Posted by: Eric | March 29, 2011

New Kids!

We had two new goat kids born on Sunday.  Mother Simone (a first freshener), new doe Santiago (pronounced “SAN-dee-ay-goh,” like the town in California, not “san-TEE-ah-goh” like the town in Chile), and new buck Solway are all doing fine.  This brings our total of kids for the season to a round dozen – 5 does and 7 bucks.

Simone had not given any indication that she was ready to kid, so the babies were something of a surprise when we got back from running errands.  But, they were cleaned up and walking around, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Only one doe left that might kid, so we’re getting ready to move towards the spring season and revamping the farm.  If only the snow would melt.

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Posted by: Eric | March 16, 2011

Decisions, decisions…

Times have been busy on the farm lately.  We’ve had two does that were sick, a frozen pipe in the barn, and any number of other things going on.  Plus, the rest of life has a habit of getting in the way.  We celebrated my daughter’s third birthday this past week, which kept us busy as well.

We have started decision time on the farm, and there are lots of them to be made.  Which can be… difficult, as I’ve been known to be wishy-washy, or else just plain ambivalent.

One of the biggest decisions is figuring out which goats to keep and which goats to sell.  We often look at blood lines.  If two goats are half-sisters or mother-daughter, we can assume they have a fair amount of the same genetics.  So if one is a little better than the other, and the slightly-worse one is about on par with a goat from a different blood line, we’ll go for diversity of blood lines and get rid of the sister/mother/daughter.

So right now, we have Pearl, who had difficulty kidding and doesn’t have as nice an udder as one of her half sisters.  She’s going to get sold.  We have an unwieldly number of buck kids.  Some of them will get sold, too.

So the next question (again, there are many) is what do we do with the goats we’re selling?  Some will become 4H projects.  Some will become meat.  Some might be sold to other farms.  One buck is nice enough that we may try to sell him as breeding stock.  There are quite a few options.

When we get tired of thinking about goats, then it’s time to think about seeds.  The ground may still be ice and snow, but we can start growing seedlings in our windows.  So now wee need to pick the vegetables and flowers for our front garden.  So far, I’ve proposed a soup garden (potatoes, leeks, rutabagas, onions, garlic); a fried rice garden (peas, carrots, garlic, onions); and a salad garden (leaf lettuce, carrots, tomatoes).  Maybe we’ll do a combination thereof.  Maybe we’ll do something else completely.  But we’re running out of time to decide what to plant.

When that topic gets exhausting, it’s time to think about repairs and modifications.  Where do we want the new fences?  How permanent should they be?  When we muck out the barn, do we want to rearrange it?  Is there a better place to store the hay?  Should we build a garage?

Of course, I’m no good at deciding all of this.  So hopefully someone else will tell me what to do.

Posted by: Eric | March 3, 2011

Pround parent

I’ll admit it. I’m turning into one of those really annoying people who won’t shut up about his kids. I’m proud of them. That boy is growing so fast…he’s like a weed. And you should see him play! He’s so… exuberant. And my little girl is so cute. She follows me everywhere, and she’ll climb right into my lap without the slightest provocation.

I’m talking about my goat kids, of course. I’ve started chatting with coworkers and friends about the trials and tribulations of farming. Now I’ve even got this blog, so I can gab about my goats with an even bigger audience. I never wanted it to get this way, mind you. It’s just that most people I meet have no idea what farming is actually like. So when I say something like “man, the goats were unruly this morning” (in much the same way one says “man, traffic was terrible this morning”), I start getting questions.

Goats? Really? How many do you have? Do they really eat everything? Why did you choose goats? Don’t their eyes creep you out? Does their milk taste weird? What do you do with the milk? Do you ever sell them for meat?

Suddenly, I’m the goat ambassador. I got so used to this that I started just kind of volunteering information about my goats. I start answering the questions before anyone can ask them. And bear in mind that I’m a teacher, so I was already long-winded.

So, I guess this is just my friendly reminder that, whether I’m talking about my human child or my goat kids, you have my permission to tell me to shut up, because you’re not interested.


As an added note, I should point out that I’ve also spent a few years working the State Fair goat show, where I have heard and attempted to answer virtually every goat question ever. This does not help my tendency to ramble.

Posted by: Eric | March 3, 2011

How much milk?

So imagine you’ve got a few goats. Now what do you do with them? Well, you milk them. Goats, pound for pound, are better milkers than cows. So, as you can imagine, milking the goats takes up much of our chore time.

Many people milk their goats twice a day. But this isn’t a requirement. It’s just as possible to milk only once a day. The difference is in the level of production. Goats milked twice a day, because their bodies think they have really hungry kids, will make more milk. Goats milked only once a day quickly adapt to the lower demand and make a little less milk.

Either way, it’s important to stick to the schedule. A full udder is an uncomfortable thing, and the goats get cranky and stressed if they don’t get milked on time. This is another thing to consider when trying to decide how often to milk. The goat schedule becomes your schedule. If you’re like us and have a bevy of activities and obligations, milking once a day can be a much better option.

Right now, we’re just using the milk to drink, although we do sometimes make cheese, and I have plans to try my hand at soap making. Because we don’t need much milk, and because we don’t have a lot of time, we milk once a day, and the goats are just as happy as they would be otherwise.

Posted by: Marie | March 2, 2011

Which goats to keep?

Dairy goats are a nice animal to raise, because they have a very specific standard to try to achieve.  The American Dairy Goat Association has a scorecard that tells you exactly which parts of a goat are most important, and just how the perfect goat should look.  There are many styles of goat that get close to this standard of perfection.  There are two major goals that some breeders call “stylish” and “powerful.”  Think of a ballet dancer versus a line backer, or the difference between an Arabian horse and a Clydesdale.  Our herd trends toward the line backer end with very wide bodied, larger boned does. I like the bigger goats because the broader they are, the more they eat, and the more they milk or gain weight (if they are meat kids).

Recently we have been trying to improve their fore udder attachment, meaning that they hold their udder close to their body and it doesn’t abruptly end when you reach the belly.  To work on this feature in the does, we choose a buck who has a mother and sisters who have features we like, since we usually buy a buck as a baby so he has no daughters.  So far we have gotten a lot of improvement with the first fresheners, but at least one of them seems to be making much less milk than the older goats who have less pretty udders.  It remains to be seen if she will start to have more milk soon.

In the fall we decide which buck will complement each doe to give the best kids in the spring.  Right now we only have one buck, so that’s a very easy choice.  It would be nice to get another buck who has a family history of producing big powerful does with very strong front ends and nice skin texture.  It is more likely we won’t get another buck until next year and will have dry yearlings next spring.

When we decide which goats to keep, we pick goats who are well rounded.  They have nice features from all of the parts of the score card, they milk well, they behave themselves, and right now we also choose good mothers.  We also try to keep diversity, so rather than keeping one doe, her three daughters, and their two daughters, we might choose to keep the doe, one or two daughters, and maybe a grand daughter if she improves over her mother and grandmother.  Otherwise we keep looking for the magic combination of parents that gives us the perfect goat.

Posted by: Eric | March 2, 2011

Necessary Evils

Farming has a lot of joy in it.  There’s something about working with animals, and with the land, that is inherently satisfying.  It touches something deep in our psyche.  There’s a growing number of therapy programs that work with troubled youth or those with developmental disabilities, and it seems to be working.

But not all of farming is so pleasant.  There are those things that are necessary for the health of your animals that are not much fun for anyone involved.  I can tell you that giving shots to critters is no more fun than getting a shot, yourself.  Last night, however, we were working on what is probably my least favorite goat-related activity: disbudding.

Horns are, frankly, just too dangerous for a farm operation.  Goats can injure their handlers, they will fight with each other (sometimes as play, sometimes to establish pecking order), and horned goats are very good at getting caught in fences.  I’ve seen or heard of horned animals getting stuck in a fence and breaking limbs, strangling themselves, or being attacked by a wild dog.  A goat that breaks a horn in the process of freeing itself is likely to bleed to death.  Full-grown horns are also easily sharp enough to pierce flesh.  The last thing you want is another animal (or your own family members) gored by an angry, nervous, or incautious goat.  So we disbud: we remove the horns not long after birth.

This process, put mildly, sucks.  You take a hot iron, specially shaped to goat horn buds, and burn off the tissue, so that horns cannot grow in.  It sounds cruel, and believe me, it’s no picnic, but almost everyone agrees that a few minutes of pain and a couple days of tenderness are better than slowly bleeding to death some day down the road.  I think I hate pinning the goats down and singeing them almost as much as they hate being singed.  And the burnt fur smell just clings in your nose.  It’s awful.  Worse, even if it were affordable to anesthetize the goats for the process, goats are notoriously difficult to put to sleep.  Bad things tend to happen to ruminants, and goats in particular, when they are put under.  So, we just do it.  You grab the kid, test the iron for heat against a board, and burn off the bud.

Yesterday was my first time being in charge of the iron and doing the actual disbudding (I just held the goats, in the past).  I can’t say it was fun.  But I was pretty good at it.  I think my years as school teacher have helped me develop a callous, cynical pragmatism that allows me to do some harm — if it’s better for the critter in the long run — without feeling too bad about it.

But they still got treats for being good little goats.

Posted by: Eric | February 27, 2011

What if chores weren’t a chore?

Anyone who is starting a farm quickly learns why we say “I need to go do chores” and not, for example, “I’ve gotta go do the feeding.” Chores are hard work. They are labor. And there is, of course, a heavy degree of repetition. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable. For a dairy farmer, chores are when you get to really know your animals. After all, you need to milk each one, so that’s a few minutes of one-on-one time. You quickly find that no two animals are the same, although sometimes general dispositions run in families. (Not unlike us, truth be told. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and all of that.)

We have two milk stands, so the goats come out in pairs, or teams. Our first team (“squad leaders”) includes one elderly goat who is in “retirement” — she is no longer milking or having kids, so she gets to live out her last year or two getting fat and sassy. The other goat is a veteran show goat and is among the better behaved of the goats.

Our next team (“red team” — they are a mother-daughter pair with red collars) includes another retired doe and a veteran who, mostly, just comes out for the grain and could care less if we milk her or not. I think she’s the closest we come to a lazy, gluttonous goat. But she’s a good goat, a good mother, and makes enough milk, so we keep her around.

The third team (“brown team” — at the time they were named two of the only all-brown goats) is our dynamic duo. They’re very well-assembled, and excellent producers (production, I should note, is how much milk they make), but they can be a handful. Sometimes, I swear they egg each other on, just to see who can do something stupider. If any goats are going to find the weak spot in the fence and roam the yard looking for tender greens, it’s these two. But, taken one at a time, they’re both very sweet, and Lemon is an excellent mother. They can also both be a little too smart for their own good. They would no doubt have taken very well to training if anyone had had the time back when they were young.

Our fourth team (“noobs” — they’ll need a new name before next season, because they won’t be they newbies forever…) is a pair of first fresheners, and, frankly, they’re still learning the ropes. They’re starting to calm down a little, but they’re still not used to coming out of the pen.

I should note here that, until this season, the goats were managed by my in-laws, who, although lovely people, were not in good enough health to go in to the pen regularly and work on socialization with the young goats, so these first fresheners, who are all two, had little direct human contact outside of the occasional capture for shots, etc. So, naturally, they’re a little wary of us. Goats, like most domesticated critters, still do better with early socialization. In fact, once spring rolls around, I’ll be taking the new goats — at least any we’re keeping — for regular walks around the yard. They need to learn to trust us, to respond when we hold their collar, etc. A goat who is worked with regularly, like the better show goats, responds very well to commands. They have dog-like or cat-like intelligence and are very trainable. In fact, Didja, our squad leader show goat, has routinely been led around the yard by our two-year-old. She doesn’t fight, she just follows. And she’s very comfortable around people, even those she doesn’t know.

And so but anyway… one of the things that makes chores pleasant, for me, is just getting to spend time with my critters. Sometimes, if I’m not in a hurry, I’ll just sit out there and watch the goats interact with one another. Dairy animals end up existing somewhere between a family pet and a farm implement. We name them, we care for them, sometimes we love them. But they’re also part of the farm, and they’re here to do work for us. If a goat isn’t producing much, or isn’t kidding well, or has other issues, it gets sold. We get bucks every year who become meat. Our house cat got injured this year, and we spent a lot of money getting here fixed up at the vet. If that happened to a goat, we’d have had her put down. Realistically, the goats are here to provide milk and/or make money. If they can’t do that (and they haven’t earned retirement from years of milking), then they’re not worth keeping. I dunno. It’s a hard thing to describe. But that’s how it goes.

In the next couple days, I’ll talk a little more about chores, and all the decisions that go into it, like when to milk and what to feed them.

Posted by: Eric | February 23, 2011

What’s in a name?

For me, one of the hardest parts of kidding season is deciding what to name all of those babies!  In years past, Marie’s family has experimented with a variety of techniques.  A theme for the year.  Themes for families or even just pairs of animals.  Other herders we know have themes within families, or use the recommended tattoo letter to start all of their names.

Me, I can’t handle 15 goats who all start with the same letter.  Especially since I try to stick to the magic two syllables for what I actually call the goat (our goats with long names all have shorter nicknames, for example, Yvonne, who is really named Kurt Vonnegut, as she was born the day Vonnegut passed away).

In the end, we settled on changing the name scheme to have letters run in families and themes for each year.  Thus, this year we have goats named after Minnesota cities.  So Lemon has kids Leonard and Luverne, and Tumbleweed has a kid named Trommald.

For me, this works well.  I can tell family relations quickly and easily (sometimes, one gets forgetful as years go by – Ellen is Pat’s daughter, but which one of those two was Liatorp’s dam?).  Plus, the themes let me ballpark how old the kids are, or at least remember who is in  the same generation.

If only naming human children was this easy…

Posted by: Eric | February 23, 2011

Greetings!

Welcome to our blog, and to our farm!  We’ll be writing about what it takes to be a goat farmer, as well as throwing up our favorite recipes in cheese making, soap making, and other goaty crafts.

Stick around.  We’ll try to make it worth your while.

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