15 October 2008

Bringing home the goats

We are in love with goats. These gentle creatures fit perfectly into our homestead. Even with the smallest breed of dairy cow, a Jersey and her calf, we were running out of cleared land for pasture, hay, grain and gardens. Her and her calf alone required at least 8 acres, since we need to put up hay for six months of the year. And we ended up feeding a lot of excess milk to the chickens.

So we have made the transition to goats to provide our milk and meat. After watching our Jersey cow mow down the pasture with anxious worries of running out of pasture too early in the fall, which would run us short on our hay supply come spring, we both breathed a sigh of relief watching these two goats graze. It is almost absurd how little they eat, and between the two of them we will have enough milk and butter on the table.
Goats are much easier to handle, and as a woman who did not grow up on a farm, I appreciate that difference. But they are notoriously difficult to keep in a fence. For this time of year, we are tethering them in the pasture during the day, and feeding them in the barn at night. With the moose moving through the pastures, we cannot reliably keep a fence up, and tethered, they would be vulnerable to hungry bears or coyotes at night.
Pilgrim is not too sure about the goats. Nostrils flared.
But he is pretty quick to make friends with them. After this picture, he actually spent the entire afternoon with the goats. I think he was a bit infatuated.
This is Penelope. She is a year and ten months old. Half Alpine (dairy breed) and half Boer (meat breed). She throws more to the Alpine in her features, and looks to be a good little milker. She is still giving a liter of milk a day from her spring lactation, but I will dry her off this week. Both of the goats are bred and due to kid in mid-January. Penelope was handled by her previous owner and had been milked a few times. She has settled in well with treats of apples and mangles (fodder beets) and plenty of attention.
This is Juniper, Penelope's daughter from a Boer buck, making her one-quarter Alpine and three-quarters Boer. She is ten months old, and the reason why Penelope is still milking... Juniper was never weaned. This little Juniper berry is a little wild though. She was never really handled or caught, so she runs off when we approach, and is skiddish. We are training her to be caught and to approach us, with offered beet tops as her favorite lure. With each day she is less skiddish. It is critical to settle them both in, if they were to get loose, we would need to be able to catch them. Penelope would be easy, and most likely, Juniper would stay close to her, but she could just as easily run off in the first week of being moved to a new place.

All in all we are happy goat herders. And by the way, the milk is delicious. It does taste different than the rich Jersey milk we have been drinking. But to be honest, the cream was so rich it sometimes gave me a stomach ache. Not so with the goat milk, and it does not taste "goaty". I have yet to try separating the cream. With only a pint at a milking, I don't think I would get much but a dirty cream separator. So we will have to wait until January to try making goat butter.


Christy Cole said...

I love your blog.It is so full of information.

Susy said...

I love love love goats. They're so cute. So what happened to the cow? Did you sell her?

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Sounds like a good change for you. Are your pastures new, or is your area arid? I was wondering why 8 acres for small cow and calf? A friend in Nova Scotia had the same pasture allotment for her cattle as here, 1 - 2 acres per cow.

farm mom said...

They are so adorable! And I'm glad you're having such a good expereince with them. In fact, I'm sending a link to this post to my parents! :) (My mom still thinks we need a cow!!)

How is the tether working for you? I'm particularly interested in this as it's the mwthod we would most likely use in my parents pasture.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

christy cole, thank you, I am glad you find it informative.

susy, actually we lost the cow when she calved in August, to milk fever. She was a cull cow from a commerical dairy barn, and this is unfortunately, too often their fate. I will blog more on milk fever when we have time this winter.

trapper creek, I know it sounds like too much, and we were surprised. Our pastures are old and tired for one. They were cut for hay 15 years with no amendments or re-sowing before we got here. Our soil drains quickly, so it can get dry in August. But we found that our Jersey needed at least 3 acres of pasture from mid-May through November. And we had to keep 3 acres to cut for hay (which we grazed in November to stretch the season). And we feed some oat hay during the coldest months when it is -10 to -15C in the barns at night, so the other two acres would be for the calf and grain. A beef cow would run on 1-2 acres here easily, with no grain in the winter. But we found the Jersey to be very expensive (on our land and time, if not money) to feed.

farm mom, there is nothing wrong with goat milk that's for sure. Goats and cows have different requirements, it just depends on which fits your farm and family best.

We have heard that goats are prone to choking themselves, so we watch them when they are tethered. But they do just fine and haven't gotten tangled or done anything silly. But they do need shelter.
Next summer we are going to try a moveable shelter inside of a moveable electric fence, and strip graze, moving them once a week. We are thinking of A-frame, free-standing, fence posts with a top rail, and 3 strands of electric wire to keep them from climbing it or getting underneath.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

I wondered if that was the case, pasture takes so much amending and repeated hay cutting is so depleting. That is the norm around here, most people just keep cutting hay from the same old field with no thought to amending and rotating the use.

Milk fever can be controlled with diet and minerals, but if your cow was a cull from a dairy, she probably never even really had a chance to live a long life anyway. Modern dairies are only concerned with production instead of longevity, so some of the undesirable traits rear their ugly head all too often. Sorry about the cow, but at least the goats will be a good fit. None of this is worth doing if it doesn't feel right for the people or the land.

Your soil sounds like ours, we receive about 95" - 120" per rain a year, and it drains so well, we really don't have problems with that amount of water. However, summer is dry, dry, dry. We dryland garden, and that is a good skill to have, our produce keeps better, and we don't have to worry about water shortages.

farm mom said...

My hubby was wondering what you use for a tether?

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

I couldn't agree more!

We had expected milk fever with this cow, and had treated her for it in her last calving. Perhaps we should never have bred her again. But I thought I could prevent it with good pasture, the timing of calving, and timely mineral doses at calving. But it seems nothing would stop her from going into hypocalcemea shock this time. It is true that many bad traits are not properly bred out of the industrial dairy herd. The average lifespan of a commercial dairy cow is 3.14 years in N.America. Cows don't even reach full maturity until 4 years of age. It is sad and even criminal to see what profit-intensive industrial farming has done to our human inheritance of domestic breeding and seed stock.

But we can turn that around, through reclaiming our common right to breeds and seeds.

Dryland farming is absolutely a great skill. Especially when combined with seed saving. Food grown slowly, and with deep roots, has more nutrition, more flavor, and it does keep longer. But this summer, besides two hot dry weeks in July, we barely had any dry land. In August alone, we saw 16" of rain.

inadvertent farmer said...

We love our goats too, they keep the blackberries from taking over and eating the whole property. They also are the ones willing to hang out with the camel...brave little souls that they are, lol!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

inadvertent farmer, I love your camel. Mr. Fritillary has always wanted a camel. I'm sure you have seen the movie "The story of the weeping camel"? Do you use him for fiber?