Cooper

Our 100th post!  Who knew we talked so much?

I blogged recently about the change of direction we are taking with our goats.  Having sold the meat breed goats, we still needed to get our dairy does bred and explored many options.  Not keen on getting another buck – they are stinky and frankly, our last one was a lovable butthead.  (Pronunciation guide: The first three syllables of “lovable butthead” are silent.)  We looked into artificial insemination (AI) but technicians are few and the ridiculously brief period of receptivity( 6-12 hours) ensures that even if you detect the heat, it will be finished before the AI tech can arrive.

I investigated learning how to do the AI myself, but courses are expensive and halfway across the country.  Then would be the challenge of keeping semen onsite ready to be thawed for that narrow window of opportunity – which could occur while we were sleeping!

My does are Oberhasli – a Swiss breed that we have since learned are somewhat rare in this country.  I have two friends each with registered Nubian does – another dairy breed – who were also without bucks.  You see where this is going…. a shared problem becomes a shared venture.  So, we agreed look for a registered, purebred Nubian with good conformation.  After looking for some time, we found the perfect candidate, named “4RS Minima Cooper”, but we instead purchased the large dalmatian dog seen below.

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And just in case you don’t think he looks tall in a picture by himself, here he is beside one of the Oberhasli does.

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So far he has been a perfect gentleman – gentle with the goats and respectful of people.

Kilo and Karina’s response to the new animal in the herd they guard was interesting and, ultimately satisfying.  Both initially barked and growled at the large, unfamiliar intruder.  Kilo, who is older, bigger, and calmer, rather quickly accepted my assurances that this animal was now one of their own and the two of them experimented a bit to see which of them would yield way to the other, but were amicable soon enough.  Karina, on the other hand, frankly didn’t agree with me; she barked at him intermittently for a couple of days, before grudgingly accepting that he belongs.  Now they both watch and protect him just as they do the other goats and sheep.

We are excited to see the kids born out of this combination!  Per the partnership agreement, Cooper will live at each farm approximately four months each year, servicing 2-3 does at each farm.  He is a lucky buck!

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Changing Directions

When we first moved to the homestead, our goal was to feed the family without becoming slaves to the livestock.  With that goal in mind, we installed an auto door on the chicken coop so the poultry can take care of themselves with less input from us, sheep because they can graze a good portion of the year, and meat breed goats because they too don’t require much daily input.

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That all changed when our neighbor talked us into the dairy cows.  With the addition of the cows, followed by the dairy goats, suddenly we were where we never planned to be: tied to regular milking.  However, the partnership with the neighbors works beautifully as we only have to milk every other day and can still travel and have some flexibility.  We also elected to milk our cows and goats only in the mornings, rather than twice a day.  It means a little less milk (though we still get plenty) but a lot more freedom.

However we still owned the meat goats.  Compared to lambs, who can grow to eating size in 5-6 months on only their mama’s milk and then grass, goat kids grow a lot slower.  And we’ve realized that though we like goats, we have plenty of lamb meat, so don’t really need the goat meat.  Keeping both dairy and meat goats means either maintaining two bucks (and a means of keeping them separate from the does in order to control breeding), breeding a dairy buck to meat goats (resulting in even leaner kids) or breeding a meat buck to dairy does (resulting in kids who won’t produce high volumes of milk).

We considered the option of AI (Artificial Insemination), thinking we could give up a buck altogether and simply breed the does via semen ordered through the mail.  But, it turns out goats are one of the more challenging species to AI due to a short heat cycle that makes it difficult to time it just right.

So – we made the decision this week to give up the meat goats and focus on dairy.  The meat buck and doe have been sold and the two remaining kids will fill our freezer before winter, leaving us with only the two dairy does to maintain for the time being.  A dairy buck is in our future but for this winter it will be nice not to have to deal with him.

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Rotational Grazing

Another year….another round of rotational grazing.  The sheep and goats are now confined to temporary paddocks by portable electric fence, and moved to a new spot every few days.  Their ability to “mow” a paddock never ceases to amaze us.  They are thorough and efficient and the bonus is I’m not spending time and gas to keep the place looking neat.

This morning we moved the animals to a new paddock, which we hope will keep them busy about four days.  Having been left to grow for several weeks in anticipation of putting the animals on it, the grass was long and lush and they were eager to get started with their day’s work.

This evening I was outside chatting to an egg customer, when Smoky, the goat buck, waddled up to see what we were doing.  Given that he looked like he was about to give birth to quads…..my guess is he found some good stuff to eat.

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Goat Cheese Cheesecake

An abundance of milk leads to an abundance of cheese, which ultimately leads to cooking with cheese.  Goat milk turned into chèvre makes amazing cheesecakes.  The following has been well received every time I’ve made it (and never lasts long).  It has the added bonus of being quick and easy to make, and suitable for just about any dietary restrictions, as it contains no sugar or grains.

The crust:

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts
  • 1 ½ cups dates
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use pink Himalayan)

The filling:

  • Chevre made from one gallon of milk (about 11 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 packet of unflavored gelatin dissolved in ½ cup hot water
  • ⅓ cup agave nectar
  • pinch salt

Blend the crust ingredients in the food processor, then press into the bottom of a springform pan.

Blend the filling ingredients and pour into the crust.  Refrigerate for several hours and serve.

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The only challenge is saving some for later!

The Transformation of a Pole Barn – Part 2

In part 1, we detailed how our pole barn was transformed into a real, enclosed barn.  But there was still a lot of work to do to make the barn animal-ready.

The north end – about 20×30 – is the new sheep and goat quarters.  What we’ve learned about raising sheep and goats together is that goats are dominant and will bully sheep.  Therefore we decided to separate them, using an internal wall to keep each on their side.

The layout had to include a dog run for Kilo and Karina, to allow them to sleep – and bond – with their future charges.  The internal layout wound up being driven by the dog run, as we erected it first and then used its walls to form the walls dividing the sheep and goats.

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The dog run started with a cattle panel laid on the ground – in addition to providing stability to the structure, it prevents them digging out.  Side panels attached to the floor panel have smaller openings than a cattle panel, to prevent them climbing through the holes.  The tube was completed by another cattle panel across the top, to prevent them climbing out.  Panels cut to fit the ends, one affixed and the other hinged – completed the dog run.  The dimensions are 50″ (the height of a livestock panel) and the whole structure is 16′ long.

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The dog run taken from the sheep side, looking through it to the goat side.

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Looking at the front of the dog run and the internal gate leading into the sheep area

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The goat huts stacked in the corner of the goat side are in use. The goats sleep in the bottom one, while the top one serves as storage for minerals, hoof clippers and scale.

A hay wall at each end will allow them to eat without making too big a mess.  And a mineral feeder in each side will allow all animals access to the minerals formulated for their species.

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Winter has been and gone and it is now spring.  The sheep and goats quickly adapted to the routine of coming in at night and separate themselves into their sleeping quarters.  Best of all it keeps them safe and happy.  Meanwhile I sleep better at night knowing they are safe.

 

The Transformation of a Pole Barn – Part 1

We were fortunate when we moved to our homestead, that there were already some usable structures on the place.  Unfortunately, what we’ve found over the years is they were built for purposes different than ours, and therefore don’t work as well as we’d like.  Case in point: the pole barn.  I personally don’t care for pole barns.  Sure they provide a roof, but since rain can come from whatever direction the wind is blowing, unless things are placed in the center, they are liable to get wet anyway.  Meanwhile, the sun shines in and in the case of our pole barn, oriented north-south, sun shines from the east until noon and from the west thereafter.  At least the sun damage is equally distributed over anything stored there!

Until now the sheep and goats have spent winters under an old horse shelter, with hay walls to provided additional wind protection.  However that shelter lies at the low side of our property and spring rains flooded it multiple times.  What started as a think tank to remedy the flooding, ended up as a far bigger project – closing in the pole barn on the high side of the property, to create a “real” barn.

After weeks of drawing up one sketch after another, we settled on a design we felt would work best, and finally the renovation was underway.  The first step was to frame out the existing poles to support the tin.  This included adding in four new poles to span the wider openings.

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Next was to add tin to the new framework.  We elected to make the east wall solid and in future years hay will be stored along that back wall.

The west side center sections will remain open, with gates across them to keep animals out.  This will allow for easy access and lots of light.

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We also added a small roller door in the north side.  This can be rolled up to let in light and create air flow.

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Due to the slope of the ground where the pole barn was located, it was difficult to have the tin meet the ground in a continuous line, so instead the metal was stair-stepped, and we filled the base with screenings to block off openings.

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To keep this post from getting too long, we’ve divided this post in part 1 – the external – and part 2 – internal.

To be continued….

 

Kilo the Karakachan

Despite spending a vast amount on fencing to keep our sheep and goats IN, we haven’t been successful in keeping predators OUT.  We considered the loss of a lamb within the first few weeks to be a fluke caused by a gap in the fence left by fencing contractors.  Having closed the gap we had no further cause for concern for two years, so had grown complacent, until this spring when coyotes dug under the fence, resulting in the loss of twin lambs.

The attack was disconcerting because although we easily found the spot they’d dug under and reinforced it, what’s to prevent them digging at another spot?  And with the investment in the Royal White sheep, keeping them safe became even more important.

For years people have been telling us we should consider donkeys, llamas or dogs as Livestock Guardians.  Donkeys’ braying and reports of their trying to mate the sheep made them unappealing.  Llamas’ need to be sheared and reports of their trying to mate the sheep also made them unappealing.  And dogs?  We resisted them for several reasons:

  1. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  2. Many breeds of LGD bark.  A lot.
  3. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.
  4. Many LGD’s roam.
  5. They are another animal that requires care and feeding.

However due to the emotional devastation that follows the loss of an animal to predators, and the financial investment in the Royal White Sheep, we reconsidered.  But we decided there had to be alternatives to Great Pyrenees – the big, fluffy white dogs most commonly used as guardians in this area, so we set about finding them.

What we learned was surprising: there are many different breeds of Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), each coming from a different area of Europe or Asia, and each therefore having been bred with different qualities.  Exotic sounding names like Sarplaninac, Ovcharka, Karakachan, Akbash, Tornjak, Tibetan Mastiff and Central Asian Shepherd.  Dogs from Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Tibet.

After learning of the strengths and weaknesses of each breed, we felt that the Karakachan would be the best match for us.  Unlike Great Pyrenees, who bark to alert potential predators of their presence, Karakachan tend to bark only when they detect an actual threat.  And, rather than roam to expand their territory, they tend to bond more closely to their stock and therefore stay closer to them.  When a threat is detected, they will gather the stock behind them, while facing off the threat.

Ideally, LGDs work better in pairs.  A pair will trade off the work load, with one sleeping while the other keeps watch.  When there is a threat, one will stay with the stock while the other confronts the predator.  However in cases where it is only possible to have one dog, Karakachans work better as a sole guardian than do some of the other breeds.

Enter Kilo, the Karakachan Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).  Deciding on a Karakachan was the easy part; finding one was the challenge.  However thanks to the Internet, we were able to locate a litter in West Virginia, and committed to a pup – then 3 days old. Here he is at five weeks old:

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At six weeks he weighed over 12 pounds.  At eight weeks his litter mates started leaving for their new farms.  And finally, at nine weeks, Kilo farewelled his mother to start on his long journey westward.  The first leg involved a 13-hour drive to Arkansas – along with one brother.  The second leg started when I arrived in Arkansas to collect him and drive him the remaining 7 hours home.

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The next few months will be a steep learning curve for Kilo and for us.  Kilo will need to gain the trust of the sheep and goats – currently far larger than he is.  He will live with them and bond to them.  Meanwhile we will be learning how to incorporate a guardian into our daily routines.  I’m sure there will be challenges along the way but feel that sleep will come easier – especially when we have young kids and lambs – than it does now with the constant worry about their welfare.