Milking Caper

Sadie

As I left the house to go milk I had no idea of the fun in store tonight. Walking down the hill to the barn I heard the goats calling, which if you have goats you know this is pretty normal at milking (feeding) time. However, this time I knew something was wrong. Not the kind of wrong where you drop everything and go running, but the kind of wrong where you are looking around to find what set you tingling with nerves.

What set my nerves to tingling was that the goats sounded different. Its hard to describe, but I hear exactly the same thing every morning and every evening, day in and day out. So, you just “know” when something isn’t right.

As I approach the gate a head pops through from the garden. I hear a bunch of clattering and some yelling. As I look into my garden I see Pearl (a full size, adult saanen) doing a pirouette on top of our new canoe… which of course is on top of saw-horses.  Dancing with her was Snow Drop (a young nigerian doe) and Rosemary (another nigerian doe). Sadie (big, naughty saanen who was probably the one that led everyone into trouble) was nibbling at my tomato vines with relish. All the other does were zipping up, down, in and under everything, getting tangled in the strings for the peas, running under the canoe covered in dancing goats, and bouncing happily off of walls and chasing the geese, ducks and chickens. I almost fell down laughing and at the same time my heart nearly stopped… the goats had escaped.

In the half-light of dusk I round everyone up and get them back in the pasture, hoping they don’t make a bee-line to where they escaped. As I frantically chase down the last goat leading me on a merry chase I search, looking for how they escaped. There was a crack in the gate. One of my lovely does had managed to unlatch it and lead everyone out for an evening walk and snack (probably Sadie, pure trouble she is!). The only goat that had not left was the matron Ammi, who was snoozing inside the barn waiting for milking time. The fearless protector, Bane, lay in the pasture watching the goings-on with cool disdain, as if he had nothing to do with anything, but I am certain he whispered the idea into Sadie’s ear to get back at me for telling him not to chase the ducks today.

And that is that.  :)

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Feeding the High Producing Dairy Goat Part 2: The Gut

I had a hard time organizing my thoughts into an orderly fashion regarding feeding high production goats. There are so many factors, and they all inter-relate to make a whole. I know everyone is anxious for a magic formula with details on exactly what to feed and how much. I get asked that all the time, and have ever since I knew enough to be dangerous. Over the years I have developed some hypotheses, some of which I have seen coming up in recent years more and more and seemingly becoming proven theory. I think every farmer has a bit of the scientist in him; if we didn’t we wouldn’t succeed… or at least stay afloat. So, this brings me to our next topic; the gut.

While feed is important, the gut is the place where all the conversion takes place. Without a healthy gut feed is next to useless. To give an example, my youngest child has celiac sprue. It is an inability to digest certain proteins known as gluten. All his life he ate, and ate well. He was always hungry, and the more solids he ate the worse it became. He was fed whole grains, vegetables, meat as he got older, and dairy. Sugar was pretty taboo in our home. This should have been a child with the picture of health, but his nails were deformed, he wouldn’t grow, his teeth were brittle and cracked at under the age of two. He was so hungry he would eat fibers in carpet, clothing and blankets. You see, the celiac induced a defense by his body; it caused his gut to become pitted and unable to absorb even the foods that he would have been able to digest. He was literally starving to death from eating.

Goat with gut out of whack. Ate well, but couldn't put weight on or keep up production.

Goat with gut out of whack. Ate well, but couldn’t put weight on or keep up production.

Goats are the same. The gut is where microbes and bacteria live that help the body break down nutrients into something usable. When the gut is thrown out of whack or damaged the goat cannot digest the food given, even if it is of the highest quality. Parasites, antibiotics, too many refined sugar foods, and even dewormers can throw off gut balance. Coccidea is a good example; it is a protozoa, yet when allowed to flourish unchecked it damages the lining of the gut and causes growth to slow or stop, food to not be digested correctly, nutrient imbalance, and eventually death if not dealt with. Other parasites also affect gut health. Barberpole, stomach worms, tapeworm all live off of nutrients your goat needs and cause harm to the body in large numbers.

The first thing to remember if you have a high producing goat is to understand parasite life-cycles, what parasites you have in your area and how they affect the animal, and how to treat correctly. Repeatedly I have seen goats that were not managed correctly for parasites. It wasn’t on purpose, but the management programs at best were acting like a finger in the dam and often when the goats kid and were producing heavily they would suddenly succumb to the parasites. Often the owners were pretty clueless to what was happening until it was nearly too late or worse. There are many methods of dealing with parasites, and I am not going to go into all of them here, but if you are deworming with chemical dewormers or even herabals constantly and having closely recurring issues, or if your goat will not gain weight even though she is eating you out of house and home, you should take a careful look at parasites.

Tapeworm in a fecal exam.

Tapeworm in a fecal exam.

Besides parasites, treating every little sneeze or runny nose or cough with antibiotics will kill the gut. Instead, you need to support the body with foods that boost health. The goat should have plenty of minerals and vitamins, sunshine and fresh water and clean air. An ounce of prevention and building the body will do worlds more than treating problems. Save the big guns for when you need them and the goat will be healthier for it and reward you. In nearly 10 years I have had only 2 cases among my own goats where I resorted to antibiotics. In each of those cases the goat was sickly and had more trouble longer than those that never received an antibiotic. It takes a long time to rebuild a gut, and a gut where the good bacteria has been evicted is an open door to bacteria that can harm.

I could quite seriously write a book on this topic alone, it is huge! I would encourage you to look into gut health and how food and micro-nutrients affect it. The gut affects taste, mood and behavior, digestion, immune system, parasite resistance, everything. Our whole bodies are designed around the gut, goats included. You can do many things to change the gut, to restore or hurt it. You can even get around certain genetics if you delve deeply enough into gut health. I consider the gut to be the key and genetics the door to production. I hope this brief overview has given you something to chew on until next time. Hats off to the gut!

*If you are just catching this and would like to read the first installment of this series of blog posts, please visit Feeding the High Producing Dairy Goat Part 1: Genetics.

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Feeding the High Producing Dairy Goat Part 1: Genetics

I have goats. Lots of goats by my standard (24 or so), not so many compared to some herds. I have had them for many years now, nearly 10? I can’t really remember except that my youngest child was a baby. In those years I have seen a lot and learned even more. I have studied and helped others, worked with goats of many breeds and abilities. One thing stands above all else; goats are, like all living things, based on the foundation of genetics. Thus, the first thing to remember when feeding a high producing dairy goat is that genetic base. Because of that, it is the first thing I want to address in this series of blogs.

A high producing dairy goat can feed her own babies AND have milk left over for human use.

A high producing dairy goat can feed her own babies AND have milk left over for human use.

Do you recall watching Jurassic Park? Remember the scene where the main characters are on the ride and watch the story of the genetic sequence and the gene altering being done by the scientists in the laboratory? They were altering DNA strands to create the genetic code to turn frog DNA into the missing links for “dino DNA”. It gives a good basis for how genetics work, except in nature and on farms we are not altering the code in a laboratory but by breeding two goats together to create a mixed genetic package.

In nature, the genetic code is created from those animals that can survive. That means, in the case of goats, that the goat does not pass out at sudden sound, that they do not produce more milk than their babies need or more muscle than is needed (both excess milk and muscle is a waste of resources and inefficient and not sustainable in nature). Nature is cruel; only the fittest survive, the ones that resist parasites, can survive on the barest of nutrients, can run the fastest, and are just plain lucky.

On a farm it is slightly different. In some cases farmers breed and manage in such a way as to mimic nature, but in most cases a farmer that depends on his stock does not have lawn ornaments or trust the natural world to make his living. These animals are his meal ticket. He can’t afford losses, and he has to meet the market demands, whether it be pet, meat or dairy (or even brush goats). Thus, he has to combine genetics that would not generally survive in nature, focusing on them while still attempting to maintain the other less important (monetarily) but desirable traits of the species.

Even a small breed goat can produce more than her babies need.

Even a small breed goat can produce more than her babies need.

In dairy goats that means creating a goat that makes more milk than her babies need and that has a will to milk for longer periods than is typical in nature. To achieve this feat, the farmer breeds animals that, in the case of a high producing dairy goat, cannot be sustainable in a purely natural environment. Having some of these goats, and seeing other high producing goats that owners did not understand this genetic base and did not manage well, I can share with you that these animals will produce until they kill themselves if the farmer does not understand the genetics and care for the animal correctly.

A high producing dairy goat, one that goes beyond the average and makes people go “wow”, is an animal that has a will to produce so strong that she may come into milk without being bred. She may, in fact, continue producing for years on end. Her genes are so strong to make milk, and to devote resources to making that milk, that she can literally produce herself to death if she does not receive the nutrients to support that kind of production and careful management of her breeding and udder. A goat like this will not just produce less if fed less. She cannot control her genetics and what they tell her body to do. Rather, if you actually want a goat like this, you need to be prepared for what to expect so that you can manage such production and keep a healthy animal.

In future blogs I will address the basics in caring for a high producing dairy goat. Much of it is the same as for any goat or animal on your farm, but with these goats you can’t just leave out any one part. They are too far removed from their original state and have to be cared for with that in mind. To re-cap this post, remember that:

  • Goats are based on a genetic map
  • A goat is a slave to her genetics
  • A high production animal cannot sustain itself without high quality input

 

 

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The Coffee Experience

IMG_5211-30Coffee is one of those things that is synonymous with farming, I think. The farmer coming in, covered with snow and stomping his boots. The tired farmer enjoying a cup in the evening on the porch with his family. The farmer and spouse sitting at a beat up kitchen table drinking a cup together before the day starts as they listen to the rooster crow and discuss what they have planned. Thats what I think of when I imagine coffee. And I love coffee. I love the way it smells. I love to see the steam rising out of my favorite mug as I sit and work in the morning. I love the fellowship when a friend come over and we share a cup. It makes me think of my Mother and Sister when I drink it as when we are all together we enjoy our morning coffee and visit. I simply enjoy it!

While I enjoy coffee, not all coffee is created equal. Different brands and different beans all create a different taste (and some my body can’t handle due to excess acidity). Whole bean freshly ground far surpasses pre-ground beans. The act of putting your coffee in the grinder in the morning and brewing that fresh pot is almost seductive. Strength of the brew also plays a huge part in your coffee. I love a deep, dark, thick coffee. Some like it weak, more like tea, but not me. A little almond extract, a little fresh cream from our very own goats, and a brew so dark you barely lighten it is my favorite.

The tools you use to make and serve coffee also play a part in how much you enjoy it. The process should not be rushed; it should be savored! For every-day I use a basic, ugly pot that I set up the night before, but it brings me no joy. Neither does the electric grinder. I found a lovely antique grinder that I sent my brother and his wife one year… now THAT is how you grind coffee! I have a vintage percolator from my in-laws that makes a pot of coffee extra special. I have a mug from my Momma that just holding makes me feel like I received a hug. Little things like this make the coffee experience so much more than just the coffee. Do you enjoy coffee? What special items do you use when you prepare and serve it? Do you have special memories attached when the aroma of a freshly brewed cup reaches your senses? Tell me about it!

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Who Works Harder?

IMG_8636-9We are cleaning up from supper tonight, or at least I am, and my husband bemoaning the fact that I am going to put some hours in at my job answering emails and I still have to do the evening chores. One child has taken off for parts unknown after the meal, the other sits at the table, forever the last one to finish, DH is on his computer, and I start getting ready to work (like for actual pay). Into this scene, my 9-year old says “Dad works harder than Mom all day and Mom, you should be done with your work and visit with Dad!”.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this sort of floored me. I waited half-halfheartedly for someone to say something, anything, but there was nothing. So, I got to work, put 30 minutes in, spent 10 minutes looking at my own farm stuff, heard complaints when people found out I had not done my chores yet, then donned my hat and coat and went out into the icy weather to spend an hour working in the barn. Came in, found the kitchen still a mess, finished putting food away, decided to leave the dishes for morning (I may still load the dishwasher, but hand washing is cheaper), filtered the milk, and sat down to write this.

Anyone else experienced something like this? Man or woman, what makes being the one that stays home with the kids less worthy (especially in their eyes?)? How does farming equate to not working as hard as someone who works in an office or drives around all day? I am not belittling any job here; the fact is, we ALL work hard and it takes all of us, in every family, to make things work. We couldn’t pay for our home or the myriad of other bills without my husbands job, but we couldn’t afford to eat without the work that I put in. The house would not stay clean and farm work done if the kids and I did not bust our butts day in and day out. Not to even mention trying to homeschool. It was sort of like being hit by a rock to have my child have this perspective of me and what I do (and not have anyone say anything different), particularly after I killed 3 roosters today, dry-plucked so I could clean and sell feathers for fisherman and crafts, been out in the cold checking on stock, been wearing myself out trying to balance working at meeting required responsibilities as a mother, wife, teacher, farmer and workforce member. I spent a total of 20 minutes reading a pleasure novel today, and thats the first time in over a week! So, yeah, I feel like I got a good knock upside the head.

Things never change. I will always work my butt off for those I care about and serve people that are not thankful and take me for granted and forget to really think about what I think and feel. I know there are many others like that in this world. Servers often end up in the middle of people that like to be served, its instinct for both types of people to find each other as servers want to serve, and those that like to be served will not feel happy with others of the same mind-set. It still gets frustrating. It still hurts. It still makes you want to selfishly walk away for a day and let everyone else take care of things. But you don’t. You stay, and usually quietly continue what you are doing, day in and day out. Sometimes you complain, but its your nature to nurture, and you can’t escape it. You learn to turn a deaf ear and set limits so you don’t go crazy. You learn to tune out those around you for brief periods to give your mind and body a break. And then you return to reality and life with a thud and go on. Sometimes someone says something nice and makes you realize you are valued and what you do is recognized. Sometimes you get a hug or a kiss with a thank-you. Sometimes you just don’t hear complaints. And through it all, you take moments to smell flowers, to bask in sunshine as you hang clothes on the line or to delight in ice crystals hitting your cheeks as you haul water through a storm. You snuggle with the animals, watch a movie with your family, eat popcorn and roast marshmallows. Its your life, and in the end you are still happy because you know, even if no one else does, that you did as much as you could for those you love.

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Waking Up To 2015!

IMGP1594 - CopyA whole new year is ahead! Can you believe it?! We made it through 2014, despite dire predictions of disaster. Sure, chaos is present, but so is peace and goodness. Sometimes the world I see reminds me of the story of Chicken Little. She was so worried about something possible and yet unlikely, and got so many others worried, that they missed the true danger right in front of them. Its sort of interesting to me when I look at current events and look at history because I see the same things happening over and over again. Kind of like living in a real-life “Groundhog Day” movie that spans thousands of years. So, as I look to the year ahead I choose to look at the little things that affect me day to day, the concrete, grounded things that I have some small control over. My resolutions for the coming year are very much home-based. They revolve around love, family and friends, around being wise and planning as much as possible while not letting myself and those around me become mired in the possible to the point that we forget to live for today. Money comes and money goes, wars rage and die, governments rise and fall, but through it all, humanity continues, and so does love and family and friendships.

Today I set my resolutions for the year, my plans if you will. These are the small goals that we set that should be achievable and help us plan our days. Last year I had these goals;

  1.  Create a garden that produces enough food to supply our families canned/frozen food needs for the entire summer and winter. A sub-goal to this is to only buy beans and rice and seasonings from the grocery store after June of this year.
  2. Create a sustainable source of meat on our own farm without relying on deer hunters for all our meat. A sub-goal here is to actually kill and process our first pig (THAT is a daunting task that I really don’t want to do but need to!)
  3. Install a working well pump with plumbing for the garden and install rain-barrels for garden watering and livestock needs.

Amazingly enough we accomplished all but the last one, and that was due to money. Due to the Health Care Reform Act we ended up taking everything we had and paying for health insurance since we were not eligible for any of the subsidized plans due to my husbands job offering family health insurance, even though it was more than we could pay. I am glad to have health coverage, but it put a hold on some plans and changed the course of things for our farm.

Now it is 2015. I need to find out what is important for this year and how to achieve it. So, here is this years list;

  1. Put aside some emergency money every month (which means I have to get an outside job and still continue to farm and homeschool, which I have lined up)
  2. Complete a gutter system on the barn for livestock and garden needs (its okay to carry over goals from last year :D )
  3. And a fun, yet productive goal; improve my photography and begin marketing it. My sub-goal here as I have already started on this main one is to make $100 off my photography this year. Last year I made a total of $2, but had to buy a new camera, so if you run the numbers it doesn’t look too pretty :D

I am pretty sure I can swing these goals this year. They are wise goals, productive goals, and are ones that benefit my whole family. They give me personal focus and challenge, and will give a sense of accomplishment when completed.

Tell me your goals! What do you have in mind for this year? Do you set clear, reachable goals for yourself? What goals did you finish from last year? I would love to have you share in the comments and then next year see what we have all accomplished together!

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The Reluctant Chickenista

Captain Munch

Captain Munch

Chickens on our farm have always been the lowly, replaceable stock. That sounds bad in a way, but truly it isn’t meant that way, its just that in the scheme of things, where I struggle to have enough food for my growing children and hard-working husband, chickens are pretty low on the totem pole. If they get sick, you dig a hole and bury them if they don’t get better. Hurt? You eat them. I have not really had the time to think a whole lot about a chicken hospital or quarantine pen, that is usually reserved (along with the energy used to care for sick stock) to the goats or pigs, who rate much higher on the food chain in quantity of provision and outlay of expenses. That is… until recently.

We have this hen, a little white americauna/mutt. She was given to us by a friend, along with a small flock of others. Not long after getting them I found this little hen with a bloody head and listless, she had been being pecked nearly to death by the other birds. I didn’t really want to mess with her, but my young son begged me to give her a chance, so I cleaned her up and chucked her in with the baby goats, far away from the other chickens. She healed and my son hand fed her every day. He named her Captain Munch.

Capt. Munch has been with us nearly 2 years now. This summer I was complaining because she is constantly in the garden and roosting in the barn instead of staying in the chicken area (where I had moved her after she healed and gained some size). I was telling my husband I was planning on culling any of the annoying birds that wouldn’t stay put when my son chimed in, tears in his voice… “You aren’t going to kill Munch… are you?” he plead. No, I am not going to kill Munch. That darned bird gets a free pass. My husband wants to use her in a “Chicken in Space” home video, she is my sons friend, and to be quite honest I like her company when I milk. So, each night, I pick Munch up and carry her to the coop, where she will promptly leave in the morning to raid my garden and nest in the hay in my goat barn.  And so the story of how I became The Reluctant Chickenista.

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