17 March 2007

Hobby Farm Mistakes 101

Before we naive suburbanites moved to Tuppinz Farm last summer, we ordered about a hundred books from Amazon (I'm not exaggerating. Good thing we had points.) Despite our previous experience with animals and wildlife rehabilitation, despite my spinner's knowledge of general sheep care, and despite both of us having a lifelong interest in animal husbandry, we've made a gazillion livestock-care mistakes since becoming "farmers".

Since some of you dear friends are also interested in keeping furry fiber producers down the road, I'm hoping that if I share our many pitfalls you will be able to avoid some of the errors we've made.

On that note, we admit to...

Hobby Farm Mistake No. 24 Ali Baba with a handsome comb last summer:


Ali Baba after his comb froze off this winter:

When we discovered it had frozen (it turned black) and after some hurried research, we put Bag Balm on it to protect it for the rest of the winter. We also put it on his wattles. Luckily, the frostbitten parts fell off and the comb healed. We will put Bag Balm on him starting next September! Sorry, Ali. You're still quite the handsome dude. And you're darned good at warning the girls about predatory hawks with your pterodactyl imitation.


Hobby Farm Mistake No. 49 Fancy-schmancy feeder bins. Aren't these neat? They hang right on those two-by-fours... until the goats get frisky and want to enter the granary for their daily grain and minerals. Then the containers end up spilled all over the loafing area, wasting the free-choice kelp and diatomaceous earth. Cheap bins that can be attached to the wall with screws, and flipped over for cleaning, would have been a much better choice. (Aren't Tulip's kids getting big?!)

Hobby Farm Mistake No. 50 Training the goats to go into the granary for their grain and minerals. Despite the fact that the presence of goats makes sheep calmer and more tame, and despite the fact that Jacob sheep act more like goats than sheep, and despite the fact that they all get along great, I should not have kept the sheep and goats together. When we just had two goats, it wasn't a problem to separate them to give them their daily minerals (which contain copper and therefore are dangerous to sheep). With six goats (and a seventh and eighth on the way), this is not a good plan at all.

Daily goat stampedes into the rather small granary area, and goats jostling me around the grain bin, and goats jumping all over the hay bales and trimming stand (not to mention a handicapped, tame, begging-to-be-handfed chicken squawking underfoot) - such frolics do not fit my idea of serene country life. They have induced many a migraine and lots of muttering - nay, hollering - on my way back to the house, and, well, we're on a high hill and the noise carries, and the neighbors already think we're a little odd, what with our Tibetan prayer flags and all. Therefore, Chef Jeff has hired a young farmhand and with his help, CJ will soon be perfecting his fencing skills and making a new shelter for the sheep. Why he wants to make a shelter when we have 13 unused outbuildings available - one a full-sized dairy barn - is beyond me, but if it accomplishes my goal of separate sheep and goat habitats, I'm all for it.

Hobby Farm Mistake No. 67 Birdfeeder at chicken head height. These are not the birds I was hoping to attract with my $5.99 woodpecker cakes:


Hobby Farm Mistake No. 93 Deep bedding. Now, deep bedding is not a mistake. It is a wonderful, healthy way to keep animals over a long winter. You add clean bedding over soiled bedding on a regular basis, to provide a clean spot for the animals to sleep. The soiled bedding gets deeper and deeper, and begins to compost, creating heat which keeps the animals warm. If you do it correctly, there is no ammonia odor for the animals to breathe, which spares them from common chronic lung problems. Many zoos, stables, and other facilities around the world use this method for its humane, healthy, and organic features.

Joel Salatin says that if you smell manure on a farm, you're smelling mismanagement. I am pleased to say that there are no manure or ammonia odors in either our chicken coop or ruminant barn due to using deep bedding methods (in the coop, we use pine shavings instead of straw and hay schnibbles.) If I can't abide the fumes in a barn I certainly don't expect my animals to, either.

However, when you use deep bedding, you must remember that things such as feeders, waterers, and windows will become closer and closer to the bedding level as the season progresses. And you must remember that goats are escape artists and nibblers.

So when you must keep newborn kids in a box stall for a couple of months during freezing weather, and they are growing and growing, and their bedding is getting higher and higher, it is a really good idea to raise up their infrared heat lamp so that this doesn't take place:

Luckily, by the time the kids were big enough to do this, they were also big enough not to need the light on all the time, and it was unplugged when the little adventurer decided to see what wire tastes like. Otherwise, I assume fried kid would have been on the menu that night. YIKES!

Hobby Farm Mistake No. 93(a) Tall paddock fencing + lots of snow = short paddock fencing; see above.

Hobby Farm Mistake No. 122 Prepare yourself, gentle reader: inside this bag is a dispatched varmint. A skunk with the "dumb" form of rabies was bedding down with my sheep and goats at night. Chef Jeff wanted to give it "the benefit of the doubt" - after all, we are lovers of wildlife, and skunks have their place along with opossums as Nature's Clean-Up Crew. When CJ mentioned that he'd seen the skunk out in the daylight, though, and that it showed no fear of humans, I knew something was amiss and advised him to trap it. Unfortunately, he didn't have the chance, and instead was confronted with a barn full of goats and a skunk between them and the door one morning.

The skunk clearly exhibited signs of neurological dysfunction, so Chef Jeff carefully herded the goats to freedom, got the .22, and "dispatched" (a good hobby farm euphemism) the poor, sick skunk.

We then learned that dead skunk smell is 100 million times worse than live skunk smell and that it is probably better to kill it ouside of the barn than in it.

Chef Jeff learned what happens when a man comes not only into the house, but up to the bedroom (to proclaim his sick-skunk-dispatching prowess to his still-sleeping wife) wearing stinky skunky clothes - to wit, a man's wife get's a tiny bit angry.

We both learned that shooting a skunk in the head is not the best idea if you want to have a definitive answer from the DNR as to whether that skunk did indeed have rabies; it is the brain tissue that must be tested. (Well, I knew this, but Mr. Blandings here wasn't exactly thinking straight so early in the morning, and probably should have had his coffee before dashing out with a gun, but... whatcha' gonna' do? Farm life is full of surprises, I can guar-on-tee you.)

Finally, we both learned that sheep and goats can, indeed, get rabies. Crap. They don't tell you that in the hundreds of books from Amazon. We learned that there is an approved vaccination for sheep, but not one for goats (though some vets will administer a vaccine off-label). We learned that it is much less expensive to not be sentimental about skunks near the barnyard than to have an entire flock vaccinated by the only knowledgeable sheep and goat vet in the area, who is not exactly nearby (but who does fantastic work). Sigh.

So much for the introduction to our many hobby farm mistakes. Live and learn and pass it on.




Well, now let's talk about what we've done right, shall we?

Hobby Farm Success No. 1 Tulip did all the work birthing her kids, it is true. Due to an error made by her breeder (they have a hobby farm too, you know), she kidded a full week ahead of schedule, so we weren't even looking for babies. She did a great job, and we just helped with towels and a blowdryer to get them dry and warm, and getting Tulip's taps unplugged and flowing so the babies could nurse suckle.

As for our part, when the kids were old enough, we took them to the wonderful vet mentioned above to be disbudded, and the male neutered castrated, under anesthesia. In Britain, it is against the law to perform procedures like these without pain management. Unfortunately, in America, we are still experiencing a "cowboy mentality" in regard to some of the less-than-fun farm procedures that require nippers and hot irons. Cheff Jeff and I dedicated ourselves to providing the most humane treatment possible of the Tuppinz Farm animals, and we are happy to say that we did not compromise with the kids. We feel that if we can't afford quality care for each and every animal, then we have too many animals.

It's true, we are sentimental (see Hobby Farm Mistake No. 122 above), and we follow compassionate teachings, so it will be interesting to see how our thought processes might change if, in anticipation of advancing his culinary artistry, Chef Jeff gets a Jacob ram and breeds for "dual purpose" (another nice hobby farm euphemism) lambs next spring. I might be willing to compromise with those lovely little green bands that Tracy Eiccheim includes with his fabulous spindles. (What, you didn't know that's what those were?) We'll see.

Hobby Farm Success No. 2 We invested in professionally-installed goat fencing for the barnyard loafing area/winter paddock. It wasn't cheap. It has proved well worth the expense. We never, ever, ever give the animals their feed, or pet them, over or through the fence, so they have never learned to stand on it. An offset electrical wire on the inside is additional insurance.


Hobby Farm Success No. 3 We invested in portable pasture fencing for rotational grazing. It works great and helps us manage our pastures and livestock worming efficiently and naturally.

Hobby Farm Success No. 4 We researched non-chemical wormers and decided on Molly's Herbals. And we perfected the art of sheep rodeoing to a science - you really do need a shepherd's crook, so it wasn't silly of me to purchase one "for show" after all. Chef Jeff is the man with the shepherd's crook! We also got a nice little drenching gun (after another farm mistake, which was attempting to administer wormer with a plastic syringe. It did not hold up at all well to sheep teeth.) Note: the goats come running for this stuff. One Jacob will take it without being held as well. The others must be held, but don't fight it, as they also like the taste; they just don't want to admit that humans aren't Big Scary Meanies so they pretend to be pitiful.

Hobby Farm Success No. 5 We got goat-proof gate latches. You need these. Trust me. Goats have prehensile tongues and are curious as monkeys. They are like dogs with opposable thumbs. You could also use a trimming stand, as you will definitely need to learn to trim goat and sheep hooves if you keep the little buggers.





I mentioned goats six, seven, and eight above... Please meet Ingrid, a hopefully-pregnant Alpine doe from Frieda's breeder down the road. She is a sweetie and the new Herd Queen. She has big antlers, it's true. We chose to disbud our kids for safety's sake and at our vet's recommendation, but to actually dehorn a goat is a dangerous procedure. Since we don't run an actual goat dairy farm, we elected to provide a home for Frieda and Ingrid despite their horns. They are careful with them, but not all goats are. It probably helps that the Jacobs have some formidable headgear themselves.

Still, once in a while, just before dusk, the noises of "Wild Kingdom" waft in from the paddock as the small ruminants choose sides for a game of GoatieSheep Football before dinnertime. This involves some preliminary rearing and headbutting, complete with bighorn sheep-type clonking, followed by the Kentucky Derby six or seven times around the paddock (Frieda is usually last, chugging along and looking for all the world like a little Hereford calf.) I'll do my best to get it on film, but they always stop and stare at me if I appear with a camera in hand. "What? We weren't doing anything!"

Kids. (Bad pun intended.)

Oh, I forgot Goatie Eight. If we get this little guy from a friend of a friend, I'll let you know his name. We're taking a peek at him tomorrow. Before you go down the goatie road, I have to warn you... they are kind of like potato chips.

Got to dash... did I ever mention how loud goats are when they're hungry? Did I mention that farm chores really cut into your knitting/spinning/weaving/crafting time?

Have a wonderful weekend! Let me know if you can guess the name of our new potential goat, knowing he is a male, and based on the names of my other two wethers...

12 comments:

Catherine D. said...

I know of several people in my area who have given up goats because there's no approved rabies shot, especially since there was a rabid goat at a county fair a few years ago. Fortunately, New York State subsidizes vaccinating other livestock for rabies, so it can be pretty cheap to do horses and such.

And Ali Baba may explain why I've had a de-crested male cardinal at my feeder recently :) He seems perfectly healthy, but he looks awfully weird.

sydney said...

I didn't realize that horses could get rabies until I was talking to my vet about an outbreak of rabid bats in the area a couple of years ago. Apparently horses are curious enough that they get bit fairly frequently.

lyssa said...

I enjoyed reading about the good and bad learning experiences! The new site design is really nice, too...clean and easy to read.

Mia said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I am sorry i do not write my blog in english (maybe I should...) I live on a smallholding with my husband where we have 13 ewes (and a ram) that are about to start lambing. We are expecting aprox. 20 lambs. Our sheeps are of an old norwegian breed, they are mostly brown and black and many of the ewes have horns as well. There are only about 1.500 ewes in Norway of this particular breed (which is a shame...) We do also have ten hens and a rooster on our smallholding. They are a mix og different breeds, but the rooster and a few of the hens are Plymouth Rock and a few more Brahmas as well. I have enjoyed visiting your blog and looking at your video and reading aout your "mistakes". Good luck to you both.

claudia said...

Sadly, none of the photos in this post loaded for me.

Umm....better you than me? ;-)

catsmum said...

thankfully we don't have rabies in Australia. One of the reasons why our quarantine laws sometimes seem a bit draconian.
My first goat is a Boer/Toggenberg/Saanan cross and very short ... lulled me into a false sense of security because goat #2 the purebred Saanan just went straight over the previously adequate fencing. Then she taught #1 some bad habits and we now refer to the crossbred one as Harriet Houdini. Anyone care to guess why?
I WAS supposed to be getting a British Alpine this week but the breeder's decided to keep her. Bugger.
Next door has just acquired an anglo-nubian billy so between my 2 girls and his 3, it's suddenly become VERY noisy round here.

Bana said...

awww.. Goatie Eight.. a wee Toggenburg (or at least mostly) I had goats growing up and my favorite was a sweet, little Toggie that I "rescued" from a flea market. She had been put in a metal dog crate without the tray so her little toes were splayed over wires. She looked in pain.. I convinced my mom to buy her. We kept her tied to our old doghouse until we could clear one of the outbuildings on our property. She was always so people oriented and I still miss her now. We had other goats too but she was always my favorite. We named her Daffy as in 'Daffy down dilly came to town with a yellow petticoat...etc.' because she joined our farm in the spring when the daffodils were up.

Amy Lamson said...

I laughed so hard I cried. Thanks for the humorous renditions of farm life. :)

Dawn said...

#67 about the chicken-head height bird feeders cracked me up. I love your blog. My husband and I have dreams of doing the same thing soon!!! I hope you are enjoying your new life!!!

Sergio said...

Great post. Do you find it hard to keep the goats entertained? Are they happy on grass in the summer or do they want more roughage, like tree branches etc. Me and my wife are looking at keeping goats in a couple of years on about 5 acres, but I'm concerned they'll be mischief!

Heather said...

I enjoyed this - and related to most of it - very much! We've been here 5 years, and each week there's a new list of things we have learned.

Our first sheep (also Jacobs) had a lamb this week - first lamb we've ever had. First newborn one I have ever even seen - I didn't grow up on farms. :-) Right now we have them mixed in with our goats too, and I've been thinking this is not a good idea long term.

Zach and Jennifer Sartell said...

We have 2 Angora goats and as soon as you give them the opportunity, they get into trouble. Luckily it's not been anything major, but they have been known to open a gate or two with a rather difficult to operate latch. I guess persistence wins sometimes.

Love your blog!