Taking care of livestock in the winter is where the men are separated from the boys. Well below freezing temperatures, deep snow, ripping winds, frozen water...these are some of the challenges winter brings. Living in north central Massachusetts, we get the snow and frigid subzero temperatures, so winter is real around here. I get asked a lot about how we care for our animals in the cold months, as it seems to be a concern for people new to keeping livestock. When it comes to the goats, there really are two things that are of the upmost importance: they need to be dry and in as draft free of an area as possible. They can handle the coldest of temperatures as long as they are dry, their bedding is dry, and they have protection from drafts.
While my goats are spoiled rotten with their organic/soy free/non gmo feed, organic second cut hay, and constant doting, I consider myself to be pretty old school when it comes to animal husbandry. I am a firm believer that animals were built to handle inclement weather. They have thick coats, snuggle to stay warm, and as ruminants their fermenting bellies act like internal space heaters. So, this means no heat lamps or additional heat sources in the barn. Now not saying these couldn't or shouldn't be used in life or death situations. But, these supplemental heat sources throw their bodies out of whack and make it difficult for them to self regulate with constant exposure. Not to mention the extreme danger of a fire. I have been known however to wake up 1-2 times in the middle of the night when we have real bad cold snaps (like last year when it was -20F+ for weeks on end) to suit up and go check on the girls. So, what do I do to keep our herd going throughout the cold months? Read on friends.
Love is in the air here folks! The hormones are flying and we have a packed breeding plan to keep us in babies from February until July. Big Marie has been artificially inseminated and is confirmed pregnant, while Audrey and Alison have had their date with their suitors. Time will tell if they are in fact pregnant, and Ruby is my final girl to be bred. My calendar is chocked full of heat dates, bred dates, and potential due dates. So who was bred when and when can we we anticipate bouncing babies? Read on!
Milk. Glorious fresh, raw, creamy goats milk. It is quite possibly one of the things I am most proud of to be producing right here on our small farm. Our girls are fed an organic, non-gmo, soy free feed, with more browsing than they can eat. Their milk truly is as good as it gets and I get it fresh twice a day, everyday! With Karen and Audrey both in milk, I currently have way too much to drink. I can't keep up just drinking it alone! FYI, this is a very good problem to have. I love any and all dairy products, so my goal is to produce as many as I can with the milk that I have on hand.
Ricotta is one of the easiest and quickest cheeses that you can make with the simplest ingredients. It doesn't have to age and is ready to use within a half hour or so, nor is it as temperamental as mozzarella. Bonus! Basically, it's a great cheese to get your feet wet and isn't everything better with a little ricotta? Some make ricotta with leftover whey from other cheeses, which makes a skim/low fat ricotta. I however am a full fat/whole milk kind of girl, so I make my ricotta with milk not whey. Here's how to make it:
Well, it finally happened! After 147 long days of waiting, Karen finally gave birth to a healthy, beautiful doeling on June 18th! The labor and delivery was textbook, and I couldn't have asked for it to go any better. She was showing signs of passive labor the whole day - her ligaments were gone, her udder was full and tight, and you could tell she was occasionally getting some contractions. She was however, being her typical self and pushing everyone else around, gorging on hay, and showing no signs of slowing down. I kept my eye on her and was popping in and checking on her every hour or so throughout the day without any signs of her progressing.
During my evening chores, when I was doing my feedings and milking Audrey I noticed a long, gloopy string dangling from her backside. This was right about the time that the skies were parting, a torrential downpour started, and lightening and thunder was cracking and shaking the barn. She was losing her plug which meant that it was time for me to hunker down because babies were on the way! She almost instantaneously started showing changes in behavior. She was clearly uncomfortable, bedding down, getting up, pawing at the ground, and occasionally pushing her head against the wall to brace herself during contractions. I didn't know how long it would it would take, but I was mentally and physically prepared to be there for the long haul and sleep in the barn if need be. In between the cracks of lightening and rumbles of thunder, she bedded down for the final time and started to push...
Since constructing our Mini Dairy Goat Barn last fall, we have certainly gotten some use out of it! We have added three new does and Karen is due to kid next month. While we got it constructed and set up "good enough" to get us through the winter, we have have taken the past several months to work on the finer details. Because it's mini, I have to maximize every bit of space I can for storage and to allow me to be more efficient...but still have room to move around. I have to walk a fine line between storage and efficiency, and making it over cluttered Since my last post, additional stalls have been built, shelving put up, sliding doors added, and a milk stand constructed.
Aside from some finishing trim work, adding a roof extension/canopy, and running electricity (aside from my ghetto extension cord) down and installing some outlets, I am calling it "done". I've said it before and I'll say it again, you can do a lot in a small space with a well thought out design! I am more than happy with how this has turned out, and the girls seem more than content in their new digs.
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