January At Living Land

January is one of the quieter months on a New England homestead. Let’s take a look.

Snowy day, viewed from our kitchen window

Our Work in January

The ground is frozen, the gardens and orchards at rest. Nothing for us to do there. I kept an eye on our tree guards after some heavy snows to make sure no drifts had covered them, allowing vole access.

The bee hives were wrapped up in November and there’s not much I can do for them in the winter. However, we maybe should have tried. The deep freeze that started on December 27th and lasted until January 8th was deadly for my smaller nucleus hives. When it’s that cold the cluster of bees is unable to move around to get to their next meal. Sadly, I found several lovely clusters of bees had starved just an inch away from more honey. My big, strong hive did great – I guess they could generate enough heat to move the cluster. On the first 50F day that came along – our January thaw – there were so many bees in the air I first thought all the hives must have survived, but most returned to that one as it sun lowered.

At least I was left with a few supers worth of honey to start off the new bees I ordered for the spring with some good nutrition. We are researching hive warmers. We figure that if after a week we’d given each hive just a couple of hours of extra heat they could have re-positioned themselves and survived. Who knows if this will happen regularly in the future or not – now that the climate is becoming more variable it’s impossible to predict and plan. It’s stressful on us agriculturists.

Our goats just need some shelter from the wind and their thick coats even in extended freezing temps.

The other animals did great in the cold. We chose breeds that were known to be winter-hardy, and they have lived up to their reputations. We still needed to do basic care – keep feed and water stations stocked for them, open and close doors, milk the goats in the morning and collect eggs when there were any.

Inside, however, there was work to do.

We used Fedco for our seed order this year, including seed potatoes which will arrive in the spring. It was a good sized order for us since some of our seeds were a few years old and not germinating well anymore.

The winter is time for education – both for learning ourselves and teaching. I have Bee Culture magazines and a stack of books to catch up on. Through Seacoast Permaculture I’ll get a chance to watch some documentaries I’ve been excited about, discuss social permaculture with a small group book study, and take a few classes. I am teaching about beekeeping right now, and will give workshops on gardening later in the winter. I’m also teaching frame drum classes and cirlce dances, working on a writing project, and active in our local storytelling community.

This is also a good time for us to be civically active. The NH state house still goes by an agricultural schedule, doing most of its work in the winter. Works great for us! Steve has a lot of planning board meetings, and our town deliberative session is in early February. I’m catching up on some national issues I care about as well, and contacting my reps about those. So, while the weather drives us in on the homestead, it also gives us a chance to look at a bigger picture and try to have a say in the larger world.

Our Harvest in January

The chickens are laying!

The work is minimal and so are the rewards this time of year. A few things did come in.

A hen in the nest box

Our chickens began laying again after we added supplemental light in their coop at the end of the year. In January we collected 48 eggs.

 

Our milk supply is very low at the moment. We make some choices that mean less (but healthier, we think) milk in general. But, we also had a breeding failure in Fall 2016 so none of our girls had kids this past season. We are milking 2 goats who gave birth in Spring 2015 and 2 who did so in Spring 2016. We find that breeding every other year works well, but once we get beyond that, they don’t produce very much.

Winter forage for the goats – hemlock boughs

Also, 2 of those goats were first fresheners, thus not going to be big producers yet. All that said, we still brought in 6.6 gallons of milk in January, which I made into plenty of yogurt and soft cheese for us.

 

We harvested no new veggies, but continue to eat from last year’s excess. Potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash from our makeshift root cellar; dried kale, summer squash, peaches and grapes (raisins); canned

Garlic in storage

blueberries, strawberries and peaches; frozen eggplant, salsa, pesto, berries and meat; honey, dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal. Nothing has run out completely yet! Steve has also enjoyed a few fresh lemons and herb cuttings growing indoors in pots and the aquaponic systems.

 

The woodstove needed feeding a lot this cold January so we were glad for all our stacked wood. Our solar panels didn’t do well for us between the low amount of sun and the coatings of icy snow that wouldn’t budge for days on end. We’re thrilled they are clear by now and heading back into a productive time as the sun returns to us.

That’s our January update… February should see an increase in animal products and possibly the end of the supply of some of our stored foods. I’ll tell you about it in a month!

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A New Year Starts at Living Land

This has been a good week for reflection and planning. We’ve gotten out the new calendars, are noticing the growing light, and we’ve been driven inside by storms and bitter cold!

First, a look back to consider accomplishments on the homestead in 2017. I tend to push forward and move on to what’s next, but I know it’s good for me to take time to learn from successes and problems we had, and to allow for a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what worked. I will make better, smarter plans coming from this place.

One of my bean plants produced this seed. I have no idea what it is – anyone know?

In the plant realm: we expanded our growing areas using swales, sheet mulching and hugelkultur. We planted 5 new trees, 10 new berry bushes, many new perennials, and a big garden of annuals. I tried some new crops: various heritage dried beans, a heritage variety popcorn, and 3 new types of potatoes. My records show that the Bora Valley and Nicola potatoes were my biggest producers this year. Yay for record keeping!

Beautiful Bug-free Broccoli

We had very few insect pest problems this year, other than some early squash vine borers. I had almost no colorado potato beetles, and the cabbage worms didn’t become an issue until much later in the season than usual. I planted both of those crops late this year possibly missing the first reproductive cycle for the pests. That was purposeful for the beetles, but accidental for the cabbage worms.

In our animal endeavors: We raised new chickens using 2 broody hens and 1 incubator hatch. None of our ducks succeeded in brooding, so we just had a few new ones from the incubator. We kept milking the goats, although the previous

Steve Building a Hay Shelter

fall’s breeding failure meant less of it. I built my apiary back up after a lot of winter hive losses. I did have one hive that overwintered well and had an amazing season.  Steve built a new shelter for hay and animals which I anticipate will help us get much more organized thus saving us quite a bit of work in the future.

This year I also taught classes in beekeeping, soil building, animal care and permaculture. I accepted the 2017 NOFA-NH Gardener of the Year Award. I wrote new blog posts to share here on our website.

Successful Bee Hive – Hope to Have More Like These in 2018!

In the new year, I look forward to more plants and animals and continued good work with the earth. Our seed, potato and tree catalogues are spread out to choose next season’s varieties. We did save more of our own seed this year, but not for all crops. We’ve identified where we want to expand to next and even got that started in the long, warm fall we had. I have learned not to order trees or bushes for the areas we didn’t finish yet! We have some unhappy plants overgrowing their nursery beds from the years I was too optimistic about how fast the work would go.

For my blogging this year, I am going to try something new. Often I am asked: “what do you do at your farm?” and “how much do you grow?” I never have great answers. Each season and every day is so different, in terms of what we do and what we harvest. In 2018 I am going to try to give a monthly update, summarizing what we did and what we harvested in the previous month. It won’t be a quick answer to those questions, but it should be informative.

I hope you’ll follow us and join me in charting the next year as we experience it!

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Our Season for Goat Breeding

I know that most of your minds are on the holiday season now, but we are still working on wrapping up goat breeding season here at Living Land!

This year we are breeding Honey and Lily, a mother-daughter team who are exceptionally healthy, easy to keep and milky, to Marley who was bred at Rosasharn Farm, an excellent line for top milk production.

Here is a truth many of us forget in our supermarket world – milk comes from female mammals (mostly – there are species and situations in which males lactate!) who have given birth after being bred to a male. If that sounds painfully obvious to you – well, yeah. If it is surprising to you – you’re not alone and you’re forgiven! Unlike poultry who will lay eggs with or without a male present, milk comes after the aforementioned process.

Fall is the breeding season for most milk animals in the northern hemisphere. Many only go into heat in the fall. Our Nigerian Dwarf goats can be bred year round but even they are clearly more interested in it in the fall. I take that cue from them (Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact) and keep to that schedule. This sets them up to have kids in the milder, greener time of year.

That’s the overview – but how about some details? In this entry I’ll tell you about how we chose our breeding dates more precisely, how to bring together buck and doe, and how to know if it’s been a success.

First an aside – having been raised a modest catholic girl, I am a little shocked to find myself writing publicly about the sex life of anyone – even goats. Some of the terms are different, maybe because I’m not alone in finding it weird, but still, we know what we’re discussing. It is however a completely necessary part of dairy animal keeping so here goes – including videos!

When to breed

Our girl goats (does) start hanging around the boy (buck) enclosure in September, but we don’t let them in quite yet. We have chosen a later breeding time than is typical in our area. I heard too many stories about frozen kids (baby goats), heat lamps starting fires, and humans sleeping in the barn in the coldest weather. By starting our breeding efforts in November, kids won’t come until April, which is great weather for easy management. This delays our yield (Permaculture Principle 3: Obtain a Yield), but I’m ok with that tradeoff. Through my permaculture lens, observing the problems others were having motivated me to change our behavior to mitigate them (Permaculture Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback).

I want my breeding done by January because the growing light triggers the buck to make less semen, the quality of that semen goes down, and his levels of sex hormones drop. I also want the kids to have time to grow to a good size before the winter sets in.

Marley, A Beautiful Buck

Choosing a buck

There are two critical factors in making a good choice – the genetics of the buck and his health status.

You want a buck that comes from a good line of healthy animals that give a lot of milk. If he is old enough to have daughters that have proven to be good producers that’s even better. You need to be careful to not breed animals too closely related to each other.

He has to be healthy, not just look healthy. There are a few nasty, incurable goat diseases. You need to insist on seeing test results from the herd the animal you are considering is in documenting the absence of these diseases. I urge you not to buy animals, bring them to your land, or breed from them if you cannot get the owners to supply you with test results from the herd, preferably several stretching over a number of years.

Doe and Buck, Connecting with Kisses

Uniting the Paramours

The options for bringing together doe and buck are: driveway breeding, longer-term buck rental, or keeping your own bucks. Artificial insemination is rare to use in small-scale goatkeeping as it takes expertise, equipment and has a low success rate. It isn’t a very natural option, either, so I won’t go into it beyond this mention.

Before telling you more about these choices, here are a few facts to keep in mind: bucks will be fertile during their entire rut season (Goat Breeding – Buck Antics). Does will go into heat (the time period she is fertile) every 20 or so days (each goat is different on how often they cycle) and each heat will last 12-36 hours. Most does show specific signs of heat (tail flagging, vocalizing, personality changes – see my video!: Goat Breeding – Cocoa in Heat), but some do not. Bucks can be difficult to deal with. They can be single-

Marley the Buck, Dripping in “Cologne” (see his legs)

minded and pushy about their wish to access the ladies. In our dwarf breed, this isn’t too hard to deal with. They also stink. I mean, really, they smell BAD. In the goat world, a boy’s urine is his cologne and he is skilled at spraying it all over himself. It is an intense and clingy odor. If the computer would let me I’d upload a sample, but that technology isn’t here yet. Come on over sometime, I’ll share!

A driveway breeding means that the doe owner identifies when the doe has gone into heat and drives their doe to the buck’s house to spend an hour or two together in a pen or literally in the driveway on leashes. Experienced goat keepers succeed with this arrangement, but I don’t know anyone new to goats who has ever had it work. You have to be very good at noting the right time in her cycle and dropping everything to chauffeur her. Remember that the window for a receptive “standing heat” can be as short as 12 hours (My video of Lily: Goat Breeding – NOT a Standing Heat).

A longer-term buck rental is what we did the first few years with great success, advised and assisted by Heidi at Tragos Trip Farm, where we bought our original girls. Under her counsel, we kept him for a month to be sure to catch one of the fertile windows for both of them. The first year was very easy – we wanted him to breed with our only two goats, so they just all lived together for the month. The second year we had kept Honey’s daughter but weren’t ready to breed her. Since goats hate being alone, we let Cocoa live with Diableau and just let in Honey when she seemed especially interested in him.

Keeping our own buck is our current situation. At first, I swore we would never keep our own males because of that terrible smell. I couldn’t imagine living with it any longer than necessary. But, I learned that the best biosecurity system meant keeping bucks of our own. I also discovered that outside of the fall rutting season, they aren’t that stinky and ours have good temperaments. We have also been able to keep the males and females separate when not wanting to breed them, which I’d worried about.

Even with our own bucks, we have not always gotten it right. Year one went smoothly, with Pan impregnating Cocoa and Juniper right on schedule. Pan is Lily’s son, Honey’s grandson, so the next year we needed to bring in a new male for breeding. That’s where our current guy, Marley, comes in. He was a late summer

Marley, Not Impressing the Girls His First Season With Us

birth, so during last year’s breeding season he was still very small and not very bucky. Honey and Lily lived with him for a full month and never let him near them. I believe if they could have talked their horrified looks would have been accompanied by the question “what do you think we are, cradle-robbers?!” I knew that it hadn’t worked.  I gave up and took them out on January 1st, not wanting kids later than June 1 and not feeling like anything was going to change soon anyway.

By this fall, he was in his full, urine-soaked glory and they began their efforts to reach him every few weeks. The first tries I just let them in with him for a few hours, hoping my timing was impeccable so he didn’t have time to really cover them with pee. I am milking them after all. However, they both came back into heat, so they are currently living with him for the month.

Did It Work?

How do I know when this has worked? It isn’t easy to be 100% sure until close to the end of a pregnancy, but if they stop going into heat, that’s a great sign. Goats do not

She is Not Pregnant – Just Eats Well!

ever look particularly pregnant. A goat’s girth changes dramatically throughout every day as she packs herself with food, then digests. People regularly ask me if they are pregnant after they’ve had a good meal. The kids are pretty small compared to some of their breakfasts. In the last few weeks of a pregnancy, they do tend to look even wider, especially the experienced moms who have, shall we say, lost their girlish figures.

There are some technical options to confirm a pregnancy, none of which I’ve used. An ultrasound machine works but is expensive. There are blood and urine tests available now, but collecting blood or urine isn’t something I would look forward to. So far I’ve been able to tell well enough just by observing.

Good notes taken during the fall then helps determine the possible birthing dates. I stick around watching and listening as much as possible at those times (yes, we set up a baby monitor we can listen to in the house). My estimates are usually close so I have been there for most births.

Because those births in the spring are what all this fuss is about!

Honey with Kids, 2014

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