Author Archives: Amy Antonucci

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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Goats in Good Health

Happy, Healthy Honey!

I have always loved animals, observed wildlife and had pets. But the responsibility of caring for livestock is a different, daunting experience. So, I felt relieved and proud when, at our yearly veterinarian checkup, the doctor told us our goat, Honey “looks to me like a robustly healthy animal!”

My Animal Background

During my childhood, we had many pets (cats, gerbils, hamsters, fish, turtles, newts, a parakeet, a dog). But what I ask from and need to give to our working animals demands a greater level of involvement, decision-making, and commitment. I did not grow up learning the skills and mindset needed for such work.

My first jobs in agriculture were vegetable and fruit operations. A few generations ago all farms were diversified – they had both animals and plants. Nowadays, it’s much more common to find them focused on just one. I was also a vegetarian then vegan when I first got involved in farming, so it didn’t occur to me to think about adding animals.

Honey’s daughter, Lily

However, I developed health problems related to my restricted diet. With eggs, milk and meat back on my plate, I wanted to be sure the beings making those products were well treated, for their sake and mine (how can sickly animals ever produce healthy food?).

I also discovered good research on the benefits of animals appropriately used in agriculture. If I wanted my soil and land to thrive, animals were looking to be an important addition.

So, I read, researched and went to classes. I got bees, then chickens and ducks. While not at all simple, there is a lot of information and support for bee & poultry keepers. Moving on to four-legged mammals – that felt like a whole other world.

Cocoa, Honey’s half-sister

Getting Our Goats

We brought our first goats home in the summer of 2011. Honey and Cocoa were 3 months old. Every morning for at least the next 3 months, I woke up and said to Steve: “do you think the goats are still alive?” I was terrified of doing this wrong!

This feeling was especially strong because of the bad experiences people seemed to relish sharing with us.

We heard and read about the many health problems we were likely to see – diseases, mineral deficiencies and parasites. Coming from a background of organic farming, I believed that organic and natural management options were possibly the key to avoiding some of the problems, but most goat keepers I talked to disagreed with me. One even told me “if you feed the kids organic grain they’ll likely be dead within weeks.” Thus my obsession those early months with their possible sudden demise. Luckily I did find a few people having great results with natural methods so I didn’t feel completely alone.

Cocoa with her 2014 kids

Six Years of Goatkeeping

Now, six years later, I am happy to report that not only are our goats alive, they have thrived and multiplied! In fact, most of the problems we were braced for still haven’t come to pass.

We have not had problems with: internal parasites, lack of fertility, birthing complications, coccidiosis, mastitis, pneumonia or other infections, or low selenium. The three scariest goat diseases – CAE, CL & Johnnes – haven’t shown up since we were careful to purchase from disease-free herds and test regularly. I do watch them for copper deficiency, as we have seen some signs of that now and then.

They have thick winter coats and shiny summer hair. They behave appropriately, are friendly, curious and active.

The problems we have faced fall more in the first aid category: a dislocated leg, diarrhea after eating a poisonous leaf, a couple of winter lice cases.

At this point, I feel confident in saying that our focus on

Dam-raised kids, eating what nature intended them to

natural rearing has been a success. To be more specific, I think these practices have particularly helped: choosing healthy stock, dam-raising rather than bottle-raising kids, rotational grazing, a varied diet, mineralizing our land, no prophylactic medications, and little to no grain.

From my permaculture training I also remember to observe my animals and learn as much as I can from them about how they should live, what’s working or not.

She has a point, the grass does look greener on the other side! And, no, she’s not stuck!

Still, I do find some normal aspects of goatkeeping challenging: managing breeding including the stinky bucks, birthing worries, harvesting excess animals, and being there every single day to milk. And just generally still worrying about everything that could go wrong. Sometimes I wonder if this is really for me, if I can keep it up. But, when I look at how happy and healthy they are and when we eat the fabulously healthy products we get from them… it seems a shame to stop.

Next… breeding season is almost upon us and I plan to share some of that with you. Even some videos of their behavior. Alas, I can’t capture the buck smell for you – I’ll never be able to describe it adequately!

Smelly, Stinky Bucks!

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Speaking for the Bees

At the Concord NH MAM 2017

[Note: I gave a version of this talk at the March Against Monsanto Rally in Concord NH on May 20, 2017. This was also the day after the news broke that NH lost the majority of it’s honey bee hives over this past winter.]

I am here today to speak for the bees and the beekeepers.

As a chemical-free, permaculturally-based beekeeper I am extremely careful about what I put into the hive. But being a steward of bees means knowing the limits of my control over the world. That’s why I need all of you to help me and my bees.

A bee can travel as far as 5 miles from her hive. That’s 50,000 acres of land that she can cover – far more than I personally can protect for them. Any harmful substance that she contacts she will bring home to her hive where the queen is laying eggs, the next generations are being nurtured and they are creating their magnificent honey. What they bring back will have consequences for all those activities.

I received my first package of bees in 2005, so when the Colony Collapse Disorder news hit in 2007, I started getting questions about bees, most of which boiled down to: “What is the thing causing bees to die?”

I’m not sure what it is about humans, or Americans at least, that makes us crave simple answers. But, I don’t believe that thinking is helping us and I am not here today to tell you one or a few simple tricks to saving the bees. Instead I want to tell you a story about bees, humans, how we got here and how we might walk a better path for all of us.

It is still a simplified story, from the perspective of one human (me) who works with one type of bee, apis mellifera, the honey bee.

Let me tell you more about bees, to make sure that all of you are amazed and in love with them and the sweet, beautiful world they contributed to making.

The honeybee is just one of at least 20,000 species of bees. Bees began evolving about 100 million years ago, when wasps and flowers shifted their relationship from one of predator and prey to one of not just cooperation, but of symbiosis – they need each other now. Forming this partnership, called

A Single Poppy Flower, Opening

The Angiosperm Explosion by botanists, resulted in a tremendous increase in plant and insect diversity and, in our human eyes, beauty. (Iris Murdoch said: “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”)

By now, 2017, there are over 200,000 species of animals that act as pollinators. Most of those are insects, with bees pollinating the largest number of plant species. There are others, though: birds, bats, and even some mice!

The fact that there is such a diversity of pollinators in existence, tells me how important they are. This is a job that cannot be left to just a few. We are lucky that this redundancy and resilience is built into the system given the losses that have occurred or might happen, but it’s time to heed nature and learn to respect and protect them.

A Sign Held at the Concord NH MAM 2017

There are now 8 bee species on the US endangered species list (7 in Hawaii plus the Rusty Patched Bumblebee). Even more disturbing, a study released in March 2017 by The Center for Biological Diversity found hundreds of North American bee species now face extinction. The reason for their decline is believed to be the complicated interplay of: loss of habitat, pesticides, diseases/parasites which move easily around the world with our current transportation system, and climate change.

But, let’s take a small step back… the trouble for our bees did not start in 2007.

The best way to track this would be by looking at colony losses over time or wild bee numbers, but that data isn’t available going back very far.  We do have information about overall colony numbers in the US going back to the 1940s, which American entymologist & MacArthur award winner, Marla Spivak, used to piece together at least a part of the story.

Spivak pointed out that honey bee colony numbers have been declining in this country since the end of World War II. In 1945 there were an estimated 4.5 million managed honeybee hives in the US and in 2007 that number had fallen to 2 million – despite an increase in crops planted that need insect pollination.

What happened?

A number of changes occurred, one being World War Two’s legacy of dangerous substances and technologies which we are still dealing with.

As a permaculturist, I am all for turning problems into solutions. But I am really coming to question the idea of turning swords into ploughshares in any literal sense, especially given the research showing the plough to be one of our oldest, ongoing agricultural sins.

Of course, these corporations were concerned with profit not peace anyway. Rather than shutting down their war-making factories in 1945, companies including Monsanto managed to keep running by setting their sights on a new target, and a chemical-dependent agriculture system started to take over. A DuPont Farm Chemicals brochure from the 1950s told us outright: “Man against the soil… rise from savagery to civilization.”

This new system concentrated crops into huge monoclutures, which could not support pollinators, but did create the opportunity for certain crop eating insects to proliferate in an out-of-balance manner, leading to a huge call for pesticides. With synthetic fertilizers now cheap and available, the practice of cover cropping, which had been great forage for our beneficial insects, diminished. And abundant herbicides meant weeds could be eliminated in crop fields and at our homes – but

Bees Love Dandelions!

many plants we call weeds are great food for many insects. (Let your dandelions grow!)   (See Marla Spivak’s TED Talk for much more detail on the post-WWII agricultural shift)

In his book Natural Prophets, Joe Dobrow describes our culture as we came out of that war as encouraging social and political conformity, respect for authority, patriotism, faith in science and government. But within a few decades other voices started to emerge – they are our predecessors.

Many people will remember that Rachel Carson predicted a silent spring due to a decline in birds linked to DDT, but not as many know that she also warned of a fruitless fall, a time when “there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.” This is what we face today.

(Of course, there are even more issues affecting agriculture and bees.  Farm policy, US diet patterns, food growing economics, and specific beekeeping economics are a few.  Remember that the world is complex!  But, I can only tackle so many issues here.  I provided some links for your further research if you are interested.)

What do we do?

A Bee, Making Honey

This winter I heard natural beekeeper Ross Conrad speak. He reminded us of the fact that one honeybee can only make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime to contribute to her hive, which needs about 150 pounds of honey per year. And yet, she does not fall prey to the illusion that what she does doesn’t matter. She does not waver in her work or dedication. She knows her place in this world and embraces it.

We humans are not blessed with that certain knowledge of what we are supposed to do here. But, I believe that we are alive in a time that is calling us to find our place and make a contribution.

I know that we live now with some terrible examples of what humans can do, and we should let that inspire us to be very cautious. But, we’ve also been able to fix problems, such as banning DDT. The great news is that a lot of solutions in front of us will bring only benefits. A sustainable food production system can provide good food for pollinators, grow healthy soil which can pull carbon out of the atmosphere, offer meaningful work for people, and produce much healthier food for all of us.

So, I ask you to consider all these options to help bees: YES – plant for pollinators flowering plants, especially trees (make sure they are pesticide-free!), choose and grow your own organic food, buy local honey! ALSO – take back our food supply and our health from companies who do not have our best interests at heart. Work to curb corporate power (so we can stop these problems before they are started), promote peace, build more democratic institutions, organize your communities, attend rallies.

Don’t just resist – commit to participation and action as part of your life, not a task that will end when one politician or company is defeated. Let’s take back a sense of responsibility and ownership for our lives and communities, shake off the illusion that our actions don’t matter and support each other in creating a healthy world.

Poster at March Against Monsanto 2017

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