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.

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