November 30, 2011
I receive a lot of questions about our animal husbandry practices, what we feed, how we supplement, whether we vaccinate and deworm, etc. I am new to some aspects, so my methods still change once in a while, but folks who know me know how much I research things. My general, long term rule is that animals and methods need to be as convenient, hardy, and inexpensive as possible, and as natural and organic as possible. So, for those of you who have been asking, here is a brief rundown of how things are run right now, and where I get my supplies. I will do a post for each type of animal, to help with my categorizing and later reference.
Athena, our 3/4 Great Pyrenees, 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd, livestock guardian dog:
- Athena is housed with the goat does and/or kids, in a large run, with a shared 3-sided shelter full of straw. She and Shiloh, the donkey, are rotated into the pasture (they can’t be in together since Shiloh’s purpose is to chase off canines) to help protect the chickens. It ensures she has plenty of mental stimulation and exercise. I put Will, our house pet, in with her several times a week as well, which encourages additional play. Play is very important for her age (almost 4 months). Without the change in scenery, and Will to play with, she is more likely to chase and injure chickens and/or goat kids.
- Diet consists of twice a day feedings (plus an occasional third “treat” mid-day) of some type of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). It varies, but could include raw meat and/or uncooked bone from chickens, goats, rabbits, or beef. A couple times a week, I add an egg, some Kefir milk, excess goat milk, vegetables, bread, leftovers from dinner, a bit of goat grain, some kelp meal, or whatever other dog-appropriate item I can think of.
- I deworm Athena with my herbal goat dewormer, using the same portion size I would give similiarly sized goats. I currently use dewormer from Hoeggers, but I’d probably feel safer recommending Molly’s version for use in dogs. I’ll likely be switching over to Molly’s since I can also use it with Shiloh then. In addition, between herbal dewormings, I periodically add a bit diatomaceous earth to Athena’s feed which also keeps parasites under control.
- I regularly check for matted hair, ear infections, and trim long toe nails. If I see an irritated ear canal, I clean it with peroxide and gauze pads, followed by a good massage with raw apple cider vinegar. The ACV is great for treating almost any type of fungal skin infection. Just rub it on the irritated area twice a day for about a week, and it should clear right up. In addition, ensure your pup is getting good nutrition, which helps prevent infections to begin with.
- For vaccines, we get the distemper combo (only because our vet doesn’t have the distemper by itself) and rabies. Parvo may not be a bad idea for young pups in some areas, but it isn’t a huge problem here, so I prefer to not give it. I give rabies, since it’s required by law, but I prefer the 3-year rabies, which is becoming more popular nationwide.
- We spay or neuter based on the animal and the situation. Athena will likely be spayed later this year, because she is a cross-breed, with no special qualifications to make me comfortable passing on her genetics. It will also prevent the downtime where she can’t be turned out to guard due to her whelping or being in heat and possibly attracting neighborhood dogs. As a side note, obviously you need a vet to perform a spay for a female, but after a tremendous amount of research, I wouldn’t hesitate to use a burdizzo to neuter a male. Assuming you are experienced with the instrument and both testes have dropped, dog studies have shown the pain is significantly less (literally momentary), the recovery significantly faster, it is much cheaper, and it is equally effective.
Athena, at 4 months, standing next to Will, who is roughly 80 lbs. She’s gonna be big, and is obviously thriving on her natural diet!
Honestly, this is the first time I have raised a pup on this natural type of system. I cannot say how things will go long-term. I can say, however, that since we got her several months ago, I am very pleased with the results, and look forward to re-evaluating in a few years.
November 29, 2011
We are careful to celebrate Thanksgiving, giving the holiday its own special recognition and observance. The weekend after Thanksgiving, however, we traditionally start decorating for Christmas–a favorite holiday for every member of our family.
Sunday afternoon, we began the decorating. We turned on the Christmas music for the first time, got out the tree and decorations, and set to work. The first thing we realized is that our children are finally old enough to be of significant assistance. JR helped S get the lights on the tree, and then JR and M hung most of the ornaments, with a little (sometimes unwanted) assistance from A and N. M helped me get the nativity set out and up on the mantle. That’s as far as we made it so far, but there is still some decorating to work on this week.
Now, I get to finish up the Christmas shopping. Like birthdays, we try to keep the gifts fairly simple, practical, and justifiable, and the “selfish”, humanist aspects of Christmas to a minimum as much as we can. We try diligently to keep the focus of the season on Jesus Christ, recognition of his birth, and on giving to others. JR and M have both chosen to go big this year, using their hard-earned allowances to buy gifts for their siblings, with only minimal prompting, and with true joy and excitement in their hearts. JR bought very nice gifts for M and A, while M bought a nice gift for A. That brings joy to this mom’s heart!
I can’t believe it’s Christmas season 2011 already! Where did 2011 go? It has truly flown by. In case you forgot, we received one of our greatest blessings of the year back in January (baby R), so I realized today, I have to buy another stocking for the mantle!
November 29, 2011
Posted by redgatefarm under Animals
I am so excited to welcome our newest addition, Arabella (aka “Bell”), an 8 month old, 6th generation, purebred Kinder doe.
So, since no one I talk to seems to know anything about them, let me tell you a little about Kinders, and why we decided to try out the breed….
The Kinder breed was an accidental development back in the ’80’s, when a farm that raised Pygmys and Nubians lost their Nubian buck. They had several Nubian does that needed to be bred that year, and out of desperation for the milk, they decided to breed them to the Pygmy buck. That cross produced the first Kinders, a doeling named Liberty that remained at the farm, and the other kids that were sold to neighboring farms. A buyer of one of the kids fell in love with the cross bred kid she bought, and saw the potential of this mid-sized goat. She began working with the other kid owners, and after they saw that the doelings would go on to be great milkers and butcher goats had good feed conversion, they formed the Kinder Goat Breeders Association to develop the standards for the breed.
Today, Kinders are still becoming known and growing in popularity. Known as a dual purpose goat, output for their size is incredible. They average about 60% efficiency in dressing percentage, and good does can produce about 1/2 gallon of milk per day. Several breeders have gone on to get * milker ratings, meaning their little goats can produce just as much as a full-sized dairy goat, on half the feed. As if that wasn’t good enough, thanks to the Pygmy genetics, Kinders can be bred year round, and can easily have up to 6 kids in one litter! 2-4 kids is more common, and some farms cull producers of singletons because it is not considered ideal or desirable of the breed.
Because of all the above factors, the Kinder is touted to be the perfect goat for a homestead. A single prolific Kinder doe, properly managed for meat, can potentially produce 250 lbs. of meat each year, and a single doe managed for milk can easily produce plenty of milk for an average sized family to drink and even make some cheese and yogurt, in addition to producing a little meat each year. They are known to be friendly, people-loving, easily trainable goats, and due to their small size, they are also known to be much easier on fencing than large goats (unlike a certain Alpine buck I know!).
I have come across several “Kinders” being sold around the country, and there seems to be some confusion in what a “purebred” is. When a Pygmy and Nubian are first crossed, their offspring are considered an F1 generation cross. If you bred 2 F1’s, you would get an F2, 2 F2’s and the result is an F3, and so forth. F1-F4 crosses can be registered as “certified” Kinders, primarily because recessive and unexpected genes are more likely to pop up. Their standard is not as reliable. F5 generation and beyond are registerable as “purebred,” assuming they meet breed standards. By the time you get an F5 generation, the genetics are considered more standardized and predictable. Speaking of genetics, don’t you just love those trademark “airplane” ears?
So, our new little doe is an F6 generation, and comes from excellent dual-purpose lines. Her dam produced about 1/2 gallon of milk a day, which we have established as our preferred minimum. She has been bred to a great buck, who also has proven genetics. Like all Kinders, she displays an incredibly affectionate and gentle disposition, follows me around like a little puppy when I let her, and even wags her tail in greeting every time I come out to the pen. I am so excited for her to freshen this spring, to see how she milks, and be able to further evaluate this “perfect homestead breed” of goat.
November 28, 2011
We just returned from another trip to Red Gate Farm. This year, we got to attend S’s Thanksgiving family events–a big deal in that area, and his chance to see many relatives.
This trip, we had one week, and, as usual, lots to do. S decided to start with a toilet that needed repairing, followed by a tree that he has been wanting to take down.
Now, we love trees, and the forested land surrounding our home was a primary reason we bought it years ago. However, when we bought it, we discovered several things. S has an uncle who is an arborist and a brother who works in forest conservation. With their help, we were able to develop a management program of sorts. First, we pinpointed some trees that were directly threatening the house during the annual ice and wind storms. Due to their close proximity to the house, we hired a professional to remove them. Then, we had a couple trees still near the house that died for different reasons, and we removed those. Finally, we had to start selecting a few trees to remove simply to improve the health of others as part of good management. In this case, a large, older elm was growing next to a much younger and prettier oak. One had to go in order for the other to survive long term. So, S decided to remove the older elm since its years were numbered anyway. There were actually several nearby trees that would benefit from its removal as well. So, down it came, leaving only a tall stump we can remove later to mill for lumber, and a mess of branches and logs around the front yard.
Everyone got to pitch in and clean up the mess. JR and I helped S and his brother, Uncle M, haul the branches down into the woods and into burn piles. Then S and M chainsawed the decent sized logs into logs for firewood, which the kids and I helped remove and stack.
This kind of manual labor is great for kids–and parents wanting a quiet evening. One evening, after the 3 little ones went to bed, JR and M wanted to play a while longer, so we told them to play in our bedroom to prevent too much noise. Within just a few minutes, I heard no sound whatsoever, and found them like this:
Although I would loved to have let them be, while relishing in their cuteness, that double bed is the biggest in the house. Our sleeping arrangements are quite creative due to a lack of bedspace, which meant these two got booted back to their assigned “beds” so S and I could have a decent night’s rest.
Naturally, one of my favorite parts of working around the farm is the view:
We spent 2 full days working on the tree mess, taking a break in between, on Sunday, to run errands in town. Then it was time to work on the main project, more retaining walls. The biggest part of the project was to build up a sloped area behind the barn, in order to create a parking platform for our future livestock trailer. First, S had to clear that termendously overgrown area.
In the above photo, he had already taken one tree down, and had 2 to go, in addition to a mess of briars, vines, and invasive honey suckle brush. It took almost an entire day by itself, but eventually, he cleared an area about 15 feet long by 14 feet wide.
About that time, the rest of the railroad ties we had ordered from our June batch showed up, so S and Uncle M got to unload. If you like to see muscles, just watch a couple guys unload these things by hand!
At some point, I managed to get the 3 little ones all down to nap simultaneously, and was able to go out and start digging and leveling the area for the walls. S did the rest of the digging, and moved every tie into place by hand, occasionally with help from Uncle M or myself. Soon enough, we had the outline of a retaining wall.
They had to extend the drain tile we had installed in front of the barn this summer, to continue preventing erosion in that area, and S had to dig and cut out several massive roots. In the photo below, you can see the stump left from one of the trees he cut. He decided to leave small stumps to add support and reduce pressure on the wall itself. Of course, the stumps will be covered over later.
I must confess, while S spent almost the entire days working outside, it was a bit chilly for the baby and toddlers to be out long term, so I was truly blessed to be able to just relax inside for a large part of the week, tending the children, sitting by the fire, and reading some books. It was a much needed vacation for me for once. I also managed to stand behind my barn and look out into that part of the woods for the first time. What I saw surprised me:
I know with all the honey suckle and vines, it’s hard to see much. However, I was able to envision a future play area for the kids here, once it’s cleared. I saw a little rustic stairway from the drive way in front of the parking area, down the slope and around the retaining wall, ending in a flat spot. A bench could be attached to the outside base of the retaining wall, providing a shaded sitting area for adults supervising children at play. That big tree may just be the perfect tree to permanently hang their beloved tire swing from. The ground beneath it is relatively flat and level (rare in the forest on this property), making it perfect for the Christmas present they will receive this year (sorry, can’t tell you what yet!). I was and am really excited about this little discovery!
We eventually ran out of time, and had to leave the wall unfinished. We got a great start on it though, with S able to complete the hardest part of it. We are hoping it will settle over the next 6-8 months, until our next trip there. At that point, we plan to join that wall to the much smaller wall that will border the driveway from the parking area all the way to the house. We will also fill in the parking area with dirt and gravel to make it more level and ready for parking. Eventually, we will build a roof over the area, but that likely won’t happen for a few years.
Alas, Saturday morning rolled around, and it was time to head back to CO. It wasn’t as sad as ususal, as we had all our animals and our mini-farm here to look forward to. We also had a little adventure awaiting us mid-trip. Look closely:
Did you see it? Look again.
Maybe this will help:
Still not sure? Let’s just say that’s not Will, the dog, over M’s shoulder.
It’s our new, long-awaited, and much anticipated Kinder doe! I’ll do another post on her later. She had the whole back end of the van to move around and lay down in (on a tarp and plenty of extra-absorbent pine shavings, of course!), but chose to spend the vast majority of the 7 hour trip home with her head right over M’s shoulder. She is such a people-loving goat! She’s a total sweetheart, and proved to be a very good traveler.
You can imagine we had quite a full van, though. I meant to get a better photo, but totally forgot. The van had our luggage in a borrowed car-top carrier, S and I up front, 5 kids in 5 carseats in the back, Will taking every bit of available floor space, and the goat in back!
Never a dull moment around here, and we arrived safely back in CO to await our next adventure.
November 28, 2011
After our last hectic adventure, I got a few easier days, and then life happened and things got hectic again. I spent the next week preparing for a Thanksgiving trip to Red Gate Farm. I’ll do a post on that later. Of course, in order for us to go anywhere, it means we have to leave our animals under someone else’s care.
After the previous weeks, we did our best ensuring everyone was totally set and secure. That’s when the next adventure began. I needed to install additional hot wire in Stallion’s pen to ensure he would respect the fence line. As I often do, I turned him and Shiloh out to pasture for the morning while I worked in his pen. About half way through the job, I saw a car out on the highway slow way down and start honking. We live in the country, and there is no real reason for that. I got a gut feeling I needed to check on Stallion. As I was heading to the pasture, my phone rang. I grabbed it, to hear my neighbor saying Stallion was cruising through her yard–apparently having run up the highway to get there. I collected Stallion, returned him to his pen, and discovered only a slight bend in the pasture fence where he had jumped out. I installed an extra strand of hot wire at the top of Stallion’s pen, then thoroughly wet the too-dry ground, offered a tempting snack, and allowed him to bump the wire with his nose. After a nasty shock, I felt really badly, but I was confident he was set and more respectful of the fence again. S secured that weak spot Stallion had discovered in the pasture fence. I left the neighbors/caretakers with specific instructions on how to turn the does out, but NEVER take Shiloh out or otherwise leave Stallion alone. I also cautioned them that our little Alpine doe, Faith was due in heat that week, and to consider not turning the does out when they observed it. Everything was finally set, so we left on Friday morning.
Tuesday morning, we got the first call. The neighbor children had gone through the normal morning routine, and when they put the does out, they didn’t notice that Faith was fully in heat. No sooner did they get the does turned out to pasture, they heard a commotion, and looked up just in time to see Stallion sail right over his fence, never touching the hot wire, run across the yard to the pasture gate, and upon finding it closed, he took a flying leap, and sailed right over it. Mind you, we are talking a 4 1/2 foot metal livestock gate. They said he didn’t so much as bump it! He wasted no time, immediately breeding Faith. Although she is 7 months old, she is a little small for my liking, so I really didn’t want her bred until late December. So much for that idea.
So, they called and I told them just to leave Stallion with the girls for the day, as I knew there would be no keeping him in his pen at that point. That night, he had calmed down, she was out of standing heat, and the neighbors were able to return everyone to their rightful pen. You’d think it would be simple answer at this point, and just not turn any goats out. The problem we face though, is that, in order to let the chickens out of their coop, they must have a guard to protect them from the fox. We have Athena for that purpose, but since she is still just a pup, she can’t be fully trusted yet to be alone with them. She has to have another playmate such as the does or Will, the housedog, or she will potentially chase and tackle chickens. So, I gave them a plan A, B, C, and D.
Plan A was to turn Athena out with just Sara and Lilac (who are best buds and will cause their own trouble if seperated), and leave Faith in the pen where Stallion could see her. This occurred the following day. No sooner did they get the 2 girls half way to the pen, Stallion lept the fence again, this time with his sights set on Sara. Now Sara was bred 3 weeks before we left, so I had really hoped she was pregnant. I still don’t know the answer, as they never saw her stand for breeding. Nonetheless, Stallion wound up spending the day with those two girls.
Plan B, the less desirable resort, was used on Thursday, leaving all does in their pen, and turning only Athena out. Within an hour, they discovered Athena running loose in the yard. Athena has NEVER escaped, or even tried to get out of the pasture before. When they reported this to me, I was truly shocked. They attempted to return her several times, but each time, she escaped. Eventually, they discovered the source of her escape (a low spot under the fence line), attempted to block it, but Athena continued to get out. So, they managed to put the chickens away early that day, and returned Athena to the pen with the does.
On Friday, they used Plan C, in hopes that all the commotion from the previous days would keep the fox at bay. They released the chickens with no guard, leaving dog and all goats in their pens. The day went well, the chickens were put away a bit early, and everything was OK.
Fearing releasing the chickens unguarded 2 days in a row, on Saturday, Plan D was used, leaving the chickens cooped up all day. Fortunately, it snowed that day, meaning the chickens likely wouldn’t have come out anyway.
We returned late Saturday night. Remember that Kinder doe I told you about long ago? Yeah, well, for quite some time–long before all this adventure began to occur–we had committed to picking her up on our return trip after Thanksgiving. That was Saturday. I’ll do another post on that. Suffice it to say, though, in the midst of all this chaos, with Stallion barely content to stay put, my brooder pen still in disarray from the wethers, and having no real choice in the matter (she lived 7 hours away), we brought the little girl home. I had to put her with the does. It was almost 10 pm, and the new addition got everyone riled up. The does were all excited, which, in turn got Stallion all excited. He paced up and down the fence line, trying his dead-level best to find a weak spot into that pen. For some reason, he seems to respect the hot wire there more, and has never jumped into the does’ pen. After supervising closely for about 2 hours–even getting out of bed a couple times to check on things–I felt like things had calmed down enough I could get some sleep.
Unfortunately, Sunday was not much of a day of rest. After Stallion escaped twice, injuring his leg a bit with one jump, and Athena escaping the pasture fence, I was forced to spend several hours re-training Stallion to hot wire (though he outsmarted me most of the time so I don’t know that it was very effective), working with Athena (I had good success with her, having no more escapes after a brief training session), and making some fence adjustments. It’s hard to believe that just 7 months ago, we built quite nice looking pens, smartly lined with hot wire, and it was actually fairly aesthetically pleasing. Now, in such a short time, thanks to the unexpected abuse and continuous repairs and alterations, my nice fences are beginning to look jerry-rigged, run down, and pretty poorly. I need them to last 2 more years!
After all the unexpected adventures of late, S made some decisions about the near future of our livestock program. Some of them I’m fine with as the changes will reduce some of my work load for a while, and will certainly reduce the stress on our fences. Others break my heart. He is right though. Once again, the simple fact is, we are still military. Life here on this little mini-farm is temporary, and we can’t practically invest mega bucks in superior fencing while we live here. While I don’t know all the details as to what will happen at this point, in one way or another, Stallion’s days here appear to be numbered. That’s one that breaks my heart. He is such a sweet buck, and I had such high hopes for him as part of our herd. Despite my research, fact is, we just were not prepared for a mature buck in rut, and what he was capable of. It has not been in vain though, as we have learned a tremendous amount from him, and will be far more prepared in the future, once we get to Red Gate. We are exploring our options for still being able to use him as a stud in the future, as I would still love to have his genetics in the herd. S is also thinking he wants to sell Shiloh’s foal as soon as it is weaned. That’s another one that breaks my heart. Time will tell what we actually wind up doing, but I’ll admit, something has to give at this point.
In the mean time, I am waiting to see if all my does are now pregnant, and we will go from there.
November 10, 2011
Posted by redgatefarm under Farm Life
After Sunday’s adventure with the wethers, we figured the week could only get better. Now, I’m not so sure…..
I was a little busy on Monday, trying to get things cleaned up and prepared for an expected winter storm. In the midst of it all, I got a call from a customer who had reserved a breeding with Stallion. Her doe was in heat, and she wanted to come over. So, I told her to come on over for a driveway breeding. She arrived, and things went perfectly. The doe was receptive, Stallion did his thing, and everyone left happy. No problems.
That evening, S had to get those carcasses cut up, packaged, and into the freezers.
He got the first one done on Monday evening, and it took about 3 hours. Honestly, it was very interesting and educational learning how to use our garage as a climate-controlled, aging refrigerator. Based on the temperature outside and the temperature in the house, I was able to maintain the garage temp between about 35-40 by simply opening and closing the garage doors. For once, I was thankful that winter weather was here. I continued this method of temp control for the second carcass, until S got home from work on Tuesday eve. So far, the week was going OK. Then, it went downhill again.
As I was preparing dinner, S had gone down to the garage to set up for the second butcher. As he was setting up, his hand bumped a piece of tin or something, slicing his finger. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I heard him come rushing up the stairs asking for help. His hand was covered in blood, and blood was dripping all over the place. Just a bad cut, no biggie… or so I thought. As I collected a few first-aid supplies, S was rinsing his finger and trying to control the blood. I turned to grab some ice for him, and he said he was feeling light-headed. He sank to his knees. That is very unlike him. I reached over and turned off the stove, and took over cleaning his finger. He softly said he was really dizzy and felt like he was going to pass out. Then, he slipped to lying down on the floor, in the middle of my kitchen. Remember, I was in the middle of dinner prep, and had 5 children to tend to. Great. So, as a trained first-responder, I checked his gums. He was very pale. I needed to know if he had truly lost so much blood he was going into shock, or if it was an adrenaline-rush causing the symptoms. I called for JR, and asked him to go see how much blood he could find. I felt bad sending my 7 year old, but I was holding a towel on S’s hand, which was still bleeding profusely. JR brought back his report, which led me to believe it was more adrenaline than blood loss. I finally got the bleeding under control, and started cleaning up S’s hand. He just laid there with his eyes closed. Once I got him patched up and steri-stripped the cut, I gave him some of my glucose tablets (for my diabetic low blood sugars), and a cup of juice. Within 10 minutes, S was feeling better, his color had returned, and he went back down to butcher. I forbid him to cut or otherwise injure himself again, with the threat that rather than me treating him, I would call an ambulance and just let them take him to the hospital. It worked, I guess, and he stayed safe the rest of the evening.
In case your interested, here is a video of S showing off his butchering skills:
OK, so I took a deep breath. All was well once again. Then Wednesday came.
Wednesday morning, as usual, I turned Stallion and Shiloh out to pasture. I noticed Stallion pacing the front fence, calling to the neighbor’s doe. The doe happened to be pacing her fence, showing all the tell-tale signs of full-on heat. About that time, my neighbor called. We had previously bartered that they would store my winter hay supply in exchange for breeding their doe, and they wanted to do it then. So, I tried to be smart. We set a time about an hour later, which gave me time to finish up what I was doing. Then, fearing Stallion might misbehave later if he actually SAW the doe walk over, I leashed him up and took him where he couldn’t see their pasture or driveway. About that time, they arrived. Once again, the doe was receptive, Stallion did his thing, then I pulled him away, and they left. I tried to distract Stallion so he wouldn’t watch where she was going. Of course, animals are far smarter than that.
Once Stallion seemed a little calmer, I put him back out with Shiloh. He ran straight to the front fence, and proceeded to start climbing it! With baby Ergo’ed to my back I took off running, and shoo’ed him off the fence. He was persistent, though, and I feared he would either jump it or tear it down. It didn’t help that the doe was now back to pacing her fence-line, calling to him. I decided to seperate them, so I ran and grabbed his rope, caught him, and took him back to his hot-wired pen, on the other side of our property. Then he flipped out.
He started going absolutely nuts over my does, none of which were in heat! He was flicking his tongue, blubbering, spraying himself, charging the fence, and chasing the does up and down the fence. That actually made them playful, so as they began to romp, he went even more nuts. I decided to put Shiloh, his buddy, back in there with him. I ran and got her, put her in, and HE charged HER! I didn’t know goats could growl, but anytime she came to his half the pen, he would “growl” and charge like he was going to attack. Now, I have seen them play, and this was no play. He went after her once with mouth open and teeth bared. He actually scared Shiloh, who is twice his size! Before he ran the fence down (remember it is already weakened thanks to the wethers), I grabbed his rope, and (very nervously) caught him and tied him to the nearest tree. Then I quickly tossed him some hay. Normally he is a typical guy, and food easily distracts him. He ate, but with a distracted vengeance I have never seen from him. He actually had me pretty nervous. I ensured he was securely tied, calmed everyone down, then went in the house to check on the kids. When I looked back out at him, he was almost running circles around the tree. He paced, trotted, tangled himself, untangled himself….he was literally frantic. Next thing I knew, he was literally trying to climb the tree, standing as tall as he could reach (a good 8 feet or so), then jumping and leaping straight up. Then he would get down and just jump 6 feet into the air, reminding me of a bucking bronc in a rodeo. I was seriously concerned he was going to strangle himself. My gentle teddy-bear of a buck had absolutely gone mad!
I ran inside and called a more experienced goat-y friend and breeder I knew. I told her the situation. She explained it was literally a “testosterone-high.” She told me what to do about it. So, I got all my girls turned out to pasture (so they’d have plenty of room to run away if need be), then turned Stallion out with them. It distracted him for all of about 30 seconds. Then, he bolted back to the front fence, and proceeded to try to climb it again. I caught him, and tied him to a tree, and took my girls back to their pen. Finally, out of desperation, per my friend’s “Plan B” suggestion, I called my neighbor and requested that I borrow her doe-in-heat for the day. She brought the doe over, and we turned her and Stallion out together in the pasture. He bred her several times, and then, although he was still thinking with parts other than his brain, he finally began to settle down. They stayed together for several hours, and I watched as she gradually began to resist his advances more and more. He continued to shadow her, but as long as he was with her, he was happy and calm. Finally, after about 5 hours, he calmed to the point that he would allow her to move short distances away from him. I waited a bit longer, and he eventually started acting like the big, stinky, calm “teddy-bear” buck I was used to. At that point, I put him back in his pen with Shiloh, and he seemed OK. I returned the visiting doe to the neighbor. Unfortunately, she was covered in his stink and filth, and she is their milk goat. I feel really badly about that. There just isn’t much you can do about it.
So, here we are. It’s Wednesday night, and I think my nerves have about had it. I am seriously praying for a boring, smooth, and easy day tomorrow. Of course, since the day starts bright and early with me hauling 5 children to the dentist where 3 of them have an appointment, I’m afraid to get my hopes up.
November 7, 2011
Posted by redgatefarm under Animals
, Farm Life
We have been told on occasion that we aren’t truly farmers “until…(insert whatever).” Yesterday, we learned that this life can, in fact, be better than any novel. In one afternoon, we experienced unexpected adventure, battles, defeats, destruction, feelings of triumph followed by sheer helplessness, finally winding up in tragic death. It would have been a test of any livestock owner’s resolve and dedication, and I’m thrilled to say my husband proved himself in soooo many ways. Today, we are tired, and sore. And the job isn’t over yet. Nonetheless, I was proud of his ultimate victory, and in the end, we both learned many valuable lessons.
I’ll tell you the story in all my infamous and verbose detail, however, I apologize that the pictures as quite limited. During the mayhem, the last thing I had time to do was grab a camera, so all the pictures are from AFTER the kills. Be forewarned, some are quite graphic, so if you have a weak stomach, you may want to avoid reading further.
So, first I have to set the stage…..Remember that Craigslist ad I put on a while back saying we would take unwanted animals for meat? Well, surprised that my ad was even still online, I got an e-mail last week offering us 2, 3 year old, fully horned Alpine wethers (castrated males). They weren’t too far from us, and I just had to pick them up. I thought about the repurcussions of accepting the offer, realizing my freezer space is quite limited, but came up with another plan I thought would work even better. I had a guy who wanted 4 of my spring goat kids, because he wanted horned animals to be pets and weedeaters. The only downside was that he wasn’t crazy over raising them for a year before turning them out. I thought it would be a perfect match, as these boys were already doing what this guy needed. He was a newbie, though, so I had promised to match him with tame animals. I needed to verify these wethers would be gentle and tame enough for him to handle, and I wanted to do any hoof trimming or whatever to help him out before he took them.
So, we accepted. We figured, in a worst case scenario, they wouldn’t work for this customer, and we would just butcher them over the next few weeks as freezer space became available. No biggie, right? Yesterday afternoon, I went to pick them up. We figured Sunday, a much-anticipated day of rest, was a perfect day to pick them up, and let them settle in over the next few days. The previous owner was so excited that I may be able to find a home for them rather than butcher, and asked me to let him know if everything worked out. The farm was beautiful–green grass, no goats on dirt paddocks, a few friendly goats, and few stand-offish ones. The fencing consisted of about 3 strands of poly-tape fencing, turned off and not electrified, and a little 4 foot high gate. No big deal, and the goats never challenged it once. All the goats were a little fat if anything, and these wethers were obviously used to the living in luxury. The owner warned me that they could be a little hard to catch, but once caught, they were gentle and would allow you do what needed to be done.
The wethers were beautiful animals! Very majestic, with foot-long horns, sleek and shiny coats, and gorgeous markings. We caught the first one without much trouble, got him loaded into my van. Yes, we used my mini-van because it’s all we have. S had carefully laid a tarp, padded the roof to protect from horns, and done the best he could to make sure it could handle these big boys. Once loaded the first wether wasn’t happy, but he stayed calm enough, so we returned to the paddock to catch the other one. That was a bit more of an adventure, taking about 30 minutes to get the boy cornered. As predicted, though, once caught, he settled well enough, and we loaded him into the van too. I knew that getting them out of the van would be a challenge, as we had to ensure neither got loose at our house. I wasn’t confident I would be able to catch them again in a new place. They settled in for the ride home, though I found myself praying hard that no poorly-aimed horns would take out a van window. I drove about 30 mph the whole way to make sure nothing upset the goats. I figured if I could just get home, everything would be fine. I was wrong. Very wrong.
During my absence, S had carefully ensured our multi-purpose pen behind the house was ready to go. With 5 foot high, 2×4 wire, lined with electric wire on the inside, we’ve never had trouble putting animals in there for quarantine or whatever. Even before we moved it from its last location, when it was not pulled very tight, our most frightened, timid doe, Sara, had respected it.
I arrived home, we grabbed some solid horse lead lines, fastened them to the wethers, and S took one, while I took the other. They were nervous, no doubt, but S led his into the pen, and mine eagerly followed. We got into the pen, let them stand for a moment to evaluate their surroundings, and then removed the leads. They huddled together for a moment, took a few steps, and then, suddenly, one decided to take a flying leap. He cleared the hot wire, got tangled in the top of the wire fence, and as he struggled, he brought down 1/4 of the side of the fence. He eventually cleared his legs, bounded out into freedom, and now that the fence was out of the way, the other lept over what was left, and followed closely behind. That’s the moment we knew we were in trouble.
We now had two, huge, 200 lb goats, with massive horns, loose, just a hundred yards or so from a highway. We had to catch them and they didn’t like to be caught. Things were not looking good. Right then, I noticed Stallion, our Alpine buck. Now, we are half-way through rut, and Stallion has kinda gotten used to the idea that any new goat on the property is here to be serviced by him. He got a look at these two beauties, and wanted them. He didn’t take half a moment to consider perhaps they weren’t does. In any case, he was turned out in my pasture–the only fence not lined with electric wire, and decided to stand on the fence. I had to get him down before we had 3 loose goats! Then I got the bright idea that, maybe, the wethers would follow him into his buck-proof pen. So, while S guarded the property perimeter, and directed the wethers towards the doe and buck pens, I leashed up Stallion, and took him from the pasture. We allowed the wethers to get a look at him, but they couldn’t have cared less. So, I took him into his pen, and tied him to a tree, leaving the gate open in hopes we could direct the wethers in. Although the fence was shorter (4 feet), it was lined with extra electric wire, beside all the other goats, and Stallion was in there. I hoped it would work. It was, after all, our only option.
We tried a few maneuvers, but they wouldn’t be herded in. One was extra nervous and jumpy by now, and the other followed his lead. Then, S realized, they were very curious about him. So, he started jogging away from them, and….to my eyes’ disbelief, they followed at a quick pace! They always stayed just out of his reach, but they followed! So, he continued jogging and calling to them, as they followed him—right into the buck pen! I was totally impressed! My husband does nothing with the goats most of the time, but these boys sure took a liking to him! I ran behind and shut the gate. Whew! All was well, they seemed to calm down in Stallion’s presence (though Stallion was totally turned on by now!), and we just stood there watching for a few minutes. Eventually, I had to let Stallion off the lead, and I couldn’t put him back in the pasture now that he knew these guys were around. I figured the electrified pen was safe enough, and they had horns if he pestered too much. They seemed quite comfortable with his presence, so, after a few minutes letting them explore their new pen, we agreed it was time to turn Stallion loose. We decided to be a little smart, though, and left the lead attached to Stallion, trailing behind him, so we could grab it if necessary. That did not go as planned.
Stallion’s courtship behaviour was not appreciated or wanted, and that same leader took another flying leap, overcoming all the electric wire, and once again thoroughly entangling himself in the top of my 4-foot fence. He essentially destroyed the entire back line of fencing for Stallion and Shiloh’s pen, ripping out my corner posts, bending metal brackets and staples holding things together. Quite a display of strength, actually! What had taken us days to install, took him mere moments to destroy! For whatever reason, thank the Lord, once he untangled himself, he jumped INTO the pen, rather than out of it. S immediately grabbed Stallion’s lead, and re-tied him to the tree. Now what? S ran around to try to boost up the back fence, in hopes of discouraging a complete escape.
That stinking wether decided to show us! He lept right over the dividing fence and into the does pen, this time, only slightly denting my center fence! So much for quarantine! And then he lept back into Stallion’s pen, perfectly clearing the fence! I have heard of this type of uncontainable goat, but never witnessed it first hand! He might as well have been a deer, with his flawless grace and agility. At this point, we had nothing that would contain these boys, and no neighbors with fencing more secure than ours. They were effectively taking out every fence we did have, one by one, and we knew, if they escaped again, they could potentially cause a car accident if they made it over to the highway. There was only one, sad option to take. And we don’t own a pistol. So, S asked if I could handle things. “SURE! No problem! (Yeah right..insert helpless deer in the headlight look here)”, and he ran off to I didn’t know where. Remember I told you the wethers liked him? Yeah, no sooner did he run off, then that pesky wether decided to follow–perfectly clearing the front fence of my buck pen! AAGH! Now, I had me, and one wether on either side of one of my few, still-standing, fences. This was the most helpless situation I have been in in a long time!
By God’s grace, I managed to position myself to discourage the second buck from jumping, which kept the escapee close by. Then, by a divine miracle, I was able to approach the escapee, grab his collar, and lead him back into the pen. And I never let go of that collar again! I held it with a death grip I didn’t know existed, and we stood perfectly still, waiting for S to return from who knew where.
After an eternity (actually, just about the 5 longest minutes of my life since I experienced childbirth), S returned with a pistol in his hand. He had gone to our neighbor’s, a retired Army warrant officer with a nice artillery collection, and borrowed it. He managed to catch the other wether, as my hands were permanently attached to the collar of my wether. Before I could even get turned around (I can’t stand the killing part!), BAM!!, and the wether slipped into oblivion. Then, S calmly walked over to my wether, helped pry my hand from the collar, and then took him. Mind you, as if we didn’t have enough adventure at this point, realize that loud, sudden noises can spook even the calmest of goats. So, he just blew the first wether, with a .38 caliber pistol (it was the smallest the neighbor had), 5 feet from Stallion, who was tied to a tree, and 10 feet from all my does. Shiloh was still out to pasture and unaffected. Then, all the goats had stood stock still as they witnessed the first wether die. So, with everyone on edge, I told S I wanted to get Stallion out of the pen first. I untied his lead, took him to a tree outside his pen, and “BAM!!” the second wether was gone.
Now, the sun was disappearing, and we had two, 200 lb goats lying dead in my buck pen, with pools of blood running everywhere. It was like a scene from a horror movie. My donkey was out to pasture with no shelter and temps were dropping into the 20’s already, my buck was tied to a tree, their fence was half-demolished, and my does were nervous wrecks by now. S was freezing, but knew he had to get them out of the pen and up to his harvesting area–not that anything was set up for butchering anyway. It wasn’t exactly in our plans for the day. He decided to bleed the goats right there, before too much time passed. I took off my coat and gave it to him, and then started running back and forth to the house to get supplies. I ran in and got the kids situated–oh, yeah, it suddenly became a netflix movie night! JR was put in charge of dinner, and I bundled up and grabbed flashlights, lanterns, and other supplies. S then came in to change his clothes (he was still wearing his church clothes from that morning during all this mayhem!).
So, next step was to figure out how to get those beasts several hundred yards to the house. We have an industrial-sized wheelbarrow, and figured that was the best option. This is a disgusting photo, but it gives you a size reference. I told you these boys were huge!
Have you ever tried to roll 200 completely limp pounds of flesh ANYWHERE? It isn’t easy. These boys weighed almost as much as S and I combined. We tried lifting them into the wheelbarrow. That just didn’t happen! So, we laid the barrow on its side, rolled the beast into it, then heaved and pulled every muscle we had to right the wheelbarrow. It worked. S pushed the wheelbarrow, while I held the horns to keep the big head from flopping around and throwing the wheelbarrow off balance. We got almost to the butcher area, when the strain became too much for the wheelbarrow, and the wheel fell off. At that point, S grabbed the goat’s legs, and drug him the rest of the way. Then, we repaired the wheelbarrow, effectively tightening everything up good, and returned for goat #2. Somewhere in the midst of all that, Stallion had settled down now that the new goats were gone, so S had put him back to pasture with Shiloh.
It was about 5 pm, 29*, daylight was gone (wouldn’t you know daylight savings would end that day!), we had 400 lbs. of meat to tend to, lots of prep work to do, no freezer to put the meat into, and no hooks that would support that much weight for hanging. And it was just S and I. Nonetheless, we got busy. First, S got some sturdy hooks hung into our second-floor back deck, so he could hang the goats for skinning and gutting. Then, we had to hang the goat. He ran a tie-rope through the heels, then attached a second rope around the heels for us to lift. We looped the rope around the deck ballisters, and then around my waist for leverage. S pulled and lifted, while I tightened and held the weight. Thank the Lord for karate classes all those years ago! I had to use all those body-bracing techniques I learned! And, I also thanked God for plenty of butt padding! I knew it would have a use one day! Once we got the goat up to the deck level, I held the rope, while S ran back downstairs and tied it off to the hooks. It worked!
There is a solid 7 feet of clearance UNDER the deck, so these boys were massive! I finished playing gopher for S, we got a lantern hooked up for him to supply light, and he set to skinning while I went in and tended the children. Hours later, he had managed to skin and gut both boys, and his hands were so fatigued, they wouldn’t even function correctly. Once I got the kids settled, I had to go back out and try to repair fences by flashlight. After about an hour, and a lot of jerry-riggin’, I got my buck pen at least functional for holding Stallion and Shiloh that night, so they could have shelter. I covered the blood up with straw. Thankfully, they were too concerned with eating their hay to worry about their surroundings. Then, we had to move to the next step for the wethers.
It was forecasted to be in the low 20’s that night, and we didn’t want the meat to freeze. It was going on 10 pm by now, so we didn’t have time to cut it all up. We also couldn’t leave it out to attract coyotes. So, we decided to turn our garge into a meat locker. I went and installed hooks in the ceiling while S cleaned up the mess in the yard. The mess included about 100 lbs of gut material, much of which we hated to waste, but we were out of time, and I had no space to store it anyway. We didn’t want that much meat to draw the attention of predators to our farm, so S loaded it all up in the wheelbarrow, and walked it down the road to a country trails park, which also happens to be full of all sorts of wildlife. He dumped it where coyotes would easily find it. He returned, slung the carcasses over his back, and carried it into the garage, where we strung it up to hang. Then, he climbed up on the roof with a flashlight, where our solar-powered electric fence charger is installed, and disconnected the totally shorted-out wire of the first pen we put the wethers in. Now, my garage is looking like a scene from a horror flick.
We open and close the garage doors to control the temperature of the garage, in an attempt to keep it around 35-40*. I just have to hope the UPS guy (or any other visitor, for that matter) doesn’t pull into the driveway while the door is open!
So, today, I think we will be taking a break from school, cleaning pens, and preparing to cut up the carcasses this evening. There isn’t much else I can do to repair fences without S’s help, so I’ll just have to hope the current fences hold the critters that are already used to them.
As far as that meat goes, I will put what I can in the freezers, Athena will be getting some seriously large feasts at each feeding for a while, and if any of our friends out there desire some goat meat, let us know. We have plenty!!
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