magical parkland area north of us, the Chapada dos Veadeiros, in the heart of the Cerrado. We spent two nights in Sao Jorge, a little town on the edge of the National Park, and from there we went out to visit waterfalls and a hot springs.

Chapada dos Veadeiros grasslands (photo by Guy Gray)

Jaqi and Grace in the rocky wilds of Chapada dos Veadeiros.

Vale da Lua (Moon Valley)

Jaqi and Greta in hot springs - delicious! (photo by Guy Gray)

Grace at São Bento Falls

Guy took a swim.

The bamboo dwarfs Grace.

Before Jaqi left on March 15, we took a couple of walks right where we live, the first to a hill from where you can see 360 degrees of the horizon.

Cerrado flowers on the hill

The second walk was through the woods on the farm, and down to a little waterfall on the stream, Areias, that gives the farm its name, Fazenda Areias.

This stream, the Areias, is one of the borders of the farm.

The second part of March was now just the three of us, Grace, Guy and I. After we dropped Jaqi off at the airport we went to a nursery in Brasilia to purchase several trees for the farm: two bougainvillea trees, one with white flowers, the other with purple, and a tiny mangaba sapling, one of my favorite cerrado fruits.

Final news for March: Grace sliced open her toe on a rock in the creek. She got to try out the emergency room in Cocalzinho where she received free treatment courtesy of Brazil's government single payer health system.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Catching up


At the time we were happy to see the rains decline to a shower here or there most days of the week. We continuted to meaure the rainfall in our flat plastic cup atop the pole that supports an antenna for phone reception (photo below, taken on January 26).  

A full cup of rain water, one day's worth, about 8 cm or just over 3 inches.
As long as the total for the season adds up to 120 centimeters (about 47 inches) we could relax. By the beginning of February we had, counting from November 5, 71.5 cm or 28 in (55 in January alone), and two to three more months of the rainy season. I’m writing with hindsight in mid-April and you can probably guess how this story will go. But we were thoroughly enjoying February weather.

The four of us go to Brasilia.

Carnaval (Brazilian spelling) came early and while we couldn’t all trek down to Rio or Salvador for the famous street displays, we went into Brasilia for a day and night.
Brasilia, the nation’s capital since 1960, has drawn people from all around the country, who brought with them their own regional traditions, foods, and festivals. On a Monday afternoon we joined the colorful parade, a wild medley of costumes, political statements, people of all ages including families with children, following the various musical groups, some marching, others truck-borne, dancing, shuffling, laughing, drinking water, soda, beer, singing along with the well-known Carnaval lyrics.

Guy's camera lens is splattered with beer sprayed by revelers.

Part of the fun for the men is wearing bras and big butts.

Jaqi gets into the mood.

Grace and the red man.

In the evening Jaqi opted to stay in while Grace, Guy and I walked a few miles down the major central freeway, closed to traffic for the revelers, and joined thousands of young people in a louder, harder rocking version of the Carnaval parade. We were something of an anomaly, Grace taller than almost anyone else, and Guy and I older by thirty years. We kept getting requests for photographs, young people gathering around us to pose with their grandparents. One young man asked me to stick out my tongue for a photo and I said I wouldn’t. “Why not?!” Everybody does it! “It’s a generational thing,” I said with a smile. “Oh,” he nodded and that was that. Good cheer all around, lots of beer and laughter, young bodies seeking each other out, dancing, kissing, running after each other, colors, costumes, masks, the darkening night.

Grace, Guy and Greta ready to hit the street. 

Back on the farm Grace was building a fence for the second small garden we’d used in the past but now was open to the chickens we started to raise last year. The chickens eat the insects that plague the garden but they also eat the young vegetables.

Grace has developed some building skills.

Jaqi adds some moral support.

 Now that the chickens, cats and dogs can't get in, the garden can be prepared with compost. 

We took a day off to go to the Salto do Corumba waterfall, formed by the Corumba River that flows past Cocalzinho. We pass this fall all the time, on our way to Anapolis, Pirenopolis, and the little city of Corumba, but we’ve not been particularly interested in the recreation and camping area at the foot of the falls. We expected it to be unacttractive, unkempt and noisy, with trash left behind by weekend campers. But when we asked around in town people told us it was definitely worth a visit.

So after lunch in town we drove about ten miles to the entrance to the recreation area, paid our R$ 20 entrance fee (US$ 5.50 – half price for seniors),  and wandered in to a delightful place, clean and nicely laid out and landscaped. Our main goal was the mile hike up to the base of the falls, along a well-developed but steep and rocky path. You’ll see from the photos that it was well worth the effort.

Grace and Jaqi rest along the river below the falls.

Guy takes in the full view of the falls.

February brought a crisis on the goat front: for weeks a lump had been growing on Nina’s flank, and we’d asked several neighbors to opine on it, receiving reassurance each time that it was no problem, it would come to a head and burst and then we should clean and treat it. When it finally opened,  thick pus, hard, almost an inch in diameter, pushed out slowly. 

The access on Nina's flank comes open, releasing the thick cheesy pus.

Guy checked our goat manuals and discovered the dire diagnosis: Caseous lymphadenitis (CLA), an uncurable, highly contagious disease that plagues goats and sheep, causing considerable damage to larger herds. We isolated Nina, called the city vet, and were somewhat reassured by his recommendations: keep her isolated, clean the pus out thoroughly, treat with antiseptics, give her a broadspectrum antibiotic, and sterilize the pen where she’d been with the other three goats.  The short of the story is that soon our second goat developed symptoms and we isolated her as well. Our neighbor, experienced with sheep, took over their care, and several weeks later we are tentatively moving ahead with the understanding that we have infected goats, perhaps an infected herd (of 4), that can probably live a fairly normal life, with new goats and milk, as long as we take all the necessary precautions. An analogy I came across in our books, that living with caseous lynphadenitis is like living with tuberculosis, helps me to understand what we’re dealing with.

These young trees still need to be watered during the dry season. Most of them are two or three years old.

It ended up raining very little in February, but hopefully there were still the rains in March and April to reach the 150 cm we need to carry us over – the water table, the trees and pastures, the reservoirs that supply the cities and provide electricity – until the rains come again in September or October.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Catching up


It rained for 23 days in a row in January; for the month we measured 54.5 cm of rain (21.45 inches). Despite the inconvenience of wet clothes, mildew, and mud everywhere, I was relieved since after three months (Oct, Nov, Dec) of very little rain I worried we might face a drought this rainy season. If it doesn’t rain enough between October and March our water supply can run out in the dry season, June to September.

Preparing for resilience in the advent of climate changes means re-imagining life in a drier land instead of a place of abundant water. Rain catchment in the rainy season and water conservation the rest of the year are challenges we need to face.  We plan to make a pond out of the pit that provided the earth for our cob house so far. Perhaps we’ll dig a new pit for the rest of the cob house – the living room and small kitchen/dining area – and use it as a cistern for water gathered during the rains.

Banana trees planted less than a year ago love the rain and the goat mature.

The mud pit from which we took sand/clay/soil to build our cob rooms filled up with the rain
and we have an idea of how it will look when we transform it into a pond.
Grace and I share of love of mushrooms which pop up after the rain.

We don't have good resources to identify them but we we
able to ID a few.

A rainbow above the cob house and the straw 'rancho'.

In midJanuary our second longterm guest arrived, Jaqi, from Pleasant Valley, PA, who was joining us for two months. Jaqi and I became friends through a Climate Change group convened in Fall 2008 by Len Frankel, of Bethlehem, PA, to read Six Degrees of Climate Change (by Mark Lynas) . We ended up walking many miles together as part of the Climate Walk for All the Grandchildren, a pilgrimage along US Route 11 from New Orleans to upper New York State. Guy and I have enjoyed Jaqi’s company and hospitality in the US and were delighted to receive her in our Brazilian home.

Jaqi on her arrival date visits the radio tower in Brasilia.

Jaqi found her chair and the kitties found her lap.

Jaqi arrived while it was still raining and had to deal with the endless downpours, occasional leaks in the blue tarp that covered her cob room, and mud and puddles everywhere. We all admired her good spirits, undampened by the rain, and her energy for exploring and joining in with the farm work. May we all be so vibrant at 78! (More about our adventures with Jaqi in February and March posts.)

Jaqi, Grace, and Camila hurry to get the hay in before the rain.
The teardrop garden with Grace's fence to protect it from the chickens starts to grow.

Also in January our menagerie increased by one foster dog, and two colorful fowl. Mabel, a little black puppy, found her way from the road, where she’d apparently been abandoned in the very wet weather, and into our house. We tried to find a home for her, including a trip to Anapolis to attempt to place her in a shelter, but discovered that no one (so far) wants a small (but not tiny) female dog. People around here seem to prefer male pets, and tiny or large dogs.

Mabel came in from the rain and hid behind Jaqi's chair.
Instant friendship with Cindy, the calico kitten.

And best buddies with Lolita.

We found Strawberry Hen and Pepper Rooster as we shopped the local thrift store for furniture for Jaqi’s room.

A contented duo, the hen and the kitten.

Very colorful rooster fits in with the clutter. Bromeliad painting by Sofia.