Our first two doe kids, enjoying playing with the sheep.
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The more time I spend around animals the more I feel like I ultimately learn about myself. We want to use opposable thumbs and verbal language to draw dividing lines between us and them, but lines in the sand always get blurry after the tide.
I have a goat named Saffron, she is an Alpine/Nigerian Dwarf cross, small, lithe and beautiful. Groups of goats have a herd queen, an individual that makes the decisions for the others: when to eat, when to sleep, when to move on. Saffron’s royal duties have lead her into climbing the highest, and taking the biggest risks. She rules with an iron hoof.
Last autumn , as the leaves fell, the grass shriveled and the hay feeders were brought out, Saffron decided she wasn’t going to eat with the plebeians. She was going to eat inside the feeder, where she could shit on everyone else’s food. The feeder is about a foot wide, and she would glide inside it like a dove, landing softly and gracefully. A few lambs occasionally tried to emulate her but could never jump high enough, and always bounced off the sides of the feeder, dejected.
One morning we found Saffron limping around the inside pen. She had jumped out of the hay feeder incorrectly, caught her leg, and broken her third and fourth metatarsal bones cleanly and completely. When we caught her and I ran my hands delicately down her leg she screamed as I realized the only thing holding her lower leg together was muscle and skin. The vet splinted the bone later that day and advised Saffron be kept in a very small area to heal.
She did heal, and she came out of her confinement slightly unsteady, biding her time until she had the strength to take back what was hers.
And take it back she did. During the growing season Saffron would sneak under the fence with her suitors. I’d hold the door open for her to come back in to the proper pen and she would give me a contemptuous smirk. The queen does what she wants.
Now its winter again, and Saffron is back to jumping in the feeders. Broken bones, and all the memories of a goat can’t seem to keep her out out of the hay. We put a board across the top of the feeder, and she now jumps up on top of that, balancing on it, to dip her serene neck down to eat.She will balance on three legs, and scratch her neck with her back leg, all the while looking me in the eye and saying without words, “The heart wants, what the heart wants.”
Sometimes she pushes her way down below the board, into the depth of the feeder. She is pregnant, and with the new board she can’t get out on her own. She waits quietly, head held high, till I come by and pull her out, while she squirms and screams at the indignity of needing help from anyone at all. But I am gentle, always. Because I get it. The heart wants what the heart wants.
Fall is here, the last hurrah before the Midwest winter buries us in snow and makes the residents of this frosty land question if continuing to live here is an erosion of our sanity. The crisp air makes everything feel fresh and eager, when in fact the natural world is battening down the hatches, preparing for the winter that not everyone will see the other side of. Fall is a death, and a prep for rebirth. A threat, and a promise.
After my parents got divorced we lived in an apartment, and then we moved to the house on Jonathan Ave, where my youngest sister and my mom still live. My sister was six when we moved. We met Peta a few days after we moved in. She was playing at the park down the street with her uncle Steve. Peta was five.
Peta spent a lot of time at our house. A LOT OF TIME. She went everywhere with us, and I felt like she was my sister. She was tall and blonde, like mom, and when we were out, people thought Peta was her daughter, instead of us. She loved Harry Potter, and animals and was a sweet and gentle girl, not afraid to be quirky, with a quiet, bright smile.
She died last week on Tuesday. The funeral was yesterday.
We released balloons into the air and we watched them float out of view, and then we watched a little longer because we didn’t know what else to do. When people stopped saying, “I can still see one.” we just drifted away too.
I came home and found Calypso’s seven baby piglets she started birthing around the time we were letting balloons go. Dizzy is in the stall next to her with her 8 piglets and Penelope is growing fatter and fatter in the stall next to her waiting for her turn to farrow, which should be any time.
So much death, so much birth.
Life is just to fragile. Be kind to each other.
Joel and I have been on the farm five years, and we have practically had chickens for the entire time we’ve been here. Over the first few years we tried Delawares, Buckeyes, Speckled Sussex, New Hampshire Reds, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Seabrights, Silkies, Cochins, Black Jersey Giants, Dominiques and Chanteclers. We liked different things about different breeds but the breed we were drawn back to time and again was the Delawares.
Using the check lists established by The Livestock Conservatory ( http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/chicken-manual) we selected our Delawares over the past years for meat and egg laying qualities. Over time we decided to keep only Delawares and Silkies.
Two months ago a fox visited the farm in the middle of the day and brazenly killed almost our entire flock. It was heartbreaking to lose all the work we had put into the breeding a line of Delawares to be effective meat and egg producers as well as profoundly upsetting to lose so many gentle friends in a single day.
Since then Joel and I have been trying to decide how to move forward. Re-establishing our line would be difficult if not impossible. Buying new chicks was a possibility but quality of chicks can vary so we might not get the greatest specimens. Buying older birds from other farms was a possibility but bio-security is an issue.
After mulling it over for a while we decided to go in a somewhat different direction. When we had initially started raising chickens we were incubating chicks each spring. We enjoyed this, but it never came together or was as lucrative as we may have hoped. In part, this was due to our inability to sex chicks at hatch like the big hatcheries do. Sexing chicks is difficult and employees that work for the hatchery sexing chicks are trained to do so. Many farmers wanted only pullets (young females), and did not want to deal with the hassle of using excess males for meat production.
Although we loved our Delawares, and we still believe the breed is a great one we placed an order for the following birds which arrived this morning three weeks ago and are being cared for by our silkie, Michelle. Michelle went broody a few weeks before the chicks came in the mail. We put ping pong balls under her so she would keep sitting. The chicks came early in the morning and we snuck them under her. She immediately started making happy mother hen noises.
6 Barred Rock pullets
6 Cuckoo Maran pullets
6 White Rock pullets
14 Delaware straight run
10 New Hampshire Red cockerels
10 Buckeye cockerels
Red cocks can be mated to white hens and the offspring are white if they are male and brown if they are female. Red cocks can also be bred to barred females and the offspring can be told apart by spotting on their head. Being able to tell which chickens are female and which are male from the get go will be helpful.
We also had a Delaware go broody so we ordered some silkies and Naked Necks for her. The Naked Necks are supposedly good dual purpose birds although I find them a little bit ugly. Joel says they will grow on me and they probably will.
And now you know why they are called NAKED NECK.
Joel and I have lived on our farm for five years. Before that when we were in the reading, researching and dreaming phase I was obsessed with dairy goats. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit probably knows about my deep and unyielding love of cheese.
There is an often quoted saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ” Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” In all reality this is a condensed version of a paragraph Ben wrote in a letter that was actually about wine. Personally, I think he was just to drunk to actually remember he was talking about cheese. Cheese is just delightful, and really does seem to be proof that at least dairy goats love us and want us to be happy.
So why, given my overpowering cheese lust did we wait five years to start milking goats? I knew I wanted to make cheese but I also knew our animals needed to be working to pay our bills. Wisconsin has some of the most draconian cheese laws and one can not simply build a commercial kitchen and start making cheese. So, I put the brakes on my dreams of goats.
Half of our 40 acre property is overgrown woods. The first few years we spent building pasture fences (a task that never ends) in the obvious pasture worthy parts of the farm. As our poultry, sheep and pig herds and flocks grew bigger we began to think seriously about the woods. Joel has been wanting to clean up and restore the woods to Oak savanna (as it historically was) since we moved in, but it’s a huge project and it always seemed we had to many irons in the fire to get started on this important and time consuming project.
In 2014 we decided to get serious about restoring the woods. We knew we wanted to take out the invasives like Buckthorn and keep the trees with food value to livestock and wildlife such as oaks, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, black walnut, and mulberries. Some people don’t like mulberries because they are not native, but their leaves are very high in protein, everything loves to eat their berries (myself included!) and they provide shade in the pastures, so they are quite welcome on our farm.
We started building the first one acre pasture in the woods. We bought five goats and in the spring of 2015 put those goats and pigs into the wooded pasture. It was pretty obvious in the first few weeks that we needed more goats. The best goats for brush clearing are wethers, (neutered males, does currently in milk can damage their udders on things like raspberry brambles, which goats love to eat).
I made my case to Joel, if we want/need more goats we should get some does currently in milk, then in a few months we could re-breed them, and by next spring we would have more wethers for the woods, and almost the whole time I would have delicious milk to be made into cheese.
So, that is what we did! In subsequent blog entries I will show how the goats are working for us by
1. Making milk (cheese, soap)
2. Clearing the woods of invasives without the use of pesticides, or poisons all the while feeding themselves and having a great time.
3. How the does in milk are helping with the weeds in the sheep pasture.
4. The differences between sheep and goats, why I love them both, and why we need them both.
Sheltering Pines Bug – Bug is my favorite ram hands down. He is friendly, moorit, has a great fleece, scurred,
tends to throw friendly offspring, has great legs, and scurred.
1. Under the Son Senja- Senja is a black sheep, with very nice confirmation and very dense wool. I am hoping Bug can improve the crimp and fineness in her fleece. She is quite friendly. Black lambs likely.
2. Emancipation Inara- Inara is a favorite of mine. She is a Snowflake daughter who always produced lovely lmbs for us. She is a fawn katmoget from our first ever breeding. She is friendly, with lovely fleece and confirmation. Her ram lamb from this year is still for sale. Last year we put her with Bug and the Riddick was a lovely little ram. This year I am hoping for a similiar ewe. Moorit or black lambs likely.
3. Under the Son Sonora- Very friendly ewe that will nibble my fingers if the treats don’t come fast enough. Hoping or an improvement in crimp in white. Black or white lambs likely.
4. Winter Sky Wren- Lovely little moorit yearling with a great fleece. Hoping Bug can fill out her offspring a bit. Moorit lambs.
5. Sheltering Pines Lotus Moon- I kept Lotus’s lamb from last season (Kalinda) and I can only imagine the fleece on her Bug babies will be divine. Stephen has lovely sheep and I can’t wait for these lambs. White or black lambs.
White Pine Levi- Levi I had also used heavily in the last few years. He will be for sale after breeding season.
1. Sheltering Pines Temperance- Not much to complain about with this ewe, she is lovely. Black lambs
2. Ok Acres Tina- Tina is a great little sheep. She had a great ram lamb with Levi last year so we are putting her with him again to try for a keeper ewe lamb. Moorit or black lambs.
3. Emancipation Cleo- Cleo won 3rd place in a large yearling lamb class at Wisoconsin Sheep and Wool. This will be her first lambing year. Moorit or black lambs.
4. Abbie- Snowflake’s last baby. Katmoget lambs.
5. Obara- my crossbred sweetie
Whispering Pines Jean-Luc
1. Emancipation Prija- Bug daughter, lovely fleece. Katmoget lambs
2. Firth of Fifth Sakadah- mother to Bruce (breeding ram). Gul-kat, gulmoget, katmoget, black lambs. Hoping for gul-kats.
3. Shepherd Woods Easter Skerry- Loved her lamb with Jean Luc last year, wanted to repeat the breeding. katmoget lambs
4. White Pine Faith- Hoping to get a bit more size on the lambs. Katmoget lambs.
5. Fiona- crossbred
1. Red Oak Freya- Freya is a lovely ewe. She carries moorit and spots and I am crossing my fingers for a moorit spotted gulmoget ewe lamb but could get that or gulmoget, moorit, black
2. Sommarang Dawn- My favorite sheep of all time. Dawn throws lovely babies and has a sweet and friendly personality. I’m hoping for gul-kats but could get katmogets, gulmogets or gul-kats.
3. Sheltering Pines Jadore- kept her ewe lamb from last year and sold her ram lamb as a breeding, hoping for moorit gulmogets, but could get gulmogets or blacks as well.
4. Emancipation Katniss- hoping for more spotted moorit gulmogets, but could have moorits, gulmogets, or blacks
Emancipation Augustus- Traded his sister for Winter Sky Wren and kept him. Lovely black spotted ram 2014 ram lamb, with good crimp and nice legs.
1. Little Country Victoria- spotted moorit, hoping for more spots. moorit or black lambs, should be spotted.
2. Little Country Crow- Crow has big, lovely babies, usually singles. She has had ram lambs two years in a row and I am hoping for a ewe lamb. She is very parasite resistant. Moorit or black spotted lambs.
3. Under the Sun Sula- Black spotted lamb, great density, good confirmation. I am hoping Augustus can make her her lamb’s fleece a bit finer and crimpier. She had a single her first year and this year I am hoping for twins. Lambs black with spots.
4. White Pine Eva- Another Snowflake daughter. Lambs katmoget.
Ok Acres Hastings
1. Winter Sky Sicily- Hastings is a beefy boy, Sicily is a bit slender and I am hoping HAstings can beef up her frame. Moorit spotted lambs.
2. Emancipation Bethesda- Another smaller framed ewe I am hoping Hastings can beef up. Moorit or black lambs. Spots possible.
3. Little Country Bailey- My second favorite ewe after Dawn. Her daughter got 3rd place in a large yearling ewe class at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool. Bailey carries moorit so moorits or katmoget lambs.
4. Emancipation Ostara- Ostara got 2nd place at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool in the yearling ewe class. She is one of my friendliest sheep and a real sweet heart. Lambs should be katmoget or moorit, possibly with spots.
Broken Fawn $60
Nice boy, my favorite of the bunch, may carry chinchilla light
Opal buck $50
Wide band fawn $50