Monday, November 28, 2011

mob grazing

I mentioned how we inadvertently did mini mob grazing with goats by sliding our moving pens around to utilize some of the existing forage in unfenced areas, and to find places to stash some of the goats that didn't fit in a large field for one reason or another (bucklings, new goats in quaratine, etc). Here is a picture Chuck took that shows a piece of the farm that clearly demonstrates the before and after effect. You can see the swath of green grass that curves in the foreground - this is the path left by one of the pens he scooted. The original growth is behind it - grasses, yes - but all full of sticker bushes, poison ivy, broomstraw, and the old timey lespedeza found on so many farms around here. Chuck just looooves moving pens in this area as he is guaranteed a thorn in the toe. He is that odd guy at all the goat sales in shorts, a ball cap, and boat shoes. That is his farm attire in all but the bitterest or soupiest weather, too. Looking at this picture, can you just imagine how you could convert an overgrown old field to a nice pasture for a grass grazing species? Yeah, I want all the cow and horse folks out there to go get 'em a couple Kikos so's they can have a nice pasture...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just want to wish all our friends out there a very Happy Thanksgiving. This time of year, our turkeys might be thinking all the tea parties they had to attend with Annalee and all the petting they had to tolerate was probably well worth it.

Our Thanksgiving was a little strange, as this was the first year my mom wasn't able to do all the cooking on her own. I've never been a cook (I wasn't allowed in "her" kitchen growing up so I was a much better hand with a manure fork in the stable than with a skillet in the kitchen) but I pulled off stuffing, four pies, a purple sweet potato dish, and even wild rice with chorizo in little acorn squash shells. And nobody even got sick!

This Thanksgiving was a bit of a changing of the guard. It has been a crazy year, with family changes all around, not the least of which being the arrival of Miss Virginia. I was laid off my job, but don't miss anything but the wage and the folks (I don't miss the on call and nights even a little bit). The challenge of the job was fun, but the hours were just brutal, and were taking a toll on my health. I am trying to find a teaching job now, still hoping to fulfill a lifelong dream to teach high school English. I have had stuck in my bathroom mirror for many years now a small metal bookmark with a quote by George Eliot: "It's never too late to be what you might have been." I truly hope that's right, and as strange as it sounds under the circumstances, I am thankful to have to opportunity to start over in a new profession. Not many of us get paid to make a fresh start and that is basically what this has been.

I have so much to be thankful for - the friends we have made over the years, the farm we have had the opportunity to use, and even though I did have to pull off the side of the road on the way to Grandma's house Thanksgiving day to address an extreme non-sharing incident - three absolutely wonderful children. Each is a unique individual: one, coolly logical and analytical casting a critical eye on the world around her; one, an emotional dreamer in whose eyes the world is a place to be pondered; and the third, just becoming known to us, is seemingly a small island of calm in the storm. She is my little eye in the center of the hurricane, looking on life with calm acceptance, and smiling with her entire body. They all amaze me and inspire me, and often exhaust me and challenge me, but always fill my heart so profoundly I'm surprised there's room for anything else.

There is a moment of quiet also on the farm. The heat of the summer and all its challenges has subsided, and we are just approaching the beginning of the kidding season. The first set of does to be due is getting wide and we are putting some Goat 20 N tubs out so they can get extra energy as they need it. We've never had a case of ketosis before, and I don't want to start now. The sheds are going to get some straw in them so if anyone kids out and there is a cold rain, there will be a dry spot out of the elements. When they were out in the woods, there were lots of nooks and crannies to safely kid out, but in the pasture, they are going to have to rely on what we provide them. One of the things I heard the old timers around the horse barns say was that animals can get wet on the top or on the bottom without ill effects, but you'd have problems if they get wet both top and bottom at the same time. We have to get kidding kits together, because I am a true believer that if you are prepared for a disaster, it likely won't come, but Heaven help you if you don't have the kits at the ready! That just tempts fate more than it can resist.

We are slowing down in one sense, getting ready for the holidays, but gearing up at the same time for kidding season. We're looking for "town jobs" and wishing all the while we could hit the lotto so we could move to the farm and be with our children in that setting full time. If I had enough money, I'd offer to teach school for free, too. I love literature and language so much, and to me, the study of literature translates to the study of film, television, commercials, and all parts of life, even our personal relationships. If kids learn to "read" commercials as something targeted to an audience, with an agenda, for the profit of some company, maybe they will be more informed consumers of not only products, but also political ideas and the (in my opinion) junk being mass produced to make our kids holler "oo ooo ooo I want that" and think they need some product to be popular and achieve personal fulfillment. That goes double for the stuff being marketed for them to eat!

Now I promise to hop off my soapbox and settle back in, and again, wish a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We do have so much to be thankful for, don't we?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ah stress... and I don't just mean the type of stress induced by job interviews, although I am experiencing that as well, now, too. I mean the type of stress we induce in our goats when we do things to them that they ain't real happy about.

I mentioned we went to the Cream of the Crop sale recently and brought home two mature does and a doeling. We received in the mail a letter thanking us for attending the sale and announcing it would be a different weekend next year. I can guarantee that is going to cause some stress around here, because the kids had fun dressing up and going to the Halloween festival in Corydon, and if there is no Halloween festival, they are going to have a much dimmer view of travelling 8 hours each way to go to a goat sale. Just last weekend we dragged them to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference, and while the speakers were very good, the venue, in our minds, was not as good and the food was not like it was last year. Of course, the food last year was a hard act to follow. I still can see it - mountains of colorful locally grown sustainable veggies, greens, and main dishes. I'm not at all a cook but it was so amazing I was inspired to learn how to make one of the dishes - purple sweet potato hash with chorizo (using Stokes Purple sweet potatoes from Stokes County, our home, no less). Wow. This year, well, it was just... food (except the lamb on one of the farm tours was absolutely top notch). Here is picture of the farm house where our food was served. The farm is in the RTP area and produces Animal Welfare Approved lamb, and they know how to cook it, too.

I did get to pipe up in one of the seminars when a speaker said he thought it would be difficult to mob graze with goats because of their small size and I was able to tell him about our "moving pens." We didn't exactly mean for it to work that way, but when we put three hungry mature does in a pen made of four goat panels, they can mow the enclosed area to the ground and trample the rest in one to two days. There is the additional nutrient added from any leftover hay if we've fed any and spilled kelp. We are finding that after we slide the goats to the next plot, the old one grows back like a well kept diverse grass pasture. If someone wanted to convert a field overrun with poison ivy and brambles into a horse or cow ready pasture, all you'd need to do is put 3 to 5 goats in one of these pens and slide it from spot to spot daily or every other day around the desired pasture area and then wait for the regrowth. It's pretty darn amazing. I really need to get some before and after pictures of it. And the only one it stresses is Chuck because he slides the pens and then turtle shells the shed on his back to its new spot each day. But I digress...

The other part of the Cream of the Crop letter reminded all the buyers that these goats, even if they didn't show it, had been under a lot of stress. They had the stress of the move to the sale, the stress of the sale itself and being exposed to all the other goats, sights, sounds, and different climate, and then they had the stress of the trip home and adapting to the situation at that new home. This leads me to a discussion on how we, personally, treat new arrivals to the farm. I can't make anyone who buys our goats do exactly what I do - and they may indeed have a better way because I sure don't have all the answers, but we have based our quarantine procedures on the article Dr. Sparks wrote for the Goat Rancher on stress (which I wish I could find right now) and also on our experience with koi, the Japanese colored carp.

I had read discussions of how new goats need to adapt to the germs and whatnot on the new farm. Any parent with a human kid in day care or school knows all about this concept. Our kids may be healthy, but then we send them off to school and they comingle with other kids bringing in their germs, which are no big deal to them, but that are new and novel to our kids' immune system, then we combine it with a little stress from the social aspects of school or change in the weather, and voila... sick kid. Our experience with koi looked more at the equation from the other direction. With koi, it is vitally important to quarantine, because not only are there a lot of strong, treatment resistant parasites out there (sound familiar?) but there are some viruses that don't show up until the water hits a certain temperature, and mean almost certain death for your entire pond. For someone with show koi, the losses may not only be sentimental as koi are pretty intelligent and some become beloved pets, but also can be financially staggering. Imagine an avoidable virus wiping out a pond with five to ten $10,000 apiece fish (yes, I said $10,000, which is not even enough in some cases to buy a koi that might contend for Grand Champion at a decent sized show). Even though our koi were worth much less financially, they were both expensive to us and loved by us, so we absolutely quarantined. We had been known to quarantine some koi an entire year in a smaller but equally filtered system.

I am not suggesting that goats need to be quarantined quite so strictly, but if I bring in bred does from a sale, I do keep them in a separate group away from my other does until after they kid out, and often until after they wean their kids. I've made an investment in those does, and I know not only that they could bring in parasites and pathogens that could adversely effect my bred does, but that my does could have parasite and pathogens that could adversely effect them. We all know that does are mean as snakes, too, and why on earth would we intentionally put them in a situation where we know there is a darn good chance someone will get the kids beat right out of them, or even just get beat on at all when they've already been through a stressor? Sparks' article mentions there is a period after a stress where that goat's immune system is still depressed and it is more susceptible to parasites or illnesses it could normally withstand. Of course, pregnant and lactating does have a suppressed immune system just by definition, but even a buck or open doe will be less able to stave off health problems after a stress event. If I could find the article I would quote verbatim, but I can recall Sparks referring to weaning, illness, and moving goats as major stressors. I can't remember where immunizations and deworming fell on the stress scale, but I don't know a goat that likes it (except most do like this herbal we use and eat it from our hands like a treat). He mentioned that it took 30 to 45 days, if I remember correctly, for the immune system to bounce back and normalize. Therefore, we should wait at least that long between stressors to avoid breaking the goat down to a point that something that should be a minor setback becomes, at worst, one that can't be overcome, and we have a dead goat or one ruined for future productivity.

I try hard to allow that sort of recovery time, but sometimes it just isn't possible and sometimes we get in a hurry. We usually get a hard lesson when we get in a hurry, and that gets us back on the right track, albeit with the wind knocked out of our sails somewhat. Today, we put a buck in with two of the does we brought home from Cream of the Crop because we are trying to juggle hoping not to lose an entire breeding season out of these mature does with not having them kid too late in the spring with allowing them a period of rest and adaptation after being brought home from the sale. They've been healthy for the three weeks we have had them, so I hope we won't regret this decision. I know Ace seems pretty pleased with it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Every situation is different...

Even when you're just a mile or so down the road. We started with goats on the "old" farm, which had been in my family for many generations and on which a Civil War ancestor and his wife are buried high on a knoll overlooking the area we fenced for the goats. There is cutover timber and heavy woods, and little in the way of actual pasture. Most of the forgage in the cleared areas is what we have planted. It was down a long, steep hill, sloping down to a point where two wide, swift creeks converge. We never had to worry about the goats running out of water completely although the creek bank was steep. In the summertime, the woods are a good ten degrees cooler than up at the road. On the flip side, it is equally colder in the winter. The drive down to the fenced area is miserable - especially in the muddy winter - and much too long a stretch to afford to gravel. To make life a bit easier, and to get the goats on the farm that will be mine, we moved them all of about a mile and a half down the road.

If you've followed my blog, you know that we also had to create what pasture we have on the new farm, which has long been known in the family as "the Knight Place" although I have discovered the original name for this when this parcel was first purchased by my family was "the Hawkins Place." This farm was tobacco land for as long as I can remember, and that is darn near forty years. My grandmother used to have black and white pictures of her husband and her father standing together in the tall tobacco, so I imagine it went back further than that. There is a lot of wooded area on this parcel, too, but none of it is fenced. We brought the goats here last fall and winter, and now that our first summer on the farm is over, we've learned several lessons about how different it is to have goats on pasture than it is to have them in deep woods.

The most important lesson we've learned is easily that we need to do more to allow the goats to escape the heat. I never thought all that much about it, because at many of the horse farms where I've either boarded a horse or worked, there are pastures and paddocks that are in full sun with just a run in shed for shade. I discovered that the low sheds we built for the goats, which are so good as kidding shelters, don't allow any air movement and just trap the heat in the summer time. What makes them good in the winter and traps warmth makes them inadequate as the only shelter in the summer. Our smallest field does get natural shade from the mature trees behind the graveyard, and the bottom field gets a bit from both directions at specific times of the day. The top field doesn't get a speck, though, and this bit us pretty good. On the day of the year with the highest heat index (I believe it was over 110 and I clearly remember the extreme humidity) we found a very good young doe of ours dead in the field. She was the only black doe in the bunch, and I really think the heat got her. We now have one of those garage roof thingies (technical term) out in that field. It has a white roof to reflect heat and it is wide open on the sides for air flow. It is wide enough to provide at least a fair amount of shade. It wasn't free, but if it prevents another loss of a doe like that, it will have paid for itself. I have notions of sliding the small sheds up around the sides of this to make windbreaks this winter, but that may or may not work out in practice. We'll see. Live and learn.

A couple of times over the summer, I had one of the little bucks in the middle field come up with scours. After a day or two of support, they would clear up on their own. This always seemed to happen after a rainstorm, so at first I thought it was a parasite bloom or coccidiosis, but it didn't really seem like it as the poop was very green and it would get better. We then started trying to figure out what weed it could be in the pasture. We knew there was a stand of something I have yet to identify near the back corner, so Chuck mowed that area to try to get rid of it, or at least make it less attractive to the goats. A couple weekends ago, we had someone drive up to look at some goats, and almost all the little bucks had some residue on their behinds and we were scratching our heads over it. As we were sitting there talking, I noticed our Great Pyrenees (pictured above, being less than careful with her happily wagging tail, much to our Anatolian's chagrin) playing with a something shaped like a ball. At first I was thinking that was one seriously dried up goat poop, but then I realized it was a black walnut. I turned around and looked up and there is a huge black walnut tree at the back of the graveyard leaning out towards that field. The leaves were just pouring off it and fluttering down into the field. I know what black walnut can do to horses, and I know it has anthelminic properties and is part of some herbal dewormers. Generally, if something is toxic to the worms in small doses it can be toxic to the worms' host in large doses. I wondered aloud if this is the mystery plant we had been chasing, and if the goats had eaten branches that fell off during the storms and that explained what we had seen over the summer. I know they are on a limb of leaves like white on rice any time we toss one to them.

We moved the bucklings out of that field and into some of our "moving pens" on some weeds, and I had planned to use some wormwood herbal on them but had run out, so I gave them the less toxic herbal wormballs. They cleared up right away. Now, this does not mean the walnut was absolutely my culprit, but it sure was a likely suspect, considering the chain of events. I would love to know if anyone else out there has had any odd issues with black walnut. I knew about the potential perils of wild cherry, and I know to ask the right questions at the sawmill for my horse shavings, but it never dawned on me that tree could be a problem. Again, live and learn.

I would suppose the third thing I have learned this year (and actually there have been so many things day to day I couldn't possibly keep track) is that if there is a goat with horns configured in such a way that they might hold fast to a leg, it would be a good idea to add a pipe before anything bad happens. We still are not sure how Kitty's leg was broken, but another goat's horns are the natural suspects. We had another setback with her - we unwrapped her leg one day and it looked infected, so I flushed the heck out of it just because I didn't know what else to do, and rewrapped it. We opened it again after a couple days, and although it looks like the infection was gone and healthy new tissue was growing, the blasted bone end had popped out again so there is no way it can knit. I can't tell you how frustrating this is, because Kitty is still bright and hungry, and while not really happy to see us coming, at least happy to see the hay coming her way. As a friend of mine said, this doe really has a strong will to survive.

Chuck actually phrased something in a pretty good way the other day when recounting our experiences to another producer. It seems that if you ask ten goat people a question about management practices, you may get twelve mutually exclusive answers. The way Chuck put is it that each of us learns what works for us, in our own unique situations. A producer might cross two sticks in front of a goat, and have it heal, and therefore make the leap that crossing two sticks worked for him to heal that goat. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but I think you know what I mean. With any living creature, there are some things that are black and white, but there are so, so many aspects that are various shades of gray, and so much depends on one's specific environment. We have more goats than typical per acre, so that is one of the things we have to change our management practices to accomodate. I can pass along our experiences in our circumtances, and I would relish hearing the experiences of other folks out there because I would prefer not to have to make every single mistake myself... but sometimes it sure seems like I'm well on my way, doesn't it?

I am also including pictures of the two 'possums Chuck trapped, one a day after the next, and both a few days too late from the perspective of the two young chickens that had gone missing. One of these suckers managed to pull a chicken out through two by four wire, after pulling the chicken wire up and going under it. Hateful beastie. These two varmints are now living down by the Dan River, far far from our farm. If we catch something like an opossum "in the act" of killing a chicken, I can't promise it will be rehomed (in one piece, at least) but after all, who doesn't like a nice chicken dinner? I personally have a strong antipathy towards chicken thieves, I must admit.

Finally, I must give the last new doe her 15 minutes of fame. This is a Purebred April doeling by Ozark Red Rocket. I figure I will put her in one of the moving pens with our other April doeling if she remains unsold, and the two of them won't be bred until next fall. Welcome Midwest Bianca (or Beyonce, as Chuck has been calling her). I just hope we don't get any strong winds or she might pull a Dumbo and we'll see her gliding off down hwy 704.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Handy info on parasite control...

I've posted this before, but I wanted to again post the link to a great site...

Among other parasite control related info, they have lots of research on this site about using sericea lespedeza and copper wire particles to control barber pole worms in goats and sheep. This is exciting stuff if dewormer resistant parasites strike fear in your heart.

If you haven't been able to make it to some of the Kiko sales and seminars in the past couple of years, several of the presentations we were able to attend have their power points available on the NKR site, under the tab "Kiko Info." Whether you are AKGA, IKGA, or NKR, this is some great information and Dr. Browning's (of TSU) research is included in the links. Very good stuff here, folks.

Since I want to give equal time to each of the new does, pictured above is Xuan. Two of the new does are named Xuan and Bianca. Chuck has been running around calling them Xanadu and Beyonce. He just ain't right, is he?

Updates on web site...

I have finally, finally put some more updates on our website. I have pedigrees on all goats except the new girls, and updated pictures on most. I will be working more on this in the next week or two, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step... right? Please let me know what other information you would like to see and I will do my best to add it. Pictured above is one of the new girls... HHR Ashley (88% doe). She is clearly queen bee of the quarantine...