Sunday, August 24, 2014

The goats and tough decisions

Yep, this is my third post in one night. I was working myself up for this one. I know I've been absent for quite some time and part of that is the nature of summer and homesteading. But I've also been making some tough decisions and haven't been ready to talk or write about them. I went into this year with plans to downsize our dairy goat herd. A couple years ago our numbers were way up and we've been steadily decreasing in size. This winter we got down to six does. We bred all six in hopes that we could keep a few favorites, sell the rest and be back down to three to four milkers this fall and not do any re-breeding this fall, just milk through next year and take a spring of kids etc. Well, selling goats has proved to be way more challenging than I thought. I started off with high prices with the intent of lowering as needed. Well, I've lowered and lowered and have come to realize that there is very little demand for goats here in the Interior.

 I was not intending on milking five does all summer every morning. Nor was I thinking I'd have to reduce my prices to nothing and end up begging people to take my goats off my hands. Fortunately I got in touch with an acquaintance who is now becoming a friend. She had expressed interest in downsizing from a cow to goats, but wasn't quite ready yet. However, we have been working together these past few weeks and I think we've worked out a pretty perfect arrangement (for me). She is going to buy my three favorite dearest milkers (Xanadu, Zuri and Denali). Then I am going to invest into her shareholder program and I will be able to pick up their milk weekly. In addition, she is nearby so we will be able to visit and we've been asked to goat sit already and do milking chores for a couple weeks this winter. I can't speak highly enough of this person. She is a planner and has been going above and beyond to prepare to have goats.

Meanwhile, I have been switching the milkers over from whole grains to goat chow, to keep things simple for her. She has dropped off her milking machine which I am turning on while I milk the goats to get them used to the noise. If all goes well, the girls will be heading to their new home this week. I am turning two gallons of milk into chevre daily, mixing yesterday's cheese, rolling and freezing it, washing cheese cloths, dumping yesterday's cheese to hang and culturing a new batch. So, my mornings are full of goats and milking and cheese, but not for long.

As far as the other goats go. That leaves Camelot and Dahlia for milkers.  A nice couple came up to look at Cammie this weekend and are thinking about buying her. I also have four doelings to sell and am going to focus my efforts on selling them - at least two of them. Of course everyone who comes out falls in love with my two favorites, who I have vowed will be the last goats to leave the property. Some days we talk about keep Ember and Eden and breeding them this fall. The benefits are that I still have goats, but get to take a winter off milking and we spend a lot less money on hay and grain. I keep my foot in the goat door, and can make a decision in the spring as to whether we want to get out completely or start following my own advice; keep our numbers small and stick to milking two doe.

The main reasons for taking a break from goats are cost as well as time and energy. I would love to have extra spending money for other things, and right now and for the last several years we just haven't had much extra money for fun things or I should add, for big things like finishing our house. I spend a lot of time getting milk and right now we are hardly eating any dairy. After our cleanse, both Dustin and I are getting congested and dealing with a lot of mucus in our throat and ears when we eat dairy.

 I have spent more and more time fantasizing about what else I could be doing with my time; I could have a morning yoga practice or do my homeschool planning before the kids wake up, but instead my first hour of the day is spent with the goats. Don't get me wrong, to have spent seven years of my mornings this way I had to have loved this lifestyle and I do. I love my goats and I love the routine of milking and having my own milk and being in control of what goes into my goats to make their milk. At the same time, I've realized I don't have to stop indefinitely. I could just take a break.

So, I'm keeping a milk stand and will be packing away all my goat stuff and milking supplies in tubs before winter. We are going to save a lot of money. And I am going to make time for myself. Over the past several years, we didn't set aside a budget for things like doctor appointments or dentist appointments. I haven't been able to afford taking yoga classes. You can bet I've already got a list of things I want to spend money on like a new juicer and a new blender. And I'm already planning a road trip for next summer because all we'll have to work out is for Dustin to take off work, but we won't need a combination of two or more house sitter, farm sitter and goat milkers to take over my jobs for the week.

For a good part of this summer I haven't thought about much else other than goats, and what to do with them and whether I could actually give them up or not. They've become a part of my identity. We got our first goats when Noah was one year old. I've been milking in the morning's since I was pregnant with Avery. My kids don't know a life without goats. I don't think they can imagine it. We are all going to miss them so much, but not having them will open new doors. We will be able to do so many other fun things now. So, it may seem like sad news, but I'm getting past the sad part and moving on to feeling very free and liberated. Of course, I'll keep you posted :)

Family Blerry Picking Day

 We don't get away from the homestead much in the summer. Dustin usually works six days a week and then his one day off is spent butchering chickens, repairing goat fences, and most recently taking down and processing dead trees in around the house. We decided to at least get away for a day trip and combine business with pleasure. So we drove out to OUR :) favorite out of town blueberry spot (which was a longer drive than necessary but was bangin). We picked berries for two and half hours and then as we drove back we stopped at one of our favorite road side river campgrounds.

It was one of the most perfect berry picking days. Seventies and sunny ( I don't know why that crazy boy is wearing a hoody). I only saw one mosquito the entire afternoon. There were way more berry pickers out there than usual which I find quite obnoxious when you drive that far. There are berries everywhere and frequent pull offs and newcomers end up parking and picking within eyesight of us - ergh! Anyhoo, it was still lovely.

The kids both helped pick more so than in past years. We ended up with close to five gallons of blueberries. I picked on two other separate occasions and then found quite a bit of berries still in the freezer from last year. So I believe we are up to twelve gallon freezer bags of berries which will be enough for us. Now we are picking raspberries. I've been to the Upick twice and look forward to peaceful picking at a friend's this week.

Hot Dogs and marshmallows.

One of those summer family days we won't ever forget.

Garden update

Considering that this has been a record setting summer for cool and rainy weather here in Fairbanks, I'm pretty content with this year's harvest. Yes, everything is late, and the heat lovers did poorly, super poorly; as in no or very few squash, tomatoes, cukes or beans for this gardener. However, the carrots are bigger than usual and we are digging a decent number of potatoes. It has been a good summer for most root crops and greens. The celery loved the wet weather. I'm glad I planted more zucchini than I thought we could eat, as every other zucchini has been succumbing to mold. I've resorted to buying tomatoes and cucumbers at the Farmer's market and am already trying to figure out where I might erect a greenhouse next summer for the squash and cukes.

 The Brassicas did well. I have some of the largest cabbages I've ever had and some of the smallest. One bed must have gotten way more manure dumped on it.

 I think next year I'll try to make do with two rows of peas instead of three, but it is hard as we've got soup peas and snap peas in one row, and then one of the two rows of shelling peas has several feet of sweet peas...

This picture was from late July; carrot thinnings, bolting beets and broccoli.

 I find eggs so beautiful, especially in baskets.

July Kimchi in the making

Pile of cilantro.

I heard that there was a frost advisory for low lying areas a couple of nights ago. Looking around at my garden and thinking that it has all got to be harvested over the next five weeks is overwhelming to say the least. Right now I'm picking peas and zucchini every few days. Greens as needed. There are so many crops that will continue to get bigger until the end and will store better in the ground anyways. Once we get close to a frost in the hills I'll start harvesting and pulling the heat lovers that aren't doing much anyways. Then I'll try to ration out the carrot pulling over the course of a couple weeks. So much work to do, but such a satisfying time of year!