What does a goat need? What ever makes em’ happy and sets them free.
She does a mean Aguilera impersonation
Goats are notorious for being mischievous creatures and there reputation for other things has earned them some pretty awesome nicknames. Over the years of having goats it has been a great learning process in what goats really need. When I first started on my sustainable farming adventure I had heard about using goats to prune fruit trees. Well in my naive way I purchased some goats and bare root fruit trees and soon learned nothing good was going to come from that combination. You live and learn. The fruit trees are still alive, the goats have gotten smaller (I did not find a way to shrink animals but sold my first herd and bought a smaller breed) and the fences have gotten stronger.
They love to make sure the fence is sturdy
To back it up a bit I became interested in farming because I realized the impact of what consumption is like in a first world country and the large impact that we ripple out through our tiniest actions. One of the greatest things we consume is food no matter who we are. Trivial I know. But it is the little things we do the most that truly add up. Food adds up and whether you are rich or poor, it is what you consume that defines you. So I wanted to produce everything myself – milk, fruit, herbs, and basically everything I consumed.
A goat named Bucky, the friendliest goat around
Off the soapbox and back onto the subject of goats. Animals in general play an important role on a sustainable farm. They are workers, helpers and friends. Our goats are not milked and we would never eat them, they are our friends. We utilize our goats for weed control in the back area where we do not grow crops (50% of the farm is left untouched to enjoy the already beautiful landscape). They mow down the weeds and keep the trees pruned up which keeps us a little more fire safe. Goats are more similar to deer in eating habits than there ruminant friends like cows and pigs. They prefer to browse and eat the best first. Whatever is on the other side of the fence is always better and without a strong fence be prepared to piss off the neighbors or lose your crops. Its tough to rotate goats on a small piece of land since browse takes longer to grow back than grasses. You have to be creative. I’m still working to try and close the loop but for now they provide brushing, keeping the snakes at bay and some fun moments around the farm.
A small herd living free
A great resource for goat owners is the Fias Co Farm website. Everything you ever needed to know about keeping goats in a holistic fashion. Also check out an article on Pigs and Beer from ZERI.org (Zero Emissions Research Imitative) to see how animals are used in closed loop systems.
Son of Something farm has about 25 laying hens at the moment with some broody mothers siting on their clutches. We really enjoy letting the mothers raise their own and watching how they teach their young. Our flock has access to some nice real estate and enjoy roaming around near the creek. With Spring in full swing we are getting close to two dozen eggs a day.
We feed our birds Nature’s Best Organic feed and let them have free access to over an acre of riverfront property. In the fall they do cleanup work in the mixed orchard as well as pruning and foraging for fallen Goji berries. Thye also prep and till up beds for the following season.
The chicken coop has a rain barrel water collection system that I rigged up to always supply water and has an overflow that drains out to the Goji plants. I started with a fifty gallon barrel and created a stand in the coop (this keeps it out of the sun). Then I added a gutter and a drain pipe to flow into the barrel. In the barrel itself is a float ball vale that I scrapped from an old toilet and attached it to a milk crate. I fitted a hose onto the float ball valve and used the crate to hold the float ball valve at a certain height. This height was set to always have the float keep the barrel filled with five gallons. I added a rock to the middle of the crate so the float would not move or rise up when the rain water fills the barrel. So when it rains it fills the barrel full and the float ball valve does not need to work. During the summer when the rain disappears the float always maintains 5 gallons. I used PVC pipe (covered with foam) and chicken nipples ( I probably could have called them something different) to supply water to the chickens and ducks. They also have access to fresh water from the creek so the whole watering setup is a bit more than necessary but like one of my favorite shows (Arrested Development) “that way you have it“.
I added an automatic coop door a year ago and it was well worth the expense ($90). The hassle of always having to close the coop door can weigh on you especially with all the other farm chores. A nice setup after adding a little timer which I adjust every month or so for daylight changes.
I feed them manually every day and make sure to not have leftover feed in the feeders (don’t want to attract pests). Although the rest of the setup is automatic I find its good to stay in contact with the flock daily not only to collect eggs throughout the day but just to check on their well being. Its good to have fail-safe systems in place but even those need checking in on. I remember one time I came out to find a leaky 50 gallon drum just after a rain storm (a seal had worn out and water was gushing everywhere for who knows how long).
The plants are in the ground and the season is starting to feel warm already. I have grown Goji berries and they have done extremely well on my property so we planted 200 plants this season. If all goes well and with a little propagation I hope to double the number of plants going in the ground next year. The cuttings of these Goji plants came from Phoenix Tears Nursery of Utah. Check out this article on the history of these plants and where they were discovered.
I have also experimented with growing Goji from seeds and the plants are very vigorous but I have yet to see what fruit production is like. I currently inter plant these young seedling stock with lettuce so as to make the most of my propagation area.
Lettuce starts inter-planted with 1 year old Goji plants.
Well its been a few years in the making and finally the big leap into the unknown begins. 2016 has been a big year for putting in some mid term and long term perennials. Started out the year collecting scion wood from the local chapter of Rare Fruit Growers Association and also from my own stock of fruit trees that were planted a few years back when I first started working at Peaceful Valley. Ordered 100 root stocks and went with 50 apples and 50 pears. The foothills near Auburn was once considered a Pear belt until the blight came along. I focused on blight resistant root stock and multiple varieties of both apple and pear for an elongated harvest. This was my first attempt at grafting and I figured it to be a minimal investment when compared with how much bare root trees are (about $20 or so). Compared to $1 for the root stock and the scion wood being a matter of collecting for free makes for a great way to start an orchard or food forest for a minimal investment. So far the majority of grafts are taking but the one problem I did not account for was migratory birds and specifically the Canadian Goose. They nest near the river and during mating season they are all over the property and in our pond hanging out with our Peking ducks.
Along with the fruit trees I have planted artichokes (Imperial Star which was planted from seed – this variety produces in its first year unlike Green Globe) as a dynamic accumulator, mulch producer and food source. In alternating rows I have planted beds of strawberries as well as asparagus that will utilize two perennials that can occupy a close space and ripen at different times of the year.
Mini swales for the fruit trees, artichokes, strawberries and asparagus.