It's getting close to a very interesting time of the year - breeding season! It's really all a mix of science and careful consideration, figuring which buck to breed to which doe. There are so many things to consider and I'll start by looking at this year's babies and see where we can improve on certain genetic traits.
It is desirable to have doelings, so first I will look at which breeding combinations brought the most does last year. We also want good conformation, good body capacity (room for lots of milk), well attached udders (longer lasting), good teat placement (easier to milk) and good personalities.
We have three bucks who we will use to breed eleven does this year. Don ChwAAN is our original herd sire. He's bred his share of prize-winning babies and he's a strong buck, with good physical traits. Our other two bucks, Rudolf Valentino (Rudy) and Mr. T. both came from the U.S. to expand the bloodlines. They're also hunky and strong in their traits. Four of our does are 'first fresheners' - which means they will be first time moms. Six are 'old hands' and the last is the Nubian, Feta.
I am milking seven does at the moment but In prep for breeding, we're drying up Eva, Emmy and Sheila.
Some people 'hand breed' which means they take the doe in to be with the buck when they know she's in heat. We let the bucks run with the does for 6 weeks - which means they will cover 2 cycles and gives the best chance of catching. We'll run the breeding in 2 cycles so that the births are also in 2 cycles to make it less overwhelming.
Goat gestation averages 165 days - or about 5 months. We'll breed mid-November and December for April/May babies. We think spring is the best time to have babies - warmer for the kids (and us) and buyers generally want to start their herds in the spring.
The Nigerians are different from most other goat breeds because they cycle year round. Most cycle only until winter and pick up again in spring. We're just figuring out our housing for breeding season. Besides the breeding does/ bucks, we have six kids - two wethers and four doelings.
Let me know if you have any questions about the whole process and hopefully we'll have some news of pregnant does soon!
*Photo by Judy Anderson
Every time a new season arrives, it means another step forward in the circle of life. The changing of the leaves (and they are just magnificent here in Northumberland County and will get even better over the next couple of weeks), tell us its time to prepare for winter.
For us that means checking the fencing, making sure we’ve laid in enough hay, straw and grains, double checking the watering systems (pretty antiquated, but they still work) and doing a final clean up of pens before winter. We use a system of bedding for our goats in which we leave the bedding over winter and add to it as needed. This allows the urine to sink to the bottom and drain out and the manure (small, inoffensive pellets) to remain. The heat from the poop also helps to keep the pens warmer in winter. At some point over the next few weeks we will put in heat lamps over the water bowls to keep them from freezing.
It also means getting serious about breeding season! We breed our does in the fall to have spring babies. We will breed half the girls in mid November and half in mid-December. With a gestation of 165 days (approx.!), that will bring babies in April and May. What a great way to celebrate spring. We spend a lot of time figuring out the ‘matches’ – ie which buck to breed to which does. We’re looking to strengthen strong traits and lose weak ones. Easier said than done, but we’ve had some good success in our Tripping Billies herd as the years go on.
In the fall of 2007, we left the city to find our own little piece of heaven. We found it just outside of Campbellford - a big, rambling old farmhouse on 25 rolling, wooded acres.
When Shain retired in 2009 and was was able to be at the farm full-time I said why don't we get goats and he said, "What are you insane? Why would we get goats?"
To his credit, he was supportive and I did a little bit of research and discovered the Nigerian Dwarf goats who are unbelievably cute - the first important reason to have them. As it turns out they also have the highest butterfat content of all of the goats at 6% which is incredibly rich. I make all the Haute Goat lotions, lip balms, skin-care products and other non-edibles with it.
We also wanted a small breed because we love to have children visiting the farm and the Nigerian Dwarf breed is a perfect size for kids. We started with four tiny, perfect caprines - Pearl, Eva, Sally and Butterscotch who promptly made us fall in love with them and changed our lives forever.
We now have almost forty goats on the farm who keep us busy and remind us every day that we are living our dream.
It's hard to believe I wrote this more than 4 months ago, on April 9th, late into the night...
"Delighted to report that our first goat kids have arrived! First freshener (first timer) LIBERTY delivered quads last night. Nearly unheard of in FFs!. Unfortunately, one arrived stilborn. There is a doeling and 2 bucklings. One of the bucklings was quite weak when he was born so we have him in the house in our 'Goat ICU'. That means he's under a heat lamp and being pampered beyond belief. He's just under one pound and has lots to say if we don't pay enough attention to him. I've named him YODA because he looks wrinkled, wise and kinda funny in an endearing sort of way. The other 2 are Bessie - who looks like a Holstein cow and Jo, named after our good friend.
Yoda was born one of quads to Liberty....he was just about 400 grams when he was born - weak, not able to hold up his head....This video was taken when he was about 5 hours old. Apologies for the quality - it was taken under a heat lamp we used trying to get his body temperature up.
Today, when I look back, I can still remember the terror I felt that this sweet little thing might not make it. But something about him screamed - 'help me, I'm gonna make it'....and so I did everything I could to help him make it. Bear, our Bouvier, took him under her wing and licked him back to health every chance she got. When it got to be just a little too much, we put him in the pack 'n play in the kitchen so he could see and hear us. I also gave him a little box in the pack 'n play to 'hide' in when he needed a bit of quiet. And at night I took him upstairs so I could feed him every 4 hours.
During the day, I'd put him on the floor in the kitchen to 'participate'....but he could hardly stand up. His 4 legs would splay in every direction and I'd follow him around to pick him up to start again. My brother's girlfriend (who is studying to be a vet) spent a lot of time with him, getting him confident on his legs....Within the first week she had him walking carefully, but staying upright more than he was losing his legs.....
After about a week, I figured he needed to be with his herd. But you can't just 'drop him off' there. So I took him down to the barn, out to the pen and hung out apart from him while he got to know his herd. For a pipsqueak he was pretty ballsy. He didn't hesitate to go up to the other goats - adults and kids alike - though he was still figuring out goat language. It didn't take him long. Its interesting that after first left the barn, his mom never recognized him as hers. Mother Nature is so efficient if you let her be.....But he did start to engage with the other babies.....including his brother and sister. Within about 2 months, he'd outgrown his brother and sister and in fact towered over them!
Today he's great buddies with Fast Eddie and is 'mentoring' the younger kids in his pen, Haatchi and Merlin. He's also now become a house goat and pretty much part of the family.
Just over 2 weeks ago, we got our first Nubian goat on the farm. We're calling her FETA. She's a beautiful, exotic looking doe with the most expressive eyes ever. And she's such a honey. She loves nothing more than snuggling with humans. We're boarding her for friends and we're thrilled to do it since I've always wanted one.....she's about twice the size of the Nigerians, long legged with the long ears reminiscent of a bassett hound.
She was very shy at first, then bonded quickly. BUT she didn't want to eat. She'd eat some grain and greens if you were with her -but otherwise, no hay or forage if we weren't there, which is the bulk of what goats eat in a day. Best guess is that she really missed her herd. She's just over a year old and she came to us from a lovely breeder in the Niagara region. So leaving there and coming to us, with our highly energetic Nigerians, barking dogs and general chaos, must have been a bit of a culture shock for her.
She was in quarantine for 2 weeks - pretty standard - while we waited for test results to make sure she was ok to put with the rest of the herd. While waiting I put in one of my sweet little Nigerian bucklings - Chevy (short for Chevre) to keep her company. That didn't quite do it. They formed a tentative friendship, but he didn't give her enough of what she needed to get her eating. Three days ago she went in with the yearling herd of Nigerians. They have been keenly interested in her. And she's figuring things out with them.
Tonight, for the first time since she's been here, Feta looked like she was starting to fill out again. She ate her grains with a ferocious appetite. She's looking to be part of the herd of yearlings though she's the gangly giant one. And when I milked her tonight (is this the most bucolic setting ever?), she gave just the littlest bit more than the night before. Go Feta!!
Deb and I are taking an interesting step in the care and feeding of our Haute Goat habit.
Yesterday afternoon we spent a couple of hours looking for and actually buying paint. After a little thought and a little planning and a lot of crossed fingers, paws, and hooves we are embarking on our FarmGateStore fantasy featuring the Haute Goat products we’ve developed with our incredible artisan makers and our Bashert Farm produce that Debbie, Dan, Jimmy and I grow and some prepared foods that Deb and I make.
So I spent last night daydreaming – not sleeping much lately – about the stories my father used to tell our family about his childhood in a shtetl town in the western part of Lithuania, Gordz in Yiddish, Gargzdai in Lithuanian, where his mother Sheine, built and operated a notions store in their living room – although they didn’t call it a living room – it was their front room. She sold needles, pins, thread, some fabric, buttons – lots of buttons, my father would say – gold ones, ones with stones, and ones she would cover with leftover scraps of fabric. When customers bought, she would let him write the numbers on a paper bag totaling the sale to those customers who had the patience to wait for a four year old writing numbers and totaling them. But they did, and he did, usually without a mistake. That was how he learned, by doing. His brother William was the smart one, and the one whose education extended beyond grade 6.
My dad found work amongst the family and their friends until he immigrated to the US when he was 14. What his mother taught him as a child were lessons well learned because in the US he and my mother eventually built and operated eight stores in Ohio.
So building this FarmGateStore in our dining room – our front room actually, means a lot to me – it’s like echo. It helps me visit memories I had misplaced amongst the accumulation of my experiences while making a living and living and growing children while I grew. But it’s time to stop daydreaming and check the garlic. It should be ready in a week or two, in time for the store opening - August 3, during our Open Farm.