Sunday, December 14, 2014

We're looking for a few good farmers

A few days ago I noticed that a farm house three miles from us had become a pile of rubble, and last night, it was a fire. A very old farming couple lived there. I met the woman once when I knocked on her door to tell her that one of her pigs had escaped and was in the field across the road. She moved slowly and looked like she was at least in her seventies. I felt terrible not being able to offer to help her get the pig back to his pen, but we were on our way to an appointment. I don't know what happened to the couple, but their house is now ashes.

According to the government, the average age of farmers in this country is almost 60. That's absurd for an average working age! That is the average age of retirement for many professions. Yet I know plenty of farmers in their 70s. Since we moved out here in 2002, we have seen many farm houses torn down -- at least one every year or two -- along the roads that we travel most commonly between our house and the Interstate, which is only 12 miles away. That's actually a very high percentage of the houses being torn down because there wasn't more than one house every half a mile or so. Now there are even less. Because most of Illinois has been turned into corn and soybean country, a single farmer can farm a couple thousand acres, so the number of farmers keeps shrinking.

But the problem is that we don't eat corn and soybeans. Although some of the corn and soybeans are used for livestock feed, a lot of it is sent to a lab and turned into non-edible things, such as ethanol and styrofoam packing peanuts (corn) and biodiesel (soybeans), as well as non-nutritive food additives, such as corn syrup, corn starch, soy lecithin, and things you can't pronounce like sodium carboxymethylcellulose. Back in the 1950s, Illinois was the fifth largest vegetable producing state in the nation. Today we import 95% of our food from other states and other countries. We have some of the best, most fertile land in the country, yet if something happened to our transportation system tomorrow, most of the state would be starving within days. Even if that never happens, the cost of transportation is going to keep climbing, and someday it will be considered absurd to eat lettuce from California or asparagus from South America. This food system is not sustainable.

Illinois needs people to grow food for people living in Illinois. The problem is that getting started in farming traditionally has not been like getting started in any other profession. You had to inherit a farm. And with today's land prices, that isn't going to change any time soon. But there is an alternative. Incubator farms are starting to pop up for those who want to farm but don't have the cash to buy their own land. I've actually been thinking about this for a few years. Why don't we form a partnership with people who want to farm? We'll provide the land, equipment, tools, etc, and they provide the labor, and we split the profits. I didn't actually do anything to find potential incubator farmers, though, because I didn't have any faith in my idea. I thought, who'd want to do that? Well, as it turns out, lots of people want to do that!

In his book, Fields of Farmers, Joel Salatin said he is doing exactly that. The reason that his farm has grown so large in recent years is because he has former interns staying on at Polyface as partners. Joel now rents several farms within a 30 minute radius of his farm so that new farmers can work them. When I attended the Acres USA conference last December in Springfield, IL, there was another farmer there who was also doing the same thing. He did a session on the nuts and bolts of having new farmer-partners working on his farm.

With our children grown and no longer living at home, we have 32 acres here (and another 67 acres that I need to tell you about soon) that is too much for us to utilize to its fullest potential. It seems wasteful and somewhat stingy to simply use this as my oversized park when it could be used to grow organic food for people while giving new farmers the experience they need to be able to eventually go to a bank to get a business loan to buy their own farm.

So, that's the plan for 2015 and moving forward. Earlier this year, we created Antiquity Oaks LLC, and our main goal moving forward is to be a farm that educates new and aspiring farmers, whether they want to have a market garden, grow mushrooms, produce honey or maple syrup, or raise animals for meat, milk, or fiber. In addition to having classes and internship programs, we will have partnership opportunities for those with education and experience who want to start their own farming business.

If you know anyone who is looking for that type of opportunity, feel free to give them our contact information!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trimming the boar's tusks

(or Vet Visit, Part 2)

A couple of days before the vet was supposed to come over to do the goat ultrasounds, someone on one of the pig Facebook groups posted a picture of a large gash in her leg. It was caused by her boar turning his head at the wrong moment, and his tusk sliced through her boot, her thick sock, and into her leg! Then several other people talked about similar experiences. All of them had sweet, docile American Guinea Hogs who just happened to turn their head at the wrong moment!

Although Henry's tusks looked scary, I never thought he would ever hurt one of us with them. He is so incredibly docile! But after seeing those pictures and hearing several other people say the same thing had happened to them, I decided that I was incredibly lucky to already have an appointment with the vet who was coming to the farm in a couple of days! So, I emailed and asked if she could trim Henry's tusks when she was here.

The vet said we needed to put him in a small space where he couldn't get away, and she could more easily work with him. Confine? Everyone around here is free range! After wringing our hands and saying to each other that we didn't have such a place on our farm, it finally clicked! We put him in the horse trailer! Then, while we were waiting for the vet to arrive, I tried to get a good picture of his big scary tusks.

I was disappointed that these pictures did not do justice to the tusks!

But here is a picture of the vet sawing away at one of his tusks ... look at the size of that bad boy! It's even longer than I'd realized!

Yep, that could have done some damage if he'd turned his head at the wrong moment. I was surprised at the dust that was created as she was sawing on it.


Once the tusk was cut off, she used a dremel to smooth off the sharp edges. And in case you are wondering, Henry was sedated for this. He may be sweet and docile, but I didn't expect him to lay there and let someone cut off his tusks. It's hard enough for me to sit in a dentist's chair and let them work on my teeth, and I know they're doing something that's ultimately good for me.

The vet said Henry's tusks shouldn't need to be trimmed again for a couple of years. While she was here, I also mentioned to her that several people online suggested simply giving a boar a few beers (one beer per 100 pounds, to be exact) and then using bolt cutters to snip off the tusks. She said the problem with bolt cutters is that the tooth will sometimes wind up cracking all of the way down to the root, so it's really better to use the obstetrical wire to cut the tusk. Although she didn't comment on the use of beer as a pig sedative, I don't really want to risk my hands on it, so we will be calling her back next time Henry needs a trim.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Vet visit

We don't have a full-time large animal vet anywhere near us, which is why I always wind up driving the two hours to the University of Illinois vet clinic in emergencies. However, there is a traveling vet that comes through here, and although it would be $140 to have her drive here just for us, if I can coordinate her visit with another nearby farm (or two or three), we can reduce that cost considerably. And that's what happened a couple of weeks ago. A farmer friend of mine was having the vet come to her place to trim her boar's tusks, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get an ultrasound on a goat that was being sold to Texas to make sure she was pregnant.


So, here's Marie on the milk stand, enjoying some grain, with no idea that the vet is about to put that cold ultrasound probe on her belly. It went totally fine though -- after Marie's initial shock -- and we learned that she was pregnant with at least two bouncy kids! So, Marie is now in her new home down in Texas.


Since the vet was going to be here, I also decided to get an ultrasound on Vera. She was two months pregnant and already huge. I have only ever had three goats look pregnant at two months -- Vera when she had quintuplets last year, and her mother Coco, the two times she had quints!


If memory serves, this is just a picture of amniotic fluid, but that means the goat is pregnant! Unfortunately, with Vera being two months into her pregnancy already, the vet couldn't get a good view of all the kids at once. She could see three at one time, but she was hesitant to say that there were more than that because it's tough to know when you're seeing the same kid or a different one each time you move the probe a little. So, I guess we'll just have to be surprised at the end of January when Vera kids. If she does have five in there again, I just hope that they come shooting out as easily as they did this last kidding season. Mike was home alone and said he could hardly get them dried off fast enough.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tagging pigs

Although we've been raising American Guinea Hogs for four years, and we had Tamworths for about six years before that, we've almost always sold them for meat. However, the past couple of months, I've had several people contact me about buying breeding stock. In fact, all of our September piglets have been sold as live piglets to people who want to raise them either for meat or as the beginning of their breeding program. In order to provide positive identification for them, the pigs need to have ear tags, tattoos, or ear notches. I hate ear notches; tattoos can be hard to read; so that leaves us with ear tags. It's the lesser of three evils.

Three piglets were picked up on Saturday, and we needed to put ear tags in them. I really expected it to be about as much fun as a root canal without novocaine. Mike and I discussed whether he or I should hold a pig or be the tagger. I personally didn't think that I was necessarily strong enough to do either. Although most people think of pigs as "fat," the fact is that they are the most concentrated bundle of muscle of any of the animals on the farm. Ultimately we decided that he should hold the pig while I put the tag in the ear.

And I am happy to say that it went much better than anticipated. In fact, it was easier than tattooing goats or tagging sheep. The pigs made a short squeak when the tag went into their ear, but that was it! No thrashing, no non-stop squealing, no drama. It wasn't much harder than using a hole punch in a piece of paper.

And the three little pigs were on their way to their new home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Livestock Conservancy Conference

Last weekend I attended the Livestock Conservancy's national conference in Austin, TX. Like all of their conferences, the food was amazing! Members donated a variety of delicious pastured meats from heritage animals. Then the lucky chef gets to use that meat in all sorts of creative ways for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meats included Gulf Coast sheep, Red Poll beef, and Large Black pork.

Although food plays a starring role in the conference, the real reason that everyone attends is to learn and network. I presented a half-day workshop on Friday morning about creating value-added products with heritage livestock, and it was a lot of fun. The point of the session was not to tell people how to do things (like spin yarn) but simply to give them an idea of things that could be done and what type of investment would have to be made in terms of learning and and financing. I met some very interesting people at all stages of the farming journey, from those still in the planning stages to those who've been raising livestock for many years. Saturday, I presented a one-hour talk on goats as the centerpiece of a diversified homestead, which includes information on how to actually make things like soap and cheese.

When I wasn't speaking, I attended sessions. During most hours, I was wishing I could be in two places at once! My favorite was a session on silvopasturing pigs -- or, raising pigs in the woods. The speakers were Marc and Lydia Mousseau of Atlanta. If I had met them anywhere else, and they had asked me to guess whether they were pig farmers or the owners of a design firm, I would have totally chosen the latter. However, the correct answer is "both!" I could totally relate to them because they were city slickers like I was 12 years ago!

It was two years ago that Marc became enamored by Ossabaw Island hogs and started talking about raising them on their land outside of Atlanta. Of course, his family thought he was nuts. (Sound familiar?) But as he continued talking about them and even came up with a business plan, they began to realize that he was serious.

Marc talked about the job of building a barn and erecting fencing for the pigs, as well as his agreement with an Atlanta chef who buys all of the pork that is currently being produced. I laughed more than once at his stories, and I filed away a couple of interesting tidbits of information. (1) He buried his fencing eight inches deep to keep the pigs from escaping, (2) If you say "Ossabaw" to Siri, she thinks you're saying "Awesome Bob," so of course, Marc had to name one of his boars "Awesome Bob!" and (3) Ossabaw Island hogs kill and eat coyotes! But they don't eat the tail.

Although Austin was unseasonably cold with temperatures in the 50s, Illinois was much worse! I arrived home to temperatures in the teens, and we had a dusting of snow on Monday evening. Winter seems to be arriving much earlier than normal, and I am definitely not looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Culling pigs

Tomorrow is the day that our last group of yearling pigs will go to the locker for processing, so I have to make my final decision on which gilts to keep for breeding. Yesterday morning I went outside for another one of my visits with the pigs. Although they were not at all friendly a few weeks ago, my little visits have turned most of them around. There is still one pig with a pink nose and two white legs that has made it quite clear that she doesn't want to be friends, so her destiny is sealed. The other four that are still here, however, have grown accustomed to my little visits and enjoy being petted.


This one was the first to roll over for a belly rub, and now I can walk up to her and start petting her, and she just drops herself to the ground and rolls over like this! In addition to winning me over with her sweet personality, she also allowed me to count her teats. She has 13, which means she'll be able to feed a lot of little porkers! One of the other pigs has 14. Two of the others only have 11, which is not good if they have more than 9 piglets. Two teats at the end often don't develop enough for the babies to actually be able to use them effectively, so more teats is better. Julia had 13 babies last year, so these pigs can have a lot! Because the sow lays down, and all of the piglets nurse at the same time, she needs to have enough teats for all of the babies.

In addition to personality and number of teats, I'm also looking at body conformation. The pig in the picture is one of the medium-sized pigs. Unfortunately the one with 14 teats is huge. She has a lot of fat, especially around her jowls, and it makes me wonder if she'll have fertility issues. Overweight animals often do. She has been getting all of the same food as the others, and somehow she wound up weighing a lot more. Since she is bigger, will she have bigger piglets? It might be interesting to keep these two and see if they are different in terms of fertility and how many piglets they are able to raise.

So much to consider, and my deadline is only a few hours away.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A new goal

As we are making the transition from homestead to full-fledged working farm with a strong emphasis on education, I am attending a variety of business seminars, and a couple of days ago, I attended one on managing multiple priorities -- and boy, do I have multiple priorities! It seems like I go through every day doing whatever is urgently demanding my attention, whether it is a goat in heat that needs to be bred or milk that needs to be turned into cheese, which leaves little time for things that need to be done but are not urgent, such as finishing the staircase or putting tile around our bathtub. (Yeah, we moved in 10 years ago.)

"Goals" was one of the many topics covered in the six hour seminar, and although I am no stranger to goals, sometimes we need to be reminded to actually apply what we know! Even though something may be important, it may not get done because you don't have a goal. So, I've decided to set a goal of posting on here at least once a week. I'd spent so many years just posting as soon as something happened that I never thought I needed to set a goal to post on here. But as other things have taken over my life, I find that blogging on here gets pushed to the back burner.

I have a goal of posting on my Thrifty Homesteader blog three times a week, and I usually meet it. Because that is a "how to" kind of blog, I feel a commitment to produce information to help people learn to homestead or live a greener life. But, I've always looked at this blog as my homesteading journal, and feeling that no one really "needs" to read this stuff, it gets put off day after day. I suppose I think of this as my fun blog and Thrifty Homesteader as my work blog. Even if that is the case, I should still make a habit of blogging here regularly because we all need to remember to incorporate fun into our lives, right?

So, rather than thinking that I'm going to write lots of individual blog posts on all of the little things happening around the homestead, here are a few highlights. You see that rose up there? That was really taken on our farm two weeks ago! And the same bush is still blooming, even though we've had two nights with below freezing temperatures. There are currently three blooms on that bush!


I planted lettuce in August, so we now have lots of big, beautiful heads of lettuce!


And that means we can have lots of salad! I especially love an entirely homegrown and homemade Cobb salad made with our chicken, bacon, jack cheese, boiled eggs, and lettuce!



Here is a picture of the butter I made with the milk from our new Jersey cow, which we got in early October. I am still hoping to tell you how we got her because it's a funny story, but for now, you get to see the butter. We've also made yogurt and gouda with her milk so far. No verdict on the gouda yet because it has to age, but the yogurt was a lot thinner than my goat milk yogurt, which would be fine for smoothies, but when it comes to fresh eating, I prefer the goat milk yogurt.

We currently have the goats grazing around our house, so here's Lizzie! We do rotational grazing, and now is the end of the grazing season, so we're letting the goats have every last bit of greenery, including everything in our yard.

Next weekend I'm heading down to Texas for the Livestock Conservancy conference. If any of you are there, say hi!

So, there you have it ... what I've been up to the last few weeks and where I'm heading. And I now have a goal to post on here at least once a week. It may not be perfect, but it'll be something.






Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pigs and cows and sciatica, oh my!

There are 365 days in a year and 24 hours in every day, so why did a 150-pound pig decide that NOW was the time to get itself completely tangled up in Electronet? After yesterday's 7-hour barn cleaning marathon, I can now say I truly feel your pain if you've ever suffered from sciatica. The last time I was walking, holding my back, moaning, groaning, and breathing like this was 21 years ago when I was giving birth to my last child! I was simultaneously crying in pain and laughing at the complete absurdity of the situation! Getting a pig out of Electronet in my condition was quite a challenge, but it is free -- and I bet it will never go near Electronet again.
my Facebook status yesterday


I have no doubt this would all be quite hilarious if I were watching it in a movie. But I'm not. I'm living it. But let's start at the beginning ... (It's okay if you laugh. I promise I won't get mad.)

I've had sciatic pain off and on for the past year. When I was mistakenly diagnosed with reflux earlier this year, I started sleeping on a wedge, which did nothing for my digestive problems but after the first night of sleeping on the wedge, I realized that my low back pain was gone! So, I thought I had learned how to deal with it. On Monday someone came out to help clean up the kidding barn and get it ready for kidding season, which will start in December. Because my back has been bothering me a little, I made a point of not doing any heavy lifting. I did all of the gross little things ... like cleaning off the shelves behind the kidding stalls, cleaning the store room, removing fly strips, and other tedious but important jobs. (Now I really wish I had taken a picture! It looks great!) Other than my knee feeling a little more swollen than normal, I was feeling fine. We worked from noon to seven, then I came inside and cooked dinner. By 9 p.m., I knew I had a problem, but I figured a good night's rest would take care of it.

Not even close! I woke up yesterday morning wincing in pain every time I moved. I was moving slowly and taking tiny steps. When I came downstairs, the first thing I did was an online search for sciatica. I didn't learn anything terribly helpful, although I found it curious that most of the articles said it is made worse by sitting. Hmm ... mine was always worse from laying down flat, either on my back or stomach. Sitting never seemed to bother it as much. So I figured I'd spend the day sitting in front of the computer, icing my back off and on all day. It was going pretty well until around 2:45 when I suddenly heard a pig squealing non-stop! I limped to the window as quickly as I could manage, as the squealing continued. The pigs are in the front yard cleaning up the acorns and hickory nuts. When I looked to where the squeal was coming from, I saw a pig tangled in the Electronet that was keeping the goats in their area.

"Oh! Good grief! Seriously? Seriously? Today?" I hobbled to the front door and headed outside without even changing my slippers to farm shoes. Having been shocked a couple of times by an electric fence, I knew the pig was truly in distress. And just in case I had any doubts, it was continuing to squeal non-stop. I made my way to the barn as quickly as I could and unplugged the fence charger. The squealing stopped immediately. As I then headed towards the pig, I saw absolutely zero movement. Oh no, it's dead. No, it wouldn't have died at exactly the same second you unplugged the charger. But it's not moving. Why isn't it moving? And so my thoughts spun out of control until I was close enough to see that the pig was blinking its eyes. The whole time I was moving from one end of the front yard to the other, I was also holding my back, taking deep breaths, blowing them out with a loud moan, and occasionally throwing out a swear word for pain control.

When I finally reached the pig, I realized that it had pulled up five of the stakes that held the fence in place. Although I was able to remove one strand of fencing from across the bridge of its snout, I couldn't figure out how exactly it had put itself at the center of this gordian knot. A strand of fencing ran so tightly across its back that I couldn't even slip a finger under it. In my pain-induced fuzzy brain, I had the brilliant idea to pull the pig backwards. Keep in mind that I can't squat because of the arthritis in my knees, and now I can hardly bend my back, so I am bending my knees as far as I can, and I'm trying to bend my body forward at my hips. I foolishly thought that I could simply use my arms to pull the pig backwards. Hey, at least I knew that I wouldn't be able to use my back to pull on it. Of course, the pig wanted nothing to do with me pulling on it -- as if I could actually have moved a 150-pound pig with only my arms!

First I hobbled to the house for a pair of scissors so that I could cut the strand of fencing. Even though we probably own seven pairs, there was not a single pair that I could easily find. Thanks to the fact that, more than once, I've caught my husband using goat hoof trimmers to cut and strip electrical wire, I realized that they were probably an even better idea than scissors, which probably would not have worked anyway. So, off I hobbled towards the barn, huffing and puffing, moaning and groaning, and holding my back the whole way. We always keep an old pair of hoof trimmers in the side of a hay stack to use for cutting baling twine, so they were easy to find. And then I made the same arduous journey back across the yard, looking like a woman in hard labor, minus the obligatory baby bump out front.

I finally reached the pig, who now had enough strength to squeal in anticipation of the fact that it knew I was going to touch it again. This was not one of the friendlier pigs who actually enjoys getting a scratch behind the ears and a back massage -- and even if it was, it probably would not have been after being tangled in an electric fence and being shocked for a couple of minutes. I slowly began my descent into the semi-squat, hinged bending at the hips until I could reach the wire across the pig's back. Because I couldn't even get my finger under it, I pushed the tip of hoof trimmers under it as gently and slowly as I could so as not to accidentally stab the pig. The moment I heard the snap of the hoof trimmers cutting through the fence strand, the pig bolted, running as fast a pig could possible run, across the yard, throwing a quick glance over her shoulder without slowing down.

When I finally went back inside, I complained on Facebook. I knew I would still need to do evening chores a couple hours later, but that seemed like nothing after dealing with the pig fiasco. Mike had done double-duty on a lot of things that morning because he knew I was having trouble, so I only needed to provide hay for a few animals and bring the goats and cows into the barn. Simple enough, right?

I'd love to say that I had nothing but positive thoughts throughout evening chores, but that wouldn't be true. I had all sorts of visions of goats running amok, dancing on hay stacks, and gorging themselves on the pig grain. You see, I had to move them from their pasture, across the front yard, and through the whole barn to get to their stalls. I also had to move the milk cow and her calf into the barn. Milk cow? What milk cow? Oh, right, I haven't told you about Beauty and her calf Beau yet. They've been here for almost two weeks now. I promise I'll tell you about them in the next couple of days!

When I went outside to do chores, Beauty mooed at me from the back door of the barn, so I thought I should take advantage of the fact that she was already at the door and let her in as soon as I had hay and water in all of the stalls. It took me awhile because I couldn't lift the five-gallon buckets, so had to use the two-gallon. She was standing a little too close to the door for me to open it enough for her to walk right in, so I took a couple of steps out of the door and pulled on her halter to get her to walk around the door and come inside. It was the first time I'd ever tried that. We've always hooked a lead rope to her halter before, but I'd forgotten to grab one and was budgeting my steps. She actually cooperated quite nicely and was heading into the barn. I had not thought to close the door to the goat stall, so of course, that's where she went. Part of me wanted to just leave her in there, but the thought of a goat laying in a cow pie changed my mind. Once again, I pulled on her halter and she followed me into the aisle and then into her stall. I closed the door and breathed a sigh of relief.

Beau, however, was a different story. He was running back and forth through the barn. At only four weeks, he is a sweet little thing, but he is rapidly approaching the size of a Great Dane. We've started putting him in a separate stall overnight so that we can milk Beauty in the morning. Porter the English shepherd helps me move the goats into and out of the barn, and he knew I was trying to get Beau to go towards his stall. He was trying to help me by nipping at (but never actually biting) Beau's hind legs. Beau seemed to know that Porter wasn't going to actually bite him, and was completely ignoring him! It was actually rather humorous seeing Porter's reaction. He would nip at Beau's heels, and then he would look at me with what I swear was a confused look on his face! Porter seemed to be saying to me, I'm telling him to move, but he won't move! Why won't he move? Beau's back reaches to the middle of my thighs, so I got behind him and started to push my thighs against his back end. If he went to turn one way or the other, I'd just push on his ribs with my hand (doing the odd semi-squatting, hinged hip bending) to make him go straight. Finally we made our way to his stall, and after staring at it for a few seconds -- just long enough to make me worry -- he ran inside.

And then there were the goats, which actually went extremely well, thanks to Porter's help. Even though he and I have taken only one herding class -- not a series of classes, but one, three-hour intro class -- we've learned to muddle through and work together on moving the goats from the barn to the pasture in the morning and back into the barn at night. Since we use rotational grazing, the pasture does not always abut the barn, so there is an almost infinite number of challenges that could occur daily. However, I also think that the goats have been trained as much as the dog.

If a movie were ever made about Porter, he would be voiced by Eddie Murphy. His personality is so much like a lot of the Eddie Murphy characters who think that all of the women love them and that they are oh-so-tough with their adversaries. And he's a little too quick to declare success and start to celebrate. Moving the goats into the barn was flawless, but then Porter came running back out, jumping jubilantly into the air, as I slowly hobbled towards the barn so that I could close the stall door. I could see that some of the goats were coming back out of their stall and into the main part of the barn. I yelled, "No! Porter, go get the goats!" As soon as I screamed the words, the goats all turned on their heels and headed back into their stall. Then Porter turned away from me and ran to the door of their stall, tail wagging wildly, looking up at me and saying in that Eddie Murphy voice, "Hey! What you worried about? I got it under control! See!"

I closed the stall door as Porter again began jumping into the air declaring success at once again putting the goats in their place. As I continued my labored breathing and walking slowly towards the house, he would run ahead, then turn and run back to ask me what's taking so long. But we eventually made it back to the house, and I was very happy to call it a day.

Many thanks to PR intern Brooke Poling who took the pig pictures when she was here on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Goat breeding challenges

 Elizabeth Taylor

Breeding challenges? What's so challenging? They just do it, right? Well, yeah, but because we want to know who breeds whom, we have to set up the goats on dates. And because we want to know when the kids are due, we wait until the does are in heat and then put them together with the chosen one. That is much easier to do when (a) you have no physical limitations, or (b) you have children with no physical limitations who can help. I used to have both. I currently have neither!

This morning before leaving for work, Mike mentioned to me that Taylor was screaming her head off. Ah, that's who's making that racket out there. I looked out the window, and her wide-open mouth matched the sound of the screams as she stood at the gate to the barn pasture staring towards the buck pens. This should be easy, I thought, because she's a trained milk goat. She runs into the milking parlor twice a day, every day for milking. Well, obviously she was afraid that I had some terrible fate in mind for her because this turned out to be anything but easy!

I went to the pasture and opened the gate so she could come into the pasture where the buck pens are located. She eyed me suspiciously and then ran past me. To complicate matters, this pasture has been rooted up quite a bit by the yearling piglets, so there are lots of holes and little hills that make walking a challenge -- even for someone with a good pair of legs. Don't even think about running, I told myself. Patience is a virtue ... and reduces injuries. But every time I came without twenty feet of Taylor, she'd bolt! You'd have thought the doe had never been touched by human hands in her life.

I wanted to breed her to Monarch, but if I couldn't catch her, that was going to be a challenge. She visited the buck pen where AJ was hanging out with Victoria, a yearling who is being pen bred. She flagged (wagged her tail) at him, and he sniffed her and turned up his lip, meaning that he liked what he smelled. Then she trotted down to the buck pen at the other end of the pasture where Calvin and Austin were staying. She was bred to Calvin last year. I really hoped that she would not plant her feet down there and refuse to move because it was the farthest from where Monarch was staying. Finally she trotted back to AJ, and I decided that it might just be easier to go into AJ's pen and bring him out. After all, there were no other does in the barn pasture. So, I went in there, and AJ ran away from me!

"Seriously, dude? Do you want to have sex today or not? Because if you run away from me, it's not happening!" I took a few more steps towards him, and he ran away again. He is four and a half years old. This is his fifth breeding season. He really should know that when there is a girl in heat, and I come to get him, it means only one thing! "Well, never mind then," I said as I turned and left his pen. "Your loss." I really wanted to breed her to Monarch anyway, so I decided that catching Monarch and bringing him into the barn pasture might be the easiest route.

I went into the little barn where Monarch was staying with the three bottle bucks. Monarch is only six months old, which is why he is still with the baby bucks. I thought it would be easy to catch him because when I was trying to take pictures of him last week, he kept jumping on me. But of course this couldn't be easy either. He came running into the barn from the pasture when I called the boys, but as soon as I tried to catch him, he started running around the stall in a big circle. So, I got a pan of grain and a lead rope. Finally something went right! He went for the grain and didn't care that I was putting a lead around his neck.

As soon as I took him into the pasture, he and Taylor spotted each other. She came trotting over, and he ran to her. He sniffed her, she flagged, he blubbered, she stood, he mounted, she hunched her back indicating a successful mating, and that was that. Yes, it really does happen that fast. Had I blinked, I really would have missed it!

But a single mating isn't always enough, especially with a six-month-old buck whose sperm count may not be that high yet. At that point, Taylor decided to play hard to get, so she started trotting around the pasture, and Monarch tried to run after her, dragging me behind him. After about five minutes of this, she decided to stand again, so there was another successful mating. I can't do this all morning, I thought. I should be able to catch Taylor next time she stands for Monarch. So, I grabbed Taylor's collar and led them both into the barn so I could put them into a stall for the day.

 Monarch 
Leading two goats across a pasture -- one by the collar and one with a lead -- is not as easy as it sounds. Monarch is not exactly trained to lead like a dog, so he was zigzagging all over the place and ran around me, wrapping the lead around my legs. Because I had one hand on Taylor's collar, I couldn't move the lead to my other hand. I'm not sure how I got out of there uninjured, but I did eventually get them both into a stall in the barn.

Note to self: Put all of the bucks into their own individual breeding pens, and if a doe is in heat, do not let her into the pasture after the morning milking!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blogging ... and a visit from my daughter


I've spent a bit of time today looking over old blog posts and remembering how much fun it used to be for me to share my day-to-day life with everyone on here. After eight years on this blog, I am currently on track for having the lowest number of posts in any year. It certainly isn't because we don't have a ton of stuff happening around here. I'd have to say that the opposite is true. I always think about blogging when I'm in the midst of something, but then it just never happens. I want that to change. I still love sharing my stories on here! I know I just have to get back into the habit. Now a lot of little things wind up on Facebook, either on my personal page or on the Antiquity Oaks farm page. However, I still love telling the long stories, so I just have to start doing it again!


So, here is a little something that I've been meaning to share! Remember Margaret? She was only 14 when we moved out here, and she and her sister could have drowned in the flooded creek when trying to rescue some goats back in 2008. Click here for her version of the story. Today she is an electrical engineer in Ft. Worth, TX, which is a lifetime away from the farm in Illinois! She flew up here to help out with the Homesteading Conference over Labor Day weekend, and while she was here, she also helped me with some website things for the farm. While we were outside getting pictures of the goats for the website, I also got a couple pictures of her with some of the animals.

The Farm Crawl went well last month, and then we had the Homesteading Conference (mentioned in the above paragraph), and then I flew out to California to speak at the National Heirloom Expo, and I came home to cold and rain and two mama pigs giving birth in the pasture -- yes, all of that at once!

I realize this is a terrible excuse for a blog post, but hopefully I'll be back in the swing of this blogging thing soon! Although most of this is not terribly exciting, the saga of the pigs giving birth has been quite the drama, and I promise I will tell you the story soon. And yes, I will have adorable piglet pictures!



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