We have been enjoying a few weeks of mild weather here in the hills of Interior Alaska, by mild, I mean mostly above zero and below twenty degrees. The chickens and goats have enjoyed spending time outside. In general, the first couple weeks of January tend to be some of the coldest all winter. I recall many a forty below or colder New Years Eve. The fire work show has been cancelled on account of ice fog and poor visibility on at least one occasion. I tend to get sick with a cold just about every year right after Christmas. Unlike the past two years, at least I was better this year by New Year's Eve. In between being sick and resting myself, and caring for sick kids, we have been spending our well mornings doing home school lessons. We've been more social than usual, inviting friends over for afternoon visits (possibly why we've had a couple back to back colds). The kids have been getting outside more than usual, Noah to help with firewood or shoot his bow, Avery, to tag along for farm chores, visit the doelings and tag along after her big brother.
My brother came up and butchered a couple goats for me. He says I should be doing it by myself by now. I smile and send him off with more farm products than he can carry, eggs, jam, unmentionables...We butchered a yearling doe with issues and an eight month old wethered male. The female had weak pasterns and or some other sort of possible selenium deficiency or leg issue, so we couldn't breed her, nor could I find anyone to buy her. It is not easy to butcher goats and I don't make these decisions lightly. It wasn't easy. In fact it was pretty lame. Enough so to give me cause to eat less meat and raise less goats. Having said that, I do have a great sense of pride that we don't have to buy red meat, and that butchering a few goats a year and receiving some game from my brother accounts for ninety five percent of the red meat we eat. Thankfully, we now have enough goat meat in the freezer to get us to next fall.
My goat herd ambitions have changed drastically in the past year. We currently have two bucks, two milkers in milk, three dried off and bred does, and two doelings; making seven does. I would have less goats except I had previous commitments to provide our goat shareholders with milk through October, and so I had to keep my four milkers at the time. I have learned over the past five years of raising goats that selling goats and finding good homes for them is not as easy as I had initially thought it would be, and in fact it is quite challenging. I had intended to just breed a couple does this fall but have ended up breeding most of them once more, in hopes that I will be able to sell them in the spring when they are just freshened. I'm hoping to sell all the doelings as well, the boys we will plan to butcher in the fall when the temperatures are just right for hanging meat outside.
I have a local goat expert friend who has always said he hopes for single doe kiddings. And D and I use to think, why not hope for twin or triplet doelings. Well it took a while, but I am so there now, crossing my fingers for single births, which we rarely have. My goal is to have four does going into next winter, and no bucks, no wethers, no doelings. Our two bucks are not that great, so as of now I'm planning on getting rid of them this spring. I have been greedily eying their current large flat pen that has several years of layers of chicken and goat bedding with no weeds. My plan is to till it in the spring and plant something that can withstand the rich bedding, maybe Alfalfa? I was thinking of dividing the section up into grain plots and trying to grow some hull less oats, hull less barley, kamut or wheat and quinoa. I need to do some more research though. We have another empty pen as well with five years of goat bedding and tree stumps. I'm thinking of getting a couple pigs to till it for me this year and then planting something in it the following year. I need to do some fence research. My main question being will woven mesh fencing keep in pigs if I have a couple strands of electric on the inside, with the lower strand being between four and eight inches off the ground? I'm thinking that I might need to move the bottom stand lower so that it will shock their noses or foreheads when they go to dig under the fence. There can be no chance of them escaping, as a small section of fence is adjacent to the garden.
I have been pouring over the seed catalogs. What do you turn to first when you get your catalogs? Each year is different, several years ago I would have said tomatoes and peppers, but now I'm somewhat disillusioned with heat loving crops - well I say that but then I guess winter squash and pumpkins are also heat loving and that is what I turned to first. I am also excited to grow grain and dried beans even though D reminds me that they are things that are not expensive to buy. I have few enough animals that I can feed them ourselves - that is my ultimate goal. So experiments are necessary. Legumes are high in protein. I want to play around with Alfalfa, siberian pea shrub, drying peas and high protein grains as well the standard grains.
So every year we gardeners have our new ambitions whether it is new amendments, crop rotation, gadgets or probably new seed varieties we are trying out. Here's mine. I have always bought onion, leek and shallot sets instead of starting them from seed because I felt that I didn't have enough room to start them myself. Having more room this year, (marginally) I am shunning the outrageously expensive sets by the pound or bunches of starts along with the crazy high shipping prices which make it just crazy impractical and growing my own! Other than this, I'll write another post on new seed varieties and medicinal herbs I'm planning on growing. I have a few new ideas of where I'm putting this or that, going to start growing tomatoes and cucumbers in our glass tree house (last year's apiary) again, which has been off limits and too challenging while the kids were littles.
I'm feeling extremely optimistic and happy for this dark time of year, and in case you are suspicious, I must confess; we are in preparation for twenty days in Kauai here soon. The last time we headed to Kauai in winter it hadn't occurred to me to diet or workout, being naturally fairly in shape with farm chores and being and active mom, and I didn't look horrible, but looking back at pictures I definitely looked like a pale tourist from Alaska who hadn't noticed the extra pudge under all the bulky winter layers. So, while I'll never look like a local Hawaiin, I am trying harder this year. I've been tanning and yoga-ing regularly and watching how many cookies and chocolates I eat each night :) So, not to rub it in, but if I sound too perky for writing from Fairbanks in January, guaranteed sun, heat and humidity on the horizon would be the reason. I would love to hear about your planning and dreaming for your garden or farm!