Monday, October 27, 2014

Belated Big News

Well now, first I have to apologize for anyone who happened to check in here (though I can't imagine who that would be?!). I know it has been months since I wrote last, but I'm finding two things to be truth. One: farming is unpredictable and one task can devour a whole day and Two: I prefer to be outdoors and once inside I'm too tired to do much more than shower and eat. With that said, this is the life I chose and I have no regrets. I work from sun-up to sundown 365 and that is fact, it is better than okay. It is so much better than okay that we've decided to make a business of it! 

We've decided to seek our dairy license in hopes of selling raw milk!!! I can't tell you how exciting this is (though three exclamation points should give you a hint!) This is the "retirement" scheme and something we have talked about again and again. We've talked about making cheese or soap too, but to date we can't consistently make cheese or soap...I've suffered a lot of failures in those arenas, but what I can do is milk. I figure that if I can provide the milk, then the consumer can make their own cheese, but that doesn't mean we are going to stop trying...we've just let go of the idea that we can sell cheese (at least for now). 

We are also 100% sold on the benefits of drinking raw can Google raw milk and goats milk and find tons of info.

And of course, we love the fact that we can stay "close to our food," as I like to say. For me, that means that I know EXACTLY where it came from and that it has been handled (processed) minimally. We currently milk by hand, filter, then chill the milk. That's it. That is all we "do" to the milk, which is nothing really.

The idea is to keep the herd small, small enough that we can still talk to, coddle, pet, and call by name each and every girl twice a day. This is our habit...everyone is called by name and given attention and to be honest I think that is part of why the milk is so good. The girls know they are loved, so how could they not give beautiful milk? 

The goal is to be licensed by the 2016 milking season. That goal means that we have A LOT of work ahead of us to get the barn ready. Add that to the day-to-day work of running a farm and the gardening work and we have many full days in our future. I'm already clearing fence and building raised beds/hugelkultur beds for next Spring's gardens...I expect I'll be sleeping really well for months and months!

The first thing we will do in the barn is to build a separate stall for my sweet boys, Luke and Han. Then we will dig in plumbing and pour concrete floors for the milk parlor and milk room. By next Spring we need to have finished clearing the last of the fence and be ready to erect portable electric fencing for browsing in the woods. Then more barn renovations! I get nervous thinking about all the work, but I know it will be worth it. 

I promise now with the days getting shorter, I'll find more time to write. Please follow our journey here and via can find us there at Owl Tree Farm.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

An Epic Week at Owl Tree Farm

Well, now...I write about three posts a day in my head. That is where I spend most of my time these days: thinking things over, contemplating, brewing, and mulling, and musing. Each day for the last week I've had something to write about. It seems that a day can't go by on the farm without something happening and I'm plumb wrung out. Today, has been more of the same...

It all started a week ago today. When I went out for night chores, I found our fat little Jasper with a swollen leg. From hoof to haunch, he was puffed out and wasn't putting any weight on the foot. Since the joints seemed to work, I quickly assumed it was a snake bite, but I could only find one little tiny spot I thought might be a puncture. I made a decision and administered Benedryl. I was proud of myself for not freaking out, not calling the vet for an emergency house call. The next morning he was about the same and I gave him more Benedryl. By evening, the swelling was down a little....Whew! disaster averted (or something like that.) 

It was then that I noticed that Ben had a trickle of blood running down his head. Uh-Oh! Ben has a history of issues with his horn scurs and this had to be trouble. I couldn't see that anything was wrong and figured it was cracked somewhere. Fingers crossed for it to go away like magic, but I knew I would have to watch it closely. 

The next day, I spent half an hour on the phone with the vet. The milkers are having parasite/cocci issues again. I was feeling so frustrated. So inept and as if I was learning nothing that I finally said, "I feel like I'm taking one step forward and two steps back. Am I doing anything right?" He reassured me that I was, but at that point I was finding it hard to believe.

Two days later, Ben doesn't come to the barn for dinner. I go out to get him and when he looks straight at me I can see that his normally flat-to-the-head horn is sticking up in the air. Every time the horn flops around, he panics. I get him tethered and proceed to just look at the horn, trying to access the damage and how to proceed. Again, the horn would flop and he would go bezerkers. Completely nuts. I knew I had to get that horn off, but I hadn't even touched him yet because he was like the Tasmanian devil, whirling and flipping. After about 10 minutes of this, I found myself with my back against the wall with his tether at my hip.

Ben jumped up and crossed my body and put his front hooves on the half wall behind me. All I could think was, "This is going to be bad." Instead, my little Ben-Ben leaned into me and tucked his head under my chin, I could hear his little panicked puffs of breath. He was scared to death of that "thing" that was touching his head. I hugged him awhile, but knew I had to get it off.

It took another 10 minutes of wrestling and I got thrown around a lot, but I finally got a firm hold and ripped the horn off. 

The next day, I had to deworm Vaca and start cocci treatment with Gypsy and Fanny. Vaca took it like a champ, Gypsy fought a bit, and Fanny....well, Fanny slammed me into the hay manger twice before I got the dose in her....and I had four more days of that to look forward to. I stood at the half wall and sobbing with exhaustion and frustration.

I felt like I had been hit by a bus that day, but worse than that I was starting to question myself. 

That night there was a snake in the chicken coop...yet another thing to deal with. I left it there that night (with it's egg belly it was stuck in the grooves of the wall anyway), but I knew I would have to deal with it the next day.

Morning comes and I'm exhausted. Milking, then moving the chicken tractor, then the snake. I moped around all day, so tired, so frustrated. I cleaned house instead of doing anything outside...but I knew that when evening chores came I would have to dispatch that snake if it was still there.

It was and I did.

Then I wrestled with Ben to spray his wound and he body checked me into the wall. Sharp shot to the kidney, (but then he gave me chin cuddles.)

 This morning, I found Rhett (200lb. +) snuggled with Jasper. I saw a baby bunny, a Painted Bunting, a Black Swallowtail.

I gave cocci meds without too much fuss. I erected a pretend electric fence (we will see if it tricks them) for the girls. I drove my big-ass truck. I confronted the neighbor who is trespassing and mowing our ditch (and I suspect spraying herbicides too).

 I was empowered. I was in charge and doing my best. Sometime during this week, I saw this quotation on my facebook page and I've been saying it to myself ever since, but today it clicked: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." (Maya Angelou from

I'm still exhausted, but all these trials have served to spur me on...I am doing the best I can, but I know I can be better. I'm working on that part.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WETHERS: for sale.

I've already said it before, but I'll say it again. I want to keep them all. I know the reality though. I have to sell some of the kids, probably should sell all of the kids, but I just can't. I fall head over heels for them. Each one is different. 

Here's Gilly. I think he is going to be small. At nine weeks, he only weighs 23 pounds, but he is healthy and full of energy. He is gentle and loving. He is the hair chewer, the climber, the nibbler.

Skipper is a big boy, about 32 pounds at nine weeks, but he isn't going to be a huge goat. He is the acrobat, the sprinter, the jumper. He got his mother's kooky-clown personality.

Skipper (with Gypsy behind him)
Wrong Way is the bulldozer. He weighs about 32 pounds at nine weeks. He is likely to be short and very stocky. He is known to launch himself at your lap with great energy, but once there scratching his neck and chest "soothes the savage beast." His little eyes close and he snuggles in. He is either On or Off, nothing in between.

Wrong Way (with Vaca behind him)
Wrong Way and Gilly are twins from Vaca. Skipper's dam is Gypsy. Both dams are 50% Nubian; Gypsy is long-legged and Vaca is short and stout. 

They are all Ben babies. Our Ben is small and super sweet, so they come from goodness. Ben is about 24 inches at the withers, so we expect smallish goats from his kids. His two kids from 2013 are on the short side as yearlings.

All three are current on CD&T and cocci prevention. We are a closed herd, disease free. We would love to find these boys loving homes as pets/brush clearers. 

I know I'm risking not finding homes by saying that they ARE NOT FOR MEAT, but they aren't. They weren't born for that. Everyone on our farm has a job or future job (when they grow into it). We have had a wether from the beginning and his original job was to be a companion for little Ben. That's it, just share a barn with him to keep him company. I love all our goats, but I have a particular soft spot for Jasper, he is a good boy and he does his job well.

I've also come to believe that goats make great pets. I enjoy their company as much as I enjoy the company of my dogs. They enrich my life just by being in it and I know there are other people out there like me. I'm hopeful that we can find them homes as pets or companions or brush clearers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

(I've been working on this post for awhile and it is still not exactly right, but I'm posting it because I need to move on.)

This is our second year of kidding with the girls and for the second year we are battling parasites both internal and external. I am feeling so very overwhelmed by the loads of information I’m trying to digest so that I can make the best choices for the girls that some days I lose my hope. See, we are trying very hard not to use chemicals with our herd. We don’t want an official Organic certification, but we are concerned about their health and ours (since we drink the milk). With that said, every decision we make leads to a thousand extrapolations about the consequences of our choices....will this “fix” it, will this cause something else, will this harm her, will we drink this in the milk, and so on. I lose sleep at night wondering if I’m doing the right thing.

Last year we worked with a vet when our poor Ruby was loaded with worms. He said the worm eggs were “too many to count.” She was bony and run down. We were afraid we were going to lose her. Of course, we wanted to do anything and everything to save her. Our vet advised culling and by that he meant killing. I do understand where he was coming from in that her parasites, which were clearly drug resistant could be infecting the rest of the herd, but killing was not an option for us. We compromised and she went (with two wethers) to live at my Mom’s place. I hit her hard with chemical wormers and medicated feed (she had cocci too) and now, a year later she is parasite free, fat and sassy.

With Ruby I made the decision to dry her off to relieve some of her stress and since she wasn’t going to be a milker anymore, I figured I could do whatever it took to get her back to healthy and it worked. So, now here we are in year two with some of the same issues, but this time I have to figure it out.  I can't keep removing goats for the herd. 

Our fecals reveal elevated egg counts, but we can still count them. I’ve given them one dose of de-wormer and I don’t want to do more, but it is so confusing. 

I tried to talk the whole worm issue over with another goat person and when I told her we were doing weekly fecal tests and trying the herbal de-wormer again, she said something like this, “I think you are doing too much and worrying too much about it, just watch for pale eyelids and runny poo.” 

I was a little stunned by that, so I stammered out a reply, “But I have to keep learning so I can make the best decisions for them.” 

Her reply to that really threw me off, “But if you lose a goat then you learn from that.” As if to say, that I needed to stop caring so much, that losing someone would be a benefit to me as a learning experience. 

I’ve pondered this exchange for several days now and talked it over with my two advisors (husband and mom).  I’ve wondered if my heart is just too big for this farming thing, that maybe I care too much. Maybe I should just sit back and wait for severe anemia and runny poop.

But I’ve concluded that my heart is in the right place, it is exactly the right size, just big enough to encompass them all, to care about their health and well-being. I know I have to use my head to learn, but my heart to care for them.  

I’m thinking if I take her advice to watch for anemia and runny poop then I’m not taking good care. I’m thinking that if we get to runny poo, we are in a heap of trouble. 

I trained to teach yoga and one of the first things you learn is the Yamas (or social contracts). The first is Ahimsa (or non-harming to oneself or others). This Yama includes animals and though I don’t talk about the teachings of yoga all that much, I do live by the Yamas. I don’t even think about it anymore, I just live my life that way. It is who I am. 

With that said, I know I have to learn what I can and make decisions about their well-being without causing them harm. Leaving them in a wormy-state means I am allow them to come to harm. I cannot condone neglect as a protocol. 

“Without harm” has to be at the core of my protocol for herd management.

Pictured below are the three milkers who are having issues. 

Fanny,  (with Miss Melly).


So, we've continued the weekly fecal tests, we added Hoegger herbal wormer to our weekly routine. We've given a bit more copper. I've added more kelp and minerals to each ration of food (the kids soil the free-choice feeders) and they are getting alfalfa every day.

I've read a thousand articles and they tend to contradict each other, so what do you do. You DECIDE what you believe, based on what you read. You go with your gut. You focus on low-stress, high nutrition. You check eyelids and watch appetites and poop.

And you LOVE them with your whole heart.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Meet the 2014 Kiddoes

We took advantage of the sunshine to get some pictures of the kiddoes. They are all officially just over a month old and we have to start thinking about finding them homes. Last year was so very easy, I kept the does and my mom took the two wethers. 

See, I have this little problem: I want to keep them all. I bond with them. 

I love them, but I know I have to find them homes this year. We are thinking that Wrong Way should be a buck, so we need someone to commit to him BEFORE I have to wether him. He is such a super friendly and spunky goat, just like his dad, Ben. He probably weighs twice what the other Mini-Manchas weigh. Sturdy and stout, with a great personality. I love it when he calms down enough to nap in my lap.

Wrong Way Feldman: Son of Vaca and Ben
 Skipper is a cutie-pie and begs for attention. He has markings just like Gypsy's kid Valentine, his older sister. He seems to know that they are alike and he bugs her relentlessly. Given the chance he will crawl right into my lap.

Skipper: Son of Gypsy and Ben

Gilly is Wrong Way's brother. Even though he is about half the weight of WW he has about twice the energy (if that is even possible). He lives to climb up me and chew on my hair, but when he's pooped he will konk right out in my arms. He is likely the sweetest kid yet.

Gilly: Son of Vaca and Ben
 Luke and Han. Now here it where we get into trouble. I've already said that I want to keep them all, but I'm finding reasons to keep these two. They have to be wethered, so they will need a job. Also, Luke has a genetic defect called entropion (inverted eyelid) and though we are working on it, there are some hard decisions ahead in that regard. I think that is a subject for another day.

I really want to try my hand at training a goat to both pull a cart and carry a pack. I'm thinking these are my boys. Fanny's 2013 kids are both strong and sturdy. These boys are already gaining weight like crazy. I would really like to have them pull ME in a cart....wouldn't that we cool?

Luke and Han: Sons of Fanny and Rhett
 If I sit down anywhere guaranteed I will get at least three little wriggles sitting in my lap and climbing up my body. It is hard to think of sending them off to new homes when we play like this 2 or 3 times a day, when they trust me and think of me as part of their herd. Sometimes these little goat piles are the only times I laugh in a day and goats have been the best medicine for me these last few years.

Goat Pile!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Miss Melly

Guaranteed to make you smile!

This is Miss Melly, though around here Ms. Melly might be more appropriate. 
She is a Nubian yearling.
She is the daughter of Ruby and Rhett Butt-ler. 
Sweet as sugar, this one.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2014 Kids: A Season of Learning

Wrong Way Feldman

Although I have a job outside the farm, I want to be a full-time farmer. I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means. I've lately fallen into a trap of comparison. Comparing myself to some ideal farmer image, the ones I call the "real" farmers and another group, the "good" farmers. These aren't real people. Nope, but they might as well be. In my mind, the "real" farmers don't cry and grieve when they lose a kid. They don't worry that their kids will end up on the supper table. They don't want to keep ALL the kids, because they love them. They run efficient, maybe even profitable farms. The "good" farmers are the ones who never make mistakes. They don't do dumb things. Good farmers are kind, but not so attached. They can sell their kids without too many qualms. "Bad" farmers make lots of mistakes. They're forgetful and miss medications. They lose kids. They do all the dumb things that "good" farmers avoid. They get attached and can't let go. 

I spend a lot of time worrying about who I am as a farmer. Real or good or bad. I don't think a day goes by that I don't wish to be a "real" farmer or admonish myself for being a "bad" farmer. Kidding was a stressful time and I labeled myself almost daily a "bad" farmer.  I made mistakes, lots of mistakes. When I started writing this I was hoping to write a post that might allow someone to avoid the mistakes I made, but to be honest that isn't where this post is headed. 

This year, I cleared my calendar and anxiously awaited the signs of labor. I was here when Vaca went into labor. She had twins boys, a tiny guy we named Gilly and a huge kid we named Wrong Way because he came out backward.  

At that point I began checking on Gypsy and Fanny with a flashlight every night at bedtime. I'd tiptoe in and peek under their tails, listen closely, rub their bellies, and generally just tuck them in if there were no signs of labor. But one night, I saw a mucous stream from Gypsy's backside. I was tired by then, but it is no excuse for mis-remembering what the mucous meant. I said, "She's going to have those kids tomorrow," then I went in and went to bed. 

The next morning I went out to find her with triplets; one dead, still in the sac. She probably had those kids shortly after I left her and had I been there the third kid probably would have made it, because it was cold and I would have helped her clean them, thus breaking the sac. I spent a lot of time beating myself up over that one. I labeled myself a "bad farmer." I wobble back and forth though, heart over head, then head over heart. I can almost convince myself that it is better that way, that twins will be stronger and grow faster than triplets. I tell myself that a "real farmer" would get over it and maybe even be glad that the twins would put on weight faster. We named the two: Skipper and Ginger

A week later, Fanny finally kids while I am gone. I come home to find triplets; healthy, but cold. I get them in and warm them up. They nurse and all is well. We named them Luke, Han, and Leia. A week later our weather turns bitter cold again. The forecast lows for that night were 12 degrees. Even knowing that goats can and will pile up to keep warm and with that pile comes the danger of someone getting smothered, I made the decision to leave mamas, kids, and yearlings together. 

The next morning I found our little doe, Leia smothered under a pile of yearlings. Again, a certain type of farmer, a "real"one,  would be okay with the loss of a triplet, because the twins would be stronger, grow faster. A "good" farmer wouldn't have left the yearlings in with the kids. Yep, my head knows the argument, but my heart was broken. See, that's my problem. I want to be a "good" farmer, a "real" farmer, but I keep being the "bad" farmer.

The next week, we took 10 roosters to be butchered. These were roosters hatched from eggs I turned three times a day for 21 days, fathered by Pip, who grew up in our bathtub. A few of them had names. One of them was mean. I wasn't attached to them and frankly, I was tired of the extra chores. I wanted to do it myself, but we knew it would take days to butcher 10 roosters. We stayed with our roosters through the whole process. We brought them into the world and ushered them out. It wasn't pretty and when we returned home, I had to put the whole lot in the freezer, not quite willing to cook chicken that night. I had to take a nap afterward, I am such a "bad" farmer.

By now you've likely noticed that I've not posted a bunch of cute pictures of kids, just WW and I having a chat. Not today. Today I need to paint the picture of what it means to me to be a farmer. I need to leave the adjectives behind. This is already hard work physically and mentally; relentlessly hard. But I can't keep doing it if I have to beat myself up and continuously compare myself to some fictional farmer.

For me, this is work of the heart. I've often said that a "good" farmer  or a "real" farmer wouldn't get so attached to the animals and perhaps that is so. But I can't do this work without being attached to them. I need the connection and so do they. I believe that even though I'm not exactly sure what I mean by it.  

Today I'm leaving the adjectives "good" and "bad" behind. I AM REAL. I AM a farmer. That makes me a "real farmer." 

Since this is a new blog about a relatively new farm I would like to make a vow to you, my readers. I vow to be as authentic and truthful as possible, to be "real."  I think we are doing something special here, something genuine and true.

I guess I needed to get this out of my system, because as I said before this was not the post I sat down to write. Next post, I promise cute pictures of goats that will make you go "SQUEEEEE!"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bucks and Boys

Well, let's talk boys or bucks or billies. 

Because we felt like the girls should be over a year old before we bred them and we planned to breed in August or September we found ourselves with plenty of time to look for bucks. We needed both a Nubian and a Mini-Mancha. It wasn't as easy finding one as I thought it would be. 

We searched and searched and finally put a deposit down with a lady nearby in hopes her one doe would have a buckling. When her Lamancha doe kidded though, no boys. She was expecting a family from TN to come and pick up another doe and suggested that they might have a buckling. I contacted them and they happily delivered Ben, one month old and still on the bottle. 

We bonded over that bottle and he is quite the Mama's boy. He was such a pip squeak it is hard to believe that he grew into this "big," ol' stinky boy. Ben-Ben is a sweetheart and even at the peak of stinky-ness I let him give me his Ben-kisses. Officially, he is 64% Nigerian dwarf, so that means he is small....maybe 2 feet tall....maybe.

Ben: Mini-Mancha Buck
Jasper: wether

Because Ben-Ben was going to be all alone in a barn and pasture by himself, we contacted our friends and got this little wether to be his companion. Jasper was just weaned and a little shy at first, but he is the goatiest goat we have now. By that I mean, Jasper is the goat most likely to sniff, touch, push, or taste weird things. He's eaten a plastic phone company flag and painted his own nose red checking out the fence posts. He's friendly and curious. He's also the goat mostly likely to get your attention for petting, even if it means pulling your hair. Even though Jasper started out with the boys he is currently living in the big barn with the girls. 

Rhett Butt-ler: Nubian Buck
A few months after Ben and Jasper came to the farm. We went and picked out Rhett B. Rhett was dam raised on a large farm/ranch. He had only been handled when he was vaccinated and then when he was culled out of the herd and penned to sell with the other bucks. I chose him for his stunning good looks and his willingness to eat leaves from my hand when none of the others would even approach me.

When we got him home he was still very reticent.  It took months of work to get him gentled down. Now, he is still a little more jumpy than the others, but we can handle him fairly easily and he is even leash trained.

As I think about the differences between Ben and Rhett, I am reassured that the choices we have made about raising kids are good ones. While Ben is almost overly friendly and Rhett is still standoff-ish and skittish, our kids from last year fall somewhere just in the middle.

Now, that just seems like a perfect segue. So, next post....the 2013 kidding season.