Tag Archives: Goats

Men who stare at goats

As many of you know, I’ve not been at Howling Duck Ranch for several months now. Living away from my home, the ranch, and all my animals has not been easy.  Consequently, I’ve been remiss with my regular posts. I have struggled with many things these past few months: from the lack of anything to write about (what do I have to say without my farm?), to the lack of desire to bore you with my life’s struggles. After all, that is not what brought you to this blog!

Suffice it to say, these past few months has been full of difficult decisions:  downsizing the ranch,  possibility selling the place, and finally, dissolving my  marriage.

Thankfully, I’ve had a friend living at Howling Duck Ranch. She’s been doing a wonderful job of taking care of the place and the animals, which has been a huge relief for me. She has, quite literally,  helped keep the wolves at bay! However, she can only stay until June and I’ve not yet found a suitable or affordable alternative for the Howling  Duck Ranch crew. Consequently, I’m faced with being realistic and that means disposing of some critters.

My farm sitter friend is helping with this task and has already given away many of my chickens. The goats however are not easy to find homes for. Moreover, I’m emotionally attached to them. I can’t quite part with them yet–they are my family.

However, I couldn’t avoid the facts forever. A couple of weeks ago, I had some time to get away so I planned a quick trip into the Valley to butcher some of the kids. Even a few less goats to feed at this stage would be helpful. I know this sounds contradictory to their status as family, but the boy kids always were destined to be food. Also, I convinced myself that rather than give them away and risk them being eaten by a grizzly bear or cougar, I’d end their lives myself–at least I know it will be done quickly.

While planning my trip, a blog follower sent an email requesting to visit Howling Duck Ranch and wondered did I do ‘farm stays’. Before leaving the ranch in January, I was planning to do just that. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to make that happen or what it would look like. Suddenly, before my eyes was an email request that had nestled in it an offer I couldn’t refuse: “If you ever need help with butchering goats, I’d be happy to help out.”

We exchanged a few more emails (one of which he confessed to having run a butcher shop!), and before I knew it I was planning my first ‘hands on farm stay’ experience at Howling Duck Ranch! Not only that, with someone who had a skilled set of hands. What I didn’t know at the time was just how many hands would be at my disposal that weekend.

The morning started out as planned, with me rounding up the kids:

Fetching the first kid of the morning.

Making the killing shot:

Not the funnest part of the job but a necessary one.

Prepping the carcass by hanging it in a tree, ready for skinning:

Waiting for another piece of rope to tie the second leg up by.

However, it wasn’t long before the men were involved. Before I left Smithers, I called Clarence to say I’d be in the valley (I’d never hear the end of it if he found out I’d been in town and not visited), and my friend Mike Wigle to see if he was interested in taking some photos (I encourage him to develop a farm photo portfolio every chance I get)! Both men agreed to come to the butchering day. But it was my farm stay visitor who was ‘first man in’.

Enter stage left. Jeff jumps in to help with the skinning process:

Jeff is the first man in on the scene and is laughing at how small and easy a goat is to butcher compared to the huge cattle beasts he's accustomed to working with.

Jordan came with Clarence and is soon eager to get his hands in on the process too:

Clarence's great grandson, Jordan casually approaches and offers to help.

There were some comments about the lack of edges on my knives followed by a request that I find a wet stone. As I dashed off in search of the stone, the men quietly moved in and without ceremony, took over the job:

At this stage, I'm enjoying watching men at work!

The three of them made light work of the butchering process and I was thrilled to have the help. It gave me some time to visit with my friend Colleen, who I’d not seen for months and had dropped in unannounced for a visit. Without the men at work, stopping to visit with Colleen was a luxury I would not have otherwise afforded:

No longer needed, I move away to go visit with my friend.

Eventually, even the dogs got in on the action:

Tui licks the saw and waits to be handed some tasty offal.

Colleen’s tiny pooch ‘Peanut’ gives a first rate effort as part of the ‘clean up’ crew:

Peanut eagerly eating some offal.

It is not long before the goat is in pieces:

Clarence and Jeff take over the process and cut the goat into recognizeable cuts of meat. Note: I love the look in Tui's eyes. She knows she's in for a treat as does the chicken!

Soon we’re ready for round two. At this stage, I barely have to lift a finger, let alone a goat:

Jeff is a quick study: this time, I don't even have to fetch the goat!

Although a fast and furious paced weekend, it was a wonderful visit home. Thanks to the men who stare at goats–my new friend Jeff, and my wonderful old stand-by’s Clarence, Jordan, and Mike–it was made all the more enjoyable. Thanks guys!


Filed under Butchering, Goats

Goat butchering day: a graphic photo documentary

Warning: This post contains graphic photos of the butchering process. Do not read any further unless you are genuinely interested in learning how to butcher animals.

Leading Sundown to her meeting with her maker.

Leading Sundown to her meeting with her maker.

Well, I had thought I would have to wait until hunting season was over in order to muster the courage to do in one of my goats; but after butchering the rest of my ‘Jenny Craig’ Cornish Crosses (25) and all of my turkeys (32) this week, I found I was in the mood to keep going. My friend Clarence called last night to see if I wanted to go for breakfast this morning, “A pick up and delivery,” he said, letting me know he would do the driving.  He took me for pancakes at the local diner, and over breakfast we talked about various things, the upcoming moose hunt being one. “You know, I saw a big bull moose on Wednesday on my way home from Williams Lake. He crossed the road in front of me right there at Louis Creek,” hands moving out in front of himself from left to right, “and he had your initials on his ear, my dear.”

While on the subject of meat, I asked him if he’d help me butcher one of my goats,”Why sure. Any time. When do you want to do it?” “Today, after breakfast.” He said he had a few things to attend to first but that he’d be back later in the afternoon. When he dropped me off he called out, “I’ll be back at 2pm to help you out, OK!”

When I asked him if he would mind helping, I imagined that he would do the actual killing part; after all, that was the part that I thought I would have the trouble with. However, when he arrived there was no discussion about whether or not I’d be doing the shooting. “OK my dear, place the bullet right here,” he gestured with his left finger-tip-less hand to her forehead. “You only need one cartridge to do it right and she’ll go down, just-like-that.”

I was surprised by my own matter-of-factness. After all, I’d named and tended to Sundown for nearly five years. But my only concern was that I shoot her well so she wouldn’t suffer–I certainly didn’t want to have to shoot her twice or, god forbid, a few times. She was pretty calm  as I led her to the ‘gallows tree’ but every now and then kicked against the rope that held her. I was a bit concerned that she would kick up a fuss just as I was about to shoot so I got in close, took aim quickly and fired. She went down instantly, “That’s it. It’s all over.” Before I really registered that I’d done it, Clarence was already slitting her throat and she was bleeding out.

We went to work on skinning her front side before hanging her from the tree so we could spill the entrails. He talked me through most of the work–I like that about Clarence: he doesn’t take over and do the job for you. Rather, as a good teacher and mentor he’s happy to watch over his apprentice and even endure a few mistakes. “Oh my, she is fat… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much fat on an animal I’ve butchered before!” he said, cutting through the beautiful white lard that was between her body and her skin. Indeed she was fat–too fat. I’d been feeding the nursing goats a lot more in order to keep their weight on, and the other goats were clearly taking advantage of the extra grains, hay and forage.

Once we had the goat butchered out, I sawed her in half and split her into two sides until she looked like two minuscule sides of beef. Clarence helped me rinse her off and bag her up, before he left. I then put her in the truck and drove her to the local butcher for hanging. On the way in to the store, I barely got a second look. On the way out, however, I stopped to talk to a friend then as I went to leave a stranger nodded politely at me. “After you,” he said gently motioning to the doorway, looking me up and down, “A bag of blood in your hand, and blood spatter on your pants… I’d hate to think what happened to the guy that cut you off!”

Step one: shoot the goat in the forehead. If you do not know how to do this, or do not have a good understanding of the animal’s anatomy, then get someone experienced to help you. This should be a clean kill so the animal does not suffer needlessly. Although this was my first time, I had Clarence watching over me as I did this. Also, I now have a lot of animal butchering experience and know exactly where to place the bullet.

Get close to the goat with the gun so you don't miss in the event she moves.

Get close to the goat with the gun so you don't miss in the event she moves.

Step two: slit throat being sure to cut through both jugular veins so it bleeds well and completely.

Be sure to slice through both jugular veins on either side of the windpipe to get a good bleed.

Be sure to slice through both jugular veins on either side of the windpipe to get a good bleed.

Step three: slit skin from ankle to anus on either back leg and then slit the skin up the belly to the neck. Begin to skin the goat separating the skin from the meat.

Make a cut through the skin from the ankle to the anus on both hind legs.

Make a cut through the skin from the ankle to the anus on both hind legs.

Carefully separate the skin from the animal leaving the meat with the carcass.

Carefully separate the skin from the animal leaving the meat with the carcass.

Step four: When the skin is off the front of the body, make two cuts in the ankle between the tendon and the bone with your knife. These holes are for slipping a rope through in order to hang the goat. Hang the goat high enough to continue working comfortably.

Cut hole between the tendon and bone of each hind leg then slip a rope through for hanging.

Cut hole between the tendon and bone of each hind leg then slip a rope through for hanging.

Rope threaded through legs for hanging.

Rope threaded through legs for hanging.

Step five: Finish skinning the goat completely and cut the head off the goat.

Once the skin is completely off the animal, you can sever the head away from the carcass.

Once the skin is completely off the animal, you can sever the head away from the carcass.

With a knife or meat saw, remove the head once you get the animal completely skinned.

With a knife or meat saw, remove the head once you get the animal completely skinned.

Step six: Cut the belly open carefully making sure not to cut the intestines. You want to just cut through the skin. When you get to the breast bone you will need a meat saw to finish cutting to the neck.

Carefully cut open the belly of the goat being diligent about not cutting any of the innards.

Carefully cut open the belly of the goat being diligent about not cutting any of the innards.

Step six: Begin to let some of the contents fall out of your way. Take the meat saw and cut through the pelvis. Grab a hold of the rectum with one hand and cut the anus away from the inside of the goat. Do not cut the intestine or rectum! Let the contents spill out of the cavity.

Open the belly up completely being careful not to let the innards begin to fall as the rectum will rip and spill fecal contents throughout the belly cavity.

Open the belly up completely being careful not to let the innards begin to fall as the rectum will rip and spill fecal contents throughout the belly cavity.

With a meat saw (or in my case my knife) cut through the breast bone right up to the neck.

With a meat saw (or in my case my knife) cut through the breast bone right up to the neck.

Cut through the pubic bone and around the anus so it can come free as you pull out the rectum along with the innards.

Cut through the pubic bone and around the anus so it can come free as you pull out the rectum along with the innards.

Step seven: Save the heart and liver. Cut the heart open and bleed it. Wash the liver and heart well and put in cold water until you can refrigerate them.

Cut open the heart and rinse the blood out of it.

Cut open the heart and rinse the blood out of it.

Step eight: Cut the esophagus and trachea away from the neck and throat area.

Esophagus and trachea removal.

Esophagus and trachea removal.

Goat carcass cut into two sides. We are not cutting off the extra fat before taking the meat to the butcher for hanging.

Goat carcass cut into two sides. We are not cutting off the extra fat before taking the meat to the butcher for hanging.

Step nine: With the meat saw, cut the carcass in half from tail to tip. You now have two sides of goat ready for hanging in a meat cooler. Wash them with clean water and hang for several days to cure.

As for how I’ll cook it? I’ll likely follow one of these tasty suggestions from Phelan of a Homesteading Neophyte!


Filed under Butchering, Educational, Food Security, How to..., personal food sovereignty

Goat milking machines: a review

So now that I have two nursing mothers, I’m on the hunt for a decent home dairy goat milking machine. I have been doing research for weeks now off and on, and even have our local librarian helping out with the research (thanks Linda!) into how to milk pygmy goats in particular. If you’ve never seen a pygmy goat teat, imagine milking into a shot glass and you’ll have the proportion about right!

When I’ve been given directions by people ‘in the know’ about milking there is always a whole hand involved, “It’s all in the forearm” they tell me. Of course, none of these theoretical lessons have been with my goats in situ and when I have said how big the teats are their faces have fallen, “Picture milking into a shot glass,” I say as I bring my two hands up and gesture with my index finger and thumb. They look somewhat disbelievingly at me and then they laugh, “Ah, so more a finger action then!”

That is the sum total of Shiraz's teat between my forefinger and thumb!

That is the sum total of Shiraz's teat between my forefinger and thumb!

My friend the librarian has confirmed my suspicions–that anyone who keeps pygmies for milking uses a machine. Trying to milk those little teats, even if successful, will be killer on the fingers. I already have some problems in my index finger thanks to too many years on the computer with a scrolling mouse.

I have found the following options for the home goat dairy:

Hamby Dairy Supply: 1 Goat NuPlus Style Milker (also comes with 2 goat option)

Model 14L stainless steel bucket. Small and lightweight. Holds 14 litres (3 1/2 gallon) weighs only 8 pounds empty

Features our Lightweight small quiet portable vacuum supply Includes a stainless steel overflow vacuum tank. Efficient Oil – less Electric Motor runs on 110 volt household current. Some assembly required.

Stainless Steel Goat Milking Bucket Assembly comes with stainless steel lid, 3.5 gallon stainless steel milking bucket, Goat Claws, Interpuls Long Life pulsator, adapter and all necessary tubes and hoses to milk one goat. 1 year warranty.

Our milking machines come with everything you need to milk and a cleaning kit that includes 30 day supply of Pfanzite powder dairy detergent and 3 dairy brushes Pfanzite dairy detergent and brushes Milk Check Teat Wipes Teat Dip, dip cup, strip cup and more.

Caprine Supply: System 1 Vacuum Source

Our improved System One vacuum source will now milk one or two goats at a time. It is lightweight, durable, and draws only 5.8 amps — small enough for household wiring. It has a powerful 1/2 hp motor, oil-less pump, and on-off switch, so you can keep it plugged in. Comes with wheels and handle. In stock and shippable. Our System One vacuum system can be used with any of our bucket assemblies: one goat, two goat, or poly.

Hoegger Goat Supply: Delux Milking System

This milking system will milk one goat. Our State of the Art electric milking system is first quality, field tested and proven with over 40 years of personal goat-milking experience built into the design. NOT a modified cow machine, but a true Goat Milking Machine with exclusive features not found in any other equipment. Hardly any more clean up than hand milking. Thanks to the belly-pail design NO MILK LINES TO CLEAN.

Parts Dept Supply

10″ Air Tires, 3/4HP or 1.5 HP 110V Motor, Conde Brand Vacuum Pump, Balance Tank/Moisture Trap, Glycerin Filled Gauge, Shipped Fully assembled, Oil Catching Muffler, Solid Brass Regulator Valve, Made in the USA

I have been looking for reviews of the options out there and found precious few. I did find one by Steve Shore. In this article he states:

I bought one from one of the supply houses that was “designed just for goats.”

Reading ‘between the lines’ I take Shore to be saying that the Hoegger unit was the one he sent back (they are the only suppliers to advertise ‘a true Goat Milking Machine’). He goes on to say why he was unimpressed with the product:

It was usable but the small milk bucket wasn’t quite big enough when used on my most productive doe, The foam from the milk would be sucked into the small vacuum tank and the milk bucket was so light that it tipped over easily. Then after using if for less that a month, the electric pulsator quit. I packed it up and sent it back.

It was the Hoegger unit that I was most attracted to simply because of the advertisment of ‘NO MILK LINES TO CLEAN’. After all, how much more perfect could the job of milking get if you don’t have to clean the milk lines?

However, after reading this review, I decided against that particular model and instead found myself concentrating on the similarities and differences between the Parts Dept,  Caprine Supply, and the Hamby Dairy Supply systems. Now all I had to do was decide between them. They had very similar specs and pricing, so that didn’t narrow the field much.

What I did find was that the Parts Dept (being true to its name) and Caprine Supply both required that the consumer make several decisions: what size bucket, which milk lines you wanted, and so on. While this might suit some people, I just wanted to click a button and have the machine show up at my place within a few weeks. I didn’t want to have to decide on the size of this or that. Though, the Parts Dept model did hold my attention for quite some time because it was almost exactly like the Hamby model and it was made in the USA, and I like to ‘shop local’ whenever possible!

The final decision came down to design. The Hamby model and the Parts Dept models both came on easy to move trolleys, but the Hamby model was sleek enough to fit the actual milking pale on the trolley whereas the Parts Dept model would leave you to lug the milk pale around.

In the end, the Hamby 1 Goat NuPlus Milker won my vote because:

  1. It is a New Zealand dairy design and I know Kiwis do dairy very well;
  2. I really like the all-in-one-unit complete with cart;
  3. It was the only machine that mentioned a warranty;
  4. and, well, I’m married to a Kiwi…

I will keep you posted as to how it looks when it gets here and how well it functions when I actually start using it!


Filed under Animal issues, Goats, Milk preservation techniques, milking goats, Product reviews

The kids have names

Fanny-Mae and Franky

With several good contenders for names, we finally decided upon Frankie and Fanny-Mae for Fatty-Fat’s two kids. While Fanny-Mae and Freddy-Mac cracked me up and Fred Astaire was clearly a contender in his black and white’s, Freddy just didn’t suit the little guy. Finally, although I was partial to Fatima for the girl goat, the suggestion of Fanny-Mae just fit her perfectly.

Meet Little Fanny-Mae.

Meet Little Fanny-Mae; my poster girl.

Meet Frankie.

Meet Frankie.

Help with names for Shiraz’s kids

As for Shiraz’s, we are hunting for names for her 3 boys that would be in keeping with hers. Some contenders are Sinbad, Soltan, and Surak. We are open to suggestions. The only stipulation is they have to start with S and have an Arabic flavour to them in sound or actual meaning. For example, Surak and Shiraz are both cities in Iraq.

Fanny-Mae and Frankie playing in the sun.

Fanny-Mae and Frankie playing in the sun.


Filed under Goats, Just for fun

Goat due dates

My thoughtful gal Fatty-Fat.

My thoughtful gal Fatty-Fat.

According to my original calculations, the goats are due to kid any day now. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to look up the actual number of days. I had a rough idea that their gestation period was 5 months, which puts them due any time after tomorrow which is five months to the day that I let the ram in with them. During my research into the topic, lo and behold, I found a ‘Goat Gestation Calculator‘ on the web. It is as simple as punching in the date of mating and it spits out the due date. As it happens, I was spot on with my own rough guess.

Of course, it also tells you that the does can kid anywhere between 145 days and 155 days. It also advises on the symptoms of the onset of kidding which for those of us who have only bred things that hatch, is very helpful. I’m hoping to catch them in the act of kidding and get some photos of the process. Apparently, for the first time pregnancies, they are only supposed to have one kid each. I’ll be surprised if that is the case with Fatty-Fat and Shiraz as they presently need ‘wide load’ pilot cars if they get out on the highway. They groan upon rising and can no longer reach those ‘hard to reach’ places to scratch themselves.

Now, I’m on my way out to check their ‘back ends’ for symptoms of the onset of labour!

Shiraz is udderly ready for kidding.

Shiraz is udderly ready for kidding.

Fatty-Fat can no longer scratch those hard to reach spots on her own.

Fatty-Fat can no longer scratch those hard to reach spots on her own.

She's quite happy to have a helping hand with her hard to reach itches.

She's quite happy to have a helping hand with her hard to reach itches.


Filed under Educational, Goats, Learning to Farm

The delicate art of cooperation

Malcolm in front of his house.

Malcolm in front of one of the goat houses, his is actually smaller than this one.

Each morning I tend to the chickens first. In order of priority, they take the number one spot: because they are the only bread winners on the farm to date, and in order to keep them happy, they need the light on in the morning and the tarpaulin cleared from their nesting boxes so the early birds can tend to their business.

Several months ago one of the chickens (Leona) stopped coming home at night, and instead roosted behind the big red barn on the goat fence and waited for me to pick her up and escort her back home. After a couple of days I began seeing two of them around the yard during the day, Leona and a caramel colored hen (Carmel) hanging out together like the best of friends. Apparently Carmel had decided to join the mutiny and from then on was found perched beside Leona on the goat fence each night.

Leona and Carmel, the original mutaneers.
Leona, the original mutineer in the foreground. I named her for her lion like coloring around her head and neck.

And so the routine continued for several weeks. Finally, I decided to put these two gal-pals (Leona and Carmel) in with the ducks in hopes they would adjust and make like chickens and put themselves to bed. The personal escort service wanted to shut up shop! I moved a new set of nesting boxes in with them so they would have a place to do business, freshened the bedding and hoped they would sign the new contract.

However, despite my best efforts at attracting them to the nesting boxes, nary an egg has been laid in the duck house. In fact there are now four chickens in with the ducks (two more decided they too wanted to live in what I am now calling Amazonia–because of the plethora of female critters uniting for some unspoken cause).

The dog discovered one of the nests in the big red barn, and has been happily taking her lunch out there on a daily basis. But one egg per day for four hens doesn’t add up–there had to be another clutch somewhere. I’ve searched the paddock to see if they’ve got a hidden clutch anywhere but have found nothing. That was, until two days ago.

For the past couple of weeks, when I let the goats out in the morning, they burst on to the scene like race horses out of the starting gate, hell bent for their sweet-feed. Malcolm, however, has been taking his sweet time at getting up in the morning and, because of this, I was worried about him: Did he have sore feet? Was he not well? Was he not warm enough at night? None of the questions explored seemed to be the reason for the slow emergence from his house in the morning and so I watched him more vigilantly than normal, but came up empty-handed–until two days ago.

The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night where he slept.
The eggs that Malcolm was tending to each night in his house.

I decided to change his bedding and found the answer to his less than quick morning roustings: he’d been sleeping around a vast clutch of hens eggs. There, inside his wee house was the hiding place of the rogue chickens. It seems they hatched a plan with Malcolm. He would keep their secret and take care not to break any eggs and maybe, they would one day come back and try to hatch them.

Apparently Malcolm agreed and took the job seriously. For many weeks now he has been carefully tending to the eggs each night and, despite his diminutive sized bachelor pad, he’s broken not a single egg. There were 16 eggs in the first clutch and it averages between 3-5 every other day now. Instead of the goose that lays the golden egg, I have goat! Now collecting eggs from Malcolm’s house has become part of my afternoon chores.

Yes, I have taken some eggs and put them in the nesting boxes in the duck house in hopes that the hens will take the hint–so far there are no takers!


Filed under Animal issues, Eggs, Funny stories, Goats, Uncategorized

Crouching farmer, soaring feed costs

This year, spring was late in arriving and I found myself rapidly running out of hay for my goats. Worried that my supply wouldn’t last until the farmers made more this season, I began phoning around to see if anyone had extra to sell. The answer was a resounding no from everyone. Some will wonder what the big deal is. Why not just go buy more? The fact is, when you live in a remote place there is no where you can go to buy more. Or if there is, it is 500 kms away and you simply cannot justify the cost.

Where's bre-e-a-a-ak-fast?

Where's br-e-e-a-a-k-fast?

The later than normal growth of the new crop had everyone concerned, and they were either hanging on to their own and worried like I was, or simply didn’t have any extra to sell. Down to my last two bales, I realized I would have to figure out how to supplement the goats feed somehow. But how? It occurred to me that I could let them have free range on the property, but that was a desperate measure. I just couldn’t stomach the potential loss in terms of fruit tree and berry fruit vine damage.

Finally, I thought, I’ll just have to take the browse to them. Armed with hand weed trimmers, I began hacking at the wilder areas of the property. I knew they liked the thimble-berry bushes, so I began there. Within days I had run out of fodder on the property and was soon making my way up and down the highway cutting the brush and carrying it back to the goats. A few passers by commented, ‘Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?’. Indeed there was. It would have been much easier if I could tether the goats and move them up and down the highway, letting them do the work of getting their own browse.

At some point it occurred to me that I should rent them out to the Ministry of Highways, Interior Roads. I would call them ‘Interior Goats.’ After all, they would probably do a much better job of keeping the sides of the roads cleared than Interior Roads possibly could. Not to mention, they would love their jobs and do it as if they were being paid to do it. Alas, this would never be. I couldn’t really see the government going for this and I couldn’t possibly tether them either, even if I wanted to. The fact is they would soon become cougar bait if I did.

Instead, brush cutting became part of the morning chores; a half hour or so donated to the Minister of Highways on behalf of my goats, I crouched down in the brush and chopped fodder. It was my volunteer duty to the province and the goats loved me for it. Each morning they would line up at the road-side edge of their paddock, watching diligently  as I worked. There was a chorus of preferences baa’d in my general direction, the likes of which I imagined went something like this: mo-o-o-ore h-o-o-o-rse ta-a-a-il, less dock, I w-a-a-a-a-nt bra-a-aa-mbles, how ab-o-u-t s-o-o-me lilies and a s-i-i-i-de of c-o-o-mphrey.

(Eventually, the new crop of hay was cut, baled, and we stacked it into our shed.)

I wondered why I hadn’t thought to do this before. It was after all, a ‘free’ supplemental feed. I tried turning this thinking on to the other areas of the farm. Who else could I supplement easily? The chickens and ducks free range so they  more or less feed already themselves, and when there are occasions that I can’t let them free range, I do use the chickweed to supply them with fresh greens. There really wasn’t anything else to be done.

Until the turkey crisis in July. Once again, out of feed but this time for the baby turkeys. It would be another two days until the feed would get in from Williams Lake and I was thus out of options. It’s moments like this that I like to quote Lord Rutherford, ‘We don’t have much money, so we’re going to have to think.’ Except I replace ‘money’ with  whatever the situation calls for; in this instance it was ‘feed’. The solution would have to be found on the farm or in the garden.

First day introducing turkeys to the weed greens (front left of photo--in pie plate).

First day introducing turkeys to the weed greens (front left of photo--in pie plate).

I went out to the garden and began pulling some carrots and potatoes for the turkeys. As I did this, I weeded those areas I was harvesting from and carried them over to the chicken coop. Then it struck me: why am I doing this extra work? Why not close this circle and feed the chickweed to the turkeys too? Of course baby chicks and turkeys cannot eat the weeds wholesale, especially if they are not rooted to something that they can pull against. To compensate for this, I decided to take the weeds into the house and put them through the food processor. It worked like a charm.

Blended weed greens for the baby turkeys.

Blended weed greens for the baby turkeys.

At first the turkeys were a bit skeptical, but once they caught on they enjoyed the greens. In fact, it wasn’t long before I began calling the turkey nursery, Pamplona. Taking the mixed greens in to them was like participating in the running of the bulls. As they scrambled to get to the front line and jockeyed for prime position relative to the plate as I was putting down for them, I was lucky not to get trampled in the stampede!

The weeds in my garden and the brush along the highway have become a resource for me that supplements the feed costs. A side benefit of giving the baby chicks the greens is that they grow really well and do not have as much ‘poopy bum’ as they do when raised solely on chick starter ration. This has to be much healthier for them.


Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Goats, Turkeys

Food Sovereignty Challenges

eggs, meat and to help turn the soil in the spring.
Chickens’ work is threefold: eggs, meat and to help turn the soil in the spring.


I’ve concluded that everything my garden must have three functions. For example, chickens are my gardening helpers and free range at every opportunity. They eat the bugs and add their manure like I’m paying them to do it. They also provide eggs and meat. Ducks provide eggs and meat, and slug patrol.

Helping with the beginning of fall clean-up in the garden.

Helping with the beginning of fall clean-up in the garden.

GOATS, another story:

Malcom X, the baby of the goat herd. He's the sweetest of them all.

Malcom X, the baby of my goat herd.

Goats here at Howling Duck Ranch are the ‘princesses’ of the farm. Basically, they don’t really pull their weight with respect to the permaculture principles. Thus far the goats help the fall clean up and clear undergrowth for our expansions; they clean their hay of seeds and then mix in their nitrogen. Primarily our goats are live lawn ornaments that provide great entertainment value: they are better than a crossword puzzle for keeping an alert mind. They will eat everything you don’t want them to and escape anything you try to keep them inside of. If you do spend time worrying about whether or not the goats are doing X, or Y, then that is exactly what they are probably doing!


Farming is always dependent on the weather. This year (2008) has been our second poor summer in a row, so our production is down. Despite re-plantings, lettuce and spinach refuse to grow, spinach comes up with two real leaves and then promptly goes to seed and don’t get me started on the beans’ complete and utter refusal to participate in the project!


In the valley we also have a serious predator problem: cougars, foxes, sparrowhawks, black and grizzly bears also share our property. Yes, grizzly bears can be a problem in a veggie garden, they love carrots and parsley! One invasion could destroy our herds or our garden. The neighbour has just lost his whole flock of chickens to a marauding dog. The dog actually broke a window to get in at the chickens. Then what? The bottom line says that all this effort is actually not worth it. Especially when the supermarket a kilometer away beckons seductively.


My bottom line, I’ve learned this year that there has to be laughter and lots of entertainment (enter the goats). It has to be fun for me to be out there dawn to dusk, good weather and bad, unpaid. With my hunting license I will be able to have food sovereignty and food security, if I want it. But my fantasy of supplying all our needs except for olive oil and coffee I see now is a fantasy. Even with my husband’s help throughout the summer, we cannot achieve food sovereignty. Therefore I’ve moved to food security: I trade with other farmers in the valley (we practice the hundred meter diet, usually!), the tapestry of our community is being woven tighter.  And we (me and my farm) have become part of the community.

I’m starting to feel secure now. And I know that if I had to, I could stretch myself to personal food sovereignty as well. At the moment though, I am glad I can still reach for the olive oil…


Filed under Politics of Food