As usual, springtime in the South has been a wild ride. After all the beautiful weather with summer-like temperatures, we have had a few heavy frosts. I figured the goats, being goats, would have kidded out at the absolute coldest moment. Since they couldn't arrange that, we had one kid yesterday in the middle of a thunderstorm. By the time Chuck got there, the kids were nearly dry and were standing. He couldn't tell exactly how new they were because the whole entire pasture was so very damp, but he had left the farm at 5am after a night check and he was back before noon. Apparently this doe was just waiting for a little privacy. She is one of the new does we got at Cream of the Crop last fall when the goats all were gold plated, or at least going for prices as if they were. She had a doe and a buck, and so far, so good.
The second goat of breeding age that we bought at the Cream of the Crop kidded today with triplets, two does and a buck. We were interested to see if she would live up to the reputation of Caesar daughters as good mothers, and at least during delivery she did all the right things. She actually waited for Chuck to arrive, and then quickly went into heavy labor. She was cleaning the first kid and it was starting to stand as she was laying down to have the next, and he was impressed with how careful she was with her feet to make sure she didn't step on one. This is one of those things that can't be quantified. There is no "measure" for so many of the intangibles that make a good mothering doe. In theory, they should have a higher weaning rate because they are careful, but there is more to it than that. Chuck has seen does step all over their kids (mainly Boers) and some that will run over their kids to get to a feed bucket. He has seen does that will turn to protect their kids, and then some that take off running and leave them for whatever predator/scary thing was after them. We try to take these things into consideration in our does. I also like for the doelings to stay with their mommas as long as possible when they can. It seems to be better for their udders to dry off slowly, and I assume that even when the kids are getting most of their calories from something other than nursing, there must be some benefit from the occassional snack or nature would have eliminated it long ago. This is another reason I figure it is a good thing to kid in the winter. We don't have enough land for them to live all winter on forage alone (and we are reaching critical mass even for the ample months) so why not feed them while they are growing the next generation of replacement does (now that is wishful thinking, isn't it) in their bodies, while in many cases, still growing their own. Hearing that this year has been light on does for other producers drives this home to me. If there aren't going to be lots of replacement does this year, we better hope their mommas were fed well enough to ensure the long, productive lives of the new small crop. I also want to figure out how to trick the does's bodies into being a more hospitable place for X chromosomes rather than Ys, but I also know what happens when we try to mess too much with Mother Nature.
The new area where the largest group of does was recently put has been "hammered" to put it mildly. Chuck was enjoying the dancing goats recently, as they were working the low hanging tree branches and leaves. This means, of course, that we better get the next area fenced. And soon. I expect I am going to be moving some bucks out soon, too. Since our new buck will be coming soon, we just don't need all we have. Now I just have to figure out who is going to be moving on down the road, and then I have to convince Chuck to buy in on it. I think if it were up to him, we would keep every goat and never sell anyone. I take that back. We'd never sell anyone except the ones that get on his nerves. Each buck we've used offers a trait we wanted in our herd. Maybe three or four more buck crosses down the road and I will have the "perfect" Kiko for this area. Well, I can dream, can't I?
Saturday, April 14, 2012
And four more to go, including Kitty. Today Wendy, a daughter of ECR Blackbeard and a Sports Kat/Hanky Panky doe, kidded. As we expected since this was her first, she singled. And of course, it was a buck. At least this one wasn't a black buck, since we seem to be overrun with black bucks this year. Chuck had stuck around to be there when she kidded, just in case, and happily she handled it all fine. He got a kick out of her though, because this whole thing was clearly new and strange to her, because every time her new kid moved, she would jump. She also did what we see a lot of first timers do - right as the kid was about to nurse, it would make noise so she would turn around to check on it, swinging her hindquarters and hence, her udder, out of reach again. It takes them a little bit to figure the whole thing out, and I remember that feeling clearly when they placed my first daughter in my arms as a newborn. I was like a deer in headlights, so I can imagine how the does must feel. I mean, they haven't even read What to Expect When You're Expecting, and yet they get the job done. When Chuck left, Wendy was adjusting to new motherhood. Every time the buckling made a sound, she was on the case. We were disappointed to see another buck when we really could use the does, but I think she was happy with him no matter what.
The does in her group have all been recently moved into the new field, and it is amazing how quickly they have opened up the underbrush in the woods. It is a good thing for people to see how fast they can do this, not only so people can see how goats can be used for land clearing, but also so folks can see just how quickly what appears to be ample forage can go away. We have a lot of goats, so we expect to have to move them around to utilize evey bit of forage we can, and we expect to supplement the pastures and woods when they run out or are of low quality. Anyone wanting to have goats on forage only needs to carefully consider stocking rates. Count on way more land than you think you will need, or be prepared to compensate when necessary. Certainly easy keeping goats that forage well are part of the equation, but being mindful is important, too. Watching the goats condition, and watching the condition of the available forage is key. We are still learning how to best utilize the fields we have fenced to minimize parasites while maximizing nutrition, and it is a dance. The season changes the tempo and the steps of the dance, as does the amount of rainfall, and the temperature. I can guarantee we aren't the ones leading, either... it is nature, and we just try to keep up. Another thing this little cold snap we've just had has reminded us is that a single species pasture is dangerous. I don't mean single animal species, but rather, a single species of grass. I see a lot of pretty fields that get turned up and planted with a fancy grazing grass, but if something happens that that grass can't take, you are just out of luck unless you have a lot of diversity in the forage in your fields. Chuck noticed this morning that the freezes of the past few nights bit back the lespedeza. I don't know enough about it to say if it will come back or not, but as much as we like to see it, it isn't the only game in town.
Now that this area is almost complete, we have more to do. There is an area right around the barn we plan to fence, and an area down the hill with a ton of blackberry bushes, some areas of grass, and woods as well. Those are next on the agenda. We've started some more spring goat maintenance, and have trimmed a few hooves as we moved does (and this really makes me value the ones with feet that never need trimming. Chuck holds them and I am the one stooped over at the toe end wielding the hoof trimmers), and we have done some of the external debugging. I am trying Ivomec pour on this spring for lice, mites, and ticks, because I read it is extremely safe and I am about desperate to do something that reduces the tick population at least a little bit. It has always been bad but this spring it is, to use my nephew's vernacular, just "off the hook." It isn't unusual for Chuck to come home with three or four ticks, so we're hoping this helps. We have a couple of guineas, but we've never had any stick around if not confined, so we are a little concerned about turning them out. If they can reduce the tick population, though, we may have no choice. I still am waiting for someone to tell me a sure fire natural way to get rid of ticks. I do love neem spray, and I use it on the kids' shoes and mine as well to limit the little buggers (the ticks, not the kids) hitching a ride, but since it has to be reapplied almost every day, we have more goats than it is practical to use on, and several who are almost impossible to even catch without an awful lot of effort. If I could keep Chip out of the trees it might limit his tick exposure, but even the trees can't keep him out of the trees, and they are trying hard to shed him. One day he scraped up his back falling out of one tree who had had enough of him, but since that didn't slow him down, two days later a tree decided to throw him and then caught him by a sandal, where he hung hollering until Chuck came and unhooked him and got him some ice for his newest war wound. I asked him if he didn't think he might ought to quit climbing trees since he clearly has some problems staying in them. He said he just couldn't stay out of them. I am just not up for emergency room visits this summer if we can help it. Hopefully if we can't keep him out of the trees, we can help him choose more amenable ones that won't try so hard to divest themselves of their blonde headed attacker.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
We've spent several long days at the farm lately, and of course there is still more work to do. I feel like we're gaining on it, though, so that likely means we're fixing to do something stupid or attract the bad luck fairies. Goat farming can make one feel a little like Romeo, standing and crying, "O, I am fortune's fool!" Thankfully, Virginia is pretty cool with cruising the farm in the stroller, and the weather has been pleasant enough she can be comfortable as we rush around trying to get things done.
In the time between kiddings we have gotten a bit accomplished. We pulled barbed wire around three sides of the new field. We haven't fastened it at ground level on the longest sides yet, and an unexpected rain stopped us short today. The side of the fence down through the woods is temporary and made of goat panels we've accrued over the years. Eventually, this top area will be extended and the temporary goat panels taken down and used elsewhere on the farm. That is one thing about goat panels - they are pricey, but they are also darn handy. They hold up better than cattle panels and, being more rigid, can make a pretty strong fenceline with some t posts. We even got three "guinea pigs" in the form of three young open does moved into the new field to see if there are any major goat maiming or killing aspects of the field we have overlooked.
We are still waiting for the last few does to kid. All but one are unknown quantities. We have two that are new to us this year but have kidded in the past, one first timer, one who is a second timer and did fine last year, and then Kitty, who has kidded before but that was back in her four legged days. We need to move the bottom does to the new field, do "routine spring maintenance" to the doe herd once they are done kidding, and then clip the two fields goats have been in over the winter to see if it will stimulate some grasses to come up with the legumes. I am hoping the legume clippings will be some bit of natural fertilizer and again, add some organic matter to the soil. I snapped a picture of the forage in the new field. This particular area on the farm has been unused as long as I know of. It has been mowed each year to keep it tidy, but I don't think anything was ever specifically planted there. Last summer, it was full of "wild" lespedeza and the tobacco guys mowed it. This spring we have a little of this and that, but I don't see any of that lespedeza yet. I'm not sure when that will show up, or if it will since the goats will be on it. As you can see, the sticker bushes are there, and there is an overall diversity of species. It makes that field a real joy to walk across in sandals, but I also hope it means it will be resilient to whatever the summer may bring weather-wise. While I realize sandals aren't standard farm footwear, they sure are a lot more comfortable than the heavy boots I wear when I'm having to walk through the fields and woods and I imagine it is pretty apparent we aren't exactly standard farmers.
On these long days at the farm, which more often than not fall on weekends, we often end up driving home after dark. These drives are typically more peaceful than my normal running around with a car full of children. The kids play hard in the country, and on nights like this usually fall asleep as I drive. There is a reason the literary magazine up here is called "No Straight Roads." Stokes County roads are twisty and hilly. They wind their way sinuously through the woods and by the sleepy farms and quiet houses. I think this gentle sway helps to lull the children to sleep, and I remember distinctly the feeling from my childhood of laying across the back seat in the old Custom Cruiser station wagon, drowsy and peaceful and watching the bright, bright stars in the midnight purple blue sky. The vinyl seat was cold and slippery and I can still smell that dinstinctively man-made car seat smell, as my parents drove us home from Christmas at Grandma's.
These days, I try to listen to Back Porch Music on the public radio station, and I particularly relish hearing songs I fancy my father might have enjoyed when he was young. He used to tell me about the concerts at Sandy Ridge School - about Flatt and Scruggs, and Bill Monroe playing there. I think about what it might have been like, listening to those shows. It was such a different time, and I wish he had told me more so I wouldn't have to try so hard to imagine it. Going through the experience of having a loved one with Alzheimer's type dementia now has really changed how I see our memories. I observe her as she loses all those memories that have been created over the course of a lifetime. All the experiences that we believe are so permanently emblazoned in our minds - well, they are just like a spider's web. They connect us strongly to our loved ones and all that has come before, and help define who we are and our place in the world, but then, unexpectedly, they break and fall apart and just disintigrate into nothingness. The only way our memories truly last is when we share them with others. We share our experiences, our musings, our hopes and dreams, and certainly, our learned information with each other and we create something like an inter-generational memory, or a community memory. Maybe this sort of memory has some bit of permanence, maybe not. I truly believe that it isn't the memory that has the value, but only the sharing of it.
When my kids awaken to the scratchy sounds on the radio of a bluegrass banjo and a twangy singer recorded back when my father, or his father, may have listened to the same song and smiled and danced along to it down at the Sandy Ridge school, I try to tell them how it might have been back them, and give them the memories that help connect them to the family history in this community. I hope someday as they drive along a twisty road on a dark, quiet evening, they hear the strains of bluegrass in their minds, and they remember these good moments we have had as a family, catching bugs and butterflies for their butterfly house, among other things, and it makes them smile and brings them a sense of peace and joy.
We got one of the first items of spring goat maintenance done today - the worm balls with copper wire particles in the middle. Most of the goats think these are a wonderful treat and eat them willingly from my hand. I imagine it will be a long hot summer and with the warm, wet weather we have had already I want to set myself up against barberpole worms a little earlier than normal. Not only does the stroller transport Virginia around the farm, but also a lot of the stuff I need to take from point A to point B. Here, Virginia and I take the worm balls down to the bottom field to offer them to the does that have recently kidded. I had to include just a sample picture of the does and some of the kids. They are growing well and the evenings are the best - they bounce around like popcorn, leaping and twisting in the air for the sheer joy of it. A few of the little bucklings are already declaring themselves future herdsires, although none of the does take them very seriously. They've already learned some lessons in manners from the older ladies, though, but it doesn't seem to last long. Funny, that whole testing boundaries thing seems to be a phenomenon that happens in more than just kid goats. Hmmm.