Feb 27, 2009

No orangutans were harmed in the making of this blog

Earlier this afternoon, a concerned email dropped into my box. Well, the email itself was rather indifferent, but the author, whom I'll call Ms. A, had a troubling issue to raise, see below:

"I have purchased your products the past couple of years at Newport News fall festival. This past year I looked at the ingredients on one of the soaps and was sad to see Palm Oil listed. Your products are wonderful but as an orangutan advicate [sic] I am trying to cut this product out of my purchases. Please take a look... "

Ms. A is not wrong in worrying about the orangutans because according to the WWF (the animal one, not the wrestling one):

What is the connection between orangutans and oil palm?

* Orangutans live in areas that are favoured for establishing oil palm plantations: fertile lowland soils close to rivers.
* The orangutans’ forest home is being converted into oil palm plantations at a massive scale. This conversion is being driven by growing global demand for palm oil, which is pushing up prices and hence encouraging the development of more plantations.

Impacts of oil palm development on orangutans

* The development of oil palm plantations causes the fragmentation of forests, which reduces the natural habitat of orangutans. There are about 25,000 km2 of oil palm plantations in Borneo, and the area is ever increasing.

* Where forests are being converted for oil palm plantations, poaching of orangutans for the illegal pet trade is more prevalent. This corresponds with reports from WWF and TRAFFIC that show an increase in the trade in baby orangutans over the past decade.
* Forest fires are set deliberately to clear land for plantations. Not only do fires destroy vast areas of orangutan habitat, but thousands of these slow-moving apes are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames.
* In some areas of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans are shot as pests by plantation owners or farmers.

I, too, was shocked and dismayed to learn that I might be contributing to the deaths of our fuzzy, orange cousins and set to work immediately researching my ingredients in depth. With much relief, I discovered that I've been using Malaysian palm oil since the inception of my business and that Malaysia has worked for sustainable palm oil farming for over twenty years. In fact, no rain forest land has been converted to palm oil since 1990! 60% of the country is rain forest and must remain so under national law. For more details on Malaysian palm oil, click here.

Remember, we list the ingredients on all of your products, in the brochure and on the website. If you ever have a question or concern, just ask!

*Alternate titles considered: 'Have you hugged your Orangutan today?' and 'The wild man of Borneo says 'it's okay to buy soap'.

Feb 21, 2009

Seasonal Fragrances for 2009

Here at Wild Heaven Farm, we keep a stable of soap fragrances year-round and rotate out seasonal fragrances. For the first time in the history of ever, here is a special preview of limited-edition scents for 2009.

April: Cherry Blossom - Washington DC's got nothing on us!

May: Strawberry Tart - the syrupy sweet beginning of summer.

June: Summer Vacation - if it's summer-y, it's in here, like pineapple, bergamot, sunflowers and ocean rain

July: Green Fairie - a fresh and zesty green scent

August: Pina Colada - bet you're singing that song now, huh? :)

September: Apple Cider - smells the apples, not just the cinnamon

October: Harvest Moon - an engaging autumnal fragrance

November: Cranberry Celebration (watch out for possible Thanksgiving-scented soap)

December: Santa's Pipe - a cherry-vanilla cavendish

I ask only one thing of my loyal followers - be prepared for these soaps *not* to be ready on the first of the given month and for them to possibly run out before the month is done.

Feb 12, 2009

It starts with birth and ends with death

In the fall of 2001, a well-intentioned Chesterfield suburbanite with dreams of homesteading bought three Nubian goats, two does and a buck, from a farm in Tidewater. This was the beginning of the herd of goats who would supply the milk for Wild Heaven Farm's handmade goat milk soaps. The buck, Big Chief (slightly silly registered name: Belle Rive Rainbow Warrior), passed away a few years ago, when wet weather conditions made intestinal parasite populations burst out of control. We were lucky only to have lost Chief and two young females that year; a meat goat farmers I know in the 434 saw her's die faster than she could bury them, which eventually necessitated a backhoe. Sadly last night, another of the O.G.s (“original goats”) died.

Kidding season for 2009 had started well enough. Our herd queen Dierdre gave us two big healthy doelings, who took to the bottle straight away and didn't give me a lick of trouble between being born and going off to their new home with the just-had-a-human-baby-the-same-week Woods family. Their names were Cin-Cin and Eviva, pictured below.

A week later, ostensibly on the day the first babies left, Ceres was laying around in the apparent discomfort usually associated with labor, but there were no contractions. A call to the nearest goat vet (“nearest” being almost in Montpelier) put us on to pregnancy toxemia, for which I ran to Southern States for supplements that were the nearest approximation to what I needed. When your farm is in the middle of the 'burbs, you get used to feed stores with limited supplies. In the past few years, we've also had to get used to a limited number of feed stores, with the two closest ones, included one I worked at briefly, closing. Ceres got glucose, electrolytes, B12, and active cultures for digestion, with my sincere hope that she'd have the vigor for labor when it actually came.

Labor, as it turned out, came in the pre-dawn hours the following morning. A glance out the kitchen window revealed a prone Ceres and a standing kid, named Prieka (below), being looked after by Dierdre, with her overflowing of maternal instinct.

That overabundance which often leads her to steal babies from other goats was a real blessing to us this year, because Ceres couldn't get up to tend Prieka herself. She was flat on her side with a prolapsed uterus, meaning that during or after giving birth, her uterus had inverted and was now laying on the ground behind her. A quick Google image search confirmed my hypothesis and no extra research was needed to tell me this was well beyond our ability to fix. We called Dr B.J. Campbell, DVM, explained the situation and asked her to come out.

If you're squeamish at all, you might want to scroll past the next picture with your eyes very much squinted. We propped Ceres back end up on a bale of hay and Dr Campbell replaced her uterus. She also injected Ceres with calcium, the dearth of which is blamed as the cause of the problem, and a schload of other things.

Two and a half hours and $313 later, Dr Campbell left me with antibiotic, painkiller, oxytocin to tighten the uterus and a gritty nutritious supplement. We also started giving the other does mineral supplements with calcium in hopes of preventing a repeat of this happy happy joy joy fun.

If you've never tried to forcefully syringe feed an adult goat and the opportunity presents itself, I suggest you give it a miss and go on to something easier, like shaving a coked-up ferret. Poor weakened Ceres had just enough strength to give me the business when I tried to feed her the gritty nutritive water that the vet called simply “green stuff.” She had also began a good chesty cough that fateful day, so there was also the concern of her aspirating the green stuff as I wrestled her head back and squirted it down her throat. Making things worse, every two or three squirts of the big fat syringe caused it to clog up with the finely chopped alfalfa that gave green stuff its moniker. Periodically, she'd nibble at food, but never really ate, per se, even when I brought her a fat armload of English ivy I scavenged from the job of chainsawing a dead tree that had fallen from our property onto a neighbor's erstwhile vertical chain-link fence. That's the dichotomy of my day – bottle-feeding tiny baby goats one minute, lumberjacking the next.

It was Sunday when Ceres kidded and for the next three days she just got weaker and weaker, refusing to eat or even drink. The force-feeding put tremendous stress on her. Wednesday, she couldn't or wouldn't walk. Dr Thomas Rohlk at Old Dominion Animal Hospital, a gentleman and a scholar, sold me four liters of lactates ringers saline and an IV line with needles to subcutaneously rehydrate Ceres. I sequestered her in my cozy six-by-seven milking parlor with a board blocking the door, but it was hardly necessary. She didn't move. Even when she tried, she couldn't stand or squirm far enough to endanger the IV. Later that afternoon, I got her to take a little yogurt (for its calcium, cultures, and sugar), which she had refused outright in the previous two days. At evening chores, I was able to get the whole pint of green stuff into her, a frightening circumstance because it meant she lacked the power to fight or do anything more than low quietly in between syringes. A few hours later, she laid her head down and died.

Digging a shallow grave by moonlight with a single accomplice holding a flashlight didn't make me feel as much like a mafiosa as I would have thought. I can think of four different ways in which her death is ultimately my fault, but my wonderful husband, who took over the harder parts of the burial while I feed the kids, pointed out to me the awful luck this goat had been afflicted with, luck bad enough to rival his own. Ceres was totally blind in one eye (which I attempt to show the photographer below) and mostly blind in the other, she was always the goat who got injured when something bad happened, showing up for milking on at least two occasions with a huge, bright red bleeding idopathic wound to her udder, and she had had two set of stillborn triplets. I acknowledged his point, but can't let myself off the hook.

Like any other farm, we've lost babies and few yearlings over the years, but this is only the second time we've lost a full-grown goat, animals I've worked with every day for several years. While it doesn't pain you like loosing a beloved pet, there is sadness here. I've decided to keep the doeling Prieka, who will be bred next year to the Nubian buckling I hope to buy soon and give to Dierdre to raise, which will give him rank and privilege in our herd.

Deep breath. Thanks for listening.

Feb 2, 2009

It starts - the first baby goats of 2009!

Let's give a big Wild Heaven Farm welcome to Cin-cin and Evivia, the first kids of 2009, born Saturday dinnertime to our herd queen Dierdre.

Can you guess the naming theme for this year? There's a prize in it for the first person who does. :)