Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Goats Eat

As I was out with my goats on a sunny late-May morning I was thinking how wonderful it must be to be a goat in West Virginia during spring.  I also was thinking that is wasn't too bad for the goat herder either.  Everywhere you look is goat food and lots of it.  If that were me, I wouldn't know where to start sampling and apparently the goats have the same problem.  As they wandered I thought I'd make a mental note of everything they munched.  They defintitely have their preferences and might spend a few minutes on a multiflora rose but only take a quick bite or two of an elm tree. 

Interestingly, goats cover a lot of ground as they browse, sampling this and that.  They also tend to favor the tips and tender shoots, avoiding the stemmier parts of most plants.  In the sunny open areas they sampled grass, red clover, weeds of various kinds and were most fond of woodland sunflower.  As they moved to the hillside they found multiflora rose, blackberry, raspberry, sumac, alder, hazelnut, and poison ivy.  They soon wandered into the woods to escape the sun and happily munched the leaves of dogwood, hornbeam, maple, ash, elm (not their favorite), oak, beech, willow and pine.  On the way back to the barn they nibbled on the leaves of an old apple tree.

Goats seem to know what they like and need to maintain optimum health.  They also avoid plants that they know are bad for them.  Too bad us humans don't have the same instincts.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Triplets! (or Why We Will Never Be Invited To Another Party)

Saturday was an interesting day.  Don and I were invited to a joint birthday party in town to commence around noon.  Because my husband's and a dear friend's husband's birthday are within a day or two of each other, we decided to have a joint celebration.  Only a few friends were attending and Eve was planning a lovely simple lunch and cake.  An elaborate cake I might add in hindsight.  I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon since this past week seemed extra hectic with goat babies, gardens and yard work, among other things. 

On Friday I had observed that one of my young does, not quite due to kid, was beginning to show signs of impending birth.  Friday afternoon and evening came and went.  Was this just a false alarm?  Would Annie wait until at least her earliest due date of Sunday or Monday?  Was I going to be taking a very pregnant young goat to a birthday party in town?

By mid-morning Saturday I looked at Annie and I knew she would be kidding within hours.  I called Eve and explained (somewhat frantically and apologetically) that I feared Annie was going to kid and we debated what to do.  After several options were discussed, it was decided to move the party to our farm providing the guests were okay with the last-minute change.  This might be a good time to add that Eve is also a goat person and was very understanding.  I hoped her guests were as understanding.

Within the hour, and another phone call, it was confirmed that the party would travel to our farm and was now somewhat expanded (and slightly delayed) to include a cookout with burgers and dogs as well as Eve's vegetarian dishes and elaborate cake.  This is wonderful!  We can have our party and I can keep an eye on Annie.

Shortly before our guests were scheduled to arrive, I was out on the deck starting to clean up our large charcoal grill that had been sitting all winter.  Don came to the door and yelled "I think Annie is having her kids"!  I ran to the barn and sure enough she was pushing and the bubble containing the kid was in sight.  She delivered a small buckling but it was obvious she wasn't done.  "She's going to have twins" I yelled. "I need another puppy pad and towel!"  The next kid followed quickly and was a large buckling that was three times the size of the first one.  I was helping Annie get the kids dried off and she pushed again and out came a very tiny kid born breech.  I knew she was going to be tough because of the fluid in her lungs, her tiny size and the fact that she was early.  A quick check confirmed that she was a little girl. 

We whisked her into the house and began warming her and I ran out and milked some very thick colostrum from the mother.  It was exactly then the first vehicle of people arrived.  I was dressed in old shorts and I was splattered with iodine, birth fluid and sticky colostrum.  People that know me well might not be surprised at my appearance so I was very happy to see that Eve was among the first arrivals.  Most of the people that were coming were the family of an aquaintence of mine.  In fact it was our dentist.  I know him but not really "crawling around in a stall of birthing fluid" know him.  As the guests entered the house bearing coolers of food and drink, my husband and I had the little doeling on the kitchen counter trying to warm her with our hairdryer and get some colostrum into her with a small syringe since she couldn't suck on a nipple.

While Don, Eve and I tended to the little one, guests set about to chopping, heating food, serving beverages, finding freezer and fridge space, finishing the grill cleaning, setting up outdoor tables, cooking burgers, and generally making themselves at home for which I was very thankful.  At some point I stuck out a sticky hand to introduce myself to the three people I had never met (and likely will never see again!).

After an hour or so we got the babies dry, fed and settled into a cardboard box .  I was able to join the party and had a wonderful time with some very accomodating people and all I had to do was sit and eat. 

Here is a peek at the new kids.

The first-born buckling P-nut.

Annie and her second-born kid that is her clone.  He is staying with his mother.

The last tiny triplet, Gracie, with a milk mustache.

Eve, who is wonderfully understanding, brought her bottle-fed goat-puppy Moonbeam.  It was so cute!   Moonbeam stationed herself next to the box of goat kids and happily entertained herself chewing on their box.  She is a very good goat-puppy and goes out in the grass to potty, well except for that one incident on the chair LOL.
Eve and her 10-day-old doeling Moonbeam.

After it was al over I concluded that this was my kind of party! It will be interesting to see if anyone else feels the same.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What do you see?

I took this picture yesterday and as I looked at it evoked a lot of thoughts.

The first thoughts were of all the work that needed to be done now that it is early May.
1. Finish tilling the garden.
2. Seed things like beans, corn, squash.
3. Put up all the fences that we use to support tomatoes and peppers.  Unfortunately you can't see all the livestock panels that I use for that because they are hidden in the TALL grass.
4. Cut bamboo for bean trellises.
5. Mow the TALL grass, remembering to move the panels so I don't run over them which also reminds me my mower battery is kaput so I need a new one.
6. Change the oil in my ATV since the "change oil" light came on.
7. Get the the fencing put up that is peeking out of that tall grass in the foreground.  Fortunately I am hiring someone to do that this year.  We just cannot handle those 330-foot rolls on the steep hills anymore.
8.  Start spreading the two huge piles of mulch that are in the garden around the broccoli and onions.
9. String the electric fence around the garden now that the livestock panel-chicken wire barricade is up except it needs a few more finishing touches like attaching it firmly to the posts.
10.  Clean the scrap lumber (from our old house that we remodeled) out of the barn loft so it can be used for hay storage now that I have a larger goat herd.  Create an opening for a hay elevator and find a hay elevator.

As I gazed at the photo a bit longer I also saw something else.
1. The sweet shrub and lilac are blooming near the house and I inhale the lilac's sweet scent as I pass near it throughout the day.
2. The lovely pale shades of green of the trees as they leaf out contrasting with the dark green of the grass.
3.  All the great strolls in the woods I have taken these last couple of weeks watching spring unfold.
4. All the work that has been completed already this spring (the garden fence comes to mind the most).
5. My tractor.  I love my tractor.  It hauls things I cannot carry, it mows my meadows and brush where I don't want brush to grow, and it tills our garden. My tractor also reminds me of my 50th birthday with family and friends.  It was my present from my husband.
6. Most of all I see that this is our farm that we have worked so hard to build over the last 16 years or so and the satisfication I feel knowing that when we provide for it and it provides for us.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Just below our house along our driveway is a rock-house cave with a 15-foot waterfall.  In summer it is hidden and in deep shade.  In spring it is in view and the sunlight dappled hillsides are covered with a carpet of Trilliums.

Trillium grandiflorum or great white trillium, is the most common trillium on the slopes next to our cave.  The flowers are large and brilliant white.  After several days, these trilliums fade to a pale pink.
Trillium grandiflorum covering the hillside.

Trillium grandiflorum.

There are two less common species of trillium that I find next to our waterfall.  Trillium erectum, also known as purple trillium, wet-dog trillium or purple wake-robin, has a foul odor that attracts flies and beetles for pollination.  Purple trilliums are not really purple but are maroon or deep red.

Trillium erectus or purple trillium.

The flowers of the purple trillium are on long stalks making them droop.

An even less common trillium on our woods is Trillium cornuum, also known as nodding trillium.  Its flower is also on a stalk and tends to droop.

Tillium cornuum.

Trilliums have a unique method of seed dispersal.  Seeds are encased in a capsule that bends to the ground as the plant matures.  The capsules splits open dispersing the seeds.  Each seed has a structure called an elaiosome attached to it that attracts ants.  Ants carry the seeds away and consume the nutrient rich elaiosome and discard the seeds. 

Now use the word "elaiosome" in a sentence three times.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April Walk with Dogs

I promised to take a walk with the dogs in my last blog. It was a lovely day and I did more strolling and picture-taking and let the dogs do most of the scrambling.  Here are some photos around our farm from April 23rd in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
I found one of our cats, Aztec, lounging under a large tree in the sun. 
Of course he got up to come see me.

Our dog Ace waiting for me to catch up.

Our Spinone Tia who is constantly on the move.

More moving...

Typical Tia.

Our Spinone Trixie.  She has never met a brush pile that didn't capture her attention.

Trixie, always intense out in the field.

Trail to our gas well where we get our free gas.

Our gas well.

On the way home back down the gas-well trail.

View of our back field.
House and garden in the early morning sun.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Stroll with Goats

April in WV is always a great time to take walks in the woods and open hillsides.  Goats are perfect companions if you want to take a leisurely stroll to look for emerging flowers or morel mushrooms.  Goats are happy to stop and browse, sometimes on that emerging flower you wanted to see, but usually they find fresh green weeds, some briars, or tempting young leaves.  When I feel like a more challenging walk I take my Spinoni who love nothing more than to keep moving, covering every inch of territory, back and forth, hoping to flush a bird or squirrel.  These walks usually involve clambering up and down steep hills. It usually ends up being a cardio workout with a few obstacles thrown in for that extra little challenge.  When we get home the dogs generally resemble this picture.
A picture form April several years ago, with visiting Spinone Missy, my Spinone Tia
and my old boy Moose.  Sadly Moose is no longer able to participate
on long walks due to advancing age.

Walks with goats is more about reflection and relaxation than seeing how far one can push one's body.  I took my herd of seven does out a few days ago and I'll share some pictures from a lovely spring day.

Pausing for a little Multiflora Rose snack.

Tinkerbelle enjoying some fresh grass.

Heidi and my standard LaMancha.  Heidi is a big dog!

Don't worry!  You won't lose me.  I won't let you take a picture without me in it either.

I love the open woods in early spring.

I want to be in the picture too!

Rain nibbling some fresh leaves.  Yum!

Midnight enjoying a snack of Multiflora Rose. 

Our walk is nearly over.  Time to let these pregnant girls rest a while...except for
Starr pictured in front who is currently giving me over a gallon a day of milk .

I hope you enjoyed the walk.  Next time we'll take the dogs and I'll take some pictures of the farm.  Maybe even one of the dogs will still be in the picture.  Oh, and we didn't find any Morels today but there is always tomorrow!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Garden Fencing - Let Me Count the Ways

I have a love-hate relationship with the fencing around our garden.  I dislike having my access limited to a couple of gates but here, as in most regions, anything growing in an unfenced garden just becomes critter food.  We are starting our 17th year and have gone through several variations of garden fence.  When we first moved here we had no other animals and our main goals were to keep the deer and groundhogs out of the garden.  We put up 5-strand electric which really didn't help with either problem.  How naive we were.  The deer went over (or through) the fence and the groundhogs went under.  We soon added two feet of chicken wire around the bottom and made an apron on the outside which kept out the ground hogs.  It also broke a lot of trimmer line and the chicken wire eventually rusted away and was removed in rusty pieces.  We learned (from somewhere but I forget now) that deer would respect a single strand of electric fence if it is about 30 inches high and baited with peanut butter. The idea is that the deer smell the peanut butter, touch it with their nose, and once "bitten", leave the garden alone.  This seemed to work so our spring ritual before the early crops went in was baiting the perimeter fence with aluminum foil and cheap peanut butter.  The procedure is to place 4-inch foil squares every 8 to 10 feet along the wire.  The foil is taped to the wire with duct tape then the peanut butter is spread on the foil and folded over.

As we added dogs to the farm, the groundhog problem went away and the single wire baited a couple of times a season served us well for a number of years.  The one issue with foil though is that the birds just love to sit on the wire and peck at the the peanut butter eventually destroying the foil.  In an attempt to foil the birds (no pun intended) I opted one year to try hanging beer cans with a bit of peanut butter inside.  That year our garden was encircled by a lovely garland of Old Milwaukee cans filled with wasp nests.  I resumed using foil the following year, knowing we'd have to redo the foil in late summer.

Somewhere along the way we decided to get chickens.  We built a coop inside the garden (there is that naive thing cropping up again) and fenced it with 6-foot-tall 2x4 wire.  The plan was to keep the chickens in a run when there were plants growing in the garden (April through October) and feed them lots of garden leftovers. 

Chickens stripping broccoli leaves.
This worked very well and it was handy since we spend a lot of time in the garden but the chickens still consumed a lot of purchased feed while incarcerated.  We decided that it would be better to have them free ranging.  So we gave away the chickens.  That was about 3 years ago.

We decided to get chickens again last last summer.  I wanted free ranging hens this time so that meant keeping the chickens out of the garden.  I pondered various fencing options and thought that I'd just put 4-foot chicken wire around the garden and put the electric wire on the outside to keep out the deer.  By now, having had lots of experience with dogs, goats, and chickens, I have put up (and removed) a lot of fence of various types.  Will I EVER learn???   I started with the chicken wire then ripped it down the next day after putting up a few feet of  wire.  Chicken wire is floppy and ugly especially when the terrain is the least bit irregular. Being in West Virginia, our farm pretty much defines irregular. Time for plan B.  Give the chickens away again, save myself a lot of time and money and buy free-rang eggs from a friend.  We decided against plan B and began to implement plan C. 

Plan C, currently under construction, involves fencing the garden perimeter with galvanized cattle panels covered with that 4-foot chicken wire that I had already opened and used.  I must say that I dearly LOVE cattle panels. I buy some every chance I get.  The downside is that they are 16-feet long and to haul a number of them requires a good-sized truck.  Fortunately, good friends offered to haul all my fencing materials on their flatbed truck and for this I am grateful.  The up-side of cattle panels is that they are semi-rigid, virtually indestructible and I can put them up by myself. They also make great tomato fences.  I often say that if I ever move away from this farm all my cattle panels are coming with me.

Anyway, back to the current fence.  Since I am working alone, I lay the panels on the ground, roll the chicken wire over the panel and attach it with zip-ties. As each panel is finished, I carry it to the garden, attach it to metal t-posts with big zip-ties.  Later I will go back and secure the panels with more zip-ties.  I am gradually working my way around the garden adding posts and panels and it looks like this:

Cattle panels covered in chicken wire.  The electric fence will be on the outside of the panels.

 I'm nearly done putting up panels except for a double cattle-panel gate for tractor/truck access to the garden and a smaller gate for people access.  This fence should keep out all the errant dogs, goats, chickens, deer, and small elephants that may wander by looking for a tasty nibble of broccoli.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Gardening - 2013 Beginnings

The first week of April finally graced us with a few dry, warm days and we were able to get out in the garden to plant a few things for the first time this year.  The chickens have been free-ranging in the garden all winter but are temporarily incarcerated in their run until we complete the new chicken-proof (hopefully) fencing around the garden.
Not happy!
We planted lots of onion sets.  Generic "yellow" for green onion and the variety "Stuttgarter" for storage.  Late planting probably won't allow them to reach their full size but we use a lot of onions and so we may be spending a lot of time peeling small ones.  We'll see how they do.

We also planted some shell peas.  Today we will plant a few "snap" type peas.  A friend gave me a few potatoes that had sprouted so they went in as well.  A few of them are purple so that will be fun come digging time.  I plan to grow them under hay/straw but I planted them in a shallow trench and covered them with a bit of compost to get them started.

Don planting peas.  Some of the onions are tucked in amidst the hay and
the short row of potatoes is on the left.
It is a modest start but it is still very early here in WV.  In our small greenhouse broccoli is waiting to be set out later this week.
The tomatoes and peppers are started but haven't germinated yet.  We waited later this year to start them because last year they got almost too large in the greenhouse to set out easily and our growing season is delayed a week or two this year. 
Tomatoes and peppers.
We also started some hardy figs from cuttings last fall and they are in the greenhouse hopefully rooting.  At least they have leaves.  There is an an Italian type and something we were told was a "golden fig" which was given to us by a friend.
Stay tuned for regular garden updates throughout the year.  Our major goals for the garden this year are:
1.  Not to plant more tomatoes than we need.  We haven't even touched our canned ones from last year.
2.  Have a successful salsa garden.  We finally found a salsa recipe that we love so we plan to can a lot of that again this year.  If you love salsa but don't like it with tons of vinegar added, try this one.
3.  Have succession plantings of lettuce for summer salads.
4.  Grow enough green veggies to last us until next year.
5.  Keep the chickens out of the garden while allowing them to free range all summer OUTSIDE the garden.
6.  Plant things that we actually EAT. 
7.  MULCH MULCH MULCH to minimize weeding which worked really well for us last year.  With piles of wasted hay  from the goats composting in the garden, this won't be a problem!
Mulch - Pile number 1 of 3.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bottle-Baby Season (or One Way Goats Multiply)

I love goat-baby season.  This year I made the decision to bottle feed my first Mini-LaMancha goat kids, both boys.  I wanted to have very tame kids that would make great pets or bucks that could be easily handles.  Also I wanted to develop Starr as a milk goat which is easier to do when you just take the kids away at birth and then become her "baby".

This little guy is for sale by the way .

In February, I had one little Nigerian Dwarf doe kid born on my farm from a very nice doe I used to own named Jamboree.  I played midwife for while her owner was out-of-town.  Jam had a single blue-eyed doeling and I was in LOVE!  Well Holly came back home a few weeks ago and I put her on a bottle since she was about 6 weeks old and was being raised by her mother.  I find that kids this age really take to a bottle quite easily.  Even if it takes a day to make the transition, kids are eating solid food at that age and are drinking water so missing a day of milk won't hurt them.  Holly took to it right away though.

A few hours old.

6 weeks old.
Then I received a surprise from Black Dog Farm in Calhoun County.  I had helped them with their first birthing experience with Minnie which produced a lovely doeling and a very nice buck kid.  I  fawned all over that little doeling and a few weeks later she was presented to me as a gift from Black Dog Farm to Twiggity Farm.  I still can't believe she is here.  She was being raised as a bottle baby and when I went to get her she was lounging on a settee on the sun porch.  Now that is a goat kid that has figured out the finer points of life!  She is making the transition very nicely and is now a treasured member of our Nigerian herd.

Blossom.  Thank you Black Dog Farm!
 Somewhere along the way this spring I came to the conclusion that I really didn't want to cut my Nigerian herd back to the point I had been planning.  Then last week a  friend in Virginia at Yipper Skipper Acres decided to disperse her Nigerian Dwarf herd.  It just so happened she had three lovely doelings. So this past Saturday Don and I made the trip to Harrisonburg, VA to pick up these three lovely kids as well as two other goats for friends.  These kids were also raised by their mother but were six and seven weeks old so we decided we could probably get them on a bottle.  If it took a day the kids would be fine since they were eating solid food anyway. Melissa from Indigo Acres Farm came over and is very skilled at getting kids to take bottles so she had two of the three sucking away in no time!  I sat with the other kid and she took to the bottle as well. 

Don working hard with one of the babies.

Starr, my LaMancha and the momma of the two boys pictured at the beginning of this blog, is producing at least a gallon a day which is plenty to feed all seven bottle kids.  Good going Starr!
Starr on the milk stand. 

And if this isn't enough Melissa at Indigo Acres has agreed to let me bring a little doeling from our beloved Ginger back to Twiggity Farm. She is cute as a button just like her mother.
Ginger's doeling (photo courtesy of Indigo Acres Farm).

Looks like we have a herd again!!!