Tuesday 31 December 2013

"Drying off" Pia : A holiday from milking

Pia (at the back) celebrating
Pia the British Toggenburg started milking on 4th March 2013, 294 days ago. Since then we have recorded her milk yield at every milking; she has produced 745kg, three quarters of a tonne of milk. Now its time for a rest before she kids again on 27th March. A hormone assay of her blood sample that Kenny the Vet took before Christmas shows that she is pregnant but we don't know how many kids she'll have, that will have to wait until the ewes are scanned in February.

After ten months milking she needs to build up her reserves of body fat and to grow the foetus ( or foetuses, we don't know how many yet) before giving birth. We started the "drying off" process this week by reducing her concentrate feed to about 0.5 kg sugar beet pulp. She gets as much good quality hay as she can eat.

Next we stopped milking in the evening. When the udder is overstocked (full) and not milked out there is a negative feedback system of hormones that tells the brain, "don't produce so much milk".

Two weeks from now we'll milk on alternate days and then around the end of the month stop milking entirely. All of the time she has to be monitored for mastitis (bacterial infection of the udder). At this point we will infuse each teat with a long acting antibiotic to further combat mastitis and she will have two months off , eating and idling before the next lactation.

Monday 30 December 2013

Living with a septic tank : Don't put anything in the toilet bowl unless you have previously eaten it.

There is a downside to country living and its to do with drains. Every country house I've lived in I have ended up with my head in the septic tank. The reasons are legion;  bad design, no design, disposable nappies (diapers) and cooking fat are the most common causes.

Returning home from Christmas I discovered that the drains were blocked. this is not difficult when the stuff is welling up around your feet.

Yesterday was spent in diagnosing the problem. After much swearing, splashing about and digging we decided that the blockage was between the inspection hatch and the tank. The solution would be to rod the pipe from the tank end if we could find the outlet. This was difficult to find as I believe in not interfering with nature ( septic or otherwise) and leave the system to its own devices. This has worked well for the last five years but a digger was needed now.

Today Hughie brought the mini digger and we unearthed the access point. After more swearing, splashing and rodding we provoked  a geyser of shit with a plug of congealed fat on top.... job done.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Backyard dairy farming : Flawed economics?

So far there has been only one comment from the worldwide readership on the profitability or otherwise of our backyard  dairying.

"I ain't no accountant, my arithmetic is sub-standard, but you have invited comment about your goat milk analysis, and I have issues. Yes you are retired and have oodles of time to play crofter, but there are other unacknowledged opportunity costs.

Dormouse goes on to list the other people involved in this project; in particular Dale who does half of the milking. Her input makes up the bulk of the unacknowledged opportunity costs. However, everyone needs a hobby, even when she's a management consultant.

Dale's input is not a cost to her at all, it is an enormous benefit in terms of : ....fresh milk, early rising, fulfilling vigorous activity, communing with the goats, cheese, yoghurt and kefir from time to time. That's enough I'll stop.

Of course my analysis of our costs only applies to backyard dairying. If the enterprise was expanded to say, 100 goats, assuming a market for the milk, it would not be possible to use a price of £1.55p a litre (Mr. Morrison's supermarket price), we would have to take a wholesale price and of course there would be real labour and capital costs involved.

I don't wish to appear paranoid but there's also the argument for self-reliance in food production. Because the supermarkets have most of their goods in the store or on the road in trucks , "just in time management" , we are only three days away from food riots if the system broke down for what ever reason. Goats, hens, potatoes lots of teabags and a big bag of flour might be quite useful.

Further reading: If you want to learn more about backyard cows and goats find  a copy of; The Backyard Dairy Book. Prism Press, Dorchester 1972 its out of print but Amazon and ABE Books will have it.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

An edible hedge and windbreak

300mm willow pegs 250mm apart
I need a fast growing hedge at the bottom of the hay park it's to provide a sunshade (we really do need this in summer) , a screen for the wire fence ( its new but unsightly) and a source of goat fodder. The fastest growing, cheapest to establish and most palatable tree for goats is willow.

Willow will grow from "pegs" these are branches a bit thicker than a pencil and up to 12mm in diameter cut to about  300mm in length. Two thirds of the peg are inserted in the ground, the right way up then firmed in and kept free of grass and weed competition until it's well established. The ground has to be damp but not waterlogged, the sandy / stony raised beach down in the corner should be ideal. I'll need to protect them from voles and rabbits with plastic tubes too.

David and Michelle got their willow by the burn pruned I got free willow pegs which have been planted using a round steel crowbar to make the initial hole. Just have to stand back and watch them grow.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Water harvesting for the sheep house.

Only about four weeks to go before the sheep come inside for the rest of the winter so have been fitting the new sheep house out with troughs, its the kind of rough woodworking that I'm good at, I'll never be a cabinet maker. I was once told that the difference between a joiner and a Carpenter was that a Joiner worked to the nearest millimeter whereas a carpenter worked to the nearest house.

The design is meant to provide an effective barrier and feeding trough. The length of the trough is important as pregnant ewes need lots of space to feed, 50cm (20 inches in N. America and Wales). Only one more job to complete, we need a water supply. Tapping into the water main is horrendously expensive so the plan is to capture rainwater from the roof.Here is where I have to revert to Imperial measurement, Seventy square metres (77 sq yds) of roof should harvest how much water?

If an inch of rain falls on an acre of ground that inch is equal to 22,610 gallons (27,154 US galls). this is where I have to open a spreadsheet! The roof area is 0.0159 acres so it receives 360 imperial gallons for every inch of rainfall (1617 litres for every 25mm rainfall).

So no shortage of supply its just a matter of finding a couple of containers that are big enough.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Backyard dairy farming

I know its dangerous but when I'm driving I've a tendency to think about things other than traffic, I often find myself on autopilot. Today on the A82 after collecting some very good hay from Ian Wilson up in Glen Urquhart I was thinking about the economics of our home milk production. Since March Pia has given us over 700kgs of milk, most was for drinking but we've also made cheese, butter, kefir and yoghurt.

In Morrison's supermarket in Ft. William this morning goats milk was £1.55p a litre so if we had wanted to consume the equivalent amount in supermarket milk it would have cost £1,085 in total. there have been production costs of course at about 0.75 kg concentrates per litre costing around 45p, then 2kg hay a day at about 25p/kg; total food cost is £1.70p.

Average daily output 2.5kg milk @ £1.55/litre is worth £3.88p

Average daily food costs @ £1.70p /day

Average  daily surplus over feed cost £2.18p

Total surplus for 300 days £654

"But what about the other production costs and overheads" I hear you cry.........

Well..... I'm retired so the opportunity cost of my labour is zero, vet fees and medicines might have been another £40 at most, bedding £40 and miscellaneous costs £10. That still eaves a surplus of £600.

You are now very welcome to pick holes in these figures but I think that I can now make a good case for backyard goat farming to keep two or three families in high quality milk and dairy products more cheaply than buying the equivalent from a supermarket.

Of course you'd need two goats ( you can't keep one on its own) a garden, a loose box with a yard and friendly cooperative neighbours who want to be part of your neighborhood backyard milk production coop because you do need some time off from feeding, milking, mucking out etc.

Monday 9 December 2013

Pregnancy diagnosis of goats..... why bother?

Hebe more interested in food than the Vet
Its just over two months since Hebe and Acorn were mated and they've shown no sign of oestrus since so they are probably pregnant. But you can't 100% sure that lack of oestrus means pregnancy so I asked Kenny the Vet to check with his ultra-sound kit. The unit emits ultra sound waves from a hand held transducer placed against the skin of the abdomen. But with our hairy and slightly overweight Toggs he couldn't get a reading.

We've had to go for the lab based approach, some hormones are elevated during pregnancy and can be detected in the blood, samples were taken and there'll be a result in ten days or so.

You might think,"why bother you could just wait for the kids to turn up". But knowing when  kids are due gives us an accurate date for drying off Pia, two months before kidding she has a holiday from milk production. It also helps with the accurate timing of vaccines and extra feed.

Thursday 5 December 2013

One hundred mile an hour winds

Not ghostly sheep:Camera shake due to the wind
About 5.30 this morning there was a flash and simultaneous crash of thunder directly overhead. The power went off and rain was battering the window. When I got outside to look for damage the roaring north westerly might have been an approaching train, it almost knocked me off my feet. Sheep troughs were strewn about the field and he ewes themselves were cowering in the lee of a knoll. Most of out shelter is against the south west wind.

At nine o clock, the storm had moved on south, the kitchen window was grey with salt; electricity and  FM radio were off. All was not lost. I had Melvyn Bragg on Long Wave, coffee brewing on the Rayburn and an oil lamp to light my keyboard a mix of old and new technology, as long as the battery lasts. All the buildings, trees and the poly-tunnel were still standing.
New tech and low tech

Its 1.30pm and the lights have come on again I can put away the paraffin, candles and lamps until next time.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Ben Resipole and the technophile

Rob and Zak at 845m
We all know that the Norwegians are world leaders at; being Vikings, getting to the S.Pole first, blowing up Nazi heavy water plants and putting their oil income into a sovereign wealth fund instead of giving it to the all ready rich. Until yesterday I thought they were world leaders at forecasting Scottish weather (www.yr.no). Saturday was supposed to be bright and sunny and after a week of dreichness the views from the top of Ben Resipole would be magnificent. Not so... the Norwegians failed , it was wet, cold and claggy above 500m.

At the top, 850m above Loch Sunart we met two walkers who had come up from Strontian by the East ridge using  GPS. this was no ordinary GPS, apart from being bright orange it "tweeted" the owner's current location to has girlfriend in London! As an elderly curmudgeon I marvel at these pieces of high tech kit and how necessary they are to the mountain experience. In the Tiso mountain equipment shop in Glasgow last month I saw a tiny video camera, size of a matchbox,  that attached to your climbing or canoeing helmet  and presumably tweeted your partner with current location and activity.

We got back to the car, six and a half hours after parking it,  by following the burn that led us to the top and instead of tweeting Dormouse I used my land line phone before an early bath. Oh.... and apologies to the man in the yellow jacket I didn't realise he was in the back ground, "gazing upon the hedge" as Shakespeare has it (A Winter's Tale).