Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer magic

Fairbanks summers are magic. We are situated on a hillside facing west. So this time of night we are still enjoying the sun, which is no where close to setting. The woods are a lush vibrant green. It is in  the low seventies still, too warm and dry for the mosquitos to be much of a nuisance. The last couple weeks we have had amazing weather. Sunny, seventies, low eighties for the high, low fifties at night. We had one night with some light rain that helped out the garden. Our spring/ summer came late to Fairbanks - but it has finally arrived in full force. It could be June or July. There have been nights we thought it too warm out for drinking beer, on to iced cocktails.

It has taken me the last week to remember how wide to leave the downstairs window, that enough cool air comes in that we are not too hot upstairs. I am remembering to bathe the children right before bed and not at six p.m. Also, I've realized why parents in some areas bathe their children nightly period. I forget how dirty they get, traipsing through the woods, rolling down hills, laying in dirt piles, walking barefoot in goat and chicken pens - yeah I know that last one has us all shaking our heads, but it happens. I'm glad they are not squeamish. My kids are tough. Covered in bruises, scrapes, scratches, bug bites and dirt. Instead of feeling embarrassed, I mostly feel proud. Not necessarily proud that they are tough little buggers, although that too, but proud that I can let them get dirty and that they have a chance at being real children.

I love this time of year. I relish and adore Fairbanks summers. I will never get enough, nor will they
ever be long enough, and I suppose that is part of their magic. To a casual observer I may appear sunburned, but really; that is just color, a crispy coating of vitamin D, slowly sinking in to warm my bones through to their very core. As soon as I come downstairs in the morning, I open the back door, step outside, feast my deprived eyes on green. The pull to be outside is strong. I have a hard time focusing on little things, breakfast, dishes, tidying, what will be for lunch, dinner. If their ever was a time for cold cereal, it is now. We've got farm helpers showing up about nine a.m. The kids and I have been getting out shortly thereafter. We are milking five does, feeding goats, letting layers and ducks out to range for the day. The kids and I have been trying to get up to the garden for a couple hours before lunch, because from one to five p.m., it has been too hot for the kids to be out in the baking sun. The garden has no shade. We need a tent and a picnic table, and a swing-set and a sand box....

So, I know that you all know where I've been, and have not been wondering. I've been outside. I've been in the garden. The garden is in. Peas, carrots, beets, scallions and fava beans are all coming up. All the transplants are in and surviving in the baking sun. I've been coming in from night chores between nine and ten p.m. I've been playing hooky from putting the kids to bed, watering the garden late, rounding up and herding in ducks and chickens. Putting goat kids in the kid stall for bed time. I tend to gloss over anything negative and so while I'm not complaining, I'll admit I've been waddling a bit first thing in the morning. My feet have been a little tender and swollen and my lower back has been feeling the strain from turning and shoveling all the beds by hand. I need some yoga. As much as I think that I should be able to stretch while thinning carrot seedlings - it's just not the same.

I wish you all lovely summer mornings, days and long balmy nights. Cheers, Emily

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Warm sunny days at last

Finally! It is going to be another beautiful sunny warm day here in Interior Alaska! Yesterday was warm and sunny as well. I am a little sunburned, mosquito bitten and a bit stiff and sore. I spent hours shoveling, turning beds and digging up the top layer of weeds which are between the rows, which was almost, literally, back breaking work. Yesterday we planted onion sets. Today we are putting in a second row of peas, turning the greenhouse beds, and starting to turn the next beds in line. We have yet to put any live starts in the garden with the exception of the onion sets. I suppose I could have put potatoes in, last week. Our ten day forecast is looking great, and if could actually rely on it, I would be planting broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage starts this week. We've got a couple cloudy days coming up which would be a nice time to plant starts. We'll see. I've got twelve trays of starts I'm moving outside each day to harden off. I think most of them will benefit from one more week of babying before I throw them out to mercy of the elements. I was thinking of asking what it is that you guys are all planting right now. But if you are already picking peas and strawberries, I don't want to hear about it. (smile) Wishing you all warm and sunny spring days!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Milking and milker diet adjustments

Milking went more smoothly yesterday. One of my problems is that I've been weaning the COB (rolled corn, rolled oats and rolled barley) out of the goats diet. I've been slowly replacing it with a mix of whole oats, whole barley, wheat berries, field peas and sunflower seeds. This has been a two month transition. For the last couple weeks we've been done with the COB and onto the whole grain mix. Some of the does have been on strike. This is the worse time of year to be making changes in diet and thus, having does not eating their grain. Some are, some aren't..This is a huge problem for two reasons: one: they really need the extra calories right now as their bodies are designed to produce large quantities of milk, but they can't just do it on a hay diet. If they don't get the calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals their bodies need, their milk production drops, the milk itself doesn't taste as good, and most seriously, they can have other health issues like Ketosis, which is what Rose has been dealing with. Furthermore, if the goats aren't eating their grain, they don't really want to get on the stand, nor do they think they should have to stand still to be milked, thus some of the confrontations we've been having this week at the milk stand.

So, I was just about to break down and go buy some COB or even some Goat Chow, when I had an epiphany: why do the goats like the goat chow so much? Molasses. I need to mix in a little extra something that will sweeten the deal. I've never been big on sweet feeds. I worry about their long term dental care. This however, is just starting out as a quick fix and we will go from here. I mixed a little over a tablespoon of molasses into each of their feed rations and voila, everyone ate all their grain. I only needed help getting Rose on the stand, and Zinnia still needed her back hooves held down, we are getting there.

Another note about goats diet and feeding changes. I've been noticing that the milk is not as creamy as last year. I've also been brushing the goat's coats which naturally they are shedding this time of year, but a few of the does also have dandruff. I read a few articles on feeding olive oil, olive by products, soy or corn oil to goats. I got to thinking that while I'm still feed sunflower seeds to the goats, the reduction in corn does reduce their overall fat and oil intake, thus possibly the drier skin and less fatty milk this year. While soy and corn oil are much cheaper, they are not as healthy and they are gmo crops which we are trying to reduce in our own diets as well as that of the animals. So olive oil would be the preferred choice. Sam's club had 3 liter bottles for fifteen dollars, only fifty cents difference between the extra virgin and cooking olive oil, so that was a no brainer. So, now I find myself adding a Tablespoon each of of olive oil and molasses to the goat's feed twice a day. We'll see how long this lasts. I don't like to add extras, extra steps, extra cost, unless they make a significant difference.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fussy milkers

We've have been having a cold spring around here. The forecast was looking brighter, but today has disappointed. We had big plans for the day: cover greenhouse with new plastic, assemble row tunnels and covers, turn more beds, plant carrot and turnip seed.... None of which got done. I did venture over to a friend's garden to dig Toklat strawberry plants, which is always exciting...never enough strawberries.

This week I've been working with our two main farm helpers for the summer. I'd say that I'm "training them" to do my morning chore routine. But with the milkers acting up, I'm not really sure who is training who. We humans, have been double teaming the milking does. I have finally moved inside and set up my milking area; milk stand, grain tubs, counter with supplies etc. Dustin had been tiling the area with slate, and like all projects this one went late. So, up until this week I was just milking one doe twice a day, and another doe once a day.  outside, in the mud, in a frustratingly, disorderly fashion. Each doe is bringing some personal issues to the milking parlor, with the exception of Zuri, who is the best first time milker ever - an absolute angel.

Rose, four season veteran has been balking at the milk stand. She has bad feet and has slipped a couple times this year on either wet milk on the stand, or a while back on frozen milk that pooled on the stand. She has also had mild Ketosis symptoms which we are attempting to remedy, but as a result she hasn't been interested in her grain, so she doesn't think she should have to stand patiently while we milk her - if she isn't eating.  So she has been stomping, jumping and struggling vigorously to get out of being milked. Then there is her daughter who is a first timer, who deeply resents being milked. She jumps on the stand fine, but doesn't eat and it takes one person to hold her hooves down while another person milks. She also poops out of nervousness every time she gets on the stand. Which until this year we have only had two occasions where we had a goat poop on the stand, our record is totally skewed now.

Then there is Xanadu, this is her third season. I just started milking her this week, as she has triplets and they are just three weeks old. She is going to be fine, but it takes a few days to get into the rhythm. She has stepped in the pail twice this week, but has stood fairly well, we milker's are just slow on the reflexes- but as the season progresses we will get sharper and quicker. Lastly there is Xoe who just kidded on Friday. Her twin bucklings are nursing on one side and leaving the other to fill to enormous proportions. So we've been emptying her full side. Well, then we had some clots and blood in her milk - I know - gross right? So I tested her for mastitis and one day it looked negative, but today maybe a mild positive. For now, I'm going to milk her out twice a day, teat dip with essential oils, massage with salve and some stimulating essential oils. If  this continues or gets worse I am going to start giving her Molly's immune support tincture a few times a day, but first I'm going to see if it clears up on its own. This is another first, first time in four years of milking that we've had clots like this or a maybe positive mastitis. Xoe has also been reluctant to hop onto the stand. So, milking around here has been a two person job. We are trying to be kind and patient, but it is hard with the seasoned milkers. Come on already, haven't we been doing this routine for four years now. So you got a few months off, time to get back to work, remember this?  I don't remember the beginning of milking season being so difficult before - I guess I gave them too much time off. They've been on vacation for too long.

Another week of this and we should all be re-trained. One cool thing that has just happened is that Zuri, our first time milker who lost her only doeling this year, has started caring for and nursing Xanadu's doeling, Bali. Bali is nursing off Zuri frequently and keeping her drained through the day. If I was counting on Zuri's milk this wouldn't be good, but as Bali is one of triplets and the smallest, and growing slowly, and Zuri is lonely, well it works out for everyone, and I get to skip the nine p.m. milking for another couple months, until we sell most the kids.

In other news, one row of shelling peas is in the ground, along with the first sowing of scallions, beets and the fava beans. The beds are covered with plastic mulch to keep the heat and moisture in. I'm about two weeks behind last year in planting, and our spring is about two weeks behind. The birch still haven't leafed out and greenup has yet to come to Fairbanks.

We have bees now. I can't wait to check on them. If today had been a little warmer and sunny, I would have checked on them. On one of our nicer days this week I counted about thirty bees entering the hive per minute, all loaded up with pollen on their legs.

Dustin is out building me a second milking stand. Having two stands will help in a number of ways. Milking won't take as long as I'll be able to start on the next doe without waiting for the doe I just milked to finish her grain. Also, we need to start getting the younger does use to the stand so we don't have some of the same problems we are having now, next year.

It still looks like fall out, brown, cold and blustery. Is summer ever going to get here?  Sixties would be lovely, but I'll settle for mostly sunny and no wind. I am so ready for summer. Ready for bare-footed dirty children, wet children splashing in the baby pool, children dripping with watermelon or cherry juice.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Doelings and decisions

Xoe kidded last night to two handsome black and tan bucklings. Pictures coming. That wraps up our 2011 kidding season. We now have five milking does, four doelings and five bucklings. One buckling is sold as a registered buck for breeding. We are planning on keeping two doelings and two doelings are reserved - but I haven't decided which to sell. We've been putting much thought into the decision. Above is Bella, (Belladonna). Her sister, Blue (Bluebell), is below. They are twin doelings out of first time freshener Zinnia and our new buck Zanzibar. Zinnia is Rose's first and only daughter until this year's Bramble. Rose is our biggest producer, milking close to a gallon twice a day. She put's everything she has into making milk, and as a result is looking rather shabby at the moment, but we are trying to help her out by feeding her extra grain, alfalfa and extra calcium. Both Rose and Zinnia have lovely wide round udders. They have good teat size and placement as well as udder attachment. Rose's weakness has been that we bred her young and as she is on the petite side, her feet have rolled inwards a bit and need trimmed often. We didn't breed Zinnia until her second fall, so she didn't have the same problem as her dam. She does look like she is following in her mother's footsteps putting all she has into making milk.

Her daughter's are our biggest, strongest doelings. They are tall, long and level. They are very pretty. We haven't bonded with them as much as the other kids, because their dam is so over protective over them and steers them away from us if she can. I feel like I should keep one of them, in part because they such big handsome girls, two, because it will break Zin's heart if I sell both her daughters, and three which should have been first, because of how great Zinnia is looking and how lovely her udder has turned out.

Above is Xanadu's doeling. She doesn't look like much yet as she is just three weeks old and the runt of triplets. I love her coloring. She is very spunky, curious and affectionate. I've handled her a bunch and would love to keep her. Reasons why I may sell her are one: I kept Xanadu's first doeling Avalon from last year, so Xan has a young daughter in the herd. Two, the other doelings look more impressive as they are older, so I really just need to give her a few weeks to grow into herself, and three, I'm thinking of repeating the same breeding next year - although that would be the year to get triplet bucklings out of Xan. With Zanzibar and Zoro both being new bucks, I'd like to keep a daughter out of each of them.

Bramble Rose is the kid's favorite. She has been a lovable friendly doeling from the get go and that means a lot. I am generally tempted to keep the friendliest doelings and not just the handsomest. Bramble is Rose's daughter and Zinnia's half sister, so I'm expecting big things from her, a big producer with a large wide lovely udder for starters. If Rose has a white, cream colored or flashy pinto doeling I will have to keep her, and as I'm thinking of breeding Rose to Zanzibar this fall, there is a likely chance of that. So I almost feel as though I should sell Bramble and keep a Rose doeling next year. But on the other hand Bramble is our first doeling out of Zoro. Zoro was out of one of our best does Maggie, who came to us from Lucky Star farms and was a beautiful doe who out produced Rose, and also had a lovely wide round udder with great teat shape and size - who on top of all that continued to gain weight and look great while increasing her milk production throughout the season. So, when I think of putting Maggie's granddaughter together with Rose, I think: keeper.
Taking pictures of these girls is impossible, as all they want to do is climb and play on us and not stand still.

Above, Bramble, looking a little furry and stout. Below, Blue and Bella. Zuri, back right.

Xanadu's doeling again. Still not named. Brazil? Bali? Suggestions anyone? Mythical or exotic B place names?

                                               Noah, playing with the goats.

                             Me, playing with the goats. Goofy pictures.

Decisions, decisions. We are trying to keep our number of does around eight. Eight is a great number. Five to six does, kidding each year and being milked is a reasonable number.  This year we are selling Xoe, one of our first does. Which will leave us with Rose and Xan, both strong milkers with great udders, Zuri and Zinnia, both impressive and lovely first timers we are excited about. We've got Asia and Avalon, both one and a half year olds ready to be bred first thing this fall. Which gives us six milkers for next spring. With room for two doelings to grow. I don't even want to think about who I'm going to have to sell next spring if we want to keep doelings- which of course we will. I've wanted all the does to get to keep their first daughter, but we can only do that for so long. This is the problem with goats, you can't just have one, or two, or a dozen, or I suppose a more disciplined individual can.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How much does it cost to raise a dairy goat?

After four years of raising goats, starting with six goat kids and, well, today we've got, oh, eleven adults and seven kids with more on the way: I'm finally getting around to figuring out how much our goats are costing us. The truth is I haven't really wanted to know. The truth is, it's embarrassing. The truth is that we have not been attempting to run a successful business, nor have we ever had a business plan. We got in to goats because we wanted our own milk, the access to raw milk and homemade raw dairy products. Well if that was really all we wanted, two milking does would suffice. We also wanted a self sufficient goat herd, to have enough genetic diversity that we can breed our own goats without buying more goats or driving our goats long distances and exposing them to other bucks (herds/diseases) for breeding.

The bad news is that they are costing more than we can really afford. Certainly more than we would spend on millk and goat cheese yearly. The good news is that if we stay organized and motivated we have the potential to sell enough shares in our herd, which in a convoluted way allows the exchange of money for keeping of goat, and that goat's milk... that the goats will at least pay for a significant portion of their expenses. Here are some of our current feed costs:
  1. Brome Hay $7-10 for 50lb. We buy a variety of hay. This year we bought about half our hay from a farm nearby for $7 a bale, the bales weighed heavy, we had to be very selective and the quality varied greatly. The other half of our hay we had to drive 45 miles for, it was beautiful, the goats love it, but it was $10 a bale plus gas and time...
  2. Alfalfa hay, we've been paying $39.99 for 90-100 lb. bales of imported alfalfa from the feed store. I really need to find a cheaper source of Alfalfa. We just started feeding it to our milkers again, as they really need it the extra calories, the higher protein and the calcium this time of year.
  3. Alfalfa pellets, at 18.99 for a 50 lb. bag, I don't see why we are buying these when we can just feed the fresh stuff, but we keep them around and feed them when we are out of alfalfa hay.
  4. Whole Oats 10.99 for 50lb. We could and should get these cheaper by buying in bulk. Same with the Barley.
  5. Whole Barley 10.99 for 50lb.
  6. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds 24.99 for 40lb.
  7. Wheat Berries $38.00 50lb
  8. Sweetlix vitamin mineral supplement for goats $29.99 25lb.
  9. Looking over the last years receipts we pay around $150 for herbal supplements, herbal wormers and herbal tinctures. 
Other expenses I looked at are vet receipts, and odd expenses like collars, heated waterers and baking soda. Expenses I did not include in our yearly goat expenses are labor, shelters, fencing, gates, electricity or milking supplies.

I broke down the feed into how much each cost by the pound. For vet expenses, vitamins, herbals and the miscellaneous expenses, I divided the total estimated amount, or receipts by our winter herd number which was and should continue to be about eleven goats.

We are feeding our milkers each a day when in milk:
  1. 5 lb. brome hay (took nine dollars per 50lb) .90
  2. 1 lb. alfalfa hay .39
  3. 2 lb. whole mixed grains, whole oats, whole barley, BOSS, and wheat berries .82
for a total of  2.11 a day, $63.30 a month for feed. Vet costs, herbals, vitamins and misc added up per goat per year are $86.75  We figure that each doe is out of lactation for 3- 5 months a year depending on the doe. During this time she is fed less grain and less alfalfa and eats closer to $1.35, $40.50 a month. I am hoping to milk each doe about eight months out of the year so eight months at $63.30, four months at $40.50 then the annual extras totals, $755.15 a year per milking doe, which we currently have six, so 4,530.9 a year just to feed the milkers.

The rest of the goats are less money to keep. The bucks do fine on brome with a small amount of mixed grain and alfalfa pellets. They also get herbal wormer, b.soda and sweetlix vitamin supplement. They cost closer to $36 each a month, $432 a year, $1554 for all three. The kids and yearlings cost the least, they eat less hay and grain, but they do often take a toll on their dams, continuing to nurse long past when they need it.

So it looks like we are spending close to eight thousand dollars a year to feed and care for our goats. Where does that leave us? Well, it is going to take quite a bit more math to figure out exactly how much milk we get for our money. I think instead of figuring what we should be getting, for each pound of hay and grain we are feeding, I'll be keeping track of what we milk this year and adding up how many pounds of milk we get each month.

With the current amount we are charging for goat shares and milking fees, if we provide eight months of milk- which we won't this year, we would take in $4,450 for ten shares. We could most likely double that if we got better at milking twice a day, and weaning the kids on time etc. So the potential for the herd to pay for itself is there. Now, the question is, are we game? Or, rather, am I game?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Geese and Spring

Last wednesday I was expecting a few Toulouse geese and four ducks from Metzer Hatchery in Northern California. Wednesday came and went, then Thursday, by that night, after two days of worrying and harassing the post office, I was expecting a box of dead chicks. two thirty a.m. Friday morning I get a call that they ar wee in. I asked if they were alive. The postal worker said he didn't know. I asked if the box was peeping, and he was like oh yeah, they're alive. So I drove in to get them. Amazingly the geese and two ducks made it, after being in a box for five nights!

While I was picking up my order, the guy from the feed store was there as well picking up his huge order and somehow fitting them all in his little car. He lost his whole waterfowl order. The folks from the feed store said that this year they've been having lots of problems with shipping chicks through USPS. I guess the last two weeks their chick order of 1,600 got taken off the plane in Anchorage (360 miles away) and trucked up. So they lost half their order both weeks. They are not ordering any more water fowl this year. Sounds like they are still getting in chicks and turkeys.

So far, the kids are handling the geese and lone duckling (one didn't make it) several times a day. Noah named the female goose Rosie. Avery named the female penciled runner duck Flower pot. The boys aren't named for now as we are not sure which will be dinner. But I'm thinking we'll name one Sebastion, and the other Christmas Dinner, and then I can always switch them later depending on which is the nicer of the two.

So far we are feeding the goslings/ duckling and chicks, my layer feed coursely ground with a few additives. So our layer feed is whole oats, whole barley, wheat berries, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, kelp and salmon meal and salt. The chicks have even higher protein needs. So we also added some ground peas, ground lentils and some extra kelp and salmon meal. We've also been feeding them hard boiled eggs, spinach and other fruits and veggies.

In other news, our doe Xoe is due this week. All the other goats are well, but shaggy and shedding. The milkers are starting to look raggedy. We are feeding alfalfa hay to help them out. Dustin just finished tiling my milking area, so I moved in this morning and now I can get down to business. I've been doing math on how much our goats are costing, and that is a post in itself- coming soon.

I brought my new bee hive home this week. I need to paint it and get it set up. I'm picking the bees up on Sunday.

I woke up to rain/snow this morning. The day was cool and windy but sunny. We are trying to clean up outside as we can. D cleaned out the chicken pen and duck shelter yesterday. I started on the doe pen. It is going to take another week before I can start working the soil and direct seeding in the garden. I am so ready for summer, for warm t-shirt weather. I am so ready to retire my winter boots and coveralls. I am so ready for green grass, green leaves, shoots and buds. We are having a late cool spring in the interior. I'm guessing wherever you are you are ready for summer too.