This is Life on the Farm and Change is in the Air

Reader Contribution by Julia Shewchuk

This was supposed to be, again, Part 2, Fencing and Pasture, of “How to become a Dairy Goat Farmer.” It will not be. Welcome to Life on A Farm – This is Life. Being a small family farmer is not for the faint hearted. Let me bring you up to speed where we are.

Baby Season: Kids, Puppies, Calves

I wrote the last blog on February 25th. That same day we had two does give birth. The first one gave birth to Nubian quadruplets, all healthy and growing, and the second one gave birth to Saanen twins, also all healthy and growing. Then, in the afternoon, a calf was born to one of our Black Angus cows. Then, a little bit later, our Livestock Guardian Dog Athena, decided to give birth as well. She is a bit stand-offish and we had been trying to figure out how to get her into the stall and puppy birthing pool when the time came, but she went in there all on her own. Good girl. Within two hours we had seven healthy puppies. She was licking them, cleaning them and moving around very carefully. We gave her some broth, which she gratefully accepted. We were very happy with seven healthy puppies. At 9:30p, during bed check, she had a contraction and, much to our surprise, out slid number eight. OK, eight puppies. Super. We went to bed. All was quiet. The next morning there were twelve!!!!

All healthy, nursing and dry. It seems that dog birthing is a bit different than goat birthing. Now, eight weeks later, all twelve puppies are still alive, fat and happy, and four have already gone to new homes. These puppies are delightful and it was such a joy to have them. We will keep two to grow up as guardian dogs to take the place of our two retirees. One of them, Sadie, passed away four weeks ago, guarding the chicken pasture with her mate by her side. The next morning, another baby goat was born and we named her Sadie. One life is taken and one life is given.

Taking Stock

During height of kidding season, our farm manager also left unexpectedly which forced us to take stock and re-evaluate. This is a must for any family farm and should be done annually. What are the expenses, what is the income, do we have enough help, are we stretched too thin, where are we going? As is the reality nowadays for any small family farm, the income never covers the expenses and at least one outside income is necessary to run a farm, so no surprise there. We found that we were stretched way too thin, a victim of our own success, and that we had little time left to pursue the education mission of our farm, pursuing projects with the interns to increase sustainability of the farm, and just have some pure old-fashioned fun to putter, bake bread, tend to the garden and read.

Planning & Implementation

We sketched out a plan for the next six months with our interns, four of which decided to stay with us long-term to implement our sustainability and education mission and vision of the farm and maybe even form a small intentional community. We went through all the areas of the farm to decide what needed to go, what needed to stay, what needed to be cut back and what needed to grow. The chickens were the first to go as they were a lot of work.

Even free ranging in mobile coops, they had to be moved every few days, the coops kept clean, the eggs collected, cleaned, labelled and packaged for sale. We kept a few for ourselves (keep the self-sustaining and know where your food comes from), but 260 chickens left within a week. Now that they are gone, we realized we put about two hours a day just into the chickens. We are also downsizing the goat herd. We have sold most of the kids, and several of the yearlings and also several milkers. We had three breeds, Nubians, Saanens, and LaManchas and decided to consolidate to just two breeds, so we sold all the LaManchas. The effect of this downsizing has been immediate and dramatic. We already feel less pressured for time, and our feed bill has dropped in half.

A New Future

We are still evaluating and reshaping, encouraged by the positive outcomes so far. We held a well-attended and well received “Dairy Goat 101” workshop at the farm on March 23rd, and are planning a second hands-on workshop on the farm towards the end of July. We will teach hoof trimming, drenching, giving shots, milking etc. to a limited number of participants. Soap making and cheese making workshops will follow in the fall and winter. We are giving tours to schools to educate on where your food comes from and what it takes to be a farmer.

And who knows, that USDA Value Added Producer Grant is still out there, maybe taking us in a yet different direction. All is good on the farm and I’m looking forward to resuming the blog on a regular basis with Part 2: Fencing and Pastures.

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