Oberhasli Goats

When we got the cows earlier this year, it was a huge departure from everything we have done on our homestead to date.  We always said we did not want to raise dairy animals due to the time commitment compared to raising meat breeds.  But, when our neighbor suggested the cooperative arrangement we decided to give it a try and have found that it works amazingly well.  Over the months we’ve had the cows, we’ve settled into a routine with them that works for all of us and because we share the responsibilities we still have flexibility to travel when we need to.

Meanwhile we LOVE having the fresh, raw milk readily available.  However we’ve been surprised that the yields aren’t as high as you’d expect from a cow, because the cow is raising her calf AND we are splitting the milk between two families.  Then, while browsing another website I read that some dairy goats will produce up to a gallon of milk per milking – far more than we are getting from our cow!  Further research and discussion with our neighbor, as well as talking to several people I know who raise dairy goats, and we started to wonder if goats aren’t a viable proposition after all – especially if done in the same cooperative fashion as the cows.

Enter two Oberhasli does and their three doe kids.  When the opportunity to acquire them presented itself, we discussed it and decided to add to our dairy production.  Oberhaslis are a dairy breed from Switzerland that are lesser known than Nubians, Alpines and Saanens – the most popular dairy breeds in this area.  However what we read about them is that they are friendly, docile, easy to handle and that their milk is sweet-tasting and has a milk fat content similar to cow’s milk.  Conceding even to ourselves that we must be nuts, we decided to go for it, and though we had to drive some distance to see them, we found them to be just as described.  The seller demonstrated milking one while she ate her grain without even putting a halter on and tying her up.  She milked about 4 cups of milk within minutes while chatting to us and answering our numerous questions.

100_1405

The three kids are about two months old already so will soon be weaned.  The plan is to sell them and continue to milk the does.  We now look forward to making raw goat cheese and ice-cream in addition to the yogurt and cheese we’ve been making to date from the cow’s milk.

100_1402

The goats are settling in and becoming part of the herd, and we are adjusting to another variation in our daily routine.  Life stays interesting.

100_1425

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Sadly, we had a farm incident this week of the less pleasant kind.  Early one morning we found one of our youngest twin lambs bloody and his brother missing entirely.  It didn’t take long to find the place along the fence where a large animal had dug under and we assume the culprit is again, coyotes.  The surviving lamb had his throat torn up and several bite marks elsewhere on his body.  Perhaps a mother coyote with juvenile pups was teaching them to hunt.  Once one was killed they left the other alone and though he had injuries and was in shock, we hoped he’d recover.  After cleaning up his wounds, we found they were not terribly deep.  We gave him a shot of Dexamethasone, a steroid that helps to recover from shock, as well as a shot of antibiotic to prevent the wounds becoming infected.  Over the next few days he nursed, grazed and pooped normally and though he moved slowly, he kept up with the flock.

However four days after the attack, he didn’t seem any better; if anything he seemed worse.  He was uncoordinated, lethargic and dejected.  On the morning of the fifth day I found him down and tried to assist him to stand.  He could not put weight on his front legs and collapsed.  A vet came to see him and diagnosed him with tetanus.  Quite honestly, tetanus was the last thing on my mind when this occurred.  I worried about infections at the wound sites – even rabies – but I didn’t even know tetanus was possible, thinking it related more to wounds inflicted by rusty metal than predators.  The vet explained that tetanus is in the soil and with the open wounds, it found an entry point.  Unfortunately there are very few treatment options, so the humane decision was to euthanize him.

Lambs and kids get a CD-T vaccination (the “T” is “tetanus”) when they are six weeks old, followed by a booster 3-4 weeks later.  Between birth and six weeks, they obtain immunity via their mother’s milk.  This lamb was only 5 weeks so had not yet had his CD-T, however the vet explained that if, when the attack had occurred, we had administered both the CD-T AND an anti-toxin at the same time, it might have prevented what happened.  We will know that for the future, but for now it seems a hard lesson learned.

Meanwhile…..HWA and I have spent many hours reinforcing fencing.  Our fencing is good – after all we had it done professionally only two years ago.  However in addition to the obvious place of entry we found several other areas where they could potentially dig so we’ve been reinforcing those as well.  We’re cutting 16-foot cattle panels lengthwise into 3 pieces to create 48 feet of 16″ panel.  We place them at the bottom of the fence, shoving the “rods” (created by cutting the panel) into the ground.  We then wire the panel to existing fence choosing a horizontal wire lower than the horizontal bar on the panel such that the tension of the wire tie acts to keep the panel pushed into the soil.

And, as a precaution, for the foreseeable future, our evening routine has changed as well.  Now, instead of leaving the sheep and goats loose in the pasture at night, we lock them into a pen closer to the house, letting them out only by day.  So – even if something is again able to dig into the pasture, it will find that the prey it seeks is behind yet another layer of fencing, which, we hope, they will find uncomfortably close to the house and the dogs.

Livestock predation is part and parcel of homesteading, but when it happens, it is hard not to feel discouraged.

What I’ve Learned About Gardening

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about growing a veggie garden its that the learning is an ongoing process. In the first couple of years it seemed simple enough; dig up the dirt, plant some seeds, weed and harvest.  In my naiveté, I thought once you had that down, there wasn’t anything left to learn.  But every year I am faced with new challenges and new things to learn and it finally hit me this morning that I actually know less now than I thought I knew back then.

To some extent, yes, the process really is till, plant, weed and harvest.  But with trial and error – and sometimes research – I’ve learned which plants play well with others.  I’ve learned how to spot signs of insect activity.  How to follow a trail of caterpillar poop to find the caterpillar’s hiding place under a leaf.  I’ve learned that the perfect tomato cage has not yet been invented.  That pretty little white butterflies fluttering happily through a garden are actually bad news.  I’ve learned to plant flowers – marigolds and zinnias and sunflowers – among the vegetables, to encourage beneficial insects, but also which veggies want to be close to those flowers and which do not.  I’ve learned to identify a variety of bugs, beetles and caterpillars and learned what type of plant they favor.  I’ve learned to recognize the weeds we see most often and to know which will be easily pulled and which will require earth-moving equipment to remove.  That every time I have a pest under control, another I’ve never seen before will move in to challenge me.  I’ve learned not to grow the things my family simply won’t eat and not to waste space on plants that grow large but only produce a small amount of food (like corn).  Instead I use that space for a plant that will continue to produce for many weeks (like tomatoes, beans and swiss chard).  I’ve learned that I need to carry a bowl to the garden with me every time I go, so as to have a way to collect my harvest, yet I rarely remember to do it.

As I plan my 2015 garden and look forward to what it will produce, I can’t help wondering what lessons about gardening 2015 will teach me.

Well, Poop!

I’ve long imagined myself self-sufficient.  I envisioned an idyllic setting, perfect weather and beautiful pens filled with well-behaved animals.  At the end of each tremendously gratifying day on the homestead, I’d head inside to dine on a meal prepared entirely from food I’d grown and raised myself, then sit in front of a fire burning wood I had chopped, and read a book.  Probably about homesteading.

I dreamed the dream while living in the city and going to college and raising kids and finally achieved the reality when we moved out here to our little homestead a few years ago.  Now my days are as idyllic as I always dreamed they would be.  Oh wait.  There is one little thing that never featured in my day-dreaming.  Poop.

It turns out that homesteading is really 98% dealing with poop.  There is a book entitled “Everybody Poops” that is popular with parents of toddlers.  I may have even read it to my own kids.  Sadly it did not prepare me for the reality that Everybody Poops.  Including animals.  And it hit me the other day that homesteading really isn’t about self-sufficiency or producing food or going off grid.  It’s about poop.

I don’t think there is a single day – and I am talking 365 (sometimes 366) days of the year – that I don’t deal with poop.  I scoop the poop from the horse run at least once, usually twice or thrice each week.  I use a pitchfork to shovel cow poop out of the barn and from around the round-bale feeder every morning.  I shovel the poop-saturated bedding from the chicken coop on an as-needed basis – the need arising much more quickly than would be my preference.  I scoop poop from the cat litter boxes that the barn cats use at night between their rodent patrols, and each week on trash day (so that it can immediately be hauled away), I take a pooper scooper and scoop up as much dog poop as I can find from the area around the house where we spend the most time.  Before guests arrive, I scrape free-range chicken poop off the porch,  and before sitting in a lawn chair, I check that turkeys weren’t there first.  Every time I step outside the back door, I step over messes left by the ducks hanging around the downspout.  And mice poop, well, everywhere.  Amazingly – and contrary to all my fantasies – even the adorably cute lambs and goat kids poop – they really do.  Most of their poop becomes fertilizer for our pasture but their sleeping area needs to be cleaned and raked out regularly.

So it turns out that “homesteading” is really just a very nice word that means “dealing with $#!#”

Lest you think I’m having a down day or experiencing a more encompassing change-of-heart about homesteading, I’m not.  But I laughed aloud this afternoon when I hit me how much of this life I so enjoy is, ultimately, dealing with poop.