Part-time farming

We’re coming up on another holiday season, and it just occurred to me that I haven’t written a single post in almost a year.

I can explain.

It can pretty much be summed up with this – pretty terrible weather, combined with full-time off-farm jobs, combined with a commitment to spend less time working and more time with the kids has meant terrible communication on my end.  Thanks for bearing with me.

In spite of a tough farm year, we are okay.  Never have we been more thankful to have off-farm jobs than we have been this year.  If we had been relying solely on farm income … yikes ….

Here are a few of the challenges our farm has faced this year:

January and February brought bitterly cold temperatures – right at the same time our goats started kidding.  That means we spent most of our free time checking goats, breaking water, hauling hay, and warming up baby goats inside.

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I lost count around eight – the number of baby goats who were born during freezing temps that we had to bring inside to try to save.  This one is Belle.  Her story was one of the few successes we had.  You may remember her story from Instagram … after hours of working to revive her, her mama wouldn’t take her back.  However, we successfully paired her with another mama whose baby had died the night before.

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Anyway, kidding season was gut-wrenching.  It was hard work and emotionally exhausting.  We ended up with 26 healthy babies.  About 1/3 less than we should have.

In April we picked ourselves back up, shook off the winter losses, and got to work planting the garden.

In early May, this happened:

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I’m standing in the garden in this picture.  Yes, it’s covered with water.

Then in late May, this happened again ….

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This picture is of our front pasture.  The flood waters have nearly covered it.  During this flood, we evacuated half our goats and all of our hogs.  The garden also got it again.  The flood waters rose even higher the second time.

After the flood waters receded and things dried out a bit, we had to go into the garden and destroy all of the produce the flood waters had touched.  The garden rebounded for a bit, but didn’t come close to producing what it usually does.

This summer, instead of scrambling like crazy to catch back up after the floods, we just …. didn’t.  We went fishing more.  We took a vacation.  We drank a beer or two on the porch.  In short, we took some time to enjoy life.  There was still plenty of produce picking, processing and selling, but this summer, we didn’t let it run our lives.

This fall, we’re spending plenty of time doing what we want to do.

Playing with the puppy …

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Playing in the sand we bought for a patio project (that we haven’t gotten to yet)

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And enjoying the beauty of fall.

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There is lots of work to do around the farm.  But there always is.  For now, we’re happy in the knowledge that the pigs are happy …

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The goats are happy …

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And most importantly, the farm kids are happy.

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Raising Cashmere Goats

We have been growing and developing our herd of cashmere-producing goats for a number of years now.  When we bought our first four goats, we had no idea how much we would end up enjoying them.  We now have close to forty with more babies on the way.

And there is nothing cuter than a baby goat.  I mean, just LOOK ….

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Goats, we have learned, can be very smart, are highly sociable creatures, and are prone to get into mischief.  We have been investing in lots of good goat fencing on our farm, as they are gifted escape artists.

So what is a cashmere goat?  Rather than being a particular breed of goat, cashmere can be produced by any goat.  That’s right – dairy goats, meat goats, all goats can produce cashmere.

Our little heard of goats are Black Spanish goats.  We have been selectively breeding and increasing our herd to favor good cashmere producers.  We have some beautiful cashmere producers in our herd right now.

Goats actually have two types of fiber – guard hairs, which are coarse outer-hairs, and the downy undercoat, which is the cashmere.

You can see in these pictures from last spring, the black goats are sleek, shiny and mostly black.  (You can also see their tendency towards orneriness).

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This next picture is of our goats just recently.

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These are the same black goats from the summertime, but you can see the fuzzy grey cashmere sticking out from under their guard hair.

Goats begin to lose their cashmere during mid-late winter.  Shearing would mean taking off all the guard hair along with the cashmere, which means our poor little goats would freeze for the rest of the season.  Which leaves combing.

Yes, that’s right.  You have to COMB the cashmere from each goat.  Which might be why we have yet to do it in all the years we have had goats.

But a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the goats’ cashmere was beginning to come lose.  I had some time on my hands (usually unheard of!), so I thought I would give it a try.

After more than an hour of combing … and combing … and combing … this is what I had.

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One bag of cashmere fiber that weighed in at 0.6 ounces.  I have not done the math to figure out how much cashmere it takes to make a sweater, but I guarantee it is a lot more than a measly 1/2 ounce.  This is probably why cashmere is so expensive.  (Admittedly, I was probably pretty inefficient at harvesting the fiber and would get better with practice.  But still ….).

The one goat I have had my eyes on all winter is this one.  Shelly, the Cashmere Queen.  After my first try at harvesting cashmere, I coaxed her up onto the stanchion to work on her lovely fiber.  Only to find she was not ready for harvest.  *sigh*.  Maybe this weekend!

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Regardless of the fact that we still have yet to truly harvest cashmere (and in reality, may never harvest cashmere), we still love the goats, and have the benefit of their brush-clearing skills.  (I will post “before and after” pictures of our wooded areas soon.)

Minor Setback

Some might say spring had a minor setback this weekend. DSC_0285

We got a pile of snow at the farm. DSC_0266

The goats venturing out to say hi.  And yes, that monster with his head over the fence is our used-to-be-tiny Jack Jack puppy.  Hi Jack Jack!

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The bees are all snug in their hives, waiting out this winter storm DSC_0275

While there were plenty of things we would have liked to have been working on this weekend, it was kind of nice to have a slow, snowy weekend. And boy was it a pretty snow!

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The grapvines, all pruned and ready for the season, still sleeping beneath a layer of snow.  Old Koda trudging through the snow.

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But look!  Tomato seedlings all warm and toasty inside the house. So, see?  Spring is on it’s way. Just a minor setback.

Year in Review

I never have as much time as I would like to write about our farm.  I always have a running list in my mind of the things I WANT to write about.  Only a small percentage of those make it here.

So, as the year winds down, I thought I would go through some highlights from the year, as well as fill in some gaps.

Highlight #1

We had baby pigs on our farm for the first time!  DSC_0446

Speaking of pigs, here is our sow Ruby.  Have you ever seen such a big pig??  I mean, she’s almost as tall as our 5-year-old.  Good thing she is friendly.

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Highlight #2

We expanded our goat herd with Salvador Perez (or Salvy), our little grey buck, and three more little females.  Sadly, we lost our littlest goat this past weekend.  Not quite sure what happened, but Gage worked and worked to save that little goat.

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We are getting ready to comb cashmere for the first time next year.  Excited to send our cashmere fiber off to the fiber mill and get back some beautiful yarn!

Speaking of yarn, my “knitter’s block” seems to be ebbing and flowing this year.  I certainly haven’t knitted as much as in past years, but I was determined to make this little dress for Willa for her 1 year birthday.  Luckily, it is big enough, she will be able to wear it for awhile.  🙂

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P.S.  Thanks, Amy Shepherd for the awesome pictures!

Back to the goats, something that happened this summer is that we almost lost Petunia, our little red goat – and our friendliest goat.  Gage was out in Western Kansas helping with wheat harvest when Petunia was bitten on the face by a copperhead snake.

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You can see how swollen her face is here.  It’s a miracle she survived!

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Seems like the crises always happen when Gage isn’t around …  Murphy’s law, I suppose.

Highlight #3

We hosted three groups on our farm this summer:

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…a Farm Bureau Day Camp

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…a summer Science and Adventure Camp

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… and the Kansas Rural Center high tunnel workshop.  We really enjoyed having so many people out to our farm this past year, and hope to continue this in the future.

Highlight #4

In the midst of the summer craziness, I somehow forgot to mention that we got a new kitten.

This is Charlie.

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He is a total spaz, but we like him.  He has been known to alternately jump into fire pits, and jump into outdoor showers.  He may not be the brightest cat we have ever had, but he sure is entertaining.  🙂

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Charlie is weird and wonderful, and luckily likes little kids.

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Highlight #5

We significantly expanded our beekeeping operation this year.  We nearly doubled our number of hives, now being at around 21.  We have big plans for the bees next year, and hope to expand even more.

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Incidentally, this is what a REALLY BAD bee sting looks like.  And also why I haven’t yet gotten my nerve up to start beekeeping with Gage.

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Highlight #6

We had a BUMPER year with our vegetables and fruits!  We rarely ran out for our faithful customers at farmers market …

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And had plenty left over to can …

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… And eat fresh.  Pretty sure this baby girl was alone responsible for eating an entire bushel of apples in the month of September.

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Applesauce for the pantry!

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Lots of Caprese Pizza‘s this summer!

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This fall, I have been experimenting with our fresh carrots.  So far this Glazed Carrot recipe is my favorite.  I will post the recipe soon.

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I’ve tried, tried, TRIED to find a good use for all of the green tomatoes we had in November.  Made this delicious looking green tomato pie.

It was NOT delicious.

Experimenting this year with the low tunnel we got from the Kansas Rural Center.  So far, we have been enjoying carrots, spinach, lettuce, and hopefully soon – cabbage.

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It’s good to have help when digging carrots.  🙂

Highlight #7

We added the fuzzy little Jack Jack livestock guardian to our family!

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He is just the best.  We love Jack Jack and have faith he will turn out to be a great guardian for our goats (even though some may argue he might be “over-socialized”)

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The kids love Jack Jack.

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Jack Jack loves the kids.  Maybe a little too much.  He will NOT leave Willa alone.  It is pretty cute.  Even when he plants himself right in front of her so she falls over him.

 

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I think he has already quadrupled in size from when we brought him home less than two months ago.  Jack Jack, what did we ever do without you!

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It’s been a great year on our farm!  Looking forward to an even better one in 2015!

Circle of Life …

As much as I hate, hate, HATE it, the reality of life on a farm with lots of animals is that we frequently have to deal with death.

We lost our Dusty cat last week.  He was the first animal we added on our farm.  Or I guess technically he just “showed up,”  as if to say, “Here I am.  Let’s get this farm STARTED.”

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He appeared when we were just making plans to build – no buildings, no gardens, just lots of mud and weeds (okay, well, we still have that).

But then we had Dusty.

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Look at the scrawny little guy – more than 6 years ago.

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He was our “camper cat.”  For a cat, he was pretty good at unconditional love.

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Rest in peace, old friend.  We miss you already.