Monday, January 30, 2012

Made it all up.

Okay, it has all been a big hoax to get extra rations this winter and apparently they are all in on it. Not one of the does that could have been due as early as January 12, and whose sides have dropped, udders have filled, and tail ligaments have softened has seen fit to lay down and get on with business and kid out. Ironically, one of the bottom area does, most of which are due mid-March at the earliest (she was hand bred and is due February 2), looks like she is almost ready to introduce into the world her second set of offspring. Piper is full sister to Ace, so when she came in standing heat and Boomer was not yet moved down to the bottom area, we figured why waste the opportunity and brought her to him. Looking back at weather data, it is true that the temperatures in early August averaged just under the century mark, and the humidities were 80%. I wonder how much more early success we would have had if we had had the goats in the woods like we did at the old farm, where they would have had at least some shade and cool.

Now, all we can do is watch and wait, and wait and watch, although to be honest we've waited so long we've almost quit watching. Almost. Maybe tomorrow we will have kids. The temperature over the next few days is supposed to be in the high sixties, so it isn't necessarily a bad thing that the does are all waiting, but it does make me worry about when the cold hits, because it will certainly hit. One thing about North Carolina - you can have 70 degrees one day in the winter and the next it can be 30 (or lower) and sleeting and coat the trees and powerlines in a perfect crystal crust of ice. It is beautiful as the sun hits it, and just as treacherous on the roads. Although this is the first winter in about 15 years that I don't have to worry about being required to drive to work in the ice, I still could do without it and be just as happy.

As much as I would like to have spring fever, and I am ready for the grass to green, I know we still have two possibly miserable months ahead of us. We have had a taste ofthe cold weather, so it hasn't all been sunshine and t-shirts. I found that the ginormous overalls we bought when I was pregnant work out pretty well as a baby carrier. Just stick one of her legs in each of my pant legs, pull the flap up and fasten, then button my big 'ol coat over us and Virginia and I are loaded for bear.

While the weather is good, though, we have tried to stuff in some of the things that require warmth. We bought a shed kit on clearance and I decided on the color to paint it from a bit of an odd direction. I decided to work with the farm, rather than against it, and I bought a color as close as I could find to the color of the mud that covers the farm and tints every creature that spends any time there. I know everything we have gets mud splattered up on it, so why not just try to blend. This is going to be the chicken coop. The kids helped paint, so they still have globs of mud colored paint in parts of their hair that just won't come out. I figure it will wear out sooner or later. Maybe this speaks well of the staying power of the paint. It even held up through the kids on rock duty this weekend. It amazes me how much fun they can have picking up rocks out of the field and tossing them in the back of the old gator.

My "hint" this time is something I think most of us already know, but considering Chuck's conversation with the lespedeza man, I thought I would address. Chuck has to drive almost to Salisbury to get sericea lespedeza hay in a relatively "pure" form, and of course the guy carries other hays (he has a lovely alfalfa). Over the past year or two, we have talked to him about how lespedeza is utililized by goat producers in the area, and he says that by and large, he has very little call for it from goat folks. Many calls from goat owners begin with "I have goats, what cheap hay do you have?" as if somehow the fact it is unsuitable for any other livestock automatically means it is "goat hay." If you feed junk, you can't expect to get much nutritive value out of it. I know goats will likely never have the market status of the almighty cow, but if they could truly live on tin cans, there would be one in every back yard. We know they are browsers, not grazers (another reason I want to get the woods fenced).

Overcash Hay Farms down in Salisbury has two types of sericea lespedeza - a stemmier type in large bales which we believe to be the higher tannin variety, and AU Grazer in small bales, which has lower tannins but higher TDN as a general variety. We like both. I am using the AU Grazer now because the goats need the nutrition value since they are bred (unless they really are faking, which would not surprise me in the least), and the small bales are infinitely easier to maneuver. The stemmy sericea is interesting, though, because it makes such a rich black compost. I don't know what about it does it, but if there is a shed where some piles up, the pee and poo that mix with it before we slide the shed to fresh ground make this beautiful black loamy soil and it starts growing new plant growth really fast. If you are at all interested in lespedeza for the natural anti-parasitic qualities, call Overcash. Google Overcash Hay in Salisbury and you'll find him. Tell him we sent you, because the last time Chuck talked to him, he seemed really down about how underutilized the lespedeza is.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Longstem update

Some of you may be familiar with the tale of baby Longstem - a buckling born last year on a sleety night, to a first time mother. Chuck found him in a puddle and thought he was already dead, but when Chuck lifted him up he let out a tiny bleat. He spent the night on the dashboard of the truck with the defroster running (this will dry off and warm up a hypothermic kid goat, by the way) and given a little colostrum milked from his disoriented mother, and then he was presented back to her the next day. His name came from Annalee's exclamation when she saw the tiny goat in a box, and his long umbilical cord was stretched out beside him. She commented on his long "stem" and the name stuck.

Longstem was a study in what a will to live can overcome. He went to his new home in South Carolina this weekend, and although Annalee was pretty sad to see him go, she is happy he will have a good home. He had overcome an awful lot in the past 10 months. Best wishes to you in your new home, Longstem!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Strains of Tom Petty

are floating through our minds as of late... specifically the refrain "the waiting, is the hardest part." Nothing could be more true when we have finally arrived at the 150 day mark from when Ace was put in with the top area does. The only doe that had kidded thus far is the sold goat we have been holding for someone to be sure she was bred. There are only a few does in this group, and all are obviously bred and all but one have developing udders, so we know we are close. But when will the kids arrive? Year after year Chuck tries to watch udders and squeeze tail heads, and year after year he guesses most of their statuses with some accuracy when they are within 24 hours of kidding, and year after year there are a couple that fool him absolutely. We've had several of these does long enough to start establishing what is "normal" to them, but this year we have a few real wildcards. In this upper area, we have four does who were first timers last year. All did a good job with their kids, so we have at least some confidence they'll do alright again. Last year, one of them twinned and the other three singled. This year all four are appreciably wider than they were last year, and I have also been going back comparing pictures of them and their udders to the pictures we took last year as they approached kidding. Comparing years, if any of them single, the kid will either be the size of a small car or we will find out we've seriously been overfeeding them. They aren't by any means underweight, but none of them have a body condition so high we can't feel their spine.

Unlike some breeders, we do have to give supplemental feed this time of year. We don't have the acreage fenced (yet) to offer enough browse for the does to make it through winter, especially when they are heavy bred or lactating. This year we've made the decision to feed more hay, earlier, so the pastures aren't overgrazed and they are ready to spring back up when the weather starts to warm and the kids should be getting close to weaning age. We have much more green in the fields this winter than last, but last winter we had kept the does off the top field and this winter they are going to be on it as we expect it to start coming back. I wish I could have the big wooded area we have planned completed by March so I could move the January kidders to it and rest the top field for a couple of months, but I don't see that happening unless the fence fairies show up, and we've been waiting for them for a loooong time. Good thing we weren't holding our breath.

I do hope the does wait a day or two simply because the temperature on the new indoor/outdoor thermometer at the house showed an outdoor temperature of 13 degrees this morning (either Chip or the cat that will eventually go to be a barn cat finally pulled the outdoor probe cord completely out of the old one). It isn't going to be terribly warm later in the week, but it is at least going to be warmer than this. My "helpful" hint this entry is as yet untried, but I am hoping it will work if we need it. We are trying to collect a little colostrum this year to freeze, and we have frozen a bit directly in a bottle. I've read a lot about freezing it in ice cube trays, but we live a long way from the farm. Taking a cue from what I do with milk for the human baby, we thought maybe this would save us a step, as we have no power at the farm. We figured the frozen bottle could go right in the automobile baby bottle warmer we bought for Virginia's bottles. For the few weeks I got back off maternity leave until I got laid off, Chuck had to carry her with him, and he would keep some milk warming more often than not. This little warmer plugs in the cigarette lighter, and it is slow, but it will bring a bottle to temperature between the house and the farm. Now, I sure hope I don't need to bottle feed any kids or provide any colostrum, but we (read: Chuck) bought an old doe with a questionable udder because she was built pretty much like a brick house and the original block body style of the early kikos is something we want in our herd. Ironically, I bought a granddaughter to this doe at a later sale, and she has a perfectly reasonable udder and while not being a tank like the older doe, is at least a doe with a lot of body capacity. We'll know more about this whole experiment works out later this season, and we hope that udder can still allow her to raise her kids unaided. I swear she looks like she might have quintuplets though. I hope she is just "sprung" like old does get sometimes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

This, I Resolve...

I assume some of you are familiar with the "This, I believe" series on NPR. Well, I am trying to sit down and whittle down my very long list of things I should probably do this year to something that is not so daunting I get discouraged before the middle of January. In addition to my New Year's resolutions that don't involve the farm (I resolve to be a better parent, to get a teaching job, to remain patient as I deal with an aging relative's dementia) I also have a few for the farm, and some will be a challenge, to be sure. As get down into the short rows of the first set of does' pregnancies, we are hoping for a good kidding season, and spending some time planning for warmer weather and the year ahead of us.

1)I resolve (make that WE resolve) to get at least one more area fenced on the farm. The entire front of the farm has been leased out for tobacco for years and years, but there are many acres of woods on the back side of the farm. Considering how exposed the top field is to brutal heat in the summer and to chilling winds in the winter, we need to have a wooded area for the goats to be in during the extreme seasons, simply so they have some natural protection from the elements. This will require clearing a fence line through the woods, and that will require a lot of hard work on Chuck's part, and a lot of single parenting on mine as he does it. Then, of course, there is the whole cost of the fencing thing. Money (or lack of it) can be such an annoying little speed bump along the road to easy farming.

2)We resolve to get birth, 30, and 90 day weights on the goats this year. I would add 60 day but I am trying to be at least somewhat realistic. This also will require some of that hard to come by green stuff (other than hay) because we will need to purchase a scale that can accomodate more than a 50 lb goat.

3)We resolve to fix up the existing fences so they are more critter proof. This will require probably a strand of barbed wire along the ground and hot wire inside or at the top of the field fence, all the way around.

4)We resolve to cull even more strictly this year, and only sell the best of what we've got as registered stock.

5)We resolve to not get in a hurry and do stuff halfway when the research tells us better (any more than necessary - again, trying to be realistic).

6)We resolve to do "something" about the muddy road. We're not sure what yet, considering the price of gravel, but we have to do something before we start catching things like the LeBrea (sp) tar pits. You can see I also have glorious laundry after the kids spend a day at the farm, because they can't resist the mud, and Chip can't help but fall down in it and get his boots sucked off and socks soaked. If we come to your farm, you'll have to be sure we don't start carrying off your gravel in our pants cuffs like in "The Shawshank Redemption."

7)Blogwise, I resolve to try to add something helpful to each entry - for instance, this time, I will mention a product we came across when trying to save a llama from meningeal worm. Since everything with a ruminant begins and ends with the rumen, keeping that rumen from shutting down is vitally important when trying to treat any serious problem. There is a product called Fibrevive that is specifically designed to get a sick animal eating, and to keep the rumen functioning to facilitate recovery. I don't think I have ever had a sick animal totally refuse it. It smells anise, or licorice-like. It is timothy hay based, and can be fed as a slurry, or tube fed, and we have used it in little cakes. It's one of those things you might only need once every five years, but when you need it, you need it. I've thought about buying a tub and keeping it around, so if anyone around here had an emergency we could have a scoop to lend at the ready. I also hope I never need it again.

Lastly, and certainly not least, I would like to wish all of you a wonderful 2012. I hope this one will be full of joyous life, abundant love, good fortune, and good goats for all of us.