Tag Archives: goats

2020 on the Homestead

Gardens in August 2020

During our cold New England winters, I take time to review and assess the year that has passed. We just completed our harvest tallies, this is a good moment to reflect.

Many have been analyzing 2020 from multiple perspectives. From a homestead focused point of view, I have to title this the Year of More Drought (2016 was already the Year of Drought). Beyond that, I’d say it was a Year of Contradictions, when we felt both more isolated from people yet aware of how connected we all are and when we had a stronger sense of the importance of our work localizing food production even while weather conditions made it harder for us to succeed.

I’ll start with some overviews then share our totals with you. As in my 2018 and 2019 reviews, I’ll focus first on areas where we had problems this year or in the past.

Leek Seedlings

Starting Seedlings

I am happy to report that we had another good seed starting year using the commercial but peat-free seed starting mix from Organic Mechanics. I still have a longer term goal of making my own very locally sourced mix but have let that go for the moment. The failures I did have were in the brassica category (broccoli, cauliflower & brussels sprouts) and those were due to my attempt to use up some older seed. Yes, I already ordered new seed of these for the 2021 growing season!

Rodents, Pests and Diseases

Our experience in 2020 was of moderate pest pressure. At first, there was very little, but as the drought continued, more creatures were driven towards us, and our plants were less able to defend themselves. Our summer squash was taken down early by squash vine borers, Colorado potato beetles began to get out of hand, and voles spent more and more time in our root crops. Also, a flock of goldfinches managed to open up and eat almost all of our corn (popcorn and dent corn). I could have brought the corn in earlier but didn’t realize what they were up to – we’ve not seen that here before.

Labor

Having enough time and energy to get tasks accomplished will likely always be a challenge. I did plant less of some labor intensive crops – especially snap beans – and I decided to be more willing to share with our animals if I was overwhelmed with produce. Honestly, what really helped was our reduced yields because of the drought and that I had extra food preserved from our great year in 2019 so didn’t need to do as much canning, freezing and drying.

Rain Barrels Were Not Enough in 2020

Drought

The drought that began in early summer and extended through the fall was our biggest challenge.

We are grateful to have found and implemented permaculture methods that make us much more drought-tolerant especially by creating healthy soil… but there are still limits to that. We can water the garden to some extent, but not enough to make up for extended dryness. The rain barrels and ponds can keep us going for a couple of weeks, but after that we are drawing from our well which we also need for our house supply. You can see in our produce totals how yields were down in many categories, some from the lack of water.

We now have plans for more robust rainwater storage systems. Those 50 gallon rain barrels seem very undersized now that our climate is changing so fast.

One newer practice that really helped was our urine diversion system. The real point of it is to capture the nutrients in urine for a natural fertilizer for our landscape, while keeping those nutrients out of water bodies where they are damaging – but all that liquid was a huge bonus. The fields where we were most able to apply it stayed green and lush in comparison to other areas.

Animals: Bees

Strong Overwintering Bee Hive, Late Winter 2020

We were off to a good start as we moved towards the spring.  All 5 of my bee hives were alive and well and growing so fast I harvested some spring honey when I ran out of equipment. It was especially heartening to have such success as life in the wider world became scarier.

However, the bees are hit hard by drought leaving them without the amount or quality of forage they need.

I fed them sugar syrup to keep them going and allow them to stock up for the winter, but they have less chance of making it through the winter with sub-par food stored.

Goat Herd, Led by Honey

Animals: Goats

Unfortunately, we also had our first difficult birthing year with our goats, the one I’ve been dreading all along. We only had two pregnancies.  Georgia had no problems, Honey, however, had a kid get stuck and we could not manage to correct his positioning. We had a vet come to help us but he couldn’t save the two boy kids. Honey had a rough time recovering, but she pulled through and is back in charge of the herd, bossing the others around. I felt SO terrible and upset by the whole incident I seriously questioned whether or not we should keep doing this – maybe I am not skilled enough at dealing with problems to be keeping animals. My goat mentor had some encouraging words, though. She reminded me to consider the many days of healthy, happy living that we arrange for them, which commercially raised animals in this country almost never get a moment of, rather than only thinking about these few bad days. So, we bred again this fall (Cocoa, Luna & Lily) and expect three births in the spring. I’m already nervous! It’s tough – I believe that only people who feel deeply and will cry over animals should raise them – but it’s challenging to be that person.

Georgia & Baby, Re-bonded!

We did also have a situation with Georgia’s kid. At about a week old she fell into our swampy area. We didn’t want her to stay muddy and wet so we cleaned her up… but then her mother rejected her, we assume because she smelled “wrong.” She looked the same and sounded the same, but then Georgia would give her a sniff and shove her away. Steve did research and worked with them, holding Georgia still so baby could nurse.  This shifted her scent back to what Mom would recognize. It took about a week, but was a complete success! I have no interest in bottle feeding animals, so it was a huge relief.

Animals: Poultry

Ducklings, Days Old

This was the year we received a batch of Indian Runner ducklings in the mail again in order to acquire some new genetics for our flock. If they are being shipped there is a minimum order of 12 and that was a lot of ducks to raise in my tub! They did well and we now have 2 new drakes along with our 7 female ducks.

Our chicken hatching and raising also went well, although our drought-stressed pasture was having trouble recovering in time for the next rotation of birds. Also, we had significantly more roosters than hens hatch this year, which was disappointing for some friends who wanted to add to their flocks. Most of the hatching happened in the incubator as our broody girls had minimal success. One mom did sit long

Hen Raised Chicks

enough, but only 2 of those eggs hatched. At least I timed it properly so that I could slip some incubated chicks under her, allowing more to be raised outside by a mom.

 

 

Harvest totals

So, after putting in all that work, how much food did we get? The numbers are only part of the story as we think the quality of the food, the satisfaction of living this way, and the many ways this helps us live more ethically and lightly on the planet are a huge part of the reward. Still… we have to get energy back for the energy we put in. Here’s what we tracked (note that this is what came into the house to be weighed so misses what we directly tossed to the animals or what Steve ate in the field), with some comments added:

Alliums – garlic – 31# (160 heads); garlic tops – 142; leeks – 26# (and more leeks still in the ground for winter harvesting)

Beans & Peas – 31# snap beans; 14.5# dry beans; sugar snap peas – 3.5# (we purposely planted less snap beans and peas because of the labor involved in harvesting them)

Brussels Sprouts

Brassicas – brussels sprouts – 36.25#; kale/collard – 25.5#

Corn, popcorn – 2# (all I rescued from the goldfinches)

Cucumber – 41# (more was fed to the chickens)

Eggplant – 13.5#

Greens – lettuce – 5#; nettles – 2#

Herbs – basil – 1.75#; dill – 1#

Winecap Mushrooms

Mushrooms, winecap – 3.6# (a new crop for us!)

Potatoes – 93.75# (they suffer in drought, so a small yield of 4.5 to 1)

Roots – beets – 19.25#; carrots – 40.75#; parsnips – 39.5#; radishes – 244, rutabaga – 4#; parsley root – 1# (while germination was OK, the carrots were smaller in the dry weather and some were eaten by voles)

Butternut Squash

Squash – summer – 44.25#; winter – 784# (another great winter squash year)

Tomato – 59.5#

Fruit: crabapples – 50#; currants, clove – 16#; currants, red & white – 13#; elderberry – 6#; grapes – 8.5#; honeyberry – 1#; jostaberry – .5#; mulberry – 2#; peaches – 53.5# (our peach yield was down because our biggest tree had a main limb snap last year leading us to prune it back heavily for its future health); pears (gleaned from off-farm) – 249#; raspberry – 6.5#; rhubarb – 16#; strawberry – 12#; probably 100s of # of gleaned apples which we forgot to weigh

Sea salt – 6 quarts (dehydrated on our woodstove)

Honey – 50# (taken in the spring when they were bursting, before any sign of drought)

We brought in 103 gallons of goat milk and 22# goat meat.

Our poultry harvest came to: 1,751 (150 dozen) chicken eggs from 12 hens; 824 (68 dozen) duck eggs from 7 ducks; chicken meat of about 68#; duck meat about 2#.

Looking Ahead

2020 was a reminder of the limits of our control and even our ability to know what’s coming next in the world. However, planning is a critical skill in permaculture and farming. Timing matters, especially in a northern climate with a short growing season.

So… we are optimistically planning to repeat our routine of plant care and animal raising without many changes this season. We already put in our seed and tree orders with Fedco (good thing, since they now have waiting lists and already sold out of many items) including a few new crops to try. I’m attempting wheat again this year, we are going to try alfalfa as a cover crop, and I’ve ordered two new potato varieties: prada and satina. Improving our rainwater collection system will be the big project of the year.

I also intend to keep writing, so I’ll see you here again!

Lupines

3 Comments

Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Uncategorized, Weather

November at Living Land

The early winter weather that arrived in November justified my hurried working pace this fall. I’d like to claim an ability to feel the storms coming… but, to be honest, I’m pretty sure that I rush around every autumn. Some years I feel silly for it, but not this one.

The harsh month with some serious cold, very little sun, and snow and ice cut short some of the outdoor work I’d hoped to accomplish and made what had to be wrapped up challenging. Here’s the story…

Our Work in November

Outside

Our first priority this month was bringing in the wood we expect to need for the winter. There was also more splitting and stacking to be done. We didn’t quite finish that before the snow made it too tricky to continue.

Garden Under Snow

I didn’t spend much time in the garden. We did create a few new beds and refreshed some of the older ones with seaweed, manure and our moldy hay. I can pick that work up again in the spring.

In many permaculture designs and zone maps I see the garden placed close to the house with animals farther away. This time of year I give thanks that I didn’t follow that pattern. I might only enter the garden a half dozen times between November and March. On the other hand, the animals need the same care now as they did in the peak of summer. Bringing them food and water, opening and closing gates and doors, milking the goats.

In fact, we spent even more time with the goats in November since that is our targeted breeding window. I observed them carefully, attempting to discern who was in heat and pair her with the right buck at the right time. This is not so easy. My first goal was to breed Honey, who didn’t get pregnant last year despite our efforts. She spent much of this month living with Marley just in case I was missing the signs. I put Luna in with them as well when she seemed interested. All of this reshuffling of the herd agitates the girls, who complain about it often.

Stinky Buck, Riding in the Car

Later in the month, we brought home our buck named Pan, who spent a couple of years with fellow goat keepers for their breeding program. Driving around with a stinky buck in the car is not one of my favorite things, but we did it! He has caused a great sensation here. For some reason, the girls find him appealing to the point of jumping fences to reach him. He also smashed through 17 gauge fencing and broke a few gates to reach them. He is only supposed to be servicing one of my does, Cocoa, this year but he may have over-achieved. Time will tell, coupled with the detailed notes in my Goat Sex Journal. (Pan Romances Lily – November 2018)

Pan Romancing Lily

He is an impressive guy, now four years old, with a long beard, gorgeous horns, and emanating a true stench. As far as his personality, he has actually mellowed some. When he was last here at about 2 years old, I was concerned he might be interested in challenging us humans, not just the other goats. He never did anything aggressive – it was more how he was eyeing me at times. But that seems not to have developed after all and he’s quite sweet in disposition now. I was afraid that putting him and our other buck together would be potentially dangerous for them, but in one of his escapes they ended up together for most of a day and no violence ensued, to my great relief. There was a lot of snorting, peeing and flehmening, but even less horn locking than the girls do with each other as a matter of course.

Which reminds me of another job that Steve has been hard at work at, even in the snow: fencing fixes and upgrades. Thanks to Pan, he knew exactly the weak spots in the system.

Most of our animals share our lack of enthusiasm for this early winter: the goats and chickens don’t like stepping on snow and the cats have given up on going outside to hunt. Even our cold-hardy ducks spent a few of the really

Winterized Bee Hive

cold, windy days in their coop!

We also shoveled out chicken and goat bedding, hopefully for the last time until spring since we use the deep litter method. I am still harvesting leeks every few days and we did harvest and process two goats. I finished winterizing the bee hives, with help from some beekeeping students.

Inside

We have been baking and cooking more elaborately. Given our large amounts of stored pumpkins, we have made a lot of pies. Forget dessert, we think they made a fine breakfast – milk, eggs, squash, a little honey… sounds like a good start to the day to me!

I processed goat fat, and started to clean the dry beans.

I started to catch up on correspondence, get back to writing stories and plan for the new year for Seacoast Permaculture.

We also voted and have spent time reading and thinking about the results. One thing I can say I was pleased about was the increase in the diversity of people elected to office. Understanding the importance of diversity in nature leads me to believe diversity in our human-created systems is a positive step.

November’s Harvest

Leeks for Winter Harvesting

We brought in 3/43 kale, 63 (37#) leeks, 1# celery, 1# brussel sprouts, 1/8# spinach, and 1/4# broccoli from the garden. No eggs at all, 6 gallons of milk (milking just two does now), 62# of meat and 8 pints of high quality rendered lard.

I collected 6 5-gallon buckets of seaweed which the goats have been eating right up (Goats Eating Seaweed).

Not Much Sun, But a Beautiful Full Moon in November

We made 175 kwh from the PV solar panels. One of our least productive months since their installation. Wow, we miss the sun!

We found sources for more hay to re-fill the barn. We were able to bring home about two dozen bags of raked leaves from town. We usually bring in a lot more than that, but there was so little dry weather and wet leaves don’t work well for our uses.

The updated list of food from previous seasons that we continue to eat from is now very long and includes: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches and blueberries, dried kale, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

I hope to complete a few more projects to wrap up the season, like goat breeding, bean cleaning and wood stacking. A summary of this year’s garden would help me in planning for next year. And the seed and plant catalogs have arrived so it is time to assess and choose! I especially look forward to the coming of the winter solstice to mark the growing of the light and maybe even a sunnier year ahead.

Witch Hazel – One of a very few November Blooms

6 Comments

Filed under Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Uncategorized, Weather