Saturday, September 27, 2008

Workin' Goats

Aside from a morning feed, visual check and count visit, the goats pretty much fend for themselves. Unless there's a stuck head... which happens a lot. Only the goofy boys tend to get their heads stuck in the fence. They put their heads through to get at a choice weed on the other side of the fence, then can't figure out that they have to turn their heads to get their horns back through the square "holes" of the fence.

Every now and then, though, there's a few hour's worth of work to be done keeping them ship shape and in good condition. Fecal analysis (ever tried to get a goat to poop on command?), mucous membrane checks for good color to catch any anemia issues, hoof trimming and weight taping to check for good growth and/or maintenance of condition.

First, we close the gate to the goat "barn" while everyone is inside. Well, if we were smart we would do this. Typically we end up trapping most of them like that, then have to do a few hours of aerobic exercise trying to catch the goats that made it out.

Then, we lead (drag) them one at a time to the tying post and tie them by their horns to the "hitchin' post". Sidenote: There are a lot of folks who feel that goats should be dehorned to prevent any accident and lessen the danger of working the goats. I prefer to keep them in a natural state and avoid the medical issues of dehorning. Plus, I just like them with horns. I do understand the other side of the argument, though. /sidenote.

Once the goat is tied to the post, measurements are taken to figure weight. (heart girth x heart girth x length)/300 = weight. I round up to the nearest 10 pounds as a fudge factor.

Then, the hoof trimming. Most of the goats don't like this process, except dear old Ruby who thinks it's a fine time at the spa. After we've trimmed up the hooves nicely, we dip them with "Copper Tox" (I don't know how to really spell it, but it's green, gooey and stinky). This helps prevent any issues of thrush or foot rot. This is probably an unnecessary step with the pasture rotation and management we do, but better safe than sorry.

Any poop that is present is collected and microscope fecal analysis is done later. If the parasite load is too high, we'll round them all up again and worm them.

We also note any issues that the individual goats may be presenting.... runny eyes, limping, cuts and scrapes, etc.

After all that, the goats are led out of the pen and into the yard so that we can keep track of who we've done and who we have left to do.

Flag is our biggest nanny goat at 139.6 pounds and Spruce is the smallest baby at 53.8 pounds. FreezerBoy, our choice for our first taste of goat meat weighed 91.9 pounds. Thatsa lotta goat for six months old.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Orchard Planning

I have a huge area, probably a couple of acres, picked out to "clear" for an orchard. I won't really be planting an orchard, more of a "forest garden". I've been doing lots of reading about this technique, which is part orchard, part herbs and veggies and a lot of permaculture.

It will take some work to get this area prepped for the forest garden. It's full of junk, improperly pruned fruit trees (which will probably be taken out), weeds, etc. There are a few excellent hickory nut trees currently standing, which rocks. Hickory trees take forever to grow and bear. I feel blessed that there are two or three perfect specimens there already, bearing wonderful nuts. (I had never had a hickory nut until recently... hard to crack, but absolutely fabulous nuts.)

This is an evening shot of part of the forest garden area. Lots of work to do. It may be a couple of years before we get it ready to plant trees and shrubs, but the sooner the better because it will take a while for anything to bear fruit.

There are several "layers" to an orchard garden. The canopy is the larger trees - nuts, etc. The sub-story is the semi-dwarf fruit trees, and the ground layer will be shade tolerant fruit shrubs/vines, herbs and veggies. I still have a lot to learn about forest gardening, so the work that is in front of us is a good thing while I figure out what and where to plant.

We've chosen the apple varieties we want to plant that will give us fruit over the whole season. We'll also be putting in cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, paw paw, pecan and apricot trees. In addition, we'll add mulberries, hardy kiwi, elderberry, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry and blueberry plants. We'll have to create individual ecosystems for each of the plants in order to get conditions right for good growth and harvest. I'm also considering taking advantage of windbreaks, reflective materials and some judicious weatherproofing to try some of the more tropical trees and plants like olives, almonds, etc.

Lots and lots of planning required, but should be self-sustaining if we do it right. So much fun!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So THAT'S Heat

The actual artificial insemination took place today. There's not much hope of conception, though. Yesterday Buttercup screamed like an elephant the whole day long. "Hormone shots," we thought. "That was her in heat," Emily told us. Damn.

The good thing is, there's absolutely no mistaking it now that we know what we're looking for. I have never heard a cow sound like that. Constant... screaming... all day long. Not that she's a quiet cow by any means. Normally, if her precious Craig goes out of her sight but she can still hear him, she bellows. She bellows when she wants fed. She bellows if a leaf is in her water trough. This, however, was another thing entirely. Fence pacing, screaming, the whole nine yards.

So while we probably missed it this time, we now know what we're looking for.

Always learning. Love the books, but sometimes you just have to see for yourself.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


We've been preparing for next year's garden plots. The farm already has 7 raised beds that are 4' x 8', and a raised bed that is 4' x 4'. This year, those raised beds have been providing tomatoes, peppers and squash. Next year these will be my herb beds providing medicinal and culinary herbs aplenty.

We've also selected a 40' x 45' area for the vegetable garden next year. The area is slightly sloping, which will be excellent for drainage. We laid down some black plastic to "solarize" the area and kill off any grass and weed seeds that may be lying dormant. I realize this will also nuke the biodynamic ecosystem of the garden, but I'll build that back up by tilling in the fall, creating pseudo-raised beds (really just "trodden paths"), a winter coat of straw and a very liberal application of excellent goat shit compost in the spring. Then we won't need to till in the spring, just move the straw aside, rake in a couple inches of compost and tuck the seeds in. This will allow us to get a bit earlier start in the spring because we won't have to wait for the earth to get dry enough to work. Then, with an earlier spring garden we can have an earlier fall garden as well and get two harvests from the same plot. That's the plan anyway, we'll see how much Mother Nature needs a laugh.

I already have next year's seeds ready, so I can provide some additional stratification for extremely early crops on those seeds I need to, along with row covers and cold frames if I'm feeling frisky come March. I've chosen mostly heirloom seed varieties so I can "harvest" the seeds from next year's garden to use the following year.

Following is a boring list, in no particular order, of the seeds I'll be planting. This is for my own records, so feel free to stop reading if you like! :)

Canteloupe (hybrid, Hale's Best Jumbo), an F1 hybrid Brussel sprout variety, "Oliver", Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Echinacea purpurea, Green Oakleaf lettuce, Medinah bush snap beans, Buckwheat, Winter Rye, Calendula "Alpha", Chickweed, Magical Michael Basil, Round Chioggia Radicchio, Omega Flax, Saltwort, Wonder Light heirloom Tomato, Matt's Wild Cherry tomato (total hybrid, but I love it so), Prudens Purple heirloom tomato, Di Cicco Broccoli, Hybrid White Titan Cauliflower, Amour pickling cucumber, Chiogga beets, Red Butterhead fireball lettuce, Thai Magic Basil, Flowering tobacco (for fragrant flowers - probably in a bed by the house), Clary Sage, Borage, Stinging Nettle, Red Sweet Watermelon, Green Summer Crisp lettuce, Anuenue lettuce, Mammoth Red Clover and Northstine Dent Field Corn.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Runner Ducks!

Today I went and picked up four Indian Runner Ducks from some wonderful farmers up by Bonne Terre.

These ducks are purely for entertainment value, as they are hysterical to watch. Rather than the normal horizontal body position of "normal" ducks, they stand upright and run everywhere!

I got two breeding pairs... a black and white pair (who will hopefully breed me some penguin ducks.. tee hee) and a fawn colored pair. They have been affectionately named Starsky (the black male), Hutch (the fawn male), Cagney (the white female) and Lacy (the fawn female).

They've made great friends with the mallards (I don't think they're really mallards, but I don't know what kind they are) and the muscovies. They piss the geese right off because they don't listen to geese orders.. that's funny too.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

AI doesn't always mean Artificial Intelligence

Sometimes it can mean "artificial insemination". This is what happened to our sweet Buttercup today. Well, it didn't totally happen, only the first hormone shots to bring her into heat happened. Being newbie farmers, we have no idea how to know when a cow is in heat. All the reading I've done indicates that the best way to know is if the cow stands to let another cow mount her... called "standing heat". Despite my best pleading, begging and batting of eyelashes, we don't yet have another cow. So - hormone shots.

Buttercup stood in the stanchion like a champ while Emily (the wonderful, wonderful AI technician) gave her a shot and gave us a crash course in administering the shots. Lock her head in the stanchion, smack her on the ass a few times to fake her out, then jab her.

We will give another shot next Saturday, then another on Monday, then insert the straws of semen (yes, I'm writing an internet post about semen.. bizarre) on Tuesday.

Then, if all goes well we'll have a calf (and more importantly, milk!) in 9 months.