Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice celebration and Christmas preparations

Decorating cookies.

 Candlemaking, beeswax tapers.

 Compiling various homemade gifts, soap, candles, lotion, lip balm and felted purses and other creations.

I have never worked much with wool until this winter. The easiest quickest things to make ended up being purses. I wet felted sheets during the day and after the kids went to bed, I would needle felt, sew the sides and add a clasp or button. 

We celebrated solstice with a bonfire, marshmallows,  a few fireworks, glow rings and night sledding.

Happy late Solstice, Merry Christmas and best wishes for your Holiday Season!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Morning goat milking routine

Our goat milking routine and our milking area have evolved dramatically over the past four years. Prior to milking my own goats, I had never milked a goat or seen anyone milk a goat. I learned by trial and error, after reading online about how to milk a goat. Thankfully I have a local goat expert I was able to consult when I had challenges such as what to do when the new milkers were putting on a rodeo while I tried to milk them.

My first summer milking the does, I milked on any level place I could find in the garden, that was in the sun, as the mosquitoes are not as bad away from the shade. I moved the milk stand into the greenhouse, in between the tomatoes and winter squash when it rained. In the winter, I milked outside their pen, in as cold of weather as thirty below zero. I tried milking in their stall, but it was too much work to move the stand in and out. When I tried to leave it in their stall, they ate it.

My second summer, I milked inside a large tent that had a roof with mesh walls. It kept the rain and mosquitoes out. The doe stall and milking tent were above the garden which is about a hundred steep yards above the house. I would walk up with Avery on my back, either carrying the totes, pail and teat dip, and Noah walking along beside, or I'd pull behind a wagon. Either way, it was a tremendous amount of work just to get up the hill. When I look back on it, I think I was absolutely crazy - maybe I still am. I did have friend's coming up a couple days out of the week to help with milking, so I think I usually was just up there three to four days a week with both kids. I kept a play and pack in the tent in which I'd put nine month Avery in when she'd let me. Otherwise she was on my back. I would bob up and down singing to pacify her. Two year old Noah was often a big help shaking rattles for her and such. That winter we moved the does into a barn below our house. I was able to milk in an unheated, uninsulated, door-less structure, that at least kept the wind and snow out.

This last year has been more of the same. Until this fall when the structure-(the downstairs to our new addition on to our current house - he calls it "the man cave") now boasts windows, a door, slate floor and most impressively; a large efficient wood stove.

Our milking area is going to continue to change and improve for some time, as I imagine will our milking and feeding regime. But this is where we are at now. The above picture is what our current grain mixture looks like on morning three after soaking and almost sprouting the grains.

  1. Morning 1, Soak 3pts whole barley, 2 pts whole oats, 2 pts black oil sunflower seeds, 1 pt hard red winter wheat berries. Stir in 1/2 cup home brewed kombucha vinegar. (about 32 cups grain, guessing about nine pounds?)
  2. Night 1, drain grains into five gallon bucket with holes, inside a hole less five gallon bucket.
  3. Morning 2, rinse grains and leave sit till the following morning.
  4. Morning 3 stir in 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup Diamond V Nutritional yeast supplement. I feed each milker 8-10 cups of grain mixture, about 2 - 21/2 pounds 
Note, as the grain soak and swell, the weight of the grain increases. I usually have several cups leftover of soaked grain mix. I take it up to the bucks when I'm done milking, who each get between two and three cups. The chickens also get a couple scoops most mornings. Usually the sunflower seeds are sprouted. If I wait another morning the oats and barley sprout, but by then the grains are starting to get a bit funky, which the does do not like. In the future I may play around with drying the rinsed grains in a shallower wider tub that allows for better air circulation. I recently added the vinegar to help combat funky grains - and I figured it could only help improve digestion and nutritional value.

 I have two does that look like they could use some extra calories, and I often give them extra grain. I recently bought a bag of beet pulp that I've been introducing slowly. When the goats are done with their grain I put a cup of beet pulp in their dish. Some of them eat it and some don't, but they seem to be growing more fond of it. I have heard that it should help keep the weight on. The main concern seems to be that all beet pulp is made from genetically modified beets. Right now, I'm more concerned with providing food that meets their nutritional needs.

In addition to the grain, the goats receive Brome hay, free choice, twice daily, Alfalfa nightly, about a couple pounds per head. They have mineral feeders with Sweetlix dairy goat mineral supplement, baking soda and kelp granules.

Here is just a random shot of what I've got thawing, soaking and sprouting the morning I was taking pictures. On the left is a gallon of Copper River Red fish eggs, thawing for the chickens. I've been feeding about a gallon a week in an attempt to meet their protein needs- they love em. In the middle are organic whole peas soaking for the chickens, another protein boost. On the right is the next day's goat grain ration.

I am slightly embarrassed to take pictures from this angle, not because of goat's hind ends, but rather for how messy the other end of the room is. But it is a work in progress. We currently do not have a garage, or very many places to store things safely, out of the rain, snow and cold etc. So at the end of the room are our back up refrigerator, two chest freezers (which will someday be outside), and lots of tools. The far side of this room will be our future milk area, with a poured concrete floor and drains, as opposed to the slate floor, which was intended for the family/game room, currently the milking area.

Zuri on the right and her ADOPTED daughter, Bali on the left. For the last six weeks or so, I've been bringing out the doelings with the milkers, to get them used to the milking stand, and get them handled frequently. We tend to handle the doelings a lot their first few months, and then slack off. They turn into wild things quickly. Last year we had three first fresheners. Zuri was amazing about behaving on the milk stand. Asia was ok. Zinnia has been horrible, but is now much improved. I take the blame for not handling her enough as a yearling. She did not want us near her kids nor herself. She would try and bite us when we first starting milking her. Most mornings with Zinnia are uneventful, but she tends to be a bit jumpy and gets nervous easily. I don't think I am ever going to make the time to work with Zinnia through her fear's, which I why I am most likely selling her this spring. Anyway, I have learned from my mistakes, and we are now handling the doelings daily in hopes that they will be more bonded with us during their first labors, and better behaved milkers from the start.
Milk pail under goat, ready for milking. I'm a huge fan of this half moon lid, keeps most debris out. Before I start to milk, I clean the does teats and udder with a warm soapy rag, (solution of tea tree oil, grape fruit seed extract and lavender Dr. Bronners hemp castille soap). I discard the first few streams of milk into an old quart yogurt tub just for that purpose, but I have plans to buy a stainless steel strip cup with the woven mesh inset soon.

Bali, who is the only doeling I am definitely not planning on breeding this year. She was born in April and the runt of triplets and is just too small.

This is how I cool the milk while I milk the rest of the does. It works very well. Cold water, ice packs. I happen to have chest freezer space close by which makes this more convenient than if I had to carry them from the house.

To any non farmer, this area looks a mess. But just about everything here is needed; medical supplies, nutritional supplements, gallon jars of dried herbs and legumes for sprouting, etc. Note my gallon jar of teat dip, left on the counter, my notebook in which I write down everyone's yield, and my clean pail and tote top right.

Bramble Rose left, and dam, Rose on right.

Above, is the notorious Zinnia. I don't mean to make her sound horrible. She can be very sweet. I think she is a very pretty doe, and her udder and teats are great for a first timer. One teat is lopsided because of an incident with her doelings nursing on only one side early on. The milk flows out easily which is one of the best parts.

Xanadu on the left, Zinnia on the right. I usually finish milking the does before they finish their grain, so I stagger them. I take the doeling out and bring the next doe in. I started with Bramble and Rose, then took Bramble out, gave Rose extra grain, brought Zinnia in, then took Rose out, gave Zinnia extra grain and brought Xan in. They don't always eat all their grain, and I don't always think they need extra, it just depends on the goat and how they are looking to me that day. 
After all the does are back in their pen, I toss hay, haul water, sometimes sweep and mop depending on how wet the floor already is, then put the ice packs back and haul the milk and used towels up to the house. I didn't always chill the milk and instead would process milk and then have to go back out and clean up, toss hay etc. The milk cools better in the cooler than it does in the fridge or sitting outside or in the snow, so I don't feel as rushed any more to get the milk processed as it is chilling already. Usually I mix and rinse grain in between milking goats, so that is done already. I take a bucket of extra grain up to the chickens and bucks.

And that is a typical morning. As always I am interested in how other goat owners go about things, so feel free to add in your two cents, or to ask any questions if I left anything out. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Darkest of Days

If I'd been listening to the news, I would know down to the minute how much light we received today. Instead I'm going to guess about five and a half hours of total daylight, which was not very light at all, but rather a dusky gray sort of day, getting dimmer before I'd hardly finished my outside chores. I haven't seen the sun in several days, but it has been very warm (for us), twenties, both are results of the overcast skies, which keep the heat in and and the sun out.

I've been promising informational posts for some time now, and alas, this is just another update of how we are surviving these dark winter days. The truth is that I've made some significant changes in our daily routine, namely reducing and almost eliminating television from the kid's day. Television is now reserved for sick days, special family movie nights, emergencies and breeding goats (D and I go up the hill to wrangle goats and the kid's get a bonus). We have replaced morning PBS t.v. with quality family time, morning songs, stories and visiting. At times the transition was rough, but now the kids are playing better than ever. The kids are spending so much time playing so well together (we are talking hours upstairs playing legos) that I am loathed but forced to interrupt them for meals and lessons. I use to write first thing in the morning while the kid's watched t.v. and I drank my tea. Now, I seem to hit the ground running, making and serving breakfast before my tea has cooled. Then out to do farm chores, which is where I find my solace.

I have been thinking that I have too much going on in my life. I spend too much time feeding and caring for animals, and not enough time with my family. I need to be a wife and mother first, and a farmer second. I am not sure what needs to go or if anything does. I do know that I must spend more time with my children. I am around them all day, but I am cleaning and cooking, while they play on their own. I am reminding myself daily to go simpler on the meals, and not get overly ambitious in the kitchen. We don't need three hot meals a day. The kids would rather have me as a playmate than have elaborate meals.

Homeschooling has been a welcome addition to our daily routine. I am really enjoying sitting down and working with Noah. I am planning lots of crafts and activities to do together with the kids. This week Noah and I learned how to finger knit. Dustin surprised me with our first Christmas tree this week. In the past we've decorated potted Norfolk pines and cut out paper trees and taped them to the wall. Never felt like we had the room for a tree. Guess we got tired of waiting to have the space so we made it happen. Today we made homemade ornaments for the Christmas tree out of play dough that we cut out with cookie cutters, baked and then painted. I also made a wreath out of the trees lower boughs for the table, and attempted to make a nativity scene out of play dough which didn't quite work out as I intended. I have bought beeswax in bulk for dipping candles, natural wool roving for felting projects and wool animals, and some small wood figurines to make nativity scene characters.

In the evenings I have been knitting gifts, reading, or indulging in movies with Dustin. I am already thinking that I should start next year's Christmas gifts this coming January. As there is so much I want to make and I am not very realistic. I have red yarn for a neck warmer for Noah. I bought some specialty buttons, in combination with the wool roving I'm planning on making a wallet for Noah and a purse for Avery. I also wanted to make them some dress up hats, masks or crowns as they spend half their days playing pirates or knights and princesses.

Here are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving and Dark days:

kid's felting coil bracelet's

Our twenty-four pound turkey hen. Brined with salt and herbs, stuffed and rubbed with herbs. It was a lovely as a turkey gets, thanks to my mom who cooked it perfectly.

The prettiest rolls I've ever made.

Avery, cousin Aiden and Noah.

Tips for anyone feeling down from the dark days: get outside if you can while it is light, light candles when you are inside, bake cookies, start a good book or a new craft, curl up with a seed catalog - I've already gotten two! Get together with friends for a meal, simmer up some mulled spiced wine or cider - add a splash of dark rum or not, if the sun doesn't hit your house, drive your car somewhere and park and let the sun shine on your face while you close your eyes and dream of lying on the beach. If all else fails; go to the tanning beds - seriously.

I almost forgot, last night we saw the Aurora for the first time this year. A long green ribbon trailing across the north sky, undulating this way and that. Hello dark winter nights.