Sunday, January 2, 2011

Farm Journal: Frozen Pot Roasts and Kidding Preparations

Donna hurls a pot roast onto the pile
You really have to love farm work to subject yourself voluntarily to a cold, wintry day to chip out frozen water buffalo excrement from the ground and put it on a compost pile! Yet that is what Donna and I did today.

The buffs' dry lot was full of “pot roasts,” as we call them, that had accumulated over the past few days. (And with 11 buffs, it doesn't take long for that to happen!)

The pot roasts were quite stuck to the ground because water or urine or both got to them. So it took a lot of foot action on our pitchforks to loosen them. This was hard work but I must admit that we both got a certain pleasure when we uplifted the “big ones.”

We are both rather thorough when we clean but it turns out Donna was more fierce in carrying out our mission. She found that picking up the pot roasts and hurling them onto the compost pile was easier than scooping them up with the pitchfork. As we dropped the frozen waste onto the pile and it made a plunking sound that is similar to large rocks hitting against each other. Ron will later remove this pile with the tractor and spread it over the new garden we will develop in the spring.

Just as the barn needs regular cleaning, so too does the dry lot. This is especially critical in winter because the frozen turds can get caught in the buffs' hooves and that makes it hard for them to walk. Sometimes they cut their feet on them. So pot roast removal has three purposes: general cleaning, preventing hoof wounds, and collecting compost for the garden. This is important work and we feel very purposeful when we do it.

A couple days ago when it was “warmer,” the dirt on the lot got very muddy. The 1800-pound buffs walked on it and left their tracks. When the ground froze, it naturally became rutted, and left yet another hazard for these big animals. Donna and I could do nothing about the ground, however, what we learned from this experience is that it is probably easier to collect the pot roasts when the weather is warmer than when it is colder and they freeze. This is all part of adapting to a new farm and realizing how localized farming really is.

Speaking of buff manure, Ron is using a new method for cleaning the buffs' side of the barn. It's called a "manure pack." He collects the pot roasts and stores them in the center of the buffs' area until they can be spread at a later time.  He also puts down a four-inch layer of fresh oat straw twice a day.  The straw absorbs urine and is very quickly packed down.  The buffs also help mash it down when they walk or lay on it.  At a later date after he purchases a skidder (it scraps the floor of waste), he will take the compost and spread it onto the garden. Meanwhile, the stuff “cooks” in the barn at about 110 F degrees, which also helps keep the buffs warm during these cold winter months.

Gene Lodgson has just published a book  entitled Holy Shit, which describes the benefits of a manure pack.  It is interesting that the barns at Windshadow were designed to maximize ventilation across the surface of the hoop ceiling by pulling moisture out of the barn, so despite the presence of the manure pack, the barn does not smell and is surprisingly dry, which helps keep the animals healthy.

Jessica feeds Lilly, who is getting ready for her selenium/vitamin E injection.

While Donna and I worked on the pot roasts, Jessica helped Ron give the does their maternity clipping and injections of selenium/vitamin E.  The does are clipped around their back ends to make clean-up easier after they freshen.  Ron trims off just the long hair since it is still winter. If not trimmed, the hair becomes encrusted with afterbirth.  

Selenium/vitamin E  injections are given to avoid any possibility of selenium deficiency which causes "white muscle" disease in newborn kids.  Vitamin E metabolism is closely linked with selenium.  Michigan soils are deficient in selenium which is supplemented in feed and minerals, but may not be sufficient.  A deficiency can result in  a disruption of cell metabolism, especially muscle cells, which degenerate.  Skeletal and heart muscles become pale and unhealthy leading to tremors and death.  Goatkeepers are advised to supplement vitamin E and selenium.  Ron gives new born kids a boost using a prescribed vitamin/selenium gel at the time they are being fed colostrum.

Ron prepares the selenium/vitamin E injection.

Goats, both male and female, grow beards and Ron, who is a little sensitive about his girls having beards, shaves them off.

These are all preparations for the days when we will witness Tiger's mating prowess, which we estimate will be in February--after a five month gestation time. Because the goats were all pen mated (see October 2, 2010), we hope they are all pregnant (and that they mostly bear female kids). That will quickly increase the size of the herd from the 18 goats we now have.

Lilly gets a shave.

By the way, Tiger will soon “retire” from his duties at Windshadow Farm and Dairy and will return to KalCarbon Acres.  Leonidas was sold a month ago to a wonderful family at another farm. Both Leonidas and Tiger have sired some excellent does, however both  bucks are now closely related genetically to most of the does on the farm and should not be back bred due their close genetic linkage. 

Ron is now working with another breeder to bring  a magnificent Lamancha buck on to the farm to enhance the quality of the herd.  The basic goal of the breeding program is to produce more "dairy" like does.  The dairy does have large rumen capacity to maximize forage conversion, good stature on the milking stand, wide in a "rear" to allow for easy kidding, and well balanced and productive udders.  Latte Boy-Leonidas' twin brother will remain to be a companion to the new buck.


After we all worked out in the barn for about three hours, we took a lunch break in the Kleins' new house where a lovely wood-burning stove heated the room. Also, because the house is designed so the heat flows from the floor, we were also able to be comfortable in our stocking feet. Soo was on hand to talk with us, and it was especially nice to see her.

Tempest and Mikey prove that yes, there are buffalo in Bangor

Mikey is fearless in the goat pen.  Here he is with Ella.
Earlier in the day Mike, a neighbor and blueberry farmer, brought Jessica, who would stay and work with Ron and her sibs, Mikey, and Tempest. The two younger ones wanted their picture taken with the water buffaloes because kids at school don't believe that the buffs are really at the farm.

So here's lookin' at you, kids!
Goats like to kiss as much as humans, Tempest soon found out.

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