Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Wednesday was a very sad day for me, and one that has been on my mind since. During evening chores, Dan discovered our buck goat, LLP Warlords Dream, (or Buddy) had died unexpectedly. There was no sign of illness that morning, so it came as a complete and total shock. Not only was this a registered, pedigreed breeding animal which we had invested money into for a solid foundation to our breeding program, he was my friend. It was a huge loss emotionally for me...he was a massive animal with the largest horns I'd ever seen on a goat, but was incredibly gentle, asking only for a cookie or a scratch behind the ear. He was gentle with his babies. He made funny faces with his lips, begging for a cookie, when he popped his face over the door into the main part of the barn.
I'll miss him very much.
We got into goats before we opened the farm back up as a business. At first, they were a natural way to keep the pasture from being overgrown with shrubs and thorns. Any goat was ok, our first purchase was a pair of pygmy crosses, we didn't care about the breed. Then we learned more about the Boer goat, a meat breed that is becoming increasingly popular and profitable, so we bought the best Boer stock we could afford, and have watched quite a few delightful kids arrive here at the farm. We had the expectation that goats would be low maintenance, as the crossbred goats that Tom & Betty purchased years ago ran about the farm and thrived on nothing more than a bit of hay thrown out in the winter. As the herd grew, more maintenance became necessary, vaccines, wormer, and sometimes other medication, like an antibiotic, for a sick goat. As I do some real soul searching, I can see a pattern...it was always the Boers who needed the most attention...the mongrels from the auction, the pygmies we first bought, are thriving, and have been thriving with less care. Boers are not native to our area, the breed originated in South Africa. Although they are raised quite successfully in our area, perhaps there is something about the microclimate of our farm that is especially hard on them. I don't know. I do know that we need to look at the farm animals as a business, not just Emily's petting zoo of snack friends. The financial cost to keeping these goats healthy is not profitable. The emotional loss is hard too. Besides heartache over a death, there is a toll whan an animal isn't well or a young one fails to thrive. You worry. You look through the veterinary manuals and fear that your entire herd is soon to be affected with some horrid, incurable disease. So through my tears, I mentioned to Dan that maybe we should get out of the goat business. He quietly agreed, and suggested that perhaps we'll get more sheep, who are the low maintenanece, profitable animal I hoped for with the goats. (They aren't, for the most part, so full of personality though.) We also agreed that this was not a decision to make lightly or emotionally, so it is something to work through in the coming weeks and months. I would feel so guilty if, by keeping them here, illness befell some of my healthy, wonderful, personable Boer does. It will be a very sad day for me if they leave as well. We also can't afford the upkeep on 20+ goats either, if we're not breeding them. We'll definately hold on to some of our goats regardless, and we are still hoping for a healthy crop of kids in March or April sired by our buck.
Before we did chores Wednesday evening and discovered our loss, I was pleased to find a poster I had ordered for the stand had come in the mail. It was for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, a group I'm passionate about who advocates for the preservation of endangered farm animals, especially those native to the U.S. Boers are the hot thing in goats right now, so they are not on the ALBC's list of endangered breeds. However, the Tennessee Myotonic goat is, and is more commonly known as the "fainting goat". They are also regarded as a meat goat, but have the unusual quality of tensing up and falling over (fainting, sort of) when startled. When I came back inside, in tears, I may have snuffled out some comment about getting out of the goat business, but I also completed that thought with "...or we could try fainting goats..."
Posted by Emily
@ 11:00 AM EST
Since summer is fading and winter is on its way, lots of plant life is heading into its dormant state. This includes the grasses in the pasture, so at this point in the year, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Some of the critters are quick to realize this, and it creates a bunch of fencing problems. I think to make an absolutely goat-proof fence, your farm would look like a prison...10 foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire just might do the trick! The goats, even the ones weighing nearly 200 lbs, can squeak through a hole 8 inches square in the woven wire. If they can't find a hole, they can create one if determined enough. These days, the destination of choice is the topmost hay field. We don't really care if they eat it at this point; we're not cutting any more hay, and there is quite a bit of quality feed there. So they are eating for free and not doing any damage. Unfortunately, this field borders the road running past our house. There is no fence at the property line at the road's edge. Now our road is not terribly busy. It is a small secondary road which doesn't even have lines painted on it. My father-in-law still laments it's not dirt like it was when the Stevenson family purchased the farm. So it amazes me how many times a day someone will stop by the house to inform us that the goats are loose. It's almost always when we're in the middle of something that is hard to stop in the middle of, like grinding sausage. While good fences are said to make good neighbors, I guess bad ones mean meeting more of the neighbors!
The other problem is Dixie, one of our Belgian draft horses. To give you an idea of how big she is, picture a horse whose back is over 5 feet off of the ground, is about 1750 lbs of muscle, and whose hoof prints are about the size of a dinner plate. Her trick is to walk up to the fence when she spies a tasty patch on the other side, and use her large hooves to stomp down the woven wire and just walk across. This works really well for her until it snaps back up with her front feet on one side and her back feet on the other, with the fence now running under her belly. At this point she will realize she is stuck and calmly stay there until we find her in the course of morning chores. (She almost always does this at night.) It is an easy fix; Dan will walk up to her, bend down the fence and help her pick up her feet high enough to back into the pasture. The fence is inspected and tightened, the whole process takes only a minute or two. The problem is when we don't find her! One night, after a long day when bed was going to feel really good, a truck pulls in just as soon as we had retired for the night. A young man came up to the porch to let us know that he was spotlighting for deer and had seen our "Clydesdale all wrapped up in barbed wire". He probably thought that she was injured and in danger, so he seemed confused when we didn't get too excited about it. We thanked him, Dan went out and freed Dixie, and I'm sure she was grateful she didn't spend the whole night in the fence. Another time we had an archery hunter knock on the door before it was even all the way light out to let us know she was in the fence. I told him we'd take care of it right away, but that she did this all the time and I was sure she wasn't hurt. The hunter then let me know he had thought about cutting our fence to free her but then thought maybe he should see if anyone was home first. I thanked him for that because I would have been furious if the fence had been cut; we probably wouldn't have known about it until the horses or cows went through the hole and we found them in the cornfield or wandering up the road. Plus fence is expensive, not to mention time consuming, to replace! If you want to get on a farmer's bad side, cutting up fence without permission is a great way to start. Farmers also don't want strangers trying to "rescue" the animals either. We know our animals and they know and trust us and generally they will cooperate. A stranger coming up to them when they are stuck in a fence can excite the animal, and no one wants to see the animal or the person hurt if the creature struggles.
So, if you are driving by Pleasant Valley Farm and the goats are in the open field, don't worry, they are ok. You'll just get a better view of them as you pass. We probably know where they are, so you don't need to stop to tell us unless they have migrated to somewhere dangerous, i.e. there are 15 goats wandering down the road looking for rosebushes or fall decorations to eat! If you see a horse straddling the fence, by all means let us know, but don't think we don't care about our animals when we don't get too worked up. It's just Dixie, she's fine and we'll have her back where she needs to be in no time. And before too long, the snow will be covering everything, so nothing will look greener, even the grass on the other side of the fence!
Posted by Emily
@ 02:13 PM EDT
We all know animals can't talk, so part of being a responsible owner is to pay attention to your animal's behavior, whether it is a pet cat or a 2,000 lb cow. A change in behavior usually means something, and is often the first best chance to catch an illness before it becomes too late. Even given the wide variety of critters that call Pleasant Valley home, I know each one and most even have a name they will answer to.
Yesterday was cold, wet and miserable when we began to butcher chickens. The indoor/outdoor thermometer is having some issues...I was pretty chilled, but the display of -11 seemed a bit much. It was drizzling and in the lower 40's though. As I was helping prep before the actual butchering got started, I noticed our big male goat, LLP Warlord's Dream, wasn't with the other goats but was laying by the fence, in the corner behind my flowerbed and next to our smokehouse. This rain and wet weather is hard on goat's feet, and they do get sore sometimes, so my first thought was to make sure his feet were examined and medicated if necessary. Later, it had cleared up a bit and he was out grazing by the pond. Towards the end of the afternoon, it was raining as I started evening chores. I noticed he was again laying right up against the smokehouse, all by himself. This wasn't making any sense, as the rest of the goats were all down in the run-in portion of the barn. Goats hate to be wet and act like they're melting if it starts to rain- the entire herd will come to the barn at a run. Then I realized what had been wrong the whole time...he was stuck out in the pasture away from the barn and his herd! Goats are masters of escape and will find a place to squeeze through most fences if there is something they want on the other side. However, Warlord is really laid back and is frequently the only one on the correct side of the fence. So he must have followed the herd through a hole from one pasture to the next, but couldn't find his way back (goats seem incapable of ever going back the same way they went through). And to keep the cows were we want them, the gate to the barnyard was closed. Therefore, the driest place for him to hide from the rain was the overhang of the smokehouse roof. Unfortunately, the few inches of overhang was no where near big enough to keep a 350 lb goat anywhere near dry! Now that the behavior made sense, it was a simple fix to make him happy. I walked out into the pasture calling him. I call him Buddy because his registered name is too long and silly to be calling across the pasture. He looked at me for a bit and then walked over to see what the silly human was doing out in the rain. I kept calling for him and looking over my shoulder every few feet, and he started to follow, although he wasn't happy to be getting wet. As I got near the gate to the barnyard, it was like a light bulb went off...you could see he realized what I was trying to get him to do. By the time I had the gate unlatched, he was waiting right beside me. As I opened it, he happily trotted off to join his herd in the dry warm barn. I was happy too, as I didn't have a sick goat on my hands after all, just an unhappily wet one, which is much easier to fix!
Posted by Emily
@ 09:41 PM EDT
The official opening of the farm stand is set for Saturday, August 1st from 10 AM-2PM! We will then be open every Saturday through the fall during those hours. We are excited to see some of Pleasant Valley's returning customers and meet some new ones! We will still be carrying fresh, organic produce and a limited amount of chicken and pork. I'll be introducing my fresh organic herbs and some sauces, including the blueberry-basil vinegar I prepared over the weekend. I also want to thank my mom, who came to visit over the weekend. She gladly helped us clean out the stand. Since it has not been used by the public in 3 years, it was full of stuff and dust! Mom's organizational skills really did wonders putting it in order and we'll have it ready to go in no time now!
The goats' "maternity ward" is getting even busier. On Saturday, Caramel, Mocha's twin sister, delivered her own set of twins, bringing the total number of kids born up to 9. Another first time mom, Caramel is doing well so far taking care of her babies. She is still in a pen in the barn, but we hope to let her out soon. The smaller twin, a female, was pretty weak at birth, but seems to be hungry and growing, but we want to give her the best start so we'll wait until she is a bit more steady on her feet before turning them out with the other babies. As for the rest of the kids, they're growing like weeds! Even the little triplet, who we were so afraid wouldn't make it, is happily bouncing about the pasture. All the babies have discovered that it is fun to climb up on a pile of firewood stacked between two trees in the pasture...it is really amazing to watch them do this, knowing they are less than a week old when they are able to use it as a jungle gym! Mocha has craeted her own schedule when it comes to her kids. Unless we keep her locked up inside, she jumps the gate and trots out to join the rest of the goats in the larger pasture. I thought she missed her twin, Caramel, but even with Caramel in the small barn, Mocha still escapes out to the fields. However, in a few hours she hops back in and calls for her babies. The twins spend the time she's gone either playing or napping and don't really seem to mind. As long as everyone is happy and healthy, I'm willing to let her keep this up.
Posted by Emily
@ 08:09 AM EDT
Normally, spring is the time for babies. But we're entering our second baby season now! Early spring was full of chicks, goslings and lambs, but we were dissappointed in the goats, as only 2 gave birth, and the babies just weren't as healthy as we would have liked. The problem was our male goat. He was 6 months old when we bought him early last summer, and although a bit small he seemed to be from very good stock. Unfortunately, he just never grew, we suspected he may have had internal problems, possibly from worms before we got him. We replaced him with a beautiful, registered Boer buck named LLP Warlord's Dream. That was the very end of January, and as goats carry for 5 months, he was very busy as soon as we let him out with the ladies, because we had 2 births last night and some more getting very close!
Mama is an Alpine goat, we bought her last spring with a little Boer looking baby by her side. Most Boers are white with a red head, but Baby Lightning has a black face and white body. His new sister was born yesterday afternoon at chore time and looks just like him. We had noticed Mama and Mocha had spent the day in the goat house instead of going out to pasture, which was very unusual, as Mama is the leader of the herd. As her name implies, Mama is a great mother and had her little girl up and nursing in short time. I noticed Mocha, one of our twin Toggenburg does, was definately showing signs of labor too. This is her first time giving birth, and she just acted like she couldn't figure out what was going on. When we next checked on her, she had a little one on the ground, but wasn't licking it, although she was answering its cries. Then she dropped a second kid! She still just wasn't sure what to do. We let her go for a short while, but then had to put her in a pen with the babies. She wasn't letting them nurse, but after we held her still and put the babies under her, she calmed down a bit. Everyone made it safely throught the night so we're hopeful she'll take care of the twins, a boy and a girl, so we don't have to bottle feed them.
Posted by Emily
@ 08:32 AM EDT
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