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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Meat in the Freezer

The romantic view of homesteading extolls the joy of having a pantry stocked with home-canned goods and a freezer stocked with home-grown meat.  Butchering one’s own grass-fed meat and using it to fill a freezer sounds great, doesn’t it?  What the pioneers don’t mention is how utterly exhausting a day of butchering can be – and how one’s feet ache by the end of it.

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Three lambs made it to our freezer this week.  Three lambs who were born here, raised on mama’s milk and grass, and who died knowing only kindness and gentle words from people they were familiar with from birth.

We chose to grind a lot of the meat today as we find ground meat to be the most versatile.

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We also were able to put away many pounds of meat to be used as dog food, and of course, saved the meaty bones for the dogs.  In short, almost nothing of these lambs goes to waste around here.

We are exhausted and aching in ways we never imagined.

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.

 

Karina

Kilo is growing like crazy and we see glimpses of his future potential as a livestock guardian from time to time.  He is now 4-½ months old and it will still be awhile before he is old/big enough to protect them.

Meanwhile……livestock guardians work best in pairs.  And male/female pairs generally get along together better than male/male or female/female pairs.  We had always planned to get Kilo a partner, thinking we’d do it when he was about two years old.  However that would mean raising him up and having him work alone for a considerable period before adding another puppy and then waiting for HER to be old enough to be a reliable partner.  So the plan changed.

A few days ago HWA and I spent an entire day on the road to pick up this little girl – Karina:

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Like Kilo, Karina is a Bulgarian Karakachan and she is 12 weeks old but being female and 7 weeks younger than Kilo, is substantially smaller.

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She came from a breeder who doesn’t handle his pups.  At all.  Consequently she was very shy initially but is coming out of her shell very quickly and seems thrilled to have a human of her very own.  To get her used to us and bond with Kilo, we are doing pasture walks three times a day and having her sleep with Kilo in his dog run (see next post for details on that).  So far, she has spent her entire time with us in the barn or pasture.

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We are looking forward to watching these two pups grow into their future roles as our livestock guardians.