Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shut up about the snow already!

March in the Adirondacks is ubiquitous for two things: snow, and people complaining about the snow. It snows a lot in March in the mountains. March is one of the wetter months of the year and typically still well below freezing which equals snow storms a plenty. Unfortunately March gets a bad rap because it is a snowy month in a long line of snowy months. Some years it starts snowing in October and doesn’t stop until May. For most of the US, March signals flowers and sunshine. People start getting their gardens ready and are doing Spring clean-up outside. Not here. Nope. Here we are still shoveling and still salting the ice. And we have two more months of this by the time March rolls around. It doesn’t technically look like Spring around here until May. And even that is anti-climactic because “Spring” in the Adirondacks is also known as “Mud Season”. It’s not flowers and sunshine, that’s for sure. It’s boot sucking mud and car killing pot holes. I always joke that Spring in the Adirondacks is actually Fall in reverse. We don’t get those lovely days of birds singing and flowers blooming. We just get the snow melting and the leaves coming back out on the trees. Fall in reverse… Not very spectacular…. 

People like to complain about the March snow. I am always surprise when native Adirondackers do it because you think they would be prepared at this point for two more months of winter. I am not a native Adirondacker and I love the March snow. It’s the perfect snow! There’s so much you can do with the packy, wet snow in March that it is very useful. Here are some examples:

1.       Clean dirty chicken eggs – take a dirty egg and rub it with some fresh snow. The chicken poop and dirt comes right off.

2.       Clean water buckets and food bowls – Rub a handful or two of snow inside any buckets or bowls to be clean, then swish out with fresh water. Works great!

3.       Rejuvenate throw rugs – Drag your dirty, dusty throw rugs outside and lay them in the snow upside down. Stomp on them to smash them into the snow. Pick up the rug and move to fresh snow and repeat until the stomped snow is clean and the rug is not dirty anymore. 

4.       Milk cooler – I love milking goats in March because I can instantly cool down the milk. I just cover the milk bucket with a lid and pop it in the nearest snow bank while I finish the chores. I don’t have to rush into the house to cool down the milk. I can take my time and finish chores in a leisurely fashion while the snow cools the milk for me. 

5.       Leftover dinner storage – I don’t have a huge fridge so when I make a giant pot of stew, I have nowhere to store it unless I put it into dozens of smaller containers. In March I can put the stew out on the porch and not have to worry about it going bad (I do have to worry that the dogs don’t get into it!). 

6.       Cake cooling – March is a great time to bake a cake because you can cool it down for frosting by taking the cake pans outside and putting them in a snow bank for a few minutes. This also works well for any other types of food you have to cool down in a hurry. 

7.       Snowmen armies – Since March tends to be slightly warmer than the preceding months, the snow can be sticky and wet. This is the perfect snowman snow. It packs and stacks. It’s perfect!

8.       Snowshoeing and skiing – One great thing about getting to March is that it is finally light out longer in the evening. There’s time to enjoy being outside after work and after dinner is done. This is the best time to strap on snowshoes or skis and hit the trail. Plus it is warmer so you don’t have to pack on 10 extra pounds of fleece and wool to be comfortable.

For all of you grumbling about March snows, hang in there. May will be here soon! Meanwhile, you might as well suck it up and enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Easter Baby Syndrome

If you cruise Craigslist or the classified ads this time of year you will see lots of ads for baby goats for sale starting at 3 days old. The babies are plentiful and cheap ($10 - $50 each). This is great if you are an experience goat owner and maybe you have some other babies from your own herd to bottle feed. Adding one more kid or a few more to the bottle feeding pile is not a stretch. Unfortunately, this is a terrible idea if you are new to goats and have never raised a baby goat before on a bottle. Baby goats are super cute and the temptation to go and buy a couple for $10 a piece is huge. But baby goats need an extraordinary amount of care in order to survive into adulthood.

Any goats under 8 weeks old will need to be bottle fed milk or milk replacer in order to survive. Bottle feeding a baby goat is not always very easy. There's a lot that can go wrong for a novice goat owner. Unless you already have goats or have a close neighbor with goats, the likelihood of having a fresh supply of goat milk is very little. So you will have to use milk replacer. Unfortunately most goat milk replacers are not actually healthy for baby goats. Milk replacers tend to be made up of all sorts of ingredients that don't include milk. These ingredients add necessary fats or proteins or vitamins and minerals to the replacer, but they don't always end up as a digestible form of milk. One of the things that makes goat milk so unique is that it is differently formulated than most other mammalian milk. It is easier to digest and contains different proteins than cow milk. It has a very high mineral and vitamin content compared to many other milks. This makes it great for using as a "universal foster" milk for most other mammals. Everything from calves to puppies can typically survive on a diet of just goat milk. The flip side of this digestibility is that baby goats are adapted to drinking this universal milk and don't do well on anything other than goat milk. It's very hard for a new goat owner to feed milk replacer and get it right the first time without major digestion issues and even fatalities.

The second problem with buying truckloads of young baby goats is that baby goats are all born with horns. There are very few naturally hornless baby goats in the world. Horns aren't generally a problem until the goat gets 6 months old or so. By that time you are very attached to your little baby but now she is a weapon-wielding, dangerous animal. Even extremely friendly goats can accidentally gore someone with a sharp horn. Most of the ads I see don't include disbudding (horn removal) at the time of sale.

The third problem is that there are a myriad of parasites who love to colonize goats under 6 months old. Experienced goat owners know kids are constantly plagued by parasite problems and have developed elaborate prevention rituals to try to keep the baby goats from getting sick. Novice goat owners typically don't realize how many parasites they are dealing with until the kids start dropping dead or get very, very sick. Parasites are nasty monsters that enjoy killing baby goats in order to reproduce and spread to other goats. They are hard to stop once a baby goat is fully colonized with them. The best thing you can do is to try to stop full colonization with preventative treatments. Parasite prevention takes a lot of knowledge and research to come up with a plan for your herd.

A final problem is a problem inherent in any cheap baby animals for sale. They are super, super, super cute! Most people have a very hard time passing by a pen full of baby chicks, or kittens, or baby goats without stopping to "Oooh" and "Awww". And if the babies are for sale at a very cheap rate, many people have a hard time leaving without buying one or two or TEN! This creates a huge problem once the baby animals grow up and aren't so cute anymore. Add to that some less than desirable personality traits that tend to surface as a baby goat gets older, like fence jumping or head-butting, and you have a recipe for disaster. For every one ad I see on Craigslist in March for baby goats for sale, I see three ads in August for 6 month old goats for sale because the owners realized they aren't ready for adult goats and all the hard work they require. I call this the "Easter Baby Syndrome". It's when people start feeling springtime in the air and they go out and buy baby chicks or baby bunnies or baby goats because they are small and super cute. Fast forward to 6 months later and the landlord is pissed you have three goats in your bathroom and you find out your town has a "no chickens" rule and your kid hasn't cleaned the rabbit cage in 5 weeks. Now you are stuck trying to find a home for these animals. No one wants them because they aren't cute anymore so you give them away to anyone who shows the slightest interest.

I don't approve of selling baby goats before they are weaned unless it is a personal sale to another goat owner who is aware of what they are getting into. I don't approve of over-producing baby goats and not being ready to raise them until weaning. I know many dairies dump baby goats (especially males) because they need the milk and don't need the kids but they should have a more responsible plan in place to dispose of unwanted kids.

Friday, March 8, 2013


This is the plan for 2013 for the farm and garden and such. I like to plan stuff, especially this time of year when there is lots of sun and warmer temperatures but still 12 friggin' inches of snow on the ground so you can't do anything with the buildup of new found energy, except make plans. My plans have ways of not working out all the time (um, you have read this blog before, right?!) but I still can't help myself get all excited as new plans start popping into my head. Sometimes I even try to believe that if I think of a plan and then write it down, it might actually come true. Probably not, but anyway, here goes...
The Farm PLAN:

Goats - I have finally mashed it into my brain hard enough to realize that I can only keep FOUR adult goats. Four goats may barely qualify as a herd for some people, but that's all I can manage with the size of my barn and the length of my patience. Right now I have six adult goats and I am losing my marbles over it. Two of the six are pregnant and I have no where to go with the kids when they come. If I had four goats I would have one pen free for the babies. But with six goats, I have no pens free for anything. So I decided to get rid of two goats this week. I was originally thinking of trying to dump find good homes for my two oldest Alpine does.

One of the does is pregnant and I really, really need her milk this year to make soap and feed her kids. She can't leave the farm until at least the fall so planning to get rid of her won't help out the immediate situation at all. The other doe is retired from breeding due to being a 9 year old, super high production, mastitis prone, large uddered, hard to milk beasty. She's been my solid herd queen for 9 years and I love her dearly but I am not set up to be a nursing home for old goats who can't contribute to the farm anymore. I know this sounds harsh but it's the truth. I thought about butchering her but realized that she doesn't have enough meat on her to justify the time spent processing her myself, nor the money spent sending her somewhere for someone else to do it.

At first I was thinking that if I could find an adoptive home for the old goat and then sell the other Alpine in the fall after milking season was over, that would be a good plan. But then I got to looking at my younger does who I was planning on keeping for next year's breeding. The one is a Saanen doeling that a friend gave me. She is huge and gorgeous and should be a spectacular breeder and milker. The other is an Alpine doeling who is the daughter of my 9 year old Alpine. She has gorgeous coloring but unfortunately never filled out they way she should have. At one year old she should look like the Saanen with a long, straight back and good flesh to her. Instead she short-backed and frumpy. I keep waiting for her to lengthen out and start looking like a dairy goat, but she hasn't yet. Comparing the Saanen and the Alpine side-by-side is a painful exercise in what not to look for in a dairy goat. It finally dawned on me that selling my older bred Alpine who has a great udder and dependably gives birth to healthy kids, for the sake of this younger goat who doesn't look very promising, is a stupid idea. Why sacrifice the known for the sake of the unknown?

Thus both the 9 year old Alpine and her yearling daughter found themselves listed on Craigslist this week. I was shocked delighted to get a call that night from someone who wanted both of them. The guy raises and trains LGDs (Livestock Guardian Dogs) in the form of Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees. He has one goat but wanted to get a few more to help with the training. He is not necessarily interested in breeding the goats but doesn't mind if that is a possibility. It sounds like an amazing fit for a retired goat and a frumpy yearling.

This means that my herd will soon consist of one pregnant Boer goat, one pregnant Alpine goat, one wethered Angora, and one yearling Saanen doe. The Boer goat is part of my new plan. She was purchased this winter with the hope of producing a buckling that I can use for breeding to my dairy girls in the fall. I have decided that I don't want to produce kids for selling or for my own herd proliferation. There is a huge goat community in this area with tons of really dedicated dairy goat producers within two hours of my farm. I don't need to be flooding the market with my piddly kids. Also I can save myself a ton of hassle by just buying new breeding stock when I need it instead of working so hard to produce kids who may or may not amount to anything by weaning time. I will still have kids each year and give them the best care, but the pressure will be a lot lower because I will be producing meat kids for butchering and not production kids for milking. I won't have to worry as much about conformation or shape or even CAE, for that matter, because they will all be going into the freezer in the fall. I much prefer eating my kid goats over struggling to find them good homes and then hoping that those homes will work out for them in the long run. After a few years of seeing goats, wethers especially, neglected and mistreated, I would really prefer to know where my little male goat kids have found a final place to stay (IN MY BELLY!).

Garden - My garden is kind of an inside joke at my house. I am the laziest gardener in the history of gardening. I don't weed, I refuse to thin plants, I don't usually remember to water the plants, and I much prefer to buy stuff half grown from the local greenhouse than ever try to start stuff from seed myself. I just plop the plants or seeds in the dirt and wish them luck. The one thing I am diligent about is mulching. I use my dirty goat pen bedding for mulch on my garden. Add this one to the lazy list though, because I mulch my garden because it is easier to dump the manure in my garden than in my manure pile. I don't really care what the beneficial effects of mulch hay are for my garden plants but I really get excited over the beneficial effects on my back of dumping the stuff in the garden versus my hard to get to manure pile.

This year the plan is to get slightly more professional in my gardening. Last year I had a great garden that grew crazy amounts of stuff with very little effort on my part. The problem was that the deer and woodchucks gained more benefit from the garden than I did. After the "Great Carrot Debacle" of 2012 where the deer actually dug up every single one of my carrots from all three rows, I have decided to buck up and buy some dedicated garden fencing. I am going to get a roll of PoultryNet PLUS from Premier Fence. I use their ElectroNet for the goats and totally love it. It's electrified netting fence that is very easy to move and manipulate but it runs about 3000 volts through it so the goats do not even test it. The PoultryNet PLUS has smaller holes than the goat fencing and it has the posts closer together to prevent sag. It comes in shorter lengths than the goat stuff so I can get a piece that will fit perfectly around my garden. And I now don't need the solar fence charger for the goats since I bought the "Zap-o-matic" Zareba 100-mile shock-your-socks-off plug-in charger for the goat fencing last year. I can put up the garden fence and hook it to the solar charger and hopefully not have to worry about deer or woodchucks again.

The other reason for getting the fencing for the garden is that I can put the chickens into the garden area in the spring and leave them there for a few days. They don't normally venture all the way to the garden when they are free-ranging so if  I put up a fence, throw a dog house for shelter in there, and stick the chickens in, they can stay in there and prep my garden for planting while being safe from the resident foxes who live across the street (yet another reason the chickens don't go to the garden now. I don't let them free-range a lot because foxes think free-range chicken is a great meal!).

Speaking of chickens, I hope to upgrade the chicken pen a little this spring. I found a great idea on the internet a few months ago where a guy took some 2X4s and made frames and then put hardware mesh over the frames and laid them down in his chicken runs. Then he seeded under the frames with grass seed. The grass seed grew protected under the frames. Any grass that grew out of the top of the frames was eaten by the chickens but the chickens could not get to the seeds and destroy them. Anyone who's kept chickens in the same run for a few months knows that nothing escapes the chickens and is allowed to grow under the watchful eyes of 10 hungry hens. My chicken run is currently a bare dirt pen with not a speck of green at all (unless you count the green chicken sh!@#$). I happen to have a 2X4 frame with hardware mesh already on it. It was a leftover from a long ago dirt-sifting project. I had been holding onto this frame for years because I am not one to toss out perfectly good pieces of wood or hardware mesh. So this spring the used dirt-sifter will become my new chicken grass grower. I can't wait to get the stupid dirt-sifter out of my barnyard help the chickens have something fun to eat!

So that's the PLAN. Now that I have written it down, this means it must come true, right??! I'll keep you posted!!

Monday, March 4, 2013


I am suffering from a strong case of T.M.D.G. (Too Many Darn Goats). This is a seasonal disorder that strikes goat farmers small and large in the fall and the spring of the year. The disease comes on gradually during these times of year, but illness can be induced at any time by the addition of one or more animals to the goat herd. The symptoms include:

Dizziness - while trying to count all your goats

 Nausea - when looking at the feed bill

Anxiety - about hoof trimming and vaccination days

Increased heart rate - during pen cleaning

Unexpected weight gain – from drinking all that extra goat milk

Unexpected weight loss – from chasing new additions around the pastures

Knee or back pain – while moving all those hay bales to feed the goats

Headaches – from trying to figure out where to put all your goats

Symptoms can be alleviated by the subtraction of one or more goats from the goat herd. Also applications of large sums of money tend to provide temporary relief through building a bigger barn or more goat houses. The only permanent cure is the removal of all goats from the farm.