Andrew’s helping a friend of ours out on a construction project for a couple days. This leaves me to tend to things. Previously, in other months of the year, I’d be unfazed, but now I can tell you that it is not easy to deal with a farm on your own. At least not this farm.
When he left this very hot and humid afternoon, I felt in control. Making kimchi in the house, bottling up beer, checking on the animals. But then 6pm came. Milking time is usually a joint affair. Not that Andrew is milking with me, but he takes care of all the other things that need tending, while I milk. Suddenly, it was all up to me. Got May on the milkstand, she’s my best milker so she gets to eat the longest time. Dash over towards the hoophouse and try to herd in the ducks for night. These are the youngsters and they are not interested in tucking in for bedtime, just like any tween-ager. Then I notice a whole bunch of them took today to figure out they could indeed squeeze their svelte duckling bodies through the 4×4 fence holes and are racing away from me with the other ducks, but they are on the outside of the fence. The scary, wild side of the fence, where the predators come from. ACK! I am supposed to be milking right now, peacefully dealing with fluid white gold. The dogs are trying to follow me as I run through the shoulder height grass around the back side of the duck paddock. Telling Blue and Belle to stay, they some how obey. Herding dogs, but not good at it. They haven’t been trained to herd. Gotta get on that. May is hollering from the milkstand on the other side of the yard. I run ahead of the ducks on the outside of the fence and coax them around the backside of the hoophouse, while they frantically try to figure out how to get away from me, back in through the fence. How do they get out if they can’t squeeze back in??
Back to milking after washing my hands. All goes well, except I am sweating buckets in the still air while huddled up close to goat after goat, who’s body/teat/udder temperature seems to be nearly 200 degrees. I dart back and forth from the milk area to the house, straining and putting away the milk as it is given. Trying to multitask all the while. It’s Blue’s turn to be tied out near the ducks over night. He doesn’t want to go. Belle and Javier cajole him as I drag him over to his dog house. Back to milking, after a quick run in to wash my hands. Segway is YELLING for her turn on the milk stand. She’s just an exceptionally vocal goat, and being the last one of the 6 milkers, I get to hear quite an earful twice a day. Tonight though, I really don’t need to hear it Segway. You try dealing with all this!
After milking and a little homebrew to chill out, it’s time to put the Bubsters (our monster broilers) into their chicken tractors for the night. As I turn off the electro net so I can hop in their paddock, it hits me that this is almost the last night doing this with these chubby lovelies. They make funny coo-purr-growls and coming running towards me. Yes, our broilers, even though they are sized like turkeys, have strong and healthy legs upon which to run/waddle over to me. They are super super hungry, as they’ve been getting a limited breakfast and dinner in this last week. My toes get bit, my legs pecked, they have me surrounded. This might be getting dangerous….no one would be here to save me if they took me down! They are just at that point where they are hungry and not going to take it anymore, so I make a quick bee-line to the left and run over to their feed tub and settle them down with dinner, which is served in their tractors, so i don’t have to pick up each and every bird and put him inside. Waterers are filled, the electronet is reconnected, and I’m off to the next task. Hay.
Our neighbor let us know he’d cut some hay nearby that promptly was rained on over and over and over. After the wet week, it had since dried out, as he hadn’t baled it yet. If hay is in a bale and it gets wet, then it is ruined for feed purposes. This hay he spoke of had basically turned from nutritious dried grass to more like straw, which he wasn’t even going to bother baling up, unless we wanted it. He offered it to us for $1/bale. A bargain for mulching and duck bedding, and this way we won’t have to use our really nice grassy hay coming off our own organic field for those two applications. We’ll be able to keep our nice feed-quality hay aside for feeding the goats and rabbits over winter. But at $1/bale, we had work to do. Specifically unloading and stacking all those bales.
The giant hay wagon was sitting up by our field garden, filled 3/4 way with maybe 150 bales, just waiting for someone to unload it. I was tired, but I trudged out here and began. That’s when it hit me how much Andrew and I need each other here! A busy homestead can typically be tended by just one person, but a bustling farmstead really needs at least two to do all the work. I struggled with maybe 20 bales, and then called it a night. There is always tomorrow for some of these tasks.
We’ve hatched a plan. I think this is due to the fact that we’re sitting here twiddling our thumbs waiting for our latest big project to be completed- the duck barn. We’ve had a really hard time finding someone to do the water work portion of our duck upgrade. Finally we got a written quote that was sort of inline with our budget, and the work is scheduled to begin next week. Yes! A line will be tapped off our existing well head, trenched 6 feet down heading over towards the duck barn. A frost free hydrant will be installed in the yard, and also IN THE DUCK BARN! The quote was around $2500, and we had budgeted $1000. This is not the type of project we could attempt ourselves, and it is much much cheaper than drilling a new well for the duck barn, so we just had to accept the cost. We did save $1000 on the amount we expected to pay for our recent used car purchase, so….
Anyhow- our new plan. After the duck barn, after several years have gone by, we are planning to construct a really real goat dairy. A Micro-dairy! And make really real goat cheese from our herd. There are a gazillion complications and steps before this can ever happen, but it’s our plan. Let the dreams and planning begin.
When I milk, I keep my journal with me in the milking shed, so I can write down thoughts that come as I wait for certain goats to finish up their snacks. Sitting in the milk shed occupies at least two hours of my day, giving me plenty of thinking time. I frequently ponder goat genetics, since the reality of my herd-who is giving what and how each goat is doing overall is right in my face during these two hours a day. Since the beginning of my goat keeping adventures, I have resisted the typical chemical treatments used by most goat keepers. I have been striving to keep only the best, most hardy genetics using a combination of good TLC but also Survival of the Fittest. Some goats have to go on to a new home or have become part of the food chain.
We currently have 10 goats, down from 13, since we just culled three yearlings. There are 5 (what I would call) stellar does in the herd. They each have faults of their own, as do you and I, but these are the girls who I HOPE will have doelings next spring. In my goat geneticist role, I want to be building up a bank of the best moms to produce our own dairy herd when the time comes.
Goats are a one year circle- meaning they are having their own baby when they are one year old. It wouldn’t take long to build a great herd from the best of our best goats. In fact it looks like it’d take 3 years to build a herd of 20 milking goats from my 5 stellar does. Goats seem to be on a 50% yearly increase. Averages are half and half girl/boys, and twins are the norm.
2013: 5 does give birth to 10 kids=15. – 5 for bucklings = 10 does (5 milking)
2014: 10 does give birth to 20 kids= 30. – 10 for bucklings= 20 does (10 milking)
2015: 20 does give birth to 40 kids= 60. – 20 for bucklings= 40 does (20 milking)
But that is getting ahead of myself and our plans. We don’t need that many milkers yet. As soon as we do, I’m all over it. And of course there are so many variables out of our control. We could potentially have a year with alot more boy kids born, or lots of single births, or tragedy striking, or, or, or…
Meanwhile my “best 5” goats will also be under scrutiny. It’s not just about keeping the highest milk producers, it’s not about pedigrees or looks. Our foundation herd will be continually selected for being: the most hardy without chemicals, the least trouble making, best at converting grass (vs the grain junkies who only give alot of milk when they eat alot of grain,) most naturally healthy, a good momma, and an easy kidder. As I wait for the go ahead, I’ll keep paring down the herd to the very best of the very best.
So, when we talk about our micro-dairy plans, this is where I go in my head. When I try to talk to Andrew about it, his eyes gloss over. That’s ok, he’ll be heading up the construction side of the plan! Meanwhile I’m eyeing up our land, siting the new barn, pastures, cheesemaking facility, and contemplating goat genetics on LTD Farm.