Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pastures, minerals, and the Ozark sale. And my two cents.

As most of you who have read my blog for any length of time already know, we are not only trying to grow goats on the farm, but also to bring back land used for tobacco for years to a diverse, resilient pasture.  We had people at the farm recently who commented on how good these pastures were looking, and it made me step back and take a closer look at them, myself.  All I was noticing was the fact that my grasses have seed heads on them, so I know the forage quality is down.  I need to walk through each field slowly and take inventory of what is growing, what didn't make it, and where I still have bald spots that need some work (not even going to try with the thin spots on the sides of Chuck's head.  Some bald spots are just going to have to stay).  Chuck was really excited to find what he thinks is a dung beetle recently.  We've heard they mean the soil is improving, so let's hope they are right.
Say hello to Chuck's little friend.
Without a really good inspection, I can say that the alfalfa "took" and is able to withstand periods of low rainfall at least as well as anything in the field.  Seems like at one of the sustainable ag conferences I've attended, I heard a soil specialist say alfalfa roots can go many feet deep.  It's written down in my books somewhere, but they showed pictures in the seminar of how deep the roots went in undisturbed soil.  The guy was trying to point out that subsoiling has its place, but it can be overdone.  He was showing how those roots grab water, and bring up minerals from deep in the soil.  I still have concerns about the makeup of the soil in those fields because of years of tobacco being grown (which transports the nutrient away from the land) and chemical fertilizers.  At least with livestock on a pasture, the nutrient taken from it in the form of forage is returned in the form of poop.  I see both fescue seed heads that were already existing on the farm, and orchard grass seed heads which were what we added.  There is a strong stand of white clover interspersed, and down in the bottom field at least there are pockets of chicory.  I don't see any of the AU Grazer we planted, which figures, because those tiny little seeds are obviously infused with gold.  I'm thinking a soil test is in order, but I also think there is going to be a lot of difference in the soils from one spot of the field to the other. 

I am also on the quest for a new mineral blend to feed the goats.  I have heard anecdotally that the water up in the area around the farm is high in iron, which blocks the absorption of copper.  Now, I assume that means the soil is high iron, but we bring water from the house.  I guess I need to have our water at the house checked too.  I just don't think the goats look as good as they could, and I see some of the "symptoms" of copper deficiency, such as rust colored hairs on the black goats.  Copper wire particles do seem to help, and I use those over the summer to help eliminate the need to use other types of dewormers, but still... I just wonder.  I have tried to put in an order for a different mineral that I see dairy goat people using, and they are feeding for maximum milk and they like their goats to look pretty, too.  Looking pretty isn't a must on our farm, but generally, to look pretty a goat must be reasonably healthy.  Healthy is important to us.  If the mill is able to get it in, it should show up this week and we'll see if we notice a difference.  I'll report back one way or t'other.

Chuck may have bumped in to some of you guys at the Ozark sale in Springfield Missouri last weekend.  He got a later start than he would have liked on his way down there, which is pretty much par for the course for us.  He had hoped to see some of the seminars but at least made it in time to participate in the Keep or Cull contest.  In his opinion, there were some clear cut keeps and some clear cut culls but also a few that were on the bubble on way or the other.  That is pretty much true to life, I'd say.  He didn't win the free doe in the drawing, though, so I chastised him thoroughly for that, and he told me to take it up with the kid pulling out the winning name.  Free is always a plus. 

The place started off packed, but there was a smaller group that actually purchased goats.
The prices weren't as ouchy as at the Cream of the Crop, thank goodness.  They were a little higher than we would have liked, being on this side of the auction block, but hey.  It seems crazy on the one hand that a 50% doe is going for $500, but then, when you consider that at some of the slaughter sales, the goats are bringing $200 and up... you see where I am going with this.  You can't expect to get a really productive doe or one from solid, productive, parasite resistant bloodlines for the same price the dinner goats are bringing down at the stock sale.  Now I figure by the time we have percentage does for sale the market will have plummeted pretty much like any stock I have ever bought (you want a stock to tank, you just let me buy a share or two.  I have a knack) but maybe it won't, as long as the meat buyers are paying well.
The pens at the sale.

A lot goes into a replacement doe, even if we don't pour a lot of feed into them, or need to deworm them a lot.  There is time and planning above and beyond the cost of feed and fence.  Buying the breeding stock to produce these critters ain't cheap, but I will agree that chances are, if you buy a bunch of cheap goats, there's probably a reason they are cheap.  If it isn't something like a major drought or whatnot, then you just have to wonder what it is.  I am sure people find great goats for good prices, but I also know about the first goats we ever bought.  They cost a whole lot less than we have paid for our breeding stock, but I guess they served us well in that we learned to treat all sorts of diseases and disorders, to tube feed kids, to give injections and bring goats back from death's doorstep.  Those actually were some pretty good lessons, but lessons like that can be pretty discouraging for anyone new to goats. 
In the heat of the sale.

One other thing I think is discouraging to new goatkeepers is really expensive goats.  This is just my personal opinion, but I talked to some folks after the Cream of the Crop last fall, with the sky high prices, and one man in particular made me feel really bad.  He had a few goats, and he and his wife had pictures of their goats with them and were obviously proud of their kid crop, and rightly so.  They were really nice, solid looking kids.  He had come to the sale hoping to step it up a notch in his breeding program, and the prices were so darn high at that sale, he didn't get a thing.  Now, I am not saying to "fix" prices really low so the best goats go cheap, but dang.  This guy was really discouraged.  As a Kiko breeder and I would say as a huge fan of the Kiko as a breed, I want people to buy Kikos.  I want them to see for themselves that for the good goats, they aren't all hype. 

One of the does we wanted (we have her grandma) but someone else wanted her more.
When we started with goats in this area, the local experts told us point blank that Kikos were overpriced and weren't "all that."  Being stubborn, we eventually tried them anyway and made up our own mind, and the rest is history.  Had we not been able to get some decent Kikos at decent prices (they seemed high at the time, but they were sustainable, as in we could hope to get the price of the goat out of the next kid crop if the kids were good, and two kid crops if they were culls), we wouldn't be where we are today with them.  We don't get the prices around here that breeders are getting at the sales.  We just aren't there yet with our reputation and neither is the Kiko reputation in this area.  It is growing, though, and we get more and more calls each year.  I also have a hard time asking someone to pay me as much for our goats as we are paying (and have been paying) for our breeding stock.  I don't know why that is, but it is how I am wired.  I guess some of us are better business folks than others.
Our two new does in quarantine next to what the kids call "the potty with no door"
Personally, I would like to see the opening bids lower at these sales, because trust me, the goats we are there to bid on will still go sky high because they always do, but maybe there would be more opportunity for more people to get started in Kikos.  At least they would feel like they had a shot at it.  I think it would be better for the breed in the long run, because I want people to picture Kikos when they think of meat goats, and right now, they think of a Boer.  That means there need to be high numbers of GOOD Kiko goats out working on people's farms; goats of sufficient quality to thrive for the common farmer that wants to run some goats with his cows, or for the 4-H kids that want a project goat.  It might seem like we'd be losing money now, but I think it would have substantial payoffs in the long haul.

I agree that the best of the best have value above and beyond, as do some of those wonderful does who consistently outproduce themselves or prove themselves to be productive for many years past what is "typical" for a meat goat.  They should command a premium, but there should be a tier for the producer stepping up his game.  The goats may not need to be the biggest name goats, but they still have to be GOOD and they need to improve the herd into which they are introduced.  Maybe there should be a category at the sales for more tested and proven percentage does, or bucks that the local folks coming to the sale to see what Kikos are all about could afford to buy and take a gamble on.  Then after the next kidding season, they will be coming back for more and ready to take it up another notch, rather than shaking their heads in disbelief that these goats could be worth it.  A Kiko breeder who is going to drive many hours to a sale for a certain goat is ready to pay the price for that goat, but local goat breeders who may drive an hour or so just to check things out might be the future of the breed.  Who knows.  But again, this is just my opinion, and I am not expecting everyone to agree with me.  Thought I would put it out there, though.  For better or worse, I'm a little like that comedian who says "I had the right to remain silent... but not the ability."  Just ask Chuck and he can tell you some stories.  Most of the more colorful ones have to do with hot weather and me being pregnant and cranky, so hopefully you can forgive me those little lapses.

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