Thursday, January 10, 2013

January planning

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!


Curiousfarmer said...

Hi, found your blog through Bruce King's blog. Interesting!
A strand of electric inside woven wire should be more than enough to keep pigs in. If the hotwire goes dead for whatever reason and you don't see it, you'll probably notice the pigs pushing on the woven wire before they're out.
My experience is pigs are very respectful of electric once they learn about it.

Rose said...

I agree with hoping for single births! I have come to the same conclusion that it is easier to eat the darn goats than try to find good homes for them because good homes are few and far between. This is why this spring will have a new addition of a Boer doe to mix some meat genetics with my dairy gals. I want some meaty kids so eating them will be a better pay out than selling them. Good luck!!

Aimee said...

I miss my farm, I'm spending a year with in-law's family in Oaxaca, Mexico. In in a city apartment, so my "farm" this year is potted herbs on the balcony!

I couldn't agree more about wishing for single doeling goat births! My goats nearly always throw triplets, and it is a pain in the tuchus. Usually one of them is smaller and needs help, or bottle feeding. I don't have time to bottle feed, so I've given quite a few away as newborns. Feeding twins or triplets takes a lot out of the mom, and I have to wait longer to get less milk for us.

We also butcher the kids we can't sell - often we can sell them as meat. There's a large Mexican population where I live, as well as East Indians, both goat-eating cultures. I'm not any fonder of it than you are. It seems like a necessary evil, and I comfort myself with the fact that the kids enjoy a superb, natural life before they meet their end. Being raised by their mom, with lots of space to run, jump, browse, and be goats. I'm sure you've heard farmers say "my animals have a good life, with one bad day."
That's what we strive for.

I'm curious how you run your goat-milk collective? Do you set it up any particular way because of raw milk laws? My farm is in WA, and the laws are quite strict.

Tara said...

I'm planning to start my first vegetable garden! We cleared and tilled a sizeable spot on our property last fall. This year I hope to begin growing some of our own food, in a couple of beds I made before the snow fell...but mostly I'd like to get the rest of the beds made, and maybe plant some kind of cover crop, to till in and enrich the soil.

Have fun in Hawaii! We're getting ready for 3 weeks in Nicaragua. It sure helps the January blues to have something like that to look forward to!

Buttons said...

Oh Emily I always look forward to your posts.
I do hope you and the children are feeling better now. B

Rachel~ At the Butterfly Ball said...

This is our first year breeding goats, I got my two does already in milk as yearlings last spring. They had single babies last time... I'm excited to see what happens this year, this being my first time and all...:-)

Trish said...

Emily, lots of people use the woven wire fencing with 2 strands of electric on the inside for pigs and it works great. My experience is don't put the first wire too low because they won't touch it, and the grass will really easily grow up and short the fence out. You can have it at 6-8" and the higher one at a foot or even 15". That is enough to zap them and keep them from trying to get under it. Good luck. I think pigs are so much fun to have in your yard!

Terry said...

I have goat issues myself. I began, new to the country, wanting milky goats. Now some years later my only milky girl is too old for work, I have two does that have done handstands to avoid milking, a few wethers, and a buck whose only job is to keep the grass down in our fire sector. Arrg! Newer easy, add to this that they eat my garden with monotonous regularity. Moving to the country is nice and relaxing, but the decisions to own animals and butchering, are among the hardest ones to live with.

It could be me, but you have "au" in your blog address. what's that about?

Best, Terry

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