Saturday, November 26, 2011

Burn Piles

Driving home today through a half-inch of snow, I noticed four different places where burn piles had been set on fire.  Each one had a satisfied man tending it.  I got the feeling they'd had a hard time waiting until the first snow fell to light the fires. 

Burn piles are common around here.  They are built by hand or machine when trees are cut down for safety, for firewood, or in logging.  Everyone loves a good bonfire, but burn piles are mostly a guy thing, and you can tell something about a guy by looking at how he builds them.

An old pile in our field
Our friend John, for example, was a careful man who would never have lit a pile with only the first half-inch of snow on the ground.  He would have insisted on at least six inches before it was safe enough for him.  His burn piles were tall and narrow, constructed with only the unusable bits of tree left over after he had chopped the branches into kindling.  He covered them with squares of tarp to keep them dry as the snow piled up around them, and only lit them on a calm day.  John died over a year ago, and I'd give a lot to be able to see  one of his burn piles again.

Our own burn piles are very different.  They are tossed together carelessly and quite often never burned at all.  I like to think of little birds and animals taking refuge there, maybe building dens and raising families.  After a few years, the decaying leaves form enough compost for plants to take root and tangles of roses and wild raspberries grow up.  The goats eat on and around them, and they eventually disappear without any more effort from us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November pasture

The pasture is still looking pretty good, for November.  There are green shoots for the animals to find, so we're not feeding them their full hay ration yet.  We give them hay at night but let them go hungry in the morning for a while so they'll search out the good bits that they've missed before.

Monty is doing a good job of foraging.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is your goat fat enough?

Dairy goats are odd-looking animals. They have huge stomachs to hold the huge amounts of roughage they need to eat.  Then, they convert all that roughage to milk and stay skinny.  It can be hard for someone who isn't really familiar with them to tell whether or not they are in good shape.  You can easily be fooled into thinking a goat is fat when it really isn't.

To tell how fat they are, you check two places. 

The first is the loin area, where you press with fingertips to see how much meat is on the bones on either side of the backbone.  A skinny goat will have very little, with the backbone sticking up.  An obese goat will have so much fat that you can hardly feel the bones and the backbone is in a depression.

The other place is at the breastbone, where she should have some fat covering the bone, but not so much that it forms rolls.

I feed my goats their grain ration on the milking stand, even if I'm not milking them, and take a second every day to check what shape they're in.  If they're losing weight, I increase their ration; if they're gaining too much weight, I decrease it, gradually.  By checking every goat every day and tailoring their grain ration to their needs, I make sure everyone in the herd is healthy no matter whether they are young or old, pregnant or not.  It only takes a second.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hay for the Winter

Our winter's supply of hay was delivered last night.  we bought 12 round bales, each about 6' in diameter and weighing over 1200 lb.  It's from the same farm that supplied us last year, at a cost of $120/bale, delivered.

In past years, we've had to pull each bale off the truck using our pickup and a long cable.  This time, it was much easier.  The hay arrived on a trailer that was equipped with a tilting deck and it was simply rolled off.  There was one frightening moment when one of the bales bounced off another and headed straight toward the spot where I stood with Floyd.  Actually, it didn't come that close, but we didn't wait around to make sure; we ran.

We're letting the goats and sheep free-feed on the bales.  Some years, this works, and some, it doesn't.  It depends on how tightly the bales are wrapped and how many animals we have.  So far, they're not making a big mess and I'm raking up just enough spilled hay to feed the horses (who are jealous and want to free-feed, too).  If the bales get too badly torn apart, we'll lock the herd out of the area where the hay is, and deliver a measured amount to them every day.  It's easier when they help themselves, though.