Monday, February 28, 2011

Kidding Preparations and Assistance

We've got about a week until our first doe is due. The gestation period for dairy goats is around 150 days. Our goats tend to kid around day 146-147. A local goat owner shared with me that his goats tend to have the same length of gestation each year. I've found this to be a valuable bit of information, as it has often been remarkably true. I've been giving the does extra flax seed, kelp powder, dried raspberry, nettle and dandelion greens, in the hopes that these extras will provide all the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids their bodies need for growing healthy kids. I'm still feeding COB, BOSS, alfalfa pellets, along with a handful of wheat berry, oats or barley sprouts, as a way of slowly introducing sprouts into their diet.

This week I will be setting up our goat camera, so that we can watch the goats whether inside or outside their shelter. Last year we had two locations for the camera and we'd move it back and forth depending on who we were watching and whether they were more comfortable in a stall on their own or out with the herd. I will also be clipping udders and around the backside of the does, so that they are easier to clean up after kidding, and so the teats are easier for kids to find, and easier to milk without pulling hairs.

My kidding bucket is ready with latex gloves and "goop powder" a lubricant that you add to water for lubing up when you have to go in to pull kids out or investigate. I've also got some iodine and plastic cups for dipping umbilical cords.  Other supplies include paper towels for wiping the kids off when they first come out, grubby cloth towels for drying them off, and molasses for making the doe a yummy electrolyte rich water for after kidding. We leave the placenta for the does to eat if they want it. Otherwise it gets buried in the hay and ends up in the garden and compost pile.

Our farm apprentice/ close friend/ newest family member: Becca, is on call for kidding season. With the exception of the last couple months, Becca has been working with the goats, milking and helping with other chores since last kidding season. Hopefully she'll get to see some goat births this season, as last year the goats didn't know her well enough to feel comfortable around her while in labor. A goat's labor will stall if there is too much commotion or strangers present - I can say from experience.

Our first kidding season, the vets advice was: don't try to help or interfere, they rarely need assistance, most likely you'll wake up in the morning and there will be kids on the ground all dried off and nursing already.

Well, it was a good thing that I had prepared by reading Molly's kidding section over and over again. My kidding bucket was ready, my nails trimmed, various kidding presentations studied. Our second doe who kidded rejected her twins, who we had to put in a kennel and it took two people to hold her and help the kids nurse, as she was bent on pummeling her kids into the ground. After a few days she came around and decided to be a mom. Our third doe due, Xanadu, had one large buckling who came out head first and then remained there for several hours, with just his head sticking out. My husband, my mother-in-law, and myself all tried reaching in to pull the little guy out and none of us were successful. It was three in the morning. I was in tears. I thought Xan was surely going to die. I thought I'd killed the kid by pulling too hard as I'd felt his neck give a pop. I was calling and waking up all the vets in town, to no avail. Finally Tamara Rose answered her phone on the third try. She was stranded due to car issues, so my husband drove out to pick her up.

This is what happened: In a couple minutes within entering the stall, Tamara pulled on her gloves, mixed the lubricant with water, slimed her hand, thrust her hand in on one side of the bucklings head, then to the other side and back again. Then she reached in further, hooked her hand behind his leg and pulled it forward till his hoof was forward, then did his left leg. Then she grabbed both legs with her right hand and yanked him out with one big jerk. It was over before I'd remembered to take a breath. I couldn't believe how rough she had been. I felt silly at how timid and cautious I'd been. She continued to give both dam and buckling some shots, anti-inflammatory, antibiotics. The bucklings neck was so swollen I had to feed him with a drenching syringe for the first couple days, he could hardly even swallow at first. I learned so much this first kidding incident, the most important being, to keep lubricant on hand as it makes a big difference, and to be more assertive and forceful if needed.You can only prepare by reading so much. Nothing can compare to hands on experience.

Since our first kidding season, I have had to "go in" several times. The easiest scenario is when the head is first and I just have to pull the legs forward. The scenario that I am most intimidated by, is when their are multiple kids and they are tangled up. Another important lesson I learned our second kidding season, is that if you have to go in and the first kid is tangled, you go right back in for the second kid. Do not wait for the second kid to come out on it's own, as it has already been in the birth canal for too long and needs to get out.

Once the kids come out, we dry them of and help the kids find their dams teats. We make sure that the kids all get several good sucks before we leave them alone with their dam. We return two to four hours later to help the kids nurse again. Usually after this the kids have the strength to find the teat and nurse on their own. Rose had three bucklings, two of which looked a lot alike initially. So, in the confusion of D and I both helping different bucklings nurse, I believe one black and white buckling nursed much more than the other. The following day one of the bucklings seemed weak and was still having a hard time finding the teat and latching on. I think that we got the kids mixed up, and this one didn't get enough nursing early on as his stronger brothers did. The weak kid took several days to catch up to his brothers and I even ended up drenching him with a syringe as he was so weak he wasn't even trying to nurse.

I cannot disagree more when I hear people say that they just leave it up to the doe to deliver her kids and care for them on her own. So again this is my most important to do list:

  1. Make sure you know when your doe is due and be prepared with lubricant, gloves and knowledge.
  2. Keep a close eye on your doe and clear your schedule so you are there when she is in labor.
  3. Once the doe is laboring hard and beginning to push, check your watch, she should have kids out in an hour, otherwise lube up and prepare to investigate. Determining whether to go in is the most challenging part for me. I tend to error on the side of going in early, as I've lost kids from not going in soon enough.
  4. If you see a nose before a hoof, lube up and go in, it is way easier to get your hand in before the head is all the way out. Sometimes a kid can still come out head first, but I don't wait around to find out.
  5. If you have to go in once be prepared to go back in. If labor hasn't stalled and the first kid is strong, wait a bit, but if the labor has stalled and you are overdue for going in and things are not progressing, don't wait, go right back in and check for another kid, and another just in case. 
  6. Dry kids off, let mom help clean them.
  7. Make sure kids get several good sucks before leaving. 
  8. Make sure that you see kids nurse every few hours the first day or two, when in doubt, help them out just to make sure. 
They say to dip umbilical cords in iodine to prevent infection. I don't feel strongly about this as I don't always do it and have never had any issues, but I do keep an eye out for redness and swelling. Also, we give the doe fresh hay, a little grain and some molasses water after she is done kidding. Make sure she is bonding with them, she should be licking them - not ignoring them.

I highly recommend Molly's Fiasco Farm site, for new or preparing to be new, goat owners. Her kidding section is great, including detailed kidding photos, prenatal care, various kidding presentations etc.

And so the countdown begins. I bought our first half a gallon of store bought cow milk last week. I am so looking forward to having fresh milk. The break has been good for us.  I realize how heavily we depend on fresh milk for hot cereal, baking, yogurt, chevre, buttermilk and other cheese projects. I feel good about my kids drinking raw goat milk. I don't feel that pasteurized, homogenized, ultra processed cow milk is a healthy food for us. And thus why we are raising dairy goats! I can't wait to share this seasons kidding stories with you!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Goat behavior and children

Here is Noah feeding asparagus ends to the goats. I've been wanting to write about goat behavior and small children. When families start looking into getting a family milk goat, one of their first requests is that the goat is friendly and compatible with their children. There are several factors that go in to how a milking doe behaves around small children.

First let me back up a bit and explain general goat behavior. Goats are herd animals and they all have their rank and position in the herd. The does often challenge and test the other does in an attempt to move one up in the herd. They do this by lowering their heads and charging and ramming the other doe in the head until one gives up and runs off. When goat kids are born to a doe, if she is a good mother she will keep her kids close to her and try and protect them from the other does. As the kids grow and merge into the herd, the other does will ignore the new kids, until the kids approach a doe who is not their mother. They are quickly put in place by the does who are not their dam. They quickly learn to stay away from the other does.  Some does are worse than others about bullying the younger goats and some aren't so bad.

The does view me as their leader. So far they tend to view and treat my children as they view the other does children, which means they are up for challenging. Only one of the most daring senior does tends to have the audacity to attempt to knock over my kids. There is one other doe who looks as though she is thinking of trying. By attempting to ram and knock over my children, they are trying to put my kids in place and let them know who is boss. Yelling, scolding and physical discipline does not seem to work, and it may make matters worse. When the children and I spend time with the goats I tie up the two does who may challenge them. Then the kids come in and spend time with the goats. Another idea I got from a fellow goat owner, is to give Noah a squirt bottle with water. He is only to use it if one of the problem does is lowering her head or looking like she is going to push on him, then he squirts her until she turns away. This summer we kept a small squirt bottle outside the doe pen. Noah wouldn't enter without it and was able to move about and spend time around the goats without getting knocked over.

I do not let the children enter the goat pen without me. I have learned that although I think I'm quick enough to stop a doe from knocking over the kids, I'm not. All it takes is for me to turn away for a minute and one of my kids can be flat on the ground crying. So I always tie up problem doe now. I have not noticed that this doe is more aggressive with other kids. But most of my does have not challenged my children. However, if they ranked higher within the herd, they might have the confidence to try.

I would suggest to anyone introducing a new milking goat to their children, is to prevent any challenges and behavior patterns from being established. So maybe start by holding the doe while small children brush or feed her treats. I would not let children run wild in the pen with the goat, or kid goats for that matter. This is a mistake that I made in our first summers with goats. When we first had goat kids shipped up, Noah was one year old, the pen was new and not poopy yet. He and I spent a lot of time with the kids, bottle feeding and he would crawl and toddle around with the kids. The second year when kids were born I would let him run around and play with the goat kids. This reinforced his kid status with the mom goats. It was about this time that the first mom decided to put him in his place, and it has become a pattern ever since. So, spending time handling, petting, holding, brushing and feeding treats to kids is a good way to get them use to children and people in general. Letting your kids run wild and be rowdy around the goats is not a good idea!

Our milking does are well behaved and sweet for the most part. The know their routine. They expect and appreciate routine. They are also herd animals and opportunists.

This is Zinnias forming udder. This will be her first kidding. She is due in a couple weeks. It is exciting to see a new udder taking shape for the first time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More kitchen winter days

We've been trying to enjoy the last of the cold winter days - or at least the slow winter days -before kidding season begins. The kids have been spending lots of time playing with legos, homemade playdough, and helping me in the kitchen. We've been reading a lot of books and doing a bit of yoga (rough-house with mom time).

First of the seedlings are coming up. Basil and thyme up in three days, followed by the lavender. Usually, I sow one seed per cell as I don't ever waste or pull any. I usually sow thyme, lavender, oregano, chamomile and rosemary heavily as they don't seem to have the highest germination - or maybe I'm not giving them the right conditions.

Blueberry muffins for breakfast. If there is anything to be stirred, Avery is not to be left out of the action.

Steamed Asian bbq pork buns, made with one of our own pork roasts. The ultimate comfort food.

I brined and smoked one of our turkey breasts from our fall turkeys. It was all that I'd hoped for, not too smoky. Perfect for lunch meat as well as a rich turkey vegetable soup.

Today I'm making cherry almond Babka for breakfast, our weekly bread, a pizza roll, chicken stock, chicken salad and soup from last nights roast chicken.  As you can see I'm enjoying my kitchen, and all of our wonderful meat; labors of last summer. Kidding season is sneaking up on us, only a couple weeks away. I'll be getting up for night time checks, most likely attending midnight births, and constantly obsessed with the backside of whichever goat is due next. I'll probably be pulling out frozen breads and soups then and won't have as much time or energy for expressing creativity through baking and cooking.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blowing snow drifts and a goat walk

 Over the weekend we got almost a foot of snow, which wouldn't be much to talk about if it hadn't been followed by severe winds for twenty-four hours! We ended up with drifts ranging from knee to chest high. On Monday morning Dustin spend a couple hours hand shoveling out hay structures and paths to the animals so they could be fed. By night, most the path was blown over again. We lost power for several hours and I was beginning to worry about the food in the fridge, and revising dinner plans when the electricity came back on. Our snow blower had died about a month ago and we'd been putting off replacing it. So, D ended up getting a ride down to buy a new one, filled up a can of gas, got dropped off at the bottom of the driveway and worked his way up. He spent close to eight hours today snow blowing our quarter mile driveway so we could get the truck out.

I got the does out for a walk this afternoon. They hadn't been outside much the last couple days with the snow coming down and a harsh wind blowing, so they were frisky and eager to be out of their snowed in pen. They struggled a bit with the path that was blown over, but they were troopers and were not about to be left behind.

 Rose lagged behind as she is due the second week in March and most likely has two to three kids in there - and she is petite. I tried to tell her she could wait at the bottom of the hill for us, but she trudged along faithfully. I love my Rose.

 Girls smell boys, boys smell girls.

And back down the hill. Huff, puff, huff, puff.  A work out for all involved.

Monday, February 14, 2011

February projects in and out of the kitchen

Our thermometer has bottomed out at twenty below. Forty below is the low for the night. Until this weekend our temperatures have been relatively mild and we've all been spending more time outside. Our property is finally receiving a couple hours of midday sun. Here are some pictures from the last week. I've been enjoying spending time in the kitchen.  I've also been doing various research, trying to make some decisions for the year on what eggs to hatch, what breeds of poultry to raise etc. On the table are all of our feed receipts for the past year. I'm going to attempt to figure out our yearly feed and hay costs. Above is the doe's daily grain ration, a picture appropriate for my last couple posts on feeding grain to goats.

 The last of our own Copra onions. They are beginning to grow, as we don't quite have the right temperature/humidity area to store them. I used up the last of our garlic today. So I just bought the first bag of onions and garlic since last spring. We have enough potatoes for a couple months.

 Homemade hot chocolate after playing outside.

I made a batch of beef jerky for the first time this winter. It turned out good, if a little plain for my taste. I like my jerky to have a full garlicky peppery soy sweet flavor. I should have marinated it more than just overnight- but I was jerkey hungry. I did do a nice job of slicing it thinly while still partially frozen.

 I've finally gotten into a rhythm with Chana's dog food. I've been making chicken/duck or other turkey stock every other week. I take all the meat off the bones, smoosh up the soft stock vegetables and add rice. She gets a couple cups once a day. Daily scraps usually make up her second meal.

Our weekly 100% organic hard red winter wheat bread. I grind the flour every couple weeks, store it outside (in our natural freezer) I start it a day ahead before baking, by soaking a biga and starter with yogurt and raw goat milk overnight to help break down the gluten and make it more digestible. The bread is mild and soft. It is great fresh or frozen and keeps at least a week on the counter.

I've pulled in a bag of Copper River Red Salmon to brine and smoke - I'm counting on the temperature outside warming up. I also pulled in a large turkey breast to smoke for lunch meat. I'm hoping to pull out the grinder and turn some various bags of pork lard and pork scraps into rendered lard and sausage. Tonight we are having roast, mashed potatoes and salad. Tomorrow we are having stew with turnips and biscuits. I've also had meat pies on the mind, empanadas, Asian style BBQ pork buns. I guess it is just that time of year.

I'm gearing up for a soap making spree next weekend. This is the first time I've looked up other soap making blogs for inspiration, and lets just say, I have been blown away by some handmade soaps folks are making out there. I've been inspired to try some layering and and marbling this time around, so I'll be sticking with some simple recipes and focus on colors, scents and decorative techniques.

OK, lets here it, what yummy things are you cooking? What winter projects are you enjoying?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Decided on Sprouting Grain for Goats

 This is a picture I dug up from last spring, Xanadu and her first doeling, Avalon

I have been wanting to break away from our COB (rolled corn, rolled oats and rolled barley) dependence for sometime now. However, I have not wanted to be hasty, impulsive or drastic in the changes we make to our goats diet. Nor did I want to make any changes without thoroughly researching first. During these slow February days I've had some time to think about our goats diet, assess their conditions, come to the conclusion that I should be doing better, and finally get around to finding some reliable sources and examples of studies and individuals sprouting grains for goats or other livestock. I am sharing this post now before I've even changed my current practices because I am this exited about the concept of feeding living sprouts to our goats in place of their dried rolled grains - especially this time of year when all is dark and dead or dormant around us.

First let me back up and explain why we are feeding COB in the first place. When we first got our goats we fed goat chow, because that is what everyone we know and read about fed their goats. Goat Chow is a processed pelleted goat feed with a few crushed or rolled grains and added vitamins and minerals. On the ingredient list for Purina goat chow which is what was available to us through the local feed store, the first ingredient is processed grain by products. The list does not even say which grains are used. The main reason I could think of to feed Chow over COB was:
  1. Higher protein content 
  2. "Scientifically" formulated for goats.
  3. Everybody does it - not a good reason but it must work right?
The main drawback for me was:
  1. A long list of ingredients I didn't understand.
  2. The grains were ground up then compressed into pellets, during which process lots of significant nutrients are lost. 
Well, after our first year of raising goats, I felt comfortable enough to try feeding something else. I picked cob because at least there were just three ingredients, corn, oats and barley which provide energy, some fat and a protein level around 13%, which is less than chow by 2-3% if I remember correctly. My concern was that while these grains are not ground up with preservatives added, they are rolled and thus will still have lost a lot of their nutritive value, which they are not high in to begin with. Corn, oats and barley don't provide much goodies compared to wheat berries, lesser known but high protein grains like quinuoa and millet, seeds and legumes. So why are they fed as staple animal feeds? I suspect it has something to do with what crops are easy to grown on large scale, and cheap to grow? Before the twentieth century livestock was fed various legumes and root crops in addition to a wider range of grains. Why has this practice died off? Marketing? Cost? Ignorance?

When it comes to feeding whole vs. crushed or rolled grains to livestock. The opinions are completely contradictory:
  1. One side holds the position that goats, chickens and other livestock can not digest whole grains, that whole grains will pass through intact and therefor not be used by the animal. Crushing and rolling grains makes them more digestible.
  2. The other side says that once grains are crushed, ground, rolled etc. that valuable and significant nutrients are lost, that the seeds rapidly go stale and rancid and the result is a significantly reduced source of vitamins and minerals. This side argues that whole grains are intact and nutritionally superior to processed grain feeds.
In the wild, chickens and goats might eat some grains on their own, but no where near the amount we try to feed them. As healthy as whole grains are, even humans don't process them very well and can have a difficult time digesting large amounts of whole grains. Once grains are soaked and sprouted they are easier to digest. I often add whey to our whole grain flours when making breads and crackers so that they will be easier to digest. The other alternative is sprouting and then grinding grains before baking with them. So, while goats digestive systems are very different then our own, they were not meant to consume such high levels of whole or crushed grains either. Feeding whole grains to goats and chickens and then looking at their stools is one way to see if they are digesting their grains. Our chickens have done fine on their whole grain diet, better when their grain is sprouted.
    So for the last couple years as I've fed COB to the goats, I've felt like it was a stepping stone, something to hold me over till we moved on to better things, but I've felt guilty about it as corn, oats and barley are not that nutritious. Last summer I had a farm helper that milked goats and did farm chores a couple days a week. He said that the last couple winters he has milked goats for a farm in Colorado that sprouts their grains. This farm has similar husbandry practices as I do, feeding similar herbal supplements, herbal wormers and when needed, herbal remedies and tinctures. I can say that a seed of inspiration was planted in my mind at hearing about this healthy herd of goats eating sprouted grains. Since then I've been intending to research sprouted grains for goats. Just thinking of the amount of work involved in the idea of sprouted grains in large quantities was such that research on the subject has been on the back burner.

    I have known for a while the health benefits of sprouting grains for human consumption. When we buy bread we choose sprouted grain products. I go through phases of sprouted beans and seeds for our own salads and sandwiches.  I sprout grains for the chickens from time to time in the winter. They love them, and we notice an immediate effect on the color of the egg yolks, they get brighter orange within just a few days of eating sprouts. This week I finally got around to doing some research. I was looking for sources that have goats and have been sprouting for a while with successful results. I also wanted to find some more scientific studies dealing with feeding sprouts to livestock. I found both, and while I am obviously inspired and excited about these few sources, I would still like to delve deeper into the subject.

    Here is the most scientific or scholarly article I found:

    This article focuses on feeding barley sprouts to cattle and horses and the health benefits derived from the sprouts. The article points to a study where barley sprouts were experimentally fed to cattle with impressive results in energy levels and weight gain. The main health benefits of feeding sprouts as opposed to whole grains are such:
    1. Sprouting increases enzyme activity which tends to enhance the levels of beneficial nutrients while decreasing the negative aspects of dry grains such as phytic acids which are high in cereal grains and prevent the absorption of vital minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
    2. Sprouting makes whole grains easier to digest and more palatable.
    3. Sprouting increases protein, fiber and essential fatty acid levels in grains.
    4. Sprouting increases vitamin levels of grains, some of the most significant vitamins that are increased are B, C, A and E vitamins. It also helps with the absorption of the vitamins that may be present.
    5. Sprouting increases Antioxidants, Chlorophyll and has an alkalizing effect on body cells.
     Here are a few examples of individuals who are sprouting grains for their goats. I've included the original source that first inspired me to begin sprouting for chickens as well:

    The above sources provide examples of various methods used to sprout whole grains. The first link contains recipes for whole grain and seed sprout mixes, in addition to the quantity she feeds her goats and the protein content of the initial product. So her protein content given is that of the whole grains before sprouting, so that would be the minimum protein content, we can probably assume that the final protein content will be at least a little higher.

    So, I'm feeling pretty confident that at least sprouting grains can only be much healthier for the goats than their present grain rations. But what about cost and labor involved? Here is a little math. Last I checked I'm paying $15.99 for a fifty pound bag of dry COB. Here is one of the basic recipes, tweaked just a bit to make use of ingredients that I'm already ordering in bulk for the chickens. I've broken it down to what I'm paying a pound for each grain or seed. Ten pounds is more dry grain than what I'm feeding currently. However, once the goats are in milk, I'll be feeding that much or more.

    1. 5 # Whole Barley,  9.99 per 50lb. (.19 lb)          .95
    2. 1# Austrian Winter Peas  39.99 50lb. (.79 lb.)    .79
    3. 1# Winter Wheat Berries 38.00 50lb.  (.76 lb.)   .76
    4. 2# Whole Oats  9.99 50lb.  (.19lb)                     .38
    5. 1# Black Oil Sunflower Seeds 24.99 50lb. (.49) .49
             10# of dry grains costs 3.37, so 50lb. costs 16.85, less than a dollar more than COB
              $23.59 in grain per week, not including alfalfa pellets or other supplements, but not bad

    As far as local or organic ingredients, the whole oats and barley are from Delta, I don't know if the seed is treated? The Wheat berries are organic and from far away via Azure Standard. I don't know anything about the whole peas or sunflower seeds.

    My conclusion, without yet venturing into the world of sprouting grains for goats, is that this practice is going to be much healthier for the goats, surprisingly not much more expensive, but undoubtedly much more work.

    I've been waiting till our milking and grain area is heated, to begin sprouting for the chickens and goats. However, as that may be a while yet, I'm going to start sprouting on a small scale and see how it goes. I already purchase all of these ingredients, so no special trips to the feed store are required yet, although I'll be buying more whole grains in the place of rolled COB. Of course rule number one in feeding goats is make all diet changes gradually. So I'll begin by just adding a handful of sprouts to everyone's existing grain rations and we will increase the amount of sprouts and decrease the COB over the space of a couple weeks. I think that despite having several very pregnant goats, now is not a bad time for a feed switch. I'm sure their bodies have got to be craving some green living food. Soon we will be too busy with kid care and milking to experiment.  Once we are milking, the does will be eating two to three times as much grain as they are now, so we'll start the transition now and work our way forward. I'll keep you posted.

      Friday, February 11, 2011

      Kidding Season and Prenatal Doe Care

      Kidding season is on the horizon. We have five does bred -(I hope). Four of which are due in March. It has been a while since we've had first timers kidding. This will be the fourth kidding season for our original three does. We have two does, Zinnia and Zuri, who will be two this spring and this will be their first kidding. Zinnia and her dam Rose are due in four to five weeks. Zinnia's udder is just starting to take shape - very exciting! She is looking great. Much better than her dam, who is probably carrying two and maybe three kids. We got the does out for a walk today, and while Zinnia is still running around and quite frisky, Rose was lagging behind everyone, slowly trudging up the hill. She had three bucklings last spring!

      As far as prenatal care goes, I suppose the most important thing is to know when your doe was bred and when she is due. Or, I suppose diet tops that. Diet is extremely important for bred milking does. Building kids and making milk puts enormous strain on their bodies. I'm not going to go into great detail on the different kidding related "diseases" in this post, other than to say that the big ones that are diet related are Pregnancy toxemia and Ketosis. The first happens during pregnancy and is caused by inadequate feeding or an excess of grain. Ketosis occurs shortly after kidding, due to the demands of producing milk and most likely not enough grain or feed. Here is a link to a reliable source on signs of these diseases and how to treat them.

      So far we have been fortunate to have healthy does and healthy strong kids through all of our doe pregnancies so far. We did have one disaster two seasons ago where we lost two kids, but I see it as operator error rather than a component lacking in prenatal care. We had a doe that had three kids that were not presenting themselves in the correct position and we waited too long before going in and pulling them out. You can read about it here.

      Our does get as much brome hay as they can eat, twice a day. They like leafy green hay. They do not like fine hay, stemmy hay or brown hay. Contrary to the myth that goats eat anything, goats are in fact extremely picky. The goats have constant access to a loose mineral supplement which is specifically for goats. As far as grain goes, I'm feeding the pregnant does between a half of a pound and a pound (depending on the goat's body condition) of COB, rolled corn, rolled oats and rolled barley. Other options would be to feed goat chow, a pelleted feed containing various grain by products and other supplements which increase the protein content of the feed. I feed a large handful of alfalfa pellets and one of black oil sunflower seeds to the bred does, and a light sprinkling to the dry does. The alfalfa pellets provide a source of protein and most importantly calcium. Sunflower seeds provide vitamin E, and a healthy source of fat and protein. Feeding hay, grain and supplying a loose mineral supplement to pregnant goats may not meet all of their calcium needs. When does don't get enough calcium during pregnancy a condition called Hypocalcemia occurs. I've thought that feeding some alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellets throughout pregnancy should solve this problem. I've been told not to feed calcium during the last few weeks of pregnancy. I've also read to do the opposite. Here is the most recent article I've read on Hypocalcemia, according to this article, I'm not feeding anywhere near enough calcium. Hm.

      I've always purchased Molly's herbal pregnancy tonic to feed the goats during their last five or so weeks of pregnancy. In it are the same herbs you'd find in any pregnancy tea for women; fennel, raspberry leaves, alfalfa, cinnamon and nettles. I've also purchased and fed her herbal dietary supplement year round to everyone which has spirulina, alfalfa, dandelion, nettles and flax seed in it. I've been meaning to feed flax seed and kelp, both of which we buy in fifty pound bags for the chickens, but I've been slacking. We did harvest and dry our own wild raspberry leaves, nettles and dandelion this year. I've just one gallon of each dried. I've been saving them for this time of year. So the pregnant does are getting a small handful of each on top of their grain each morning. This isn't as much as I'd like to have, but it is something. Hopefully next year we can harvest two to three times as much of each of these herbs.

      The only other supplement I'm giving the goats is selenium. Some soil in the interior is deficient in selenium. So there is a good chance our hay is low in selenium. I guess the mineral supplement may not have enough selenium, so it is recommended that goats in low selenium soil areas be given additional selenium. So I buy the selenium/vitamin E gel. About seven weeks before kidding I give the does a dose, then every couple weeks till kidding.

      Other care ideas for pregnant goats is trimming their hooves 5-7 weeks before kidding. The does may have a hard time balancing for hoof trimming closer to their kidding date. If their hooves are too long it will make walking around that much more difficult. And of course exercise is also important for all of us, including pregnant goats. It makes sense that pregnant goats will have healthier kids, less complicated labors and suffer less from the stresses of pregnancy if they get regular exercise.

      Shortly before kidding I give the does a hair trimming around their tail and udder area so that they clean up easier after kidding. About a week before the goat is due, I start putting the doe in her own stall at night and feeling for her tail ligaments. I'll write more about kidding as we get closer. 

      If feeding pregnant does sounds complicated, it kind of is. When you start reading about mineral deficiencies in goats, it does get kind of scary. We would like to think that feeding quality green leafy hay, the right amount of grain, providing fresh water and a constant mineral supplement should be enough to keep goats in healthy condition. However, the reality is that goats were not meant to be confined in small pens and fed dried hay and grain. They are browsers. If you let goats out to pasture in a field of hay, they will look for the weeds, or the browse on the side of the field. They prefer the bark, leaves and branches of trees, the tender tips and buds of shrubs. If you think about the root systems of trees and shrubs, they extend deeper into the ground than hay and grasses, therefor are absorbing higher amounts of nutrients. The standard diet for feeding goats is not their natural diet, and therefor extra measures are needed to make it work.

      If you are new to goats, getting into goats, and especially if this is your first kidding season, I strongly recommend Molly's Fiasco Farm site. I consider her the online goat care bible. She has a comprehensive section on goats kidding and what to expect.

      This year is the letter B for goat names with the American Dairy Goat Association. My favorites so far are Bella, Blue, Bernadette (Bernie), Bridget and Bridie. I've got a disbudding iron and instructions for building a kid box ordered. Other than that I suppose we are ready for kids. I'm enjoying sleeping through the night and not looking forward to waking up for midnight doe checks. Our farm helper will be helping with goat kidding this year as she has been working with the goats regularly since last spring. I'm looking forward to having fresh milk. I don't know why I do this to myself, breed all of our goats and not leave someone in milk to get us through. I figured it was only seven weeks without milk and I had some milk frozen - but it is not the same. I'm looking forward to making pudding and having cream for my tea.

      Wednesday, February 9, 2011

      A February day, and a walk with the Does

      It is shaping up to be a productive day around here. We started off the morning with a friend stopping by before work to breed their fourth and final doe to Zanzibar. I was able to get morning chores done early and out of the way before D headed off to work. The kids and I had oat pancakes with warm homemade applesauce and honey (which was given to us recently by a friend, light and mild, very nice). Now I've got bread dough in the mixer, chicken stock simmering on the stove, and the wood fire burning pleasantly.  To top it off the kids are in good spirits and playing independently. Noah is dressed up in a dragon and a knight costume,  body of a dragon with knight cape, helmet, shield and sword. Avery never wears one thing for long but she has been alternating between a purple tutu, pink fairy wings and pastel silk scarves. I love hearty breakfasts that stick with us through the morning. Nothing like needing another meal by the time I've cleaned up from the previous one. 

      No great ambitions today. The temperature has been warmer, in the twenties. So I'll get the kids out after lunch, clear some snow, fill the bird feeders and take a few does for a walk. I pulled out a chunk of beef to thaw. I've had a serious beef jerky craving. We need to invest in a side of cow. We haven't had much beef lately as it is pretty expensive, especially since we've been buying it at the local meat market, (not feeling up for a big investment in a beef box).

      I've also been in the mood for Indian food. Last night I made a green chicken korma, chicken simmered in a fresh cilantro, mint, nut/coconut sauce. If I'm feeling adventurous this afternoon I think I might make some potato samosas and a mint cilantro chutney. I've been buying one bunch of fresh cilantro every shopping tree. I have a productive pot of mint with the houseplants. I think I miss fresh green herbs more than anything in the winter. Which is one reason why I'll be starting herbs from seed in the next week or so. Some herbs like lavender, rosemary, thyme and oregano take forever to get going. Others like cilantro, parsley and basil are quicker growing. I like to succession plant these later herbs. Start some now with the plan to transplant them and snip at them through the spring. Then I'll start another batch closer to summer. I sow cilantro direct in the greenhouse as well.

      It is looking pretty gray and dreary around here. I'm ready for some green, even if it is just in the kitchen, or under lights indoors. The light is coming back though, and busy days are right around the corner. Here are some pictures from our walk yesterday:

       I'm holding Rose on my left and her daughter Zinnia on my right. Both are due in early March.

       Healthy looking chickens for all they've not seen the sun since November. Blue Ameraucana Rooster in the center, Honey our Cochin on left, Welsummer hen, black Sexlinks, red Sexlinks, black Ameraucana hens, and a couple Rhode island reds. We are getting four to eight eggs a day. Our Welsummer hen that lays
       the darkest eggs is not laying eggs presently.

      Friday, February 4, 2011

      Garden Planning

      I'm finally getting serious about garden planning, now that seed starting is just weeks away. Over the last few years I've gotten better at starting most seeds about the right time, not so early that they grow too leggy or root bound and not so late that they never amount to much. I set up a tall metal rack with five shelves, two sets of four foot long flourescents hanging above each level. I can fit four trays on each level. By the end of spring, some plants have moved outside to harden off in the greenhouse and there is room for a few more trays. Fortunately my husband sees seeds as food security. Therefor I am encouraged to invest in seeds. The last couple years I could have gotten away without ordering seeds as we have such a stock pile - but where is the fun in that?

      Each year I greet the seed catalogs with much anticipation. Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, (and I paraphrase from memory); "that she gazes at seed catalogs with the same misty eyed adoration as some women shop for diamonds." I looked for my copy so I could find the quote, as I do not do it justice. I remember reading that and thinking, she and I were kindred spirits as her words sum up my seed catalog fetish pefectly. I usually wait for a dull January afternoon before beginning to work my way through them, carefully taking notes. Over the course of a couple weeks I narrow my orders down to two or three catalogs.

      This year I've deviated from my norm. I flipped through a couple catalogs and didn't see too much new. So I closely examined the Fedco catalog and have my order ready to place - today hopefully. I'm planning on ordering just from Fedco, so I haven't let myself even open up Territorial or Pine Tree. The greatest temptations will be when Seeds Of Change and Seed Savers come in the mail. They always have great pictures of something unique like hardy quinuoa or some beautiful South American root vegetable I've never heard of.

      Some of the vegetable and flower seeds I've been tempted to try for the first time are Fava Beans, Scarlet Runner Beans, Celeriac, Arnica and Lemongrass. Some varieties I'm trying for the first time are Root Grex Beet, Honey Drop cherry tomato, Melissa Savoy cabbage, Charming Snow Cauliflower, and some different colors of Statice, Strawflowers, and lots of sweet peas, always. I've ordered Scarlett Keeper carrot for the first time in addition to Yellowstone, Atomic Red, Purple Haze and White Satin, all carrots I've grown that I was low on.

      I did not allow myself to order any more radishes, turnips, green beans, peas, greens or broccoli - as I have enough seed for the next several years. Nor did I order any cover crops as I've done the last couple years. I'm going to see what comes back and just observe this year.

      I am growing twice as many beets, carrots and shelling peas this year.The same amount of broccoli and green beans. More cauliflower, cabbage and squash. Less turnips, radishes and rutabagas. No corn! Less bitter greens and chard, more tender mild head and cutting lettuce.  Less full sized tomatoes, and more snacking cherry tomatoes. No leeks or shallots and less onions. Last year I planted over six hundred onion sets. We will be cooking with out own onions through March. As much as I enjoy this, the onions just took up too much garden space - and onions aren't expensive nor are my homegrown onions remarkable in their superior quality, so... I'm ordering two hundred Stuttgarter onion sets. I know it won't be enough to get us to this time of year but there will be more room for other crops. Like, I want a large lusty squash bed. I need to focus on starting medicinal herbs and making sure I plant them in prime locations. I have a habit of forgetting what medicinal herbs I've planted and what it was I was going to do with them. I never got around to harvesting Comfrey, Spilanthes or the Elecampane I grew last summer.

      I'll be starting some herbs in the next week or so, followed by tomatoes, then peppers, eggplant and slow growing flowers. Time to set up that rack. What are you most looking forward to growing this year? What can't you live without? What is new?

      Tuesday, February 1, 2011

      Winter Escape

      We escaped from our winter reality and headed south to Kauai for a couple weeks. This was our second trip to Kauai. We got married there five years ago. We went to the big Island when Noah was two. It was our first vacation with a kid, and it was so much more work than we were use to. This vacation we had both my mother in law and my parents there, making our trip much more relaxing and enjoyable. Everyday was sunny and gorgeous with temperatures in the seventies and eighties. Our idea of vacation is to relax, cook and eat lots of local fruit, fish and veggies, watch the kids play and soak up as much sun as possible. We spent almost every morning on the beach. Stocked up on lots of local veggies and fruit at the Farmer's market. We grilled fish almost nightly, Ahi, Mahi Mahi, Opah and Ono.

      It was a true escape from reality, not only the cold, but a break from the computer as well as local, national and world news. Ah... The only bummer of the vacation is my camera was stolen out of our condo, while we were there! So I'm missing both my old camera and all the pictures I took the first ten days.

      The increase in daylight is noticeable here. The sun should be hitting our property soon. It will be time to start seeds soon. All the animals are well. Our first does begin kidding in early March. We've come back rested, refreshed and re-energized.  I'm inspired and excited for spring. Enjoy the pictures!