Goats


Hello, and maybe I should introduce myself.  I seem to have broken my own record for length of time not blogging.  Who’d have guessed retirement with hubby home all day would be busier than mom-life with husband working in a career all day?!  But, as one blog-buddy put it, we are living the dream, and loving every moment of it….well almost every moment.

Oh, where do I start?  How about babies?  Because everyone loves babies, right?

We had the most amazing kid crop this year.  Best ever!  The does were fertile, the deliveries were easy, and the kids were all the same weights, roughly.   These are all signs of good nutrition, which I attribute to the winter hay and woodland browse they got last fall through this spring.  Faith had a single buckling.  Again.  Thus, we decided it was time to cull her.  Don’t worry, we didn’t eat her.  Just sold her to another family who didn’t need the high quantities of milk we prefer, and didn’t mind single births.  Joy delivered twins, totally unassisted.  Caramel, our petite little doe, amazingly delivered a huge single doeling totally unassisted.  Just popped it right out.  The doeling clearly did not have mom’s petite genetics, and will no doubt be full sized.  Nonetheless, we decided to cull those genetics as well.  I sold Caramel and her doeling to a lady who was starting a mini-Alpine herd, for which they were perfect.  Latte’ delivered triplets–two does and a buck, and all were the spitting image of her!  She was the only one I had to assist a bit, as the first little doeling had her nose tucked a bit when the other two decided to race her to the birth canal and got her all jammed up in there.  I just had to get her little nose up into the canal, and then she popped out, followed quickly by the other two.  Needless to say, we paired down our goat herd again.  We are down to Latte, Joy, and Joy’s little doeling, Hope.  We harvested all the bucklings and sold the other doelings.  Here’s a few of the kid photos, just for fun.

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Tiffany, the Lowline, and Abbigail, our jersey, had their calves about a week apart.  Both calved unassisted, though both calves required a little forced colostrum to get them going.  I’m not sure why that was, but it was another strike against cattle, who S has decided are his least favorite animal on the farm.  Tiffany and Hollie, the other cow, along with Tiffany’s bull calf are all up for sale, and will hopefully be gone by the end of the week.  Abbigail’s cutie of a heifer calf was purchased by the owner of the sire for his grandson to raise as a nurse cow, as she is a Jersey/Lowline cross.  Did you get that last sentence?  Just read it a couple more times and it will eventually fall into place.  I will probably do the same breeding this year, if the sire is still available.  I had a blast training the heifer to a bottle and halter training her before she left.  She even wound up the star of a recent petting zoo event we did in town.

Tiffany's bull calf

Tiffany’s bull calf

Abby's heifer calf

Abby’s heifer calf

We have chicks running out the wazoo.  We recently got our second batch of meat birds from Murray McMurray hatchery.  In an attempt to increase our laying flock for next year, I bought up a bunch from craigslist, and we have hatched another batch.  We currently have about 75 meat bird chicks in the tractors, and about 44 purebred and mixed breed laying chicks in the brooder.

We’ve also had several litters of rabbit kits.  JR recently lost Pelham, his old, favorite buck, which was a bummer.  He also had trouble getting one of his new does bred, so he decided to cull her and start over with one of Pelham’s last litter.

That’s it for babies around the farm.  I’ll try once again to get you updated.  I have gotten several inquiries as to my whereabouts from some faithful readers, and I greatly appreciate it.  It’s always nice knowing folks out there care and are praying for us.  We’ve had a few tough times recently, and needed all the prayers, for sure.  Things are going well now, and actually slowing down a little for the first time, so we’ll see if I can be more regular.

Every year, goat breeding season rolls around, and every year, I miss my beloved buck, Stallion (we had to sell him, which you can read about here).  Every year, I consider buying another good buck so I don’t have to worry about finding and depending on some outside buck.  Then, God always blesses us with a good outside buck who visits for a while, and every year, I suddenly find myself reminded of the fact that I do NOT, in fact, care to own a buck, nor do I even want one on the property a day longer than necessary to get the deed done.

This summer, I sold the best buckling I’ve ever had born on my farm (in fact, Pride was the only buck I’ve ever kept in tact).  Unfortunately, he was too closely related to most of my girls this year, so I sold him with breeding rights, which included use of another buck owned by the buyer.  This new buck, Fearless, has a very impressive pedigree, is probably even friendlier than Stallion was, and I can’t deny he is a gorgeous Alpine boy with an impressive beard!

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What I also cannot deny is the the smell he exuded, which hit me before I was within 50 feet of that trailer.  A week after his delivery, I do believe his bucky aroma had permeated every nook, cranny, and crevice of my barn, was my constant companion during milking, had altered the flavor of my normally-delicious goat milk (in a bucky sort of way–not good!), and occasionally made its presence known even in the house after someone accidentally let him rub his disgusting beard on their clothing.

I was originally planning to hang onto him for about 8 weeks, to make sure all girls were covered, and give me time to preg-check them.  The smell was just more than I could handle though, so as soon as I saw all girls bred, I hauled the beast home!

Other than the stink, though, he was a gentlemen for the most part.  He did what we needed him to do, and never asked for more than a hug in return.

I almost lost a goat Sunday morning.  I had worked REALLY hard on some outdoor projects Saturday, leaving me so sore by Sunday I could barely crawl out of bed.  I decided we were skipping church, as I couldn’t bear the thought of the hard pew and the squirmy 2 year old in my lap.  I even asked JR and M to milk for me, as I didn’t think my arms could handle it.  When they got to the barn and called in the goats, all came running except Faith.  That just doesn’t happen.  They went looking for her, and found her up the hill, tangled in a pile of poly-wire and plastic fence netting.  I had it around my chicken coop, but turned off the electricity after moving the hens into the barn.  In any case, she had gotten herself hopelessly tangled, and was clearly in distress.

JR, at 56 lbs, did his dead-level best to free the 120 lb goat, but just couldn’t.  He sent M to the house to fetch me.  So much for my morning of rest.  I really wish I could have moved faster.  I suspect that, rather than the heroic savior I would like to picture myself as, I looked more like an old granny, dressed in my PJ’s, robe, and muck boots and hobbling my sore and aching body as fast (probably just over a snail’s pace with my sore back) as I could across the pasture.  I could see long before I reached them that it was not good.  The goat was alive and standing, but I didn’t know a goat’s head and neck could swell that big!  The cord was caught and wrapped so tightly around the base of her neck, just in front of her shoulders, that I couldn’t even see it laying under the hair.  I had to dig for it.  It was so tight, she couldn’t swallow, and was making these horrific gurgling noises each time she tried.  Every part of her body above the cord, including her neck, jaws, forehead, cheeks, and chin was swollen to twice it’s normal size.  She looked so strange.  I managed to untangle the cord enough to let her swallow, but I couldn’t get it off.  I sent JR to the barn for my sharpest scissors, and cut the cord, finally freeing the poor girl.

Here's Faith's profile from a few months ago.  Nice, tapering head and very slender, feminine neck.

Here’s Faith’s profile from a few months ago. Nice, tapering head and very slender, feminine neck.

Here's Faith yesterday, with everything swollen.

Here’s Faith yesterday, with everything swollen.

If the situation hadn't been so frightening, I would have laughed.  She looked so goofy with her puffy face!

If the situation hadn’t been so frightening, I would have laughed. She looked so goofy with her puffy face!  It’s hard to see, but if you look below her jawline, you can get an idea that her neck is almost as thick as her shoulders.

She was a bit more nervous and crazy-eyed than usual, but otherwise seemed fine.  I dosed her with a good bit of Vitamin B complex–an excellent remedy for stress or if there is any issue that may affect appetite.  It just keeps things functioning like they should.   I offered her some hay, which she happily ate with seemingly no issue.  I am not yet convinced she’s out of the water.  She still has some swelling to her jaw, and weird lumps randomly located around her neck and face.  She also appears to have a mild case of scours, and her breath seems funny–almost like necrosis had begun, which I can’t explain.  If I hadn’t been in so much pain myself, I also would have given her Vit C and probiotics, but I figured I would give it later if her condition changed.  The vets I used to work with always told me that the first 24 hours after a traumatic injury are the  most critical.  If the animal survives through that period, then there is a really good chance they will be fine.  It’s basically the rule I use now.  I am, however, going to assume she will have a very sore throat for a few days, so I will be watching her feed consumption closely, and go from there.

As usual, there is never a dull moment around this place.  Sometimes, I really wish there would be!

It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

After much contemplation, I have decided to sell both my remaining goat kids.  It is sad, as I had counted on selling Latte, and replacing her with Caramel, but Caramel is just too petite to be bred this year by a standard sized buck, and Latte is my best producer.  Pride is reaching breeding age, and I was planning to use him on Mocha, who we don’t have anymore.  I guess things just don’t always work according to plan.  In any case, if you know anyone who is into Alpines, please let them know that these two kids are available.  More info can be found on our “Animals” page and our “Sales” page.

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We’ve had to say good-bye here around the farm a couple of times recently.

First, it was Asha, Shiloh’s yearling jenny foal.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo before she left.  She became a bit of a handful–more like a spoiled rotten little brat, in reality.  I had no time to work with her, and she took full advantage of that.  She chased the cows, she chased the goats, she chased the chickens, and she chased the dogs.  Then, one day, I happened to look up just in time to see her pin her ears and charge across the paddock toward little A, who was trying to come to me.  I intervened and put a stop to that, and the next morning, I put her on Craigslist for a slightly lower price.  Pestering the other critters is one thing.  Going after my kid is another!  Surprisingly, she sold within 3 hours of my post, and they immediately came and picked her up.  She went to a new farm, where she will be a guardian of cattle to help protect from the local coyote population.  I was able to honestly assure them that no other critter would be allowed to peacefully try to dine on their cattle if Asha was around!

We’ve had our moments of missing her, but I have to admit, I forgot how peaceful things were before she came along.  Shiloh is back to her old self now, happily munching alongside the goats rather than chasing them.  I can put her in a pen with any of our other critters, and she is content.  We can now ride without her screaming for Asha, and it is so nice to work with her sans Asha’s annoying attempts to steal Shiloh’s attention.

The next loss, far more unexpected, was Mocha.  To add insult to injury, Mocha was my 2nd best doe (ling), and I had planned to keep her and sell her dam.

Mocha

I put all the critters to bed one night, and the next morning, walked out to find her lying prostrate on her side, foaming at the mouth, and struggling to breathe.  I quickly grabbed my Vitamin C, but it was already too late.  She was beyond swallowing.  I found myself cursing our laws once again, as I am confident injectable Vit C may have helped, but I can’t find a vet willing to write the legally required prescription to obtain it.  Instead, I was forced to run to the house and grab my gun, dreading shooting my first animal.  Mercifully, by the time I returned, she was gone.

I am 99% confident it was entero, as I had just dealt with a bought of it with Latte’. I caught Latte a bit earlier, while she was still standing and walking.  After a few doses of Vit C, vitamin paste, kelp, parsley, and copper (spread out over a few hours time), she bounced right back and was fine by the next morning.  I believe both episodes were brought on by a lack of proper nutrition.  Ever since we moved in, the goats have been adapting to a whole new feed source.  In addition, due to the rotational nature, I had yet to find a convenient way to ensure they had daily access to kelp.   They would often go days without it.  Since the episodes, I have solved that issue and been faithfully offering their kelp on a daily basis.  It took 3 days for them to catch up and stop licking the bowl clean.  They were a lot more behind than I thought.   I have also increased the opportunities to browse the forest rather than be limited to pasture.  I haven’t had any other issues since then, so hopefully we won’t deal with that again.

I hate when I have to learn the hard way!  Losses are always rough.

We are seeing results from our “Forest Hogs” already, and I am impressed.  When they were just 9 weeks old, we turned the pigs out into a roughly 1/2 acre section of woodland, with a small section of pasture adjoining it.  Here is what the land looked like when we turned them out: (Notice the fallen spruce tree in the center to give you reference).

The land before pigs

The land before pigs

Just 2.5 weeks later, I took this picture from the same spot:

The land after pigs

The land after pigs

Now granted, they had a little help.  We turned 2 cow/calf pairs out with the pigs randomly, for a total of 7 days in the forest paddock.  The donkey was out there for less than 2 days, and the goats for maybe 2 days.  Although certainly not necessary, I figured all the animals would create some  “mob” effect, which essentially creates natural competition and encourages them to eat more and faster.  They’re just like my 4 and 5 year old boys, each of whom are convinced it is sole duty to NOT allow the other to eat more of some treat. Because so many different species are involved, their natural grazing/browsing habits complement each other.  After 2.5 weeks, the brush was eaten from the height of the cows’ backs and down.  There is almost no green foliage left.  The next picture shows 2 sections of the 2.5 acre forest lot, with our electric fence netting dividing it into smaller sections.  The right side of the photo used to look just like the left side.  After 2.5 weeks, the pigs were moved into the left side paddock to eat it down as well.

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Here is another view from the adjoining pasture area.  The foreground shows the grazed down paddock and pasture, while the background shows a future paddock to be grazed.  Notice the difference in the height of the grass, which shows where the electric fence ran.  The animals graze right to the electric netting.

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As you can see, they don’t just eat forage either.  Pretty much everything that grows is considered edible.  This photo shows the electric netting again, dividing the already grazed pasture portion of the paddock on the left, and the new pasture on the right.

Happy pigs!

Happy pigs!

I have seen enough photographic evidence to leave me no doubt that if I left the pigs longer, or if I decreased the size of the pen, or if I fed them less supplements, that they would literally clear that paddock down to bare earth.  I have studied a number of pasture-pig farmers who do it that way, allowing the pigs to tear down everything, and then the farmer rebuilds his pasture from scratch.  I decided I didn’t want to do that, though.  I preferred to have the pigs “massage” the land, clean it up a bit, spread some fertilizer, and then move on.  Then, if I have time, I can go in and manually whack down the remaining sapling and brush stems OR I can rotate the pigs through again in a few months.  Waiting a while gives the slightly over-grazed pasture time to replenish itself while also allowing all the accumulated manure to break down and be absorbed in the soil without being overloaded.  By the time the pigs will move through again, they will likely be twice as big, and therefore eat twice as much in the same time frame.

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing "wee-wee-wee" all the way to the milk bucket!

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing “wee-wee-wee” all the way to the milk bucket!

Although it isn’t necessary, I have chosen to supplement their forage diet.  In a paddock like this, they eat not only all the leaves and grass, but also bugs, slugs, frogs, leaves, branches, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and more.  Pigs are not just vegetarians.  They are omnivores, and require high protein levels to thrive.   If I raised them strictly on forage, they would likely either take longer to reach an ideal slaughter weight, and/or be much leaner and lighter at slaughter time.  Thus, I have decided to supplement with my excess goat milk.  I sour the milk for 24 hours (apparently the extra probiotics are better for them), mix in some organic rolled cereal grains, leftovers from dinner, anything I want to clean out of the fridge or cabinets, extra eggs (complete with shells), and so on.  They absolutely go crazy over the “slop” concoctions we come up with.  This also means they come running every time they hear us call, in the hopes we are bringing that slop pail along.

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears...

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears…or the slop pail I failed to bring this time.

An additional fact worth mentioning is that pigs are great manure spreaders!  I don’t mean they poop everywhere, either, although they do that as well.  I mean pigs LOVE cow patties as much as chickens.  My chickens have stayed busy rotating through the the main pastures, helping us break down cow patties there, as well as waging war on the Japanese beetle crop in the orchard this summer.  Meanwhile, I am loath to pet the pigs lately, as these warm….no, I mean incredibly, ridiculously, HOT….days have driven the pigs to desperate measures.  They absolutely love to roll in those fresh cow patties.  They roll, plow, dig, spread, you name it.  Although disgusting to watch, it does a great service. It helps the manure break down much faster, and prevents fly larvae from accumulating, and subsequently hatching out of the patties.  That’s always a good thing.

For the sake of my non-farmer readers, though, I took a cleaner picture to close with.  Isn’t she cute?!

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As a follow up on the Rotational Grazing post I did recently, I figured I would do a post regarding the shelters we are using.

First, we needed a layer coop.  There are lots of ideas regarding portable chicken coops out there, so that one wasn’t too difficult.  The greater difficulty was building it cheaply, using as many already-owned supplies as we could.  S succeeded in using the wood and the wagon wheels, though we did have to purchase lightweight roofing (wood would have made it too heavy).

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After the coop was built, it wound up a bit too heavy for one person to move alone.  Since I have to move it every 2 days right now, with plans to move it daily in the future, we decided to utilize our 4 wheeler for the time being.

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I simply lift the front, and cargo strap it to the ATV.

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Strapped in this fashion makes pulling quite simple.  Braking, on the other hand, is a problem, especially when you consider that our pasture is one big rolling hill.  So, I had to find a brake system to keep the coop from running into the ATV.

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All I needed was a willing party and 2 strong legs.  Don’t laugh.  It works quite well, thank you!  JR usually does this job for me, but S helped me on this particular day.  With gas and brakes working, we can now move with no problem.

As a side note, the coop is still far too heavy for my liking.  As a result, we are hoping to reconstruct the floor, and change it from it’s current wood plank construction to 2×3’s and welded wire.  I think it will reduce the weight significantly.  It will likely be a while before I get to that project though, so for now, I will continue using the ATV.

The other shelter was a bit more of a problem for us.  Again, we wanted to use as many already-owned supplies as we could.  We still haven’t come up with a design we like, but what we currently have is a hoop house, re-designed out of our hay-shelter supplies from our Colorado home.  If you study hoop houses, you will quickly see that when intended for anything other than poultry, they must be sturdy enough for animals to lean on and push against.  Cattle panel hoop houses make a great, very strong house–assuming the ends are reinforced somehow.  Otherwise, the panels can potentially collapse and fold up.  We learned the hard way, when our first windy day came along.  Most people use t-posts to reinforce when the shelter is intended to be stationary, but ours was to be portable and built on skids, so we needed another plan.  S put his engineering brain to work and decided to reinforce with a wood A-frame, attached to the panels with screws, fence staples, and hooks.  Since it was intended only for goats originally, he put the center cross beam as low as he could for support.

The cows took over the goat shelter.   I don't even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The cows took over the goat shelter. I don’t even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The downside of this design is that only short animals can fit in there.  Somehow, our donkey and cows managed to get in, but I suspect they will eventually break down that center support scraping under it like they do.  The other downside of a cattle-panel hoop house is that it is heavy.  We used 2 panels, wood skids and supports, and a heavy duty tarp, and it weighs several hundred pounds.  An upside of panels is that I can easily attach a mineral feeder under the shelter to keep the minerals out of the rain and still easily accessible to the critters.  Because it is on skids, a draft horse could easily move it.  Until we get our horse, though, we use the ATV for this also.

S installed large eye-hooks about 1/3 of the way down each skid on each side, and attached a chain going across the grass from one skid to the other. You can just see the sides of the chain on each side in this photo, one side being just above the bottom goat’s right ear:

IMG_0902There is another chain that loops to the dividing chain, and the second one sits under the front ground support board.  You can see it above coming up out of the grass, just outside the middle of the shelter.  I run the cargo straps through this chain, as close as I can.  When I pull forward, the motion actually lifts the front of the shelter several inches so it slides easier over the grass.

Now the shelter is on skids, so technically doesn’t need wheels, but we were worried about the back center board falling apart as it was dragged over the grass day after day, so we decided to use wheels anyway for the actual move, and just let the shelter rest on the skids when not moving.  In order to do that, we use a standard household dolly with 4 wheels.

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We have a large block of wood that rests between the back board and the end of the dolly, to keep the weight and pull better distributed.

Once everything is set up, I drive the shelter to the next paddock.

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As is usually the case, this is our first trial, and I’m confident there will be many changes as time goes on and we get better at this farming stuff.  This is definitely not our long-term plan….we just don’t know what the long-term plan is yet, so this will have to suffice.

There is an idea out there regarding grazing animals that is quite literally so old, it has become new again.  This type of grazing has many benefits, both for the land and for the animals.  Think about a wild herd of grass-eating animals….the herd comes through, stops and grazes an open prairie for a day or two, and then moves on.  Think too, on what occurs during this grazing time.

Wild buffalo herd grazing and moving across an open prairie.  Source: internet stock photo

Wild buffalo herd grazing and moving across an open prairie.
Source: internet stock photo

Benefits to the land include:

  • Animals “massage” the land, rather than decimate and damage it.
  • Animals manure and urinate all over, thus fertilizing the land.  Since they stay such a short time, they do not poison or overload the land with their nutrient-rich waste.
  • Animal manure contains seeds from the previous pasture, which then grow in that pasture.  Because they generally prefer to eat only healthy, palatable forages, they are thereby distributing seeds from these plants, rather than weedy, less palatable ones.
  • Each time grass is grazed down, the roots die back slightly, and the grass then regrows.  This cycle keeps the grass in a fertile, nutrient-rich, growth state, unlike grass that matures, turns tough, stemmy, and fibrous, and goes to seed.
  • Each time animals pass through, the land is naturally torn up a little–but not too much.  This serves to aerate and churn the soil a bit, making it healthier for all the organisms within as well as the grasses.
  • Between the tearing up, churning up, and eating down of grasses, the pasture is left in a healthy, growing state, which prevents wildfires, flooding, erosion, and other problems often associated with abandoned, overgrown, bare, and/or unhealthy pastures.

Benefits to the animals include:

  •  Animals always have fresh grass and forage to eat, increasing weight gains and access to nutrient-rich plants.
  • Animals do not graze manure-soiled grounds, which prevents re-ingestion of parasites.
  • Wild animals usually graze in groups, which creates a competitiveness among them, resulting in faster eating.  This also increases nutrient consumption.

One study I saw showed that one season of mob-stocking (large-group intensive grazing) a large open area with a large group of sheep  for a short period of time, resulted in a 50% increase in forage the next year.  That’s pretty incredible if you think about it!

Because God has designed nature to work a certain way, to the benefit of all, we wanted to model after the natural order of things.  One of the big plans we had in mind for raising grass-fed animals on Red Gate Farm was the concept of rotational grazing.  We studied Joel Salatin, Alan Nation, and other livestock managers who practiced intensive grazing and rotational grazing techniques.  Everyone we studied did it a little differently, ensuring there was no, single, “right” way to do it, but there were some points to consider that were pretty standard to get the most benefit:

  • Animals eat the best, most palatable forages the first day, and each day thereafter the quality of the feed decreases a bit.
  • Animals graze best with competition to push them.  We needed more than one animal.
  • Forage is most evenly grazed with a selection of animals, as each species tends to prefer different plants.
  • It takes most fly larvae about 4-7 days to hatch in the manure.  It takes most intestinal parasites 1-3 weeks to hatch and need a new host in order to continue the life cycle.  Therefore, if possible, the animal should be moved from a grazed area before 4 days to avoid the worst of the flies, and preferably not return until after 3 weeks to prevent re-infestation of parasites.
  • Grass takes 2-4 weeks (depending on the season, temperature, and rainfall) to go from an immature (freshly grazed) state back to a healthy, nutrient rich, “adolescent” state.  Re-graze too early, and you risk damaging the plant permanently because it is too immature.  Re-graze too late, and the plant may reach maturity and be less palatable.

Based on what we learned, we came up with a plan.  Again, everyone does it differently, but the following is what we do.

While cows, horses, and hogs can be fenced in with a single strand of electric wire, this is not the case with goats.  Due to the fact we were planning a variety of animals of all sizes and some with reputations for escape (i.e., goats!), we decided to first fence our perimeter with a solid, 2×4 woven wire fence with wood fence posts.  Good fences make good neighbors, and we do live in a neighborhood of mostly retired folks looking for the quiet life and a nice garden sans the neighbors’ loose livestock.

S and his brother, M, working on a section of perimeter fence.

S and his brother, M, working on a section of perimeter fence.

Then, inside our roughly 7-acre pasture perimeter fence, we subdivided.  Now, this was our biggest concern.  We weren’t sure (and still aren’t) how to best graze our limited acreage with as many animals as we plan.  Of course, it forced us to get more efficient with our animals, as we had absolutely no room for extras.  To get an idea, we first used electric poultry netting to train the animals, and moved it around for a couple weeks to get an idea how much forage they ate in a 24-period.  We then calculated their consumption, averaged it for almost-year-round grazing, and set up semi-permanent paddocks that are roughly 80 feet x 90 feet.  This gave the animals room to move around and frolic a bit, avoid bullies, and still have plenty to eat.  After more experimenting–mostly in an effort to figure out how to keep the goats in the paddocks (little escaping stinkers, they are!), we settled on 3 wires.  The top strand is a highly visible white poly-rope, while the bottom 2 strands are standard galvanized electric wire.  You can also see the portable shelters here.  I will do another post on those later.

You can see some of the paddocks we were setting up.  It looks a lot tidier nowadays, but this gives you an idea.

You can see some of the paddocks we were setting up. It looks a lot tidier nowadays, but this gives you an idea.

Once the paddocks were set up, we stocked one with animals.  Talk about a variety of complimentary species!

One donkey, 6 goats, 2 cows, and 2 calves.

One donkey, 6 goats, 2 cows, and 2 calves share a paddock.

Our goal is to rotate every day by next spring.  Right now, however, we don’t have all the animals we intend to have next year, and we are at the end of the spring growth, so the paddocks last my animals 2 days.  I am literally building a paddock on each move day.  Some graziers roll out a line and set up a new paddock in about 15 minutes.  With our setup, though, I don’t have time to do that long term, I’m not able to move my electric wire charger around as much, the goats don’t pay attention to a single wire anyway, and my watering system is not set up yet.  For those reasons, I decided to set up more permanent (but easily removable) paddocks, with a 10 foot alleyway down the middle of rows to make moving critters and water easier.  This setup actually gives me an extra paddock in the alleyway itself.  Whether the grass will continue to grow there long term, I don’t know, but for now, it is very useful.

A single cow grazed about 30% of our alleyway in 8 hours.

A single cow grazed down about 30% of our alleyway in 8 hours.

One of my favorite parts of this whole system is looking back at “yesterday’s” paddock when we move the animals to a fresh pen.  Moving is simple.  I simply drop the wires between pens, call the animals, and they have already learned that fresh forage awaits!  The next photo was taken after the animals had been on a paddock for 48 hours.  The brownish line down the middle is where I used a trimmer to remove growth under the wire.  The short grass on the left is the grazed paddock, and the long grass on the right is the new, ungrazed paddock.

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Joel Salatin always says that if it’s done correctly, you will see a “quilt-square” type effect, where each square of paddock is in a different stage of growth.  I think we’ve almost got it!

The short grass in the middle is the most recently grazed, the long grass at the bottom is the new paddock, and the brighter green section to the far left is a paddock we grazed 2 weeks ago.

The short grass in the middle is the most recently grazed, the long grass at the bottom is the new paddock, and the brighter green section to the far left is a paddock we grazed 2 weeks ago.

If everything goes correctly, then we will raise all our cows on this lush grass, which should be become healthier, less weedy, and more nutrient-dense with each passing season.  The goats are also grazed on this, supplemented with only a bit of grain at milking time.  What I didn’t go into here, but you can see evidence of in the 3rd and 4th photo is that our portable chicken layer coop follows about 4 days behind the other animals, so the birds can pick through all the manure, scatter it into the soil, and eat all the bug larvae and hatching parasites.  This is such a neat system, and so far, I am really liking it.  I will be tweaking it a bit here and there over the next year or so, I’m sure, but this gives you an idea what we are doing now.

Boy, when people ask what we farm, I am trying to come up with a good answer….”I grow soil (or grass)” just causes more questions.  “I raise livestock the old-fashioned way” just gets a mis-understanding nod.  “I use a polycultural symbiosis to raise a myriad of species on lush silvopasture” sounds like I’m really smart, but results only in blank stares.  Thus, “We have a little God-sufficient homestead, where we grow what we can for our family and sell the excess” is my current one.  It seems to be widely accepted so far.

Critters have been joining our farm left and right around here.  All of them were planned and expected, and we are loving the idea of living on a “real” farm.

In early June, our last Alpine doe, Faith, delivered an adorable little buckling.  Our former buck Stallion is the sire, and the little guy is built on the stockier side, just like his sister Joy.  I knew Faith was in labor, and I checked her regularly through the day and night as we were working around the farm.  I wound up being so exhausted from all the work I’d been doing that day though, that I missed the actual birth.  I showed up about 15 minutes late, to find Faith drying him off.  Oh well.  She had delivered around 5 in the morning, which meant I got to check on him, make sure he nursed, and then I went back to bed.  We are proud to have “Pride” as our first little goat baby born on Red Gate Farm.

Faith with new son, Pride

Faith with new son, Pride

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For now, I am planning to use Pride to breed Caramel and Mocha this fall.  All my goats are now officially related to Stallion, and those 2 does are the two most distantly related.  I have been thrilled with the genetics coming out of crosses with Stallion’s genetics, so I am going to try that, but then that’s it.  I have to find a new line if I decide to breed the other girls this fall.  We’ll see what happens.

In addition, if you recall back around Christmas, S and I gave JR a bird cage with the understanding that if he earned his money and proved responsible, we would allow him to fulfill a long-time wish to buy pet birds after we moved.  JR waited patiently.  I helped him do some research on breeds, and he decided he wanted cockatiels.  Once we got moved in, I started watching Craigslist for him.  I quickly became discouraged for him when sellers refused to talk to a child.  I found it so sad.  JR did great asking his questions, making calls, but one guy went so far as to just hang up on him.  I tried to intervene on that one, but for the most part, I wanted JR to have the experience with this.  Eventually, we found a hobbyist with a pair of hand-raised 1 year old babies–a male and female for a fair price.  It was still expensive, so JR and I discussed the risks of using his hard-earned money, but he really wanted to go for it.  So he did, and now JR is the proud owner of 2 beautiful and sweet little cockatiels.

JR playing with Neptune and Cindy.

JR playing with Neptune and Cindy.

We’ve had them about a week now.  They are still settling in.  There is no denying that our house can get a little loud and chaotic, so we are trying to give them plenty of time to adjust and feel safe.  JR has been working diligently with them, though, to politely step up on his finger and not be afraid.  He offers them different treats throughout the day as he tries to figure out their favorites.  His hard work is paying off, and they are beginning to trust us more and more.  Yesterday, for the first time, they “asked” to be let out of the cage.  I think we are about to see their real personalities emerge, as they settle in.  They are becoming more vocal and playful, and just generally seeming more at peace.  The little male already mimics sounds and whistles, which is fun.  JR is hoping to teach him a few words.

We have several other new additions to the farm, but I will show those in another post later.  Time to go do some house cleaning!

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