Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: World Food Day and the Problem of Equity

Sharon October 19th, 2009

Yesterday was World Food Day, and the media dutifully paid a tiny bit of attention to the 1 billion plus people who suffer from chronic hunger.  All the usual problems were trotted out, including multiple quotations in many media from the Australian National Science Director Megan Clark’s observation that to feed a growing population, we will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than we have in all of human history. 

“That means in the working life of my children, more grain than ever produced since the Egyptians, more fish than eaten to date, more milk than from all the cows that have ever been milked on every frosty morning humankind has ever known.”

This is a brilliant quote, and stunningly evocative way of making clear how acute the problem is.  I hope that it does effectively bring home how large the question of our food security is - because I think most people in the developed world see food as largely trivial.  Even movements towards better food tend to work under the assumption that someone (farmers) will take care of providing better, safer food for us, if we simply “create demand.”  Thus we set ourselves up as baby birds, mouths wide open, waiting for someone to provide our needs. 

I would put the problem a little differently than Clark does, however.  Because while the quantities of food needed to sustain our population, even in the best case scenario, where we gradually bring that population down, are astounding, in some ways, that’s a secondary project - the primary one will be the pursuit of justice.

Aaron and I wrote _A Nation of Farmers_ to try and help end the baby-bird view of agriculture.  We argued that the days of agriculture as something we are not participants in, except perhaps as “consumers” are now over.  And one of the central questions we asked was whether we could in fact, feed a world of nine billion people.  The answer was a tentative yes -accepting that such a choice further degrades our ecology and can only exist in the context of a stabilizing population - that is, sooner or later we all starve to death if we don’t do something to continue and enable our demographic transition.

We presently grow enough food to feed 9 billion people.  That’s an astonishing realization for most people - that the world produces about double the number of calories we need.  That means that even if yields were stabilize, we could feed the coming population and gradually stabilize it (this is a large project obviously, and not my primary topic today, but we discuss it in ANOF), on just what we grow now.  The difficulty, of course, is that during the next 50 years, we are expecting radical reductions in our ability to grow food due toc climate change.  We can expect to see, for example, more than half of the 17% of the world’s irrigated land that provides 30% of the world’s grain harvest, taken out of production due the loss of water supplies.  For every 1 degree of temperature rise, rice yields fall by almost 15%.  Facing four degrees represents a disaster.  But it was more than just climate change that made us tentative about our ability to feed the world - it was the problem of justice. 

Our tentativeness wasn’t due to dependence on technological breakthroughs, or even fear of declining ability to do the work or make fertilizers in a depleted world.  Believe it or not, we don’t actually need any major technological breakthroughs to feed the world with minimal use of fossil fuels.  A lot of people assume that nitrogen fertilizers won’t have a substitute - but all those nitrogen fertilizers we’ve been using over the years are being recycled over and over, persistantly in human urine - we have all the high nitrogen fertilizer we will need, if we can tap it.  The same is true of rising prices for Potash and Phosphorus depletion - these problems have a solution - the fact that our bodies contain these minerals. Humanure, properly and safely composted at high temperatures, is a reasonably complete fertilizer.  Human and animal bones can continue to make up the difference.  We will have to return to a model of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and do so with careful attention to the prevention of disease, but it is viable.

Nor do we doubt that human labor can replace fossil fuels - or rather, it can replace them in the appropriate model.  What has been found in the former Soviet Union and Cuba and in other places where fossil fuels suddenly become scarce is that small scale, diversified agriculture can match or exceed outputs - that is, the total amount of food, fiber and fertility produced by a small, diversified farm is generally more per acre, even if the yield of a single crop is lower - ie, a small farm might produce less total corn, but more total calories.  It won’t be easy to break up our largest industrial farms, or to shift our diets towards a wider range of crops, to develop truly local food systems, and to teach millions of developed world residents that they no longer have the option of acting like baby birds, that they have to take a role in their food system, but it can be done. 

We are not organic purists (that is, we both practice organic agriculture, but aren’t dogmatic about saying all farms need to be perfectly organic), but we recognize that the future of agriculture is much lower input than at present - and thus it is important to recognize that organic agriculture has kept pace in both yield and output with Green Revolution agriculture - that is, if we were dependent on fossil fuels for agriculture, we should see that organic yields haven’t risen along with chemical yields, but we haven’t seen that at all.   More importantly, there are two values to low input agriculture - where organic food is more expensive in the rich world, because of the high cost of human labor in relationship to cheap fossil fuels, in the poor world, the case is the opposite - one study found that even if yields were lowered overall, organic agriculture would result in less hunger, simply because people could afford more food that way.  If we imagine a world where fossil fuel prices eventually rise out of range of many people, we can expect to see this transition occur in the rich world.

Perhaps more importantly for the larger question of whether we can feed the world, organic agriculture, with its close attention to soil, has shown to be more resilient in times of stress - with fewer and fewer “normal” years for growing, and with farmers all over the world facing wild gyrations in weather patterns, it is of the utmost importance to emphasize good soil management and crop resilience - and soil conscious, small scale, low input agriculture generally exceeds the results of conventional agriculture in years of drought or flooding or other weather event.  These weather events will be the norm, not the exception as time goes on.

Along with organic agriculture, we have a number of tools that can at least soften the blow of climate change on our agriculture - there’s work to be done on the world’s soils, it is possible to shift crops in drying areas towards more drought tolerant ones, and perennial and woody agriculture offer crop possibilities we haven’t fully explored.  Climate change will be an enormous wild-card challenge to our ability to feed ourselves, no doubt - but it isn’t necessarily climate change that creates the deepest doubts.

But if we can manage yields in face of depletion, and if we can adapt our agriculture to climate change, we still face the deep root question of equity - and it is here where our hopes for a world without profound and chronic hunger across the board falter - because last year, when we crossed the 1 billion mark in the world, hungry and added 100 million people to the list of the starving, we had record harvests.

Think about that.  Last year, we did, at least for one year, grow more food than we ever have in human history.  And hunger still rose and overflowed, and millions died - most of them children. 

Why did they die and starve?  They died because we didn’t care enough about justice.  The UN FAO attributed 40-60% of the rise in hunger to biofuel growth - when cars and people compete for food, the cars win.  The rich world found a way to use their food to keep their oil addiction going, and we as a people said “screw the hungry.”  There’s simply no other way to read this - we knew that biofuels drove food prices up for the poor, and we burned them anyway.

Why else?  High meat consumption of livestock fed on grains - the average poor person eats virtually no meat, the average rich one eats eight times as much grain, mostly in the form of meat.  We care about the hungry, at least in principle, but not enough to stop eating factory farmed, grain fed meat and other animal products.

Other reasons include the rich world’s failure to make good on its pledges to help out the world’s poor in the food crisis - we promised money and then we backed out, because we were busy giving money to Goldman Sachs, who obviously needed it more than starving children.   There’s also the globalization-induced movement of large portions of the world’s rural population to cities, where they are dependent on grain markets.

There are plenty of other factors - poor management in the countries themselves, political issues, bad agricultural practice, lack of investment in the kind of crop research that would help - a whole host of them. But the majority of the factors simply come down to this - we don’t care enough about justice to actually feed the people we’ve got now, so why do we think we’re going to care later, as it gets harder?

There’s a really good reason to take up the banner of justice here - and that is this - we’ve already proved that most of the richest and most important people in the world don’t mind seeing people go hungry as long as it doesn’t interfere with their accumulation of wealth.  Having established that, why on earth would any of us think that they’ll mind seeing *us* go hungry? 

Unless we grasp that equity is the central issue here, we will see a world where more and more of “us” and more and more of “them” are hungry, and where the lines between us and them are badly blurred.  The good news is that we could decide that we care more about “them” than we do about other things, and focus *now* on justice, and on equity - on making sure that the world’s food goes ’round.

The truth is that in some ways, we’ve got the tools to handle the basic crisis of production - they aren’t easy tools to enact.  It isn’t easy to shift from a society where all you have to do is be a consumer to one where you have to be a producer.  It isn’t easy to accept that your diet and way of life have no future, and you have to change them.  It isn’t easy to learn to eat new foods, or grow them yourself.  It isn’t easy to change whole practices and economies around.  But in some ways, these projects pale against the giant project of creating a greater degree of human justice.

In the coming 50 years, in my life and my children’s  a great number of unfair, unjust things are going to happen to both the world’s poor and world’s “on their way to becoming poor” - we will be forced to flee the coastlines and the dryest parts of the world.  We will struggle to live with much less energy and fewer resources.  We will face crises we’ve never seen before.  We will struggle to keep up food yields, and to feed our world.  And nearly all of us, wherever we live in the world, will feel unfairly used - because, after all, none of us meant this to happen, it isn’t fair.

And it isn’t.  None of us individually made our situation.  But the only hope of having a decent and humane future is this - that we ally with our fellows - next to us and around the world, that we the future poor and the present poor tie our sense of injustice to the project of creating greater equity - of ensuring that food goes first to the hungry, of sheltering those who are most vulnerable, and of mitigating suffering as our central project.  Justice, justice shall you pursue.  And all the days of your life.


Independence Days Update: Tracking the Weather

Sharon October 19th, 2009

Like everyone else in the middle and east of the country, we’ve had a cold week or so - days in the 40s, nights in the 20s - it is November come early.  But the temps are supposed to begin moderating today, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get a little October yet. 

When you grow food, weather fascinates you - it matters a lot.  One of the things I do is gently engage in weather prediction exercises with myself and my kids - we look at the clouds and the wind direction, the barometer and the rest of the indicators, and we consider - what do we expect to happen?  We aren’t good at doing it for more than a day or two ahead, but even that is helpful - we keep records of temperature and rainfall, to try and track what our climate is becoming. 

Busy week here - Asher’s birthday party is Sunday, and I’m leaving for Georgia next Tuesday, so much has to be done this week on both domestic and professional fronts.    We’re coordinating several things that week - my Mom is coming out to help Eric out with the boys when he’s teaching, then Eric and the boys are heading to NYC for Halloween with Grandma, I’m meeting them there on my way back from GA, and then I’m going back home by train to tend the goats (Btw, it is almost impossible to get a cab to drive out to my farm - anyone in Albany want to barter for a ride from the Albany/Ren train station to my place in Knox on the afternoon of Sunday, November 1? Email me at [email protected] if you want to!

I’m really hoping to get some more raised beds built this fall, but so far, no luck - I just haven’t had time, and I don’t anticipate it appearing next week, or the week after, in which I’m running an event at my synagogue, so I’m hoping that the fall weather holds out into November to give me time to do much needed infrastructure work before winter. 

The sheep are gone, and one of the big projects is to get the old, falling down wooden fencing taken down and the fields mowed - I’m going to frost seed them as well, to improve the pasture.  We also need to do a major barn clean and reorganization, as we shift over towards winter mode - the bunny set up needs to be put in order, and we need to clean out and organize better. 

I’m trying to decide when to butcher the turkeys - do to a hatchery problem, we got ours a month later than we wanted, and I don’t think they’ll be Thanksgiving sized by November.  Do I offer only smaller turkeys this year, or wait until December and hope that some people want a Christmas or Chanukah turkey?  Still deciding. 

Yesterday we all took a long walk in the woods, back to where the old orchard, going back to the days when this was a dairy farm, was.  I haven’t had time to do much rehab on the old trees, but I’d like to do better - the apples are small and wormy, but they still taste great - there are summer russets, a summer yellow and other wonderful things.  Add that to my giant list of to-do projects ;-) .

Ok, onwards:

Planted: Garlic, daffodils, potato onions

Harvested: beets, chard, kale, turnips, cabbage, brussels sprouts, burdock, comfrey, pineapple sage, pea shoots, fava beans, mustard greens, milk, eggs.

Preserved: Green tomato pickles, green tomato chutney, eggplant as baba ganoush, dehydrated sweet peppers, pickled hot peppers, made applesauce, dried herbs.

Waste Not: Fed a lot of garden scraps to the goats, picked up 8 bags of leaves from the roadside to mulch my garden, stopped rotating ice packs in the fridge and switched to the sun porch with coolers for emergency cooling if it ever actually really warms up ;-) .

Want Not: Picked up sweaters for Eric at Goodwill, bought bulk yeast and olive oil, repaired the flannel sheets that I had decided were beyond repair out of guilt ;-) .

Build community food systems: Began promoting Independence Days seriously, offered to give two local talks on preservation.

Eat the food - Revelling in the very last tomatoes, eggplant and sweet peppers - lots of grilled eggplant and pepper sandwiches with goat cheese or yogurt cheese, lots of baba ganoush, eggplant sate with peanut sauce, and marinated sweet red peppers.  Yum…gone all too soon.  Wondering if it would be cheating to try and get some tomatoes, eggplant and pepers in GA to take back with me and extend the season just a tiny bit longer?

So how about you?


Goat Girl, or, The Milking Life

Sharon October 18th, 2009

I’ve had many people email and tell me that my stories of cute little goats make them want to get them - but they aren’t sure they’d want to have to milk all the time, or don’t feel like they have a sense of what the requirements are like, so I thought I’d write about what it is like.

My life as a goat girl (in reality, Eric does slightly more milking than I do, so not all days involve me milking twice a day) begins around the time I get up, when I begin sterilizing the milking equipment.  I soak each implement - the quart sized glass mason jars we milk into, the milk strainer, the strip cup and the pint jar that holds the teat cleaning mixture, and the bowl I carry everything in in a solution if either iodine and water or bleach and water (just a very small amount of each), or you can purchase a special mixture to sterilize with.  A much more dilute version of the same solution is used as a teat wash and dip.  We keep the sterilizing mixture in a closed container and reuse it several times, so there’s not much to it - just rotating the various pieces through.

  Eli’s bus comes at 8:20 or so, and so I like to be out milking by 8am - the kids come out with us and play or help out, according to age and ability.  The goats have their routine completely down at this point - the first week or so, while they got settled, we had to allow more time, since they were jumpier and we were less competent, but now things go smoothly for the most part.

Brad Kessler’s superb new book _Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese_ includes a much longer version of this story, and one of the things he observes is that herding people can’t seem to shut up about their animals - their cattle or their sheep or their goats hold a lot of their attention. This is true of us as well - Carla Emery observes that when you milk an animal, you get into their emotional life - you are taking the place, in part or whole, of their baby. I’m not sure it is fully possible to milk by hand, every day, and not get bound up emotionally, as well as practically, with your animals.

Selene is the first one on the stanchion - she’s herd queen, and she knows it - no one would even consider pushing past her.  Selene and I have had a complex relationship.  She’s a troublemaker - if a fence can be jumped, she jumps it (these are little goats, fortunately, so 4′ fences will mostly keep them in, but Selene is challenging), if there’s a way to kick over the milk jar, she will.  She’s better behaved for Eric than for me, and I used to come back in the barn saying that when it came time to sell goats, Selene would be first in line.  Now she has plenty of wonderful qualities - she’s affectionate and sweet, but Selent used to drive me nuts.

But that was before she gave birth.  Selene gave birth huddled against me, and she clearly wanted me there - she was afraid, and wanted to be near her human.  As she delivered, she began to lick me all over, as though I were her kid - frantically, she licked my arms my hands, as though I were her baby, and she was through this process.  Ever since then, she’s treated me as though I were one of her own, rubbing against me and nickering her mother call to me when I come out.  All the tension has gone out of our relationship, and now I’m hers, and she’s mine, and I can’t imagine the farm without Selene.

We keep the goats in the barn at night because of the coyotes, so we let Selene out, and she leaps on the stanchion. Tekiah, her kid is hungry and gets a small amount of grain, and we milk Selene out.  First, I wash her teat with the sterile solution, to remove anything that might contaminate the milk.  The first two squirts are shot into a glass cup, so I can look at them to make sure there no signs of mastitis  or contamination.  All is well, so I continue, two handed, squirting into the jar.  The milk foams and the milk makes that milk noise as each spray hits the milk before it.

We have a tool called the Maggidans milker, which is rather like a breast-pump for goats - it makes milking a bit easier and faster - you still have to finish the process by hand, but we got it for me because I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and while two goats didn’t bother me, four were pushing it.  It is also useful because with it, with five minutes practice, almost anyone can milk well enough to be able to cover the goats for a few days while we’re out of town - it means that milking doesn’t require any special skill.  Milking manually is not hard, but it does take a little practice, and if you have arthritis, carpal or bursitis, a milker can be helpful.  

Selene, however, I never use the milker with - she’s a fast, easy milker, and in less than five minutes, I’ve emptied her out.  As a first freshener (after kidding the first time) she was an unimpressive milker, but she’s improved a lot this year, so I’m pleased.  Now it wasn’t always this way - when we first began milking, it took much longer, because we were slow and they were unpracticed too.  But once you get good at it, it is very simple.

Selene goes into the pen in the pasture, and out bounces Bast. Bast is a half-grown teenager, just about six months old.  She’s about 2/3 the size of the adult goats, and like any teenager, hasn’t decided yet whether she’s a grownup or a baby - she still plays with the kids, but she’ll be ready to be bred in a month and a half.  She’s still small enough, however to be able to climb out through the hay manger, slipping between its bars, so she can snabble grain from the other goats.  Isaiah is deputized to chase her off, after she’s had her rightful share of feed.

Maia is next - Maia is a beautiful goat, she looks just like a deer in miniature, dark brown, with a streak of darker brown along her spine, and a long, narrow body shape.  Selene is much less pretty - and much less perfect in her conformation, sort of your utility goat.  Maia, on the other hand, comes from great milking lines, and walks in beauty like the night.

She’s also an easy goat - she jumps up, eats her grain, gets milked and out again.  Her kidding was like that - we got up, there was a baby goat in the barn, she’d even cleaned up most of the mess.  She’s a remarkable producer, particularly on her far teat (goats have two teats like us) - we used to joke that half of each day’s milk came from Selene and Maia’s near teat, while the other half came from the far.  The only criticism I have of Maia is that she’s not that devoted a mother - don’t get me wrong, she’s fine, but she definitely feels that her baby will be fine while she goes off and browses for a while.  If Arava is calling, it is Selene, devoted Mom, who will come running to Maia’s baby and guide her back to the rest of the herd.

Both Tekiah and Arava were fathered by Wiggy, who is a goat of splendid conformation and good milking lines.  Part of the process of having goats is improving them - for Selene, better udder attachments and more capacity are part of the goal, along with a slightly more streamlined conformation.  With Maia, you’ve got a really great milking goat meeting really great milking lines, and you can already see that Arava is a promising kid.  Tekiah is more solid, like her Mom, although just as beautiful. The two babies leap and play together, climbing the woodpile or playing chase or investigating one of the cats.  They are about the same size as a full grown cat now, and they spend their days playing together and following the herd.

When we were just milking Maia and Selene, I could feed and water both goats and milk them both out in about 15 minutes - and that because Maia is a slow eater.   With four milkers and three young goats to tend, morning chores are up to about half an hour.  After Maia goes into the pasture, out comes Mina.

Just as I was once amibivalent about Selene, Eric struggles with Mina - she doesn’t like him much.  For me, Mina will hop on the stanchion no problem, and patiently wait while I milk her out.  For Eric, Mina, the color of cream with patches of yellow, might get on the stanchion, or she might not.  Mina, you see, is a wily old goat.

Her previous owners, my friends at Weathertop farm, used to call her “Mina the Milk Truck” - she’s a huge producer, and her genes have done a lot to improve their farm.  They sold her to use because they already had many of her daughters and granddaughters, but told us that if we wouldn’t take her, they’d keep her.  We wanted her and her lines - Bast is Mina’s granddaughter, so we got two of the Mina-line.  But perhaps because she’s older, and because she’s a thinker, Mina is a self-controlled goat, driven by her own desires.

That means that unlike all the other goats, a scoop of grain won’t necessarily lure her where you want her to go. In my hands, it generally will.  But she delights in making Eric crazy, refusing to get on the stanchion, or go into the barn at night.  And she’s fast - once we’re chasing her, it is all over.   And he’s the one coming in stomping his feet and saying “if it weren’t for the milk…”  But I don’t see us selling Mina the Milk Truck anytime soon - not until she’s done her magic on our herd. Plus, my kids adore her - she rubs against them and lets them stroke her ears.  She’s the uber-mama, with a taste for anything young - she adopted Bast when Bast left her Mom.  And we respect her smarts - the other goats can’t resist a treat, but Mina, Mina does what she wants.  You have to admire her self-restraint and intelligence, even when it is annoying.

The final goat out of the barn is alway Jesse - brown with white spots, and thick around the middle, she’s cute, but not all that elegant looking.  But she’s an astonishing producer for a first freshener, and just about the sweetest creature ever.  There’s never any problem with Jesse - she’s not pesky, she’s always last in line, but always ready to be scratched or come over and cuddle.  She’s the youngest of the adult goats, and from lines we also wanted to add to our farm.  She produced twins last year - including a male good enough to be as a buck (very, very few male kids are sold as bucks, most are wethered (neutered)), and the nicest doe kid our friends, who have had more than 50 babies born on their farm, had ever had. 

By the time all four goats are done, we have about a quart and a half from the morning milking (remember, Tekiah and Arava are still nursing, so Maia and Selene are producing substantially more than this).  The evening milking, which Selene and Maia don’t take part in (daytime milk is for their babies) will be about 2/3 quart, for a little over 2 quarts a day.  When we were milking Selene and Maia, both first fresheners (their first kidding, they produce less milk than they will in later kiddings), we were getting a bit over a quart a day.

For a family of six, a quart a day was just about enough to meet our needs for milk for drinking and cooking, but not enough to cover yogurt, cheese and other dairy needs.  A family where the adults drank milk (neither Eric nor I do, as a general rule, except for the occasional cup of cocoa) would need more, while one where little dairy is consumed (or with fewer people) would obviously need less.  A full sized dairy goat might give you a gallon a day.  A cow would give you five gallons a day.  While this offers many possibilities, for most families, this probably means some milk going to waste.  The good thing about small goats is that for their size, they give a lot of milk - but manageable amounts.

I bring the milk inside and filter it.  The milk is in two glass quart jars (we don’t have a milk pail), and gets filtered into a half-gallon glass jar.  Both the jar and the lid have been sterilized, and we use a very small, disposable milk filter that catches any loose hairs or other matter that might have fallen into the milk.  Once filtered, we don’t pasteurize it - we are very careful, however, to watch our goats for any sign of illness.  We believe that on a very small scale like this, raw milk is both safe and beneficial - we’ve found that Eli seems to have a happier digestion with raw milk, rather than pasteurized.  That said, however, had I been pregnant we would have pasteurized.

What does it taste like?  To me, it tastes exactly like rich milk - Nigerian dwarves have an extremely high butterfat content - much higher than any other goat.  So the milk is sweet and tastes rich, but there’s no goaty flavor to it at all.  When it begins to sour, it may have that goat-tang that one associates with goat cheeses, but fresh and chilled, it tastes like milk - very good milk.

Beyond the ordinary routine of milking, there’s not much to goat care.  Goats were the second animal (after the dog) to be domesticated, and their long history of being with people means that they really like being around us.  So a lot of what we do is simply spend time with them - we leave our goats loose to roam around the property (what we don’t want them to get at, we fence them out of), as long as we’re home.  You don’t have to do this, of course - they can be kept in penned areas quite easily, but the goats are happy to roam with the kids or with us.  So when Simon is out playing, they accompany him to the creek, and browse the trees there, and while I’m fixing the barn door, they are up eating goldenrod.  Without a person to accompany them, they stay mostly in the yard, or wander about eating down the willow forest in the back.  Browsers, who like deer prefer leaves and bark to pasture, they are useful at clearing out trees you don’t want - or, if you aren’t careful, things you do ;-) .

They won’t go deep into the woods by themselves, but they will follow you - I thought I was the only person taking goat walks until I read Kessler’s book, but I really enjoy taking the goats for walks.  They follow you happily, enjoying both the sense of safety they get from human beings, but also, I thnk, the companionship - they are social creatures, and they have a long history of socializing with us.  We try and make sure they get plenty of browse, and thus all the nutrients they need.

You don’t have to have woods - goats are very flexible creatures.  You can bring them all their feed and keep them in a small space, perhaps cutting roadside weeds and bringing them tree prunings.  Two does would fit very nicely in most surburban or even decent-sized urban backyards.  They will eat pasture if that’s what there is available.  But their preferred foods are a mix of things, and they prefer to reach up, rather than down, to get their feed.

We worm them once a week with an herbal wormer that we get from fiasco farms www.fiascofarms.com, and we also feed pumpkin seeds now and again to keep the worm load low.  We trim hoofs every month or so - it takes about 5 minutes a goat.  They have access to hay most of the time, but they prefer browse and eat it only to compensate.  They obviously need clean fresh water at all times, and goat minerals.  We also give them a little supplemental copper sulfate (goats have a high need for copper).   Other than kidding and breeding, that’s pretty much it. 

There are four parts of goat handling that you might find unpleasant.  First, of course, there’s manure.  To us, this stuff is gold, so we don’t mind it at all.  Goats are fairly tidy creatures, they poop little dry berries that is wonderful on the garden.  We clean the barn out every few weeks during the summer, and then in late fall and not again until spring, just adding plenty of dry bedding, so that the lower layers are composting and warming the barn. The smell is not unpleasant at all - merely earthy.  Buck goats do smell, but most small folk won’t keep a buck, they will have only does or does and wethers.  We take our goats to be bred, or borrow a buck - eventually we might get a buck, but we’re not there yet.

The next unpleasant bit is vaccinating - it is vastly cheaper to do this yourself and it really isn’t hard - most vaccinations are given subcutaneously (under the skin) and can be done while the goat is in the milking stanchion.  My goats don’t make much of a fuss, and I’ve never had trouble with it. Not everyone vaccinates, this is a ymmv thing, but we do.

Those are the tiny unpleasantnesses.  The next part is associated with kidding.  They are banding and disbudding. Banding or burdizzoing are methods of castration - unless your buck kid is amazingly perfect, you won’t want him to breed.  For nigerian dwarves, which people like as pets and lawn mowers, the males are salable - if they are neutered.  So you have to do it.  I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve seen banding done, and it is fairly quick, if not very pleasant for the kid.  Disbudding, which cauterizes the horns so that they don’t grow (yes, I know this is unnatural, but goats with horns are dangerous, and it isn’t to the animal’s benefit to end up at the sale barn or eaten because they accidentally hurt someone’s kid, or dead, because their horns got caught on the fence), is pretty unpleasant.  It lasts only about 30 seconds, but it isn’t much fun.

Finally, there’s the question of what to do with extra males.  You don’t have to breed every year to make milk - most goats will lactate for a couple of years without breeding, but you may want doe kids for sale or replacement, and you will find that the goats make more milk if they are bred annually.  Plus, babies are very appealing.  Doe kids can be sold or kept and are obviously useful.  But what about the boys?

The options are these - the thing about Nigerian dwarves, as mentioned above, is that people like them as pets.  Because goats are herd animals, a small family or single person who wants only one doe will need to get another goat to keep them company, and might want a wether, or someone who just wants goats to play with.  So far, my friends who have been doing this longer than I have never  found it difficult to sell a wethered male kid.  I’ve heard otherwise with larger breeds.  You can also use them as pack animals - the fact that they love to go walking with you can be used to your advantage.  In this case, larger goats might be better, but a couple of wethered nigerian boys are the perfect companion for a couple of kids off for an afternoon’s picnic.  Or you could eat them. 

This last is a hard option - we have both sheep and goats on our property, and the difference between them is striking.  When a strange person walks towards a sheep, the sheep mostly walk away.  When a strange person walks towards a goat, the goats come on over to check you out and see if you’d be fun to play with.  We butcher our own turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese and will butcher our lambs once we have them - and all of us accept that the sheep on our pasture will end up in our freezer.  The goats are a harder thing - they are just so personable it is hard to imagine eating one, even though I like goat meat.

At this point, as long as there is a market for male wethers, we probably won’t eat our goats.  Eventually, as times get harder, we probably will.  I’m not fully reconciled to this, however - but I suspect I’ll get more accustomed as time goes on. I do warn prospective goat keepers, though, that goats present a particularly difficult problem in this regard.

They eat some grain each day - about 2 cups per goat per milking.  We’ve experimented with cutting this back, and find that we can cut it back a little in the summer, but that for optimal milk production, they do need it.  A bale of hay with two goats lasted us about 10 days to two weeks, depending on the season. With 7, it lasts 3.  My estimate of annual upkeep costs, absent the cost of the goats themselves, is about $150.00 for two milking does - more like $300 for my four plus kids.  A gallon of locally produced organic cow’s milk was $6.00.  With two first freshener does producing a bit over 2 gallons a week, we made back our investment in 12 weeks, and the rest of the year’s milk was effectively free.  The numbers will be different for you, of course, depending on the cost of hay and grain, etc…

We paid $325 for each of our five goats.  It is certainly possible to find them for lower or higher prices.  Registered Nigerian Dwarf doe kids or milkers will sell for around that, depending the quality of the genetics and their milking ability.  Wethers (neutered males) sell for about $100.  Most goats will twin most of the time, so you can expect an average of about 2 kids per goat per kidding, half of whom will be female.  The sale of kids can provide an offset to the cost of initial investments in goats, housing, etc…

One of the reasons I’m so interested in this breed is their extreme thrift - they produce a lot of high butterfat milk (that is, not only is it sweet tasting, but it makes a lot of cheese per gallon) on comparatively little feed.  I’m beginning to experiment with how they do on alternate supplements - mangels, pumpkins, high protein leaves like malinga…etc…  What interests me most is the possibility that they could provide a meaningful way for people to convert yard scraps, garden wastes and marginal weeds to high protein milk, with few purchased inputs.  I’m just starting to explore how different forms of management might work for them, while obviously taking good care of my girls.

The big thing that I think stops people from milking is the idea of having to do this dull chore twice a day, every single day, but we really haven’t found this to be a huge issue.  Right now we’re milking twice a day, but since we plan to eventually allow our herd to peak around 10 does in milk, our longer term plan is simply to milk once a day, in the mornings, leaving them with their kids during the daytime.  10 goats, milked during the higher-yield morning milking should give us plenty for all our dairy needs, and should reduce the time in evening chores dramatically to just feeding and watering. 

When the kids are 3 - 10 weeks,  we could conceivably go away for a weekend and simply leave the does with their kids, just arranging for feed and water.  We’d see a small fall-off in milk production afterwards, but it is doable.   Each doe is also dry for two months before her delivery, and during this period, there’ s no milking (although you can breed Nigerian’s year ’round if you want to and have milk all the time) and it is also easy to go away.   

But with the milker, which reduces the skill level, we honestly haven’t had any trouble getting someone to tend the goats - our standard goat care person is Killian, a 14 year old whose grandmother is the next house over.  Killian earns money for online gaming, and he and his Mom (who keeps her horses at her mother’s and thus is over every day) come and milk the goats morning and evening.  This has been a great arrangement for us, and permits us to go away regularly to visit family.

We’re also not that good about making sure we milk at exactly the same time each day - mornings are pretty consistent, since morning routines are pretty consistent, but evenings we’re flexible - if we’re going out to dinner with friends, we might milk early.  If we’re going to be coming back late, we might milk late.  We try not to be so late that the goats are suffering (full udders get uncomfortable) and consistency does result in the maximum production, but quality of life enters the occasion too.  The goats seem pretty adaptable to this reality.

Most importantly, however, we love milking - the goats are warm, and again, we’re tied into their lives.  We look forward to seeing them, to petting them and seeing how they produce tonight.  We hold the babies and feed them grain from our palms and brush the goats until they shine.  Dairying is an emotional relationship - a family thing - they are caring for you and you for them.  It is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t done it - it seems like it would be work - and it is, but work in the sense that helping your kids with their homework or doing something for a beloved family member is - it is reciprocal, imbued with emotion and ultimately, deeply pleasurable.


Friday Food Storage Quickie

Sharon October 16th, 2009

Thanks, btw, to everyone who sent good wishes to me for my lousy mood yesterday - I really appreciate you all letting me use my blog as therapy!  I’m a lot happier this morning, and am actually going to go indulge in a little necessary retail therapy - it is a sale day at Goodwill and I’m off to hunt for a mid-weight jacket for Simon and a couple more sweaters for Eric, who doesn’t actually believe that there’s any reason he can’t teach in ripped jeans and a sweater with holes in the armpits, even if I do ;-) .

On to today’s actual topic.  I’ve done Friday Food Storage Quickies several times intermittently, but I’d really like to get more serious about it.  My goal is for one year to post a shopping guide every week, to help people add a little to their food storage.  I think it is really helpful to give some people a specific task, so I’m going to focus on two foods and one preparedness item/practice, and my goal is to actually keep up with it.  I think this breaks things down and reminds us all (me too!) to make food storage and preparedness a part of our regular day-to-day stuff.

I would also, btw, encourage you while you are out shopping, and if you can, to pick up a few items for your local food pantry - put that in your budget as well.  As we all know, our local food security infrastructure is pretty strained these days, and they can use all the help they get.  I’ll include a suggested item for the food pantry as well.

Ok, for this week, we’re going to add food I’ve suggested in the past, but are still a great starting point - popcorn and potatoes! 

Why these two?  Well, almost everyone will eat both foods - even if your kids or spouse thinks that food storage is crazy, they’ll almost certainly eat popcorn.  Popcorn can be popped or it can be ground into flour.  It makes a good snack, or you can eat it for breakfast like cereal.  It is a whole grain, but also a delicious treat.  Remember, you don’t want the microwaved or butter flavored stuff, you want regular popcorn.  Local from a farmer who grows their own is best, of course, but in bulk from the coop or even a bag from the supermarket still gets you ahead.  How much?  What you can afford - it keeps a long time.

Why potatoes?  Because most people pretty much eat them, because they are simple and delicious.  If you have even a reasonably cool, dark spot to put them in (cooler on the porch, basement stairs, closet in a room that runs cool, under a couple of bales of straw in the garage…) they will last you most of the winter.  They are cheap and plentiful now - the carrot barn near me is selling them 50lbs for $14, and while you may not get that, you should get a good deal.  How much?  As much as you think you’ll eat in a few months.  Roast them, bake them, mash them, scallop them, cover them in greens and make salsa, cheese sauce or chili to go on top and you’ve got dinner. 

For the food pantry, let’s pick up some peanut butter - it is one of the highest demand foods out there, and nutritionally dense - and kids home alone after school can make themselves a sandwich.  And if you’ve got a little extra money, pick up a container of infant formula as well and donate it. Yes, I know it would be better if women could breastfeed, but the reality is that that’s often long-since decided, and what happens otherwise is that poor women give their infants cow’s milk or other inappropriate, but cheaper food rather than pricey formula. 

Finally, a preparedness item - let’s start easily, with *matches*!  You need these to light your candles, gas stove, wood stove or sterno can when the power goes out.  They go in your evacuation kit.  They are great for building a fire outside on these cold, starlit nights.  They keep, as long as you keep them dry.  So pick up a couple of boxes today and add them to your kit.

Ok, more next week!


The Price of Liberty is Indeed, Eternal Vigilance

Sharon October 15th, 2009

When I’m in a lousy mood, there’s always The Onion:


‘Davison expressed pride in the NAQA’s grassroots involvement at the local level, citing the association’s direct-mailing campaigns and its fully staffed regional centers where citizens can report Third Amendment rights abuses. The NAQA also holds quartering-safety seminars for citizens interested in learning how to effectively defend their households against U.S. troops seeking shelter.

Davison reiterated the organization’s promise to oppose pro-quartering legislation should any ever be proposed.

“Keep the fat hands of soldiers out of America’s larders!” Davison said to rousing applause. He was quoting the NAQA’s familiar slogan, which can be found on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other merchandise sold on the group’s website.

Davison ended his address by warning of the dangers of the NAQA resting on its laurels.

“Pro-quartering advocates are waiting for just the right moment to stick a bunch of troops in our homes,” Davison said. “Well, I say to them that we will never allow this to happen. You can count on the true patriots of the NAQA to ensure that no chickens and livestock will be appropriated, and private stores of salt, brandy, candles, and vinegar will stay firmly where they belong: in civilian hands.”

The NAQA is known for its quick and aggressive mobilization when it believes Third Amendment rights are at risk, and has rushed to the defense of homeowners it believes are being illegally coerced into housing American soldiers. Last month, 200 NAQA members marched on a private residence in Fairfax, VA after receiving a tip that the owners were being victimized by three Navy seamen demanding prolonged quartering. They ended their demonstration, however, when it was discovered that the sailors were brothers on shore leave visiting their parents.

Davison, 49, has headed the NAQA since January, replacing longtime president Lawrence Frost. Frost, 58, left the organization to chair the Citizens Committee for the Right to Drink, a 21st Amendment rights group committed to the continued legal status of alcohol for Americans of drinking age.’

Or there’s this one: http://www.theonion.com/content/statshot/how_are_we_making_ends_meet

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