Tag Archives: great pyrenees

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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Sgt. Pepper

Sgt. Pepper rides home in Lindsey's lap in the truck.

This cute little fluffball is Sgt. Pepper, Good Life Ranch’s newest livestock guardian dog (LGD).  Lindsey’s parents, Ronnie and Jake, had given us some money to buy some young LGD pups for Christmas.  This is pup #1!

No, Maggie is not being replaced.  She is doing a tremendous job!  But she is between 7 and 8 years old and it takes 18-24 months to get a LGD trained and working at full capacity. So now is the time to start training a replacement if we want Maggie to be able to retire before she hits double digits in age.  We wanted to get 2 young puppies (a male and female so that we won’t have to buy a LGD again, as well as hopefully make a little bit of money to pay for their food eventually) and allow Maggie to train them how to be good guardians.  Then, once the younger generation is trustworthy and working at full capacity, Maggie will be able to retire to a smaller area with some geese or pygmy goats or something.

We got Sgt. Pepper from a family near Campbellsville.  The parents of the litter of 9 puppies were on the premises and were guarding a small flock of goats in addition to raising their litter of puppies.  The parents were alert but very friendly, even with strangers.  There were 4 puppies still there – 2 males and 2 females.  We chose the puppy that seemed the most confident and willing to explore the paddock.  He was also a little bit bigger than the others, but that was not as important to us as his personality and self-confidence.  Right now he weighs around 12 pounds and will be 9 weeks old tomorrow.

On the way home we decided that we would call him Sgt. Pepper.  Lindsey also wants a llama named General Fierceness, so apparently she is a fan of military ranks.  The Beatles theme for our LGDs could be fun – Sgt. Pepper and Maggie Mae could have friends named JoJo, Jude, Desmond, Eleanor, Michelle, Maxwell, Mr. Kite, Paperback Writer, Prudence, Lucy, Lady Madonna, Rocky, John, and Yoko.  I’m also pretty sure I’ve missed many of the names in their more obscure songs, but you get the idea!

We also stopped off at one of our Amish neighbor’s and got a well-made doghouse so that Sgt. Pepper could get away from the goats if they try to play too rough while he’s still little.  Before we move the goats next I’ll put some wheels and handles on the doghouse so we can move it around the pasture with the goat shelter and Sgt. Pepper and Maggie will have a place of their own that the goats can’t enter.  We also learned that his parents live just half an hour or so away from my parents in Arkansas.  Small world!

Here are some shots of Sgt. Pepper’s first day at Good Life Ranch.

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Once we got back home, we put some straw in the doghouse so that Sgt. Pepper could make himself a little nest.  Then we put him inside the doghouse and put it inside the next goat paddock.  We then proceeded to build the goat paddock around the doghouse with him in it.  Our thought was that the goats are usually distracted by the fresh grass for a while after a paddock shift and would therefore notice the puppy one at a time over a period of time rather than him being the only new thing in their world.  For the most part, it worked.

After building the new paddock and moving Maggie and the goats into it, we took care that Sgt. Pepper and Maggie had a good first meeting.  Maggie sniffed the entrance of the doghouse and then went around the paddock doing her usual marking and scraping to define her territory.  Coyotes beware!  After she finished that, we took Sgt. Pepper out of his house and let them introduce themselves.  Maggie sniffed him a little but was far more interested in getting attention from us.  Sgt. Pepper followed her around a little and explored the paddock on his own a little.  I took him across the paddock to make sure he could find his way back to his doghouse, and he was successful!  He only needed a little break in the goat shelter at the halfway point.

The only negative was the boss goat, Miss Priss.  She head-butts all the other goats all the time, and she did that with Sgt. Pepper once, too.  He squealed but wasn’t hurt.  I was also encouraged that he didn’t run away from her after that either.  We’ll just have to keep an eye on that situation over the next couple days.  Sgt. Pepper has the doghouse he can retreat too, but if Priss doesn’t leave him be then we’ll put Sgt. Pepper in a smaller area with just Nadine and Roja so he can bond to goats without any danger of getting head-butted.

All in all, Sgt. Pepper had a big day.  He got his shots and de-wormer, had a nice truck ride in Lindsey’s lap, threw up a little from car sickness (luckily not in Lindsey’s lap), got a new house, pooped in the bed of the truck, met Maggie the mentor, stood up to Priss the goat, and fell sound asleep in the house before dark.

He’s very cute!

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Money, Math, and Movie

Part of the money from our very first sale. Lindsey says we should hang it upside down like Chinese restaurants do so it won't run out of luck.

We made our first two sales this weekend!  On Friday we sold one of our “pet type” lop rabbits to a couple who wanted a bunny for their grandson.  They came by the house around 7 pm and picked out a nice black and white lop rabbit.  We boxed it up and off it went to live with a (hopefully) loving child.  The $5 bill above is part of the $15 from the sale of that rabbit.

Then on Saturday we made another sale.  On Monday a customer from Campbellsville called and placed an order for 2 of our meat rabbits.  She wanted to pick then up on Saturday, which is good because after processing they need to chill (literally) for a couple of days to age the meat.  Since we’ve only raised these rabbits for half of the normally required grow-out period of 12 weeks I did the math and figured out that $2 per pound of liveweight would give us a profit and provide us the hourly wage we’re looking for from our farm endeavors.  Because these rabbits dressed out at 60%, that means that we’d be charging $3.33 per pound dressed.  I think that our price per pound will go up on those rabbits that we raise from birth, however.

The customer bought the live rabbits from us, and I dressed them as a courtesy for them.  So on Wednesday I had to process rabbits for the first time.  The processing went smoothly and the rabbits did not suffer, but it’s still a little graphic for me to describe in writing.  If you want to know how to process rabbits there are lots of good books, internet articles, and videos that you can google.  After processing the rabbits and composting the remains, the meat went into the fridge to age until Saturday when the customer picked it up.  I felt like an actual businessman writing up receipts.

Receipt from the first food we sold!

Now here’s where more patience comes in…  I figure that I work around 11 hours a day for 6 days of the week and for 2 hours on the other.  That means I work roughly 68 hours per week.  We’ve been here 14 weeks so far.  That means I’ve worked about 952 hours so far.  I’ve made $39.  That means my hourly rate is…….  4¢.  And that’s without subtracting the expenses yet.  Ouch.

This week has been really busy, as usual.  I’ve chopped and cleared out our bamboo patch to a more reasonable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  Tomorrow I’m going to cut all the leaves off of the chopped bamboo to make poles to dry and use for the garden and building Lifestyles Lane structures.  The leaves will go into the gardens to compost for spring plantings.

Fall plantings are in place and finally sprouting after a small rain this week.  We’ve had several weeks without precipitation, so it took a little while for the seeds to sprout.  The plantings include spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, peas, carrots, onions, and parsnips and are all growing now.  Hopefully they can evade the feet of the turkeys who come by every day to debug the garden.  They’ve really dented the squash bug populations.  The butternut squashes are now curing in the office for a couple of weeks until they go into the basement for storage.  Then into pies and soups!

The turkeys also do lots of other fun things.  See below.

They are doing well and their growth rate really seems to be taking off now.  They are also getting bolder and will explore further from the poultry house every day.  They will go all the way up the hill behind the house and halfway out into the front pasture, so their range is now about a half mile from their “base.”  Now we just have to see what we’re going to do with them.  One has been committed to fill an order (thanks Aunt Sheila!) and one will be our Thanksgiving supper.  We have 1 male and 2 females of the Chocolates and Black Spanish turkeys, so if no one else places any orders we may save them until spring and try to breed our own turkeys for next year instead of ordering them.

On to the caprine kingdom!  The goats seem to be doing great!  They are making short work of the  brush behind the house that was too thick to chop down or bush hog.  The goats have changed that.  Each section that they go through is eaten down to the point that I can now go through there with the machete and clear the rest of it out.  They really enjoy the brush and eat it preferentially over the grass they have available.

Maggie, the goats’ livestock guardian dog, is doing a great job watching over them.  She does take a little getting used to, however, because she watches over them at night by announcing her presence with authority.  That means a lot of barking.  🙂  Unlike the other livestock guardian dogs we’ve been around, Maggie really enjoys human attention.  I went into the goat paddock the other day to fix the shelter that the goats had broken a part of and I could barely accomplish any of the repairs because Maggie kept sticking her basketball-sized noggin in between my arm and my body wanting to be petted.  She really is sweet.

So it’s Sunday.  The dogs are sleeping on the couch, the goats are playing king of the mountain on the gravel pile, the turkeys are catching grasshoppers, and the chicks are cheeping.  Good day!

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The Good Life Goat Herd

"The Herd"

Today I went to see about some Kiko goats to add to the two Boers that I got from my mother- and father-in-law and Lindsey for my birthday.  Both the Boers and the Kikos are supposed to be excellent meat goats.  The Boer breed was developed in the drier climate of southern Africa while the Kikos were developed in the wetter climate of New Zealand.  I’ve read some things that suggest that the Boers do better in the US when they’re west of I-35 and the Kikos do better east of I-35 because of the climate.  West of I-35 is more similar to South Africa while east of I-35 the climate is more similar to New Zealand.  I like characteristics of both breeds and being a scientist at heart, I want to experiment and see which breed is going to work better for us here in central Kentucky.  We’ll determine which breed works best by breeding these does and looking at the weights of the kids they wean, by seeing how often we have to worm them, and by observing how their hooves grow and how often we have to trim them.

As you can probably tell from the intro picture, I did indeed buy some goats today!  Marty and Janet at Red Brush Farms were extremely nice and helpful.  I encourage anyone interested in Kiko goats to give them a call.  They had high quality goats, were very knowledgeable, and incredibly generous.  I went to their place with a very limited amount of money to spend and came home with more than I ever thought I would due to their kindness and desire to see their animals cared for well.

In the picture above, you can see Roja and Nadine (the Boers) on the left and the Kikos on the right.  In between the two groups is Maggie, the Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog that Marty and Janet sent along with the goats.  Here are some closer shots of the individuals and their names (some of which we kept or used the name of the dam of the goat we bought):

"Maggie"

Maggie is 7 years old and an experienced LGD.  She’s already adopted our two Boer kids into “her” herd and is keeping a watchful eye on everything in her new surroundings.  She’s been introduced to Bailey and Scooter through the fence, and seems to be fine with them so far.  We’ll be careful with the introductions, though.  Maggie’s much bigger than Bailey and little Scootie.  I’ve been watching the herd out in the pasture, and Maggie will snooze while the goats graze around her.  If they move off more than about 20 feet from her she gets up and goes over to lie down closer to them.  Everything I’ve read suggests that the LGDs do this during the day and are very active patrollers at night.  That’s good, because this is what we hear at night: click me! So Maggie’s job is to keep those coyotes away.

"Miss Priss"

This is Miss Priss.  She’s 4 years old and 100% New Zealand Kiko.  According to Marty and Janet she had a single kid her first pregnancy and 3 sets of twins.  She’s also had good hooves and very good scores on parasite tests.  She’s now the matriarch of our herd.

"Fancy"

This is Miss Fancy’s #351, which we’ve shortened to Fancy for brevity.  She’s a 100% AP Kiko yearling and her dam has been a consistent top performer at Red Brush Farms.  She seems very alert and watchful.

"Ebony"

This is Ebony’s #76, or now “Ebony.”  She’s a striking solid black doeling who is the offspring of one of Red Brush Farm’s foundation does.  Marty and Janet said that she weighed 51.9 pounds at 90 days old, so good growth rate is hopefully in those genes.  Ebony is initially the friendliest of the new Kikos, or at least the most curious.  She’s the only one who approaches me when I’ve gone in to check on them – which I’ve probably done too much.  I have a habit of just going in with the goats and sitting for a while so they get used to me.  All 6 goats are pretty flighty right now.

"Ivory"

Finally, after Ebony we have Ivory.  Very imaginative, we know.  She is a 100% New Zealand Kiko and like Ebony had a 90-day weight of 51.9 pounds.  Both Ebony and Ivory were twins (but not to each other).  She’s got a piece of wood taped to her horns right now because she kept getting them caught in the fence at Red Brush Farm.  Hopefully we can cure of that and get the wood off of her so she doesn’t look quite so ridiculous.  🙂

Livestock crate for the truck.

Marty and Janet were so kind to me!  They also threw in this livestock carrier for the back of the pickup in the deal.  It’s much nicer and more functional than the dog crates I’ve been using to haul everything around and will come in useful over and over again for us.  The carrier is chain link with a gate on one end.

Very good day all in all after a rough start – we lost 7 broiler chicks in one of the tractors this morning.  We got over 5″ of rain last night (our rain gauge only goes up to 5″, so it could’ve been more), and in one chicken tractor the chicks slept out in the open rather than going underneath the tarp portion.  When I went out this morning there were 10 chicks that were apparently dead, but 3 of them were breathing a little bit and after being dried off with a towel and placed back into the brooder under the heat lamp they recovered and seem to be doing fine right now.

All the other animals weathered the storm well.  The turkeys do seem perturbed about the ankle-deep water in places, though.

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