Basic Skills For The Homesteader

Use it up

I read a list the other day of all the skills that homesteaders should have or develop.  I had thought about compiling one, but had not gotten around to it and this one seems rather comprehensive.  Redundant in places, but I enjoyed knowing that in the years that I have been farming I have done almost everything on that list or have a good reason not to.  So I will not recreate something that has already been done.  Go here to see Jill’s comprehensive list at The Prairie Homestead.

Something that I have wanted to try for a long time is learning to spin wool.  I have not done the work to lead up to that…..as in raising, shearing, and preparing the wool, but I can now spin.  And I have made things out of what I have spun.

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The other thing from that list that is going on with me now is that I have just been given the opportunity to learn how to work with honeybees.  I have been around them before and love fresh honey.   But now I have two hives on the property that will soon have bees in them and the friend that owns them will let me help work with them.  Another long time desire come true.

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But there are things missing on that list that should be there.  And I think they are basic for anyone considering farming.

To start with, we have to learn to live on limited income.  If there is a partnership, probably only one person will be working off the farm so pinching pennies will be a skill that is going to come in very handy.  Jill’s list included living within our budget and reusing things.  But I think it is one of the foundation skills that was lost in her list. I have lived below the poverty level since I started farming in 1986.  I love my life; I don’t love the financial strangulation. I traded it in for a “better” life, but within a couple of years nothing that came with the finances was worth the money.  So learning to live without a lot of things that most people consider “normal” is something that I consider important to point out to prospective farmers.

Learn the art of self-motivation.  We won’t have a boss telling us what to do, where, and when.  And there are days that we won’t “feel” like doing anything.  Well that just won’t work on a farm.  There is always way too much to do to take time off.  That is one of the hardest things…….to keep going when we don’t feel like it.  On the farm, there is always a way to find something that matches the “mood”……but we cannot stop.  Is it nasty outside?  Then that is the time to do research, clean the house, do inside repairs, etc.  Is it nice?  Then would sitting in the sun and weeding the garden work to match the mood?  Just learn to match the work to the mood, and never quit.

Become an expert on the use of hangers, duct tape, baling twine, and making do.  I have made tools, latches, repairs, and more using hangers.  I don’t know what I would do without them.  I rescue hangers from second hand stores just to have a constant supply.  I do not ever want to be without. And duct tape and baling twine are used for more things than I can recall.  Twine is very strong and if it is braided it makes a very adequate rope or lead line.  Living without the possibility of buying new every time I need something causes me to think creatively……and creative I am! Check out the latch for the door that was given to me.  It did not come with a handle.

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I don’t know about you, but I had to learn to be social.  I hid away on my farm for 12 years.  My marriage was a wreck.  I had no friends.  I went nowhere; except church…..where nothing happened so I quit going there.  Did nothing; except homeschool my kids and farm.  I became suicidal.  So with the divorce I finally went back to the activity that I loved in my 20s…..square dancing.  That is where I feel the most accepted and we get together just to have fun.  So get off the farm and go have some social time. It will refresh your life like nothing else.  This is something that I had to learn.  I love farming and thought this would be enough but there are days that I have to remember that social time for me is important for the farm.

One more thing…..learn to play an instrument.  If it is spoons, or a washtub, or a piano, or anything in between, learn to play and teach the kids.  Nothing is more homestead-like than making our own music.  And we don’t have to play it well.  This is just for our enjoyment and the companionship after the work is done.  I used to have a piano and that brought lots of joy.  Now I am working on learning the banjo.  I really wish that I had people to play with after dinner each night.  That would speed up the learning process, but soon I will be making music again.  And there is nothing like it.

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Now go read Jill’s list and add some of those things a little at a time.

Silent Guardian

I feel the warmth of life inside of me… Too long barren, I sigh with happiness. The little birds were sweet companions, but I was meant for more… I wrap my protection around my precious inhabitants. They will be safe here, no matter what happens.

The wind blows and I tremble. Snow falls and I carry it on my shoulders. Rain slashes against me and floodwaters swirl around my feet, but I will let none of them overwhelm me.

As life blossoms and a new soul is born, warmth and joy spread through me like a river. Laughter fills what was once aching emptiness, and I feel again the intense pleasure and searing responsibility that new life brings.

Sometimes I am empty and my loved ones cry with hunger. Sometimes the cold seeps in against my will and touches them with icy fingers. Sometimes I break… But through it all I am their protection, and they are my very reason for existing.

When the time is right and the morning dawns clear, they will venture forth from the safety of my arms. I will watch them as they travel, ever anxious to hold them upon their return.

I will stand, strong and steady, an immovable presence that they can depend on in any circumstance.

Cold? I will warm them.

Hot? I will cool them.

Pursued? I will shelter them.

Tired? I will be their safe harbor for the night.

Some day, when I’m ancient and broken, these memories will be what warms me. When my strength fails and I become a danger to those I once protected, when I crumble to dust and return to the earth, this will be my legacy…

And, if I’m very lucky, perhaps a single fading board from my once-unyielding wall will be preserved and placed on the new barn where I once stood. Maybe, in some such small way, my labor of love will never end.

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Built With The Blood Of Innocents

20150303_174037 I saw it land but it was too late.  My hand was already in motion and it was just another innocent buried in the paint that now makes the milking parlor so nice and clean looking.   It seems like hundreds of innocent flies landed on the wet paint and were painted over or stuck there to die.  There was really nothing I could do to stop it.  But in reality I didn’t really want to.

Katrina and I spent most of 4 days priming, painting, and finishing up making the milking parlor that is now separate from the dairy room.  The space had spent the last 20 years as a tack and tool room. But as I was making more cheese I wanted to keep the dust from the grain and goats out of the dairy area.  So the logical place to go was next door. WP_20141128_004 Moving all the tools and equipment was a job in itself.  I had to find new homes for all of it.   I spread it out among the different sheds…..the axes and mauls in the woodshed, the fencing pieces and tools in the generator shed, and the main tools I hung on the wall inside the main part of the barn.  I also hung the little drawer boxes there, and I love it.  Things are right where I can get to them even easier than in the tack room. There is also a lot of things that are now shoved in the loft waiting to be sorted and put someplace.  That has to wait for another time. 20150222_111500 We moved the refrigerator out of the tack room into the dairy room and now for some reason it is not working.  That has parts coming.  I changed the orientation of the doors and when it is fixed, I will love the ease in putting my milk away.  I won’t have to go around in circles…….a much nicer traffic pattern.

I found a salvaged cabinet in the loft that I brought down to put in the dairy room.  That must have been there for 15 years waiting for its time to go back to work.  It is a perfect size with a full sized breadboard for extra counter-top if I should need it.  I took a wood shaver after it to make it so the drawers and breadboard would slide, cleaned it up and it is now a prized part of my work space. 20150210_085457 Next came moving the current milking stand into the new space and redesigning it to fit.  I lost a place for a third goat, but as I milk alone anyway, I can’t get to a third before the others are done so that is not a big issue.  I also had to figure out how to work around propane tanks and putting in a 55 gallon barrel that I use to mix the grain that I feed my girls. 20150215_125324 I spent almost a whole day just cleaning the cobwebs, dust, and other such stuff off the walls and ceiling. Then we started priming.  Since this is older wood that had never been painted, it took several coats of primer……especially where there were water stains and grease marks.  We decided not to paint the ceiling which is a good thing.  That would have taken forever. 20150227_143136 My 5 year old granddaughter was there and painting for all those days.  I could not believe that she would hold out that long, but after the 4th day she was saying that she wanted to paint forever.  Well I can’t do that.  My hands are done with holding a brush for a while.

I cut out the door that now connects the dairy room and the milking parlor and painted that…..on both sides.  And when I put the spring on the door, I felt done.  I moved all animal type things into the milking parlor and we are ready for our first baby goats of spring……due today.

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The Workings of Winter

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This winter has been a work in progress, and full of learning and changes.

This winter I was blessed with the ability to purchase a spinning wheel and I am learning to spin.  It is not as easy as it looks on YouTube videos, let me tell you.  I have made a cowl out of the first bunch of yarn that I spun so that I would have it to look back on and see my progress.  I can make better yarn now, but it is still not consistent, but I am proud of my accomplishment.  This is something that I have wanted to learn for a long time.   Go me!

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Another skill that I have wanted to learn is how to tan hides.  I researched online and found some basic instructions and started in.  This is not as fun of a process…..because the website that I believed in would not stand behind the stuff they published nor would they help me figure out what I did wrong.  So the lesson here is to research the people before I take on their instructions.  And this website wants me to purchase products from them or to hire them as teachers.  None of that will ever happen with these people.  I guess that is something else that I had to learn.  So now I have to find some other source to help me figure things out.  But I have one hide tanned, but it is not soft as I would have liked.  And I stretched and pulled on it for hours……so I am not sure that was the mistake.  I will try again, with another set of instructions.

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I have also taken time to work on restoring my wood cookstove.  I spent a day scraping all the rust and stuff off of every part of it.  I have the base painted and polished, the stove placed on it, and the oven sanded and painted.  I am looking forward to using it soon.  I have used a wood cookstove before.  The other one had been stored in a barn and was in real bad shape, but it still worked.  This one is a pure treasure with a boiler, a warming oven and minimal rust and corrosion to have to repair.

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Those are the fun projects.  The others that we have tackled this winter is to transform the current dairy room/milking parlor into separate rooms.  I have had to reshape my milking stand to fit the narrower space of a separate milking parlor but I will still have the ability to milk two does at a time. I now have my refrigerator in the room that I work with my milk and a cabinet that was hiding in the loft has come down the stairs and made its debut.  This cabinet has been in the loft for untold number of years waiting for its time.  I will post pictures of this when we get it finished.  Next weekend we will paint.

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We have crossed fenced a small portion of the main pasture so that we can keep the animals off the bulk of it which we have seeded and are thrilled with watching the green starting to pop out.  I love spring.  It brings hope and promise.

We have had the great good fortune to have finally purchased a truck so that we can do our own hauling.  One weekend, Katrina and I loaded, hauled, and unloaded 3 large loads of wood chips and spread them on the areas that we walk on all winter that had gotten muddy and slippery.  We were tired and sore, but looking at the accomplishment is nothing short of amazing.

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Katrina and I have also spent several weekends making soaps and lotions for our store.  We have added several new scents that are amazing.  Check out the store and see the descriptions there.  Katrina’s favorite is the “Warm Grass” Soap.  It reminds her of walking in the meadow with her best friend, lying down in the grass, talking, laughing, and living the freshness of her world.

One thing that I tried was felting some soap.  At first I did not like the process……but…..I love the finished work.  Felting soap is putting pieces of wool on soap in crisscross pattern and then getting it hot and wet and working the wool into a matted washrag.  Then as you wash with it the wool keeps shrinking around the soap and provides a light exfoliating action as you bathe.  I have really liked using it so I will make some of those for the store also.  If there is a soap scent that you would like felted, let me know and I will get on it for you.

There are so many things that have taken up our time that I forget all that we have done.  I am starting to keep a journal so that I can look back and see what we have accomplished.  I pruned all of the apple and pear trees in one day.  I have a garden to put in…..but not before we fence out the free range chickens.  We have a chicken house to build and a very old barn to rebuild….hopefully before it falls on the pigs as they scratch themselves on the rotten beams that hold the old thing together.  Farrowing sheds to prepare, kidding pens to clean.  And before the kidding…..I have to finish the remake of the dairy room.  It has to be ready for the girls when milking time comes again.

Butter Making 101

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Having a cow is a great thing.  I can do things with cow milk that is very inconvenient to do with goat milk.  For instance, to get cream off of goat milk I would have to leave the milk sitting for a long time or use a cream separator.  Goat milk is naturally homogenized so the first option just leaves the milk to spoil because it takes a very long time to separate.  I did use a cream separator but it really turned out not to be worth it.  There is a lot of work in cleaning the separator after use and there is a good amount of waste stuck on the plates.  So there would have to be a large amount of milk to separate to make that worth the trouble.

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Cow milk on the other hand separates fairly rapidly.  Leave it overnight and there is a definite layer of cream.  So making butter is one of the things that I LOVE about having a cow.  I save up the cream and on Sundays while we are watching the Seahawks play, we make butter.

Cream makes butter the fastest at about 65 degrees.  I tried making it while it was cold and it took forever.  So I warm the cream up a little by placing the jar with the cream in it into a bowl of warm water.  When it gets between 60 and 65 I start agitating it.

I have several options for the actual agitation.  The easiest is using a jar with a good sealing lid filled half full of cream.  Hand it to a kid and let them shake it until they are tired.  They usually don’t hold out for the 20 minutes that it takes to get the butter to separate.

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The second option that I use is an old hand crank butter churn.  Mine holds a half gallon of cream with lots of room to splash.

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The third option I use is a crock butter churn with a dasher.  That holds about a gallon of cream.  So depending on how much cream we have, we use what makes the most sense.

I have heard of people using a mixer or blender, but they have to be real careful not to over whip it or the butter will not stick together.  I did try the mixer one day but got yelled down for drowning out the sound of the game, so I stick to the old ways and I like it better anyway.

It is real easy to tell when the butter is done.  It separates from the milk and sticks together.  The sound changes, the blob of butter feels different, and I can see the chunks of butter that has separated from the buttermilk.  Now this is REAL buttermilk.  Don’t waste it.  It is good for baking and drinking, and when you have as much as we do……pigs love it.  I pour off the buttermilk and what is left is the butter.

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Now I have to wash out the rest of the buttermilk so that the butter stays fresh a lot longer.  I squeeze the butter into a blob and put it into some cold water until I gather all that I had it that container.  As I run more cold water over it, I knead it and wash it until there is no more buttermilk coming off the butter.  Then I salt it to taste.

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I have put the butter into containers and I have used butter molds.  I love the look of the molds so that is what we use all the time now.  We have an 8 ounce and a 4 ounce molds.

To use the molds, I soak them in cold water for at least the time I am making the butter before I put anything into them.  After I am done salting, I press the butter into the molds making sure that all the crevasses are filled.  Then I smack the edge of the mold on the counter to get the butter out.  I have to be very careful here because the butter is still really soft and I don’t want to damage it.  If it doesn’t come out, I have put the mold in the freezer for about 5 minutes to help, but once I found out that it really does take some smacking I don’t do it anymore.  I hold my hand under the mold and out comes a beautifully formed work of love.

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As I hold it, my daughter covers it gently with some plastic wrap and wraps the butter for storage.  Since we make a lot at a time, we put what we aren’t going to use right away onto a pizza pan and put in the refrigerator to get cold.  Once it is solid, we wrap it a second time, put it into a dated Ziploc bag, and freeze it.

There you have it……easy butter making 101.

But I forgot the best part……eating it.  I absolutely love the taste of my fresh made butter.  I will pile it on a bagel like it was cream cheese.  Mix it with honey (of course locally sourced) and load it on bread.  And all the other wonderful ways that we use butter.  I don’t use it in baking though.  I don’t want to waste the goodness of my butter into something where I won’t taste it. Danishes and croissants….yes.  Cakes and cookies….no.

I hope that you get a chance to make your own.  There is nothing like it in the stores.

 

Heeeere pig pig pig!!!
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Heeeeeere pig pig pig pig!!

Once, that call would have simply brought the pigs running for breakfast. They would grunt and bounce in place, waiting impatiently for their breakfast. I’d come out with a bucket, wade through a traffic jam of knee-high piggers, and race them to the feeder so I could get the bucket dumped before the whole trough was filled with pig faces.

But the daily filling of a trough couldn’t go unnoticed forever…

First it was the Ebony. She is the silliest goat I’ve ever met… Once she realized that the pigs (for all their grunting and squabbling) didn’t seem to care at all if she ate with them, in she dove!! Seeing that delicate face almost up to her eyes in sloppy pig scraps, and coming out with a chunk of cantaloupe rind as big as her head, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen…

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Then came the chickens. We have our laying chickens in an enclosed pen, but we allow our momma hens and their chicks to free-range. Once they realized how messily the pigs eat, they started hanging around the edges and snatching whatever the pigs dropped. The chicks quickly learned how to dodge clumsy pig hooves and now they race to be the first to grab the crumbs.

Then the ducks. Oh the ducks… Our Muscovy ducks are bigger than standard breeds, and braver too. They don’t wait for the pigs to drop food, oh no. They waddle up, bold as can be, and pluck food straight from the mouths of the pigs. And if the hundred-pound pig decides to try to grab it back, he gets treated to a duck bill right in the schnoz. The perplexed looks on the pig’s face is comic gold…

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And finally, our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog (LGD). Dozer is the perfect farm dog. He never steals from his charges, even if bread is dropped near him. He is usually the first into the feeding area, but he quickly runs to the back of the crowd out of the way and sits waiting. He is so patient that I have often passed out all of the bread by the time I notice his forlorn face staring at the happy duck eating bread right at his feet. When I finally call out his name as I find a piece to throw to him, his happy puppy dance makes my heart sing.

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There is no happier time on the farm than this. Watching all of these wonderful animals eating together as friends is an amazing feeling. We’ve always made a point of owning animals that are good-natured, but finding that amiable nature in pigs is a never-ending surprise. We might not get the huge yield that the giant hogs produce, but the sweet, gentle nature of our heritage breed gives our farm a sense of unity, and makes every day on the farm a joy.

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Finished By Flashlight

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That is how my daughter and I work……until the job is done.  But let me back up.

When I bought this place in 1986 the farmer on the adjacent land, years before, had put up a fence where he thought the boundary was.  When it was surveyed the barbed wire was about 40 feet into our land, and across the whole narrow end.  The area was completely covered with blackberries so when we carved out the correct fence line, we just left the stuff buried except what we could get to as we put up our fencing.

I had goats on the property for years and they were fed so well that they just used blackberries for a snack.  But this summer I had buck goats out there and I let them feed themselves and they cleared the blackberries out.  They stayed healthy and sleek on the browse and I love being able to see land that I have never seen before.  But it did bring out the possibility of animals getting caught and cut up on the downed barbwire.

It wasn’t high on the priority list…….but it should have been.  I saw a picture of a friend’s horse with the massive cut foot and heard of the struggle in saving her.   Then the danger of that barbwire became so very real.  We have a horse and a filly on that pasture and if I didn’t see it or hear it, we may lose our horses.  So I put it on the top of the list as soon as the ground would thaw enough to free it.

The barbwire was stuck under partially frozen ground, downed trees and limbs and stripped blackberry vines. None of it wanted to move.

Then the battle of the three “B’s” began.  Badass women came along and started to find the wire and haul the lines out of the mess.  Barbwire gouged and snagged our gloves and clothes trying to penetrate to the skin.  It caught onto the limbs and hung on for dear life.  Blackberries fought us off as best they could, grabbing our feet and legs, ripping at our clothes and hair, and hanging onto the wire.

But what is a Badass woman except a conqueror……but even a conqueror comes away from a battle with wounds.  If it were not for the gloves, our hands would look like our arms and legs; scratched, gouged, and bloody.

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But that was not the end of the goal for the weekend……..

I hate waste.  And I had not been able to get a manger up for the goats and they were walking on their food and then wouldn’t eat it.  I had the keyhole manger front almost cut out when the blade broke on my jigsaw so the project kept getting put on hold as things like barbwire got dealt with first.

On Sunday we made butter and watched the Seahawks play.  Then we went back to work.

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Katrina and I started right after the game.  We finished cutting out the head holes, and then found the wood and cut out the bottom and sides.  We herded the goats out of the barn area to put it together without them under our feet.

But it started to get dark on us.  Did we quit?  No!   Badass women again conquering their world.  With my granddaughter pointing a flashlight, we put that whole manger together.  It took two hours by flashlight but that manger is not going anywhere, even if the goats jump on it.

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I love working with my daughter.  She has the same determination to get a job finished that I have.  We get in and get it done……even if we have to finish by flashlight.

Personality is Key

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I started by looking for four legs and an udder but with an animal that I spend a lot of time with there are other things to consider.  And most of these I learned the hard way.

Each breed of goat has distinct personality traits and generalized milk fat content.  Although all of them can be noisy at times, some tend to be more so and more often.  I started with noisy ones and after a few years of noise pollution and frustration I traded that breed in for a quieter one.  I live in a quiet place.  I wanted to keep it that way.

Nubians and LaManchas tend to have the highest butterfat content of the common goat breeds but the Saanens tend to put the most milk in the bucket.  I don’t have much experience with the Alpines, Toggenburgs,  or Oberhausli.     When we switched breeds for backpacking with them, we looked for the friendliest breeds and according to John Mionczinski in “The Pack Goat”, that was the LaMancha and Saanen.  I have not regretted the switch.

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We are currently trying out the Guernsey breed.  According to the literature this breed puts less in the bucket but it is close to the fat content of half and half.  But with these generalizations, I would suggest that you look into these more thoroughly before you choose.  There are breed specific websites out there that will tell you more.  What breeds suit one family may not suit another.

Another thing to think about is the mixed breed goats.  These can be better because they have some hybrid vigor that some of the more specialized ones may lack. For the homestead goat, I would concentrate on personality.

Unless you are going to be showing your goats there is just a few things that are really essential in how they are built that would be good to investigate.

  • Is she big chested to help her hold a lot of food for the milk you want her to produce?  Yearlings (does that are only a year old) tend to be narrow, so look at the mother if you can.  They can only produce what they can eat to sustain.
  • How is the udder attached?  Is it tight and held close to the body or loose and baggy?  A loose udder can get damaged easily by a lot of things. If you have blackberries or brush for them to browse on they could get hurt because they really don’t think before going after food.  I have had one goat step on her own udder when she tried to get up.  Not a pretty sight.  And the easily hurt ones are more prone to mastitis.
  • Do her teats hang straight down?  If they are all crooked it may be hard to hit the milk bucket.  There are days that I wear milk when I am trying to learn which way it will squirt.  And transitioning from a straight teat to a crooked one may be tricky each milking.  (Now which goat was that?)
  • Does she look healthy with a nice covering of fat on her ribs?  Not fat fat……just not skinny.  A fat goat will not be putting her energy into milk.  She is either way overfed or she is putting her food to the wrong use.  A skinny goat may either be sick or putting all her energy into milk.  Either of these can be dealt with but really hesitate before buying a sick goat.  That could be bringing home a huge problem.

We just bought some goats that have barely been handled.  These are not a good choice for a beginner.  A goat that you can’t catch or handle is really tough.  I have learned ways to tame them and get them so they can be dealt with, but it is not easy.  I put them in a small area and just walk toward them and let them run around and around until I can pet them.  This can go on for days depending on the age and temperament of the goat.  And how persistent I am.  When I can get close to them consistently, I can let them in with the rest of the girls. But unless I keep at it, I will always have a hard time managing these.

Another trick I use is a drag chain.  This is a 15 to 20 foot chain that is hooked into their collar and she drags it.  Then when I want to catch her I just step on the chain and walk up it.  The goat has no idea why she can’t run and I am not scaring her by chasing.  And if she gets snagged on something in the pasture, I am there to help her.  She then sees me as a good thing.  Don’t do this with a rope.  A rope can cut off the blood circulation in a leg if it gets wrapped around it.  A chain is much less likely to do so.

Food is another good motivator.  Once I can get close to them on a consistent basis, I bring food that there is no way for them to have except by my hand.  I have found that if I try to feed them when they are in a panic, they don’t trust me enough to eat what I bring.

So it really is easier to look for ones that are gentle and friendly.  I would rather have a friendly goat than one that produces tons of milk that I can’t catch.

I love my goats.  That is because I also pick the personality of my goats. If they don’t fit my personality profile, I either try to train them (like with the scared ones) or I get rid of them.  There is nothing worse than milking a goat that is deliberately trying to kick me.  Or one that bashes me or my kids.  Or breaks out of my fences.  (There are differences between total disrespect and bad fencing.  I don’t have bad fences.) I have one disrespectful goat on a chain.  He is clearing blackberries and eating well, but he is alone.  He will also be gone soon.

One of the goats is really mean to other ones.  I have to mess around with her and separate her at the beginning of feeding time or she bashes all the other goats.  She even keeps one goat out of the barn at the start of chores.  This one is on thin ice with me.  She is good to people, but a problem every day.

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My favorite goats are the ones that run up to me when I show up in their pasture…..just to be scratched.  Or follow me when I take them on an outing in the woods to browse.  I can touch them anywhere so if something happens I can deal with it.  They stand for milking without creating problems.  I can lead and tie them if necessary.  Whatever I have to do, they trust me to take care of them.  This is what I love.

To me, that is what I really like having in my homestead herd.  When I have both beautiful body AND personality…..now that is heaven.  And I find it once in a while. I have a barn with some great goats in it.  And it will continue to get better.

 

Samson, The Miracle Dog

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Against all odds it has happened again, and once more we are humbled beyond words…

You may remember Mom’s post back in January, about the heartrending decision that Nicki made when she had to re-home her Great Pyrenees, Dozer, before her move to Alaska. Through a miracle of coincidence, she remembered our farm from when we bought some animals from her, and saw the blog where Mom mentioned our frustrating search for a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD). So out of the blue we got a phone call offering us our dream dog, and what a dog he has been.

It was love at first sight for us, and we’ve fallen more in love every day we’ve owned him. So much so, that we would bemoan regularly the fact that he is neutered. Hearing me complain (again), I was encouraged by a friend to look into breeding these dogs for the people on the Olympic Peninsula even if they couldn’t be Dozer’s. So after some thought, I went straight to the source. If I couldn’t make Dozer-babies, I wanted to get his genes in there somewhere… So I emailed the breeder that Dozer had come from. Nicki’s sister, Rokki.

I told her how much I loved this dog, how much better he’s made our lives, and how desperately I wanted to share that with the people in my area.

I don’t know if it was fate, luck, divine guidance, or what… Rokki had just moved into town and didn’t have enough room (or any animals to guard) for Dozer’s dad, Samson. She had also just lost Dozer’s mom (Samson’s mate, Sitka), and Samson was taking that hard… With no job to do and his friend/soul-mate gone, he became lonely and depressed. And like every good owner, Rokki’s heart was breaking for him.

That is when she got my email… I would imagine it felt like salvation and a punch in the gut at the same time.

I have had to make those decisions, and it’s never easy. We love them so much… The final question though, is if we love them enough to face the rest of our lives without them.
I couldn’t make that sacrifice for my dog 3 years ago, and she passed away in pain without me by her side. That is a debt I can never repay, and a burden that weighs on my heart.

Rokki was stronger than me, and amongst tears, hugs and well-wishes, Samson was left in our care.

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He is stunning… Where Dozer has black splotches all over that make him look like an adorable goofball, Samson is positively regal. He is taller, broader of head and shoulder, pure white, and with an aura around him like that of a benevolent god.

He is also the consummate professional. I don’t know if he realized instantly that this property was now his, but he surveyed it as though it was… Within minutes of being on the farm, he systematically got acquainted with every animal, and toured the perimeter of each barn and fenceline.  After a quick jaunt down the driveway (which we promptly assured him was NOT his territory), he appeared satisfied with his domain. The barns are his, the animals are his, and while we humans can be rather impertinent, we redeem ourselves by satisfying itches and keeping his belly full.

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Above all, he has that incredible, wonderful, occasionally frustrating Pyrenees trait of knowing his job instinctively, and not needing our help with it at all.  At all.  He obviously likes us very much, is unfailingly patient with the miniature human that gives far too many face-hugs, and has the desire to please. But our commands are viewed more as requests made by an equal, to be performed at his leisure around the responsibilities that he views as most important.

Which, if you don’t understand the motivations of the Pyrenees LGD can be extremely frustrating. But the fact that we quickly realized with Dozer is that we humans are considered a pleasant distraction by these dogs…

He knows that his job is to be ever alert for any danger that could threaten his animals, and anything that usurps his attention is carefully evaluated. And sometimes, what we want him to do is simply not as important as what he feels he needs to do, which is placing himself between his animals and anything that would dare to harm them.

So in realizing that and being people who live for our farm, nothing pleases us more than that single-minded focus. He will curl up by our feet like an oversized area rug as soon as he feels that all is right with the world.

And that is just fine with us.

(Just a note from Janolyn.  I want to thank Nicki and  Rokki for giving us the honor of caring for their wonderful dogs.  Dozer and Samson are loved and happy fulfilling the duty that is their heritage.)  

When Trees Fall In The Forest

Before After

Every year trees fall in the forest.  And whether or not anyone is there to hear them fall, they DO cause a horrible mess.

And having been away from my farm for a few years, there were more than a few trees down.  And then there were the ones that had been cut into firewood and abandoned there.  The limbs of those lying around cluttering the scenery.  There was also an unfinished burn pile waiting to be cleaned up.  In June we had a work party to clear up some of the dead stuff around the house and the pile of wood and limbs sitting in the pasture were an eyesore.

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But the good part was that we had let the animals clean up the blackberries and graze around the piles until they were visible and accessible.  There is no saying how much pain and irritation that saved.

So after it had rained for a few days, but not enough to totally soak the wood, Katrina and I decided today we would be burning the waste and hauling out the useable firewood.  We began right after chores and started a couple of fires.  As Sam managed one, Katrina managed another and I split some of the rounds and hauled waste to whichever fire was closer.  Sam also hauled a pile of rough cut lumber that had sat for too long.

Later in the day a friend came with a chainsaw and bucked up the trees that were useable. And that brought more limbs to haul.  Then a couple of my sons came.  They wanted to drive the truck in the pasture so they had the “fun” of picking up the firewood, driving it to the woodshed, and unloading it.  .  We didn’t know that the radiator was clogged and the main hose blew up and left the truck stranded in the pasture.  It is a good thing really…..they were having too much fun spinning out and cutting cookies.  A boy with a 4X4, a friend, and a pasture is a dangerous thing.

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It is amazing when friends are working together how much really gets done with no bossing.   By midafternoon Sam, Katrina and I were all exhausted and sore. None of us stopped.  We took a break for maybe 5 minutes for water, but no longer.  Sam made sandwiches and we all ate standing.  By nightfall the main part of the pasture was clean but the three of us were so tired we were staggering and limping.

There is something about watching a fire.  It not only warms the body it reaches a primal need in the mind someplace.  No matter how tired we were, we watched the fire until hunger finally drove us home.

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The pain will soon be only a memory, but the clean pasture will be a joy for a long time.