The Busy Season

Oberhasli dairy goat kids playing on tires

Spring means babies and we have a beautiful crop of Oberhasli kids this year.  All but one doe has kidded and the count is four does and three bucks for the Obers and my one Alpine gave me a doe and a buck.  There’s one more Ober doe due to kid in June with cross bred babies.

Oberhasli goat kid

Elliot puts a gorgeous head on his babies.

Tunis sheep and Oberhasli dairy goats grazing on spring pasture

We continue working on fencing, but it’s a long, slow process with only Jon and our son-in-law working on it, with occasional hired help, and only having weekends to work on it.  And when it rains, like this weekend, it’s a huge setback.  Sixty-five acres is a lot of perimeter fence.  We did get a section done for the milkers and sheep to go out on.  Hopefully soon they’ll have another section done so the horses can go out.

20160712-IMG_2751

We’re expanding our sheep flock and will be adding a ram and four ewes in late May.  I love these sheep, so easy and low maintenance.  We’re also bringing in some new Oberhasli bloodlines with the purchase of two doe kids, one from the Buttin’ Heads line and another from Haycreek Oberhasli.

 

The garden is very small this year but we’ve been eating some lettuce, radishes, kale, arugula and spinach so far.  We’ve planted raspberries, asparagus, fruit trees, blueberries and strawberries.

 

It’s a herculean task starting a farm from scratch basically, but we’re making progress.

Beginning Pasture Improvement

Applying lime to pasture.

Most pasture improvement begins with the application of lime.  We moved here in August of last year and soon after had a soil test done, which of course showed our pastures would benefit from an application of lime.  The previous owners had kept them clipped and used one pasture for hay.  No animals had been grazing on it for I don’t know how long.  The hay field consisted mostly of Johnson grass and was let go to over 6 feet tall before it was cut last fall (we went with an existing arrangement with neighbors who cut and baled the hay).  It was not quality hay by any means.  The remainder of the pastures had “sage grass,” a common name for broomsedge, and a sign of poor soil fertility.  Livestock will eat the young green growth, but as it matures it becomes unpalatable to pretty much anything.  It wasn’t just spotty either, the whole field looked like amber waves of grain late last summer.  So we began research on how to get rid of the stuff.    Apparently it’s not easy once established, but one of the first steps is to restore the pH balance to the soil, thus the application of lime.

Lime ideally should be spread in the fall, but as we were busy getting our old house ready to put on the market and in the midst of our move here it didn’t happen.  It got done a couple weeks ago.  Better late than never.  It takes about 6 months for it to become active in the soil.  Lime is a relatively inexpensive way to really help your pastures.  Here are a few of the benefits:

  • It corrects soil acidity, raising pH.
  • It increases soil microbial activity, which speeds decay of organic matter and releases plant nutrients that may be tied up in roots of the previous crop.
  • It supplies calcium or magnesium.
  • It increases availability of residual and applied phosphorus.
  • It increases fixation of nitrogen by soil and plant organisms.
  • It improves the physical properties of soil.
  • It reduces activity of inorganic substances in the soil, thereby preventing toxicity from aluminum and manganese.

Rotational grazing should also help, and we’re getting the infrastructure in place to begin doing that ASAP.  But I think it will take awhile to see great improvement.

Green

Green grass.

With all the rain we’ve had this winter and the unseasonably warm temperatures, the grass has sprung up early.  It’s a good 4 plus inches around the barn, and I may string up the electric net and let the goats out to graze on it this weekend.

Parsley reemerging from the ground.

The parsley and chives have come up.

20170124-img_4374

Yesterday was just a beautiful winter day.  Sunny and in the 50s, no wind.

Raindrops on tree branch.

But today we start back with rain… and that means more mud.  But I shouldn’t complain, we’re still considered in a moderate drought by the USDA Drought Monitor with several more inches needed to catch up.

 

Morning Rounds

black cat looking out a barn door

I wonder what she’s thinking.  This is a favorite spot of the barn cats in the morning.  They sit in the sunshine for a bit after breakfast and meditate.

Dog sleeping in a sunny barn aisle.

Scout did some meditating of his own today.  We haven’t seen the sun in ages so I’m sure this was total bliss for him.

Chicken in barn doorway.

The elusive chicken.  The previous owners had a flock of banty hens, and we asked them to rehome them as we didn’t want chickens free ranging in the barn.  This one apparently high-tailed it when she caught wind of that plan and hid in the hay field.  A few days after we moved in she emerged from the field and has been a happy little solo hen, although very elusive.  I see her in the morning and know that she roosts in a tree by the house at night, otherwise I never see her.

Oberhasli yearling doe eating hay.

This is Gertie.  She’s one of last year’s doe kids we kept as a replacement milker.  She was too small to breed this past fall, as my Oberhasli usually are.  They’re a bit smaller than Alpines, Nubians, LaMancha and Saanen dairy goats and grow a little slower.  But that’s okay, we don’t mind letting them take the time they need to develop a strong body.

 

A Warm Week

Cats soaking up sun in a barn aisle

Yesterday we had a bit of sunshine with our 70 degree temperatures.  The cats soaked it up while waiting for their breakfast.

Tunis sheep and Oberhasli goats lying in a field in the sunshine.

So did the sheep and goat kids.  It has been unusually warm this week and record highs have been set.  It makes me wonder if we’ll get a really cold blast in February or March when goat babies are being born and the garden is going in, when we don’t need winter to finally make an appearance.

Horse with head hanging over stall door.

Today we are still warm but rain, rain and more rain the rest of the week.

Oberhasli goat looking over a gate.

Without a doubt, the goats will not be setting foot outside during the rain.  They don’t do rain, ever.  Divas.

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned

farmer positioning electric net fencing

The plan today was to finally get the pastures limed.  We’ve been trying to get that done since November but have been battling rain every weekend since.  When you have a full time off farm job, every single weekend counts.   Finally last weekend was cold but dry and we thought it would be a go, but the Co-op closed that part of their operation for the weekend due to a little snow we got on Friday.  Today dawned warm and dry, no rain in the forecast.  Jon headed to the Co-op again, only to find out they don’t cover their lime and it was wet from the rain we had gotten a few days ago.  Frustrating?  Yes.  Like I said, every single weekend counts for us.  *Note the T-shirt, it was in the 70s today, record high.

So we went with Plan B, work on the fence line.  Up went the electric netting and out went the goats to help clear out the brushy overgrowth.

Oberhasli goats browsing on cedar trees.

This is right by the road, which is a very quiet road, but I stayed out there with the goats just to make sure they didn’t somehow get out.  They got shocked a few times and never came near the fence again.

Oberhasli goat browsing a fenceline

But things didn’t go as planned.  They nibbled on the cedar trees, sampled the brushy stuff in the fenceline, and then did this…

Oberhasli goats laying down in pasture

…laid down and just chilled for the next couple hours.  So down went the fence, back went the goats and out came the chainsaw.  Plan C.

New Year, New Farm

20160814-img_2856

Well, not exactly.  We actually bought our new farm late last summer but haven’t done much more than get all the animals and ourselves here and get our old house ready to put on the market.  But we have many exciting things planned for 2017 and will be slowly starting to implement them.  I say slowly because until we sell our old house we will be limited in what we can do.

Our new farm is about 15 miles from where we used to live.  We upsized our acreage from 8 to 65 and downsized our house from 2300 square feet to 1800.  And we now have the most beautiful barn I could ever imagine.

20160817-img_2924

It’s made of oak with concrete floors throughout.  One side has five horse stalls, the other side has a large tool room, tack room and storage.  Upstairs there is a 1900 square foot loft.

20160817-img_2909

The house was built in 1900 with an additional wing added in 2004.  The kitchen, living room and master bedroom have the original hardwood floors.

We have so many plans for our new farm, but the priority is on building the infrastructure.  First and foremost is a perimeter fence.  There is some fencing in place, but it’s old rusty barbed wire not suitable for our animals  We’re replacing it with sheep and goat fence and then will add cross fencing to allow for rotational grazing.  The second priority is reworking one of the driveways.  It was an absolute nightmare getting our 4-horse trailer here.  The main drive is steep with hairpin turns and the other drive is narrow and all but impossible to turn onto with a trailer.  We also need water and electricity in the barn.

As we work on the infrastructure, we will be working on our livestock goals as well.

Goats

Oberhasli dairy goat

We currently have three Oberhasli and one Alpine senior does, two Oberhasli and one Alpine junior does, and an Oberhasli buck.  We will be adding some new bloodlines in 2017 from Haycreek Oberhasli and hopefully a doeling from the Buttin’ Heads line.  Our long-range goals here include building our herd to at least 10 milkers and offering a goat milk herd share.  Our short-term goals are to continue making our line of goat milk soaps and selling breeding stock.

Sheep

Tunis sheep in the snow

Our Tunis flock consists of three ewes.  We will be adding a ram and two or three more ewes this year and have lambs next spring.  Our long-term goals are to raise breeding stock, freezer lamb and wool from our sheep, plus have a little sheep milk to play with in cheesemaking.

Pigs and Chickens

Flock of heritage breed laying hens

Chickens and pigs will likely be making a reappearance on our farm this year if time allows for building additional structures for them.  We plan to raise a few heritage breed hogs for on-farm sales of freezer pork and possibly breeding stock at some point.  Some layers would be welcome but not a huge priority as we can get eggs from the nearby Amish community for the time being.

Garden

Tomato seed packets

Starting a new garden is always challenging for me.  I’m somewhat of a reluctant gardener; I find livestock much more interesting and easier to care for!  I don’t like to spend all my time weeding and I don’t enjoy being in the garden if it looks like a mess.  So, we have decided to add a few raised beds at a time and use cinder blocks for the frames.  Treated lumber leaches chemicals into the soil, cedar wood is naturally rot and insect resistant but expensive, and a raised bed without a border is out of the question for me.  Been there, done that and battled with grass and weeds relentlessly.  Cinder blocks were the best alternative for us.  We have already planted peach, pear, apple and cherry trees.  On order for planting next month are raspberries, asparagus, blueberries, strawberries, potatoes and sweet potatoes.  And then we will move on to greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc., but keep it relatively small this year.