Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Not every body gets to stay. Goats. Gone.

One of the hard things I'm always saying about farming is that "not every body makes it, and not every body gets to stay." Losses are hard. Even if you do everything right you will still have unexplained, unexpected, and unpreventable losses. You feel each loss heavily because you are always wondering what you could have done to keep it from happening.

Goats. Gone. Packed them up in the car and away they went.

But that is nothing like the weight of the responsibility you feel when you decide that not every body gets to stay. Recently we decided that we need to thin the herd. It was a big step. We are now down to two goats - Debbie, the grand dam of the barnyard, and Nibbles.

I packed up Dahli, Daisy, and the two little ones and took them up to the livestock auction. Now all I can do is pace around and wait for that fat check to arrive and then count my big winnings from the sale.

You'll remember I took some freeloaders up to the auction last fall. It turned out really well and I didn't feel bad at all. But reducing our goat number so drastically was a huge decision. I was really wondering if it was the right one. Having a big pay off will help but there is no guarantee.

The problem we ran into was that out of all the does, Daisy was the only one that had babies this spring. We didn't breed Nibbles on purpose and Dahli and Debbie did not deliver. Do we need goat babies? Nope. But we need the milk and Dahli and Debbie were are biggest producers - a gallon a day each. But around here coffee is for closers....er... I mean... hay is for milkers and neither of them were contributing to the farm. They were just standing out there burning hay.

Daisy, for her part, did have babies this spring however she is...was... our worst milker. Not that she didn't behave on the stand - she just didn't produce a lot of milk. For all the effort and maintenance she literally did not pay off. I gave up even trying to milk her and let her babies have it all.

The other problem was that some of those goats were on my very last nerve. I have hated Dahli every single day of her life - but she milked like her mother so she stayed. I tolerated her ridiculous behavior. But my intolerance for her was growing. All winter she destroyed the turkey house and acted the fool.

Not being pregnant changed her behavior. She made a power play for Debbie's spot as the herd queen and became aggressive. She became more annoying than ever. My very last nerve frayed to the bitter end one morning when I went out to open their door - and she kicked it open into my face. I'm not sure if she did it on purpose but I can't walk around here all day with a big goose egg on my forehead.

So all of these factors came together and we decided we had enough.  I have never been a "goat lover" but was merely a "goat liker"...which descended into being a "goat tolerater".... which became "I'm not paying for them to stand out there uselessly and be destructive."

This decision was a long time coming. Mostly we had to look around and decide what was best for our farm. The problem with having livestock is that you have to manage it like a business - otherwise you will end up with a very expensive petting zoo. Everyone has to produce and "pay their way" or your farm will just become a big money pit. Checks and balances. Inputs and outputs.

One of the things that we were cautioned about when we got our goats was that we needed to have a plan for the kids. Our plan was always to sell them. The problem is that every baby goat is adorable...but then they grow up and they may not be so adorable. Plus there is the expense. It would be foolish for us to run this farm into financial ruin just because barnyard animals are cute. This only works if you have a balance. You literally cannot keep every body.

So you can either make some hard decisions about who has to go or you need to stop the inflow of new comers. Attrition is a strategy...but it has a very long tail. We just lost our oldest chicken, Henrietta. She was at least 10 years old. Goats can live at least that long and longer - there was no way we could wait for attrition to balance the expense of keeping them versus what they were, or in this case, were not contributing.

There at two types of folks who are reading this. Those who are nodding and saying, "Yep. Seems reasonable." And those who are bursting into tears saying, "But those poor little goatsy-woatsys! How could you be so cruel?!?"

Effective livestock management is not cruel. It is The Way of Things. Farming can be emotional but you can't make emotional decisions and expect to have a well run, successful farm. Not every body makes it and not every body gets to stay. And we are not going to jeopardize our financial security for too many goats (or chickens or ducks or what have you.).

But didn't we make a life long commitment to those goats? No. Part of farming is that livestock gets moved around to where they are truly needed and where they will most benefit. That is just part of the deal. Debbie came to us from a professional herd where she did not fit in. She was the problem child there but she was just what we needed. Think of livestock as chess pieces - they are all moved around for the greatest benefit for all.

Unlike our companion animals we see the barnyard crew as livestock. We are not as emotionally attached to our livestock as our dogs and cats. What is the difference? Value, benefit, contribution. We use these as our measuring stick for who gets to stay and who has to go.

Nicholas's value is immeasurable. You can't tell from this picture but he is an apex predator.

We also see a hierarchy among our animals.... food and not food. Apex predators and prey. I tell you the truth - I always root for the lion or the wolf and not the antelope or gazelle. I naturally lean toward predator animals so it is no surprise that we have a house full of wolves and tiny lions. You might not see Nicholas's value but I do.

We also had to factor in what was best for the goats. This summer has been nothing but rain and frankly our barnyard is a muddy soupy mess. So many feet were making it worse. Having fewer feet will make it easier to manage. Our hope is that they ended up auctioned off to a farm where they need more goats - unlike us who needed fewer goats.

Why didn't we just butcher them? Mostly because they are more valuable at the livestock auction then as food. Someone is going to get a terrific milker in Dahli. Daisy is the reason that folks love goats. The doeling had extraordinary coloring...and that little buckling? Um... pretty sure he is going to end up on someone's table but they will value that meal more than we will.

So why did we keep Debbie and Nibbles? They are our oldest goats, the best grazers, and the least annoying. They will be used primarily as grazers and we will evaluate our position as being goatless later this year.

But what about the milk? Well. That is a tricky one. We have not gotten our pigz yet so we do not have the need for as much milk as we normally do for the barnyard. We also have to factor in the need for our personal use. Without saying too much about the personal details of our lives...

*OFG takes out a carefully worded statement from the lawyers (the ducks).....*  "We have determined that Management, from time to time, needs to strategically evaluate various costs and benefits for....."

Oh for heavens sakes. Let's just say, why keep the goat when you get the milk for free? I say no more on this.....*OFG looks offstage where the attorneys are flapping their wings wildly and gesturing her to stay on script......* altho my attorneys would like to add that we are loosely affiliated with industry partners that put us in a unique position that satisfies most of our home dairy product needs.

So taken all together these are the reasons why we have decided to end our relationship with most of the goats.

How do I feel about this? I might have had a twinge of guilt while I was loading up the goats in the car. And I was in a bit of a shock when I saw the sad little betrayed faces as they were being sent down the shoot at the auction. But then later that night I went out for chores and Debbie and Nibbles were already quietly bedded down in the goathouse. The next morning they stood quietly and calmly by the door when I opened it. After even a few days Debbie has never looked better.

So, yep, I think we made the right decision.

Happy Monday everyone! Do you need to thin the herd? Are you managing our livestock or have you gotten in over your head? If you need to make some decisions in the best interest of your farm, just keep saying to yourself, "Not every body gets to stay." It is the way of things, friends.


Heavens Door Acres said...

I am toying with the same thing here...with our goats. We have Abby, she is 7 or 8....will NOT breed, and when she does, it must be to a small buck because she has "issues" in delivering. She is Obnoxious to every other goat on the farm, but a real "people goat" She needs to be someone else pet. Suzie, she breeds well, always gives twins, delivers all by herself ( usually in the middle of the night) however, she ALWAYS gets congested udders. But she gives a LOT of milk, once I get her settled in for milking. She gives way more milk than I can use...or need. NEITHER of them will graze. They will stand at the fence, in weeds belly high, and scream endlessly when I do NOT give them hay. I am getting older, and keeping up with those big girls hooves has become a challenge, and a task I detest. They fight me the whole time and I usually walk away in pain. So, they are going up for sale...SOON! I am sure as they leave...I will get a small twinge of regret..for a minute.

deb harvey said...

i bet debbie was being picked on or overcrowded in some way and is relieved that the bossy one is gone. i see the same thing with a couple of the cats trying to be top dog.

heavensdooracres, be sure to warn about the goat who needs a small buck. don't want her to die in agony.

David said...

If only management was as easy... but no... we have the EEOC NLRB and other agencies to make you keep the unproductive "goats".

I like you keep drumming this message. I can hear you say like the Sopranos's "It ain't personal Dahlia, it's business."

Anonymous said...

This is a concept that we are struggling to teach our teenage son. If it does not benefit us in some way, it becomes a food burden and must go. Either to the auction or to the freezer. He can't grasp why we won't let everything just stick around, and multiply!
We had yet another debate this very weekend. He tends to our rabbits. I want to be down to three rabbits. We are at ten right now. The idea of selling - or heaven forbid butchering - some upsets him no end. Even knowing that he will benefit financially from their sale has not helped sway him.
We kept our ducks much longer than planned because he begged us to. The only animals he happily says 'see ya' to are the pigs and the meaties.
While parting with any animal - no matter how mean/annoying/useless or stinky - is hard for me too, I understand the concept. just wish he could too.

Unknown said...

All makes sense. Doing just chickens I learned that too. Cute little chicks turn into hens, then lay, then don't. Time for more chicks. Some die younger, most don't, but life goes on...

lizzybaxter said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Same issues here. The cute boy goat babies will all get sold, because they turn into big stinky goats that do bad, stinky things to everyone in close proximity. And I have way, way too many ducks and we haven't been able to dig the pond yet so they just walk around making everything a big, soppy mess.

The chickens and guineas get thinned out pretty regularly-- ok, the guineas are somewhat useless unless you factor in their bug/tick/snake hunting. I know you can eat them but I haven't tried yet.

Just lost my best milker, Amy. She died over the weekend. Like you, I have a couple of uncooperative females that are only good for producing babies, but are terrible milkers. They're low riders, and to make matters worse, have nasty hairy bellies (I even took a razor and some shaving cream and had at it, to no avail).

You're not alone. I've had many nights where I ponder such things...

Vera said...

Well said, OFG, well said. We took the decision at the beginning of the year to stop being goat owners (for similar reasons to the ones you gave) but we put them into the freezer. It was a hard task to do, but we have no regrets.

You have put into words so well the need to have the right mindset when farming. Well done. As you say, if a farm is to work it can't be run as a petting zoo, with animals that don't give back in one way or another. But for most people will not understand this because they have become so far removed from where proper food comes from, and it is this type of person who sit in offices in cities, and spend their time passing judgements and laws on how farms should be run, and how life in the country should be lived.

Well done for being bold enough to speak out, ...... and I should think that having made the decision about not having goats is going to take a load off your shoulders. Vx

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