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.