Tag Archives: goats

2023 on the Homestead

Back in August I posted with an update on our season up until then. Now that 2023 is over I can give you a review of our full season as I take time in this quieter time of year to reflect.

A Great Butternut Year

I was moved to post about our season in August because of the challenges. I have written many summaries that cite drought as a limiting factor but this is the first one I’ve done where excessive rain is what caused us problems. That issue continued for the rest of the year. However, some of our fall crops were better than expected so our season did pick up towards the end.

To be consistent over time, I have kept most of the same topic headings as in previous years.

Weather & Water

This summer was the wettest on record for New Hampshire with 21 inches of rain recorded for June, July and August, 8 inches more than the average.

Given the recent droughts it’s hard to be annoyed by rain, but it definitely turned out there was such a thing as too much. We did not experience direct damage in our systems, like erosion, but the wet conditions still caused problems, the biggest one being plant diseases appearing and spreading more than usual.

Our water catchment systems came in handy in a different way than intended. Some of the storms had torrential rain that could have washed out paths and other areas. By emptying the storage totes in between storms we could keep the water in place and slowly drain it over a longer time period.

Our biggest crop loss actually had to do with the winter weather. The polar vortex in February destroyed our – and New England’s – entire peach crop. That was a big loss for us, as long-time readers will know I do a lot with peaches!

Rodents, Pests and Diseases

Basil – surprisingly undaunted by the wet conditions this year

As I mentioned, we did have more disease issues than usual this year. There was some sort of bacterial wilt that shortened the lifespan of a few of our crops: peas, cucumbers, and summer squash.

This year we took further measures to protect our plants from animals, especially porcupines and voles. First, for the porcupines, we added another run of fencing that includes a gate across the driveway that we close at night. It did not work at first because it turns out the porcupines can climb fences like a ladder. But with the addition of one string of electric along the top, we finally convinced them that our pear trees were not worth coming after. This also keeps out the deer, which weren’t a huge problem but sometimes did come through and nibble.

Vole Protected Root Crops

To deal with the voles we have started making garden beds that sit on metal mesh hardware cloth and have wooden sides. This uses more materials than my usual mound garden beds, but it is working. So, for the carrots and beets we plan to make more of these beds. We planted our potatoes in big plastic barrels cut in half. It did keep out the voles, but yields were very low. I had been worried about them drying out so positioned them in a somewhat shady area which was a mistake in such cloudy, wet weather. I also think they weren’t draining well enough since in a few of them the tubers just rotted. We’ll try again next year.

Gorgeous Spring Kale, Before the Caterpillars

The past two years we have had big outbreaks of caterpillars eating our brassicas. While I have always dealt with imported cabbageworm and cabbage looper, we suddenly have an overwhelming number of what I believe are cross-striped cabbageworms. These used to only be a problem in the South, but they have been making their way north with the changing climate. We are finding them far more destructive than other Brassica pests. Since we do not use any chemicals, we will look into barrier methods such as growing in hoop houses or under row cover.

Labor

The one upside to less productivity this year, was less physical work to do. Given that my arm injury was at its worst this year, it would have been a struggle to cut peaches for canning or keep up with much bigger yields.

It did give me more time to invest in some other important work in the world. We hosted more Seacoast Permaculture gatherings and classes and I became chair of the board for New Hampshire Peace Action which has been going through a transition in leadership, thus needing more volunteer help. To a large extent I came to farming and homesteading through being an activist, particularly a peace activist, in the tradition of The Nearings and others. So, to me, this is connected and complementary work anyway.

Animals: Bees

I continue to take a break from beekeeping while I try to heal my arm injury.

Diana and her triplets!

Animals: Goats & Pasture

Luna and her daughter, Diana, were this year’s mama goats.

The birthings went well, I’m relieved to say. However, Diana gave birth to triplets (which is a lot for a first time) and did not take to motherhood easily. There was about an hour when we thought she might entirely reject her kids – heartbreaking. But, we gave her support and coaching and she finally figured it out. That said, she was not an enthusiastic mother and did not give a lot of milk, so she will not be incorporated into the herd permanently. Luna, who is our star goat, had twin girls this year, and we will keep both of them. Hopefully at least one will be as great as their mom – healthy, vigorous, easy kidder, attentive mother and good milk producer. Making decisions like this is not easy for us, but we see careful breeding as our duty to the herd. (Note that

Luna with her kids, Maeve and Fionnuala, 5 months old

if you are buying goats or other working animals, I highly encourage you to buy from people who do cull and eat their animals, otherwise you are likely being sold their rejected stock.)

 

We are increasingly skilled at rotating the herd through our pastures, and the land is responding beautifully. Lots of lush green, very little bare ground, soil further coming to life and building up organic matter, carbon and nutrients. The positive power of well-managed grazing animals to improve land is amazing to witness!

Goats on Good Pasture

Our two new boy goats, Zac and Ike, who arrived Fall 2022 settled in well and Zac proved his ability to do his job – Diana’s triplets were his kids.  Ike is the polled (born without horns) whethered (neutered) companion for Zac.  I worried that an unhorned male would get pushed around a lot by our big horned boys, but he has tons of attitude and less threatening hormones so he appears to get his way more than anyone else!

 

Animals: Poultry

New Ducks

We incubated a couple rounds of chickens to raise for new young hens and meat. In the spring our two youngest female ducks disappeared, likely taken by aerial predators. A friend of ours who has good luck hatching ducklings helped us out with two rounds resulting in seven ducks. Only two were female but, well, better than none! Also our drake happened to die over the summer so we were able to replace him.

Grains

Despite last year’s promising test plots, our wheat failed this year. The fall planted crop didn’t overwinter well, and my attempts at spring planting may have been too late, or maybe birds and rodents ate the seed before I got there.

Red Sails Lettuce

Harvest totals 2023

Here is what we brought into the house and remembered to weigh. As you’ll see, some things had decreased yields, notably the cucumbers, summer squash, potatoes, kale & collards. There are a few things that I purposely planted less of, so if you compare years you would notice a decrease.  These were intentional to better match what we need: garlic, radishes, snap beans. Our root numbers, especially beets and carrots are still low but should be recovering as we change our practices. At least this time I did not plant 10 times as much seed to get about the same number of carrots and beets.

On the other hand, check out our winter squash numbers! Also, dry beans and popcorn did extra well. Our small fruits had generally strong yields, too.

Alliums – garlic – 25.5 pounds (#) (155 heads); 150 garlic tops; leeks – 42.25#, perennial onions – 9.25#

Beans & Peas – snap beans – 50.75#; dry beans – 23.5#; sugar snap peas – 3.75#

Brassicas – broccoli – 8#; brussels sprouts – 9#; kale/collard – 12#

Calico Popcorn still on ears

Corn, popcorn – 10.5#

Cucumber – 39.5#

Eggplant – 14#

Melons – 7.5#

Greens – lettuce – 8.25#; nettles – 2#

Herbs – basil – 5#; dill – 1#

Mushrooms, winecap – 2#

Potatoes – 16.5#

Roots – beets – 11.75#; carrots – 30.75#; parsnips – 28.5#; radishes

Winter Squash Vines

– 58; turnips (gold ball) – 13.5#

Squash – summer – 25.25#; winter (butternut, long pie and Seminole) – 939.5#

Tomato – slicing – 29.75#; plum – 14.5#; cherry – 27#

Wheat – crop failed!

Fruit: azarole – 1#; blueberry – 6#; crabapples – 39.5#; currants, red & white – 2.5#; clove currants – 18.5#; elderberry – 3#; grapes – 13.5#; honeyberry – 2.25#; jostaberry – 5.5#; mulberry – 2.25#; raspberry – 2#; rhubarb – 17.5#

Maple syrup – 2.5 gallons

Sea salt – 1 gallon

We brought in 91 gallons of goat milk (from 4 goats); 28.5# goat meat; 3# goat lard

Our poultry harvest came to: 1,571 (130.9 dozen) chicken eggs from 12 hens; 480 (40 dozen) duck eggs from 3 ducks; chicken meat – 56#; duck meat – 6#

Gleaned/gathered off-farm crops: apples – 800#; blueberries we picked from Tuckaway Farm – 49#

Food Preserving

One of our Winter Squash Storage Shelves

Preserving food for the off-season is how we eat from our land year-round. Here’s a summary of what I put up from the harvest I just detailed:

Canned: applesauce – 20 pints; blueberries – 40 pints

Dried: kale/collards – 3 gallon bags; grapes (raisins) – 2 pts

Refrigerated: lactofermented cucumber pickles – 9 quarts

Frozen: blueberries – 2 gallon bags; grapes – 4 gallons; various berries – 6 gallons; snap beans – 12 pts; eggplant – 4 qts; summer squash – 6 qts; basil/garlic pesto – 13 pints; chevre cheese – 10 pints; mozzarella cheese – 12#; and most of the meat.

We also store these crops in a cold room or on the shelf: dried beans, popcorn, garlic, potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, winter squash, and apples.

Looking Ahead

My homestead plans for the coming year are to continue to refine our current systems to be more effective, easy to use, and in some cases more productive. A lot of the infrastructure work has been done here. I wouldn’t say this is our “lie in a hammock” time, but I do expect that we will continue to shift to even more harvesting with less big project work. That is the goal of permaculture… there is a lot of work up front to create the systems, and they will always need some attention, but the workload should not be as intense as we go along.

I’m going to try again with grain growing this year. And with any luck, I will have lots of peaches to can this time around!

Gorgeous Peach Tree… Hoping for Fruit in 2024

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Food Preservation, Gardens, Goats, Uncategorized, Weather

Culture

Zac & Ike

In August we brought two new boy goats onto our homestead. We do this every few years in order to avoid inbreeding in our herd. Over the winter we researched goat farms with different genetics from our animals who shared similar values and practices. We wanted them to allow the kids to be raised by their mothers, to keep the goats horned, to minimize medications and to breed for a good milk supply. When the kids were born in the spring, we checked them out online and reserved two: a buckling from their best milker for breeding and his polled brother, who would be wethered (neutered), to keep him company.

We manage our herd to maximize environmental sustainability and the well-being of the animals. To me, their well-being includes paying attention to their social needs. I know that some people think I’m silly, maybe even “not a real farmer” because of this. However, so many of the problems people tell me about their goat-keeping attempts trace back to their not understanding those particular needs. One of the most basic of those is that as herd animals, goats should not be alone. This is why I don’t sell goats singly, and why we brought home two when we really just needed the one buck.

The farm we were buying them from is two hours away from us. It was a fine trip there, listening to Sproutlands by William Bryant Logan. On the way back, though, each in their own dog crate separate from each other and taken away from their home, the little guys had many loud, scared complaints that I tried not to let completely break my heart.

Our New Boy Goats Arrive!

When the boys got here, they needed to be separated – quarantined – from the other goats. Although the farm they came from is reputable and does the appropriate disease testing, sometimes issues are missed and we take biosecurity seriously, prevention being worth so much more than cure. The newcomers are supposed to be adding value to the herd not infecting them with diseases or parasites. Also, giving them time to get to know the other goats from afar makes for a more

Marley, Our Resident Buck

peaceful eventual integration. These two would be going to live with our other two boys, who were years older and at least double their size.

So, we fenced off an area and set up a shelter with food and water and bedding. I was proud of the little home we put together. However, they had other priorities. From the moment they got here their focus was on our resident goats. The boys called and called to them, stood looking at them, and slept in the corner of the yard that was closest to them despite how unsheltered it was and its lack of food, water and bedding.  Listen to them here: 

 

I wasn’t terribly surprised by this behavior, figuring they are herd animals and thus want to be with the rest of the herd.

Right around this time, I happened to watch a talk from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate entitled “How Animals Shape Ecosystems” featuring Carl Safina talking about animal cultures. He mentioned programs that raise endangered animals then release them into the wild and how much more successful they are if there are still some wild animals of the same kind there for the newcomers to learn from. The way he defined “culture” amazed me. Here’s a quote from his Living On Earth interview: “Culture is the behaviors, the habits, and even the attractions that we learn socially and that are transmitted socially. The amazing thing to me is that, whether it’s human, modern, Western technological culture, or whether it’s sperm whales, culture basically does the same things for social beings. It answers the question of, how do we live here, where we live?”

My shortened version is: Culture is how we learn to live successfully in our specific place on the planet.

Suddenly, my view of what the little boy goats were doing

The herd likes to be together

took on a deeper meaning. They weren’t just looking for safety in numbers, they wanted to join the existing group to learn from them how to successfully live in this place that was new to them.

It also shifted my view on current human cultures. Previously I thought of culture as a collection of stuff (music, dance, dress, etc) that people in a place ended up doing that became important to their group identity. I appreciated and found the diversity fascinating, but saw it as somewhat ephemeral and random. Now, I see that those acts and items are an expression of what culture really is – an understanding of what to do, what to eat, what to wear, how to work together and connect that helps a group fit sustainably into a particular place (Darwin’s survival of those who best fit into their environment comes back to us here). I see also that the way so many of us have been forced out of our traditional places has us confused.  Our carefully created ways of living don’t necessarily apply to our new environment, but the work of developing new strategies takes time – and sometimes fails, especially if we cannot connect with those who have belonged to that place before us.

Maybe this is part of the reason why so many cultures right now are dysfunctional enough to not live up to the title of “culture” as they seem to teach people ways of being that actually destroy our ability to survive. It also sheds more light on why Indigenous people comprise less than 5% of the world population but protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Respecting and protecting their rights, saying no to market schemes that push them off their lands, and humbly turning to them as our teachers and leaders could be a key to our surviving and thriving – our goats could tell us that!

Socializing the New Guys

In the case of our new guys, we had good reason to keep them by themselves for awhile, and we were here to help them survive during the quarantine period. We took our cue from them about what they most needed and created a plywood lean-to in the spot they picked up against the barn. After two months with no health concerns coming up, we shifted fences so they could have some nose-to-nose contact with the boys they would eventually live with. The little buckling had a romantic day with Diana which seems to have resulted in a pregnancy. To be extra safe, Steve built a secondary shelter in the older boy’s yard with entrances too small for the adults to fit through. When we actually did bring them

Shelter Only Accessible By Smaller Goats

together, there was a lot of sniffing, a little pushing and shoving… and then a lot of welcome quiet for me! After months of those little boys calling and crying and worrying me that something was terribly wrong with them, it seems they really did just want to be with more of their own kind. Phew!

As a bonus, I have another book to add to my winter reading list: Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace. The promise of more rest and great learning makes the cold and dark less daunting as we enter December.

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Filed under Goats, Interdependence, Uncategorized

Another Busy Busy Season

I may have planted too many beans this year!

During growing and harvest time, its easy for me to feel overwhelmed. I have systems and plans and projects that are bursting with life as I’d hoped – but not always going quite as I had planned. Control is elusive… ok, impossible. I suppose the whole experience is a good lesson in how much control is an illusion (or delusion) of the human mind. At the same time, to have any success as a farmer/gardener is to be organized and proactive about taking care appropriately and with good timing.

It feels like a contradiction: I should not try to control life, but I can’t lose control. That edge is really uncomfortable. But, I have been trying to be more accepting of contradiction after hearing author John O’Donohue’s opinion of it: “We should allow the different sides of what is contradictory inside of us to come close and meet each other. There is a secret life in contradiction… it’s always a place of fecund energy. And where there’s energy, there’s life. The force of energy within your own contradictions can actually bring you to a new level of growth and possibility.”  Permaculture principle 11 does ask us to Use Edges and Value the Marginal for that same reason: “The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”

Goats love to climb – it’s just who they are!

As I think about it, the goats are good at teaching me the difference between control and appropriate action. First of all, accepting that our land was not suited for the Jersey cow I had dreamed of was a way of listening to reality rather than imposing my will. Then, we heard so many distressing stories about the bad behavior of goats when we first started keeping them. Everyone wanted to tell us about how they escape, eat your garden or poisonous plants that kill them, violently butt people, scream all day, etc. We did have a few escape incidents early on.  But we studied goat behavior, talked to others, and through trial and error we created systems that properly channeled their normal goat tendencies in ways that help rather than hurt them and our homestead. It was a practice of observe, interact, accept feedback, self-regulate and respond to change (more permaculture principles). We learned how to channel the flow instead of fight against it.

So… what has kept us busy this year?

Our spring planting season was manageable, although we did have an extensive tree order arrive during April. At least it was raining back then.

It was when the drought settled in that we began to struggle to keep up.

Serious rain collection for a changing climate

That started in mid-June, adding daily (sometimes 2x a day) watering to our list of tasks. In what we used to think of as a “normal” year, we did almost no watering after plants were established in the spring. In the new climate of droughts here in New England, this becomes a necessity. We were grateful to have installed a robust rainwater collection system last year, able to hold over 1,000 gallons. We got towards the bottom of the supply a few times, but it rained enough to have continuous use of them through the summer.

Harvest time!

Being able to keep up with watering did lead to a prolific harvest for most of our crops. I had an especially good season for summer squash, snap beans, cucumbers, leeks and basil. Nearly every day I put something up for winter, which led to my next round of excess activity. I dehydrated peaches, apples, pears, grapes (raisins), kale,

Peaches! Not as many but super sweet in the drought.

summer squash, and winecap mushrooms. I froze beans, eggplant, summer squash, cheese, and pesto. I canned peaches and froze a lot of other smaller fruit that I will can now that it’s not so hot: strawberries, blueberries, grapes, currants, and elderberries.

 

As autumn settles in we fill our cold storage – garlic actually comes in earlier, then apples and pears, with the winter squash curing in the greenhouse first, and the roots are packed up for the root cellar.

Rotational Goat Grazing

There is always animal care to be on top of. Happily, that went smoothly for the most part. The goats had a good birthing season and our rotational grazing system is working well. I kept up with the heavy summer milk production by making (and freezing) mozzarella along with my usual yogurt and soft cheese. We had solid planned poultry hatches, and a surprise batch of 14 that one of our hens orchestrated out in the field without our noticing. We are now in poultry harvest and processing season, which is a lot of work, physically and emotionally. I took the year off from the bees which did free up some time for me.

The well-mulched annual garden needs very little weeding

There was weeding to do in the orchard and pasture areas, which is not a job I love and is always needed at the hottest time of year. Our annual garden system with my heavy mulching needs almost no weeding and that’s how I like it. But in other larger areas I am encouraging a mix of plants, mostly groundcovers or animal forage and still need to be on top of pulling out the plants that I don’t want there.

It’s really not until mid-October that I notice the pace slowing – and have time to start catching up on writing, reading and rest!

This year I had the added complication of deciding to continue extra off-farm work. Most years I suspend a lot of activities – True Tales Live takes a summer break, my drumming classes stop, Seacoast Permaculture offerings slow down, and I step back from activist work. However, this season I felt called to stay more connected to my work with NH Peace Action and the Friends Committee on National Legislation as it was an important moment in the struggle to end US involvement in the Yemen War – a war causing a terrible famine. So, I’m a little more behind than usual, but I am glad I did it. Underpinning all of our work here is the desire for a more peaceful and just world, and growing a little less of our own food to help others get any food at all was the right choice.

Packing carrots for the root cellar

Long Pie winter squash curing. We eat year-round from our garden with long-lasting crops and food preservation.

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