Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Farm Journal: Barn Building, Pregnancy and Power Tools

Buffalo side of the new milk parlor under construction
The milk parlor in the new barn is coming along very well. Mike and his father, Russell, are putting in the struts, which will define the various compartments of the parlor. The walls will go up over the next week or so and it will make this area look very different, and, of course, finished to its purpose. Included in the design are chutes where the goats will go on their way to being milked—or when it's time for them to receive their injections, be shaved, and have their hooves trimmed.

New birthing stall for the goats
The men are also building the birthing stall in preparation for goat freshening, which is due to begin in mid-February. The new born kids will be brought into the Klein's new house for about a week to to receive special care.  They will be given colostrum within the first hours of their birth. They will also learn to walk--and leap--very soon after birth, and get stronger. Then they go back to the barn and into the kid pen, which separates them from the older goats who would otherwise dominate and pick on them at a time when they are too vulnerable to defend themselves. 

Ron and Suzanne’s new home was designed with a four-season room on the west side to accommodate the new kids.  The floors are tile for easy cleaning, and like the rest of the house, it is heated with a hydronic system.  This means that the water is heated in a boiler located in the firebox of their wood cook stove.

Russell (top) helps Mike pull up a panel for the milk parlor
The new barn is really an amazing feat of construction that Ron designed himself.  It is a “hoop barn” constructed with steel arches and covered in spun tension fabric made by SpanTech. The building was designed and the structure chosen because it maximized animal comfort and health.  First, the 50’ x 100’ structure has a huge air volume capacity that helps control moisture. Second, there is a four foot canopy and opening along the entire east side above the eight-foot wall that supports the arches.  Third, there are four 4-foot by 2-foot cupolas (vents) at the peak of the arch.   

Moist air and drafts are the worst thing for animals because they can cause serious respiratory disease.  In this new barn, as the warm air rises, it pulls in air from the canopy that runs up and along the inner surface of the fabric drawing air up and out of the building and through the vents.  All air circulation is high above the animals so there are no deadly drafts.  

Moisture and odors also rise with the moist warm air and are vented out of the barn.  The result is that the floors remain dry.   

Equipment barn (left) and animal barn (right) last October
Also, the fabric is a light white in color and lets in an incredible amount of light.  Studies indicate that animals prefer the type of light that is cast on a cloudy day—a softer light—which is what they have in this type of barn.  For an additional benefit, we do not have to turn on lights during the day, nor do we need to run exhaust fans in summer or winter to remove moisture and circulate air!

The barn's dryness also allows the animals to be cleaner, which translates not only into their being healthier for their own sake but for the sake of the dairy operation.  Unclean animals are more prone to disease and they can carry unwanted contamination into the dairy parlor.  Ammonia and other gases can harm the animals' lungs.  To check on the degree of odor in the barn, Ron actually has us squat down to smell the air at the level of the animals (a la Temple Grandin).  In the old barn—despite its good ventilation—sometimes our eyes would water because of the ammonia from the animals' wastes.  Knowing what the animals are exposed to is important and you appreciate your task all the more.  In the new barn, the air is fresh for all of us!

From a barn cleaning aspect, the dryness prevents poop-slush, which is not pleasant, especially if your boots leak. There is virtually no smell from the droppings or manure pack (see January 2, 2011 posting).  Several local farmers have commented on the absence of ammonia and other smells in this new barn.  

Geotextile cloth layed on the dry lot next to animal barn (Oct 2010)
Just outside the barn is the dry lot, which is yet another factor in the animals' health--and it is actually working.  The dry lot provides a place for the animals to get outside, stay dry and out of the horrible mud that collects.  To build the dry lot, an area 60’x100’ was excavated at about one foot deep.  Holes were drilled and fence posts were set.  Ten-foot posts were used on the buffalo side and placed at a depth of 5 feet in the ground and packed very tightly with sand.  

Geotextile cloth was then placed in the excavation.  This cloth is porous and used to make gravel driveways and roads—it holds the gravel from mixing with underlying clay and lets water through.  A 6” layer of washed small stone was added and a 6” layer of crushed concrete over that.  The crushed concrete got hard but is very porous.  When it rains, water seeps through the stone and crushed concrete and through the geotextile cloth.  The water then drains south along the hard clay and sheets over a wide grassy area.  The dry lot is sloped at 2-4 degrees to insure good drainage.  It is important for the health of the animals that they can keep dry, especially their hoofs, to avoid infections. 

Pregnant doelings warm up near the barn with Lil Man on far right
Because we did pen mating with Tiger this year (see October 3, 2010 posting), most of the goats are beginning to look pretty pregnant, including last year's kids, who will be a year old in January. So Tiger did a good job as our sire. So good, in fact, that there is a chance we can double the herd this year from the 18 does that we already have! Ron and Suzanne ultimately want a 40-goat herd.

Ron says once the doelings (those that have never been pregnant before) have been impregnated, their personalities change a bit. That will be an interesting thing to witness since I've known our yearlings from birth and have watched them grow into “goathood.” Mattie, a two-year-old doeling, already seems a little different now that she's pregnant for the first time.  She loves being petted and usually hangs around me a lot as she nudges me to pet her. Now, when I'm in the goat pen she still comes to see me, but it's a lot less.

This year it looks like two of the younger and smaller doelings may have been bred.  We only want the does to breed if they are at least 80 percent of their adult weight and size.  These younger does will need to be carefully watched for any problems. However, they are naturally “equipped” to have babies at this point in their lives. If they were out in the wild, they would probably be pregnant. 

One problem with pen mating is that the farmer doesn't have control over who is mated nor does he know the specific due date of a particular doe. The gestation time is approximately 150 days, the Lamancha does are just a few days longer.  Knowing the date of breeding allows us to watch a specific doe a bit more closely.  We will install a wireless camera in the barn to keep a constantly watch on the does.  KalCarbon Acres graciously let us use their camera last year—which made kidding time a lot easier.  In the past Ron and Suzanne would check the does every hour or so—day and night. 

Power Tool
Although I spent most of my time today cleaning up the water buffaloes' side of the barn, I also had an opportunity to use a new power tool, the battery-operated Dewalt Saws-All.  My job was to saw off metal protruding carriage bolts on the outer side of the goat pen dry lot fence. 

This fence was built from locally harvested wood.  On the goat side we have 4-inch square black locust posts (the strongest you can get) with 2"x6” ash planks attached to the posts with 3/8-inch carriage bolts.  Heavy wire stock panels are between the planks and the posts. On the buffalo side, the posts are 6-inch square with 2”x 8” ash planks.  The posts are eight feet apart.  

Ron showed me how to use  the Dewalt.  Actually, it felt like machine gun, especially since the battery "loads" like a clip.  The “kickback” took me by surprise and made my work awkward and wobbly.  I learned to slow down the saw and control it.  It took me a longer time to realize that “leaning” into the saw would cut the bolts smoother and faster.  Using the Dewalt gave me another testosterone rush experience (see September 5, 2010).

Ron says many times—“we use tools because the tools do the work.”  Of course, you have to know how to use the tool! 

I was also careful to pick up the metal pieces, put them into my jacket pocket immediately after I sawed them off, and then dispose of them later so the goats didn't get to them.  If they were to ingest these pieces, the heavy metal would stay in their rumen--not a healthy thing for them at all.  This condition is actually called “hardware disease.”  So the proverb, "an ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure," makes a lot of sense on the farm, not to mention the time and expense involved in correcting a bad mistake.

Momo and goats work the new feed bins in the dry lot
While I was working on the fence screws, the goats were in their pen watching me. It surprised me that they weren't afraid of the sound from the Dewalt but Ron and the crew frequently work near them and they are used to these sounds so they weren't spooked by them.  That is not the case when the snow slides off the roof of the barn, however.  Because of its slope, snow collects in colder weather and then slides off the roof in big pieces when it is warmer and sunnier.  The sound is a ripping sound on the spun tension fabric roof.  The buffs are cool with it but the goats are still shocked when they hear it so they jump and scamper a couple steps.  I did, too, when I first heard it. 

It was nice to be with the does, especially when they took a break from their feeding bins and "dropped by" me to sniff and request petting. At one point, I tried to pet Momo Tauro, the youngest guardian llama, but he does not like being touched, especially on the toosh with his back turned, so he spat at me. It was stupid of me to bug him and lucky for me that he missed.

The animals never cease to amaze me. Usually, when I first arrive at the farm, I go into the goat pen and say hello to each one. It's been almost two weeks since I last saw them and they seemed genuinely glad to see me. And, even though the water buffalo were way over on the other side of the barn, Ron noted that they recognized and responded to the sound of my voice, too.  Animals make such a difference in my day!

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