Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Worry, doubts, and hay in winter

You don't have to know me very well to know that I worry a lot -- probably far more than is good for me. I once read that worrying too much is just as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. That just gave me one more thing to worry about! I'm doing everything that is supposed to be good for me -- except this worrying thing! But I digress.

What I really want to write about today is the hay situation. Every year I worry about hay -- having enough hay to last until the pastures are growing again, as well as having good quality hay that will keep the animals well nourished and healthy. I wish I understood how hay that looked great in the middle of summer doesn't look so great in winter. I bought hay from two different farms this year, from three different cuttings. They all looked great when I bought them, but now I'm having my doubts about two of them. One is so stemmy that the goats won't eat it unless I feed them in a big group -- then, of course, they all want to get it so no one else does. I love it when goat peer pressure works for me. If there are only three or four goats in a group though, they look at me like, "You expect us to eat THIS?"

We only got 300 bales of the really good stuff, and the goats have already gone through half of that. I'm thinking we'll save the other half for when the does kid. In the meantime, we'll start feeding the stemmy stack. The other stuff smells kind of like pickles. The cattle are eating it though, so I suppose I'll continue to feed it to them. No, I have not sold any of them yet, in spite of what I said.

Every time I go out there to feed them, I tell myself I need to make an appointment at the locker to take in the two young bulls for processing. That would reduce the hay usage quite a bit. But that little red bull is just such a beautiful vibrant red, and he's polled. Honestly, I didn't try very hard to sell him as a bull. I only advertised in a couple of places. But if I sell a bull for breeding, it really should be his father. I'm not sure what kind of meat we'd get from an intact 2-year-old bull, even though I was mentally turning him into steaks the last time we had to bring him home from a neighbor's place a few months ago.

I go through this every winter, even though every summer I feel like I'm buying more hay than ever before. The increase in the cattle population is a big part of the problem. I really did buy more hay than ever before. The front of the big barn was full -- that's a 30-foot by 30-foot area -- as well as another area in the smaller barn. I think I wound up buying about 900 bales total. It's only December, and there is already an open area in the barn that is way bigger than it should be by now.

But the only smart thing to do is to butcher those two bull calves. It is not smart to buy hay in winter. It's always way more expensive than summertime because the hay men know that if you're buying in winter, you're desperate. And the other problem with the hay disappearing so fast is that we do have a lot more goats than normal. Since we were blessed with 29 bucklings this year, only about two-thirds of them were sold as bucks for breeding or wethers (castrated males) as pets. There are about a dozen wethers out there that are also eating a lot of hay.

A few years ago, I didn't think I could ever eat a goat, but that was a few years ago -- long before I found myself standing in the barn wondering how I was ever going to feed all these animals until next spring. Mike butchered one of the wethers a couple of months ago, and the meat was quite good. He really needs to butcher more of them. But we've been procrastinating.

When we first moved out here, I used to feel like the queen of some small country. Coming from a typical suburban lot, our 32 acres out here felt like a small kingdom, and I was suddenly responsible for the lives of a lot of animals. I didn't initially feel comfortable being the one who decided when an animal's life would end. I'm not sure I'll ever be completely comfortable with that idea, even knowing that I am making a responsible decision when it comes to allocating our resources, such as pasture space and hay. But goats and cows have to give birth if you want milk. And as good stewards of our land and caretakers of our animals, we have to have a plan for those babies. If they are not sold, the logical place for them is on the dinner table.


LindaG said...

I'm a worrier, too, and we don't even farm yet.

I am glad to hear that the goat tasted good. I don't think it's a bad thing that you will never get used to killing. I think it makes us more aware, unlike the majority of people who are so removed from where their food comes from that they think buying from a store is more humane.

Ashley said...

We eat our goats. Goat curry, stroganoff, or moroccan tangine? Delightful. Helps keep the numbers down and I feel better eating most of them than I do selling them as pets or bucks personally. I know they were happy right up until the end.


Velva said...

I love reading about life on a farm. You truly understand where your food comes from...

It will all work out. Take care.


Mary Ann said...

Oh, my Deborah. We have only 7 bales of hay in our barn right now, but only 3 llamas to feed, and they are still grazing part of every day. We buy at top dollar from our feed store, and we have already gotten some stemmy bales. I have promised myself next year we will be buying from someone AS it is cut, and not take a chance on getting hay cut from the highway verge. My llamas won't eat stems, either!

Charlotte said...

Since our winters are short here, I hope I don't have to worry too much about hay. But I am new to goats and I am already worried about what to do with kids I don't sell. I haven't thought about my family eating them,though my dad always barbequed one on the 4th of July. I was concerned about selling to someone who would eat them. Oh goodness let them all sell.


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