Category Archives: Goats

NABLOPOMO – Anti-freezing Water Experiment

A duck's eye view of a pond freezing over...

A duck’s eye view of a pond freezing over…

During the recent cold snap, I was having my usual problems keeping all the animals watered. There are two main issues to deal with. First, all the water on our long, skinny farm-let originates at the top of the hill at the house. Miles of hoses with various junctions and side shoots and connectors and whatnot distribute water from the tap at the top to animal and poultry pens all the way down to the bottom of the hill. It is not practical to coil up all those hoses and drag them inside each night. Leaving them dripping works as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too low, though it does waste water and results in nasty little ice patches all over the place. The other problem is that the hoses zig and zag, go up and over obstacles and around corners and without fail, those bends and kinks are where ice blocks form, shutting down the system downstream from the blockage.

After I win the lottery (or, maybe I should try one of those crowd funding projects) I will install a frost-free in-ground water system with frost free taps all over the place… But until then, when the hoses freeze I am stuck schlepping hot water in containers from the house.

A five gallon jug of water weighs over 40 lbs. I shudder to think how many pounds I lifted during the past week!

A five gallon jug of water weighs over 40 lbs. I shudder to think how many pounds I lifted during the past week!

The water needs to be hot because the second problem that develops is the water in the various buckets and tubs freezes. When it isn’t seriously cold, it isn’t hard to smash through the layer of ice on top to get to open water below. When it stays cold for several days or when the temperatures plunge, the layer of ice is too thick to break.

This problem of the top layer freezing was addressed in the current issue of Small Farm Canada (with thanks to regular reader, blogger, and fellow farmer, Sailors Small Farm for pointing this out…). In a short how-to article it was suggested that a piece of closed cell foam insulation cut to fit inside the bucket would keep the water from freezing. The example shown was for a small pail being used  by chickens. Holes large enough for the chickens to dip their beaks in had been cut in the foam so the birds could get at the un-frozen water.

As it turned out I had some of this stuff around and thought it might work to stop the goat water container from freezing over.

A thin layer of ice just starting to form on the surface of the goat water bucket.

A thin layer of ice just starting to form on the surface of the goat water bucket.

First I roughly measured the foam – and cut it to size.

Roughly measuring the size of 'lid' needed.

Roughly measuring the size of ‘lid’ needed.

I cut a small opening on one side so they could get their muzzles in to drink.

The small opening was just big enough for thirsty goat lips...

The small opening was just big enough for thirsty goat lips…

Then, I waited to see what would happen. The goats drank out of the gap just fine and immediately under the foam lid the water did not freeze. But, all around the edges, ice formed the first night. The ice layer grew thicker and it became increasingly difficult to peel off the layer of foam each morning so the goats could get at the ever-smaller water hole in the middle. By the fourth day, the foam was completely frozen into the surface and disintegrated when I tried to peel it back.The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn't too surprising...The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn’t too surprising…After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it...After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it…It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation... I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink. It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation… I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink.

The article suggests that the system is most useful inside a hen house where the temperature is right around freezing but not seriously cold. I’d have to say that when this is the case it really isn’t that big a deal to chip a hole in the skim of ice anyway. Alas, much as I had hoped this would be a great solution to my bucket-freezing problems, it seems I will have to keep looking for other methods and keep experimenting.

NABLOPOMO – From Squash Hauler to Ambulance – Love my Multi-purpose Cart!

Around here we do a lot of improvising (stay tuned for a post about what we are doing with a garbage can and a roofing nail… experiment currently under way in the laundry sink…).

And, I also do a lot of schlepping. With my critters living in various locations up and down the road, I am constantly hauling loads of feed from one place to another. I had been improvising with one of those folding luggage carts onto which I had fastened (with bungee cords and binder twine) a sturdy plastic vegetable crate. I don’t have a great photo, though here it is in use hauling pumpkins and squash from the neighbor’s place up to the pigs.

Cart and Squash

The capacity was a bit limited and on uneven terrain, the whole contraption was very tippy. The handle also tended to collapse at the most inopportune of moments. Worst disaster with this unit occurred when I foolishly tied the dogs to the handle and stopped to pick up a broken bottle from the road. Mistake! The dogs spotted a squirrel and took off, scattering buckets, grain, carrots, and hay all over the road. They terrified themselves when they realized the clattering disaster was chasing after them and tried to flee into the brush. The whole dreadful incident ended with the dogs cowering in the ditch and me standing in the middle of the road with my mouth open, still holding the broken bottle.

For larger loads, the wheelbarrow came in handy.

Lunch CartThis worked ok here at our place (and, as long as I didn’t tie the dogs to it), but wasn’t so good going up the hill and along the road to where I keep the turkeys, mostly because I never did figure out a good way to deal with frolicking dogs, laden wheelbarrow, and the hill all at the same time.

Wheelbarrows have also come in handy during the annual winter schlepp of water containers down the hill…

Winter at Dark Creek FarmRecently, I procured a new schlepping device, a garden cart that is quite stable, has plenty of capacity, and can be dragged along behind the frolicking dogs.

Garden CartThis has also proven handy during the recent cold snap for hauling water (I can get more into the cart than I can into the wheelbarrow).


What I hadn’t anticipated was it’s usefulness as an ambulance for a turkey who was a bit under the weather.

Look closely at the thing that’s wrapped in my coat behind the empty feed buckets…

IMG_6935After a few days of TLC up at the turkey spa, the patient recovered fully and rejoined the flock.

The other thing that I found a bit surprising was how challenging it was going to be to navigate my way through the goat pen with the cart. I know better than to attempt such a maneuver with goodies in the cart, but coming down through the goat pen with a couple of water jugs shouldn’t have been a problem. Those goats can sniff out a spilled morsel of any sort of grain or seed or fleck of carrot from fifty paces. They charge the cart and surround it, oblivious to my shouts and threats.

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats...

The goats swarming the cart in search of spilled treats…

Electra is a bit on the short side, so her solution is to jump right in, all the better to sniff around and lick up anything that might be lickable.

So far, the cart has proven to be worth every penny and probably gets used more than any other single item on the farm. If only all my tools were so darned satisfying…

NABLOPOMO – Speed Blogging for Farmers – Sheep v Goats

Today’s NABLOPOMO challenge is to write the whole post in ten minutes.Perfect! I am running behind and only have a few minutes to get this done. So, how about a quick handy dandy guide to how to tell apart the sheep from the goats?

Goats and sheep are similar in many ways – cloven hooves at one end and a noise that sounds a bit like ‘maaaaahhhhh.’ Though, I think goats might be a bit more nasal and whiny than their sheepy cousins. You can milk both creatures, eat both creatures, and, if you have cashmere goats as we do, you can make sweaters from their winter coats, too (though, you use the shorn fleece from the sheep and the carefully combed out and collected under-fluff from the goats).


Goats are more likely to climb over their fences to escape, sheep will get down on their knees and force their way under. Goats are the ones with beards and sheep are the ones with long, floppy tails. On most farms you won’t see those long tails because they are docked when the lambs are very young, but left unaltered, they are so long they nearly reach the ground. Goat tails are short and perky and tend to stand straight up.

At the nose end, the upper lips of goats are divided, whereas sheep lips are one continuous line. Goats tend to be browsers, nibbling on bushes, brambles, and bark (though they will certainly eat grass, too, particularly if there isn’t anything else). Sheep are grazers and will eat away at pasture until they reach bare ground. Rotating them onto fresh pasture before that happens gives the grass a chance to recover and helps reduce parasite loads (more on rotational grazing strategies on a day when I have more than ten minutes).

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats make fantastic brush-clearers. Their favourite treats are prickly blackberries!

Goats would be the devious ones, pushy and greedy and quite fearless. Sheep tend to be more skittish, bunching together or fleeing wildly when threatened. My dogs, having been slammed into the side of the barn with a nasty head but once or twice after making faces at a goat are terrified of the caprines. The sheep, on the other hand, are terrified of the dogs.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Combing out the raw cashmere is one of the more tedious and time-consuming jobs to be done in the spring.

Ding! Ding! Ding! My ten minutes are up!

No time to do the second part of the assignment (how do you feel about writing under such a tight deadline?). I’m breathing too hard and my fingers are quivering too much to type another word!

Day 16 – Search for Land Leads to Maypenny Farm

One of the problems with livestock (at least, livestock not raised intensively in big barns) is they need a fair amount of land for grazing. This is not a problem if you happen to live on a large farm, but my farm is micro mini – not even two acres, all on a hill, part of it covered with big trees. To get around this problem I lease several fields close by and make use of every square inch of space here on the homestead. None of the fields are huge and my flocks and herds are expanding, so as a result, I’ve been tossing and turning at night trying to figure out where I can lease more land that’s not too far away. And, this needs to happen sooner than later so I can move the piglets after I’ve weaned those I haven’t already sold.

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls...

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls…

Last year I had chatted with Maypenny Farm (well, not the farm – with Reay, a farmer) about possibly growing out pigs at their place, but there was a wedding planned and a need to keep the fields looking neat and tidy. I had pushed the Maypenny option out of my mind when Reay got in touch the other day and asked if I might still be interested. Faster than you can say ‘hen hats’ I raced over there to scope the place out to see if it might be suitable.

The field up for discussion is an old hayfield being encroached upon by brambles and scrub brush along one edge and bordered on the other side by trees. Not only would the piglets have a blast in there with plenty of forage and room to roam, the plan is to reclaim the field and extend the Maypenny market garden. Hogs are excellent for turning over the soil, enriching it as they go. Add a couple of goats to the equation and the Maypenny farmers can just sit back and watch the livestock prepare that field ready for whatever they may wish to do with it next.

The two big issues are: Water and fencing. The hogs are well trained to two-strand electric and are, therefore, relatively easy to contain. Goats are a different matter, but using the existing sheep fencing as a starting point, some repairs and new stock wire would provide a decent barrier while they are on clean-up duty. We have portable shelters that can be moved to the field without much trouble, which would keep everyone snug and dry in foul weather (unless Maypenny has hats that would fit the hogs…) When it came to discussing the water situation, the conversation proceeded in a very Canadian manner.

“What about water?”

“There’s a stream here – ” Reay said, pointing to one long side of the field. “And the beavers have moved next door so this field isn’t flooding any more.”


“They had a dam down there and the water backed up. You can see the half-chewed trees where they chopped them down.”

Beavers? Seriously? On southern Vancouver Island? I had heard rumours that beavers had returned to Beaver Lake, a local landmark I had assumed was so-named because some old fur trader was homesick for a place in the wilderness where actual beavers lived. Maybe the lake actually came by its name honestly. And, perhaps the rumours about the return of the beavers are true after all! Not that Maypenny’s neighbour is happy about the return of the furry, flat-tailed loggers. They are a menace when it comes to clogging up streams and ditches and their industrious plugging up of drainage systems can cause awful problems for farmers’ fields.

I’m not too worried – if the beavers decide to move back to Maypenny we’ll cope with the fallout. Mostly, standing there in the rain calculating how much fencing I’m going to need, I was delirious with joy that a good field is available, not too far away, with readily available water and lots of forage for both goats and hogs. I was so excited, in fact, I totally forgot to take any photos! By my next visit I’m sure I will be calmer and the full realization of how much work it will take to get things secure before we can move animals in will have hit me. Anybody feel like coming over for a fencing party? Maybe you’ll get to see a beaver!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 12 – Where there is a Plus, there is a Minus

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die - then it's lunch time. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

There are a lot of things to love about life on a small farm. The list (and, because I am a list-maker, it could be a very long one, but I’ll restrain myself) includes:

-being outside a lot
-knowing where my food comes from, esp. meat and eggs
-being part of the farming community – total bonus and a conversation worthy of an entire post all its own
-being surrounded by animals – living, growing, just being
-having a flexible work day – if I need to grab a tea before putting together the new wheelbarrow, that’s fine
-making customers happy – there’s nothing quite so satisfying as hearing that the turkey someone enjoyed over the holidays was the best they have ever tasted
-every day is different – seasons change, animals are bred, incubated, hatched, delivered, nurtured – it’s never boring!
-I love the food! I know I sort of already mentioned the food, but wow, we really do eat well around here and for that I am very grateful. 
A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

For every good point, though, there’s a corresponding down side.

It sucks to have to be outside in the pouring rain just this side of freezing, slopping around the hog pen trying to figure out where the electric fence is shorting out before the boar takes off and starts terrorizing the neighbor’s kids.

While it’s great to know exactly where my food comes from, I take no pleasure whatsoever in loading pigs I’ve watched grow from day one into the back of the truck for their one-way trip to freezer camp. Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s a good thing to name the animals, even those destined to be dinner guests. If hog pen 53B is low on water, maybe it wouldn’t get topped up quite so quickly as when Olivia stands and stares into her water tub after Gizmo and Oreo (two big Muscovy drakes) have had such violent baths in there they have basically emptied the water out and made what remains undrinkable.

Can't beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness...

Can’t beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness…

Being part of the farming community is a challenge on days when I feel like I know nothing and am and always will be a ‘newcomer’ (there are farm families around here who have been around for multiple generations and I can tell you that a five minute conversation with one of the seasoned elders is a fast reminder that nothing takes the place of decades of having your hands deep in the same bit of dirt…)

Being surrounded by animals certainly lends itself to many ‘awww, how cute’ moments, but it is also a sure fire way to have your heart broken and your bank account emptied on a regular basis. Raise enough livestock and it doesn’t take long before you are dealing with deadstock, one way or another. Turkey poults trip and drown in their shallow water dispensers (seriously, 1/4″ of water is enough to do in a poult who is clumsy enough), sows sit on their piglets or, during the stress of labour, pick the closest one up by the scruff of the neck and slam it against the wall of the farrowing hut, turkeys within days of a major holiday go on a mushroom-eating binge and keel over, ducks become fancy dinners for raccoons, old horses must be put down (double-whammy there – the cost of dispatching a horse is insane…), old goats get ovarian cancer, and any chick or poult foolish enough to somehow escape the safety of the nursery pen may fall victim to raven, eagle, hawk, cat, or even dog attack. Gads. There are days when I long for the simple predictability of a cat and a basement suite.

Oops... horse sat on the fence! A quick 'for now' repair job in sad need of repair!

Oops… horse sat on the fence! A quick ‘for now’ patch job in sad need of repair!

Being flexible during the work day only applies when it doesn’t involve being ten minutes late to feed everyone (ever heard a chorus of squealing pigs who believe they have been forgotten?). Broken gates and fences can’t wait to be repaired until the gale force winds subside because by then the horses will be charging across the highway causing who knows how many horrible accidents. The feed store trip can’t wait until you have a bit more time or a little extra cash – all those mouths need to get fed every day, regardless of whether there’s some health scare that has put people off pork and the bottom suddenly drops out of the bacon market. Electric fence walks are not a ‘I’ll get to that soon’ kind of job. All the animals are experts at testing the fence and know exactly the moment when something shorts out. See ya!

Making customers happy is great – and a good reason to go to Farmers’ Markets so you can chat to all kinds of people interested in food. Except, as anyone who has ever worked in retail can tell you, sometimes customers are… well, a pain in the donkey. Except, no matter how wrong they are or how misinformed or how obnoxious, they are also always right. Sigh.

Every day is certainly different, sometimes for logical reasons (seasons change, something is born, something dies), and this perpetual state of flux makes planning tricky. You don’t always know what lies ahead and all the best laid plans can go right off the rails when the day was meant to be spent hauling the new boar to the farm but the truck breaks down on the way to the ferry. When help fails to show up when planned (and, when it’s bucketing down some creepy mixture of sleet and slush and mud, it’s amazing how many headaches and backaches and visiting inlaws suddenly prevent farm help from materializing) that can really mess up a day that was meant to be spent in town running errands that really can’t wait another day but will have to wait another day because you know what will happen if those hogs don’t get fed on time… The day you have planned rarely matches the day that actually shows up because that is the nature of the business. Farming is always a bit of crap shoot. What happens when your seeds don’t germinate? Or, after germination and planting out get devoured by cut worms? Or slugs? Or rabbits? Or deer? What if the sow you thought was pregnant eats her way through almost four months of expensive organic feed, shows all the signs of impending labour right down to producing milk but not a single piglet ever shows up? False pregnancies don’t happen often, but when they do… that can really mess up the planning process. Ditto for lower than expected fertility rates on poultry eggs, higher than expected mortality rates for young birds, feed prices that shoot through the roof due to drought on the other side of the world, or feed orders that don’t make it onto the truck coming to the island meaning your whole week of feeding livestock turns into a crazy juggling act of scrounging, begging, borrowing, and substituting.

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that's going on underground in preparation for spring?

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that’s going on underground in preparation for spring?

There are certainly moments when I am ready to throw in the towel and give up. But I am, at heart, an optimist. In the depths of winter when everything (including me) freezes solid I imagine garlic sending down deep roots in beds prepared in the fall, roots that will fuel the plants’ amazing growth in the spring. Because there is always another spring coming, more seeds to start, another litter to farrow, another crop of apples to pick. And with each cycle, I learn a little more and feel just a tiny bit more confident that maybe I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. Which would explain why, even on the very worst days when everything seems to be going wrong, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. And besides, the food really is pretty good.