Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hay and horses and goats and sheep

It's amazing how every now and then something knocks me down, and after spending a few hours in bed, things look a lot clearer. Today it was a migraine. I got only three hours of sleep last night, and then I woke up with a migraine, which just got worse and worse until I finally surrendered around noon and went to bed. I couldn't sleep for a couple hours, so I just laid there thinking. One of the many things going through my head lately is how fast the animals are burning through the hay. The front of our barn was filled with 500 bales of hay in November, and we only have about 150 left, which is not enough to get us into April when the grass starts growing. I've left two phone messages for one hay man, and he hasn't called me back, which I'm thinking is bad news. I emailed another person, and she responded right away, saying that they didn't have any extra to sell.

When I look at how many animals we have and whether or not we need to sell or butcher any, I always think that it's not a problem to take care of one more and one more and one more and . . . And I seriously underestimated how much more hay would be eaten by the new additions to the farm this year: two cows, six sheep, and another llama. Then I remembered something that a speaker said at the conference earlier this month: to be sustainable, you need to be producing your livestock feed on your farm. Yeah, that was a goal initially, and I forgot about it somewhere along the line. Now I understand why people and businesses put their mission statement front and center, where they're looking at it every day.

So, here are some obvious observations and solutions. First, I need to say good bye to the two horses that are here. When we moved out here in 2002, we had more than enough to feed our livestock, so it seemed like the nice thing to do to take in a horse that needed a home. My daughter had a horse, and he would be happier with a pasture mate. So Merlot (pictured above) came to live with us. He has EPM and severe arthritis in his hock. He can't be ridden. His owner said she was only looking for free pasture board. She would take care of all the vet bills, farrier bills, and other upkeep above and beyond feeding. That lasted until she got divorced a few years ago, and she stopped paying his bills. And then when my daughter's horse died three years ago at the ripe old age of 30, Merlot was very upset. I emailed the owner to let her know that Buddy had died, and I asked if she'd like to move Merlot to another farm where he'd have an equine friend. Her response ranked right up there as one of the meanest emails I've ever received. She suggested that I have him put down if I was going to "abandon" him, and that was the last time I ever heard from her.

So, I really need to find a new home for Merlot. I'm hoping there is someone out there, who is at a place similar to where we were eight years ago -- plenty of pasture just sitting there waiting for someone to eat it. I also need to contact the other horse's owner. What other horse, you ask? Well, after Buddy died, and Merlot was unhappy, I allowed another person to bring his horse here for free pasture board. I guess I'm just hopelessly optimistic. I haven't heard from the guy in almost two years, so I hope he responds better than Merlot's owner. It will be sad to say good-bye to the horses, but I can't deny the fact that they're eating pasture and hay that my goats, sheep, cows, and llamas could be eating.

I have also wound up with nine unproductive goats, and their feed bill is certainly adding up, especially when three of them are la manchas. It's very frustrating that I find myself with five wethers. The first two were born here seven years ago, and I kept them simply because no one ever bought them. (One is pictured at right.) Then I decided to keep the mini mancha wether because I was going to train him to be a cart wether. I have recently come to the realization that training a goat to pull a cart is not something I will have time to do in the next few years. I must admit, I can't do everything! I also have a la mancha wether, who I bought as a buck, but after he kept jumping fences and getting in with my Nigerian does, I decided it was too risky to have a full-size buck on the farm, so I castrated him, thinking that I'd train him to pull a cart too.

The final wether is a great example of what happens when you hold an animal without a deposit. A therapeutic riding stable contacted me and told me they wanted a couple goats for their petting zoo, and asked if I could donate them. Sure, I said, enthusiastically. I decided Nick and another goat would go there, and in spite of many offers to buy him, I kept refusing to sell him, because he was going to be donated to charity. They kept saying they'd be ready to accept him in another month or two. He is now two years old! In case you're wondering, the ninth unproductive goat is Star, the first goat I ever bought, who is now 11 and enjoying a well-deserved retirement! It's time for me to sell the other eight. That would cut my goat herd by 25%.

And I really need to start selling sheep. I had wanted to keep my flock at around 20, but this year it has crept up to 25, and they eat 25% more than 20 sheep. Really, I think I should reduce it down to about a dozen sheep. That was a very nice number as I knew all their names and pedigrees. Now I'm out there trying to read ear tags and figure out who's who. The rams are still a quarter mile away from the ewes, so there will be no more accidental breedings this year.

I can't believe the numbers got away from me like this. I need to continue evaluating what we're doing and what animals are here, and see if there are any other ways I can reduce hay consumption. There is one more hay man I can call. If he doesn't have anything, then I'll probably be losing a lot more sleep in the coming weeks. This is not the ideal time of year for selling or butchering, but I'll have to start making some hard decisions.


Kara said...

We are buying hay too....burned through what we had baled too quickly. We found some dry round bales on Criag's list.

corinne said...

Craigslist would probably be a good place to start with hay, perhaps put a want ad in the farm section. If you get desperate with the horse situation there is a very nice horse rescue in our area:

Gizmo said...

So sorry to hear you're in this spot. We've seen quite a few local ads, but I think we're too far away...
Keep me in mind....I am looking to add some fiber animals to the farm.

Michelle said...

Definitely a tough spot to be in, and I don't envy the decisions you must make. If it were me, I would probably have Merlot put down, because I'd be worried with his age and existing problems that without your vigilance he could end up going downhill and suffering.

Tammy said...

We've had hay in abundance around here and the paper is full of 'hay for sale' ads. (In the Missouri Ozarks). You might check the farm store, as sometimes they know who might have hay. Sometimes the regular suppliers might have a lead on who has hay as well. Big rounds seem to be more plentiful here and can go a long way with just a few. They trash the sheep fleeces but would probably be okay for goats and horses. It is crazy how the population climbs when you aren't looking! How old is Merlot? He is quite a beauty.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks Kara and Corinne for suggesting Craigslist! Hadn't thought of that. There is only one hay ad, and they're 82 miles away, so I'm not sure how I could transport it that far. I might be able to get 20-30 bales in our little two-horse trailer.

Gizmo, I'm serious about needing to sell sheep, so I've sent you an email.

Michelle and Tammy, Merlot is 20. I saw a few ads for free or very cheap horses on Craigslist, so I doubt I would be able to find a new home for him. His previous owner said she'd make the decision when he needed to be put down, but now I'm obviously in that position. He has gone downhill in the last year, so is not as gorgeous as he used to be. The muscles have really atrophied on the back quarter with the arthritic hock, and the farrier says that the way that hoof grows, it doesn't look like he puts any weight on it any longer.

Anonymous said...


Come to think of it, I know a few hay producers in the area. I know they all grow more hay than they need with the intent of selling - I'll check around for you!


Ed Winkle said...

I like people doing what you are doing. I just posted on my blog, hit the next blog button and here you are. Crazy old farmer in southern Ohio, farming is my life and passion.

Ed Winkle said...

I like it when people do what you are doing, it is our past for sure. I just posted on my blog, hit the next blog button and here you are. I am a crazy old farmer in southern Ohio, farming is my passion.

Heidi said...

What a difficult situation. It makes me sad that people think it is OK to take advantage of other people and treat them so badly. I hope you find a solution. The world needs more people like you.


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