It's been quite the busy kidding season so far. Cuddling our baby goats is by far the best part of managing a certified organic goat dairy...
We have 5 bucklings and 5 doelings as of May 1st, 2011. Kidding season is officially over at our farm. We're now watching our 6 week old kids increase their consumption of hay, grain and pasture daily. Soon we will start to wean the oldest kids from nursing by separating them from their dams at night. I plan to milk the separated dams first thing each morning and put them back together with their kids when they're placed out on pasture.
The “Ides of March” are upon us. We have goats freshening in the barn producing seven babies to date (3 doelings, 4 bucklings). I relocated our bucks to their shed and pasture by the creek to allow my does to freshen in peace and to prevent that “buck smell” from being present during milking. Our chicks will be arriving next month and we will raise these organically from day one. Hemlock, spruce, and elderberry saplings will be planted this spring, while our laying hens will be turned onto pasture soon.
I’m writing a Nutrient Management Plan currently that will address the manure concerns on our farm. The plan includes composting our manure and bedding material to a near soil quality before spreading it onto our pasture. We have minimal manure management concerns due to the solid nature of goat and chicken manure. Any manure that isn’t directly dropped onto our permanent pasture is mixed with bedding material and then piled and composted for a year before we turn it to increase aeration. Once it has been turned we then allow more time to pass before it turns into soil. We then load it onto the trailer and spread onto our pasture.
This summer we plan to create walkways for our livestock to tread on when leading them to pasture everyday. Gravel will be delivered to create these paths, and we will clean up the milking parlor and barn entrances by constructing adequate drainage. We only have small distances to lay these paths, about 200 feet total. Therefore, our summer will entail a greater effort in milking a larger herd and making dairy products, rather than improve our farm’s infrastructure. My goal in the next two years is to learn how to perfect my yogurt and cheese recipes before contemplating moving forward with a potential cheese making business.
Our farm is growing and slowly etching out a purpose in this world. This passed May (2010) we bought 60 chickens (unsexed) and were given three baby ducks. We raised the baby chicks in our 100 square foot shed with heat lamps for about eight weeks. Two “pasture pens” were built and used for our laying hens once they were old enough to be put outside at around eight weeks. Once the chicks were around 13 weeks we butchered all the roosters. At 13 weeks the roosters started practicing their calls early and we didn’t want to cause a Rooster Ruckus in the neighborhood.
Our baby ducks were raised in a utility sink indoors until they became too big to fit. Aidan and Reece had a great time feeding them, changing their water, and cleaning out the sink everyday. I would fill the sink once a day to give them their duckling bath. Right around the time our chicks were put in their “pasture pens” we were able to transfer the ducks to the chicken shed for the summer. The ducks were trained to walk a few yards to the Buffalo Creek, where they’d spend the day. At dinnertime, they walked back to the shed with a little help using a long 2x4 to guide them. I was able to find a permanent home for the ducks in the fall of 2010, because we weren’t able to keep them over the winter due to space constraints.
The summer of 2010 became hectic quick. At the end of June (2010) when 1.5 acres of permanent fencing was installed to allow our goats to graze rotationally. We then built and installed a solar powered, water system to pump creek water to all of our pastures using a gravity fed cistern. We also dug up our backyard to lay piping and installed two frost-free hydrants to address winter water concerns in our barn and shed. All of this work was completed by September of 2010, right on time for everyone to go back to school except Mom. I stayed home to milk the goats and practice making cheese and yogurt. I kept myself very busy selling eggs, doing chores, and working part time at a local horse farm in the fall of 2010.
Soon winter was upon us, and we had to buy and store our winter hay, move animals around, and prepare for my bi-lateral foot surgery that I was scheduled for two days after Christmas of 2010. The surgery went very well, I recovered sooner than I believed possible. During my six-week recovery, I was able to hunker down and fill out a lengthy application to have our farm “certified organic.” Believe me, I had my doubts whether foot surgery was possible while transitioning our farm to a “certified organic” operation in 2011. But in hindsight, I’m glad I did it now, rather than later. Our future will soon bring much excitement and haste that I couldn’t dream of scheduling elective surgery a year from now or even five years into the future.
Now that Eric and I have applied numerous green principles to improving our health and creating a toxic free home environment, we are concentrating our efforts on building a sustainable future for our children and future generations. In large part, our farm and it's mission encompasses the idea of environmental stewardship that eventually leads and contributes toward future sustainability. Our original dream for starting our farm will add to the growing trend of sustainable farming practices in our local community. Moreover, the goals we will accomplish while farming include working our land in an ecologically sustainable manner and providing highly nutritious and pesticide free food. Thus, buying local, organic, and sustainably produced foods is a great way to build on future sustainability for our planet. Additionally, buying locally produced foods is healthier because nutrients haven't been lost in a lengthy shipping process and are picked when mature producing food with a higher nutritional value. Buying locally also saves energy by eliminating the need for costly food transportation. As an added bonus, it also keeps money in our local economies by supporting local farms.
We, as an average American family household are responsible for at least 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Eric and I have agreed to lower our 'carbon footprint' through changing various energy practices in our home and with our transportation. By applying green principles to energy use and conservation in our home, we've lowered our annual carbon emissions substantially. You can calculate your family's carbon footprint using various sources online. Last spring 2009, we decided to trade in our 8 year old Toyota Corolla for our very first hybrid vehicle. Since Eric commutes to work about 40 minutes each day we wanted the smallest hybrid vehicle available. We have been very pleased with our Toyota's performance over the last few years and therefore choose a Toyota Prius for our hybrid. At an average of 50 miles per gallon we are so elated with our Prius purchase, not to mention it contributes greatly toward our goal of a 'zero carbon footprint.'
Other steps you can take to reduce their carbon footprints include the following: buy natural electricity, live near work and/or carpool or use public transportation, unplug appliances not being used, change the temperature of your home down a few degrees in winter and up a few degrees in the summer, think globally and buy locally, use power alternatives (for example: install solar panels), bring your car for a tune up and check tire pressure and fluids for increasing it's efficiency (it saves you money too), and lastly go hybrid. Even if many of these choices are not immediately attainable, try to work toward them a little at a time. This will make the tasks seem less overwhelming. You'd be surprised how much change can occur in just a few years of upgrading for energy efficiency, and with the help of government rebates today, the incentives to make these changes happen have risen.
Do you ever come home after a long day at work and feel like the energy has been sucked out of you? We have all felt this way before and many of us consider home to be an oasis, a place to renew our spent energy reserves so that upon waking the following morning we can feel ready to tackle a new day. Home is where we spend a vast majority of our time, it's where we eat, clean, sleep, play, and hobby around. We all want our homes to comfort us and to be a safe place. However, many of us are unaware of some of the toxic dangers that our homes pose. For example, did you know that the average suburban lawn (all perfect looking and weedless) uses six times more chemicals per acre than conventional farming. Imagine what exposing our children to these chemicals at such high concentrations does to their developments. My point is straightforward, in order to enjoy the benefits of our homes we need to make simple choices and changes to make them safer and more sustainable.
Almost a decade ago we began taking steps to green our home. The most important step we took was improving the air quality inside our home. Since having children five years ago we've been minimizing indoor air pollutants that have the potential to harm development and contribute to sickness and disease. We began by conducting radon testing upon moving into our home. Results indicated that we had higher levels of radon than was considered safe. Our home was built 150 years ago and does not have a concrete basement, therefore exposure to the soil underneath our house is eminent. Since radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally when uranium in the soil breaks down we recognize the need to ventilate the crawlspace. We thus mitigated the problem by placing a plastic barrier cloth on the floor of our home's crawlspace and installed a radon-specific ventilation system.
In my opinion, ventilation is the single most important factor when trying to improve your home's air quality. A problem facing many newly constructed homes, is that they are built air tight to increase energy efficiency. This is wonderful for saving money on heating costs but has its drawbacks when using ventilation as a means to improve the air we breath indoors. In our case, we had a 19th century home that had many gaps within our home's construction where air was seeping inside. We had a heating company come to measure our home's energy efficiency and found problems with its insulation quality. We had a home that breathed well and allowed for fresh air to seep indoors during cold weather, but we could barely afford to heat our home properly. So, to take steps toward increasing our home's energy efficiency while keeping adequate ventilation we insulated the entire house and installed whole, house fans. These huge fans help get stale air outside by pumping ceiling air to our exhaust fans that are located in each room. Every few days while the whole, house fans are on, I turn on the exhaust fans for a few hours which helps draw the stale air outdoors. Fresh air is thus drawn indoors through small spaces in the walls and floors as the exhaust fans operate. These whole, house fans also keep us cool in the summer months and have eliminated the need for central airconditioning. Instead, we keep our windows open during warm weather and cool ourselves down with the fans set on highspeed. Thus, the changes we've made have been a win-win situation in our quest to improve our home's air quality.
Other steps we took to improve our home's air quality included various methods of air filtration. We use air purifiers when we paint or have a remodeling project going. We use houseplants in every room which help remove toxins through the process of photosythesis. Certain indoor plants are noted to remove specific pollutants. For example, we have a ficus plant to help remove formaldehyde present in the air after our home's insulation project. Another measure we took to improve air quality indoors was buying a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum. HEPA filter vacuums capture the smallest particles of dust on floors and furniture, ultimately keeping them from being stirred up into the air.
Eric and I have taken other measures to green our home. Once the boys were born we knew that investing in natural latex mattresses and organic cotton pillows was incredibly important. It could be viewed as an early college investment strategy, by keeping as many developing brain cells as healthy as possible. We invested a large sum of money in two, 100% latex mattresses from an online organic and natural mattress company out of California named Lifekind. It was worth knowing that our children wouldn't be breathing chemical fumes typically outgassed by the materials used to make conventionally made mattresses, such as polyurethane foam. We also replaced all the carpets indoors upon moving into our house with wood flooring. Underneath the wall to wall carpeting was the house's original pine flooring. Pine being a softwood didn't hold up to the constant wear and tear so we painted the floor using low, volatile organic compound (VOC) paint. Low VOC paint is becoming increasingly easier to find at home improvement stores. When we first moved into our home nine years ago we couldn't find it here in Western NY, but today, two leading home improvement retailers sell it. We also replaced an aging forced air furnace that was inefficient and produced lots of airborne dust. We installed a base-board heating system with an energy star rated boiler, which has cut down on particulate matter in the air and has saved us a lot of money on heating costs. Lastly, we changed all of our cleaning supplies to natural ones that have proven effective and are relatively inexpensive. Currently, I'm using Shaklee cleaning products and am very happy with their results. I use Shaklee's germicide product as a teet dip and udder wash before milking my goats. The germicide kills more than a dozen microbes known to cause illness, and is non-irritating to my goat's sensitive mammary tissues.
Going green is now a major force in our society thanks to the increased media attention and growing support in our popular culture. Now more than ever, it is driving our politics thanks in part to President Obama's attention on matters like Global Warming and Climate Change, focusing national efforts on renewable power development, and creating incentives for improving energy efficiency in our homes. Millions of people nationwide are motivated to leave the planet in healthy shape for their children and grandchildren, and want to live more sustainable lives. So why not join the green revolution, whether just by helping to save the Earth's natural resources for future generations, improving yours and your family's health and nutrition, or by making your home a healthier, safer and more sustainable place to live. I am reading a book by Greg Horn on this subject, titled: "Living Green, a Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability." Horn reiterates my case in point about switching our mindset to live green in our daily lives. He says, "The call to action is now; and remember, green is the new red, white, and blue."
Cami with twins, photo by Kerry Beiter
The melting of snow each winter brings new life to our farm. The birds begin to sing and build nests, newly opened buds allow for leaves to take shape, and wet, earthy smells of spring fill our nostrils as we prepare for the gardening season ahead. Along with new plant emergence each spring we ready ourselves and our beloved goats for freshening season. Our Does are eager to birth the kids they carried all winter long, especially those that carry twins.
It's very common for goats to birth twins, and makes it easier to milk them when they have multiples. When twins are born they each feed from one teet allowing both their mother's udders to be fully emptied. If one kid is born, that kid will tend to favor one teet and thus empty only one udder. The other udder will need to be milked at least twice a day so as to prevent engorgement and possible infections. We prefer to milk our goats twice a day, and we leave the kids with their mothers for at least the first three weeks of life. After three weeks, we separate the kids from their mother's at night only. This ensures a substantial supply for the morning milking. The kids love being with their mothers all day long and can nurse free choice, which generally keeps up the milk supply for at least a few months. I like to wean our kids around 3-4 months of age, when they're comfortable being away (in separate stalls) from their mother's and are eating a full diet of hay. If we continue to milk twice a day usually every 12 hours apart, we can continue milk our Does even after they've weaned their kids.
So, with new babies arriving each spring, we re-energize ourselves to begin the long list of outdoor chores that await us. Electric fencing must be in place and working, water lines must be installed in the paddock areas, and the transitioning of the goats to a diet of hay and grain to pasture vegetation begins. Springtime is truly a wonderful season for us at the farm; the freshness of emerging life (both inside and outside the barn) is warmly welcomed after the long, cold days of winter have left.