Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Golden Days Parade

Here are a few pictures of our local Golden Days Parade that took place this past Saturday. I was unaware until now that this is the largest parade in the state of Alaska. It begin at ten a.m. and lasted about an hour and a half. The parade consisted of the usual: antique cars and tractors, kids sports teams, karate schools, fire trucks -(Noah's favorite), religious organizations, local businesses and  lots of politicians, Lisa Murkowski (State Senator) and Sean Parnell (Governor), to name a couple.

The day started out rainy and D had to work, so it was not without perseverance that I dragged the kids  along behind me through the mud, for milking and the fewest farm chores I could get away with so that we could make it to town in time for the parade. The best part of the experience for me was our location. This year I drove to a friend's house and parked my truck. From there is was only two blocks to this street which was near the start of the parade. We were situated on a green grassy strip not thirty feet from the Chena River, and if that was not enough, my friend had the forethought to set up his tent in case we got too wet. However, lucky for us the rain ceased as the parade began, and the weather cleared up as the morning progressed.

I get a little sentimental thinking about the traditions we are starting as a young family. I'm not much of a fan of parades or fireworks, and I wasn't keen on Noah gleaning several handfuls of candy...but I sure remember being excited about parades (candy), and fireworks when I was a kid. So I guess that is what it is all about, wanting to share some of my childhood memories or rather create similar ones for the kids.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July days and beginning harvest

This morning is my first on the computer in quite some time. It is not usual for me to take such a long break from posting or blog reading, and it is not due to how busy we've been. I have been lost in a world of make believe, coming to the surface to make meals and read to the kids. Over the last week and a half I've been reading the Twilight series. The fourth and final book I read twice as I sped through it too fast the first time and wasn't ready for reality when I found myself at the end. I have always loved to read and have easily lost myself in novels. Since Noah was born, I have only read a handful of books. I have felt like there has been no time for reading, but maybe I just knew myself too well and wasn't ready to dive into something that takes me too far from my children and my reality. I don't come to the surface pleasantly, as my mom and husband will attest to. I think the Twilight novels are so popular because they are a classic and endearing romance which is easy to read and get lost in. They lack in rich imagery. I found myself wishing they had been written for adults rather than teenage girls, but then I guess the lack of romantic information and detail is part of the charm, leaving plenty for the imagination. I have thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in the world of Edward and Bella, and look forward to seeing the final novels on the big screen. These books have re-awakened my joy of reading and I am excited to return to the world of books and imaginary characters.

By now I suppose you are wondering how I've made so much time for reading at such a busy time of year. I've been sick for a couple weeks, (otherwise I never would have gotten so much reading time in). Without going to the doctor, I'd say I've had a serious sinus infection, in addition to a bronchitis like chest infection. I had been treating myself with a liquid diet of kombucha, fresh vegetable juices, ginger root tea, breathe easy and echinacea tea and vegetable soups. This, combined with lots of laying around and doing the minimum around here was not enough. Thanks to a reminder from my mother-in-law via my husband, I started taking some goldenseal tincture and drinking small amounts of grapefruit seed extract, which both have antibacterial properties. The first night after starting this regime, I started sweating this sickness out. Yesterday I was feeling on the mend, and today even better. Thank goodness, because I really have been doing just what I've had to, simple meals, minimal laundry, dishes and cleaning. I am ready to get back in the kitchen. I've had rhubarb sitting in the fridge waiting for me to turn it into jam. I've got a couple cabbages waiting to be turned into sauerkraut. We are almost out of bread...and there is so many things we could be harvesting if I had the energy to clean and cook it.

We've been picking peas, zucchini and pulling beets, radishes, scallions and turnips. There are several decent size heads of broccoli ready along with some nice size napa cabbages. The greens are getting out of control. The weather has been cooler and rainy, making for few garden chores.

carrots (some hairy ones), and scallions


picnic in the garden, picture from end of June

After fourth of July Party Pictures

Here are some pictures of our "after fourth of July party". On the fourth we had a wonderful meal with family and friends. A couple days later we had some more friends over for a potluck/bbq, which we finished off with homemade ice-cream, rhubarb crisp and some simple fireworks (think sparklers) for the kids. In the photo above the kids are gathered around cleaning out the container I made ice-cream in. Avery was the only one that stuck with it till the end, below.

We adults had a great time visiting together, and as you can see, the kids did too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Goat Questions for Alaska

I received an email this spring from a previous out-of-state goat owner asking detailed questions regarding raising goats in Alaska. I thought I'd go ahead and share my answers here. There are some aspects of raising goats that I have little knowledge or experience, such as artificial insemination, linear appraisals and milk testing, so for those questions I have consulted with a more experienced local goat owner and I am including his responses (in blue) along with my own. I am speaking from my experiences raising goats in Interior Alaska. I have not visited many farms elsewhere in the State. This post is open for dialogue and debate if there are other goat owners in the state or elsewhere who would like to contribute, whether you disagree or would like to elaborate on anything written here.

 How experienced do the vets seem up here? Back east, it was hard to find vets that were even willing to work on goats. In my experience there is more demand for good vets than there are vets. ---  I agree as a whole.  There is a demand for vets who know goats, who are willing to help, and who are not going to charge a fee which exceeds the goats entire food bill for the year.  My experience is that be prepared not to have a vets help.  Many times when you need one, they are not available.  So one should have a few conventional antibiotics on hand if things happen to your goat that other remedies can't help. You do the best you can and hopefully it works.  I know of one vet who enjoys working on goats and will make emergency house calls, if she is in town and you can get a hold of her. I know of another vet who will work on goats and will make house calls, although likely not in emergency situations. There may be a couple other vets who are retired or don't usually work on goats, who will make occasional exceptions.

Is it hard to get a hold of pain killers and other drugs? What are average costs for disease testing up here?---  Testing done by WADDL (Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory) is the cost of the test, an accession fee, and shipping costs.   Ex. CAE test:  test = $6  accession fee = $10   shipping fee = $20.  The accession and shipping cost are fixed irregardless of the number of samples.  So a large number of goats helps reduce the affects of the accession and shipping costs on the cost per test (or goat). It can be difficult to get antibiotics, pain killers and other drugs, especially in an emergency. You can buy antibiotics from the vet if you can find one when you need them. Many local goat owners order their medical supplies online and keep antibiotics and pain killers on hand at all times. While ordering online, you might as well stock up on syringes, bandages, and other vet supplies.

Are there any diseases like TB that you have to watch for? Are there any mineral or parasite troubles common in Alaska? The three diseases that I hear about the most and are commonly tested for are CAE, CL and Jhonnes. As far as mineral deficiencies, I've heard that some areas of the state are low in selenium, and that hay grown there is lacking in selenium. --  I suppose those are the three mainstream ones you hear about up here.  All major diseases can be a problem up here as well- -including TB, blue tongue, etc...  Hay may not be super low in nutrient content, it is just a mono diet and therefore cannot meet the complex mineral needs.  The only other deficiency that I know people have had besides selenium is copper.  I am sure there are others.  Vitamin D could be low in goats during the winter.  Lice is considered a minor parasite that is easy to get rid of.  This can be done either by de-licing powder or if it is hot and sunny, clip the goats short and the sun normally burns them off.  Mange occurs up here.  No ticks, thankfully. Tape worms can be an issue at times.

What have you found in terms of feed availability? I know that costs in general up here are higher but what have you found to be average for feed and hay? What kinds of hay are available? What about supplements such as kelp or beet pulp?  Hay costs are all over the map, depending I suppose on who you know, and where you buy your hay. Regardless of whether you are buying fifty pound bales or larger bales, costs average about seven to ten dollars per fifty pounds for decent Brome hay. A majority of hay grown in the interior comes from farms in Delta or Nenana. Hay grown closer to Fairbanks is in high demand. In general hay prices have gone up significantly in the past few years due to rising fertilizer and fuel/shipping costs. Last year we bought decent Brome hay from six different sources. We found bales nearby that we picked up out of the field for seven dollars a bale. We had fifty pound bales delivered for thirteen dollars a bale. We also bought an assortment of large bales from 950lb square bales to 1200 lb round bales, averaging from 7-10 dollars per fifty pounds. Most hay grown here is Brome. I believe it is usually mixed with Bluegrass. There is a small amount of Timothy and other grass hays grown, usually for cows and other livestock. I do not know of anyone growing Alfalfa locally. Most varieties are not hardy enough to survive the winters here.

We have two local feed stores that I know of. They carry hay, grain, animal feed and the basic supplements.  Alfalfa, Timothy and a grass hay are brought up from out of state, for around forty dollars for eighty to a hundred pounds. They also carry local Brome hay for thirteen fifty a fifty pound bale. They do stock kelp meal (eighty some dollars a fifty pound bag) and beat pulp. They sell local barley and oats. Some items we've bought for the goats in the past include Nutrina goat chow, COB, alfalfa pellets, BOSS, flax seed, kelp meal, brewers yeast, probiotics. As of recently they are finally carrying Sweetlix for goats, a loose mineral and vitamin supplement.

In terms of breeding, do you often bring in bucks out of state to stimulate bloodlines or do other breeders work with you or together? How hard is it to find nitrogen suppliers for  AI tanks? Is there anyone you know of who does semen collections up here? The club does own an older semen tank. AI is the simplest way to bring in new genetics for Alaska and your own herd.  AI is not perfect though.  One can have good success with AI and one can have a year where every attempt fails.  AI is also expensive.  AI equipment will cost about $200 for the semen gun and other equipment.  A semen tank cost between $500-$1000.  Nitrogen costs for a 20L tank are about $100 every 3 to 4 months for refill.  This assumes that the tank level is allowed to reach about half of is volume before refill.  Liquid nitrogen cost right now are $6.78 per liter and then you have cool down and insurance charges.  The only place I know where LN is available is Air Liquid.  Semen straws typically range from $10 to $50 dollars per straw for Dairy goat semen.  Meat breeds such as Boers run higher with low values in the range of $35 to $50 per straw.  High values can run $100 to $200 per straw.  Shipping in straws will cost around $200 to $250 dollars which consists of Fed-Exing a dry shipper.  So it is best to order as many straws at once as you think you will want to use.  People bring in genetics now and then.  Some share and some don't.  My advice is to assume bucks are not available and be self sufficient if you really want to target a breeding program.  If you have one or two goats, someone will have a buck that is available for stud.  If not in Fairbanks, then Palmer.  AI allows for a range of genetics to be used in a herd, assuming that the AI attempts are successful. 

What is AK's policy about NAIS? I still need to look into this one, I would think that we would be opposed to it?  Are there any state regulations that require IDing or disease testing goats? No, not unless you are bringing goats into the State, then a basic vet check is required, no IDing or disease testing that I'm aware of. Lastly, are there any goat dairies in AK? What are the state regulations on milk or cheese sales? Cranberry Ridge Farm was a goat dairy in operation for a year or two, selling aged goat cheeses. However, last year they shut down due to the high cost of raising goats and running a dairy in Alaska. They have moved down to the States, I believe they are hoping to re-start in an easier location.

Is there a market for goats and goat products like milk, cheese, soap, etc? Back east it really varied on your location in the state. There is a huge ethnic market for meat and a growing interesting in milk but it can be difficult to get around with state restrictions. Does Alaska allow for milk sales or offer paths to Grade A or B dairies?  Seems like the market for selling goats is ok, not great .Folks aren't willing to pay as much money for goats as in the States. Demand for milk and cheese is high but the restrictions make distribution or sales challenging if not impossible. 
-- The market is luke warm.  Once people realize the amount of work involved (or at times, the lack of freedom do the necessity of being home more), the idea of goats loses some of its desire.  A common occurrence that we see is people get a goat and after around a year or so they sell the goat because of the work load or the lack of freedom to go camping for the weekend or go on vacation without the headache of finding a goat sitter.  The market for goat meat is average.  The major limitation is cost.  If we could bring the cost down to conventional meats, it would greatly help.  However, we are then giving the goat away.  We normally use the meat for ourselves instead of selling it as it seems a better value.  The value of goats also varies regionally.  I know Palmer/Wasilla folks can get a lot more for their goats than we can in Fairbanks.  As you said, the demand for cheese and milk is high, but we cannot meet that demand due to regulations.  To meet regulations and build a facility cost to much.  Besides most people want the simple raw variety.  If selling milk and cheese were possible, we could probably sell all we had, especially at places like the local farmers market and food coop. 

To elaborate even further: The sales of milk and cheese are illegal in the state of Alaska unless you operate a Grade A certified Dairy. You can find the requirements for certification and other dairy restrictions at the DEC website, think a full on multi-room, plumbed, cement floor dairy with public restrooms and a paved driveway. This certification does not allow for the sale of raw milk or fresh raw milk cheeses, only aged cheeses and pasteurized milk cheeses. There are no allowances for the sale of milk or cheese by individuals wishing to sell milk or cheese to family and friends. To be specific, it is illegal for milk or cheese to leave my property unless it is headed to a certified dairy for processing or is denatured by adding charcoal, green food coloring and is labeled NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, FOR ANIMAL USE ONLY.  Now to partially contradict myself, there are some goat owners skirting the law by selling goat or milk "shares". Until recently farmers were prosecuted for this, but at this time the State Veterinarian has interpreted that this is within the law for the time being. The basic idea is that owning a share in the goat allows one a portion of the milk. 

There is an incredible amount of interest and demand in fresh and local milk and cheese. I believe that there is more interest in raw milk cheeses and raw milk than pasteurized. I am constantly bombarded by friends, acquaintances and strangers interested in buying milk and chevre from us. They are more than happy to pay any amount of money for raw milk and chevre. The only goat milk available to folks legally are the quarts of pasteurized milk sold at the Supermarket for around four dollars a quart, (tastes terrible). There are several brands of chevre sold at the store, none of which are made in state, all are pasteurized and sell for between one, closer to two dollars an ounce. 

There is a market for goat milk soaps and lotions. There is at least one individual successfully selling soaps and lotions at the Farmer's market. Her products are also available at several stores in town. There are a few other folks also selling soaps locally. There is a slow growing market for goat meat, mostly among the ethnic community. I'd say most the general population is unaware of how common goat meat is in the rest of the world, but I think that is changing with the current food movements and as conscious individuals look for more sustainable food choices.

In the past year there has been an ongoing dialogue between local goat owners with our legislators and the DEC, with goat owners looking for a way to sell small amounts of milk and cheese to friends and family. I believe that a small number of our representatives are open to the idea as public awareness and demand for local and sustainable products grows.The legislators have asked the DEC to work with the local goat owners to find an exemption for small farms from the requirements of a Grade A certified Dairy. In Oregon there is an exemption for small farms that are milking just a few cows or a handful of goats, that consumers are allowed to go to that farm and buy milk directly from the farm. Local goat owners have suggested a similar exemption, however, the DEC is adamantly opposed to this idea, stating public safety as their chief concern.

At this time Tammie Wilson is collecting signatures from individuals who are interested in an exemption that would allow individuals to purchase milk directly from small farms. If anyone is interested in signing this petition, or helping the local raw milk movement, copies of the petition are available at the local farmer's market at the Far Above Rubies soap booth. Or you could contact Tammie Wilson directly, she is a North Pole representative.

Do you have many shows around? Are there usually enough goats to make sanction? ---  The AKFNGA offers one sanction show usually around the beginning of August.  The Fairbanks show depends on people from Palmer to make the classes.  The local interest from goat owners tends to be low.  Palmer usually offers one or two shows during the Palmer Fair around beginning of August and other shows throughout the summer. Usually the sanctioning consists of Alpines, Toggenburgs, Nigerians, Recorded Grade, and AOP.  Web links to Nigerian people and potential show news:  http://alaskaminigoatcache.com http://fairskiesalaska.com/.  There is also a yahoo Alaska goat list serve.

What about linear appraising? ---  There has not been much interest for Linear appraisals in Fairbanks.  LA's cost money both in the actual appraisals and bring in the appraiser.  It can happen in Fairbanks, but intersted people never quite step up to the plate to get it done. The same thing holds true for the DHIR milk testing program.  A few people are interested, but don't want to go through the effort.   Palmer has held linear appraisals in the past and will probably hold them in the future. They have several people strongly interested in the ADGA programs right now.  Especially the Nigerian group. The LA and DHIR programs have some positives which include providing quantative data on your breeding program and providing information for prospetive buyers regarding your breeding stock.  When I shop for bucks, I use the LA and DHIR dtata provided by ADGA. 

Are other goat people cut throat in competition or are people rather layed back? Do you see many new people from year to year getting into goats? I have not shown our goats yet and have only been to local shows the past few years, but from what I have seen, the show scene is very relaxed and friendly. As said earlier, luke warm describes new interest in goats. However I believe this is certain to change. There is a growing awareness of the health benefits of raw milk and raw milk cheeses, in addition to the demand for local products. We are at the end of the supply chain here in interior Alaska. Almost all of our food is barged and trucked up from Washington and elsewhere. Very little food is grown and produced here. The precariousness of our situation is noticed by only a few, but I think awareness is growing. More individuals are wishing to live more sustainably. We've seen the amount of folks raising their own chickens for eggs and meat skyrocket over the last few years. Goats and cows are a much bigger commitment but interest is growing.

I am not sure that raising goats in Alaska is much different from elsewhere in our Country, similar dairy laws, common diseases, little higher food costs... A couple challenges that I would like to briefly address are housing and keeping goats healthy through our long cold winters. For individuals looking into raising goats here I would point out the importance of well insulated and tightly built structures. I think the more fenced in woods, browse and pastures you can offer your goats, the happier and healthier they will be. With dried hay and processed grain being what is most commonly fed, extra vitamins, minerals and other live foods are essential for optimum health. Even in the winter there are options for a more diverse and natural diet if the goats have woods to roam.

I am hoping to start feeding more dried herbs, dried plants and root crops during the winter. Also, I cannot emphasize the effect that routine walks and changes of scenery have on our does on short dark winter days. It is not uncommon for people to get depressed or a little down during the darkest and coldest days of the year, and so I would think the goats may also be affected by the lack of sun and fresh greens. When I think of raising goats in Alaska vs. elsewhere, the issue of keeping the goats healthy and in good spirits when there is so little sun, warmth and no green, this is what comes to mind first. Using heated water buckets, heat lamps, light bulbs to provide artificial daylight and hay for deep pack bedding are fairly common practices which make our lives and that of our goats more comfortable. Feeding extra greens, building larger pens, and taking the goats out for walks may be overlooked extravagances, but they will certainly improve on the quality of your goats life. 

Maribeth, thank-you for all the great questions, I hope we've answered them. Sorry it took me forever to get this post out there.