April 12, 2014

Stewardship, Balance, and Market Mindset

"What are you going to do with all of them?" Dan asked when I called him with the good news about Lily's triplets.

"Well, I don't have to think about that yet," I replied. "They need to grow up a bit so we can evaluate which ones to keep."

Kid races. This is one of the few photos I've managed with all 8 in it!

Actually, we'd love to keep all of them, but that isn't possible. As Dan and I talked, I commented how in biblical times one's flocks were a sign of one's wealth. Not so today. To the modern mindset such a notion is primitive and ignorant. After all, wealth is all about money, isn't it? Accumulating wealth is about investments and 401Ks, right? Not about having more goats. Goats Animals are an expense.

Ziggy's 3 on left, Surprise and her twins on right. Introductions are always
supervised. I especially don't trust Surprise. I saw her grab one of Lily's girls
by the head and give her a toss. Eventually everyone gets used to one another.

In fact, too many animals can seem a liability when one considers how expensive it is to keep them: feed, hay, minerals, fencing, housing, equipment, vet bills. It all adds up so that goats, indeed, most livestock, are more in the hobby category. In other words, keepers of goats have become another marketing demographic. In fact, in a cash economy it is not desirable that we should provide for them ourselves.

Miracle meets Ziggy.

One of our goals from the very beginning was that we would keep no more animals than our land can support. This is because we have a very strong sense of stewardship regarding both. We want both our land and our animals to flourish. We do not want to sacrifice the land for livestock. We do not want to run it down and wear it out.

After introductory sniffs, Ziggy wasted no time in teaching Miracle a lesson
about respecting her elders with  a good swift butt, sending her off crying.

This implies balance. I admit we are still working this out and are constantly wondering how many animals we can keep. I'm not just referring to grazing, but to being able to grow everything our goats need to be healthy. This is why we invested in our soil by remineralizing. If we feed the soil we'll feed the plants. The plants will feed our animals and us. It makes so much more sense than trying to meet nutritional needs with purchased feed formulations and vitamin and mineral supplements.

These two of Ziggy's triplets definitely show their Nigerian Dwarf genetics,
being smaller than their sibling. I've taken to calling them Jack Rabbit (left),
for his ears and darting about, and Teddi Bear, because she has a fuzzy face.

Maintaining a balance means determining which goats to keep and which ones to cull. By cull, I don't automatically mean kill. Although we do eat homegrown goat meat, culling simply means selecting which ones to cut from the herd. Mostly I do this through sales and trades.

Ziggy's first born. I call him Jump. Not because he
jumps over, but because he jumps up to be petted.

Last winter was an important lesson because it was so cold. Our winter pasture and cold weather vegetables went dormant, leaving us to rely more on hay and purchased feed. I realized that I need to get down to a smaller winter herd every year. Sales and trades, however, require an interested party with whom to transact. When I tried to sell Hooper and Rosie I had only a few nibbles of interest.

Lily and son, the middle born of her triplets.

This was an important lesson too. If I don't want to keep too many goats over winter, I need to price them to sell quickly. The expense of feeding them all winter could obviously offset the few extra dollars I might get if I waited to sell them according to the prices set by our local market mindset.

Lily's buckling. Still nameless, although I'm tempted to call him "Spot."
The only thing that stops me is that it doesn't seem very imaginative, lol

That market mindset is a curious thing. It appears to be based on retail prices whether they are relevant or not. For example, have you ever noticed how thrift store prices go up whenever retail prices go up? That never made sense to me because everything thrift stores sell, they receive free, as donations. We could assume it has to do with their overhead is going up, but changes in utilities and rents take months or years to catch up with the rising cost of goods.

Miracle, Surprise, Grace, and Ziggy.

I've first noticed this with used looms. If I bought a new loom for $1000 and got 10 to 20 years of good use out if it, why is $2000 a good selling price? Yet this is common thinking amongst weavers. Or farm tractors. Why is a tractor which cost $1500 brand new 50 years ago, now worth $4000 when it isn't even running? And why does tacking "antique" or "vintage" onto it make it worth more? I know all this makes sense to some folks, but it doesn't to me. To me, the correlation between inflation and used goods is based on an artificial sense of value.

Surprise, Grace, Ziggy, & Ziggy's triplets. The kids all sleep in sibling groups

I finally realized that if I want to support my goats from my land, then it would be better to give them away before winter sets in, than feed them all winter because of some ethereal notion of what they're "worth." The bottom line is the health of my land, not making money from selling an occasional goat. In fact, I could easily overuse my land by waiting to make those few extra dollars from that goat. It could easily cost me more to rebuild my soil than what I thought that goat was "worth." On top of that, I can have the satisfaction of helping someone else. The tendency to price everything for "top dollar" leaves many of us making do without.

Lily's first doeling. Maybe Dottie? Another unimaginative name!

Back to goats. I initially followed that market mindset in setting prices for Hooper and Rosie. I priced them mid to low range based on what others were asking for their goats. Except no one was interested. All this goes back to a question I've written about before (see links below), how do we set value? By what the goat "ought" to be worth? By how much I've put into her?

Lily's girls in front, Surprise's Miracle behind. 

I realize I'm probably not making sense to very many folks, but this is something that is often on my mind. The modern world says everything is about money. But it didn't used to be that way. There was a time when economics were seen in a different light, one based on land and and a sense of community.

Meeting the older sisters, Zoey and Daisy. Zoey is one
of Ziggy's triplets last year, Daisy is one of Lily's twins.

Okay, I'm almost out of kid pictures, so I guess I can quit talking. :)

Lily's girls

Related posts and writings:
Ziggy, Lily, and their two sets of triplets


Sandy Livesay said...


All these babies are so adorable, and what your stating makes total sense.

Enjoy your babies!!!

Kris said...

Not to be indelicate, but if you reach the point that just giving away a goat so you don't have to feed it, is there a reason why you wouldn't just sent it to freezer camp and then you can gain the advantage of the meat? Like you, I'm more interested in what is real rather than what outside economy dictates when it comes to true value for goods or services. Lovely pics of the gang. :-D

Leigh said...

Sandy, thanks!

Kris, excellent question. If we need the goat meat, then yes, we get the meat. However, we can only eat so much before it gets freezer burnt and my freezer can only hold so much. I should mention that I do can it as well, plus, I made dozens of quarts of chevon based soups. Last year I had five goats to get rid, but didn't need five goats-worth of meat! Giving away is a last resort that I've only done once, but the family was delighted and grateful and that gave me the satisfaction of helping someone else. That's priceless. :)

Anonymous said...

It's so very interesting I should read this post after I've just started reading a book I was gifted on Permaculture. The 3 main principles are: Care for people, Care for the Earth, Redistribute surplus. I think what you're writing about fits perfectly into all 3 principles, whether or not you make a profit, a loss or a give away for your goats. :)

thewovenspoke said...

Great post, they are cute and all, but you have to think about balance. We used to raise goats for milk and meat too.

Theresa said...

Economics is complicated...;)
Your loom that cost 1k and is now worth 2k could be because NEW looms now are at say 4k, same goes for tractors. Then of course, there are rare, or old, "vintage" and antique. Often times these items are better made or made out of a material that is no longer cost effective to use or manufacture, be it due to environmental issues, costs of labor to make a raw product useable etc. Obviously there is less cost in recycling metal than mining it, hence the cost of old cars/tractors, washing machines etc has risen in the secondary market, for scrap, same with copper wire, steel and aluminum etc. Everything is on the chain of events and everything effects everything along that chain. The thing with cash vs goats is you simply don't have to feed it, but is almost completely useless in a subsistence lifestyle, be it a choice or not. I'm not saying one is better or worse, each has flaws, but you simply can't cherry pick all bad or all good. When either becomes unbalanced they function poorly. And how poorly or well they function depends on where you are on that chain..:)

On goat selling, I've found that advertising them while they are babies works well. You need to decide who stays and who is culled and as you gain experience you shouldn't have to wait as long to decide. You'll know what you are breeding for and what you're not.
But they are all so stinking cute!

Renee Nefe said...

I'm sure you've probably looked into it, but how is the market for chevon in your area?

I think thinning the herd to preserve the land is a very smart plan for you. With just the two of you even if you gave some of the goat products to your adult children you would still have left over.

I only worry that if you end up giving away too many goats that you'll become known for that and folks will just wait until the price is free.

Best of luck with this herd. I would assume that your "Kinders" and Kinkobians will be keepers.

JMD said...

Love all the babies you have. So cute.

As far as worth goes, I sure wouldn't go by what the world decides is valuable. Peace and contentment is worth far more than a lot of money in the bank. If anyone tries to tell you differently run fast in the opposite direction.

Unknown said...

After working in the mortgage industry for 30 years, I realized that a property (or anything else, including goats) is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. So, you may have to evaluate how to market your livestock on a year by year basis and figure out the best strategy for that year. It will be interesting to see what happens this fall.

Leigh said...

Rabidlittlehippy, I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're absolutely correct. Life shouldn't be all about profit. No way.

Thewovenspoke, balance is key, isn't it?

Theresa, I first got to thinking about all this when I still subscribed to WeaveTech. There were a couple of threads going, one about pricing looms for maximum return, the other lamenting how difficult it was to get young people into weaving. It was acknowledged in the discussion that one of the problems was the high price of equipment. No one made the connection that they could help by not asking such high prices for their used equipment! Of course I opened my big mouth, which rather led to my leaving the list.

I know what you say sounds right, but how long can prices keep going up and up? And incomes keep going down? This is all close to my heart because Dan has taken 4 pay cuts in the past 6 years. Our income is now 20% below the national poverty level and prices for everything keep going up. The only thing that saves us is that we have a very low mortgage payment, no other debt, and grow much of our own food. Economics as we want them to be simply isn't sustainable. We're living proof of that. :(

Renee, I can't say for sure but probably not very good. I think most of it is taken up with the many Boer farms around here. Bucks (both intact and neutered) are a dime a dozen on craigslist. I've only given one away so far, but I doubt there would ever be much of a connection between me and free. I sold a couple of wethers last summer for $30 each, and they went to a good home as pets. I do think folks appreciate things they pay for more than what they get for free.

I only hope I can find another Kinder or Nubian/Pygmy buck in the area! I'd probably go with the Kinders in a heartbeat, although I'm awfully interested in seeing if I can get more polled goats through Ziggy. I'll definitely have to cut back by winter.

JMD, I think what you're saying about worth is key to successful homesteading. It's hard to stop evaluating everything from a monetary standpoint, however. But it's something I've been preaching for quite awhile now!

Katy, THANK YOU!!!!! "Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it" is something I've been trying to say for awhile! All the links I gave, point to my trying to say that. So nice to hear it from someone who experiences it as a reality! Very grateful for your comment. :)

Lynda said...

As an old time vintage Real Estate agent I'll tell you the same thing I told ALL of my seller's: "Your property value is what the buyer is willing to pay". I have one house I've sold 5 times: $125,000 (1997), $175,000 (2001), $300,000 (2005), $100,000 (2009) and $175,000 (2013). Each time the seller over price the home and it sat on the market forever..."I'm not going to give it away"...the 2009 seller went into foreclosure and we bought on the courthouse steps...the buyer names the value every single time. Price your product correctly and it won't ever cost you money. You're a smart lady...and economics has never made sense to me!

Florida Farm Girl said...

While I have no animals, and likely never will, I still learn something from nearly every post. For that I'm grateful.

Felecia Cofield said...

Hi Leigh! Love all the 'kid' pics! They are so cute! Thank you for voicing your thoughts. I've had some of the same myself. You and the commenters have helped me evaluate things more clearly. I hope there will be a market for my Nigerian kids when they are ready. My land can't tolerate any more goats! Otherwise, we'll be introduced to chevon! Thanks for the article! Blessings from Bama!

Dawn said...

I like your attitude, too many people just have livestock for the sake of it, then find the animals outgrow the space and they become a finacial strain then they have to re-home them, you have a healthy view of livestock keep it up.

Oh and a name suggestion for Spot how about Splash. He is so cute and looks like he has been splashed with paint.

Mom at home said...

I love the little babies. They make waiting for spring worth it. I have seen a lot of goats for sale in our area and a lot for free too. If giving the extras to someone who needs it is priceless, then I would have to agree it's better than letting your property suffer.
My doctor provided us a deer each year, just because he knew we loved it but didn't hunt and he loved to hunt. It was enough ground meat for our family all year long. He enjoyed hearing about all the dishes I made with it. Last year, he passed this down to his son. I would send him a personal letter to thank him and tell him how much it meant to our family.
Another consideration is the out of pocket costs. I'm with you on the salary decreases. My husband's job left the area and we lost 1/3 of our income. The last 5 years with his new job and no raises for anyone. It is very hard to keep cutting back when there is nothing to cut back on. I hope you can come to some decision on the goats you can rest easy about.

Quinn said...

I know exactly where you are coming from, Leigh. It's something that needs looking at, over and over again, as things change. I am always so impressed by the way you and Dan are planning to raise most/all your feed - you are MILES ahead of me! And this winter was an expensive one by any measure, as the endless, bitter cold meant having to feed more and more heavily just to keep stock on an even keel. As expensive as it was to buy feed, a vet bill would have been...well, let's just say I'm very glad I didn't have one this winter.
Just my 2 cents on one point - and not at all disagreeing with you, but just my own feeling - I couldn't consider the "giving away" option, for either a pet or to raise for meat, unless it was to someone I know well and trust. I might very well give away meat, or arrange to raise a kid for someone else AS a meat goat, with the cost (at least) paid up front. But many people just don't value an animal they've been given, and I'd likely put an animal down myself before I'd risk it having a miserable life. Like I said, just my thought and not a criticism at all. We're all finding our own way, here! :)

Leigh said...

Lynda, that's an excellent example. It is interesting that the seller would rather have a foreclosure on their credit record than sell below what they perceived as a decent profit. Sadly, I live in an area where many folks would rather throw something away than give it away if they can't sell it for what they want. We've seen that happen quite a few times. A very sad perspective on life, I'd say.

Sue, wow, that is a really nice compliment. May we ever learn from one another.

Felecia, Nigerians always seem to fetch a good price, so hopefully it will work out for you. You'll likely get to chevon eventually, especially in years you have more bucks than girls!

Dawn, Splash is a great name! Definitely has more pizzazz than Spot, LOL. I think our view of livestock has to do with our sense of responsibility for both them and the land. I definitely want healthy, happy animals.

Mom at home, so sorry to hear you're in the same financial boat as us. And I think the example of your doctor excellent. Dan told me of a hunters' club somewhere in the north who donate all their game to community food banks after processing. What a wonderful way to keep animal populations under control and help feed the needy.

Quinn, planning is one thing, reality is another! Like you, our past year was tough because winter was so cold. I felt like it was a wake-up call to get my butt in gear. One set-back for us is not having that farm tractor. We could do so much more with our land if we had one. A garden tiller and scythe make for slow going, and little of it.

I do agree with you about giving animals away free. It's true folks don't value what they get for free as much as what they invest in. But if push came to shove, I would do it. So much depends on one's local market and circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Ah, balance. It is important, isn't it. Since I've had livestock, whenever someone would ask how many I had, my stock response was that as long as I could afford to feed them I didn't have to count. It's actually a very rude question to ask a rancher (like asking how much money someone has in the bank).

Your babies are so cute. I have a hard time getting decent pictures of mine because they all want to sit in my lap.

If you have an Hispanic or Carribean markets in the area, you might try putting up a flyer when you are ready to cull. Goat is a very popular meat in a lot of cultures.

Also, I tried e-mailing you after your comment on my blog. Not sure if it went in your spam?

Bootzey said...

Excellent points. And you aren't the only one noticing.

Laura said...

Fiber prices are going up and spinners don't get it. They don't realize that, in our area, hay prices have tripled - TRIPLED!! Mainly due to fuel prices, but because of that, all feed prices have gone up, and it simply costs more to keep your sheep (or other fiber animals) alive. With irrigated pasture, the spring/summer/fall months are pretty low input, but if you don't have that, you're feeding hay, minerals, etc. all the time. Which is expensive. Even crap wool has some value... Good wool has more. So pricing anything going off the farm is hard - in case anyone hasn't noticed, our economy is still not doing well. Not everyone has disposable income (some months, I don't have any income at all...). Making sure that my animals have feed is a top priority. While I know it's impractical for me to have hooved stock (other than the horse - she's my shrink), I would love to have goats - milk, cheese, etc. would be awesome to produce myself. Maybe some day! First, I have to get a job...

Leigh said...

Sue, I love that answer! And it is a common question and I suspect folks are running mental numbers over the answer, kind of like when they ask you how long it took to make a handcrafted item.

We do have a fair size Hispanic community, not so much Carribean, but Muslim, who also eat goat. I've read goat is one of the most commonly eaten meats in the world.

Serenity, at least we're not alone in our observations!

Laura, the fiber and textile arts are another area where common consumer economics don't make sense to folks. We've all been confronted with, "Well, I could buy it at Walmart for cheaper than that." Mass production has really made things difficult for artisans and crafters. OTOH, it's a shame the providers of fuel and feed think they have to make their fortune off the backs of everyone else. We all suffer when money and profit are the only goals worth pursuing.

tpals said...

Excellent and thought-provoking post, Leigh. I appreciate the kid photos breaking it into bite size pieces too. :)

Chris said...

The first name which popped into my head when I saw the image of "Dottie", was Pinkerton. Strange, I know, because she doesn't look pink at all, lol.

We would keep our laying hens for two years, and then we'd give them away. In terms of egg laying capacity, they do well in the first two years and start to drop off a little every year thereafter.

We always had takers for the hens, as they were an established group of proven egg producers. It saves the recipient from having to raise the hen themselves, and they're assured to have good producers at least for a good year.

I didn't want to haggle over pricing with any particular buyers, so I thought it best to offer them for free. We haven't given away hens for a while though, because I haven't really been breeding them.

There's nothing wrong with giving away, although I think with larger livestock you might be able to barter for them as well. That way you don't have to grow all of your own food. Someone might have a productive pumpkin patch and willing to trade some for a goat.

That way you're trading but you're not making it about money. And whatever is traded, the worth is decided by the parties involved. You might really want pumpkins because your vines didn't produce any. A person with excess pumpkins might really want a goat. Trade according to need, as opposed to a changing fiscal denomination.

You can advertise a flyer on community noticeboards, free goat/s for use of rotary tiller in our vegetable patch, pasture seeds, or whatever you require to manage the food supply for the rest of the goats.

That way you're giving the land a return for what you have raised, and those receiving the goats get to feel some value for what they have traded you with - produce, or whatever is required.

You'll get a reputation in the community, as the homesteader with flexibility and decent terms of trade. Everyone walks away from agreements with a sense of value.

I get where you're coming from in regards to inflation creep and wage decrease. It's a ratio I don't see changing for a very long time, if ever. The last depression was felt immediately, but world traders won't let that happen again. It will be a long and drawn out process, where everyone and everything will be squeezed until the last drop of fiscal value will cease to have value.

So as stewards of land, animals and community, we have to try and find a way to make ends meet outside of fiscal value. It's not easy, but then desperation rarely is. ;)

Mark said...

Growing up on a beef farm we had the same issues. The farm was relatively small, about 120 acres and 20+ of that was woodland. That means the rest of the farm had to supply hay (labor intensive small bales), corn for grain to give the cows on the coldest days (somewhat equipment intensive), pasture for the cows, and enough other crops to support a healthy crop rotation. The farm as a whole had to provide sufficient cash on annual basis to cover all the operating costs and some profit for the family. Dad had a full time job off the farm (a bookmobile librarian) but it didn't pay enough to support a family of 5 AND a "hobby farm". The farm had to 'pay its own way'.

All the same balance issues you discuss were in play but, like you, there was an undercurrent to the whole operation that it was NOT just all about money. My Dad bought the farm from his Dad, and he bought the farm from an in-law. We knew growing up there is an intrinsic value in an agrarian life that can neither be bought or sold with any common currency. One of the richest blessings in my life was the gift of a 'farmboy' upbringing.

From a monetary standpoint were definitely poor, but as long as we kept a good garden we were never hungry. There was always beef in the freezer. We learned the value of learning how to fix things, because buying new was never an option. We heated the house exclusively with firewood from felling a tree and working it up, and a little coal on the coldest nights.

Dad and Mom both taught stewardship as a part of balance. We could carry no more cattle through the winter than we had hay in the barn. Managing the woods had to be done or we would be cold in winters to come. Cattle, chickens, ducks, etc. had to be looked after, not just because they had monetary value, but because they were ours (God given resources) to look after.

I also share the concern that most of our society only recognizes money as the way value is exchanged. I also believe the current system is not sustainable for the long term. Your discussions of trading really struck a chord with me as a better way for all involved. It sounds like a skill I need to be thinking about developing.

I'm loving the blog and the discussion here. Another great post!


Thistle Cove Farm said...

You're so right...good stewardship is part of the overall balance. I know too many who aren't good stewards and then wonder why they aren't doing so well.
Don't forget bartering and trading when downsizing your herd. Both are ways to get what both want and, sometimes, is better than actual money.
I haven't forgotten about talking about your book...hope to do that this week. Since Dave died, it's ALL on me and there are too many times I fall short of my own expectations, not to mention those of other folks.

Izzy said...

Love the photos! How fun is that to wake up to each day?!!!

Leigh said...

Tpals, thanks!

Chris, I offered my Kiko buck for trade for either hay or weaner pigs. I had one inquiry and we got so far as some negotiation and an appointment but they never showed up. :( The one link, "Contemplations of Value and Money" is actually the first in a three part series. Parts 1 and 2 address "The Lost Art of Bartering"; much of them are based on readers' opinions and experiences. (Readers' comments make for the most interesting conversations.)

I agree with the world situation especially regarding the money people. I agree they will squeeze everything from the people. I think a lot of folks realize this on one level or another and are trying to opt out. It's not easy trying to forge a new way, however, is it?

Mark, that is an excellent real life example. Sadly, folks have lost sight of the true value of being able to grow one's own food, as well as the value of hands-on work. How strange folks should think the best jobs are the ones where one does no work at all! If push came to shove, their "skills" will be totally worthless.

Sandra, so good to hear from you and I'm thrilled you're going to talk about my book. I can't say how much I admire you're going it alone with Dave gone. You've caused me to look at my life differently.

I did offer my one goat for trade, but, well, I've still got him, LOL. I think I'll have a better chance later this summer as breeding season approaches. Especially since he gave me very pretty twins and triplets. :)

Izzy, thanks! It's a joy to wake up to! And they're all learning how nice it is to be petted! Now we have to start "no jumping" training. :)

Anonymous said...

Leigh, I can totally understand what you are saying, and will give you another example: used cars. We are shopping around for something for my daughter, in the $2000 range. Just a small 4 door, so she doesn't have to drive the van.
Because of the "Cash for Clunkers" program a few years ago, any used car out there is way over priced. We recently looked at a Toyota with 188,000 miles on it and dings all over the body. The person wanted $2000 DOWN, and $150 a month for 2 yrs. No thank you!

Another example: a 2001 car on Craigslist..."this car is in perfect condition, only thing wrong with it is the engine is seized"...cost? $3000!!!

It's insane!


Susan said...

I can't add anything useful to the conversation but it has all been a great read.

Unknown said...

I get what you mean Leigh. We decided to sell our beef cows at a loss because it was costing so much to feed them through drought. At the same time farmers here tend to under price their hay, then complain that they can't afford to plant it. If they just charged appropriately for their irrigation cost there wouldn't be a hay shortage. ..