Friday, November 6, 2015

Homesteading Heartaches


At times, homesteading is ridiculously making a fritatta from your own eggs, bacon, chevre, and greens.

Home-raised dinner: win.

At others, it is ridiculously when you realize you have to get rid of ALL your goats.

Let me explain...

Recently, we had the opportunity to buy our little homestead a more permanent home (more on that later) where we can dig in some roots, live 100% debt free and get some real financial traction.  This little homestead would allow us to provide for basically all of our own food needs, if we work hard and are good stewards.

As with any move, decisions have to be made on what goes and what gets the heave-ho.

Given their infrastructure concerns, our animals are prime consideration....

Chickens? Easy to move....and we depend on our daily eggs. Check.

Pigs....they are giant and ready to be processed any day, regardless.  They will be making the move as bacon.

Goats......  .......  .......

And therein lies the giant question.  We had intially decided that we wanted to try to move the goats.  Get the new place to a point that we would be able to home them there while the trailer gets moved and we stay at our town-house (since it is FINALLY ready to sell after months of work, basically, but winter sucks for selling, and this is a good excuse as any to enjoy it for a few months) and let the goats clear away the brush.

However, the longer we thought about it, the more I had to face the music.  I love my goats, but as a farmer, I have to be honest.

They suck as dairy goats. 

*Ouch* Honesty reaaaaaly smarts.

And if an animal isn't productive, I have to either cull or be ok with them as a pet.  Which, for a goat, as cute and fun as they are, I'm not.

No, really....

La Manchas are supposed to give up to 2 gallons/day in a good dairy herd.  Let's say you're only going to milk once per day and you're feeding them just enough alfalfa and feed to keep their weight on less than 1 gallon for any full-sized breed should be expected a day (that's 16 cups, for the mathematically challenged) 

Ladies and gentlemen, Oleffe only ever produced 8 CUPS in a 24 hour period.  Even with 100% separation of the kids for 2-3 days straight and twice-a-day milkings.  EIGHT CUPS in a 24-hour block.....not the 32 cups/day she could, not the 16 cups/day adjusted, 8 cups....if I was lucky.  Most days it was less.

Great momma? Mother Teresa would be proud.

Gentle temperment?  A lamb.

But the ONE thing that I bought a DAIRY goat for.....milk production? Miserable failure.


And herein lies the great dilemma of a farmer.  What do you do with an animal that produces poorly?

Morally, I really don't want to slough my sweet girls off on some poor, unexpecting soul....that would be unkind and unethical.

So then what?  I guess it's time to cull...

Dan hasn't been nearly as involved with my goats as I have been.  He has tirelessly worked to build them a barn and put up fences and figure out electric chargers.  He has put up with my hair-brained ideas with the patience of Job and nary an "I told you so."  But emotionally, he has been as connected to these animals as he has been to his piggies....who were destined to become bacon from before they were conceived.

These animals? They were my baby goats.  I helped Oleffe birth her kids (the boys I never named, knowing their ultimate fate), I spent months out in the barn in the morning hours milking her for a total chore time of 45 minutes or more of my precious sleep, sometimes begrudgingly after a long, hard night-shift.  Hours of time spent researching, scratching my head trying to figure out WHY she wasn't producing the gallon a day I expected of her (let alone the 2 gallons a day her breed can produce). Babying her, giving her treats, brushing, grooming, hoove trimming, copper boluses, vitamin B shots, extra iron, herbal suplements, kelp meal... Expectations of having her for 10 years, give or take, making her the matriarch of the herd.

And ultimately, despite all my best efforts, her production never got any better.  A single day milking never netted me more than 5 cups of milk.

Svenne?  She never even got pregnant.....let alone give me a single drop of milk.

And Nala? My cute, spunky little girl goat? Well, after having a stellar start, she seemed to get more and more lethargic.  I checked her for parasites, which are the most common problem.  Honestly, I think that she was in-bred and had some genetic problem.  The longer she went, the more it was obvious she was "off."  After trying for weeks and making no traction, we decided that the best thing to do (since eating her seemed sketchy and she would never make it to good production nor would we want her to be bred) was to put her out of her misery.  

And thus, we have decided that it is best to cull our remaining does, along with the pre-destined wethers.

Does it totally suck?

You betcha.

Was it worth it? Yes.  We will have more goats one day and the experience was excellent. We now love goats and love how integrative they are to reclamining overgrown pastures and managing forest lots.  They LOVE osage oranges, poison ivy, chicory,  poison hemlock, locust tree, and every other noxious weed that cows will turn their noses up at.

Will it make our lives easier not having to trek out to the proerty from town every day to check on them? For sure.

Have I learned some lessons? Absolutely.

And for now, I will say my goodbyes, distance myself emotionally, recognize that if I want to be a real hobby farmer, I have to do the right thing by the breed...which is cull sub-par genetics in a manner that is respectful to the individual animal.

And be thankful that I have plenty of pork so I don't have to eat mutton until I am ready....

Man, how I wish that as a culture we weren't so removed from our food.  This would have been just part of the circle of life and a lesson I would have learned before kindergarten....instead, I'm going to go find a quart of ice cream and a box of tissues.  Good thing goat-milk ice cream is basically nonexistent.

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