Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Every time the New Year rolls around, I find that song by The Counting Crows rattling around in my mind.  There's a line that suggets it has been a "long December, and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last."  There have been years where my situation has been such that I have desperately hoped that indeed, the upcoming year would be an improvement over the one departing, but this year we've almost been too busy to even think about it.

I should have been furiously grading papers and writing lesson plans in preparation for getting back to work tomorrow, but I haven't done as much as I had planned.  My kids were so worried that Christmas wouldn't happen this year I stopped and made sure we got our tree up, and we got outdoor lights up (Chip wanted these so badly), and I am so glad we did.  In previous years, my family has gathered at mom's, and we've spent the day with her at her old house as she cooked an old fashioned Christmas dinner.  The kids knew that this year was going to be different, and it had shaken them more than I expected.  This year, we took covered dishes to her new apartment, and we had a smaller and less traditional gathering.  It worked out, though, although we were all tired from a late night at the Christmas Eve lovefeast at the Moravian Church the night before.  I had meant to get them to the 6 o'clock service, but the day got away from me so we hit the 8 o'clock.  Annalee and Chip enjoyed this tradition, and really loved being able to hold the lighted candles high for the last stanza of the last song of the night.  Chip even managed not to set his own hair on fire this year! 

We made it home, and Santa Claus came, although, as Annalee admits, the kids weren't always on their best behavior this year.  As I was driving home from the lovefeast, I was thinking what traditions I'd like our family to create for the years going forward.  I had visions of eventually having a nice warm little barn up at the farm where we could gather for a bit on Christmas Eve, and reflect on the wonderful peacefulness that can only be found in a night-time stable.  Anyone who has ever spent a cold, quiet evening in a snug horse barn knows what I'm talking about.  The background sounds of animals comfortably munching hay, shuffling gently in their stalls; the green aroma of hay combining with the fresh, woody, scent of pine shavings, and the warm animals... well, I can think of no more lovely setting to think about a newborn baby in a manger.

Our own Christmas found the first group of does kidding beginning with three does beginning on the 23rd, and then a doe kidding almost each day for the next few days.  The first kiddings were all reasonably uneventful, but the last one still has us scratching our heads.  Since Chuck has been working and I was off this week, I have been on farm duty.  I have hauled the kids up there with me (much to their dismay, although they usually have fun once they are there) and I had been watching one doe closely, expecting her to kid while I was there for a couple of days.  I left one afternoon to get the kids home, and Chuck had planned to come back up after dinner.  As often happens, fatigue trumps intention and it was about 3am before he made it back up to the farm.  It was well below freezing, and he found that 260 had kidded and was wandering around kidless and hollering.  She had some suspicious marks on one ear, but we don't know the sequence of events and the dogs have so far been improved over last year.  Chuck unfortunately found one buckling dead in the field (not easy to find a black buckling in the dark), and searched for another since 260 had been wider than a single would suggest, but found no other.  We were disgusted, but resigned to having lost a season with this doe. 

Aggie and the first kids of the season.  We almost lost this doe last year.

The following morning, I rushed the human kids to get ready because I was still troubled by that unaccounted for second kid.  I mean, she could have singled, in theory, or the kid could have been stillborn and the dogs ate it.  There were just so many possibilities.  When I arrived at the farm in the daylight, it was still cold and windy, but bright, so I took the opportunity to walk the pasture looking for any sign of dead kid.  I looked in every shed, under the hay feeder, down against the bottom fence where 260 had kidded the previous year, and found exactly nothing.  Oh well.  I had already cussed 260 out for wasting the year and promised her a quick trip to the terminal barn, but I did offer her my sympathies, and watching her look off across the pasture, still hollering vainly for her phantom kids, yanked pretty fiercely at my heartstrings.  I did what I needed to do and headed back to town with the intention of both Chuck and I driving back up after he got off work. 

I visited my mom, and then headed back up before Chuck got home from picking up some hay (which proved to be moldy, much to our dismay).  I got to the farm while the sun was still up, and looking down over the field, I saw a kid standing alone near the bottom fence.  It looked like Aggie's doe, and I wondered how she managed to get herself caught in the fence, and why Aggie wasn't down there with her (Aggie likes her kids pretty close).  As I got closer to the small tan and black form, I realized that the kid was not stuck in the fence but just standing alone, and not in great shape.  It stood hunched, and looked like it had a little bloody stuff on it.  Thoughts of murdering the dogs for attacking a kid started to form in my mind, but when I picked the kid up, I realized the red thing was part of its umbilical cord flipped up over its back and dried up glued in its hair.  It was also a little buckling, and seemed small, but maybe it was just dehydrated from the ordeal.  I ran around to be sure all the does had their kids, and they did.  Hmmm.  So this little guy was an extra.  Could this be 260's second kid? 

I made sure none of the other does had kidded, so by process of elimination, surmised that yes, this had to be her kid.   I tried to get her to come to him, but she walked right by him, all the while still hollering for a kid.  I called Chuck to step on it and bring down a bucket of feed so I could catch her.  I sent Chip to the barn in the interim to get a little feed, and when he took too long coming back, I loaded the kid up in the car with me and drove up to the barn to locate Chip.  I found that he had mistakenly thought he was supposed to bring down an entire 33lb goat block.  I doubt he weighs much more than that himself, but he had dragged it a good thirty feet away from the barn. 

We got a more appropriate measure of feed and drove back down and Chuck pulled up in the truck shortly after.  The plugs were still in 260's teats, so the kid could not have nursed from her.  Chuck worked the plugs loose as I held her head, and we tried to get the kid to nurse.  He bumped at her bag, but that was about it.  We milked some colostrum into a syringe, and Chuck had the kid suck on his pinky and slowly squirted the colostrum in the side of its mouth as it sucked.  He has found this technique works pretty well if a kid has any suckle reflex at all.  His pinky is approximately goat teat shaped, and it gets the dribbled in milk from the syringe going down the right pipe.  I don't know if colostrum does much good immunity wise after the kid is 12 hours old or so, but it couldn't hurt.  The gut can't close all at once, so if he gets any immunity from it maybe it will give him a better chance to survive. 
A cold day, but the does are out with their kids.  Old Marshmallow (10 yrs in 2013) proudly walks her twin bucklings in the distance.

I just can't figure how the kid survived the extreme cold for that long.  I also can't figure out where the heck he was all that time.  It is easy enough to miss a kid in the dark, but he was visible enough when I did find him that I spotted him all the way across the field.  I had actually been looking in the morning, and had not seen him anywhere.  The only thing Chuck could figure is that maybe he survived the night behind Marshmallow in her shed.  He had noticed Marshmallow and her kids in her small shed, and the dead kid had been down below the front of her shed.  Had the little guy somehow gotten in behind Marshmallow, or had 260 started kidding in the shed and Marshmallow put herself to bed somewhere in the middle of the process?  This still doesn't explain where he was in the morning when I searched, for I had looked in each shed.  I guess we'll never know. 

We sequestered 260 in a shed with the kid, and while she looked at him as if he were just some random kid and not her own, she has decided to treat him charitably.  He's still weak, but he is alive and he is nursing some and passing poop.  He may not live, but each day he makes it gives him a better chance.  Bringing one back from the dead is a considerably more challenging task.

All of this brings me back to our New Year's resolutions.  What are they for the year?  Well, I learned the hard way that during the teaching year, I can't get anything done farm-wise, so we will have to do our farm business during the summer months only until the situation changes.  I've also realized just how much I enjoy the work on the farm, so I am going to try to make sure I get up there more often than every few months.  A cold, wet, muddy, miserable day raking up old hay or feeding the goats is better than a climate controlled day almost anywhere else.  We resolve to get more fencing done (does this sound familiar?).  We resolve to work on the farm road some more as we sell some goats, and got our first load of gravel delivered yesterday towards that end.  As expensive as it is, it was absolutely necessary, although it didn't fill in many ruts.  It at least made one stretch safe for the car, that was beginning to be an impossible situation.

We resolve to take a load of "lesser" bucklings to the terminal barn as soon as Chuck can get a day off when there is a sale going.  We resolve to get the water situation handled by getting a solar pump, or using a generator to a holding tank, or SOMETHING.  Carrying water daily is a herculean task, and the fact that is requires the big truck means it burns a lot of diesel, and deisel is high high high.  We resolve to take the leap and learn to grow either cucumbers or tomatoes.  We've been offered some help getting started, and right now, even with both of us working full time, it seems the cost of living plus child care is more than we make (this always makes me think about the people who condemn those less fortunate than themselves, saying that if someone is but willing to work, of course they can make a living and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  I also hear folks saying that if people can't afford kids, they shoudn't have them.  Well, when we started having our kids, we could easily afford them.  If a six figure income is required to qualify to have kids, then most folks would be childless.  I don't plan on being at the bottom of the salary scale forever, but when you're starting over, you have to start somewhere). 

Most of all, I think, is that we resolve to be more available for our human kids.  Both Annalee and Chip have been suffering from our new jobs and how much physical and mental energy they have required.  Virginia hasn't suffered as much, because she is at an age that if we try to ignore her, she'll be on the kitchen counter pulling plates out of the cabinets and starting to fling them like frisbees.  And then, of course, there was the time she got in to the glitter.  We weren't actually sure whether or not she had eaten any until we picked her up from day care the next day.  As I walked in the door, they asked, "did Virginia get into any glitter?  She had the sparkliest blowout we've ever seen today."

I also resolve to retain my sense of humor.  I've had to do that with the teaching gig, as even when I think I am finally getting it with the kids and maybe helping them understand and connect with the literature, I get my tail handed to me on a platter by administration for one foible or another.  Life is short, and I'm beginning to realize that maybe we aren't supposed to be miserable all the time just so we can say we work hard.  There must be balance, and we must live productively and responsibly, but also choose paths where we can find joy
Louisianna and her twins, surrounded by cold puddles.  This is the time to think of renewal and possibilities.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy turkeys at Thanksgiving!
     We knew this year we'd have a break from our old traditions at Thanksgiving simply because my mother is no longer able to cook.  She is in a lovely assisted living facility, which has been a blessing in so many ways, not the least of which is that we know she is always safe and well fed.  We had planned to have a family lunch at the clubhouse in her community, but she developed pneumonia and had to be hospitalized earlier this week.  So what do you do when the family matriarch is in the hospital at Thanksgiving?  You have Thanksgiving lunch at the hospital cafeteria! 
This picture of my mom in 2004 is on the wall at the hosiptal.  She volunteered there for 30 years and had the 2nd most hours of any volunteer at the time of her "retirement."  We passed it as we went to the cafeteria.

     Luckily our kids are used to lots of change and having to be flexible, so they were up for the adventure.  We took mom downstairs and had turkey, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dessert among all the staff who had drawn the short straw and had to work.  The food was good, and it was a low stress meal.  Before we left, Annalee got a frozen yogurt and since Chip is not a fan of anything too cold, he chose a Sierra Mist soda as his dessert.  On the way out of the hospital, Annalee exclaimed, "this is the best Thanksgiving ever!"  Chip was singing the praises (literally, and loudly) of turkey and Sierra Mist for all the other folks walking into the parking deck.  It reminded me what is important about Thanksgiving. 
     The kids I teach had made some lists of things for which they are thankful earlier this week, and had mentioned such things as family, food to eat, a place to live, and being able to get a good education for free.  A couple of students were even thankful for their "haters," elaborating that their haters spurred them on to be even better and reach goals they never thought they could.  That's pretty insightful, and a pretty positive way to look at a challenge.  I have been so overwhelmed by the challenges we've faced this fall, it was good for me to have a moment to reflect on what these children, my flesh and blood kids and my students, have already taught me.
Chuck snapped a picture for me a few weeks ago.  They had expanded quite a bit when I saw them today.

     I saw the goats with my own eyes today for the first time in months.  The does are huge, and thinking about possibilities for kidding season is a good way to give myself a mental break from the challenges of building courses.  I hope my entry finds everyone well, and that everyone has had the opportunity to spend time with friends and family on this special holiday.  My children's joy at spending Thanksgiving in the hospital cafeteria reminded me that it isn't about what you eat or where you are, but rather about who you're with and how you look at it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

So many apologies...

Some of the does bred to Shaw for early winter kidding.
     ...To all of you.  I haven't answered emails, phone calls, or anything else recently, and I am so deeply sorry for that.  I have not been to our farm in months, and I doubt I will make it up there before Thanksgiving break.  The only reason I am taking this evening to write is that we have our very first "days off" of the semester Monday and Tuesday, and I quite frankly need the mental break.  I miss doing the goat stuff.  I still have to go to work and to seminars Monday and Tuesday, but it is the first chance I have to really sit, and breathe, and reflect... and gather myself for the next months.  Something had to give, and it cannot be work, because the kids I am working with are a challenge as a whole, but are such amazing and interesting and wonderful individuals.  Even when I wish it were an option to wave a magic wand and have their mouths fuse shut like in that scene in The Matrix, I admire their ferocity and their courage.  My own children have been put on the back burner more than is ever fair, just due to my level of exhaustion, and I resolve to spend more time with them actually being with them mentally.  This, for better or worse, has dropped the farm to last place until I get this first year (or at least the first semester) behind me.  Chuck takes pictures when he has more than a moment up there, but we both are missing our family time at the farm.
     I keep telling myself that this is as hard as things will ever be, and it will get easier.  I keep telling myself that over and over again, and although I know it is true, I still have several months to go before I reach the point where I start over and begin to try to prefect this art of teaching.  Building the basic curriculum is huge.  I am trying to go through our texts and make sure I am current on them and all the research around them, and it just takes time.  I will not complain that Chuck now has a full time job, but I will say that the timing has been particularly unfortunate, because he so often has to close the store and that leaves me taking care of the young'uns on my own until their bedtime, and there isn't much time after that to create lessons, grade papers, look for fun ways to address the literature (I am determined to improve at this), and do laundry so everyone has clean clothes for the next day.  Now, I have to say that even on the bad days, I still prefer what I am doing now to what I have done in the past.  I made about three times as much before, but I was always waiting for an opportunity to get out.  Now, I find that I am just eager to have ten years of experience under my belt and be the teacher I want to be. 
A few does, mature and young, in the mixed field. 
     Chuck tells me that the does, or at least the early bred sets, are starting to look bred.  I had planned to sell some bred does to get a little cash, because Chuck totalled the family truckster (my Subaru) at a particularly bad intersection, but we haven't even had time to focus on which ones.  We actually don't even see each other all that often these days!  There are wrecks at this intersection in question all the time, and I am just thankful that everyone was fine.  The kids were not even sore, so the investment in a safe car and good carseats paid off completely.  I miss old Blue Car, though.  I was able to fit everyone in it, and put several flakes of hay on the roof, and it drove around the farm even better than the big truck because of its All Wheel Drive (which is a beautiful thing).  The kids miss it, too, and even saved a piece of paint off it.  When you travel 150,000 miles or more with a car, you just get so they are part of the family, too. RIP ol' Blue Car.  To everyone I have neglected over the past few months, I again apologize.  I will try to be a better correspondent, and get back to everyone is a timely fashion.  We at least have some breaks coming at school now.  These first few months without a single break or teacher work day have been one loooooong haul.
A few of the young bucks.  The cold snap has brought on the hair.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

What a blur!

     Has anyone noticed it has been a while since last I blogged?  I apologize for having no pictures, and will try to add some when Chuck gets home and I can get some off of his phone.  Let me preface my entry today by saying I think I might have made it to the farm once in the past two weeks, and I just got up from a nap forced by absolute exhaustion.  The kids are having a nap, too, simply because I insisted they take one and allow me to grab one.  Two weeks ago I went back to high school, except this time I'm on the teaching end of the equation.  I've been studying for this for years, and had planned to make the switch right after Chip was born but layoffs and whatnot slowed me down.  Going in to this, I knew that the initial semester would be the most labor intensive as I am building my courses from scratch... but now that I am in the thick of it I am really thinking how nice it will be when I have all this initial work behind me and I can work on refining rather than building from the ground up.  I'm already ready for Christmas vacation!
     Annalee has gone back to school, too, as a First Grader and Chip has started JrK.  The inequity inherent in our educational system has been driven home to me again after First Grade parents' night, as I sat in Annalee's chair at her little desk and marvelled at the technology built into the classroom, and the richness of resources that pack it wall to wall.  I, on the other hand, stand daily in front of a chalkboard.  I do have a projector I rely heavily upon for PowerPoints and am using to learn the SmartBoard, but it is one that requires the image be projected on it and I need to master the art of writing on it while not casting a shadow across it so it can't be seen.  I've already decided that WHEN I win the lottery (power of positive thinking) I will go back to being a stay at farm mom because I really miss taking the kids to school as I was able to do last year, and the look on Virginia's face as I have to hand her into someone else's arms at day care causes my heart to break daily.  I'll move to the farm so I can lay eyes on the goats without having to drive an hour round trip, too!  I also will donate the money to my school that they have tried unsuccessfully to raise so they can have a football team.  I hear in the voices of many of the kids some resentment tinged with a wistfulness when they talk about what they don't have that other schools in the system do have.  Envy is called a sin, but it is tough to look out of the eyes of kid wanting to play football for his school and not having the opportunity, and not succumb to it.
     On Friday, one of the kids smiled at me and shook her head and told me I had come to the wrong school (I should mention Friday was a particularly rowdy day with some high emotion and high drama swirling about).  She and her friends asked me if I was there just because I like kids.  I didn't quite know how to phrase my answer.  I don't love kids just because they are kids, really.  I am enjoying getting to know and understand them a little bit as individuals, but what I like is when I see them "rise above."  There have been plenty of moments when I wonder what the h e double toothpicks I was thinking going into this (okay so maybe more than moments), but then, these little moments when I see someone choose the better path have breathed a bit of life back into me.  I love the written word, for sure.  I've waxed poetic on several occasions that reading some texts makes me wonder how something so perfect and so beautiful could possibly have been captured and put on the page.  I don't expect eveyone to love reading and writing like I do and that's okay.  I just hope I can become a teacher who helps students find the confidence to not feel defeated before they start; to not look at a quiz and decide they're going to fail before they even take a deep breath, and pause, and allow the question to wander around in their brain a bit. 
     On a goat note, we are still building a paddock up next to the road which was supposed to be for Boomer and his does.  When Chuck went up to the farm today (did I mention he finally got the job he was hoping to get, which happens to have a variable schedule so we don't know if we're coming or going?) he found that Boomer had busted out of his temporary area, and taken his does to the barn, where they had proceded to break the snap on the fence and let Shaw and his does out, too.  Well, well.  At this point, the does are almost surely already bred, and Chuck had to get back home to make it to work on time, so he just collected them all up and put them in the larger top field.  Boomer and Shaw had come to an understanding when they were in the buck field together, so I am hoping we don't find any broken legs, necks, or horns when we go back up to check them.
     We are still getting rain at the farm.  We actually never stopped getting rain since my posts about how soggy this summer has been.  We have ruts in the road that have stayed full of water all summer long.  They have developed ecosystems andt he frog eggs that were laid in them months ago have now become frogs.  As we drive past the puddles we see scores of pairs of beady little eyes ducking down under the green algae that skin coats the water.  With the West Nile issues around, I am not loving the puddles and the mosquitoes that surely breed in them as well.  I hope those little frogs are all really hungry.  I also hope (I can't believe I am saying this out loud) we get an extended period of hard freeze this winter.  We never had any dry weather to relieve us of even a smidge of parasite load.  This summer has been an intestinal worm's paradise up our way.  We've had to deworm some, and we've lost a few, but again, we are seeing which individuals are just the toughest of the tough and that knowledge will help us move forward.
     I still am thankful I'm not in the position of all the folks who saw their crops wither away to nothing in the drought.  My heart goes out to all of them.  In English class, we are reading texts that show how man has tried to make sense of the world around him, and in many cases given human attributes to such things as the night, the seasons, and the weather.  When we humanize these things, we somehow hope we can speak to them and reason with them, and maybe ask them to be gentle with us and our animals.  Mother nature may be unpredictable, but as a Mother, we hope her love for all her creatures tempers her often devastating touch with at least some tiny bit of tenderness.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Sorry it has been a while since my last post, but Chuck started work at an off the farm job and now I am on farm duty with the kids, as well as the normal daily stuff and trying to find my own self a teaching job.  So far, no luck for me, but I am still hopeful.  I'm trying to get the processes at the farm to the point that I can handle it with all three children with me, and that presents some unique challenges but we are figuring it out.  I can't physically move the goat panel moving pens we like to use, but I can move an electronet just fine, so I am trying to figure out a way to clear some edges so I can finish using up that blackberry patch.

For a while we were trying to beat the heat and hoping for rain, and now we're getting the rain and the heat is still here, albeit not quite so close to the 100 degree mark.  At least this rain has made the pastures a little less crispy.  The cool season grasses like the orchard grass likely won't come back fast enough to do much this time of year, but the lespedeza in the front pen where the bucks are is coming on.  With the rain we're getting (still, I am NOT complaining, as I know just how lucky we are to have had some) we have also had some super high humidity.  We have areas where the grass was growing white stuff on the edges, so I looked it up and it is apparently a slime mold, and occurs during extended periods of rain and high humidity.  High humidity is an understatement.  I work around the heat and do my farm stuff as early in the morning as I can convince the kids to get going.  The afternoons are miserable for all, human and caprine.  On the days I run my mother around for her errands, it almost makes more sense just to water everyone and wait until dusk to feed, but that makes for a lot of trips back and forth on that long curvy road between home and farm.
slime mold growing from rain and humidity
We have managed to get most of the does we intend to expose, duly exposed to their respective bucks for the season.  Shaw is in the top field with his does, and we moved the doelings in the bottom field to a temporary pen outside of the field where their mommas are, so Ace is now in with the mature does down there.  I'm not so sure the does are thrilled to have Ace with them.  I think he might do better in a herd of about 200.  He's like the real jerky guy at the bar hitting on everyone, whether or not they are even slightly interested.  He's not exactly subtle or charming.  Boomer will have a lighter year this year as he will be getting two young does for sure, and possibly another two when we get the area ready.  He also will likely be the "cleanup" buck that catches any unbred does at the end of the season, although we hope not to have any. 
Ace.  My phone's camera stinks and so does he.
I recently posted about water, and how the quality of the drinking water can determine how far afield cattle (and I assume goats) will go to forage.  These past few weeks I have been hearing a lot on the radio about climate change, and interestingly, the folks being interviewed said we are not alone in extremes of weather.  The panel said the warming isn't as devastating to farmers as the fact that we have entered a period of extremes.  There is drought, and then there is flood.  Both can be devastating.  I personally can envision a "worst of both worlds," if you will.  I remember pictures of the Dust Bowl in history books and documentaries, and how the drought stricken and barren land looked like a desert.  In a presentation at one of the sustainable Ag conferences we attended, the presenter also showed a picture of what happened to the same bare dirt when the torrential rains came.  The good soil washed away.  All of it.  There was no matrix of plant roots left to hold it in place.  That presenter was demonstrating why having the bare fields of conventional agriculture is a bad thing, but it is relevant in thinking about this extreme weather, too.  What used to be rare events (drought, flood) are now increasing in frequency and intensity.  I won't even attempt to speak to the causes, but instead, offer the idea that no matter the cause, we still have to deal with it. 
Hot days make for early mornings and time in the shade
In my neck of the woods, we've been lucky.  The spring was moist and gentle and got the pastures off to a good start before the extreme heat and dry stretch came.  Just as we thought we may start losing much of the grass in the pasture, the rains came and saved at least some of it.  I am wondering what we would have done if the rain never came.  I remember my Grandmother used to say, during a dry spell, that "it'll rain sometime, unless it's like 1930 something."  Of course she had the exact year, and I can't remember it, but the point is that in that year, the rain never came.  Seems like that is happening with ever increasing frequency in much of our country.  Before we got rain on our farm, even the blackberry bushes were starting to wither when it was over 100 degrees and parched.  So if this was like that year she remembered, how would we cope? 

I am thinking again about how to make our pastures resilient.  We definitely have species that are drought tolerant (alfalfa and some lespedeza, and to some extent chicory) in the fields.  None of these work as well as they could without the grasses to balance them as a forage, though.  I'll mull this over a while, and try to do a little research, and see what we might consider adding.  We also need to think again about management practices for both the animals and the pastures, and of course, for the water.  Without water, all the other stuff becomes moot.  There is an old shallow irrigation pond out in the woods, and I don't even know if it stays full year round these days.  Maybe we should clear a path to it and monitor it, to see if it something we could use in the future.  I assume once we fence those woods the goats may be able to use it as a water source, but if the water is of poor quality it could do more harm than good.   And if it goes away competely in hot weather, then we have to know it won't be something we can count on anyway.  I just want to know I have some options.  It's that whole "resilience" concept.
Pastures just coming back from the point of  "crispy"
Resilience is something we are working towards both on the farm and in our own personal mindset.  As we know from personal experience, this is no longer a world where a person can get a job right out of school and expect to retire from it some years later with a steady pension.  I know that's what my parents had taught me to expect, and I may be in the last generation that expected it to be that way when we were deciding where to apply to college.  Being a part of "Gen X" (hence, our herd prefix being GNX) we are having a total paradigm shift in mid-life and mid-career.  Farming is part of our effort to be resilient as a family.  Annalee's school puts a huge effort into creating resilient students who will be able to handle whatever life throws at them because they unashamedly admit that we just don't know what jobs are going to look like ten or twenty years from now.  We hope more food will be grown locally on small farms because it makes for a more resilient food supply country-wide.  We put a premium on resilience in our herd, and work towards resilient fields, and hope we can weather whatever storms come at us, both figurative and literal.

Another downpour.  I ain't complainin'.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Of toxins and tannins...

Last weekend, we called down to Overcash Hay Farm and, as we had hoped, our other "hay man" had gotten his AU Grazer baled and up in the barn.  Last year was the first summer we had used the small bales of AU Grazer rather than the giant bales of plain old sericea lespedeza.  I have read that the regular sericea has higher tannins, but that the AU Grazer has higher TDN and of course it is less stemmy.  One of the parasite specialists also pointed out to me that the AU Grazer is what they are using when they test, so the tannins should be high enough to help make any eggs deposited in the pasture be less infective.  That, as Martha Stewart would say, is A Very Good Thing.
Overcash Hay Farm, Salisbury NC

When Chuck got to the farm to pick up the trailer, he noticed a bunch of limbs down in the buck field.  We have had several storms blow through in the evenings along with the intense heat, and the one the night before had been a particularly windy one, to the tune of wind speeds being clocked at 70 mph.  A few sheds had blown over, but luckily no large trees were downed on this farm (there are a few across the road to the old farm).  Chuck started picking up cherry limbs, and soon realized there were more little pieces of limb down than he could pick up in time to either make it down to get hay on time, or before one of the bucks might decide to sample one.  We have both heard many stories of horses, cattle, and goats lost to the cyanide formed in wilting cherry leaves, and our woods are like most woods in this part of North Carolina - just loaded with cherry trees.  So, he fell back and punted.  He moved two kids out of their pen and put the bucks in there.  It is attached to the buck field and close enough to the gate to put a goat panel between the two and he just led them in with a feed bucket.  I have googled and googled to see if there is anything definitive that says how long it takes for the cherry leaves to become nontoxic, but I haven't found any information that gives me a warm fuzzy that they are safe before they are completely brown and crispy, so the bucks have not been moved back over yet.  As Chuck said that morning, dead goats don't eat much hay.

An interesting machine approached with hay
I wondered why they just dropped the first few bales
Once he got the bucks moved and trailer attached, he stopped back by the house where I had the kids at the ready to spring into the truck, and off we went.  We had called down and asked if we could be a few minutes late, and although he thought his help would be gone, Mr Overcash graciously offered to wait for us.  We figured we (Chuck) would have to help load, but when we arrived, Mr. Overcash approached the trailer with tape measure in hand, and said he thought he had an idea what might work.  A little bit later, one of his helpers came around the corner with a bobcat with a red frame on the front of it.  The frame proved to be a grappler, and he was carrying several bales of hay.  He dropped them, and Chuck loaded the first layer on the trailer.  After that, things got much more interesting.  The grappler would bring bales still in neat rows, and the guy lifted them up and placed them gently one row on top of the other until we had a full load.  That was particularly cool.  Even Virginia seemed to enjoy watching the show out the back window.  She still has to face backwards in the car seat, and more often than not, her view seems to be pretty boring.  She eventually tired of watching the hay and picked up one of her sibling's books, but I was still having a good time watching them load.  Having the right equipment for the job sure does make a difference.
AU Grazer - open bales remind me of alfalfa

Chuck arranges the first bales
Now that we have the hay home, we are starting to feed it.  The goats eat it up, of course.  With the goats we have, and the measures we take, we have less of a barber pole problem than others might with as many animals on the same acreage.  I do wish the higher tannins were as helpful with other worm species and with coccidia, lice, and flies, but of course those are things we still have to think about and deal with in a more traditional way.  We still don't deworm often, and maybe not enough since most don't get it at all, but usually the goats can handle it.  We've never even done the recommended chemical deworming after our goats kid out.  I personally would rather deal with a problem a little later, and not have had to use the chemical on most of them.  One of our guiding beliefs is to not contribute to dewormer resistance in the parasites.  If I need to use a chemical dewormer, I want it to work.  This year, all the goats that kidded early and their kids did great with my hands off regimen.  I do love an early kidding, at least once the kids are a few days old and not likely to freeze!
The magic machine on the job

This has to take practice.

The hay man checking it out

Virginia checking it out, too

I wonder what she thought as this approached

Apparently, not too much.

Loaded and adding straps

All that's left is to finish strapping and pay
Having mentioned how the late kids have more problems here than the early ones, we noticed one of those late kids with loose poop yesterday, and so we went to catch him up to check it out. We don't have handy dandy goat working equipment, and this field has no catch pen. This buck is not people fiendly, so the whole family got in the pasture and got involved, while Virginia sat in the stroller outside the fence and no doubt wondered if the rest of us had all lost our minds. Now, one of the things that is nice about goats, in my opinion at least, is that they normally poop pellets. Pellets aren't nearly as messy as cow patties or even horse poop and there's something to be said for that. We are teaching the human kids how to walk a goat in a certain direction, towards a corner, without getting so close the goats panic and make a break for it or hanging so far back the goats wander the wrong way. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get this little buck where we wanted him, we finally had him fairly surrounded.  As I stood there with arms spread to keep the buckling in place for Chuck to catch, our four year old, Chip, took a flying leap from behind me towards the goat.

As I had mentioned before, this goat had really soft poop, which means he was still sporting a reasonable mess on his back end.  They say when you have an accident, time slows down, and I have experienced this phenomenon a few times in my life (most involve being thrown from horses, and having time on the way down to craft a logical plan for landing and getting hurt the least).  Here again, it was as if everything had gone into slow motion.  I heard myself saying "oooohhhhh nooooooo" as I watched in horror as Chip's little body sailed through the air, his face aiming directly at the buckling's befouled hind end.  I winced as he landed, his head appearing to be squarely up against where the poop had been.  Chip had caught the goat and had his hands in a death grip on both back legs and was holding fast as Chuck swept in and took over.  The buckling is pretty young, so I believe he was too surprised to even attempt to kick or move.  It was all I could do not to look away as Chip picked himself up and began to turn towards me, although we were already at that point all caught up in the giggles in spite of ourselves and expecting a really traumatized little boy and a particularly malodorous trip home.  To my astonishment, he looked brightly up at me, miraculously free of poop, and beaming from ear to ear, declared, "I caught the goat!   I caught the goat."  And he had.  I still have no idea how Chip launched himself face first towards the business end of a scouring goat, landed squarely up against it, and came out unscathed and smelling like a rose.  I guess he just got lucky this time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I never get tired of this...

But I'm sure Chuck does.  I am quite convinced this is the perfect way to keep goats, save for the labor involved.  We have the Perry sale group of does in quarantine down at the bottom end of the farm in a 16' by 16' pen made of goat panels.  We tend to quarantine a pretty long time - we've been known to keep new does that we buy bred in quarantine until their kids are weaned.  This group consists of 3 weanlings and 2 yearlings.  So far they are adjusting to their new digs pretty well, and they are some brush eating so and sos.  I wish I had a public brush control project where I could take this group because they would do the breed proud. 

Today when Chuck was moving the pen, I was in the truck with the kids, and I snapped pictures of the process.  It really is amazing.  You can see in the foreground how the ground is pretty bare, but there are sticks poking up.  In the background, you can see some pretty thick blackberry bushes, small trees, and whatnot.  The area in the foreground shows what the goats are doing in one to two days, on areas like what is in the background.  They are that fast, and that thorough.  They are eating what they are designed to eat, high off the ground, and are making it easier for us to fence in the future.  Works for us!

Chuck begins to slide the pen backwards into the brush from the spent area

He has learned to turn the shelter upside down

The goats are opportunists, and will use the shed to jump the fence

He continues, as the does watch

more lifting and sliding back into the brush

the goats have already attacked the new forage

almost in place

not sure what he sees, but he checks for cherry trees

flipping the shed upside right

on the way out, goats on fresh ground

stalling out for a moment

a closeup of the thick growth

enjoying a snack of fresh blackberries

back to the truck so we can roll to the next thing

 fed for free for the next day

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The heat is on!

And we knew it was coming, just not when it was coming.  We had been lucky that the spring had been for the most part mild, as everyone, both man and beast, handles temperatures in the eighties a sight better than when the mercury creeps up between ninety and the century mark.  Today, we spent some time at the farm doing some "emergency" measures to try to help the goats beat the heat.  The forage is holding up, so far, and it looks like we have at least half a week more of serious heat before there might be relief in the form of cooler temperatures.  We've put an awful lot of effort into the forage mix, and so far it is holding up but we've not had the drought months yet.

pasture mix in the bottom field

I mentioned we had put a metal roofed "car shed thing" in the top field last year because it gets exactly zero shade, no matter the time of day.  We had lost a nice young doe in the summer before that, and we assume it was to heat as she was the only black doe in the group and the temperatures that day had been over 100 degrees with miserable humidity.  One of the complicating factors in this part of the country, of course, is the humidity, and I don't know any way to combat that, but we did spend a day last week when it was a little cooler giving booster vaccines for pneumonia to almost all the mature does.  That's about as much as I know how to do to prepare them for the heavy humidity that defines summers in the South.

the bozos better use these shade structures
We have set aside a little goat money to add one of these car sheds to the bottom field this summer.  It gets a bit of shade morning and evening, but none in the middle of the day when they need it the most.  Since the shed has not arrived yet, we took an idea from Dr Sparks column in the Goat Rancher and made some temporary shade structures from t-posts and old tarps to tide us over until the shed is here.  I tested one, and with the light breeze today, it was appreciably cooler under one of these than not.  Hopefully the goats will use them.  When we were leaving, not one of the dopes was under them, but then, the sun had reached an angle in the sky that the trees outside the fence were beginning to provide the usual afternoon shade and that is where the goats were congregating.  I guess we'll know tomorrow if they have figured out the new shade structures or not. 

I often mention how overstocked we are, and the problems this can create.  I know we sound like idiots to be doing something we know is dicey, but this farm had no infrastructure save an old tobacco barn on it when we started this little venture.  Now, we do have our "used" main metal barn and four fenced main pasture/paddock areas.  And one of those has the car shed thing in it.  The goats are paying their way and building their farm.  We have to have a certain number to sell so we can cull some, keep one or two, and sell the rest and make enough to put back into the farm to grow it some more.  The goats are buying themselves barns, fences, and feed towards an eventual level where we are no longer overstocked for the amount of animals we plan to run.  Or at least that is the plan.  Not sure when we'll get there. 

picking up the straw bales
As we were working in the pasture today, we saw the tobacco guys' crew back to pick up the straw they had baled from the wheat that they just combined recently.  They got truckloads of wheat off the farm, and truckloads of straw bales.  I still look at those front fields, now full of naught but stubble, and envision beautiful pastures of orchard grass, and alfalfa, and chicory, or hey - if we win the lotto - maybe some AU Grazer!  Someday...

As an aside, I got a call from the man at the feed store who had told me he wouldn't be able to get the minerals I wanted.  After announcing who he was and from whence he was calling, he said, quite dryly, "a miracle has occurred."  As it turns out, the miracle was in the form of the arrival of said minerals.  I stopped by a few days later to pick them up, and they loaded up my two bags.  Of course, when I stopped in to get them, the feed man said, again, just as dryly, "they're expensive."  Fine time to tell me, buddy.  Well, I figure if they really do provide something the goats aren't currently getting, then they'll be worth it.  I've been reading my Pinkerton book again, and am always struck by the notion that a goat's total performance is limited by the one element that is deficient (or, I assume, provided at toxic levels or to the exclusion of something else).  So even if everything else is right, they will never perform to their best if one thing is lacking severely enough.  I know I can't fix everything, and wouldn't even know where to begin, but that idea really bugs me. 

mineral tag, with chelated minerals for supposedly better absorption

Big bale of sericea lespedeza
This brings me to another interesting (or oddball, depending on how you look at it) thing I read recently.  I picked up a grazing magazine at Tractor Supply last weekend for some reading material for the ride down to get an old big bale of sericea lespedeza hay.  The article was talking about water, which is always the most important nutrient.  I remember from Horse Bowl that horses' bodies are 70% water, and this article said cattle are the same, so I am taking the leap that goats are pretty close.  The author was discussing the quality of the animals' drinking water, and how lower quality water sources can actually negatively impact foraging habits.  If the animals are only drinking the water as a last resort, they tend to stay thirsty.  If they stay thirsty, they stick around the water source and don't utilize the whole forage area.  It was interesting, considering our unique water challenges. 

water on wheels, which equates to life made easier

One thing the author mentioned was that if the cows "play" with the water or the float valve in an automatic waterer, they are trying to freshen the water because it isn't to their liking.  I remember horses doing this when I was a kid, flipping the water and stirring it about with their lips, and I just thought they were playing.  Maybe there was more to it than that.  Something to think about, for sure.  We've spent years making "good" water for our koi, meaning highly oxygenated, low dissolved organic content water with a high ORP (how oxidative the water is) and stable pH.  Maybe we should think a bit more about the water quality for the animals who drink it, although I'm not quite sure how we could fix it barring access to the fast flowing stream at the back of the property.  Of course, a farm pond with a windmill for aeration would be nice, too. 

Virginia napped for a lot of the time we were working, which was just as well, considering the heat.  She stayed in the car with the air conditioner running for part of the time, as environmentally unfriendly as that is.  Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.  We were able to put her in the stroller under some shade trees for her second nap, and the breeze made it quite bearable.  I've noticed that Bo sticks pretty close to the children, wherever they are on the farm.  He seemed to appreciate a bit of shade, as well.

Virginia at lunch.  She has a good time pretty much anywhere she goes.
Bo agrees it is mighty hot.