Sunday, May 20, 2018

Feeding Protocols at Owl Tree Farm

This is Ruby's "can I have some more?" face.

I’ve been asked to share my feeding protocols for the goats here at Owl Tree Farm, so I’m going to take some time to write about both what I feed and why I feed it. Just as a side note, my current farmhand takes home milk each week and a few weeks ago she also purchased some goat’s milk from another farm. She and her family decided to do a side by side taste test to compare (something I’ve never actually done). They concluded that my milk was better and tasted “fresher.” I attribute my high quality milk to the feeding protocols that I have in place.

This regimen has developed over years and the rationale for doing it this way comes both from my extensive research and my personal experience and observations. First, let me say that you don’t have to get to 100% immediately. You also don’t have to do it my way; it’s not necessarily the right way for everyone, but it works for us. Start slow, observe your goats, add and subtract, modify and adjust until you get it right.

To start with let’s talk about the methods we use. For the boys (we have two barns with five boys between them) we measure out a small amount of food and pour it in a trough. They have to duke it out to get feed. This feed is likely not at all necessary for them, so no one worries about the jostling too much because they all get some (and they are all well-fed chubby bubbies). The feed might not be necessary, but it does two things. First, it keeps the boys trained to coming in at night and distracts them enough for us to shut the doors on them. During rutting season they are wild and rambunctious, but are always willing to come in to eat. Second, it allows us to add in supplements every day that they otherwise wouldn’t get. So, the boys get some small amount of feed (I’ll elaborate on feed in a moment) and about a 1/4 cup of black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) and they get Tablespoons each of: flax seed meal, kelp, and minerals. Every couple of weeks I spend a few minutes measuring the supplements out into 4oz jars. We scoop out the feed, dump a jar, shake it, then dump in the trough. Feeding boys is easy-peasy and they get some extra nutrients this way.

The method we use for the girls is much different. It can be laborious and tedious, but this works for us. We have 9 girls in the milking barn, each has a collar and lead that she wears ONLY when she eats. In the evening we systematically collar and tether the girls to their “spots.” We do this in order of crankiness, so if someone is being a jerk she gets hooked up first. The last one to get hooked up is generally the mellowest girl or the one that is being picked on (goats do this for various reasons, but mostly because they are jerks). 

Once the girls are hooked up they are fed their own special rations in their own buckets. This allows us to feed the fat girls very little, but still give them supplements. Though we only milk in the morning we split the milkers rations so they get half at night because it tends to be a lot. Not only can we monitor who is getting what, we can watch for anyone being “off feed” which might indicate illness and a closer look. We also add the supplements to each girls ration. Instead of doing it as a mixture the girls get the “supp of the day.” More on supplements in a bit.

We feed Coyote Creek Organic feed that is formulated for lactating does. We feel very strongly that organic is the best option for us. Coyote Creek is located in Elgin, TX which is 3.5 hours from us, so my dedication to organic is tested three times a year when I spend 7 hours on the road to pick up a ton of feed.

Rations range from as little as 1 Tablespoon of feed (for fat girls like Scarlett and Vaca) up to 12 cups for a super-milker (like Ruby). Individuals rations are determined by several things: body condition, bred or not, in milk or dry. These rations are frequently adjusted. We use a blackboard to keep track of them. 

Supplements are done by the day:

Monday: Herbal Deworming (from Molly’s Herbals (online), follow the instructions)

Tuesday: Kelp (1 Tablespoon) (Thorvin Organic Kelp….available through Amazon)

Wednesday, Flaxseed meal (1 Tablespoon) (Organic, golden, from Costco). Also, you can use unground flaxseeds (we get Organic from the bulk section at HEB or Kroger)

Thursday: Pumpkin seeds (small handful) (Organic, from the bulk section at HEB or Kroger)

Friday: Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) (6 drops or so) (from the health food store or Amazon).

Sat: Prunes (because everyone needs dessert sometimes) (1-3 depending on weight) (organic, bulk section at HEB or Kroger). We also give them raisins sometimes.

Sun: Vitamin C (500 mg…chewable) (milkers get 1000 mg every day on the milk stand) (these are the chewable Nature’s Made available at our HEB or on Amazon)

Always available: baking soda and loose minerals (we use Bluebonnet Techmaster special ordered through Teskey’s)

As for hay, we feed hay twice a day when there is little to no browse….Fall, Winter, and very early Spring. As the pastures and paddocks begin to green up and sprout we dial back the hay in late Spring and all through the Summer we do not throw hay. We do keep a few bales on hand as we will throw hay if it is a rainy day and everyone wants to stay inside. 

We have decent browse for nine goats and I’m still learning to manage it using corrals and electric fences. Every year I get a little better at looking at a space and determining that it is a “one day browse” or a “one week browse”…On the matter of hay…we feed a coastal bermuda and that’s it. I know that many goat folks feed alfalfa and we did too when we first started out. We ceased feeding alfalfa when it was approved as a GMO crop. Because I don’t feed alfalfa I am relying on my browse and my feeding regimen to keep my girls healthy and producing well. They are a healthy and happy herd so I think I must be doing something right. 

Monday, March 19, 2018


You might have noticed that it has been over a month since I've managed to sit down and write...oh, there are some long hand scribblings but nothing finished. I try to be as authentic as possible, yet I find myself only posting or publishing the good stuff, so when there feels like there is no good stuff I just don't post...the pics I chose for this post are all cute baby goats. I realize that by choosing these pics and not the pictures of the bloody milk from Ruby's right teat, or Melly's tiny udder that may or may not be producing enough milk for her twins, or a pic of my bashed up knee/hip/shoulder I am creating an image of this farm and my life as idyllic. I think we need to stop pretending like we are perfect, but I also think I need to embrace how very imperfect I am.

The reason I haven't written in so long is because I never get moved to the top of the priority list. I don't take care of myself...a picture of me right now...dirty hair, scraggly nails, bags under my eyes, mismatched clothes...but more importantly than what I look like right now is how I feel.

Kidding is the best and the worst time of the year and this year I decided to incubate some eggs too, so for the last nine days I have turned eggs over five times a day. It is the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before sleep. Add to that two goats kidding during that time just off their due dates which required lots of late night checks and early morning barn visits and I haven't sleep much.

Funny how I can find time to check on goats, then kids, and turn eggs over five times a day, but I can't find time to shop for groceries, or cook, or feed myself. Don't get distracted by the cute goats pics now...this is serious. Yesterday, I read two articles that randomly popped up. They were both about self-care and what that really means. See I can intellectually process the information. I can say it over and over again, "I have to take care of myself, so I can take care of the farm," but putting it into practice is another thing entirely. Actually, I generally resolve to do better and I do, for a week or two then it is back to my bad habits.

One of the articles I read was on a facebook post and the replies from women mostly made me sad. We all do it. One woman wrote...that sometimes it was taking a shower, or brushing her teeth, or washing her hair. So sad, because I can relate. I consider taking a shower every night self-care, not just something I need to do every day to be human...not something I act of self-care shouldn't be the things that we need to be doing to stay clean and healthy. Cooking for myself should not be considered self-care....well, it is, but instead we should see it as a priority, something non-negotiable.

When JC is home I make breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We never eat a handful of walnuts for our lunch or have popcorn for dinner. No matter how tired, depressed, stressed, or anxious I am I cook for US, so why can't I cook for ME?

The above pic of me snuggling with goats was taken yesterday about 5pm and it was the first time I stopped all day. I had a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, a handful of tortilla chips, and a handful of walnuts (I guess that was lunch) all day. I made two batches of soap and both were failures. I repeat, both were failures...why? I could blame the lye, or the temperature, or whatever, but at the core of it...I didn't take care of myself yesterday (or the day before, or the day before, or the day before) and I was distracted and I fucked it up....why? Maybe it is because brains don't function well on so little food...and such crappy food.

And I KNOW this...I have to feed myself. I have to eat better. My body is twitchy and ridiculous...I'm always queasy or anxious or depressed or achy or, or, get it. Even though I often feel terrible, I always feel better when I eat and eat well. I know this, yet it is so hard to do it...because of time, stress, and anxiety, because I don't like to go out, but also because I don't have energy to wash my hair, or open and close the gate, drive there,  or freak out about finding a parking space for my big ass truck (because when I'm having a bad day I have no confidence either) or push the cart, or GEEZUS, make decisions. Ack, the decisions get me every time.

Today, has not been much better...I had a bowl of cornflakes again. I was distracted, looking too far into the future and stressing about how much I needed to get done today and one second I was buzzing out to the barn to clean stalls and the next I was on the ground, stunned. It wasn't one of those slow-motion-oh-shit-I'm-falling falls. It was Up, then arms flung out to break the fall, not a single thought, just Up, then Down, then pain. 

And I won't lie, I stayed down for a while and when I got up I hurt, but I limped to the barn and cleaned and thought about Why? had that just happened. I can't remember a time ever when I fell, but didn't know I was falling. I always do it in slow motion, always. But today, Up, then Down, then fear. Because I don't want to fall again. 

I know that I slipped on the bottom rail of the gate (which is on the ground), but I also know that what caused me to fall was not strictly physical. I need to feed myself so my brain works better, slow down, stay in the Now, stop stressing, Rest. 

I made a manageable list for today and although I'd rather put my own eye out (and at this rate I might accidentally do it) I'm going to the grocery store...and I'm going to compromise some of my ridiculously high standards so that there will be some convenient, quick food here so I'll have no excuses not to have lunch or dinner in the coming weeks.

Literally and figuratively I'll pick myself up and dust myself off over and over again, even though I sometimes just want to stay down. I can resolve to take care of myself better, do it for awhile, fail, resolve again, do it,'s okay, I'm human.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


As we enter February on the farm we wipe the slates clean, reorganize, prepare for the coming Spring, and take rest when we can find it. It is a weird time between Winter and Spring, when the urge to grow things is strong, but the weather unpredictable. I mentioned before that the days have been beautiful, sunny and warm. As we are all working hard taking advantage of that I sometimes forget when I'm so tired that there are other "girls" on this farm who are working hard too in this weird off season, in between time.

The chickens began laying a little earlier than last year and are consistently giving 3-8 eggs a day. Roughly half of the hens are going to be 6 years old, the other half will be 4 this year. A chicken's peak laying period is around two years old, so by those standards our flock is old. Even if they stopped laying completely (there are 15 hens giving 3-8 a day, so someone isn't earning their keep), I don't have the heart to put anyone in the soup pot. They give us ENOUGH and that is all I ask. Enough for us; enough to share; enough to sell a few dozen to defray the cost of feed.

The goats too are giving plenty of milk; enough. Enough for cheesemaking and yogurt. Enough to drink and share.
Feta Curds

There is this fine line between too little and too much that I simply think of that happy place as, "Enough."  This week I've had enough time to read, enough time to cook, enough time to garden and that is all I can hope for, right? Enough.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Routine; By Rote; Muscle Memory; Automatic;

I've spent the last few days taking it a little bit easier. After Monday morning's wake up call about the dangers of working/farming when exhausted I've made an effort, but most days it is not realistic. There are things I just can't not do. Besides caring for animals which is pretty routine right now, I am nurturing the tiny seedlings in the greenhouse and the coldframes. This winter has been kind of rough...not for storms, but for big swing in temperatures from day to night. The greenhouse is requiring two to three checks a day because I regulate the temperature with a combination of heat mats, a tiny heater, and opening doors or windows or both. (The coldframes also require venting when it is very hot).
Spinach in the Coldframe.
One of the first times I successfully started seeds I forgot to vent the coldframe before leaving for work and came home to find them all cooked, melted from the heat. I called my husband blubbering and he thought a dog must have died because of the extent of my carrying on and we laugh about it now, but I took it hard. 

You see, planting a seed is the ultimate act of hope for me and I am so fucking delighted when they come up that I take my role as seedling caretaker pretty seriously. I check the greenhouse over and over some days, taking a peek under plastic sheets looking for the little green inverted U of the plant's neck stretching out of the soil.

Wee seedling in the greenhouse.

Eggs in my skirt.
Today I had to go to what I call my "paycheck job" which has lost its shine for me. I'm only doing it now out of the fear that someday I will need a job or worse a full-time job and my resume will be so dusty and defunct that no one will hire me because I'm too old and have been out of the game too long. Don't get me wrong...I'm not burned out. I try to do the best job I can AND I do love teaching and writing, but if you ask me what I do the way people are prone to upon meeting you for the first time, I always say "I'm a farmer" or "I raise dairy goats and sell soap" and then I add on, "Oh, and I'm a college professor."

In other words, I identify myself as a farmer first and a teacher second (even though I've taught for 20 years). This morning I left, arrived at work with my water bottle, my iPad, my lunch and immediately remembered that the morning's milk was still in the freezer chilling with the timer still set. I simply left before it went off, distracted by the off-routine morning. My mom rescued the milk, but later in the day I realized that the greenhouse was still closed and the temperature was rising...forecast to be in the mid-60s. I flashed back to my younger self, on my knees in the little garden at the roundhouse, sobbing because I had nuked the tomatoes in the coldframe...but this time there was no one to rescue me.

I grumbled and bitched about the "paycheck job" screwing up my morning routine and raced home the minute I released my second class. I went straight to the greenhouse. With a sigh of relief I realized all was well.

Rushing home meant I still had "work" to do...emails to send and attendance to report and when I later went back out to greenhouse to water and tuck the babies in for the night with their heat mats and plastic sheets, I realized that I'd don't get much out of my "paycheck job" anymore except the paycheck...yeah, I still like doing it, but given the choice I'd rather dig and water and talk to chickens or goats.

And on another note, we'll be creating some CHECKLISTS for leaving the house so I don't screw it up again. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Worn Out and Weary.

Blueberry awaiting planting in a big pot.
 I had intended for this Winter to be a time of rest and it has been to some extent, but several things are conspiring against me.

First, I have a farmhand M, who comes twice a week...on those days I've planned some big projects. We work hard for the whole time she is here. I feel motivated to get work done when I have help, so I work beyond the point at which I should stop. (totally not her fault, I should know better).

Secondly, I am seduced by the weather and longer days. It has been warm the past few days especially and I find myself unable to resist going outside...if I'm outside I should work, so I do.

Finally, it is just that time of year when there are lots of things to do to prepare for the coming season. I got the first round of seeds planted and now find myself going to the greenhouse at least twice a day to check the temperatures...those above-mentioned warm days mean that I'm in danger of cooking my seeds/seedlings during the day and fear freezing them at night. Add to that the drying out during the warm days and I find myself watering them twice a day too.
 While monitoring the greenhouse is not particularly physical work it is work and it adds to the relentless nature of working a farm...there is no day or time when I can just relax, there is always something to do. I am much better about taking time off in the afternoons during the Summer because the days are long and hot, but now I have a hard time resting with much to do and wonderful weather to do it in.

I have of late been complaining of never getting to do what I "want to do"...when I say that I mean sewing or quilting or generally messing around. While it is true that I don't get to do much creating, I love this life as relentless and exhausting as it is...that love is why it is so hard to take breaks. I have to remind myself that I get to garden and read, two of the most important things to me (though gardening is part of the relentless grind of homesteading too). To everything there are two sides; I get to see both, sometimes only because of my own attitude.

Not even sure I like kale...
 This last week was screwy and busy and the worst kind of jammed for me. I'm a person who thrives on routines and schedules, but last week I had to run errands on two days when I'm usually home. I had to do laundry on the wrong day and then we tackled a huge job (planting a new orchard of 10 trees) on Friday. Saturday I kept up the momentum; Sunday I was on a roll and worked all day and then I crashed...

All the running and planning and digging and hauling and dragging and raking and pulling and, and, and, got me. I've been tired for weeks, working too hard and not sleeping well and ignoring the demands my body was making for rest. Ignoring my own rules of routine and scheduling. And it got me.

This morning I looked back on the week and realized that I had neglected to do any writing last week. I had scrambled and stressed over normal chores and physically I had worn myself out and this realization hit me before I even went out to take care of goats this morning.

Cleared and ready for mulch.
 I dragged myself out to the barn. And it got me. Four of nine goats were still tethered, had been tethered more than 12 hours by the neck. I unhooked each one, hugging necks and apologizing and later realized how lucky I was that they were just stressed a little, because I could have come out to find them hanging by the neck dead. The collars we use are easily broken and I have no doubt they could each have broken loose, but got me.

I was so tired, I endangered my goats' lives. I made them stressed and uncomfortable. If I could fuck up something that I do 365 days a year, what else might I do. I'm exhausted, bone-weary and beating myself up.

I am hard on myself...harder than anyone else will be and I'm still learning how to live with the "new normal" that is fibromyalgia even though it has been about  8 years. I work too hard on days when I feel good and then it creeps up on me and it gets me and I fuck up and then I beat myself up so I stay weary in body and soul until it fades and I feel better and I do it again...another relentless cycle.

Today I had to make A Rule. When I make a rule for myself,  I can generally stick to it and since this is the Year of No it shouldn't be too hard.

No work between 2pm and chore time. NO WORK.

I've wanted a fairy garden forever and today during my 2pm rest, I painted a birdhouse for the fairies, I watched Netflix, and I'm writing this.

I have to do this. For me. To be safe. To be happy.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday: What I Read This Week

The Kindle represents Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking.

This week I stayed on my theme reading with Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up his House and His Act  and Declutter Your Mind(on the Kindle). For several years now, I've been trying to get away from clutter, pare things down. I've found that visual and physical clutter feels like an actual burden. The chaos in my space feels like chaos in my head. For example, I haven't been doing much (if any) sewing because the room; which is fairly orderly these days simply has too much in it. The sheer amount of "stuff" distracts me and sucks me dry. I cannot create anything there; all I can do is shuffle and sort things here and there and back again. It is a form of "decision fatigue" I think. There are too many unfinished projects and they are all vying for attention. I'm pulled in too many directions and it is stressful and overwhelming.

Because the farm is a 24/7/365 job AND because it frequently demands my immediate attention (see today, when I had to fix an electric fence because the girls kept going through it) lots of other things get de-prioritzed again and again. Knowing that the farm will many times demand my whole day I've been trying to create routines and systems that allow me some ease, some times; much of these routines also deal with NOT creating new clutter. 

For the last little bit I've managed to stick to a once a week cleaning schedule...yep, sometimes the farm gets in the way, but no matter what I always do laundry, sweep/vacuum, and clean toilets on Wednesday. I might not get to scrub the shower or dust or anything else, but laundry, floors, toilets get some part of each Wednesday. In general I've been training myself to put things away and create homes for things that generally just hang around on countertops and we have less clutter. It's working! Cleaning is is head is less overwhelmed when I think of what needs to be done.

Oh, for sure, there are still bad days when nothing gets done or little gets done, but I'm working on it. The biggest problem on a farm is that the work never really stops and you have to learn to deal with that. I try to give myself time "off" on Sundays, but this time, right now, while I write...this is my time "off" today. I've been working on electric fences all morning. This afternoon I have to start seeds in the  greenhouse (already a couple of weeks late on some of them). Sometimes I force the issue and do nothing for a day, or go shopping, or just generally agree to something that screws up my routine, but when I do I always pay for it. Always. So, I'm learning to say No to things that disrupt my routines. I say No to myself sometimes too, with a stern lecture about how much more tomorrow will suck because you will be doing two day's work instead of one if you don't do today's chores. It can be relentless and backbreaking, but creating habits and routines is helping. Another example, putting tools away when I am finished means that the barn/yard/greenhouse/garage stays tidy and easier to work in and around, AND I know where things are when I need them next. I haven't perfected this just yet, but I'm getting better.

Another area that I'm trying to create routines around is cooking...I don't mean I want a set menu, but I want to buy groceries on the same day, do some cook-ahead or prep-ahead on the same day, use my CrockPot on the same day...I feel like if I have a plan, I can stop fretting so much; stop making a zillion decisions every day. I've spent hours with my two new cookbooks: The Chef and the Slow Cooker and The Wellness Mama Cookbook

Tomorrow, I'm making a grocery run with a list, cross-referenced to recipes (yep, OCD!?!) so that I can put this slow cooker plan into action. If I slow cook on Friday, then there will be leftovers for the whole weekend. Less to think about, less to decide, fewer dishes to see where I'm going.

After months of non-fiction and self-improvement, I'm enjoying some fiction this week!! 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday on the Farm: Deep Mulch Method

 Since January 5th, I've had an apprentice/farm hand working with me. In the interest of her privacy I will just call her M. She has agreed to work in exchange for knowledge. I need help and she needs experience.

Last week, we began a new project. The goal is to build several long beds running along a slope we call "the side hill." After tossing around ideas, drawing pictures, and perusing Pinterest, I finally settled on a plan and M and I set out to build the retaining wall. First we cut stakes from cedar and pounded them in.
 Then we stacked logs behind them to create the wall. All of this cedar came from the back of our property...the debris left when we cleared the fenceline a few years ago.

We artfully arranged our logs and created the wall. Under the wall we places cardboard that will help choke out the weeds and grass under it. I find that the edges can be the hardest part to maintain when using this method.
 Today, we added a row of feedsacks to our cardboard in preparation for adding the deep layer of mulch. This method works with or without the cardboard/sack layer, so since we didn't have enough to cover the whole area we just used what we had. I've done it both ways and honestly, I don't think it makes much difference...maybe this bed can be the test (if I remember to compare the two areas).

We then, with the help of the farm husband, cleaned both boys' barns...three loads in the full-size bed of the truck. It took about three hours of cleaning, loading, hauling, dumping, but the end result was a deep layer of mulch (roughly 6-8 inches) over the whole of the space that I want to convert to more mowing "the side hill". (EDITED: I didn't really explain this...the thick layer of mulch blocks sun from the grass/weeds eventually killing it out. It then begins to compost. When you pull back the mulch you will find beautiful soil, weed feed, and the beginnings of good compost on top!)

When I explain this method to folks, I see skepticism sometimes, and once or twice disgust. True, we have a yard full of deep mulch beds which in reality are just piles of shit. Really, I understand how that might sound gross to someone. I also look at it everyday and I can understand how it might not be pretty to look at, but I see it a little differently.

I can no longer work like I used to and this method eliminates much of the back-breaking work that you would have to do to establish a new bed. If I were to build these beds rapidly, I would have to dig them out, removing the sod, then I would have to add compost and compost and more compost ("the side hill" is mostly clay). What that means besides a lot of digging is making lots of compost. To make compost I would clean the barns, moving the load into a pile to compost, then I would move the loads AGAIN to the bed. This method eliminates that second we go from the barn to the bed and let nature slowly do the work.

Admittedly it the dead of winter when all is gray and barren the piles of deep mulch are sort of depressing, but when I look at them I see potential and hope and the coming of Spring.

The finished bed might not be usable for up to a year...the speed at which it creates itself is dependent on the depth of the mulch, the moisture, temperature, but I can wait.
The finished deep mulch bed.
I no longer need things to happen now...I need them to be simple, gentle, frugal, slow. I just can't work that hard. I used to try to force it. "I need more planting space NOW," I would think and I would go out and bust out a few feet of freshly dug space and exhaust myself and take 3 days to recover. I've learned to do the least amount of work with the materials at hand. I've learned to turn waste like the barn cleanings and cedar logs into beds. I've learned to move things only once. I've learned to wait.  Now, slow is how I go and waiting is part of the game for me. I do my part, then ask nature to do hers and patiently I wait.