Batten Down the Hatches

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This post is a bit overdue.  Winter hit big time about 8 days ago.  We had about 4 inches of snow, but the big story has been the deep freeze around here.  Early December lows are uncharacteristically low.  We have had nights in the single digits.  What does that mean for the farm?  It means it is time to batten down the hatches.  Here’s what I mean:

Chickens have been shut into the barn.  If the days get in the 20’s we go ahead and let them circulate in the “common area” of the barn, but keep them closed up inside at night.  We use two stalls and attempt to get one rooster and approximately half the hens in each stall.  Stalls have been equipped with hanging feeders, metal water founts sitting on warmers so the water won’t freeze, and heat lamps–2 per stall.  They also have more roosting areas thanks to Paco and fresh straw.

The goats have been brought into the barn as well.  The goats are quite hardy and have their nice fluffy winter coats on.  We brought them into barn for several reasons.  First, most of their natural browse is gone.  Multiple hard freezes and snow cover have left them without green stuff to munch.  Second, we could not get the outlet in the lean-to to work and therefore had no way to keep their water from freezing over.  Third, we like to keep them in the barn through the worst of winter for their health and comfort but also because it makes it easier for us to do chores if the goats and chickens are together.  So, the goats have their own stall with hayrack and their water has a float in it to keep it from icing over.  The goats, at least for now, have the run of the common areas as well as their stall.  We are giving some hay but also supplementing with alfalfa cubes as well as their usual “granola.”

The goats and chickens keep good company, but we do make it impossible for the goats to enter the chicken stalls. The chickens can join them in the common area, but we have to keep the goats away from the chickens’ feeders.  The goats would happily eat every shred of grain we give the chickens.

The dogs have the entire milking room (was a tack room) of the barn to themselves.  We got their plug-in water bowl set-up for them, put in a heat lamp,  and are keeping the barn door closed.  They have a doggie door entrance.

The high tunnel is a different matter altogether.  Since this is year one, I consulted an experienced friend when we were facing the first night of arctic temps.  I had already pulled lightweight row cover over the beds a few weeks prior.  I added to this by pulling heavy weight row cover over the tops of the more susceptible crops.  I think we did pretty well.  Looks like most of the lettuces are gone as well as the broccoli, but kale, swiss chard, carrots, onions, beets, parsley, cilantro, spinach, and mache are all struggling through.  We are supposed to be warming up starting today (highs in the 30’s and lows in the 20’s) and them plunge back down on Sunday.   I plan to let things in there defrost thoroughly and harvest as heavily as I can.  Because of the very short days, there is very little growth.    What is there is about all there will be until late February/early March.  I have been told that the even if lettuces and other greens die back, they will resume growth in a few months.  It sure has been amazing to have fresh salads and greens in our stews right through the freeze and snow.  I dread the days (which are right around the corner), when I will be forced to supplement our meals by buying fresh veggies.

Yesterday, I pulled the last of the broccoli plants out and tossed them into the common area of the barn.  The goats, as well as the chickens, feasted happily.  Such a lovely reminder of the usefulness of just about everything on the farm.   It brings me joy to experience the cycle of life so intimately.  In those moments, I know that I am living an honest, balanced life.

A Year in Review–Animals: Goats

We began 2009 with no goats.  We had sold 2 dairy goats the previous summer and lost 2 to disease.  We had been through a lot with goats and were not eager to jump into that again.  I knew from my foray into dairying that ran from January-September 2008, that we were no longer interested in a dairy herd. 

However, we all missed the goats.  We loved having them and missed seeing them out in the pasture.  We also missed the great brush control they provide.    We thought we would be interested in one of the miniature breeds, but were not really looking. 

The local zoo, where our daughter does summer camp, has a large farm “petting” herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats.  I knew every year they had plenty of new babies for kids to cuddle so I inquired about where those goats went.  I was put on a waiting list.  Sometime in late August, long after we had forgotten all about it, we got a call.  The last 3 were still available.  After filing an application, we were told we could take all 3 home. 

The first week of September, I put the large dog kennel into the back of the Element and Lily and I went to pick them up.  The transfer went well and they seemed a bit nervous but also excited to be moved into a large pasture with loads and loads of fresh pasture and browse.  Lillian dubbed them all with literary names–Charlie (Willy Wonka), Stella (Stellaluna), and Horton (Dr. Seuss).

All went well for about a month or so until I noticed some signs of anemia in Stella and Charlie.  I blogged the details but many shots, veterinary intervention, and one necropsy later we had lost Charlie to coccidiosis.  The loss was pretty devastating after the rough time we had the previous year with goats.  Of course, Charlie was the most affectionate and we loved him.  Horton and stella have normal blood tests and seem to be doing well.

Stella and Horton seem to be doing fine now.  they have been moved into the barn and have enjoyed exploring some new digs.  After getting shots for 3 different meds, I am slowly winning them back over.  After about a month of shots they would look at me and run.  Horton loves to have his wattles scratched and he seems to trust me most of the time.  Stella, always the most stand-offish, is a much harder sell.  She is warming up slowly. 

Of course, most of the shots were happening at the exact same time that my husband was out of the country.  It was amazing luck that my parents and nephews chose that time to come for a visit.  it got pretty hard to catch 2 goats to administer injections and oral meds.  I could do it in the beginning, but after they learned all my tricks, it was nearly impossible.  I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten it accomplished without their help. 

The sub-zero deep freeze also came while my husband was out of  the country.  I did my best to put up heat lamps and water heaters and my folks helped out.  I am all about doing things for myself, but a one adult farm would be a very tall order.

The Big Freeze

Obviously, frigid temps mean that precautions have to be taken to keep the goats and chicken safe and sound.  We brought the goats into the barn when the pasture had frozen and they needed to be on pure hay.  They were upset by the move, but are very happy to have a new place to explore and some chicken companions.  Two adjoining stalls house the chickens, and the goats are in a third stall.  On days with above freezing temps, we open the three stalls into the fenced inner “yard”.   Probably the biggest consideration for winter is the need to keep water from freezing.  Both chicken stalls have metal heater bases that the metal waterers sit on top of.  The goats have a floating heater in their water crock.     

Despite our precautions, poor Jethro, our rooster, froze part of his comb and wattles.  The damage is more extensive on the wattles. The frostbitten parts are turning black.  Eventually, these will fall off but we are monitoring for infection.  There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the risk of infection.  Also, the frostbite may cause temporary infertility.  It is supposed to be very painful, but he is feeling well enough to act normally.  I hope he is not in a lot of pain, but I imagine he is.  It is a very common winter affliction and it is supposed to be worst the first winter.

We are continuing to get about a dozen eggs per day.  We also have White Pants back on a nest of eggs.  She has been brooding since Dec 2.  Who knows if she will got he distance or whether she will be successful, but she is resolute.  She should have about a week to go.   She has had as many as 8, but some have disappeared and she has 5 now.

Here are some winter farm pictures:

Goat Health

375Nearly 2 weeks ago now I went out to do the evening chores and discovered that 2 of the 3 goats had swollen cheeks.  I then inspected their gums.  Puffy faces or necks and very pale gums mean one thing–a high worm load.  This is caused bottle jaw. I called the vet the next morning and got 3 doses of dewormer–1/2 given then and then 3 weeks later.  Puffy cheeks are gone and they get their last dose this Sunday. The mystery that neither the vet or I can solve is why their worm load would be so high after only 2 months on our farm.  The zoo from which they came said they were screened and treated monthly. 

This past Saturday I was out there taking pictures and noticed that Charlie was a bit stiff in his back legs and not moving as usual.  Charlie is the friendliest and will always run toward me.  He did do that, but it seemed like he could not get his motor started.  Paco agreed and so we started penicillin shots and Vit B injections 4x day.  He bounced back immediately so we knew he was suffering from Goat Polio and not Listeriosis.  Find out more about both these diseases here:

Goat Polio means he has been eating too much grain and not enough green stuff.  His rumen, the “stomach”  that breaks down a nd digests food, is not functioning properly and cannot produce B vitamins.  Untreated, it can cause severe neurological damage and death.  We caught it very early on and he will be fine.  Thankfully, we learned a lot from having goats before and are smarter now.  We discontinued penicillin after 2 days and have been tapering off the B shots.  I have given him probiotic paste every other day to get his rumen back in shape.

So, the lesson here is you need to read and know what the possible problems are so that you can catch things early and they can be treated.  AND, if you need to inject a goat–put the grain down and then do it.  The goat may not even notice.



Here is a picture of Latte, a wether to be renamed Charlie and Stella, a doe.  Notice Stella has had her wattles removed due to a benign cyst.  We are excited to be bringing them home next week.

Lillian had her open house today for school which begins next Tuesday.  She is a bit apprehensive since it is a different school, but also excited.  I am constantly pondering whether waiting a year for Kindergarten is the right decision.  I think so, but she has changed an awful lot this summer.