Life Cycles & Learning

The cycle of life continues, and so does the learning. The first baby goats of 2016 arrived right on time, 3:30 am, January 5th. It was a little chilly that night, and interrupted our sleep, but they arrived healthy and strong, well cared for by their mother, our ‘old lady’ goat, One Stripe.

One Stripe


One Stripe is seven years old this year. She arrived here in January, 2009, at the age of five months, with our first herd of goats at this homestead. Our first baby goats arrived in March, 2010. Since that time we have birthed, sold and butchered quite a number of goats. No two years are quite the same, they each bring their own learning experiences, some successes and some failures.

Copper with 2015 babies

In the past we followed the standard practice of selling our does as they got older. One Stripe has been the exception to that practice, and now we are rethinking the practice entirely. Keeping an older, highly productive doe has taught us that there is something to be said for proven performance compared to new, unknown performance. We now also have one of One Stripe’s daughters, Copper, that is a three year old, and expecting her third set of kids in a few days. She is also a proven performer and will be with us for the foreseeable future.



 

We had the barn built when we moved here. It has been a slow process of getting everything set up in a functional arrangement. We’ve had the birthing and weaning pens set up since we stated having babies, but just this year we now have electricity, lights instead of lanterns, and soon will have pressurized rural water and a rain catchment system, instead of running 400′ of hose from the house or using the hand pump on the well.


Many things on a homestead take long term planning, not to mention money. But even more than that, it takes knowledge, experience and time. Just this year, due to a very, very wet year, which still hasn’t let up, i.e. the recent 12″ rainfall we received, we have had a number of animal health issues we had never encountered before. The goats had a serious issue with barberpole worms and lice, so we learned about copper boluses and using diatomaceous earth. The young chickens have come down with coccidiosis, and aren’t growing well. We usually don’t have chicks growing out for meat this time of year, but we wanted more jars on the shelf, so we thought we’d try it.


Over the past seven years we’ve learned a lot about giving shots, banning young bucks and burning horns. There have been times we waited a little long too burn horns and ended up with scurs. We used to vaccinate all of our goats, but now only newcomers to the farm get vaccinated. We’ve learned about abscesses, and how to deal with them. At first they were pretty scary and worrisome, but since they haven’t proven to be contagious in nature, we just let them run their course until they break open on their own, just like this.

We have had a number of bucks over the years, some good, some too spotted, too hairy, too cantankerous, or too small. We find that if we keep or sale animals based on the attributes we desire, we are much happier with our animals. Since we tend to keep a young doe or two each year, our buck is the animal that turns over. If we had a group of does we planned on keeping for a number of years, we could also keep the buck. It is a common practice to breed father to daughter with goats, it’s called line breeding. Some people don’t mind it, while others wouldn’t hear of it. It’s a personal preference and decision.

There are many goals on a homestead that take long term planning. Some plans you can develop for a couple of days down the road. Some plans take weeks, months, years or decades to develop. It takes the same amount of time to develop competence, experience and knowledge. There are some things you just can’t wait for. Start now. After four years, I have finally figured out how to make a good wheel of cheddar cheese. Most things take time, effort, experience, failure and determination. Take gardening, for instance. I have read many blogs and comments recently indicating that folks are increasing the size of their gardens, most substantially, including us. This comes after a number of years of experience, with it’s trials, experiments, successes and failures. But like the challenges we have had with our animals this year, even the dog had an unusual infestation of worms, most gardeners will tell you that no two years are the same.


The time is fast approaching when failure may be devastating, and our opportunities may be greatly diminished. It is a time to learn as intensely and thoroughly as possible. For the cycle of life to continue to sustain us, whether with animals or plants, we must be able to use the knowledge and experience we have gained to our distinct advantage. I remember stories I’ve seen of crop failures and starvation, and can only pray those times will not come to pass again, but I fear they will, and all too soon. Be ready.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 5

There are lots of different things going on around here, so I thought I would do another version of the news. In the news lately…….

 

Our latest batch of baby chicks have hatched and been moved to their new abode. Out of 54 eggs we had 47 hatch. Some of them have been fascinated with their older siblings next door. 

The momma hen and the first 36 chicks that hatched had to move next door so the new babies could have the pen with the heat lamp. The ‘teenage’ chicks are almost feathered out, but not quite. They are in the ugly stage.

After the crew finished up the lean-to for the pigs, they started on the other side of the barn. This lean-to is bigger and will have a concrete pad. They poured the first half of the pad today and will finish up the other side tomorrow. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, so you will have to use your imagination until next time. It doesn’t look like this anymore.

Later on in the week, the same crew will begin construction of our long awaited greenhouse. When we moved here in 2008 we had new siding put on the house along with the porches that extend the full length of the house on the east and west sides. Frank had the foresight to have them pour a pad for the greenhouse when they poured the porches. So, this pad has been awaiting for us for seven years. It currently houses a few ladders and the sections of Frank’s new radio antenna towers. That is another project that is on the list in the near future. We bought the supplies for building the greenhouse a while back, but Frank’s back has prevented us from completing this task. We will write an article on the hows and whys of the greenhouse, including pictures of the construction when it is finished. 

We have a doe, Cricket, that has developed a bad case of scours (diarrhea) that is cause by the barber pole worm. We have never had a case like this and have been doctoring her for about five days. Today we took a stool sample to the vet and found out she has worms so bad, it’s like she’s never been wormed even though we have treated her twice in the last three weeks. The vet gave us a different type of wormer and information about using a copper bolus. I came home, researched copper boluses and ordered some. I am going to arrange for the vet to come out next week after the boluses arrive and teach me how to administer them properly to our entire herd. With all of the record breaking rain, the worm load is tremendous this year. I will take pictures and explain the bolus properties more when we administer them. It’s all new to us.
 

One Stripe


Since Cricket is sick with worms, and has gotten very thin, we won’t be breeding her in July along with One Stripe which was our original plan. That means one doe will breed in July for December babies and five will breed in November for April babies. We’ll see how that goes.
 

The new part of the garden I planted with cowpeas and sunflowers last Monday is growing very well.

I finally got the porches put back together. They sure look better. There are definitely not enough hours in the day to get half of the things done we would like to do.

We watch Greece, Puerto Rico and the financial conditions around the world with trepidation. This causes us to spend more time discussing and pondering what we might need to acquire or learn before we are no longer able. There are many folks talking about the devaluation of the dollar, bank holidays or a total financial collapse. We feel like this is the beginning of a scary roller coaster ride that will not end well. I suspect there will be ups and downs along the way, just like any roller coaster ride, but I really don’t think we will all arrive on the platform with smiling faces when this ride is over.

Frank’s radio class starts tomorrow night, and we are really looking forward to that. It will be very interesting to see how many folks show up and what type of community communications system comes out of this new group of people. We hope to do articles about each class to give you an idea of how it is going, what works and what doesn’t. This may give you some ideas about how to form a group in your area.


We hope everything is going well in your neck of the woods. Keep your ear to the ground, your powder dry and watch your back. Things are looking dicier everyday.

Until next time – Fern


Picking Wormer….From The Yard

As spring has come on, I’ve been thinking more and more about being able to grow natural wormer for our goats. For now, we still administer Fenbendazole (Safeguard) and Cydectin, and since it’s been an exceptionally wet spring, we have prime conditions for a heavy worm infestation. We allow a five day withdrawal period before we keep any milk for human consumption, but we do continue to milk, then feed it to the cats, dog and chickens. I didn’t want to experiment with all natural wormers only to have the goats become ill from worms, so this year we’re doing both.

The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette di Bairacli Levy is an amazing source of information if you want to learn how to treat most farm animal ailments naturally. I have spent much time reading and re-reading about many different herbs and plants, especially pertaining to worms. I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in herbal remedies for farm animals. As I read through this book, I began making lists of plants that are good for goats. 

This little notebook contains the beginnings of my research, with ideas for several categories including: plants for feed, plants for overall health, plants for worms and plants to increase milk production.

 

Now as I head out in the morning to do the chores, not only do I take a bucket to pick slugs and weeds from the garden for the chickens, I take a bucket for some goat pickings as well. The amount and variety of things I pick has grown since I took this picture, but it gives you an idea. Here is a tour of my morning wanderings as I pick for the goats.

 

I usually start off with comfrey, with anywhere from three to five leaves per goat each day. I am having to limit how much I pick for now until the plants are really at full production. Because of that, the chickens don’t get comfrey very often for now. Comfrey is a highly nutritious fodder plant for animals of all kinds.

 
Once the cabbage plants got big enough, I started picking leaves from the Michilli cabbage for the goats. It’s a very good source of sulfur and other vitamins. It turns out cabbage is good for lice, as well. Each time I introduce something new, it may take the goats a day or two to get used to it, cabbage was one of those things, but now they really like it.

I have also started including a few mustard leaves in the last few days, which helps to expel worms. Some of the goats seem to really like them, but some of them don’t. It’s always interesting to see how they will react.

 Next to the mustard is the dandelion patch. I always try to have at least a handful of leaves for each animal. Dandelion leaves are good for overall health as well as expelling worms.

 

I usually alternate between lemon balm and marjoram, which are both good for overall health. I want the plants to continue developing well for our own use, so the goats only get a few sprigs. They probably wouldn’t eat much more than that anyway. It’s part of the browsing nature of a goat.

 
Next comes garlic leaves which are high in sulfur and is an effective worm deterent. The goats won’t eat much, but they will eat some. I have started to include just a little each day. Behind the garlic is a patch of honeysuckle.

I have a couple of healthy chive plants that I have started picking small handfuls from as well. They are also effective against worms.

Honeysuckle

On Saturdays, I also pick a big handful of honeysuckle along with around four or five wormwood leaves for each goat. These two plants are especially good for expelling worms. One thing I have observed that I find to be very interesting is how the goats choose to consume them, or not. I have found that if I walk out into the barn with a large handful of honeysuckle vines, the does will gather around and heartily begin to strip the leaves from the vines. Until they are finished. Not until the leaves are gone, but until they are finished. My theory is, once a goat has eaten enough of a certain plant, they stop. Too much is not a good thing. And enough for one goat, may not be enough for another. They each stop eating the honeysuckle at their own timing. And the wormwood? Sometimes they will eat it and sometimes they won’t. Last week I wormed One Stripe and Copper with the commercial wormers on a Monday. Saturday when I brought up the honeysuckle and wormwood, neither one of them would eat them, even though they always did on the preceding days I had brought them. As I wondered why, I realized that they didn’t need the plants because I had just recently wormed them. Interesting, huh? Since tomorrow is Saturday, one week later, it will be interesting to see if they will eat these two plants tomorrow.

 

I started this wormwood from seed several years ago in this large wooden barrel. Now that I know it will continue to grow and have started using it, it’s time to move it back into the fringes of the herb bed. Many other plants don’t get along with wormwood too well, so it will be out on the edge of the bed next to the camphor wormwood I planted last year. It really does smell like camphor, and I haven’t quite decided what I would like to make out of it. I don’t use the camphor for the goats, though.

Since I recently read that blackberry leaves are good for goat feed, I stop at this patch of wild berries on the way to the barn and add a good handful of leaves to my bucket. 

Last week when the vet came to disbud our youngest baby goats, we found out they had lice. As far as I know, we have never had a lice problem on our goats before. The vet said our extremely wet spring has created prime conditions for lice. I got out my Herbal Handbook again and looked up lice. It turns out that sulfur is a good natural remedy and you can add a teaspoon of sulfur to the goat feed. Well, that wouldn’t work for the young babies that needed treating, so we put a little Sevin dust on them, and the teenage goats that are being weaned. But I needed a natural remedy for the does I am milking. It turns out garlic and cabbage contain sulfur. I was already feeding the cabbage leaves, so I increased the amount each doe was getting. That’s when I added in the garlic leaves. They ate more of them the first day, but since then, they will only eat a limited amount. But so far, I haven’t seen any lice on the does, so I hope this works.

So what do I do with all of these leaves? I dump my bucket on top of the big round bale of hay by the milk stand and sort everything out. I want to make sure each doe gets a portion of the harvest I have brought. And I only do this for the does I am milking, not the babies or the billy and wethers. As each doe comes to the milk stand, I give them their grain ration, then pile all of the leaves I have brought right on top of it. At first they seemed to be a little irritated with me, but now they just dig around the leaves, eat their grain, then usually have the leaves for desert. It’s rather comical. But if I took all of these leaves out to the feeder and spread them out for the goats to eat, they would just turn up their noses and go graze in the pasture. I’m not sure why they will eat them from the stand, but not from the feeder. It’s like it’s a treat or something.

I am hoping that feeding the goats plants that we have growing here will eventually be enough to keep them healthy and somewhat worm free. I don’t want to experiment to the detriment of their health, but I do want to try to eliminate the commercial wormers. I know there are companies that sell a natural wormer, but if I am going to change over to natural, I would like to see if growing our own plants will work. Only time will tell. It may take a year or more to really see what the outcome will be. I’ll let you know.

For the off season when the plants aren’t growing, I plan to dry the herbs. But, with nature, worms generally aren’t a problem in the winter months since the worms go dormant, some in the ground, some in the goat. There are other techniques for controlling worms, pasture rotation, short or tall grass and others. 

This brings us to another question. If the time comes when we are dependent upon ourselves, and we get worms, will these remedies work on us as well? Many of these plants are a common part of our diet and I have read that wormwood can be used with humans. But that is a whole different research project. Just food, pun intended, for thought.

Until next time – Fern

Please Help Us Grow Cabbage

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that we have not been successful growing, at all. The small green cabbage worms are the nemesis of our crop every time. I thought when I tried growing some this fall, there might not be any of the moths left to get the worm crop started, but that was not the case. These wonderful little worms appear to be able to grow anytime during the spring, summer or fall here. I was able to pick enough of the worms off of the fall broccoli plants to keep them alive, but not the cabbage.

Really sad, huh?


I have read about floating row covers to protect the plants from the moths, attracting paper wasps, using Bt and picking the worms and feeding them to your chickens. It seems that once the garden gets going in the spring, I get busy and don’t keep up with the worms, even though the chickens really enjoy them. I would prefer not to use a floating row cover, as it could provide endless hours of entertainment for our cats to the detriment of the plants. I am a big fan of companion planting, but so far the combinations I have tried have not been effective, or the plants grew at different rates, so the companions weren’t large enough to make any difference.

The most common kind of cabbage I have grown to date usually look like this. One of the first posts I did when we started the blog last year was “Don’t Grow Cabbage Like This“, and this picture was the star of the show. This one actually got off to a fairly good start, but in the end, succumbed to the worms, even with a zinnia growing next door.
 

Frank and I have started trying to eat healthier and consume fewer carbohydrates, so we have added many more vegetables to our daily consumption. I have also revisited my research about lacto-fermented vegetables and purchased a fermenting crock. One of the main vegetables recommended for fermenting is cabbage, which provides another reason for successfully growing our own cabbage instead of consuming what we buy at the store. But, for now, that is all we have access to, so we are purchasing cabbage.

We do like to eat cabbage, we just wish it could be our own.


Another motivation for growing cabbage is how well it will store and keep for longer periods of time than other vegetables. If we were able to master producing cabbage in enough quantities, we could store some for the winter months for fresh eating, keep some in the fermentation crock and can some for soups and other dishes.

So, as you can tell, we need help, and there are probably other folks out there that are frustrated and could use your help, also. Please share your experiences, techniques and advice with us here. All comments are appreciated. And in the process, maybe we can all learn something new.

Until next time – Fern
 

Pasture Rotation

We have practiced pasture rotation for many years as a means of increasing the health of our goats and our pastures. Pasture rotation can be handled in many different ways. This is the how and why of ours.

Our acreage is divided into four different pastures for the goats. Each pasture is connected to the corral which is connected to the barn, so the does and kids always have access to the barn.

The buck and wethers only have access to the barn when the herd is all together during breeding season. The rest of the time the ‘boys’ have a small shed in their area that they can use for sleep or to get out of the weather.

  

When we want to move the animals to a new pasture, we worm them, wait three days, then ‘move’ them by closing one gate and opening another.

The three day waiting period is to let the worms and their eggs pass. There will always be some exposure to the same ground in the corral and barn, but it is minimal and not much of a grazing area. 

We try to let at least two of our pastures rest and regrow for a minimum of two months before the goats have access to them again. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it is a goal. The life cycle of most worms that affect goats lasts 21 days. So if we can wait at least one month, the worms that hatch will not have a host to infect and will die.

 Our largest pasture is the one we call our standing hay. We call it standing hay because we let it grow up all summer then leave it – it is our uncut hay. It is excellent winter browse for the goats and it is natural. Some of it still grows a little most of the winter if it doesn’t get too cold. The last two years we have had a serious drought and extreme heat. None of our pastures grew very well before everything died in the heat so we didn’t have much standing hay to speak of. This year has been much better and our standing hay pasture has grown wonderfully. 

Many people that have pasture for cows would think our weedy pasture is in poor condition, but it is great for the goats. They prefer to browse and need more fibrous plant materials than grass provides, so this pasture is great. We will turn them in here around November or December and leave them there until March. That will give the pastures they have been on this summer the chance to rest and be ready when we need them. Once we have a good growth started in the spring, we will move them to a new pasture once again. 

Since we have been rotating pastures for several years now, we don’t have to worm our goats as often. We always worm the does

after they kid, and the kids as they are growing. There are plants that help deter worms in goats, like honey suckle that grows wild here that we can use if there comes a time that we cannot buy commercial wormers. We have a start of wormwood growing that can also be used for that purpose. 

I have been reading about growing plants to provide the goats with the minerals they need over at 5 Acres and a Dream. Leigh has done a lot of research about the nutritional value of different plants and how they can meet those needs for their goats and chickens. This has really started me thinking even more about ways to cut back on or eliminate commercial feed for our animals. 

We don’t use any commercial herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers on our pastures. We do brush hog occasionally, maybe every two years, and then not always the whole pasture. It is mainly to keep the briars to a manageable level for goat traffic. They love the leaves from the briars, so we are not trying to eliminate them altogether.

Pasture rotation is a simple, easy way to increase the health of your animals and your land. Once you make the investment in the fencing and housing, it will pay dividends in improved health and performance of your livestock for years to come.

Until next time – Fern

Don’t Raise Cabbage Like This

This is what can happen if you don’t pay enough attention to things in the garden.

We have yet to be very successful at growing cabbage.

The chickens are enjoying all of the worms and what little foliage is left on the plants.

Time gets away from us sometimes when we are trying to get several things done at once. 

We find more and more there just aren’t enough hours in the day. We are old enough to get the senior discount at Denny’s restaurants and our energy level and aches and pains seem to impact the amount we are able to accomplish each day.

Until next time – Fern