|the Perry group, working the blackberries|
It is very labor intensive, but it also best utilizes the existing forage on the farm and saves money. Last year I made a picture of what was left after an area was "worked" by the goats. I took a picture of this same area, a year later. It is still lush grass with not much regrowth of what most would call noxious plants (like blackberry, which surrounds the area).
|last year, post moving pen|
|this year, ready made pasture|
We're starting to think about what we need to get done to put bucks with does for early kids. Once again the earliest kids (starting in early February) did a lot better than the late spring kids (late March or later). Several other factors play in, of course, and are kinda no-brainers. The first group was small, and on the same size paddock as the much larger second group. That adds an additional stressor. Now, I periodically gaze wistfully at the front of the farm, now planted in wheat, and sigh. I've had several people ask "when are you going to kick those tobacco guys off of there?" and the answer, at this point, is "when they decide they are done with it." They've used the farm for many years, buying the poundage back in the day when there was a tobacco quota. After the quota was phased out, they continued using the farm at a set fee per acre of tobacco produced. I know that, in theory, our return per acre could be a lot higher with either goats on it or doing vegetables on part of it (something Chuck hopes to do someday) but there is no way I'm going to mess with someone else's livelihood. I don't know how much those guys depend on that farm as they use so many others in the area, but they've got the wheat on it and are still mowing around the perimeter, so I assume they still really need it. I can envision that acreage, though, all neatly fenced and cross fenced, with a strip across the top for moving goats easily from one paddock to the next or to be used as a working area, and sometimes I even dream of automatic waterers in each paddock. Ay me.
|Amber waves of grain! The kids were excited when they learned this is where Shredded Wheat comes from.|
The good thing about having a farm with a lot of acres that are not yet fenced is that there is room to expand, and paddock expansion can only make life easier. The bad thing is that currently the goats are crammed on small acreage, and that makes our venture much more labor intensive for us and tougher on the goats, but it also means the goats that do well in this situation are likely to make it on other small farms. There are a lot more 20 acre farms around here than there are 200 acre farms these days. If you have enough acres and few enough goats, then you probably will never have to deworm them, or feed them anything but maybe some hay in the winter and put loose minerals out. Heavy bred and lactating does may need some supplementation, too. Most people are somewhere in the middle, it seems, and I personally think 2 acres per goat would be about perfect in this climate.
I look forward to the days of having more acres fenced than we have goats, but that's not what we have at the moment, so we deal with it. My goal for this winter is to have approximately 25 to 30 bred does, give or take. We've added some does from some specific lines, and with specific body traits towards that end. I have a few doelings I don't think will be big enough to breed this fall (I may breed that small group late and keep them separate from the mature doe herd), and I have a couple of does that are going "down the road." That gentle euphemism really does mean going down the road in our case, as Chuck is still running a few commercial type goats at the other farm to keep the kudzu under control on the cutover timber. If they don't make it there, they'll be sold without papers as brush goats, pets, or dinner. That farm is much more hands off so parasite resistance and/or tolerance is a must, but the goats do have the benefit of low numbers and lots of forage so in some ways they have it easier than the goats on the main farm. My long term goal is to have fifty top notch does in production, and to get to that goal is going to require several years of breeding effort in addition to a whole lot more fence.
|the Ozark sale does, settling in|
In the interim, we are still trying to find ways to make farming long distance less labor intensive. The water tank on the trailer thing worked out pretty well. I can see someone using this setup if they do brush control with goats, or have to move them to a remote pasture without a natural water source. It would work even better if there was some natural shade because it would give a constant supply of cool, fresh water - the most important nutrient. The big tank is just connected by a hose to the float valve we bought I believe at Tractor Supply, and it affixes to the top edge of one of those black stock tanks. I wish we'd thought of that sooner. It is a bad feeling to get to the farm and find the goats out of water on a hot day, and this ought to fix that until we can work out a solar pump system to the well (and test the well).
I am just two weeks into my new type of minerals, so I can't tell if there is any change yet. Boomer looks about as good as he has ever looked, which is a good thing going in to breeding season. Shaw is a little thin, so we are keeping an eye on him since he didn't have the smoothest adjustment period. He should be settling in and bouncing back, we hope. Ace is carrying decent weight, and is still growing. I will probably be using all three of them, and I am trying to figure out who is going in with whom, and where I am going to put them. And then, of course, I have to figure out what to do with the does once they are bred. Part of me wants the entire group together, as they are now save for the new does still in quarantine, and part of me wants to break them into contemporary age groups early on in their pregnancy. If they are together, I can rotate the whole group to maximize forage. If I break them up, I can feed each group more to its particular needs - especially the youngest does who are still growing at the same time they are carrying kids. I'm not sure which makes the most sense yet.
|mixed age group pasture|
Times like this I wish I had about fifteen two acre paddocks so I could run each set of does separately. I'd keep the first timers by themselves and feed them more so they continue to grow as they also grow babies. I'd give the mature does some space to raise their kids to the best of their potential with little to no intervention because they are time tested and at the top of their milk production. I'd also have a field for the oldies, because if I have a doe that doesn't start to slow down until well after the "norm" in commercial production, it makes more sense to me to give her a little support and get a few more kids from her that may also be long time producers than cull her and spend the money on a young doe, but that's because it works out for me in my situation. Replacing that doe in the current market will easily cost me $500 to $1000. I can support the oldie goldies for a lot less than that. Now, if she starts slowing down as a five or six year old she's just "normal." I'm talking about the 8 to 10 year olds or beyond that just need more calories than a doe at her prime but are still turning out multiple kids, especially if they have other added value traits.
On a totally unrelated note, I wanted to mention a few non-goat products I have come across that make day to day life a little easier on the farm. One is a suncreen. Anyone who has seen me knows I am about as white as they get. I burn, and never tan. My children thankfully do not have skin that burns like mine, but I want to protect their skin for the long haul as they run around the farm. Right after I had Annalee, I fancied I could sell skin care products. That didn't go so well as I am not the outgoing salesperson type, but the products are so good I am still using them six years later. Sometimes I think I will try something a little cheaper, and the cheap stuff ends up sitting unused on the counter. One of the best in the line is the Baby Sunscreen. I think it is only SPF 30 but I have never had a sunburn while using it, even when I stay out in the sun all day, and it does not sweat off. It is gentle enough it doesn't break any of us out - even when Annalee got carried away and put so much on Chip's face he looked like a mime. If you are in the market for an excellent sunscreen, it is from Arbonne (see the Arbonne Baby Care).
The next thing I want to mention has to do with a problem I have mentioned many times - ticks! We still have a huge tick problem on the farm. I have found a couple of neem based sprays that really reduce the number of ticks the kids come home carrying, and they are gentle on the skin. One is a JustNeem product - Adios Outdoor Body Spray. JustNeem is based in Cary, NC, where I lived for several years, so that is an added bonus for me as I like to support local companies. They make a neem soap as well, although I plan to try my hand at soap making when that elusive free time thing comes around and will be trying to put together my own perfect neem type soap.
Anyone who was down at the sale in Perry, Georgia got to experience some of the most irritating gnats I have seen in a long time. I pulled out the old neem spray, only to find it really didn't work on gnats. Some folks were having luck with dryer sheets, but Chuck found another spray bottle we had in his truck before we heard about the dryer sheet trick. I believe it is Sentry Natural Defense, but it is a dog and cat herbal spray. I used to use horse fly spray on myself back in the day, but I am much more careful what I put on my children. I spray this on my own skin, but I try to only spray their clothing, legs, and hair because I am paranoid. This spray has several essential oils, smells great in an earthy, spicy sort of way, and really stopped the gnats. I was able to walk around relatively unbothered as everyone else swished and swatted.
Now if I could just find the magic thing to eliminate internal parasites and coccidia on the farm... of course, if I did, the goats wouldn't last long in other situations. I do wish the things that are being researched were more widely available. I wish pelleted sericea was as common as alfalfa pellets. I wish that stuff that kills the larvae in the field was available here - I think it is a fungus. If there were no side effects, that would be darn handy to make pastures "clean" again. Until that comes, I will just have to worry.