This morning I’m working away at the kitchen counter while I have a sick kiddo home from pre-school. This is day two that he’s home, during my usually three-day work week. I’ll note that as a farmer, I’m truly never off duty, I still have to chores, check livestock and carve out time here and there for other projects outside of my Monday-Wednesday “8 to 5” work week. Don’t get me wrong. I am very glad I have the flexibility to take time off to be here for my kids when they aren’t feeling well. And, I do want to be here for him. But, that means I also had to cancel an onsite meeting I had with a meat processor and will likely sort of get to the rest of my tasks today (working on business marketing, a community outreach project, and of course the day-to-day work of the farm). That’s ok. It’s part of being a parent. But, if I’m really being honest as a one-woman shop, I admit it’s a little disheartening to feel like I’m losing traction on getting things done and moving the needle on my farm business.
Aside from my parent duties today (and, of course every day), part of the reason we’ve chosen to have daycare for our kids, is so I have designated time to focus on my business. It’s for a variety of motives: being present with my work and with my family, being safe around the farm, effective use of time in the office and on the farm, balance (or attempt!) between work and family time, and (also, an attempt) to prevent burn out in work and, even in our marriage. I know others who make it work and kudos to them! This is what fits for our family and farm. [Side note: Did you know that Bert on Sesame Street was just reading “50 Shades of Oatmeal” before he got interrupted by Ernie to make a movie? Ha ha. Got to love PBS Kids ]
I’ve written and talked about this balance of being a parent and farming before. And as others may also know, one of my favorite “hobbies” is to listen to podcasts for both fun and professional development. This morning seemed to be a nice fit for sharing several “good listens” in the world of podcasts as it relates to women in agriculture and leadership. Note these link to Apple podcasts since that's where I listen, but you should be able to find them on other podcast platforms.
Do you know of other relevant podcasts? I’d love to hear your recommendations! I know have a few more Female Farmer Project and Sharpen podcasts on related to this topic on my "listen list."
Nearly a week ago we hosted a pasture walk on our farm to share our grazing practices and how we raise our goats on pasture with fellow graziers and goat farmers. Thank you to River Country Graziers (including Kevin Mahalko for leading the discussion), Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association for coordinating the event. And, thank you to my State Senator Patty Schachtner and Representative Rob Stafsholt for attending as well.
As a grazier with four or so years of experience, I was able to share how we’ve gradually renovated our pastures, set up our fencing and water system, practice rotational grazing, and manage our goat herds in a pasture-based system. I’ve always enjoyed attending pasture walks to see how other farmers are grazing and managing their livestock. It was humbling as a newer grazier to be at a point where I could start to share what we’re doing on our farm with others. Personally, I also appreciated the discussion and tips other graziers offered during the walk as well. I was able to take a way a few ideas regarding some of my current “challenges” as it relates to conductivity, grounding and hotness of the electric fencing and rotation timing.
I’m looking forward to taking in a few other pasture walks this summer, including others that are local and of course, other small ruminant graziers.
Thank you to Danielle Endvick, communications director for Wisconsin Farmers Union, for taking and sharing the photos of our pasture walk.
Last week this time I was halfway home from a three-day road trip with a long-time friend from college. While we went by several large cities (Madison, Chicago and Indianapolis) and took in regional chain restaurant cuisine like Steak & Shake, Chick-fal-a and Cracker Barrel, it wasn’t the typical road trip. We drove to southern Indiana, just north of Louisville, to pick up two new breeding bucks for the farm.
Why did I drive 600+ miles just for new goats? I’ve been growing my herd of Boer-Kiko cross meat goats and am wanting to continue to build the herd’s genetics for thriving on a pasture/brush/forage-based diet. While meat goats are growing in popularity in Wisconsin, there are not as many herds that raised predominantly on pasture, nor are there many Kiko herds. The bucks, from McGuire Family Farms, have a lot of potential for continuing to growing our herd in the direction that I’ve been taking it: raising hearty meat goats on pasture. These bucks’ background includes coming from a herd that is
In comparison, these two new bucks are larger than our current crop of kids, born roughly about the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how my herd will continue to grow with these new genetics. I’ll plan to use these new bucklings to breed our yearling does that were born last spring.
With the addition of these bucks we will be retiring several of our current breeding bucks, both Boer and Boer-Kiko cross. If you might be interested in these bucks please contact me at email@example.com.
Lastly, I also want to thank Anna, Jr and Joan McGuire for their hospitality for also taking the time to show us around their farm, pastures and sharing their rotational grazing and goat management practices. You can learn more about their farm by visiting their website and following them on Facebook.
For our area farm friends/colleagues: We will be hosting a twilight pasture walk, Tuesday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m. Come learn how we use rotational grazing practices with our meat goats. The pasture walk is jointly hosted with the River Country RC&D, St. Croix County Farmers Union / Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association.
Please RSVP to at wisconsinfarmersunion.com/events or to Mary C. Anderson at 715-579-2206.
Come along for a quick pasture check. Throughout the summer I do pasture checks at least 2x a day on our three herds of goats. I'm checking for animal health (does everyone look ok), water tanks, mineral feeders and the plant height and trample in the paddock to know when to move the goats on to a new paddock.
Now that we’re into our second week of rotational grazing, I’ve take the time to get the Gator, my “grazing-mobile,” prepped for the season.
We rotate animals to new paddocks every 3-4 days. I like to have my go-to-supplies on hand so I’m not constantly running back to the barn or the shop for things, and then back again.
So, here’s what’s usually in my office-on-wheels:
This season I also spray painted some of the harder to find in the grass items blaze orange in the event I misplace something. I should be ready for just about anything when it comes to fence repair, waterline repair and working with my goats and guardian dogs.
To others in Wisconsin, Northwestern Wisconsin may seem like it’s home to a scattering of rural communities in farm country. But, for St. Croix County, were we live, that could be farther from the truth. Neighboring the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, St. Croix County’s population is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. According to the Department of Administration, the county is protected to grow 41 percent to 119,010 by 2040, making it fourth to first place Dane, followed by Brown and Kenosha Counties, which are home to the Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee metro areas, respectively (New Richmond News, 2014).
Increase in population in our area translates to sprawling communities of Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls, as well as increase in the number of people moving to the country on their own little piece of acreage. While this growth is good for the local economy, it also contributes to fewer of our residents having connections or understanding of agriculture and rural life. This divide presents both opportunities and challenges when it comes to working with our local decision makers, neighbors and fellow community members who live in our county’s larger communities.
This trend is part of the reason I attended the Wisconsin Farm Bureau IGNITE Conference, which focused on Policy, Issues, Advocacy, Governance and Organization, Building Farm Bureau and Communicating for Agriculture and Farm Bureau. This conference offered an opportunity to draw on resources and information, so I can continue to advocate for agriculture as a farmer, community leader and through Farm Bureau in my county. It's up to us in agriculture and rural communities to have conversations, do outreach efforts and tell our own farming story right in our own community.
In addition to hearing from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Sheila Hardsorf, I also attended sessions on agricultural education and outreach programs, political trends impacting the fall state and national elections, tips for working with local media and strategies to work with local issues in our communities.
Here’s an article from The Country Today, which highlights the conference, including a few of my own comments: Read the article here.
During snowy, cold weather like this our young stock are tucked away in the barn. Part of our herd stays outside and does quite well. During weather like this or cold snaps we feed extra hay, which helps keep them warm, bed down the pasture shelters and the goats naturally grow a thick winter coat. I often find that our goats that live outside year round are healthier than if they were in the barn. I didn’t stay out long since I came out to check the goats and bottle feed a few babies.
Note: Our goats and guardian dogs always have access to shelter, water and food. If it gets too cold or too much snow they'll be moved into one of our barns.
When someone asks if we have pets, I’ll talk about our high maintenance house cat and even mention our affectionate barn cats. But it’s usually a few minutes later I’ll remember to mention my two dogs, Moly and Ruby. I often call the dogs my two best employees, because that better describes them than pets.
Moly and Ruby are both Great Pyrenes, a breed that falls into a group of dogs labeled livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), also a type of “working dog,” similar in nature to police canines, service dogs or herding dogs. The dogs work best in pairs and live with our livestock 24/7. It’s fascinating to watch our dogs work together. The other day while I was checking the pasture, Ruby was laying with the goats on a patch of old hay from their winter feeder. Moly nowhere to be seen. I called for her and a few minutes later she barreled full speed over the pasture ridge. She had been patrolling the north pasture but came back at my call. This is typical LGD behavior, where one dog will stay with the herd, while the other patrols the rest of the pasture. If one dog senses a threat or a disruption, it will bark for the other dog to join them or return to the herd. Rather than attacking, the dogs provide protection in the form of keeping predators at bay. On our farm predators include other dogs, coyotes, bear, wolves, eagles, hawks and even unfamiliar people.
When we have visitors on the farm, I’ll give them a heads up about the dogs and mention that they don’t behave like other breeds of dogs. They won’t come running up to be pet, nor want much, or any attention from people. The dogs are most comfortable with livestock, and that’s due to the breed’s characteristics and the fact that they’ve lived with goats since birth. Both Moly and Ruby live with the goats 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t come in the house, we don’t take them on walks (except when we were doing some basic training) or take them on trips. In fact, I will schedule veterinarian farm calls for annual checkups to minimize stress on the dogs. The dogs are feed daily while we check the livestock and they always have access to shelter and water.
Aside from dogs, farms may choose to use other forms of livestock guardian animals, including llamas and donkeys. We’ve used a donkey in the past, but the particular one didn’t work out so he returned to my father-in-law’s farm. The dogs are more appealing for us since they do a better job protecting young livestock from areal predators.
The threat of predators killing livestock is very real, especially in northern Wisconsin. I know farmers who’ve lost calves and sheep to wolves and bear. On our farm we’ve taken measure to protect our goats with Moly and Ruby, our livestock guardian dogs, but also made a substantial investment in high quality woven wire fencing, which includes a strand of electric at the top to keep critters from climbing or jumping in and a strand of barbed wire at the bottom to deter digging under the fence. While we haven’t lost any animals, I know the likelihood of it happening is very possible
If you’re interested in learning more about guardian animals, here are some more resources:
This book review was featured in Midwest Organic and Sustainable Educational Services (MOSES) Organic Broadcaster newsletter, November/December 2017 issue. Farmers can subscribe to mosesorganic.org/sign-up/this newsletter for free at https://mosesorganic.org/sign-up/.
Goat farmer finds new book a welcome resource
By Leslie Svacina
When it comes to goats, there’s not much research, health care products, equipment, reference books, or even veterinarians who have basic knowledge about or are willing to work with goats. Goat producers usually put on their “goat glasses” and adapt sheep or other ruminant information to manage the health needs of their herd.
That’s why Gianaclis Caldwell’s new book, Holistic Goat Care, is such a welcome resource. The book is a comprehensive guide to raising healthy goats, and solving health issues that arise. It’s well suited for both the new and experienced goat keeper, and covers all types of goats. Topics include:
Caldwell presents the content in an easy-to-read manner that flows well, whether one reads the book in its entirety or uses it as a reference guide. Throughout the book, she blends her practical experience with goats with science-based information. Caldwell also takes a broad holistic approach to health care for goats.
While the goat resources that do exist touch on many of the same topics, most do not have the depth of this book, nor recognize holistic management practices.
Since there are few veterinarians in our area who are knowledgeable on goats, I’ve added a goat veterinary textbook to my stack of resources. While Holistic Goat Care doesn’t dive deep into veterinary medical speak, it is a great resource for goat producers. It is much easier to read than the veterinary textbook, and explains terminology and practices for those who may not have formal training or background in animal science. The book also includes a variety of supply lists, check lists, terminology, signs/symptoms, resource lists, photos, troubleshooting guides, A-Z list of disorders, and a glossary. Additionally, the value of the content is more reasonable—about $40 versus $100 or more for a textbook.
I especially liked the feed choice section, which includes information about pasture, grazing, browse, and forages. Other feeding options were covered, but since I practice rotational grazing, I really appreciated the information in this section.
I also liked the information on the role of minerals, vitamins and supplements, covered both in the feed choice and nutritional needs chapters. The book covers how minerals interact with each other, their impact on a goat’s development, signs of deficiencies, risks of an overabundance of minerals, and approaches to supplement for minerals.
The step-by-step instructions on how to do your own fecal float test to look at parasite loads are good, too. She includes a supply list and instructional photos. There isn’t any information on what certain parasite eggs look like. However, that information is easily accessible online or through a consult with your vet.
I never want to lose one of my goats, but I also recognize the importance of continuing to learn how to care for my livestock. Over the years, I’ve had our veterinarian out to the farm to do necropsies. While observing live animal behavior and symptoms can help us draw conclusions to why a goat may have an ailment, it doesn’t always tell us what is actually happening or why. Necropsies have helped answer these questions and as a result I’ve made some adjustments on feeding and management practices. It’s not always feasible to get a vet out to our farm or bring the animal into the clinic. This guide helps solve this challenge by providing clear instructions on doing a necropsy.
If you’re getting started with goats, the first part of the book includes a variety of information on goat behavior, fencing, feeding, animal handling tips, and so on.
While this book isn’t a substitution for veterinary care, it is a very comprehensive holistic health care reference that all goat farmers should consider having on their bookshelf.
Leslie Svacina owns Cylon Rolling Acres in Deer Park, Wis. She raises meat goats on pasture.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats and dairy buck kids all on pasture. We also harvest maple sap. Read more here.
Keep up Day-to-Day with the farm:
Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.