Winter Struggles on the Farm

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Winter brings a whole new set of challenges on the farm. The routine chores suddenly take an even more adventurous turn. No, I’m not talking about the difficulties of navigating the manure slip and slide that we call a pasture. I’m also not talking about lugging extra food and bedding out to the animals to help them  keep warm or even the frequent trips out to bust up the ice in the water troughs.  Those are all standard struggles around a farm in the winter.

I’m talking about the bigger and more important issues we wrestle with, such as just how many layers do we need to wear to stay warm but not cross over into ‘bundle bound’ where you can’t move those necessary appendages to do chores.  There’s a fine balance between warmth and mobility.

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Even Murphy bundles up when it gets cold.

 

Here’s my winter tips:

First, always try to sucker, err…. convince, your spouse, partner, friend or other gullible victim to do the chores for you. You’ll be surprised at how many will believe you when you tell them about the joys of doing chores in the crisp, winter wonderland will bring you closer to nature. At least, they’ll believe you the first time. Be warned, you usually won’t get a second run with these people.

Second, if you can’t sucker anyone into doing your chores, you’ll need to keep a set of clothes a size or two larger than you normally wear. This will be necessary to fit your layers of long underwear on under your regular clothes. Trust me trying to squeeze yourself into your regular clothes with several layers on under them is like trying to cram yourself into a sausage casing. It’s quite the workout, frustrating and really not a pretty picture. To be fair this great effort might be just slightly exacerbated  just a tad by over indulging during the holidays…..but nothing good can come from dwelling on the cause. Trust me, just buy some bigger clothes.

Lastly, once you are bundled up enough to stay warm outside, good planning is imperative. Truly…..*IMPERATIVE*. There are some “personal matters” that continue despite weather, how bundled up you are or how much effort it takes to get unbundled…… are you following me? Just remember that it takes much longer to waddle yourself to the house and unwrap all those layers, so be prepared for these delays or be prepared to face the consequences.

Those are my winter tips and just remember the better you are at tip #1 the less you have to worry about #2 and #3. You’re welcome and stay warm my fellow farmers!

Deep Litter Bedding

A couple of people have asked me about the deep litter method and so I thought I would put my thoughts on paper. I always hesitate to write these types of blogs because it just goes against what I believe. People have approached us about interning on the farm and my response is typically, “dude, seriously? I’m like the farming version of the adult that’s faking it until someone more adult-ish shows up.”

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Truly though, I have an issue with the ‘right way’ to do things. I believe that farming is like making chicken soup. Pick any two families and they will not  have the same recipe. Yes there are similar parts….like most will have chicken and some form of vegetables  in the recipe, but how they cook it and what else they add are really very different. Farming is a lot like that. It depends on your situation, your animals, your soil, your available funds and resources….it really just depends. So I hate to tell someone how to do things, I can only tell them what has worked (or not worked) for me. On that same thread,  I really find I have a problem taking advice from more experienced farmers who approach advice as if there is only one way to do things for the same reason.  of course there are always those that want to argue their point because it seems that some people just really have a difficult time with other’s opinions. With all that being said, I’ve also agreed to share my experiences on the farm with you guys. So with some trepidation, I’m sharing my deep litter experiences, keeping in mind that this is MY experience.

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We’ve used buckets as nesting boxes in this coop. They’re removable and easier to clean.

 

Our first couple of years on the farm I used the deep litter method for the goat barns. For those that aren’t familiar with the term deep litter, it simply means that you only rake and remove the heaviest of poop areas on a regular basis and then add more bedding over the less dirty, used bedding to make sure the animals have a dry, clean area. This goes on over the winter months with the ever growing, thick layers giving more insulation from the cold ground and the dirty bottom layer of  bedding are buried and beginning to break down in compost putting off some natural heat.

There are some definite advantages to this method. If you have limited manpower most of the year this allows your animals to have a clean bedding and a well insulated area with minimal work. Of course there is the once a year (or more) heavy duty cleaning where several feet of used bedding is removed from the barn, but this can usually be done in a day with the help of others. The idea of thicker insulation really appealed to me and made me feel better about our goats being in the drafty barn. Also when my husband was traveling a lot for work and having just moved to a new farm that needed a lot of work, the lack of weekly barn cleanings was also a huge plus in my book.

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With all the dust motes from the straw visible in this picture, it’s no surprise that air quality needs to be a concern in barn care.

 

The other side of the coin is that using the deep litter method works best with a smaller herd in a well ventilated structure. The ammonia emissions from animal waste can build up causing air pollution concerns and resulting health issues. We have one doe that has had a chronic cough and after much testing and work with our vet, we believe it’s allergies. However, I do have to wonder if the winter air quality in the barn is aggravating her lungs making her cough worse.  This year we’ve decided to switch over from the deep litter method to bi-weekly cleanings and see if her cough does better.  Yup, it’s going to be more work, but the herd has grown and the barn has not, so the bedding is building up quicker than previously and the air quality is poorer. We’ve added more vents and cut in a back door to help with the air movement, but we’re still going to try a more traditional method and see if it helps with her cough.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about going this route include the size of your herd, how good the drainage is in your barn, air movement in the barn and overall health of the herd to start. So in summary, yes the deep litter method worked for us. During a particularly difficult time the simplicity really saved my sanity while allowing my animals a warm and clean shelter. It was a great idea…….for a while. But like I said, times change, herd’s change and whether it’s the right method for you, just depends……

Ramblings from the farm

Vessie

After a very trying day on the farm Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were blessedly quiet and uneventful. Little did I know the animals were just resting up for Friday.

It started when I came home to a screaming goat. This automatically puts me on alert. My goats like to talk to me when I get home but they usually don’t yell. I changed clothes and rushed outside. Sure enough, Miss Vessie had once again caught her head in the fence. She’s one of my favorites so instead of my usual 3 strikes rule, I was letting it slide a bit. But alas no more. Its time to break out the bar of shame.

The first time she caught her horns in the fence it was daylight and I found her soon. It was a struggle to free her but after no small amount arguing, sweet talking and brute force in trying to manipulate a squirming goat into some strange yoga like position, I was able to free her. The next two incidents happened at night. What she was looking for outside the fence in the dead of the night is a mystery to me. Thankfully Hubs woke up to her yelling and went out to free her. Today was incident #4. On a positive note she’s getting better at letting me do goat yoga to free her horns. I guess we will have to put the bar across her horns to keep her from getting stuck again.

I finished the rest of the chores and even transplanted some kale to the year round garden, cut the latest batch of soap and washed eggs to take to town tomorrow. I was feeling quite proud of myself for getting so much done and was so busy patting myself on the back I barely noticed the leafy looking thing that was in the empty egg carton. I went to brush it aside, when it crawled onto my hand!!! HOLY BLAZES BATMAN it was a yellow jacket!! I’ll apologize now because I’m pretty sure my screams broke glassware at the other end of the continent. I did manage to squash him (all the while yelling, DIE, DIE, DIE! because he needed that verbal encouragement doncha know.) without getting stung which is always a plus.

As for the rest of the evening, well I had planned on getting myself cleaned up before Hubs flies home tonight. However, I forgot to take my allergy medicine this morning. If you’ve been following my Facebook posts you know that I discovered I’m allergic to this batch of hay and was having horrible reactions. I decided to start taking allergy meds and on Wednesday and Thursday feeding was totally uneventful. Of course on the day Hubs is coming back from a business trip, and when I wanted to look nice, is the day I forgot to my medicine. I’m really not sure I can rock a sultry, sexy look with swollen red eyes, large raised red welts all over my face and a nose that’s running like a faucet. I guess I’ll aim a bit lower and just try not to scare the poor guy. How’s that for an fancy and footloose Friday night?