Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dealing with drought

Because more than half of the United States is currently in a drought, odds are good that the majority of people reading this are actually in that situation. I remember last year hearing about the people in Texas who were selling off their herds at rock bottom prices because they had no water, no pasture, no hay, and no grain.

And my heart was really breaking as I watched the Facebook feeds when the wildfires started and people were trying to evacuate farms. Even now I get choked up thinking about it and wondering what I would do if faced with a similar situation. And although it seemed like a remote possibility a year ago here, it seems more probable as days and weeks pass with no rain and our pastures now look like dried up deserts.

I certainly don't have all the answer and am hoping that some of you have suggestions for dealing with this situation. According to the Drought Monitor, things are going to get worse at least through October, which is only as far as they predict. This is what I've learned so far --
  • If you can, water your trees, especially the young ones, which don't have very deep roots yet. We've lost a two-year-old and two, one-year-old arborvitaes.
  • Section off a piece of pasture so your animals can't graze it, and water it -- if you can, of course. We're lucky to have a deep well, which hopefully won't run dry. I've been seeing quite a few trucks with water tanks on a trailer, so obviously not everyone is so lucky.
  • You've probably already started, but if not, buy hay now. If you are in a drought-stricken area, there may be no hay, so you'll have to look elsewhere or look for an alternative to dried hay, such as Chaffhaye, which is haylage.
  • If you are trying to keep a garden alive, you have to water a lot! A single can of water poured on a plant a couple of times a week isn't going to do it. They say a garden needs an inch of rain a week. Think about how long it has to rain for you to get an inch -- usually quite a few hours! 
  • Mulch your plants heavily (2-3 inches deep) so that the water you give them doesn't evaporate.
  • To conserve water, use soaker hoses or just water directly on the ground. Don't use a sprinkler because a lot of that water will evaporate, especially if you're having 100+ degree days.
If you have other suggestions -- including things that have or have not worked for you -- don't hesitate to share in the comment section! We're all in this together!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learning to milk a goat

This may seem like a post that is more suited to spring, and maybe it is, but I've been noticing a few people on various Internet lists in the last couple weeks who are trying to learn to milk a goat and not having a very easy time of it. And as you might expect, some get frustrated and start doing some things that turn out to actually make the situation worse.

Fighting with a goat or hitting a goat is a bad idea. They are very smart and never forget. You want them to associate the milk stand with happy times and positive images, so that they will be beating down the door to get into the milking parlor -- really. A goat that raises her own kids and misbehaves on the milk stand is simply expressing very strong mothering instincts. She feels that the milk is for her babies, so she is trying to stop you from taking it from them just as she would butt away another kid that tried to nurse off her.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the real answer is to start training your goat to the milk stand months before you plan to milk her. So, if you just brought home your first kids this spring and won't be milking until next year, keep reading! Back in the day when I didn't have 18 milkers and keep five doelings every year, we would put every goat on the milk stand every single time they got grain. They never received grain anywhere else. One mistake some people make is to only put them on the milk stand when they are going to do something unpleasant like vaccinate or trim hooves. So the goats associate it with negative experiences and want nothing to do with it after freshening.

Now that I don't have the time put every dry doe on the milk stand every day, I start putting them on the milk stand as early as possible after freshening. The sooner, the better -- measured in hours, not days or weeks. If you can get them up there within 12 hours, you are usually good. Some people say that you should let the doe lick birth fluid off your hands and she'll let you milk her, but I don't buy that because the bottom line is that if you're milking them from day one when their hormones are raging, they think that you milking them is just as normal as their kids nursing. If their kids are the only ones getting the milk, then they think that the kids are the only ones that should be getting it. And all those people who talk about the birth fluid thing also bottle raise kids. If you are bottle raising kids, the does tend to be completely mellow about being milked because they don't know any other way.

If a doe is raising her own kids, you are not necessarily going for volume when you milk her, although I've had goats that would produce more than their kids could consume, and as long as you're milking them twice a day, you're getting milk. I had a la mancha that would give a quart a day while nursing two kids without ever being separated. And if a goat has only a single, you really need to either be milking twice a day without separating or separating overnight and milking every morning, or you'll have a very wimpy milk supply because she will only produce enough for that one kid.

So, what do you do with a doe at two months with kids nursing who doesn't want you to milk her? The first thing I do is just put her on the milk stand and let her eat, and I'll put my hand on her udder. She'll start to kick at my hand, but I won't move it. I'll just leave it there until she stops kicking. Do that for a few days, and then start milking a little bit. She'll probably get mad when you do that, but just stay calm and put your hand on her udder until she calms down again. You haven't separated the kids, and you're not going for real milk here. This is training. The whole time I'm talking to her in that voice that you use with a baby that is upset, telling her that everything is going to be okay and that I understand this is new to her. But as they say, it's the tone of voice that's important, so if you can talk soothingly while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or the weather forecast, go for it.

If you have brought home a doe in milk that was just taken away from her kids this morning, however, you don't have time for this type of training because you need to milk that goat tonight! If you are just learning to milk, it can be helpful to have someone hold one of the hind legs because most goats cannot kick over the bucket if they only have three legs on the milk stand. (I say "most" because it is not impossible.) If you have one that lays down, you can have your helper hold up her back end, or you can put something very large under her chest. If you don't have a helper, you can hobble a goat. Instructions for using hobbles are here. We've only ever done this once, and it was with a la mancha that my daughter had sworn to "never milk again" after the doe exploded on the milk stand and sent half a gallon of milk into the daughter's lap. I suggest, however, that you stop using these strong-arm tactics as soon as possible because they're time-consuming and stressful for both you and the goat.

I completely understand the frustration of learning to milk when you have an uncooperative goat -- and ten years ago, I gave up on my second goat and quit milking her after only a week. But it's been years since we've had a doe that took longer than 3-4 days to settle down and let us milk her. So, I'm not sure if we've become that good at training them, or if we just culled all the lines that were not good at raising their kids and letting us milk them. It's probably a combination of the two. My ultimate goal is that all of my does will run into the milking parlor and jump on the milk stand, and I will be able to milk them without even closing the head gate on the stanchion.

And even though I "complain" about my goats beating down the milking parlor door -- some of them jump on the door while waiting their turn -- and fighting to get in ahead of the other goats, I really would not have it any other way. It means they trust me and don't mind being milked. I talk about my goats as my partners in cheese making, and that's really the way I feel about it. They're sharing their milk with me because they want to, not because I'm bigger and stronger and am taking it by force.

This post shared on the Homestead Barn Hop here!
This post also shared on the Simple Saturday blog hop!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Thrifty eating on the road

A couple weeks ago, Mike and I attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, and we got a room at the Candlewood Suites. (No, they did not pay me to write this!) Pretty much every chain of hotels has a suite line, which is not terribly fancy, but they include kitchens, so you can save on your travel expenses by doing some cooking rather than eating out.

Candlewood rooms have a full-sized refrigerator, two-burner stove, microwave oven, pots, pans, dishes, glasses, mugs, and silverware, as well as mixing bowls! They even had a grill outside on a very nice covered deck. We ate breakfast and dinner in our room, and we had lunch at the fairgrounds because it didn't make sense to drive back to the hotel to cook. We took one picnic-sized cooler with us, and it contained our homemade yogurt, homegrown eggs and hamburger meat, salad dressing, and other things that needed to stay cold.

Breakfasts on the first and third morning was yogurt and our homemade granola. On the second morning, we had scrambled eggs and flatbread, which is shown cooking in the photo. I mixed up the bread dough the night before, and we had garlic flatbread to go with our salad and spaghetti for dinner. The flatbread dough was stored in the refrigerator, and we used the last of it to make flatbread buns for our hamburgers, which we had for dinner on the second night, along with more salad. (Recipes for the granola and flatbread are in EcoThrifty, which will be published in September.)

It was incredibly easy and even fun to cook while we were staying at the hotel. My only complaint is that the dishwasher was insanely loud! The first night we started it when we went to bed, and that was a mistake. I had no idea just how important "sound insulation" can be in a dishwasher. I remember when we bought our last one, the manufacturer made a big deal out of it, and now I can see why. I guess it has been awhile since I owned a dishwasher without sound insulation. Anyway, after the first night, we made sure to turn on the dishwasher as we were leaving the room for the day.

Now I'm excited about trying other "suite" hotels, such as TownePlace and Homewood Suites. What are some of your strategies for saving money when traveling this summer?
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