September 30, 2014

The Fine Art of Dining Alone

When it comes to feeding time on the homestead, I often feel like I'm caught in the middle of a three-ring circus. This is especially true any time I need to make changes in our routine. Routine is a critter keeper's best friend, but sometimes changes are necessary, such as, when new animals join the team or we do a pasture switch-up.

I've visited a few places where the person feeding their animals simply dumps quantities of feed on the ground. Every critter comes running and it's a mad free-for-all while each one tries to gobble down as much as they can. I can't tell you how much this horrifies me, especially for goats. This is the very best way for them to pick up parasites, because the parasite eggs come out in their droppings. Eating close to the ground pretty much assures that they'll pick up more and the problem will remain ongoing. This is why goats browsing wooded or shrubby areas have less problem with parasites.

When it comes to eating, animals don't have good manners and don't share. They follow only two rules. The first is in their definition of edible. Chickens and pigs are omnivores, goats are herbivores. That means the chickens and pigs will readily help themselves to the goat feed. The goats, on the other hand, may want the chicken scratch or pellets, but they won't go for other pig and chicken delicacies such as whey, moldy cheese, or that two week old tuna casserole I forgot about in the fridge.

Amongst their own species, the pecking order is very much the way things are. This is rule #2. Those on top get all they want while those of lower status have to wait and hope. The irony of this is that those animals which need the most, i.e. the young, growing, and producing, get the least. The oldest and least productive get the most. Roosters and mothers are the exception. A rooster will cluck to the hens and step back when he finds something good to eat. A mama hen will do the same for her chicks, A mother goat never minds if her kids nibble from her feed pan.

When my new Kinder girls arrived, I decided it was time to do a pasture rotation, which meant changing housing too. Daphne and Helen had the front pasture all to themselves for awhile, until I could sell the last of this year's kids. I figured they'd have a chance to become familiar with their new surroundings before I introduced them to my Nubians - Surprise and Lily. By moving my long resident does in with the newcomers (rather than the other way around) I hoped to minimize the territoriality disputes. It pretty much worked too, and adjustments were made smoothly.

Feeding time is when it gets crazy because we have to establish a new routine. First I lure the chickens into their yard with scratch and close the yard gate to keep them there. Then I have to remove Surprise and Lily for milking, but Daphne, Helen, and Bunny all want to be fed at that instant too. Trying to get particular goats out and keep remaining goats in, is a juggling act! Milking does get fed one at a time, while they are on the stanchion. The others get their own pan, and the juggling act continues as I try to set down the three pans far enough apart to make sure each goat gets her own share. They all rush the first pan and then run to then next, to make sure there isn't something there the first pan didn't contain.

Then there's the pigs. For now they pretty much roam wherever the billy boys do. Ordinarily feeding wouldn't be a problem because the bucks are on hay and browse. This time of year, however, I give my bucks a little feed with chopped veggies and fruits for a extra nutrition, because they're in rut and tend to think more about girls than eating. To keep the pigs from gobbling down the bucks' food, I find myself sneaking around to spy out who's where. I make sure the pigs are where they can't see what's going on, and carefully try to open and close gates without making a sound because they all know the sound of those gates and come running!

The pigs each get their own pan because sharing doesn't work, at least not with a big round pan. A pecking order exists here too, but with two pans they have to run back and forth. Pigs are pretty smart, however, so at least they each stick with one pan and try to outrace the other. At least they both get some. Dan said he'll make me a more traditional trough, which I think would be better. Still, I now have personal insight into the phrase, "eats like a pig." Since American Guinea Hogs are excellent grazers and foragers, I don't feed them huge meals. Their dinner is mostly cheese whey or milk, along with trimmings from cooking, canning, or cleaning out the refrigerator.

All of this is temporary. If we ever get our new barn built, things will go exceedingly smoother. Molly at Fias Co Farm has a pretty good goat feeding arrangement, so I'm definitely going to plan on that. Since my plan is based mostly on my personal experience and problems, changing things up like I have recently, gives me more things to consider. Experience truly is the best teacher!

September 28, 2014

Go Pigs

Ground ivy has been taking over our back pasture. Also known as creeping charlie, gill-over-the-ground, or run-away-robin, Glechoma hederacea is dreaded by lawn lovers. It is aggressive, invasive, and spreads rapidly wherever it can find a bit of ground to send its stolons over. It gets so thick that it chokes out everything else.

All things considered, I think it's an attractive little plant. Personally I wouldn't mind if it did take over our front yard "lawn", so that we wouldn't have to waste our time every couple of weeks knocking the seed heads off the weeds with the lawn mower. It would make a lovely, easy care ground cover. The suburban crowd hates it, however, and apparently the best of their weed poisons can't get rid of this stuff.

It was brought to my country as a medicinal plant by early settlers from Europe. Medicinally it has been used as a diuretic, astringent, tonic, and mild stimulant; traditionally used in kidney diseases and for indigestion. Nutritionally it is said to be a source of vitamin C. It's culinary uses include cheese making (as a vegetable rennet, which I'll have to try), in tea, soups, salads, as a pot herb, and in beer making.

The problem is that livestock won't eat it and, as we're experiencing, it can totally take over and destroy good forage. We did, in fact, try to eliminate it with a front end loader two and a half years ago, when we prepared the area for pasture. The grasses and forage were doing fairly well until we had a long dry spell during the summer. Those began to die back and the ground ivy took advantage of the opportunity. It's discouraging to see it come back with a vengeance like it has.

I had been contemplating what to do. Herbicides are out, but there has been some promising research on using boron (i.e. borax) to kill it. My hesitation about that (as with vinegar for weed control) is #1, pH. Natural substances which kill by pH change can also kill things we want growing. #2 is not wanting to put too much boron into the soil because that can kill plants as well. (Both of these are considerations when using laundry greywater for irrigation.) So, what to do? Hand pulling difficult and nominal at best; likely a waste of time.

Enter the pigs. This is what I found in the pasture just the other day.

I could see ground in the ground ivy!

The Waldo and Polly had been rooting there and uncovered a whole lot of soil. They'd gotten their snouts under the ground ivy's shallow roots and rolled it up so that it looked like bunting to hang on a balcony as a parade decoration.

It was easy to pick up and remove.

Go pigs!

Since it's time to plant winter pasture, I'd better get busy. I know the ground ivy will be back, but hopefully I can get some good winter forage growing for now.


September 26, 2014

Book Celebration Winner Is ...

I used the random number generator at Math Goodies, and am pleased to announce that the 5 Acres & A Dream The Book giveaway winner is

Congratulations! Your blogger profile doesn't have a blog or contact information, so if you will get in touch with me by Sunday, Sept. 28 (5acresandadream at mail dot com) I will get your copy to you.

Everyone's kind words were much appreciated for my 2000 copies sold landmark.  And, because so many folks mentioned my book was on their wish lists, I'm going to let the coupon code run for three more days.

For $5.00 off 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, go to my CreateSpace eStore and at checkout, enter FMMY5MPN (expired) in the coupon code box. That's only $7.95 per copy plus shipping and handling. You can order as many copies as you'd like.

Of course, you can always find it at Amazon, plus:

Barnes & Noble
Foyles UK
RedPepper Books

Recently I heard from a gal in New Zealand whose public library was ordering a copy at her request. So ask yours!

Thank you as well for all the new reviews at Amazon! I can't tell you how rewarding it is when I'm able to encourage someone else on their homesteading journey. It never fails to make my day.

September 24, 2014

Mice In The Attic

Sam, not caring about mice
This is the time of year we get mice in the attic. We probably wouldn't have known about them it if hadn't been for our cats. Well, we would have known eventually, when they chewed through electrical wiring, but every cat we've ever had can be found staring up at the ceiling in one particular corner of the living room this time of year. They hear them up there. Every year Dan sets traps in the attic and catches quite a few.

So how do mice get into the attic? Inside the walls. This is another problem Dan and I have been discussing in regards to re-doing our front porch.

When our house was built in the 1920s, the techniques were a bit different than modern construction. If you see a house being build today, it's common to see the foundation put in first, then a subfloor, then the framing for the walls.

The walls for our house were build right on top of the sill before the floor was installed. There is no subfloor; they put up the walls, then nailed down tongue and groove boards, and then put linoleum on top of that. The problem is that none of the floor boards actually butt up to the sill, rather, there is a gap. Dan says the blown-in wall insulation is falling down into the crawl space.

Obviously it isn't air tight at the top, either. So besides being a convenient passageway into the attic for mice, cold air channels up the walls too. That cold air seeps through our tongue and groove walls, making them very drafty. The worst place is the front corner bedroom off the front porch. It catches the brunt of our bitter winter winds, which obviously blow through the gaps in the foundation and right up the walls! Between that and the large, single glazed windows, that room is impossible to heat (or keep cool in summer).

This is something that is finally going to be addressed as part of our front porch project. I mentioned sealing off the foundation from critters, but it will help with wind too. Then Dan will seal the cracks between floor boards and walls with foam. When we get to the new siding, the old bedroom windows will be replaced with energy efficient ones. Eventually, we'll get to the room's interior and do like we did in our bedroom, take down old walls, insulate properly, and put up new ones.

For those of you who like old houses, here's a couple of old photos to illustrate:

These were taken during our 2011 kitchen remodel. Most our walls are pine
T&G. All are painted, which wasn't a good idea since the paint cracks at the
board lines when the house shifts. Insulation was blown in at a later date.  

This gives you an idea of what we've been doing. One
problem with the blown-in insulation is that it didn't get
to some spots, like under the windows and under the
diagonal corner bracing. Redoing made all the difference.

All of this makes for a huge project, especially with all the seasonal things which have to be done around here. We just try to prioritize (animals and food growing always comes first), and stay focused on the task at hand. This is the best way to not get overwhelmed with all the things needing to be done. It's one step at a time, all the way.

September 22, 2014

Summer Garden Winding Down

The garden is just about done for the summer. I'm still getting a few tomatoes, okra, green beans, and black turtle beans. The sweet potatoes look good and I'll be harvesting those next month, trying to hold off as long as I can.

They need to be harvested before the frost, but since I got a late start I want to give them all the growing time possible. The Jerusalem artichokes (right) will be mulched heavily for harvest after the plants die back.

The amaranth did well.

I've just started to harvest the heads that are bent over from the weight of the seeds.

I grow amaranth for the chickens and the goats.

I only planted one bed of popcorn, but am happy that it did fairly well. Here's part of it -

We're still getting a few melons, both Green Nutmeg and watermelon, but they're all pretty small. Sweet though.

Okra, I'm slicing and freezing.

We like it oven fried or sauteed.

If you follow my book's facebook page, then you've likely already seen my red raspberry harvest.

I'm sure there were others and I'm guessing the birds got them. The fact that I only ever found one must mean that there weren't very many others no matter what. I was so hoping for raspberry something, but it's a plant that hasn't done well for me.

Of a fall garden, there isn't any news. We're going to do some revamping of our garden area so one of these days I'll have something on that.

How are your gardens doing?

And before I go, I'd like to remind you that there's still time to enter my giveaway!

September 19, 2014

Celebrating Over 2000 Copies Sold! $5 Off Plus a No-Strings-Attached Giveaway

I'm very excited to announce another milestone for my book, 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing A Self-Sufficient Homestead. I've passed the 2000 books sold mark!

I'm celebrating by offering a $5.00 off coupon code at my CreateSpace eStore. Also, I'm having a book giveaway. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment. In the past I've given extra entries for helping me promote it, but this time it's a no-strings-attached giveaway. [UPDATE: Yes, it's open to the world!]

What I would appreciate is reviews at Amazon. For all those copies sold, I've only gotten 39 customer reviews. If you've read the book, please consider going to Amazon to write your thoughts. Reviews are what help indie authors sell their books. Also, you won't hurt my feelings if you share about this offer!

To take advantage of the $5.00 coupon code, go to my CreateSpace eStore and at checkout, enter


in the coupon code box. (Code is not expired)

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment anytime between now and next Thursday, Sept. 25th at midnight. The coupon code will expire at the same time. The giveaway winner will be announced on Friday, Sept 26.

September 17, 2014

Real Kinders At Last

I've thought about my goat goals a lot. The primary goal is simple, really: goats fit well into our overall self-reliance and sustainability goals. They can provide things we need: milk and milk products, meat, manure, and young, and we have the potential ability to provide for them from our small acreage. Breed is a secondary, but important consideration, because it doesn't seem to me that all breeds fit equally well with our primary goal. Because of that, I've changed directions several times, but for some reason couldn't get Kinder goats off my mind. It was fun working on my Kikobian breeding program, but Kinders are a breed proven for the qualities I am looking for. With Kikobians it would take a number of years to figure that out.

I started checking my local craigslist fairly regularly, but gradually began to search in other areas, just out of curiosity. At long last I can share that I am the proud owner of two "real" (i.e. registered) Kinder does! Meet Pan's Field Kinders Daphne and Pan's Field Kinders Helen.

Daphne (left) and Helen (right)

I don't think they'd ever seen pigs before. The pigs (and the Billy Boys)
got their attention immediately (on the other side of the fence).

Here's one of Daphne not partially hidden by Helen

Daphne is a four year old third generation Kinder. Helen is her half-sister and two years old. She is sixth generation. The generations refer to how far the Kinder is from the original Pygmy and Nubian parentage. So, a first generation Kinder has Pygmy and Nubian parents. A second generation Kinder would be the offspring of a first generation Kinder (plus another Kinder of any generation), and so on. Generations one through four receive Certificates of Merits, five and up receive Certificates of Registry.

This seems to mark a turning point for me. I still have my two Nubian does and Pygmy buck, plus I have my unregistered Kinders, Caleb and Bunny. That means I can at least breed all my does this fall and still have milk and genetic Kinder kids until I get a registered buck. For that and a few more does, I'm in contact with a Kinder breeder in the midwest, working out a purchase from her in the near future. I'm also going to give Gruffy one more chance with Surprise (both are registered so their Pygmy/Nubian cross kids would qualify for recognition by the KGBA (Kinder Goat Breeders Association). I confess I'm not hopeful. After all these years I've realized he's on the smaller end of the scale for Pygmy bucks. If I ever try this again (NOT) I'll get a taller Pygmy buck!

So I find myself coming full circle. Makes me wonder why I simply didn't do this straight out, rather than going over the river, through the woods, and all around the mulberry bush.

What about you? Do you have specific goals for your homestead? When do you change direction and when to you stay the course? Where do you draw the line between determination and obsession? I think this is important to figure out so that we don't upset the homestead balance we are working toward.

September 14, 2014

Tearing Into The Front Porch

Once we decided that the front porch was the next project to tackle, Dan wasted no time getting started. Since we will have to tear out the entire thing, he wanted to take the opportunity to address foundation issues in the front of the house.

Our house was built on a slight slope, so that the front porch is only one stairstep up, while the back porch is six steps. Obviously the crawl space at the front is impossible to maneuver around in! He's been waiting for this project to accomplish some much needed work. He started by taking out just enough of the porch floor to get to the foundation.

This is the left side of the porch, where the front bedroom is. Part of the
project will be replacing the drafty old windows and installing new siding.

The problem here is that part of the brick foundation had been knocked out to install ductwork when the heater and air conditioner were installed. Dan started with two short 4x4 posts, because nothing had been done to compensate for the removed bricks. The next step will be to seal off the crawlspace. There are gaps under the porch so that there is nothing to prevent all matter of critters from entering and taking up residence under the house, and they have.

The center of the porch, with that front door that started it all. 

Do you see where the floor is separated and sagging in front of the front door?

This is not something that happened when Dan took out the floor boards there. This is something that we've been living with for years. When we first saw the house the porch floor was flat across. It happened after we moved in and began using the porch. What was happening?

Well, when the porch was built, the builder ran the floor joists parallel to the house, i.e lengthwise, instead of widthwise. Apparently, some of them weren't quite long enough to meet the beam.

The builder, in all his wisdom, decided to simply spike them. All that's been holding those joists to the beam has been a very long nail. 

We use the porch to store winter firewood so that the floor takes a lot of traffic and weight. The nails responded by bending, resulting in that sag. The beam is in good shape so it doesn't have to be replaced. Dan hopes he can reuse the joists too. The first step here was to add floor support with a cement block and house jack.

On the other side of the porch -

The right side with a teeny glimpse of the living room windows, also to be
replaced. Dan loves bay windows and would love to put one here. We priced
them but they are way out of budget! He's considering building one himself.

The crawl space is completely open here. You can see a brick support column behind the shovel, and the duct work going to my studio our storage room. Probably cement board will be used to seal off the crawl space.  Dan talks about doing something with the ductwork, but I'm not sure what. We actually don't use our heat and A/C often. 

So that's the beginning. Going will probably be slow because of Dan's job. He has less time off than he has in the past. That's nicer on the pocket book but really puts a crimp on the project accomplishment list. 

Next front porch post here.

September 12, 2014

Let's Make Hay!

I've been looking for one of these for a long time.

Walk behind sickle mower

Not necessarily this make or model (Troy Bilt Trail Blazer Sickle Bar Mower), but a walk-behind sickle mower that we could use for cutting hay. Dan uses his scythe, but I was wanting a piece of equipment that could help get the job done in less time.

I've been keeping an eye on craiglist, but walk-behind sickle mowers don't come up very often. The ones I have seen have been in the $900 to $1100 range. When the Troy Bilt presented itself for $400, I had to go see. It had been taken care of and ran well. I bought it.

Dan checked it over and tested it out, then it was my turn. I mowed about a quarter of our one acre front pasture, the part where the best grass is growing.

My first cutting of hay. 

It's heavy and does not maneuver particularly well. Neither does it have a reverse. It is self-propelled, with a wheel drive and a blade drive, operated separately with hand levers. I like that because I could "walk" it to the area I wanted to cut, or over areas I didn't want cut, such as a patch of deadly nightshade.

When we initially discussed getting a sickle mower, Dan pointed out that could get a sickle bar attachment for his walk-behind tractor. That would, of course, entail being able to find one, which I've never seen for sale around here. The other consideration is that the tractor is bigger, heavier, and more machine than I care to wrestle with. The sickle mower still requires muscling, but it is smaller and more manageable.

Caleb checking it out.

We actually got it a little late in the season for the best quality hay. Ours is starting to go to seed, but something is better than nothing and I can't let it go to waste. At least it's leafy and not stemmy. Dan scythed a first cutting here earlier this year and it was mostly stems. For a previous blog post about the cuts and quality of hay, click here.

September 10, 2014

Hypocalcemia & Pregnancy Toxemia in Goats

I promised this post awhile back. Then the rest of spring and summer happened, which means busy times on the homestead. I've picked it up again because I'm working on my next book, Critter Tales. Like 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, I not only want to tell an interesting story, but I want to weave in useful information as well. Surprise's near death experience and what I learned from it is something I want to include. Here it is as a blog post, preliminary to being included in the book. 
Last spring I had a frightening experience with Surprise, one of my pregnant Nubian does. It started with her being picky with her feed and losing interest. She soon became weak and disoriented. She went down and I could not get her up. With the help of the internet I figured out some things and managed to save both her and her twins. At the time I had to sift through a lot of information, which I had difficulty sorting out in my emergency state of mind. It's taken some study to clarify and understand what happened. This post is my attempt to write out and restate what I've learned.

Pregnancy toxemia (also called ketosis or twin lamb disease) and hypocalcemia (milk fever), are life threatening conditions which must be addressed immediately or the doe (or ewe) will die. Neither are diseases, but rather metabolic conditions which are primarily feed related.

The symptoms are nearly identical:
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • disorientation
  • goes down and can't get up

The cause and treatment are different. The response to treatment determines diagnosis, but since hypocalcemia can lead to ketosis, treating for both is a good idea anyway.

Pregnancy toxemia occurs when the body's demand for energy (carbohydrates in the form of glucose) exceed what the diet provides. It usually happens late in pregnancy, when the kid or kids are rapidly growing. If the dam isn't consuming enough carbohydrates to meet the need, her body begins to metabolize fat for energy. Ketones are the byproduct of fat metabolism. As they accumulate, the system becomes increasingly acidic to the point where it is fatal. (This can happen to people too, when they do not have sufficient insulin to metabolize their intake of carbohydrates. This is referred to as diabetic ketosis.)

Treatment requires immediately supplying energy until she begins eating on her own:
  • 1 part molasses / 2 parts corn syrup - 20 cc orally every couple of hours 
  • or Nutridrench (or Goatdrench) - 1 ounce (30 cc) per 100 lbs body weight by mouth every 8 hours
  • or Propylene Glycol - 2 - 3 ounces, 2 - 3 times a day

If you're like me, then you have negative feelings about utilizing Propylene Glycol. It's the "anitfreeze" used in most commercial ice creams. Ordinarily I would avoid it, but in an emergency it's better than losing the doe and her kids. It's used because it is easily assimilated by the body, immediately providing much needed energy. It is also the primary ingredient of Nutridrench, which also contains molasses, calcium, vitamins A, D, and E plus selenium.

Also important:
  • B vitamin injections to stimulate appetite
  • Probiotics, yogurt, or kefir to reestablish digestive flora in the rumen 
  • Water, drench if necessary. She needs water to begin flushing the ketones out of her system

Initially this is what I thought was Surprise's problem. But I also noted that Molly at Fias Co Farm said that she found treating as for milk fever helped. Because of that, I also gave Calcium Gluconate injections. In an attempt to find anything for her to eat, I offered dried comfrey leaves. Comfrey is rich in calcium and because it was the only thing she was interested in (devoured it, in fact) this is the clue that helped me later figure out Surprise's actual problem. 

Hypocalcemia occurs when the doe's diet contains an improper calcium/phosphorous ratio. Grain is usually the culprit here, because it is high in phosphorous but low in calcium. The pregnant doe needs at least twice the calcium in her diet, i.e. 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorous, especially during the end of her pregnancy, when the kids are needing calcium for bone development, or immediately after kidding when her body begins to produce milk. If she can't supply calcium through her diet, her body will begin to deplete her own resources. Besides bones and teeth, calcium is also necessary for proper muscle function (skeletal, heart, digestive, uterine). With a calcium shortage, muscles become weak so that the doe becomes weak: she can no longer stand, digestion slows, uterine contractions will be weak, and eventually her heart will give out if the problem isn't corrected immediately.

  • 40 - 50 cc Calcium Gluconate injections subcutaneously. Because of the volume this must be divided into 4, 10 cc doses and injected slowly in 4 different spots.
  • Repeat in one hour
  • Repeat in one hour
  • Continue treatment several times a day for several more days. She'll fight like crazy but she needs it. Watch her closely after that and give more if needed.
  • Also, treat for ketosis. Since she's stopped eating, this will be a secondary problem anyway, so treat for it. 

Sue Reith recommends a CMPK (calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium) supplement, either injectable or oral. She gives a homemade recipe here.

Prevention: It's all about diet. Some commercial feeds and mineral supplements already have the correct calcium:phosphorous ratio. If a doe is getting grain instead of commercial feed, however, she needs twice that in a source of calcium. Usually alfalfa is used, but this is where we got into problems. I learned that my alfalfa source had started using GMO'd alfalfa. I freaked out and stopped buying it. This was my near fatal mistake, because I did not have a sufficient calcium replacement.

Pat Colby (Natural Goat Care) gives dolomite instead of alfalfa. Also comfrey is rich in calcium, although I confess our hot, dry spells cause my comfrey to do poorly. Another possibility is Chaffhaye, for those for whom it is locally available (or can afford to it shipped). Alternatively, don't feed grain. This is more difficult with the high yield dairy breeds like Nubians, but hardier breeds like Kinders can do well and maintain good weight on a forage and hay diet.

I am fortunate that things worked out well. Losing animals is always difficult, making victories all the sweeter. Needless to say, Calcium Gluconate and Nutridrench are now standard items in my birthing kit.

What is interesting is that my other does were the same diet but not have the same problem. I don't have an answer for that, other than goats are individuals, and respond differently to different things. Not that I would risk a repeat, but I'm thankful they did better than Surprise.

For more information and further reading: 

Dairy Goat Care & Management: Ketosis - What Is It?
Dairy Goat Care & Management, Hypocalcemia, Ca & Ph in the Diet
Dairy Goat Care & Management, Hypocalcemia Feed for Prevention
Fias Co Farm, Ketosis and Pregnancy Toxemia
Fias Co Farm, Milk Fever (Hypocalcemia)
Goatworld, More Feedback on Hypocalcemia in Goats
Goatworld, Pregnancy Toxemia and Ketosis, Part 1
Goatworld, Pregnancy Toxemia and Ketosis, Part 2
Merck's Online Veterinary Manual: Nutritional Diseases
Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby
Alfalfa For Goats: Looking For Alternatives

September 8, 2014

On Hold: Building the New Goat Barn

Inside view of our front door.
It started with the front door. I leave it open in the early morning and evening to catch the cooler breezes that blow through. During the heat of the day, it's shut. One night at bedtime, Dan went to close up and the front door wouldn't shut. The door had somehow shifted and was catching on the moulding. Dan finally got it shut with a hammer and screwdriver, and then we talked.

The new goat barn was slated as the very next big homestead project. I am so ready for it. But the front door made us revisit a project that was further down on the priority list, one I hadn't deemed as important, the front porch.

The front of the house when we first moved in (2009). I loved that it was
screened, but we never use it. Summer evenings would be the time,
but it catches the blazing late afternoon sun making it too hot to enjoy.

Why not simply replace the front door? We actually have a new door, purchased our first year here. Unfortunately it's more complicated than simply removing the old door and putting in the new.

Exterior shot of the front door. It's small - 34" x 79"

It starts with the doors being different sizes, the new one is a larger standard, 36" x 80". The living room walls are cement board, so making a larger opening isn't as simple as it is with drywall. Then there's problems with the threshold, and that's where the front porch comes in. Because of structural problems, the existing front porch really needs to be torn out, foundation issues addressed, and then rebuilt. That includes the porch ceiling, which looks like it wants to come down by itself anyway. Then comes installing the new door, and while we're there we might as well address replacing the old windows and siding as well. It's a huge project and one we haven't looked forward to.

The siding is in better shape here than the rest of the
house. Still, we'll put up new and paint. Photos of what
we've already done here (back), and here (side).

On the plus side, an energy efficient front door and windows, plus being able to add insulation to the walls, will make a huge difference in the energy efficiency of the house and its comfort level. The old single glazed windows and ill-fitting front door make those rooms like an energy sieve; difficult to warm in winter and difficult to keep cool in summer.

Most folks probably would have re-done the front of the house immediately. It looks pretty bad by urban and suburbanite standards. If we belonged to a HOA, we would have been fined long ago. But our goals are different than most folks which means our priorities are different too. We're less about aesthetics and wanting to fit in, and more about accomplishing what will help us be more self-sufficient, more self-reliant. This project does fit into those goals, we just wanted to get other things done first.

"Tearing Into the Front Porch" - getting a start on that floor.

September 5, 2014

Composting With Chickens

Once upon a time I used to try to keep the chickens out of the compost. Not that I minded them finding bugs and things to eat in it, but they tend to scratch it down and spread it out, which means quite a bit of work to keep it piled properly. Then, thanks to a suggestion by rabidlittlehippy, I signed up at Australian permaculturist Geoff Lawton's website and found a video, Feed Chickens Without Grain (you may have to sign up to view the video).

The video was an interview with someone who feeds his chickens entirely from huge compost piles made from barn cleanings and restaurant scraps. The result was prolific eggs and superb compost. Geoff did a follow-up video to show his adaptation of the system to a farm garden (Chicken Tractor on Steroids). I knew I couldn't do it exactly the same way, but I really liked the idea of recruiting the chickens to help. I decided to experiment.

I started by making a long pile in the chicken yard after cleaning out one of the goat stalls. I mixed it up with some kitchen scraps.

1st Tuesday - straw & manure pile assembled from goat barn cleaning

The chickens liked the idea immediately, although I knew I would have to rake the pile back together again every evening. For an experiment, I was willing.

2nd Tuesday - after a week of nightly raking the pile back together

One week later I decided to make some changes. Raking was a bit of a bother because the pile was underneath a cedar tree, the branches of which kept bumping me in the head. Also the pile couldn't generate and retain heat for the decomposition process if it's all spread out. Plus it was drying out too much. It can't decompose without moisture either. I scrounged around for materials and came up with a compost bin of sorts.

3rd Tuesday. The old pile was mixed with another batch of manure & straw.

The goat shed/old chicken coop became the back wall, cinder blocks became the sides, and one of the boards from our coal barn demolition makes a removable front. I transferred the original pile to it and mucked out the other goat stall and added that. The bin arrangement keeps the pile from being scratched out all over the chicken yard and saves work on my end. It still requires some turning and additional water. I just dump in water from the buckets when changing them. I add kitchen and garden scraps as I have them.

By the 4th Tuesday of my experiment, I decided to tweak a little more.

4th Tuesday, I now have a working pile & an add-to pile

Dan bought me more cinder blocks and two sheets of cement board. I was able to make two piles - a working pile and an add-to pile. The cement board is to protect the wood siding on the building from the moisture.

3 week old compost on the left, new on the right. 

In just three weeks the working pile looks pretty good, don't you think? It would probably be further along if I was consistent with turning and watering, but for a work-smarter-not-harder system, this is great. The chickens scratch around in both piles, but according to the video, they will eventually lose interest in the oldest pile.

The videos emphasize grainless, as in the chickens eat entirely from the piles with no additional chicken feed. The key seems to be lots and lots of garden and kitchen scraps, including from local restaurants. That won't work for me, so my chickens still have their feed and scratch. My garden, kitchen, and canning scraps are pretty slim since there are just the two of us. Plus they are shared with the goats and pigs. While I could likely get restaurant scraps, the additional chore of driving and fetching them would add to my work load rather than make it easier. As with all good ideas, the benefit must be evaluated in light of everything that needs to be done on the homestead. Work in all areas must balance. The result may not be a series of perfect solutions, but rather, a synergy of good, work-together solutions.

I would eventually like to expand on this idea. Eventually the old shed will come down (assuming we ever get the new goat barn built), but the location for the piles is still a good one. I'd like to add a few more bins as well. I'm very happy that this experiment is a success.

UPDATE: Composting with chickens has been a great success. I'm amazed at how quickly our compost is ready and how happy and healthy our chickens are. You can get all the details in How To Compost with Chickens. Click here for more information.

September 3, 2014

Sun Baked Frittata & Solar Omelets

We have a lot of eggs, so we eat a lot of eggs. One meal every day is egg based: scrambled, poached, sunny-side-up, egg salad sandwiches. It's usually lunch, but sometimes I make a quiche for dinner.

When I got my solar oven that didn't change, although I did have to learn new egg cooking techniques. For example, I've shown you how I hard cook eggs without water. For all cooking a solar oven works best if it'd kept closed because the oven temperature drops about 25° every time the door is opened. That prolongs cooking time. Anything that requires frequent stirring, such as scrambled eggs seemed out. But I learned how to make some dishes that are just as quick and easy.
Sun baked frittata. Frittata is simply a crustless quiche. By preheating a cast iron skillet, it's almost just as quick to make as scrambled eggs on the stove.

I cook the extras in a little olive oil or bacon grease first.
Pictured is onions, leftover chopped, baked potato, and ham. 

The eggs are beaten and seasoned as for scrambled & cooked with
 a lid. With six eggs, it only takes about ten minutes until it's done. 

Ready to eat, just cut into wedges and serve.

I overcooked quite a few of these at first. I learned that we like them best when the surface of the eggs is just a little glossy.

Cheese Omelets. Omelets can easily be made by using a frittata as a base.

Pour beaten, seasoned eggs into a preheated, greased, cast iron skillet. Cover
to bake. At the end, sprinkle with cheese & cover for another minute or two. 

Remove the pan from the oven and fold in half. 

As you can tell, we like them cheesy! 

This takes only about 10 minutes with half a dozen eggs, a little longer with more. Any kind of omelet could be made, but rather than cook the filling separately in another pan, I use the same pan for both filling and eggs as for frittata. Sprinkle with cheese at the end, melt, fold, and serve. Either way, eggs couldn't be easier!

September 1, 2014

The Mystery of the Tipping Bucket

Gruffy's water bucket

My Pygmy buck
Gruffy, 18" at the shoulder
I have two kinds of water buckets, big ones for the big goats, and smaller ones for the shorter goats. I check them all several times a day and clean out and fill as needed. I became puzzled when I kept finding Gruffy's small bucket knocked over. If he'd been with the other bucks that would explain it; they often knock things over in their sparring over who's the most macho he-goat. But Gruffy was by himself in the buck pasture. The other bucks were in the front. Gruffy's only company (besides hanging out with the other goats through the fence) was the chickens and the pigs.

One of our two American Guinea Hogs
Waldo, growing daily
Several times I refilled that bucket and each time I later found it knocked over again. It wasn't until I saw Waldo bumping it that I realized he was the one knocking it over. Was he having trouble getting his own drink? I kept a pan of water nearby for the pigs; maybe he was just clumsy? I decided I'd better secure Gruffy's bucket.  I found a hook, installed it in the buck barn at Pygmy goat height, and hung the bucket on it. Hopefully that would solve the problem.

I brought a clean bucket of water and Waldo came running over. He immediately started pushing on it. Suddenly, I realized what he was wanting. I hadn't refilled his piggy pool. I had cleaned it out during an autumn like cool spell earlier this month and forgotten to refill it. What was I thinking? It was hot again and of course the pigs wanted their water! So I filled the "pool". Waldo came, gave it a sniff, took a drink, and then proceeded to knock over the other bucket and flop down in his DIY mud. It wasn't water that he wanted, it was mud!

We hadn't had much luck at a proper pig wallow because the ground soaks the water up plus it evaporates too quickly. After a quick discussion with Dan, we came up with this ...

I took the piggy pool and somewhat sank it in the ground. I filled it
with dirt, added water, and there you have it - instant pig wallow. 

Both Waldo and Polly are perfectly happy with their new mud bath. And Gruffy's happier too.