Freedom and Fences

People are confused.

We put fences around our animals. No, they aren’t free to go wherever they choose. But, the animals are safe. They are taken care of and they have what they need.

Different animals need different types of fencing. The size and what is inside the fenced area may be a little different based on the animals kept inside. But the basics are the same.

Inside the fence has water, food and companionship of others. Inside the fence offers security and familiarity. Inside the fence has clear boundaries. An implied set of rules for all to follow that insures safety.

Fences also keep things out. Predators or sick animals that could infect the rest who are healthy.

Animals get out of the fence on occasion. Opportunity, curiosity or hormones are likely the cause. The animals are never reluctant to go back in, regardless of the reason for escape. They ultimately equate inside the fence to a place where needs are met and life is good.

Freedom requires a “fence”. Without boundaries, rules, the ability to obtain and meet basic needs and a way to keep predators out, we are not free.

Livestock Clicks

One recurring phenomenon I have noticed within every livestock circle, the people can be broken down into four different groups comparable to the clicks you might remember from high school. If you have ever purchased livestock or are considering it, you have or will likely experience more than one of each. I functionally realized these “groups” existed but it wasn’t until I was attempting to explain the hierarchy of the livestock world to a “newbie” that I was able to poetically characterize them as well as I am about to now. For this exercise, my descriptions are based on the world of dairy goats, specifically, but you can substitute meat goats, dairy, or beef cattle or hogs as the general characteristics still apply. They each have their place and purpose.

1. Old Schoolers: These folks are serious. And proud. The equivalent of the jocks or cool kids in high school, these livestock owners are long time breeders. May even be generational farm owners. You will see their farm or herd name on many goat pedigrees (registration papers) as they have a reputation and have sold many animals regionally and even nationwide. They show their animals. They participate in annual testing for conformation and milk production. They will scoff at “newbies” attempting to purchase animals for their looks (coat color pattern, eye color, polled (hornless) as opposed to the pedigree. You will find them ranting on FaceBook about how they breed quality dairy goats and udders and conformation is all that matters. Some of their for sale ads, which include professionally staged pics, will even go so far as to capitalize NO BLUE EYES, or NO MOON SPOTS when referring to a particular goat. As if these statements will react as a repellent to those not worthy of owning their goats. They are on the association board. More likely to believe in animal welfare vs. animal rights. They consider themselves advocates of the breed. All breedings are scheduled, planned and posted online. They use technical and proper terms and believe their animals to be superior. We bow to them. We envy them. Most likely to run for political office.

2. Up-and-Comers: The eager ones. May not own other livestock but have some farm or animal experience. The equivalent of the nerds, they are learning everything they can and desire to be taken seriously by the Old Schoolers. You will see them in every FaceBook group related to goats. They will do their own research before asking a question in a group that may discount them as a serious breeder. They compliment Old Schoolers on their goats and like every goat pic posted. If they secretly do want blue eyes or polled they will justify it by a need to diversify the herd or only talk about the pedigree as if the traits don’t matter. They cannot wait to get to their first show, complete their first appraisal, and purchase all the latest milking gadgets. The Old Schoolers love selling to them because it boosts their egos and this group will pay top dollar for their goats in their quest to be taken seriously. In the middle on animal welfare and animal rights. We root for them. Most likely to be an Instagram influencer.

3. The Pet Peeps: The fun ones. May not have other livestock as pets or for breeding. The equivalent of the hippies or artsy types, they love animals and treat them as pets or even human equivalents. They don’t care so much about pedigrees as they do the cuteness factor or may even rescue wayward or injured goats. May lean more toward animal rights over animal welfare. They take what they consider excellent care of their animals. May innocently or accidentally kill a goat or two because they look at them as a pet without understanding their unique needs and care. Will try at least once to potty train or make them a house goat. We appreciate them. Most likely to offer goat yoga classes.

4. Livestock Owners: The nonchalant ones. Equivalent to the rebels. They are long time farmers or have lived around livestock most of their lives. They use terms like “nanny” and “billy” as opposed to doe and buck. They roll their eyes at all the other three. Registrations and pedigrees don’t hold any weight. And they secretly laugh at the high dollar amounts the other three spend on and ask for their animals. Crossbreeding is just fine. They don’t do FaceBook. They are livestock, not pets. And it is all food at the end of the day, for God’s sake. We need them. Most likely to survive the apocalypse.

How NOT to Ship a Goat (Conclusion)

Continued from previous post…

The young man from the valet service and I rushed through the doors of the cargo building. He sat down with the carrier on his lap. The goat bleated. All six people working in the office looked around. “Is that a goat?” someone hollered from behind the Customer Service counter. People began filing over toward the crate. “Can we hold him?” one of the older men asked. “Sure.” I said as I approached a woman at the counter looking around me at the goat. The man proceeded to open the crate and remove the goat.

I explained to the woman at the counter that I had a reservation to ship the goat. She handed me a clip board with some paperwork. She left me standing there to head around the counter and out into the lobby area to pet the goat. The goat was loving all this new found attention.

As I completed the forms, the same woman approached me and proceeded to tell me how cute the goat was, but…there was a but. They would not be able to ship the goat because of the hay. It is combustible material. Apparently. This was absolutely not mentioned to me nor noted on the webpage! Ugh! She skimmed over the forms I had completed only to add another problem. I was missing a vet certificate. What???? She apologized for the website not having all the information but proceeded to tell me I would have to reschedule the flight.

Oh, NO! I looked at my watch, realizing I needed to get to the airport myself or I would miss my flight. I was sweating. What the hell am I going to do with this goat? I was 70 minutes from home and taking him with me obviously was not an option. Although I seriously considered it! As everyone oohed and awed over the goat, I was cursing under my breath and frantically trying to figure out what to do next.

I went to the woman and told her rescheduling was not an option and I needed help. The hay had to go, I needed water, food (it was a two hour flight and the hay WAS his food) and the vet certificate. Okay! I asked if they would watch the goat. I grabbed the poor valet guy and begged him to take me to my Jeep at Valet parking. I had my dog’s water bottle and a blanket in my Jeep. I could use the blanket for padding in the crate and the bottle for water. We left.

Now, I am really sweating as we pulled up to my Jeep in the garage. On the way I had texted the vet with a harried message about the certification. I called the Valet and asked them to unlock my Jeep. I grabbed the blanket and the bottle, jumped back in the poor guy’s car and we whipped around back to the cargo building.

I was on my hands and knees on the dirty tile of the lobby (in my nice non-farm clothes) digging hay out of the crate with a trash bag provided by the staff, stopping only to text with the vet providing details she needed for the certificate. I put the blanket in the crate. My cell phone dinged. The vet had emailed the certificate. I asked the woman for her email so I could forward it. We had 10 minutes to the check in deadline for the flight. While I completed the rest of the paperwork, one of the staff who had been holding the goat strapped the water bottle to the crate and had provisioned some animal crackers from the vending machine at my anxious behest. No hay- check. Food- check. Water- check. Certificate- check. 2 minutes to go.

The woman, too casually for my current mood, reviewed everything and inspected the crate. With no time left to spare she gave me the thumbs up and everyone clapped. They took a couple more pics with their cell phones as I kissed the goat on the head and placed him carefully into the crate. I watched briefly as the woman disappeared behind a secure door.

The poor Valet guy surely thinks I am nuts at this point. I looked at him with pure desperation and asked if he could please drop me at the airport for my flight. We scurried to his car. I thanked him profusely for his help and patience. He proceeded to share it was by far his best day on the job. We laughed. As we pulled up at the airport 5 minutes later, I reached in my wallet and pulled out my only cash and handed it to the guy. He tried to decline, but I sat it on his car seat and jumped out before he could object.

I made it to the gate for my flight with 10 minutes to spare in the boarding process. I smelled like goat. And as I settled in my seat for the two and half hour flight, I looked down to notice a few straggling pieces of hay on the front of my shirt. Classy.

How NOT to Ship a Goat (part 2)

Continued from last post…

I am a planner. I plan all of our vacations, keep things organized, do all our taxes and handle all business details. Details don’t scare me. Shipping a goat for the first time excited me! I coordinated the flight and times with the buyer and we purchased the ticket. I read, twice, the instructions on live cargo shipping on the airline website. I called customer service to verify the process. I was prepared. Simultaneously, I booked a flight two hours after the cargo flight at the same airport, believing it was plenty of time to drop of the goat, complete the paperwork and get to the gate for my flight. The best laid plans…

On the day of departure, I was up extra early. My entire day was timed out to the minute. I expeditiously completed my morning routine. All the hogs accounted for and where they are supposed to be- check. Open the barn doors and let the cat out to roam- check. Open up the chicken coop, allowing the chickens and rooster to range freely- check. Cows in pasture are happily grazing- check. Now, for the goats.

Before checking on them, I grabbed the plastic dog crate, placed it in the back of my Jeep and drove down to the goat barn. After enduring a few dozen goat hooves on me, checking their water and petting our LGD (livestock guardian dog), I carefully picked up the 12lb baby goat and headed out of the barn area. Placing him in the crate with some fresh hay, I secured the latch and closed the back door to the Jeep, leaving the glass partition up so he could get some fresh air. Back to the house to shower.

I had (of course) packed the night before, so after showering and putting on what we have come to refer to as “non farm” clothes, the goat and I headed out for our 70 minute long journey to the airport.

As I pulled into the Business Valet parking area, the valets were a bit taken aback as I exited the car with my purse, then proceeded to grab a suitcase and a rather large plastic animal crate with pieces of hay and a soft bleating noise exiting it as I attempted to gracefully maneuver all three items. A manager approached and called over one of the young men to assist me. I proceeded to ask him where I go to “check” in the goat for transport. He gave me a puzzled look, said he wasn’t sure, but offered the young man to accompany me to the gate. I accepted.

One key observation to note. It’s hard to get the right information until you ask the right questions.

Amidst suit clad business travelers trying not to stare, we climbed on the transfer bus and the two of us, the goat and my suitcase headed to the main airport terminal. After a few minutes in line, several odd glances and a few kids approaching for a peek in the crate, we reached the counter. Not one airport employee had said a thing. The woman at the check in counter asked “is that a goat?” rather loudly. More stares.

I was in the absolute wrong place. Apparently, there is a completely different area at the airport, only accessible by car where we had to take the little guy. This other area is for cargo and the goat was, in fact, cargo. How embarrassing. Plan B!

The young man, who was more than kind and accommodating, carried the goat back outside with me to wait for the bus. Panicking, because the goat had to check in soon and so did I, I called the Valet and asked them to get my Jeep. Realizing now that I was stressing, the young man said it would be faster to take his car. At this point, I am up for anything. The bus politely dropped us at his car. We put the goat in the back seat and he headed to the cargo buildings on the other side of the airport. I should be checking in for my flight in 30 minutes.

I was just starting to relax as we hurriedly headed into the cargo building…

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion!

How NOT to Ship a Goat

Do what I say, not what I do, or in my case, did. Wise words to live by when you a lot of what you are doing is being done out of necessity and likely for the first time.

As I mentioned before, almost everything we’ve done on the farm is a first. As new farmers, we were avid book readers, Google searchers, and YouTube junkies.

We literally binge watched five YouTube videos on how to fix a barbed wire fence. We ordered a tool we never knew existed, watched the videos again and when the tool arrived, we headed out to fix our fence. And it worked! You’d have thought we developed a cure for cancer the way we pranced around giving each other high fives!

Some tasks are a bit more complicated. Apparently. Take shipping a goat. Yes, it’s a thing. When you post (before FB got a stick up their backside about animal sales) on FaceBook groups, folks from all over can see them. On many occasions while “shopping” for goats myself, I would become overly excited about a particular goat only to realize it was located in Washington state- a bit far. Or so I originally thought.

Unbeknownst to me, shipping animals is a fairly common practice. I suppose I never considered the need or concept. There are livestock shippers or carriers providing their services in everything from mini vans to semi trailer sized livestock haulers. They have scheduled routes and will pick up and deliver your animal(s) for a nominal fee. We used such a service to receive three adult hogs we purchased from Texas to have them brought right to our pasture here in North Carolina. Amazing! And affordable, considering.

If you don’t love the idea of your precious cargo shacking up with a stranger and other unknown livestock for hours or days, they can fly! Yes, on an airplane.

The first time I had a buyer for one of our kids (baby goat) requesting air travel, I was flustered. But, if anyone can figure this out, I can. Right? I took to Google, FaceBook and YouTube to gather all the sorted details. Check flights, make a reservation, purchase ticket, pack up and drop off the goat. How easy!

So easy, I thought, I simultaneously planned a coinciding flight time for myself to head to Kansas to visit my family. Two birds! Great! Not so fast. Another great piece of advice is the devil is in the details!

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion…

In the Weeds

Weeds. What do you think of when you hear the word? Your lawn? Getting high? My husband uses the phrase “in the weeds” when someone is giving too much detail or is bogged down in something.

Weeds is one of those words that has a uniquely functional meaning on a farm. Here, weeds are anything our livestock won’t eat. The same plant you may curse on your lawn may be a delicacy to a goat, a cow or a hog.

Goats, contrary to many general depictions, are browsers. Browsers pick and choose the plants they like or feel (if there’s a variety) like eating. Yes, they will eat some grass, but they prefer many other crunchy delights. Poison ivy, kudzu (an invasive, coiling vine in the South), clover, dandelions and thistles are a few greens goats go ga ga over. Comically, the hay they require daily better not be too “weedy” or you will find more of it on the ground than in their mouths.

Unlike goats, cows are true grazers. They wrap their sandpaper swathed tongues around handfuls and handfuls of grass, consuming about 2% of their body’s weight each day. They strategically skip over weeds or other undesirables, but will clear the rest of a pasture area.

Hogs on pasture will eat grass, weeds, roots, acorns, you name it! Unlike cows and goats, a variety of pasture is typically not enough for growing or mature hogs. Scavengers by nature, hogs require supplemental feed. Regardless, hogs will spend most of their day foraging and sleeping.

Some forage and weeds can be toxic. If eaten in excess, some can even be fatal! Amazingly, animals will typically avoid toxic forage in instances where they have variety or plenty of other options. Regardless, it’s prudent to be aware of toxic plants and “weed” them out of your pastures.

Making the most of each pasture, the main source of feed, without degrading it, is an ongoing challenge for folks with livestock. Without getting too far “in the weeds” about rotational grazing and pasture maintenance, the key takeaway is having more than one type of livestock on a pasture can be beneficial for the animals and the land!

First Time for Everything

The farm has given us more “first times” than we can count to date. The title for this post caused me to begin humming the tune “Last Time for Everything” by Brad Paisley. Great song! So many truths. Before I begin fondling thoughts of our last time with everything, I want to ponder firsts. As most of us are sitting in our homes not knowing what the days ahead may bring, it seems like a happy place to travel to in our thoughts. Firsts.

How about the first time you met your significant other? Where were you? Do you remember your first words? What you were wearing? What were the events and circumstances in your life during that time? What other thoughts does recalling the memory bring to mind?

For those of you with children, what about the first time you learned you were pregnant or becoming a parent? The first time you saw your child’s face. Their first words. First steps.

Our lives are full of firsts. Some of them worthy of celebrating each year on the anniversary of their occurrence, some are subjects of journal or diary entries, while some are merely taken for granted and even difficult to recall. Think about some of the most memorable firsts in your life.

This is my first attempt at blogging. I have always enjoyed writing and well, talking if we are being honest. Be kind. Hopefully, it won’t be a first and last all at once!

At this moment, I am sitting, rather uncomfortably I just realized, at our dining room table. As I type our Goldendoodle, Zero, is under the table at my feet and our other dog, Royal, the crazy Cavapoo, is impatiently pawing at my leg in an attempt to get on my lap. Surrounded by windows, I just caught a glimpse of Tik, our tenacious black barn cat stealthily sneaking up on a bird innocently picking through our freshly cut grass. I am recalling the first time I set eyes on this farm.

Our process for finding a farm property had been arduous. I believe the final number was 55 properties we visited all with varying levels of enticing attributes. The day we first came to this farm we were actually visiting another property that was rather disappointing. The agent said she knew of a working farm not yet on the market and would take us by to meet the owner.

As we drove up the 1/4 of a mile rough gravel drive and peered out the windows, we were met with fenced pastures lining both sides of the drive. And goats. And sheep. Compared to all the other farms we visited, it was full of necessary infrastructure- well fenced pastures with water, outbuildings, 2 large greenhouses and a big pond. The house and overall property needed a lot of fixing. To me, it looked like work. To Steve, it looked like opportunity.

Opportunity prevailed! Looking out today across our yard and pastures, it looks completely different to me than I remember it did that first day. Alive, peaceful and inviting come to mind. We embraced this farm. Farm life. We’ve made it our own, chock full of memorable “first time” moments for the ages!