Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Update on Baby Longstem

I had to take pictures of a few goats to email to a potential customer this evening, and I took a few shots of some of the other critters around the farm. Some have suffered from the neglect of our postpartum (Virginia's) neglect (of the goats, not Virginia). Chuck got stuck with total goat duty for the first full month of her life, as we live so far from the farm I just didn't feel comfortable carrying her up there and having to have her sit in the car with the exteme heat out, even with the car running. He frequently did his feeding after dark, and it is hard to keep as close a tabs on everyone as we need to when you can't see them. There were more, however, that were happy as a clam during this time period, and Baby Longstem was among them. He was not weaned as early as he should have been for Louisianna's sake (although she is bouncing back now - all the mommas that weaned late this year got more run down than I like, one more lovely side effect from this brutal heat), but even after weaning he is stout and slick. I would never have thought it that first night of his life, when he was half frozen and couldn't stand. We knew he had an incredible will to live, and this just proves it. He was not terribly cooperative and stood behind the post, but I got a shot of him and his buddy, Bo. Sometimes we find that certain goats just aren't pushy enough in certain groups, and every now and again we accidentally set up someone to get the crap beat out of them and then we have to go back and regroup. Longstem has been a scrapper from the start, though. He would not be denied.

The other little one that is growing on the farm is Virginia. I am still a lot more conservative with her up there than Chuck, because I'm not sure I would have done this, but when I came up the hill from taking goat pictures, I found the rest of the family changing the tire on the tractor, Virginia included.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is there such a thing as fall fever?

Because if there is, I certainly have it. This weekend was just glorious. We opened the windows at the house and allowed some of the nice cool air to wander its way in and leave us all refreshed and looking forward to the day. Unfortunately it did heat up, but eighties or even 90 is fine - this 98 degree stuff with extreme humidity has just got to go. Even earlier this week when I was up at the farm, although it was hot when I was wrapping those little wires around the t-posts where we didn't already have the fence completely secured, there was a beautiful breeze that made it surprisingly pleasant. Now the kids are able to spend more time with us at the farm, which is nice. It had just been too hot for them earlier this summer. Once again, we have the grubbiest young'uns in town, but they are having fun.

Virginia and I have figured out fence work with each other. Even though it isn't very environmentally friendly, I drive down the fence line and as she sleeps in the running car, air conditioner keeping her at a safe temperature, I work my wires down a few posts and then roll the car down to the next set. I keep the window down so I can hear her wake up, and then I can just hop in the car and tend to her needs, and when she settles, I get back to the fence. It at least allows me to get something done that needs doing, and get a little exercise at the same time. I so dread going back to work and sitting in front of a computer all day, and being away from her. Babies and mommas are designed to be close to each other, and being outdoors is good for the inside of me. I am decidedly NOT looking forward to going back to work and being stuck indoors, in front of a computer, and away from my baby.

This cool snap has me thinking about babies and mommas on the farm, too. We have Ace in with a few does, and he is getting ready to move to the larger field with the main herd. Boomer will be meeting his does soon, and we are making him a new pen as well. Since he is a puissance goat, who can jump a four foot fence from a standstill, he is more difficult to contain than the rest of the goats. We have a young Purebred buck we will be trying on a few does this fall. He is heavily Loverboy bred, with some Terminator and some Lightin as well, so we will see what sort of does he will produce. He grew fast and big, and looks like he is going to be a muscular buck. I hope the Loverboy in him is a good outcross on my does to make me some good Purebred replacement does for the herd. We have someone picking up a buck this weekend, and that will free up space to get all the does moved in with their respective bucks before the end of next week.

Since I had bred some of the younger does for a late kidding, I can't try to rebreed them as early as I would like. As soon as they wean their kids, they will get a brief respite and then they will be paired with bucks for March and April kidding. I am not going to have anyone kid closer to the summer than that next year. The summer is just too brutal, and too unpredictable.

I think most breeders enjoy breeding season at least as much if not more than kidding season. It is a time for speculation, and for looking back at what we've done in the past to see what worked and what did not. I know I don't like a late kidding - even late May was just too late around here. I think October would be a beautiful time for the does to kid, but I am working against the does' natural season of fertility, so I won't even know for another month if any of the does I exposed in May and June are even showing signs of being bred. I have learned over the past few seasons what I can count on for Boomer to produce, and having seen Ace's first crop, I am getting an idea about his strengths as a sire. Two of our nicest buck kids were crosses of Boomer's and Ace's lines, so that is working well. They've grown and matured fast enough I need to get them weaned asap to avoid any unintentional breedings, but they are actually a little young to wean, especially with the heat. Now that we are getting some more seasonable temperatures, it may be the right time to move them.

Part of what makes breeding season so much fun is it is a time for experimentation. Which does with which bucks this year? How to try to maximize twinning when the temperatures having been soaring near the century mark, without putting off breeding so long the kids are born late and we have the heat to deal with? Some of the experimentation will be more about how I will manage my does. How can I move goats around on the farm to utilize unfenced areas of forage and give my fields a break since we've been in a drought? I look at those areas not yet fenced and not being used my the tobacco farmers - they have the "wild" lespedeza (or at least we've been told it is a lespedeza) three feet tall, despite the drought. It is stemmy, but there are leaves all over those stems, and the goats do love it. I wish we had several rolls of electronet, and a helper to move it every day! We could really minimize feed inputs even in a drought like we've had. That may be our next investment. It just pains me to see all those sticker bushes with goats not eating them.

I am also wondering what to overseed the fields with this winter. We had a great stand of winter peas that took a while to get started, but lasted all spring and well into the summer. Over the winter we had some brassicas as well as the grasses and alfalfas growing. I overseeded the bottom field with a bit of sericea lespedeza, but had no results from it, much like the orchard grass I tried first on this farm. The alfalfa took, the orchard grass did not. Now that the fields have been in use for a year and have had animals on them, I wonder if I would have different results. I don't think a soil test can tell me that. I wonder how long it will take to make a living, resilient turf, with actual topsoil instead of just clay. From the seminars we've attended about intensive grazing, I know there is a goal of no areas of bare dirt. We still have bare dirt in a lot of places, so I am looking to add more organic matter. Drought tolerance will have to be part of our goal, as this summer reminded us. We may try forage rye and mix in some chicory, turnips, and clover, and a heavy dose of winter peas this year. As I understand it, we can only use winter peas a couple seasons before there are disease problems (for the peas, not the goats).

At least we have gotten some good rain, and there is more in the forecast. It is amazing at how much green has returned to the farm, after so long of nothing but brown. Nature favors resilience and diversity, so we are trying to work with her and not against her as we continue to grow the farm. Chuck had sent me this picture after getting caught in one of the first of these welcome summer storms. He called it "pot of hay at the end of the rainbow" because it looked like the rainbow landed right in a round bale. As far as I'm concerned, hay and gold are pretty much the same thing these days.

The rain we had was the first measurable rain in what seems like at least a month. If you could see some of the tobacco being grown in this area you would understand how dry it is been. Some of it is less than a foot tall. It seems there is a protective wall around this area sometimes, and the rain splits and goes on either direction. We can watch it go around us as we stand there and bake. But finally, we had enough rain to fill in some of the cracks in the ground on the farm, and the guys who have tobacco on our farm are probably dancing a jig now, too. Their tobacco has been some of the best looking around, but they have been waiting on rain to bring it up to size. What we will need to be aware of now with the goats is our Famacha scores. All of those parasite eggs that have been waiting to hatch will come alive all at once, and the pastures are short this time of year. Oh well. We have the take the bad with the good when it comes to rainfall.