Category Archives: Guardian Animals

2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

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Ivory’s Kids

Last night did not start off well.  I was also discombobulated because I had taken off of work early to get the alpaca sheared at 3 pm.  After I go home, loaded up the alpaca, and went to the farm where the shearing was supposed to happen, I found out that the shearers had decided to show up at 10 am instead.  So we still have an unshorn alpaca and we learned that shearers are apparently the opposite of cable repairmen.

But the day did get better.

Ivory bedded down and ready to deliver.

I drove Jack the Alpaca home, unloaded him, and moved him, the goats, and the cattle into a fresh paddock for the next day.  When I had everything done I watched Ivory paw out an area of grass and lie down.  She started breathing heavily and having contractions, so I sat down and turned the camera on.  Some readers might find some of the videos gross because there is a little bit of blood and fluid involved, so consider this your warning.  This first video is around 14 minutes long, but it does show the whole birthing process.  For those of you who are less patient than others, “real stuff” starts to happen around the 7-minute mark.

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Ivory’s first kid

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWcFygzje8o

Ivory’s second kid

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5Bz_DbgQ5s

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Both kids weighed in at a respectable 6 lbs even.  The first kid born, the brown one with black markings and a white star on its head, is a little doe.  The lighter-colored twin is a buckling.  Both were up and walking within minutes of birth and found the udder quickly.  Such a difference being born on time makes!  The poor premature kids from 3 weeks ago were nowhere near this size or level of vigor.

Go Ivory!

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Captain Jack Sparrow, I mean, uh, Alpaca

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Meet Captain Jack (or just Jack, Lindsey likes everyone to have a rank).

Jack came to Good Life Ranch to be our goat guardian.  Alpacas and llamas have a natural dislike of canines so they make good herd guardians for sheep and goats against coyotes as long as you just have 1-2 alpacas or llamas.  If you have a small herd of llamas or alpacas they tend to hang out more with each other than the animals they are supposed to be guardian.  They are also relatively tall, so they have good line of sight over the pasture grasses and are better able to spot approaching danger than the shorter goats and sheep.

According to Theresa, Jack’s previous owner, Jack did guard goats earlier in his life.  Then they another male alpaca.  He and Jack were best buddies until, you guessed it, they got female alpacas.  Then Jack’s former friend refused to tolerate his presence in the same pasture and continually chased Jack into the pond.  Since Jack is a gelding and can’t reproduce, he was the alpaca who became expendable.

Jack has settled into his new role very quickly.  Maybe he remembers doing it before.  The goats all were curious but scared at first, but all warmed up to Jack pretty fast and now they all will sleep beside him at night and run underneath him at the first hint of danger.

Thank you Theresa for letting us give Jack a great new home!

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No Heart Left to Break

Sgt Pepper on Day 1.

I feel like I’ve been in an emotional boxing match, and getting my ass kicked.  The last few months have been so hard to endure and I just don’t know if I can handle another tragedy.

The bell rang on April 14 and the match started with it’s biggest blow so far.  My beloved grandfather Da passed away.  I’ve been so blessed to have had all of my grandparents alive for the first 17 years of my life.  I am still lucky enough to have 2 living loving grandmothers, but losing someone you’re so close to and who has been so good to you throughout your entire life is unbelievably hard.  I still haven’t recovered from that first blow yet.

Yesterday we lost Sgt. Pepper, our 9-month old Great Pyrenees livestock guardian.  This follows on the heels of losing our other LGD Maggie only 7 weeks before.  Maggie was killed in a fight with a predator and while her death, while still extremely hard to bear, was at least understandable.  There are risks in being a livestock guardian dog, and we understood that losing a dog in a battle with a predator could happen.  With Pepper, the hardest thing is that there is no obvious cause of death.  Lindsey and I had moved the goats yesterday morning, and Pepper was fine.  I had gone out around lunchtime to grab a tool I needed and played with him for 15-20 minutes then, and he was his normal happy playful self.  Then we I went out after supper to feed him, he was lying dead in the middle of the goat paddock.  Not a mark on him.  Not tangled in the electric fence.  No vomit or diarrhea to be found to indicate poisoning of some type.  He had plenty of water to drink.  He had plenty of shade to cool off.  He was up to date on all of his shots and medications for every conceivable thing a puppy could catch.  It just makes no sense.

Sgt Pepper was an absolute joy.  He was always so happy to see you when you came to feed him or care for the goats he guarded.  He literally jumped for joy.  Where Maggie was aloof with people other than Lindsey and I, Sgt Pepper loved all people from the moment he laid eyes on them.  When he was little he used to squeeze through the electric fence or the cattle panels that enclosed his goat family to greet me when I came out in the morning and to try to follow me back to the house when I was done with chores.  Sometimes I had to carry him back to the paddock 7 or 8 times before he wouldn’t follow me any more that day.  He was so affectionate and really gentle for a 75-pound adolescent dog.  He also was becoming quite a good guard dog.  In the weeks after Maggie’s death Pepper really started acting like a grown-up dog – barking at noises during the night, patrolling the borders of the paddock, scratching the ground and leaving territorial markings.  He was just a good boy.

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In between those three big body blows of losing my grandfather and two of my dogs have been almost innumerable little jabs to the face.  Since April we have lost 29 turkeys, an entire laying flock of 25 chickens (that happened in daylight in under 2 hours), 26 other smaller chickens, 4 ducks, 14 guinea fowl, and 13 rabbits.  Of course we’ve snuck in some of our own jabs back at life – we have  17 new bunnies and more on the way, we have hatched out many more chicks than we’ve lost, we’ve got our new laying flock almost to the age where they’ll begin laying, and our turkeys seem to have recovered from their earlier bout with disease.

But every one of the losses haunts me.  I care for these animals daily and I get attached to them.  It saddens me to lose anything, but some things I can handle better than others.  For instance, I know that we are going to have to breed disease resistance back into our poultry because no one has selected for that trait since the dawn of antibiotics.  I know that we are going to lose some birds, but I also know that if we suffer a little bit now the surviving birds that we keep back for breeding will pass on their genes to their offspring and that in the long run our flock will become resistant to most of the ailments found in our environment.  I can handle the turkeys because I intellectually know what’s happening and I understand evolution and the forces of selection.  I know that the turkeys as a group will become stronger through the elimination of the weaker genes.  I know that in time, we will have a population of turkeys that will be virtually indestructible.  Therefore, I can handle the process of getting to that point.

I understand and can handle death through predation.  It makes me upset, but I can still understand it.  The predators have evolved to make use of the easiest source of prey.  Therefore, it’s my job to make sure that our livestock is not the easiest prey for them to get.  Because of that, I am upset with myself more than I am with the mink or raccoon no matter what I’m ranting about at the time.  And selection will work for us in this situation too as the most alert and cagey livestock survive predators to breeding age.

I can’t understand Sgt Pepper’s death.  Chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, rabbits, etc are all new to me in the last year.  I am still learning to recognize the signs of health and illness in those animals.  Dogs I know.  There has not been a time in my life (outside of the college dorms) where I did not have at least one – and usually more – dog living with me.  I know dogs.  I know how to take care of them.  I understand their needs – what food, how much, what shots they need and when, the best heartworm meds, etc.  Sgt Pepper did not have an unmet need yesterday, which makes his death even more heart wrenching to me because there’s no way for me to wrap my head around it.

In the last months I’ve been torn apart by the loss of my grandfather.  I’ve cried for Maggie.  I’ve sobbed for Sgt Pepper.

I can’t cry anymore.  I don’t know how I’m going to react the next time something horrible happens.

I’ve got no heart left to break.

Maggie

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We had a bad Saturday at Good Life Ranch.

The day started off great.  We got up early and Lindsey picked veggies from the garden to sell at the farm stand while I went about the normal morning chores.  I went out to the goats’ paddock and moved them to a fresh area of grass.  I fed and played with Maggie and Sgt Pepper after they ate for a few minutes before I went back to the house area to feed, water, and move all of the poultry.  Then we set up the Dry Creek Farm Stand in the morning and had our very first customers.  Then I left Lindsey to run the farm stand while I went to the airport to pick up our first interns of the summer.  We had been eagerly awaiting their arrival.  It sure will be nice to have 4 pairs of hands around here rather than 2 pairs.

When I got back with our interns, the goats were the first thing they wanted to see on the farm so we headed right to their paddock for the day.  I ran up to turn off the fence charger and Lindsey walked the interns to the paddock.  Lindsey called “Geoff! Come quick!  Something’s wrong with Maggie!”

I ran over and to my sorrow found that Maggie had been killed.  She lay dead right next to the fence line where a hole had been ripped in the fence.  Blood spattered the ground on both sides of the fence and Maggie’s face and paws had been bitten.  It was very clear that she had fought with something on the other side of the fence.  Sgt Pepper and all of her goats were safe, but Maggie had died protecting them from something fierce enough to kill a 90-lb Great Pyrenees.

Lindsey and I tried to hold our emotions in check in front of our brand new interns who had spent less than 5 minutes on our farm so far, but we simply couldn’t.

Lindsey took the interns to the house to get them fed while I buried Maggie.  I sobbed the entire time I was digging and had to stop several times when I started crying too hard to breathe and dig.  When I had the hole dug I walked up to the house to get Lindsey so that we could both say goodbye.  We cried some more, told her what a good dog she had been, and then I wrapped her in my favorite T-shirt and laid her to rest.

Maggie was an incredible dog and we were so lucky to have had her.  Through all of the predator attacks we’ve endured this year, Maggie has not lost one goat – not even the kids.  She was the most patient “mother” I’ve ever seen as she trained Sgt Pepper to guard goats even as he was more interested in pulling her backwards by her tail.  I never saw her lose her patience with him.  Maggie was very affectionate with her family and appropriately cautious with strangers.  She always put her head between my arm and my body whenever I was working around the goats wanting to be petted.  She pawed you with her front leg if she felt she was being given her due attention.  Maggie patrolled every night and her bark always comforted me as I heard the coyotes howling because I knew the goats were safe with her.

Farewell Maggie,

You will be missed greatly.

The Stakeouts

As detailed in Lindsey’s blog, there have been some stakeouts at Good Life Ranch this week due to an animal episode of Criminal Minds.

It all began with a missing chicken report.  We always count the chickens (after they’ve hatched, of course) every evening as they file into their coop.  This evening, there was one missing.  We noticed it but weren’t too concerned.  We had one chicken who occasionally enjoys camping out underneath the barn.

My concern grew the next morning when I discovered this:

For all of you out there who aren't chicken anatomists, this chicken is missing something relatively important.

A very sad sight.  My first thought was that a possum had managed to climb into the coop.  Opossums will kill birds and only eat the heads or the guts.  I know that once predators get an easy meal they will continue to return until they are driven off, killed, or the food source is made unaccessible.  I decided to first try to make the food source more accessible.

I used spare boards and gravel from the creeks to shore up all the weak areas around the bottom of the coop.  All in all I used 15 wheelbarrow loads of gravel around the bottom of the coop.  I was trying to eliminate any area where a critter could crawl into the coop.  I also set up a couple of our live traps inside the coop.  I thought I was fairly successful and went off to do other chores.

I thought wrong.  Next morning, two more beheaded chickens.  These two were dragged from the chickens’ “bay” all the way to the opposite side of the coop and lined up neatly.  Hmmmm….  Possums aren’t neat and tidy.  Raccoon?  Whatever it was, this critter was definitely hooked on GLR chicken.  We told you it was good.

I decided to stake out the coop that night.  I took a bench, a blanket, a flashlight, and the shotgun and sat up in the second story of the barn where I was hidden from the view of anything on the ground but had a perfect view of the coop for aerial surveillance.

I waited.

Nothing happened.

But the next morning, I found another beheaded chicken.

Grrrrr….

That night I changed stakeout tactics.  I made a blind inside the chicken coop with some of our straw bales, hid under the blanket, and waited as long as I could.  After 4 or 5 hours nothing had come by.  It was midnight.  I was freezing.  This is February, remember.  It is cold at night.  So I went inside to warm up and nap.  At 5 am I went out to check things out.

I found another beheaded chicken.

Dammit!

What is this thing?

The next night, I decided to be stubborn.  No matter how cold or tired I got, I was not going inside until I saw this predator.

I had my straw bale blind, the shotgun, the wool blanket, all my heavy clothes, water bottle, and the seat of the lawn mower to make it a little more comfortable.  We’ve stopped buying caffeinated stuff, but if we’d had some it would have been out there too.  I was determined to stay awake and see what this was.

At four in the morning, I saw this:

In a baby voice: Cutest little chicken beheader EVER!

I saw it for a total of 2 seconds.  It took me one second to identify it.  The second second was spent adjusting the barrel of the shotgun an inch or two to train it on the mink.  It saw the movement.  It fled.  It did not come back.

Pessimistic view:  The predator situation was not resolved.
Optimistic view:  No chickens died that night.
Realistic question:  I’m too tired to do this a fourth night in a row.  What can we do?

Then it hit me.

Why is my brain still operating inside the box?

We have livestock guardian dogs.  Chickens are livestock.  They are being preyed upon.  This needs to stop.  I have not been able to discourage the mink.  The livestock guardian dogs successfully discourage packs of coyotes.  The mink is alone and smaller than a coyote.  If I was a mink, I would not mess with a Great Pyrenees.  If I was a Great Pyrenees, I would not take any shit off of a mink.  This could work.  Maggie the guard dog could chase something off and feel good about herself.  Sgt Pepper the guard puppy could get some solo goat-guarding experience (He doesn’t even have his big boy teeth yet, but he weighs about 50 pounds and barks at the coyotes like a big boy already.  Besides, he and the goats are behind a sturdy cattle panel fence for the night anyway.).  The farmer could get some sleep.

A 90-pound Great Pyrenees ought to be intimidating.

Sgt. Pepper is serious for his first night on solo goat guarding duty.

So I put Maggie in the chicken coop to try to deter the mink.  Apparently, the mink did not enjoy encountering Maggie there protecting the chickens because it did not kill any chickens that night.

During the following day I put Maggie back out to frolic with her goats and returned her to the chicken coop the next night.  This morning, there were again no beheaded chickens.  Yay Maggie!

Tonight will be the big test.  For three nights in a row the chickens have been spared after the mink killed 5 of them in 4 nights.  Three nights ago the mink was frightened off by my presence.  The next two nights Maggie scared it off and protected the chickens.  Tonight Maggie is with the goats and I’m not sitting in the coop.  Hopefully the mink has been deterred.

Keep your fingers crossed.

The Farm in Winter

Roughhousing.

Welcome to 2011!  Just don’t call it “two thousand eleven” in front of my dad.  You’ll get an argument…

With the new year comes a new layout for the blog.  Thanks to my brother Will/Billy for the photo and our friends Cassie, Adele, Kathy, and Angela for the depicted rooster.  Hopefully this theme is a little more personal and a little less garish.  Faithful friends who began reading this blog in Year One can always brag that they were there for the overpoweringly green theme that was 2010.

We haven’t seen much green around the farm lately.  Lots of snow has fallen and stayed on the ground.  Dry Creek, the waterway that forms the northwestern boundary of Good Life Ranch, is frozen over.  This morning I saw a mink happily walking along in the middle of the frozen creek.  You see a lot more wildlife when Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (Scooter and Bailey, our house dogs) are inside.  Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum don’t like to do morning chores when it’s cold and snowy, so they sit on the front porch and whine until Mama Lindsey lets them back inside.

On the plus side of snowy weather, we get to go sledding down the big hill in the pastures behind the house.  My parents gave Lindsey (well, both of us, but it’s been claimed) a sled for Christmas and it sure is fun to use.  It’s a really nice sled – fast, sturdy, easy to turn, big enough for two people – and we’ve given it a couple of uses so far.  In fact, after I write this I’m going to go sledding this afternoon.

Lindsey hoists her new sled.

The dogs like sledding, too.  They chase us down then hill and sometimes get in the way.  Then at the bottom of the hill they crowd around us like they are so glad that we emerged alive from the reckless activity we had just undertaken.  Then they pose for photographs.

Posing.

Bailey and her fellers.

So, besides sledding, what do farmers do in winter?

Well….

1.  We read and research.  In addition to a couple of books for fun reading, I’ve read The Contrary Farmer, It’s a Long Road to a Tomato, and One-Straw Revolution so far this winter.  I also read other farmer’s blogs and webpages looking for ideas and tips in order to work smarter around here.

2.  We plan.  I’ve laid out and measured fence lines for 3 of our pastures so far.  I’ve planned out 3 of the Lifestyles Lane structures that we’ll start building over Spring Break.  I’ve planned out the planting schedule for our greenhouse and gardens for the year.  I’ve tried to organize a Community-Supported Agriculture program for our area in 2011.  No takers so far.

3.  We order things.  Seeds mostly.  Last week I researched and ordered all the seeds we should need for the upcoming year.  We are planning on having (drum roll, please): 3 varieties of onions, 5 varieties of garlic, 6 varieties of corn, broccoli, leeks, cabbage, chard, spinach, 6 varieties of lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, collard greens, beets, 3 varieties of peas, 8 varieties of beans, 3 kinds of potatoes, 2 varieties of carrots, kale, radishes, sweet potatoes, 4 kinds of peppers, 5 kinds of tomatoes, eggplants, turnips, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, 3 kinds of melons, and parsnips.  We should also have our perennial crops of asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, walnuts, hazelnuts, plums, and pears.  Hopefully our peaches will do better this year too.

4.  We price things we’ll need.  This is a good time of year to scrounge the internet and the phone lines looking for the best prices on items we’ll need during the upcoming year: fence posts and wire, feed, and seeders, for example.

5.  We build up our infrastructure.  During some “nice weather” pockets that I hope will be coming in the next two months, there will be some fence posts going into the ground.  We have 5 pastures here on the ranch – the front field (13 acres), the side field (12 acres), the hillside field (20 acres), the creek field (15 acres), and the hilltop field (12 acres).  We can’t afford to fence them all in, so we are starting with the ones closest to the road and working our way back from there.  We want to get the front field fenced this winter and the side field done before the end of next winter.

6.  We rest.

We’ve also had fun lately with our new weather station.  Good Life Ranch does not have the same weather as the closest places for which the local stations report or the closest places that the iPhone apps will find.  Our temperatures seem to vary by as much as 15°F from these “local” reports.  We also wanted an accurate way to measure our precipitation, humidity, wind speed, etc.  So my parents got us a nice little wireless weather data station for the house.  I’ve had fun monitoring it and it has a nice feature of being able to download that data to a computer for storage.  So far our highest temp in January is 61°F and our lowest is -3°F.

 

Our new weather station.
The console for the new weather station.

In livestock news, the chickens are laying 4-6 eggs per day.  So now we’ve got enough to sell.  The eggs are really good even though the yolks have paled slightly from the first burnt-orange ones we got.  They are still much better than the grocery store eggs.  Today they went all out and gave us 9 eggs, which is fantastic!

 

9 eggs from our laying hens today. Really good production for cold, snowy January without supplemental light!

The goats are getting a little tamer lately.  They are starting to recognize that I bring their food now since they’ve been getting hay only for about a month.  Well, hay and a little bamboo that I chop out of our patch every few days.  Nadine and Ivory will even let me pet them now.  More correctly, I can brush the hay off of their backs while they’re eating until they notice that I’m doing it.

Sgt. Pepper is growing quickly and Maggie Mae is doing a good job teaching him the livestock guarding business.  Sgt. Pepper now makes a big show of barking at Scooter when the latter comes with me to feed the dogs and the goats in the corral.  He’s still about half of Scooter’s weight, but he’s just as tall.  The fluff makes him look bigger.  Maggie and Pepper play constantly.  I think she’s glad to have the canine company.

I asked the goats if they felt unsafe with their guardian dogs distracted by playing with each other.  To a doe, they all said “Naaa.”

 

 

Of Garlic and Goats

Rows of freshly planted garlic.

Today was garlic planting day here at Good Life Ranch.  It feels good knowing that the first crop of 2011 is in the ground!

We ordered seed garlic of several varieties from an organic nursery back in August.  After months of delays caused by the company losing our order and not returning our phone calls, yet being organized enough to put the charges on our debit card, we finally got our garlic in mid-November.  The company we used was Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, and although we eventually got the garlic we ordered, I can’t say that I recommend them based on the customer service the company gave us.  Took the money, lost the order, claimed all of their office computers crashed, did not return phone calls, would not call back when they said they would.  All in all, I hope their garlic does better than their sales and service personnel.

I wanted to plant the garlic in mid-to-late October, but due to the shenanigans with the order and the company that wasn’t able to happen.  Then I thought it might be a good activity for when my family was visiting us over Thanksgiving, but due to the appendectomy, that wasn’t able to happen either.  THEN we had 6 inches of snow that I didn’t want to plant through.  So we finally got the garlic in the ground today.  Old European tradition says to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year – December 21st.  I know that’s not til Tuesday, but we’re supposed to get more snow and I didn’t want to waste the relatively nice weather we had today (a balmy 31°F).

We planted 5 varieties of garlic – large elephant garlic, Spanish roja, German red, Nootka rose, and Inchelium red.  I planted a dozen cloves of the elephant garlic, then almost a pound of each of the other varieties.  Each clove went pointy side up 2 inches into the ground spaced 5-6 inches from any other clove.  I planted the elephant garlic a little further apart since they are so large.  All in all I think I planted 9 rows of garlic this morning.  After planting the rows I raked a thick layer of leaves and straw over them, then watched the chickens proceed to scratch it all up.  Hopefully they won’t disturb the cloves too much.  The garlic should overwinter in the ground and pop up and begin growing early in the spring.  If all goes well we should be able to harvest some green garlic shoots sporadically throughout the spring before we harvest the garlic bulbs in July and August.

The other order of the day was to move the goat herd into a holding area.  We’re going to visit my family in Arkansas next week for the holidays and want caring for the goats to be as simple as possible for our farmsitter.  We hired our young neighbor Darrell to watch after the goats, livestock dogs, rabbits, and poultry for the 3 days we’ll be gone.

Maggie Mae and her protegé Sergeant Pepper survey their new domain.

Eventually we want to build a hayshed for feeding livestock in the winter so that we can collect and compost their manure before respreading it in the spring (when the pasture can actually take up the nutrients).  Manure put on pasture in the winter sees its nutrients vaporize or leach into the water long before the plants begin growing again, so we want to collect and store those nutrients in the winter so we don’t have to import our soil’s fertility in a bag.  However, we’re a little short on hayshed money right now, so this is our next best option.

A view of the entire goat corral.

We got some cattle panels and attached them to T-posts to make a 48′ x 90′ holding area for the goats.  We moved their shelter with hayrack into it.  The plan is to hold the goats in this area and feed them hay when the weather is bad this winter (or when your 13-year-old neighbor is farmsitting), and move them around with the portable fencing when there are a few days of nice weather.  We strategically placed the hay feeding area in a “living barn” of sorts.  The area is shielded from the north wind by the thick stand of bamboo.  Two other sides of the enclosure have pine trees to protect it.  So basically the goats are shielded from the weather on 3 sides and have their portable shelter in with them to boot.

Corral, corral maker, goats, and guard dogs.

To move the goats today we employed our successful strategy from the Great Goat Escape of 2010, which is to say that I caught lead goat Miss Priss and led her into the new corral.  The other goats followed along just like the other day and before we knew it we had the whole herd in the corral.  Piece of cake!

Guess who can fit through a cattle panel? Sergeant Pepper, that's who!

The only glitch in the system is Sergeant Pepper (the new Pyrenees puppy).  He is growing bigger by the day, but he is still small enough to slip through the 6″ x 6″ cattle panels.  So far this afternoon he had squirmed out at least 6 times.  It’ll be nice next week when he’s finally too big to do that and he’ll be forced to stay in that pen and bond with the goats at last.  It’s hard to get mad at him, though.  He’s so cute!

Egg makers. Particularly the one on the right. 🙂

On the poultry front, the chickens are really beginning to lay!  Today I found 13 eggs from our 14 hens.  The only unfortunate part is that I found them under the trailer, next to the mower, under a bush, on the straw bales…  not ONE egg in the milk crate nest boxes.  Hmmm….  Gotta figure out a way to convince them that the milk crates are the place to lay the eggs.  Collecting them will go much faster if we can do that.

BUT, the eggs are fantastic!  Even in winter, when the egg yolks are supposed to be very pale compared to the rest of the year, the color in these eggs just blows away the store bought ones.  I can’t wait to compare the difference in the spring and summer when the grass is growing.  Green plant matter leads to more yolk color.  More yolk color means more beta carotene.  Check out the difference below.

Good Life Ranch egg on the left. Naturally Preferred Organic Cage Free eggs on the right. This is Dec 19. We'll do the comparison again when the grass is green.

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Winter Wonderland

Good Life Ranch after 6" of snow.

Welcome to Lindsey’s first winter!

My wife has lived in south Texas her whole life, so we’re calling this her first winter.

The recent storm that ripped across the midwest dropped 6.5 inches of snow on our ranch over the last 24 hours.  The snow fell slowly as large soft flakes, then ramped up to heavy sheets of tiny flakes, and then settled into a fairly consistent flurry pattern.  The ranch really looks lovely from the ridge while blanketed with snow.

The goats and poultry have definitely changed activity patterns!  There’s a lot less roaming around and a lot more hunkering down under the shelter or in the coops.  Our Great Pyrenees guardian dogs absolutely love the snow…  I think they feel camouflaged so they can sneak up on the coyotes.

The chickens pretty much stayed in the coop today rather than scratching around for food, but on the plus side one of the chickens decided that today is the day to lay our first egg!  Lindsey found it in the milkcrate nest boxes we’ve got fixed to the wall in the poultry house.  We collected it and took it inside where I fried it up.  Lindsey and I shared it and I can report that it’s MUCH better than store-bought eggs, even though we buy the cage-free organic eggs from the store.  This egg (even though there hasn’t been green grass for weeks) had a yolk that was brilliant orange in color.  Amazing!

We’ve enjoyed a little romping of our own in the snow.  I wish my insides felt better from the surgery because it’s perfect sledding weather and we’ve got half of our ranch covered in large hills!

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Building a Hay Rack

Fancy, Ebony, and Ivory are thrilled with their new hayrack.

Well, I’m still on “light duty” from my appendectomy.  I’m not supposed to do anything real strenuous yet and since all the things I had planned for this winter were “heavy duty” moving or building I decided to make providing for our goats a little easier on us and a lot less wasteful of hay.  Winter feeding of hay is the number one operating expense in most livestock operations, so we want to minimize the amount of hay we have to feed and utilize the hay we feed as efficiently as possible through good management and decision making.

In the future we hope to be able to graze our ruminants year round without supplemental hay except in the worst years but we have to get our pastures into much better shape before that can happen.  So this year we will have to feed hay to supplement the browsing and grazing of the goats.  I thought we were going to be able to make it until January before we had to feed any hay, but we’ve had such a cold snap here lately that the grass is fading fast.  The temps here have been in the teens this week – no higher than 28°F on any day – and have been in the single digits at night.  So basically we had to start feeding some hay.

Since we’re new at all this we started by placing a hay bale on top of a dog house thinking that LGD Maggie Mae could get some shelter and the hay would stay up off the ground.  That strategy worked for somewhere between three and five minutes.  After that time, the goats had knocked over the doghouse, spread the hay all over the ground, and they and Maggie had made little nests in the hay in which to sleep.  Seeing all of the goats and Maggie sleeping in their nests was very cut, but hay is expensive, and that was going to waste a lot of it.

From the couple of days I spent carrying hay out to the goats I could tell doing that every morning was going to get really old really quickly, so I started thinking about making a portable hay rack.  Lots of companies make hay racks, but I was unable to find one that was designed to be moved around pastures with the animals.  Most people either bring large round bales to central feeding points for non-rotationally-grazed animals or they bring their animals into a hayshed in the winter and feed them there.  We’ll probably opt for the latter strategy eventually, but we need to build a hayshed and small stockyard first.  That way we can store the manure in one place through the winter when the pastures can’t absorb the fertilizer and spread it in the spring when it can be utilized.  But for now we have no hayshed and no stockyard, so we needed another solution.

As I said, I couldn’t find any portable hay racks to model one after, so I tried to think of the solution that would be easiest for us.

I decided that attaching a hay rack to the goats’ portable shelter would be the easiest thing for us to do since doing it that way would create no extra work in moving it.  We already move the shelter with the goats anyway – a task that has gotten much easier thanks to my dad, who put wheels on the goat shelter while I was in the hospital.  Now that thing pulls so easily!  That used to be the worst part of moving the goats, but no more!

Anyway, I attached a remnant 4′ x 4′ piece of plywood to one side of the shelter and then angled two old garden trellises that I found into the bottom of the plywood and through the bottom frame of the goat shelter.  Then I attached a wire to the top frame of the goat shelter, wove it through the trellis for added support, and attached the wire to the top frame of the shelter on the other side of the plywood.  See the video below for a visual.

As you can see, this is a perfectly functional poor-man’s hay rack that moves right along with the goat shelter from paddock to paddock.  I used stuff we had lying around, but if you want to copy this it would only cost you about $22.  A full piece of plywood runs about $8 at Lowe’s and I saw similar trellises at Wal-Mart for $6.97 each.  You’d even have a half sheet of plywood left over at that price.

Hopefully the goats will be kind to it and not break it to pieces, but I think the worst they could do it bend the wire on the trellises.  That shouldn’t be too hard to fix if it becomes necessary.

After 24 hours, the hayrack has seemed very successful at keeping the hay off of the ground and at giving the goats access to the hay.

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