It seems as though nothing is going on, and yet we are always busy! Here are the current farm happenings as of January 26, 2016.
The goats seem to be doing well. Aurora is 2 months pregnant and has gotten some winter fur, finally. You are supposed to dry a goat up 2 months before she is due so that she can stop using energy to make milk and use that energy to grow a healthy baby(ies). Aurora seems to be doing this on her own, we are only getting 1/2 cup or less of milk per day now. I am trying to leave a little each time I milk her to signal to her body that she needs to make less and less. It has happened quickly after taping her teats and no longer allowing Millie to nurse. It is going to be a long 3 months of buying milk before Millie has her babies and we can milk her.
Millie also seems to be doing well and is about 2.5 months pregnant. She has had a thick coat for months, it is easier for her because she isn’t using any energy to make milk. She is still using her horns for evil instead of good, and is still not as friendly as Aurora. I do hope she is a good mama and a good milker. We haven’t decided what our plan is once they have their babies. I guess we won’t really know until we find out how good of a milker each of them are this time around, and what gender their babies are. Ideally, Aurora would produce a lot more milk this time, and her baby would be a girl. In that case, we will likely sell Millie and any baby(ies) she has. It would take Millie getting an entire personality makeover and being a heck of a milker for us to keep her instead of Aurora. Personality alone is enough for us to choose to keep Aurora, but we do have her for milk, so she needs to step it up this freshening to earn her keep. We didn’t really get enough milk to have a lot of extra to make cheese and yogurt regularly, so it will be nice to have 2 goats in milk for a few months. Unfortunately they will be in milk at the busiest gardening time of the year for us, so I still don’t know how much I’ll be able to make. We used our spoiled excess milk as fertilizer for the field last year.
We had the goats in the pasture, but it was so muddy that we were having to place plywood in front of the shelter. About a month ago we moved them to where a barn used to be in our yard. There isn’t much to eat there, but there is gravel under and in front of their shelter. It seems to be helping a ton. Even if they were in the pasture, there wouldn’t be much for them to nibble on anyway, and it would turn the whole area into mud and ruin our alfalfa field. We will have to remember to do this next winter.
We currently have 12 chickens, one of which is a rooster. He is a good protector for the hens, but sometimes a little too good. My daughters are all serious threats in his eyes, and he watches them and crows at them anytime they are near. Over the summer he flogged two of them, and now they are all afraid to go into the chicken pasture. Julia, my oldest, is just now starting to gain a little confidence and has decided she wants to try to help me with them in the morning. As long as she is armed with snow pants, a thick coat, and snow boots. She did really well the past few mornings, and he didn’t pay her any attention because he was interested in the food scraps. I am hoping this works out. One of the reasons for us starting this homestead/farm was to allow the girls to have farm chores and gain a sense of responsibility and follow through.
Even with 11 hens, we went through a period of zero eggs from just after Christmas until recently. We have been so sparing, but were getting nervous. I did not want to have to buy eggs this year! Thankfully, 2 of our hens have just began laying again. If we continue to watch our usage, we should be able to make it through. We are all looking forward to a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs or french toast!
The seed catalogs arrived a few months ago, but I hadn’t had time nor the desire to look through them until a couple days ago. I made a list of the seeds we already have, and Kevin and I looked through, dog earring pages of seeds we might like to buy. When you list them all out, it is kind of astonishing to realize how many things you are growing each season. When the food is coming up and ripening, it doesn’t seem like you have anything at all. And then looking at the list of more you want to buy, and the price… ouch. It is still cheaper than buying at the grocery store though! The tomatoes alone paid for our garden last year, plus some.
Our garden was fairly large last year – definitely the largest we have ever attempted. It was an intensive garden also, which means we packed a lot into a small space. If we used recommended spacing, it would have been huge. This year, the garden will definitely be larger. We quickly realized we hadn’t grown enough of some things, like corn, carrots, beans, peas and cucumbers. We need to buy real seed potatoes this year and figure out what their optimal conditions are because we didn’t get many regular potatoes last year. We did get a ton of sweet potatoes, but they were all half eaten by mice. So discouraging! I’m not sure how to remedy that issue. Maybe harvesting earlier, and leaving them outside of the electric fence so the cats can still get to them.
Last year, we were so late putting the garden in because our neighbor had said he would till it for us with his tractor. He never did get around to it, so we borrowed a rototiller from a friend. It broke on us, (fortunately it was broken before it got to us, and had just been rigged to keep going. We felt horrible!) so we ended up eventually buying a tiller of our own. After that, we were in business! I didn’t want to buy a rototiller, because I am planning on eventually going to a no-till garden, but I just haven’t had time to research that or find a source of straw or mulch. It seem like a much better way to do things, but it is a little scary to change how you have been gardening your whole life. We can’t afford for our entire garden to fail, we need this food for our family and our animals. Using a rough version of the mulch garden last year around our pumpkins had positives and negatives. It kept the weeds out, which was great. It also allowed us to have a non-muddy place to walk between rows. The bad was that it created an awesome hideout for bugs – specifically squash bugs, cucumber beetles, etc. So we battled those hard, and it was incredibly difficult when you only use organic methods. This year I would like to create an entire pumpkin patch, away from our main garden.
Another thought Kevin and I have been tossing around is bringing 2 hogs onto our farm. If we did this, we would need to create an even larger garden to reduce the amount of feed they would need. We don’t have a wooded area to have them root in, and we don’t want a huge mud pit in our field, so we want to keep them moving like we do our goats and chickens. From what I have read, hogs aren’t much work, and they have a short birth to processing age. That means, no need to have them in the cold months, which is awesome. However, we would need to build them a shelter, and possibly buy another electric fence or two, as well as another charger/energizer. That is quite a bit of money. A second freezer is also going to be necessary this year if we do that. Though we will likely need another anyway with our plan to raise more meat chickens this spring.
I would love to get a permanent perimeter fence this year, but I don’t know if it will be in the budget. Fruit trees are also on my wish list. I can’t decide if we should do it or not, because we are unsure of how long we are staying in this house. Being in limbo makes planning a lot harder, but it is hard for me to commit to staying here when a different farm would make more financial sense. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot available out this way that fits our needs.
Haying was a new experience for us last year, and it is one I am not looking forward to this year. We got 2 cuttings in last year, and it is possible we may get 3 this year. When you don’t have a barn or anywhere to store it, haying is even more stressful than normal. There is always weather to worry about when you are a hay farmer. You need a good stretch of sunny days to be able to cut, dry, and bale the hay. Once it is baled, you have to get it under cover in a barn to keep it from getting wet if it rains. Our first cutting we were able to use our neighbors barn until we could sell it. The second cutting, we were not able to use his barn and had to sell it all immediately. We kept 61 bales for ourselves in a cattle panel hay hut we made, sold some to a friend, and then had about 50 left on our trailer. Luckily our other neighbor had space in his barn for us to pull the trailer in until we could deliver it to another friend. We sold the hay so cheap that we didn’t really make a profit, but we didn’t have a choice, we had to get rid of it. This year, I have been looking into getting a shipping container and having it delivered to our back yard. Then we would have a nice dry place for the hay, and possibly be able to make some money off the hay instead of selling it at cost. It would be nice to have a place for some of our farm and garden tools instead of the garage, also. If we got the storage shelter, find a reliable farmer to cut the hay for us, and could get some help stacking so it wasn’t just Kevin and I, it would make haying so much easier. Then we would only have to worry about mother nature. 😉
And the cats? Well, they are just as adorable as ever. Miss Kitty is now smaller than her daughter, Leia. They cuddle, then chase and bite each other. It is rather entertaining. Lennon (our dog) is happy just laying around being lazy, and joining us occasionally when we take walks around the property.
Overall, things are going pretty well. I am looking forward to raising even more of our own food, preserving a lot more, and also finding some bulk/wholesale fruit we can buy until we can produce our own. We made jam last year, but it wasn’t near enough. I had also planned on finding a source for apples last year to make applesauce, sliced apples, etc but didn’t have any luck. The start of a new year is always so promising. We can’t wait to see what it brings!