A Marshmallow World

We have just enjoyed another heavy fall of snow. It is quite beautiful outside, what my Mom would call a “marshmallow world”. It’s like someone spread a thick coating of “Fluff” over everything though unlike that nasty sweet concoction, this stuff really sparkles in the sun. Last night’s snowfall was very light, rather than wet and heavy or else windblown and packed, so this morning’s shovelling wasn’t too hard. Our snowblowing tractor is out of commission as we wait for a starter motor to arrive at the farm equipment place, so our kind neighbor has been cleaning out for us. He refuses cash so we’ll foist a frozen chicken or two on him (boy is he in for a treat!). My and Will’s snowshovelling muscles have never been so well developed and I’m sure we’ll both be fit and ready for cleaning out the goat barn in the spring!

Some of the old-timers are saying that more snow has fallen this January than the past three winters combined. I don’t know how accurate this is but I can see how it could feel true! We’ve been getting one storm each week on average and each storm leaves us with a minimum of a foot of new snow over top the accumulated old snow (temperatures have stayed low as well so no melting going on). Yes, it’s a lot of snow! The labours of digging out the same paths each week, week after week, are feeling a little bit sisyphean and I think we’ve all earned our afterlife rewards by now. Cory is completely undaunted by the snow even though he does more “swimming” than walking these days. I waded through armpit deep snow this morning on my way to the barn and Cory was thrilled to be paddling along beside me at eye level! We try to get out for a “walk” twice a day on the trails and though it’s always in snowshoes, I still sink to my knees. The trails have been lovely this year because there’s too much snow for ATVs and the odd snowmobile leaves a nice trail to walk on. We’ve noticed others’ snowshoe and cross-country ski prints on the trails, as well as a few horse-drawn sleighs. I like to feel that the constant presence of our snowshoe prints are giving others the idea that this is a nicer way of enjoying winter than the motorized option. Maybe we’ve had a small roll to play in reclaiming the trails for purer winter activities, or maybe the increased foot traffic is a coincidence, who knows, but I will give us credit for this whether it is warranted or not!

The goats are still doing fine and growing width-wise every day. The first kids are due in just over a couple of weeks so I’ll soon need to prepare the maternity ward: clean out the pen, set up the heat lamp, trim long hair around the girls’ udders and check my towel collection. I read somewhere that if you feed goats their grain in the morning, they are more likely to kid during the daytime (something to do with the excitement of grain feeding triggering labour I guess), so I’m experimenting with this in the hopes that I don’t have to do any late night, freezing cold birth assisting! There are two first-timers having kids this year and I am not really worried about them – they are both strong and healthy and I’m sure they’ll accept their babies. The only doe I have any concerns about is Keehay who is older and prone to edema of the udder. She is big enough this year to be carrying triplets (she had triplets last time) and because of the edema, she won’t have enough milk for three early on in her lactation. Fortunately Keehay is due last so by the time her babies come, I’ll have enough milk for any supplemental feeding that may be required. Because of the heavy snow accumulation, the goats haven’t gotten out for any decent walks in weeks. There is a good path between the main barn and the boys’ area which they’ll travel on on a sunny day, but they really aren’t getting much exercise. Hopefully they’ll still be fine come kidding time.

Pinto, the new buck, is visiting another farm in Havelock, doing his buckly thing. We were going to send big Buckly but the travel accommodations weren’t big enough for him. Pinto is a nice young guy so I’m sure he’ll do the job and have a bit of fun, too. I heard rumours that a farm nearby has a Boer buck, a meat variety of goat. I may see about borrowing him for some breeding this fall and see what sort of meaty kids we get. One of my projects this year is to work on promoting goat meat. Goat meat is very popular all over Canada and there is a shortage of goat meat everywhere but in the Maritimes. I truly believe this has to do with publicity (there are lots of people in the Maritimes from goat eating countries, too) and I think the people who enjoy lamb (lots of lamb sold around here) could also discover they love goat. We joined a local marketing co-op called Really Local Harvest (Recolte de Chez Nous) and I’m hoping this well established group can help us with the marketing of chevon.

The goats are in good health but a little bit bored these days. Fortunately they haven’t started into their “hay ennui” phase yet. Hay ennui is a term coined by the great all-things-goat writer Willie Boepple, who writes a regular column for Goatkeeper magazine. Willie uses this term to describe that time of the year – end of winter, early spring but before the grass comes on – when goats refuse to eat the hay they once chowed down in great quantities. The stare at their feeders and complain vocally and the goatkeeper wonders what is wrong. Well, the problem is that the goats are just plain sick of eating nothing but hay, day in, day out, every day! In the wild goats eat a very large variety of plant species, more than twice the variety a cow will choose, so even though a domestic goat has become used to a more mundane diet, they still crave some variety in their lives. Nutritionally, the variety of plant species provides a wide array of vitamins and minerals which we can only offer in the form of a mineral supplement in winter. Last year, a year of less severe winter, I was able to take the goats out for walks in the woods to let them nibble on tree bark, tender growing tips and conifer needles. This gave them some different nutrients, flavours and textures and helped keep hay ennui at bay for a little while. I’ve managed to get them out a few times this winter but I need a break in snowfalls of at least 2 weeks to allow me to trample a path that’s solid enough for those heavy pregnant things to be able to walk without sinking up to their bellies.

I think we’ll be dealing with hay ennui in another month or two but for now, they are eating all their hay and their boredom is due to a lack of interesting activities rather than the mundane diet. The thing about goats is that if the world doesn’t offer them entertainment, they create their own, often much to the dismay of the goatkeeper. Nessie is not milking nor is she pregnant now and she has become the ringleader of “extreme goat adventures” in the barn. Some of her activities include: headbutting smaller goats over the fence, trying to force her whole body through a narrow space in the fence between her and the bucks’ area, grabbing articles of my clothing in her mouth as I walk by and her piece de resistance: unlatching the gate and leading the troupe out into the barn for further adventures. The first time the happy horde escaped I thought it was me leaving the latch not fully engaged, but just in case I put a clip on the latch when I was away from the barn. Then, regularly at feeding time, the latch was getting opened and I realized that this was no coming together of unlucky forces, this was Nessie opening a gate! Now I leave the clip on the latch at all times, knowing that the one time I leave it off, Nessie will know about it and everyone will be out. Keeping one step ahead of goats is a challanging and enlightening experience indeed!

We’ve been making good use of these snowed-in days to continue our planning for the growing season ahead. We started advertising our CSA a month ago and are now full up for the season. We will take people on a waiting list, and we accepted more than we’d planned in case people drop out, but otherwise we will curb our desire to be all things to all people, and focus on doing a good job for a small group of eager veggie eaters. We still need to sort out our drop-off spots and figure out how to package the veggies – plastic, cardboard, waxed cardboard boxes? Cloth or plastic bags? We want to be able to pack them into the car for transportation into Moncton and we want something with a bit of insulating value so that the produce stays fresh for as long as possible. There are some great corrugated plastic boxes manufactured in the US that I love but they are just too expensive, especially once you add the cost of getting them here. We want to be as sustainable as possible, avoid disposable things and keep our costs down and this is turning out to be quite challanging.

We have pretty much received all our seed for the season, though I bet we’ll have a few more orders going out this summer. We managed to get almost all organic seed, except for a few varieties that weren’t available organic, and I was very pleased to find certified organic Moneymaker tomatoes seed out there. I grew Moneymaker a few years ago and it was a great tomato: fruit not too large, high yielding, vigourous plants and very tasty. It’s hard to get all those characteristics in an heirloom tomato so I’m hoping MM does as well here as it did in BC. I’ve also ordered our strawberry and raspberry plants: 600 strawberries (AC Wendy and Orleans) and 200 raspberries (K81-9 and Festival). The different varieties are different seasons: early and mid for the strawberries and mid and late for the raspberries, in hopes that we can better manage our berry picking amongst all the other farm jobs. We may get a few strawberries this year but will pick off most of the blossoms to allow the plants to establish themselves. We should get two picking years from the strawberries and we’ll put in new plants every two years so that we always have fruit. The raspberries are meant to produce for 10 – 15 years, depending on how hard the winters are and how the plants manage pests and diseases. We will probably put in some high bush blueberries and asparagus next year, though we’ll see how ambitious we feel after this year!

I’m ordering a biodegradable black corn-based mulch for growing brassicas, tomatoes, peppers and a few other crops. The black warms the soil which is important for the heat-lovers and keeps weeds under control, which is important for us as we try and minimize labour requirements. The type I’m ordering is allowed for organic production (uses nonGMO corn) and should biodegrade completely after it’s ploughed in at the end of the season. I’ll use a re-usable plastic material for the squash, cucumbers and melons, also for weed control and soil warming and different from the biodegradable mulch because the vines will spread out on it and we’ll be able to walk on it. We plan to use row cover early in the season to get the peas, spinach, lettuce, turnips, raab, kale, green onions, radish going as early as possible, and we’ll plant some stuff in the coldframe. Will is working on our lean-to coldframe, which we’ll be raising our starts in very soon, and I’m seeking out a supply of potting mix and compost, as well as large quantities of trays and pots for the season ahead. We are going together with some other farmers on some of the orders to take advantage of bulk buying rates and I was very pleased to discover that Jolly Farmer can deliver to our door, organically certifiable potting mix, at a price lower than I can make it for myself! Jolly Farmer is a business based in NB that supplies inputs like potting mix, worm castings and also raises their own vegetables, berries and livestock. It is a large, cooperative, highly well organized business teeming with friendly professional farmers and I can only gaze on rapt adoration as they do such a good job of running an organic farm and business.

I see that I’ve just started page 4 and it is probably time to wrap this up. We are starting to fill out forms for organic certification and I am still advertising and gathering people for my organic gardening course. Will and my Dad are working on trying to get the tractor going – the new starter didn’t do the trick so now they get to spend some chilly hours tracing wires to try and find the problem. Fortunately it’s a fairly mild day (up to -1) so not too bad outside. I’ll be working on building my new goat mineral feeders today. If they work out as they should, I’ll put a photo up on the blog. Of course, we have another snowfall warning for tonight and tomorrow so more snow removal on the horizon. It will be nice to have reached the end of this winter and to know that we have survived one of the worst!

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One Response to “A Marshmallow World”

  1. Gary in Fort Langley Says:

    Hey Allyson, As usual I enjoyed your update. 🙂 I started some onions under my new lights. They are called T5 High output, four footers. They have to be at least three times brighter than my old style fluorescent tubes and have the full spectrum. I’m looking forward to more ‘happy gardening’ this year. Take care. 🙂

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