October 29, 2014

Determining Pregnancy in Goats

Is she or isn't she? That's always the question after an attempted breeding. Even a seemingly successful mating can turn out unsuccessful. One year I thought I had kids coming and dried up my does only to have no kids. It was a disappointment to say the least. This year I'm hoping Surprise is bred to Gruffy. If she is, it would mean my first homegrown Kinder kids! The blessed event would take place around March 13. That means I need to dry her up in January. If she isn't, I want to know too, so I can continue to give her and Gruffy a chance. And if all else is a fail, there's no sense drying her up at all.

So, I've been researching pregnancy testing for goats. The only ways to positively confirm a goat pregnancy are either with a laboratory test or an ultrasound. If the doe doesn't go into heat again, there's a good chance she's pregnant, but I've seen Surprise flirt and tease the bucks when a later delivery date showed she was already pregnant. The signs and symptoms visible to the goat keeper (increased girth size and abdominal movement) are not accurate because a full, active rumen will cause the same things.

One way is to have a blood test done by a veterinarian. We had one done about 2.5 years ago for $25. In addition, there are labs out there which will do the testing for less if you provide the vials of blood. That means you either have to draw the blood yourself or have someone do it for you. Here are a few options for those wishing to go that route, along with links and other relevant information.

Labs which perform blood tests:
  • BioPRYN by BioTracking ($6.50 plus blood tubes. For an additional fee can have the same sample tested for CAE.)
  • DG29 Complete Test Kits by Genex (6 kits for $32)

Labs which test blood serum or milk:

Home test kit for progesterone (blood or milk):
  • BOVIPREG by TwilCanada Inc. (10 kits for $50 plus shipping)

How to draw blood on a goat:

Ultrasound machines usually run around $4500, plus require training to learn. One that is often mentioned by goat owners is Preg-Tone. It costs about $475 and some say it gives accurate results.

Over at  The Goat Spot Forum, I found a discussion about goat pregnancy tests and several "folk" tests for which there were varying opinions about accuracy. 

Bleach Test. Add 2cc of urine to 1 cup of bleach (WARNING: do not add bleach to urine). Bubbling or fizzing will occur as a reaction to the pH differences in the two liquids. Results are positive if the solution continues to foam, negative if it stops after about a minute. This is said to be 95-97% accurate, but would obviously require several trial attempts to learn about the foaming.

Dandelion Test. Place half a dozen dandelion leaves on a sheet of newspaper. Pour urine over leaves and wait 10 minutes. Results are said to be positive if the leaves form reddish blisters, negative if they don't.

Pine Sol Test. This one seems to be the most vague in terms of specific amounts and time. Add a bit of urine to a small jar filled with Pine Sol. A color change may indicate a possible positive result.

One thing that won't work is a human home pregnancy test kit. This is because it measures human chorionic gonadotropin, which goats obviously don't produce.

As you can see, there are quite a few choices available. I purchased red top blood tubes last year but never used them. I may give it a try this year on Surprise. I may try the folk tests on her too. I'll let you know what happens.

All of this and more is available in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos eBook How To Make a Buck Rag: and other good things to know about breeding your goats.

October 27, 2014

Decision About the Front Porch Foundation

In "Porch Foundation - An Upcoming Challenge", I showed you the poor condition of that foundation. Like the rest of the house, it's brick. We discussed all the options we could think of but decided to reuse what we had - bricks!

It was the most economical solution because only a bag of concrete had to be purchased. We also agreed that it would look better than other options because it would be consistent with the rest of the house. I think it turned out pretty good. He reused the vents too.

It was impossible to match the color of the old mortar, which was white, aged over the years. Dan lamented over that, but I think that once the porch is finished, the actual brickwork will not be what catches the eye, it will be the front door, windows, and color, plus all the plantings in my herb and flower beds.

Dan is self taught (with the help of a couple of books and Youtube. What can you not find on Youtube?) and I think he did a very nice job. One question that we had was whether or not the originally builder put in a footer. Dan dug down and discovered it was brick too.

So the first step toward reconstruction has been taken. The next step will be the floor framing (click here for that post).

October 25, 2014

Garden's Summer End

We're awaiting our first frost. No complaints about it's not being here yet, because that means we're still getting a few things from the garden; like tomatoes and peppers.

Also enough okra for an occasional sidedish.

Still harvesting black turtle beans. The plants are about played out but I'll continue to get a few more until frost kills them.

We just finished harvesting sweet potatoes the other day. Some of the Beauregards are huge.

These are from slips that I bought at the feed store. I planted them first. Some of you may recall the trouble I had making my own slips, until I figured out the culprit was our city water. The Vardamans were planted later and are not so big.

They are prettier than the Beauregards, but there aren't as many because I only planted one bed.

Zuchetta summer squash is maturing for next year's seed. Ditto for green beans.

And look what likes the lovely October weather!

I ought to have planted a fall garden by now, but have decided that the garden needs a major overhaul. I'm going to get everything harvested and then we're going to go at it. More on that later.

October 23, 2014

Working Smarter Not Harder With Pigs

Awhile back I told you about the pigs and the ground ivy. Also about what an amazing job they do as natural tillers of the soil. They have been hard at it.

Our pigs have done a lot toward eliminating the ground ivy.
Much of it is just lying loosely on the ground.

They haven't done a perfect job, but they've made better progress than we ever could have done. Results are pretty inconsistent, but what they do get, they really get. Apparently they are eating part of the root system because after it lies uprooted for awhile, it dies.

Pig killed ground ivy

As every gardener knows, tilling, plowing, hoeing, even had pulling of weeds isn't this efficient, because if some bit of root system is left behind, the weeds don't waste any time taking over again. The timing was perfect, however, because it is time to plant for winter pasture. Once Dan had the front porch torn down and the roof supported, we moved the pigs and goats out, got to work.

Raking up the pig-pulled ground ivy

The above attachment came with our walk-behind tractor. I would have thought it's a cultivator, but it was advertised as a rake. It was perfect for raking up what the pigs had turned up.  The chickens got this.

Ground ivy for chickens. Well, not the ivy, but they found stuff in the dirt!

Dan disced it too, and then I planted with a mix of orchard grass, ludino clover, chicory, and deer forage seed (contains things goats like: wheat, annual rye, oats, brassicas, clover). I added saved garden seeds such as peas, kale, radish, and parsnip, plus herb seeds I'd gathered from my herb garden: thyme, yarrow, echinacea, marjoram, and mint.

The camera lens makes it look much more expansive than it really is.

I planted the two ends of the field, where the ground ivy had completely taken over. I'm guessing it will take over again, but thanks to the pigs, we've been able to reclaim it for awhile.

This is one of two pasture areas we're working on. The other is the buck pasture, the one Dan plowed earlier this month.

As you can see, it's a lot more work without the pigs!

It's doing beautifully.

I had the deer forage seed first so I planted it first. The orchard grass is just beginning to sprout and grow.

Now we have to wait and pray for the right amount of rain to get things growing. This will be winter and spring forage for our goats. The orchard grass is a perennial and I'm hoping it will last for several years without being overrun with the ground ivy.

October 21, 2014

Front Porch - Deconstruction Complete

And that's as far as we can go without spending money. Progress will be considerably slower from this point onward.

Click here to continue the series.

October 18, 2014

Technology as Taskmaster

"Nothing works around here," Dan told me when I called him into lunch. He was frustrated because the lawn mower wouldn't start, and neither would his pick-up truck. The homemade coulter on his walk-behind tractor wasn't working correctly, the blade on the sickle mower needs replacing, and the chainsaw chain needed sharpening. Then there's the ever increasing pile of "junk", including a broken down tiller and a backyard leaf mulcher we'd like to sell, except the pull cord pulled off. On top of that, our washer, dryer, and electric summer stove are all on their last legs, as is the drip coffee pot.

I am reading an interesting book. I won it in Carolyn's giveaway at Krazo Acres, Better Off: Flipping The Switch on Technology. Two People One Year Zero Wattsby Eric Brende. He and his wife rented a home in the middle of an Amish-like community in order to experience life without modern technology. The book is the story of their experiences, thoughts, observations, and what they learned. He makes several noteworthy points.

One is how technology, with its promise of making our lives easier and more leisurely by saving us time, money, and work, has so come to dominate our modern lifestyles, that we are completely dependent upon it. It dictates what we do, when we do, and how we do it. We are helpless without it. He gave the example of a new cash register. Employees could not sell simple products because they didn't know how to operate it. Finally someone figured out they could calculate tax with pen and paper, and make change by hand.

This example relates to another point he makes, that as technology increases, human knowledge and skill decrease. I can only nod my head in agreement. We humans think we are so smart and advanced because we have computers, smart phones, and the internet. Yet who among us, of our own skill and knowledge, can fix a computer when it crashes? Or build a computer from scratch? We have more information, but less knowledge and less ability.

I figured out a long time ago that my so-called time saving kitchen devices were often more trouble to get out, set up, use, and clean up, than I thought worth it. So much quicker and easier to use a simple hand tool. While I can't deny that our walk-behind tractor and sickle mower have been truly useful tools for getting work accomplished, I must also acknowledge that they require a lot of time, work, and money to maintain.

It is difficult to criticize technology without being accused of going backward, or of being an isolationist. I know other homesteaders can relate. Another point made in this book is that, in fact, it is technology which isolates people. Agrarianism necessitates working together and fosters a sense of true human relationship and community. The community must come together to accomplish meaningful work. Our technology has taught us to focus on machines rather than people: we talk to cell phones or computer screens rather than face to face with real people. Our get-togethers focus on a presentation of entertainment rather than one another or on accomplishing a goal.

Those statements are somewhat generalized, of course, as is my next one. That it seems many modern day folks view technology as an all or nothing entity: either we have to embrace it all, or we're seen as rejecting it all. Rejecting part of it is viewed as rejecting all of it. I don't understand this thinking. Aren't we humans intelligent enough to pick and choose the level of technology which suits our personal needs and lifestyle? If I want to be actively involved in the processes of meeting our basic needs, why does that make me backward?

The wheel was a technological innovation at one time, as was the horse drawn plow and the steam locomotive. Those of us who desire a more hands-on, less technologically complicated lifestyle do so because we do not want to be totally dependent upon it. We do not want to lose the knowledge and skills which enable us to be independent. We do not want to spend all our time and money maintaining machines. We do not want our lives to revolve around them. We do not want to serve the machines, we want them to serve us.

It seems that the more time our technology saves us, the more frantic modern life becomes. All around me I see folks in a hurry and irritated because they aren't getting there fast enough. I've realized that if I don't want to live this way, I must learn a different way of looking at life. I need different, simpler goals. I must learn to be content with "less" by focusing more on doing rather than having. It necessitates slowing down and not doing everything at a breakneck speed. My progress is slower, but if my goal is a simpler lifestyle, then that's how it should be.

I can't say I've mastered any of this, I'm a work in progress. It helps to not have television and especially television advertising in my face. It helps to just take it a day at a time. It helps to not have much money. And especially it helps to know like-minded people through the internet, which, in light of what I'm saying, seems an odd thing to say. But that goes back to what I've been trying to say along, that technology should be a tool rather than a taskmaster.

What do you think?

October 16, 2014

Jelly Summer

Violet Jelly
Jam or jelly? Mostly, I seem to make jam. Dan loves strawberry and we have tons of blueberries and figs, so these lend themselves well to pantry shelves loaded with pint jars of jam. I confess my favorite has always been jelly, especially muscadine. That's a fall thing, though, and this past summer I've been experimenting with flower jellies.

It started with that violet jelly I made last April. My daughter was visiting and was intrigued at the idea of making something so beautiful and edible from flowers. She started looking up flower jelly recipes and we ended up making quite a few different kinds.

Honeysuckle Jelly
The basic recipe is the same: to make an infusion of the selected flower and use the "tea" as the "juice" for the jelly. They all have lemon juice for the acidity, and so have a slightly tangy flavor, but each one has a delicate flavor in it's own right. The white clover and honeysuckle jellies taste like honey!

We used half-pint jars and ended up with nearly two dozen total. They make wonderful gifts!

Daylily Jelly
Once the garden harvest is done I will turn to making elderberry and my annual mixed fruit jelly. I've still got green beans, okra, and black turtle beans to harvest and preserve. Tomatoes and green peppers are down to just a few now and then for salads. Also still to harvest our my three beds of sweet potatoes. Then I can pull out the various fruits I've gathered and frozen, and get to work on jelly and jam making once again.

White Clover Jelly
I have about four gallons frozen elderberries, a handful of wild blackberries, two handfuls of sand cherries, and my red raspberry. :) Plenty of frozen blueberries too, which could contribute to the jelly making as well.

The only other thing I have in the freezer is a small amount of dandelion petals. I hoped to collect enough to make dandelion jelly as well, but didn't manage enough for this year. Maybe next year.

Rose Petal Jelly
Flower jellies will be on my list of annual jellies to make from now on. You can see how pretty they are and they certainly do taste good too.

October 14, 2014

Porch Foundation - An Upcoming Challenge

From the outside it looks pretty good.

Once Dan pulled the porch floor out, however, the foundation didn't look so good from the inside.

The first challenge will be deciding what to do. The second will be doing it.

Continued here.

October 12, 2014

My First Kinder Buck

I am thrilled to announce that I have my first Kinder buck.

El Dorado Kinders Alabama

He's a three year old, third generation Kinder, and the first of two bucks I'm buying this year. His mother was his breeder's best milker and has a history of giving birth to multiples; quints last year, in fact. Whether those traits will pass on genetically remains to be seen, but to me it was a good recommendation when other factors, such as conformation, are equal.

Gruffy, our Pygmy, has really been giving him the business. The partial
horns you see are scurs. Scurs are horn growths that occur after disbudding.

He was hard to catch to load him up into my jeep and I think he's the least tame buck we've had so far. But then, bucks are not usually handled a lot like does are. He spent the first night in one of the goat stalls. The next morning I wormed him and we trimmed his hooves before letting him out, because I doubt we'll ever catch him again.

In his own mind, Gruffy's as big as a buffalo.

Alabama has two lovely ladies (Helen and Daphne) to breed this fall, which will mean Kinder kids this spring! His Certificate of Merit has been applied for, so that my kids will qualify for registry with the Kinder Goat Breeders Association. Breeders often don't apply for registry papers until after goats have been sold.

Not sure if we'll call him Alabama or come up with a nickname. We're trying
several on for size: Al, Ala, Bama, Sweetie, Lynyrd, Jeff, Teddy, Randy?

Buck number two is three months old and on his way from California. We're still working on shipping arrangements, but I hope to have an arrival announcement for him soon too.

October 10, 2014

Front Porch Progress

As of yesterday evening I have goat news to share, but no photos. What I do have photos of, is progress on the front porch. While I've been discussing porch design ideas with you all, Dan has been busy!

Tearing out the existing floor. There was only one damp spot under there,
indicating a drainage issue which will have to be addressed. The rest was dry. 

We always try to salvage what we can, to reuse. The wood is old, however.
There was some splitting of the floor beams/joists, but most are still usable.

 The first problem to be addressed was the ductwork going to my studio. Dan
   wanted to seal off the crawlspace, but had to do something about those ducts 

He wasn't happy with the existing piers, which are a hodge-podge of bricks,
rocks, and chunks of wood; whatever the builder could grab at the time!

That's better. 

Ductwork redone so it's all under the house now. Dan replaced some with
flexduct, & for now, eliminated the duct to the front of the studio because
there's no room to work under there. We rarely use the HVAC, so this isn't
a big problem. We'll decide what to do when we finally upgrade that room.

He used Great Stuff spray foam to seal those mouse gaps I told you about.

Other side. You can see where someone had knocked a hole in the
foundation. This was done at several places around the house,
wherever someone wanted access. Dan added the 4x4s for support.

Last issue was the rim joist under the front door. It is a doubled 2x8, but
the boards weren't long enough to span the length of the room. Instead of
staggering them, the builder butted them both up to the next joist. Dan
bolted & screwed them together, and then added the two jacks for support.

We figured the easiest and cheapest way to seal off the
crawlspace was with backerboard (cement board). 

This will block the crawlspace from critters, drafts, and wind.

It's such a relief to have all this done. It's been impossible to heat or cool
the 3 rooms at the front of the house. This is the beginning of fixing that.

Next time, that goat news I told you about.

Progress on the front porch continued here.

October 7, 2014

Idea For The Front Porch

Sketch of an idea for the front porch

While Dan has been working on the house foundation, we have been discussing what to do with the front porch. During the brainstorming stage we can get quite elaborate! The bottom line is time and money. That means keeping it simple in design while meeting energy efficiency criteria and budget constraints.

The splurge would be Dan's bay window, which he would likely make himself from windows purchased at the builder's surplus store. We also need to purchase an energy efficient front bedroom window (on the left). We already have the front door. Another expense will be a new porch floor. Also the old ceiling will have to come down (before it falls down). Replacement options are open.

This photo was taken in 2009 but the house hasn't changed. 

We probably won't replace the screening at this time; maybe in the future. Simple porch posts will replace the brick and wood columns to support the roof. The windows on the right are my studio (currently being used for storage). We may want to finish off that part of the house too, which would mean another window! The gable ends will eventually have to be done as well. We think a shake look would probably suit the house best, but I've priced that and it isn't cheap.

The new porch will need a new foundation, probably in the same brick as the house foundation. We'll continue with the same barnboard siding painted the same color blue.

This is the house color scheme we like.
My house color scheme.

The front door will be brick red like the back door. Trim will be white. At least that's the plan for now. Changes not impossible!

Continued here.