La Primavera, Spring, and thoughts turn to rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth; to new life and productive times ahead. At Holy Goat, Spring starts in August as we welcome the new kids, but they’re not the only rejuvenation taking place on the farm:
We’re enjoying new life and energy.
Spring is … new kids on the block. This year’s kidding has been a successful one for our maiden (first time) mothers. We’ve kept them with their offspring for the first two weeks after kidding and then we’ve transitioned them to the milking line, though they are still kept alongside their kids for the first month. After that, the kids are adjusted, independent and thinking more about the fresh paddock they are about to enter, than their mums. They soon form friendship groups and they return to the shelter and security of their pens and their mum near by at night. From four days of age, we provide our kids with a bucket of dirt (clean topsoil) which they love to ingest. It stimulates the rumen bacteria to kick in and the kid to become a real ruminant. After this, we begin to introduce solid food; a small amount of concentrate, in addition to cows milk, as well as the green pick. Our kids will drink up to two litres of milk a day, fed two to three times a day, depending on their stage of growth. After three months they are transitioned from the milk to pasture with a balanced feed mix.
Spring is .. Ruby, our new Border Collie pup. In France we saw farms where Border Collies live and work amongst the goats. They bring the herd to and from the dairy, protect against predators and generally keep order. We want to see if we can train Ruby to work with our goats. At 10 weeks old, the signs are promising, if not amusing, as she tries to coordinate her rapidly growing body. She’s already responding to Carla’s commands to ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘drop’; she’s becoming more sure of herself around the goats and she’s revelling in exploring the smells, action and excitement of life on a dairy farm. Leaving the shed at the end of a long shift and being greeted exuberantly by a very happy pup is a gift. We’re enjoying her boundless energy.
We’re rejuvenating our pastures.
Spring is … soil response. In paddocks where we’ve aerated and added compost, lime and dolomite, the increasing daylight and warmth has boosted soil microbial activity and thus given pastures a real boost. Aeration has been the biggest benefit for our granitic soils; we’ve seen a difference between paddocks that haven’t been given the treatment. Add the soil amendments and it’s been a real surprise, especially given the low winter rainfall. We’ve spread 200 cubic metres (200 tonnes) of farm compost, along with 26 tonnes of lime and 12 tonnes of dolomite. Soil improvement, plus mowing, has decimated the usual capeweed infestation on this Sutton Grange country. But it’s all in the timing.
Spring is … green feed. We’re using grazing regimes to manage the fresh growth, whilst continually improving our pastures. Why use machines when you can use a well placed fence and goats? We’ve divided our farm into smaller paddocks to better control grazing and manage internal parasites (worms). Once our farm was four large paddocks. Now we have 21 and still some more dividing to do. The big hay paddock has become five smaller paddocks (four of three acres and one eight acres) and the goats spend about 8 days in each. Goats will prefer some plants above others, but the short, concentrated grazing means nothing is ‘hammered’ too much and can regrow because the plant’s meristem (growing point) is not damaged. Perennial grasses and other herbs and clover can outcompete capeweed, given a chance. And fresh paddocks mean happy goats.
We have ‘new milk’ and new order in the dairy herd.
Spring is … maiden milk. The new mums come onto the milking line for their first time. But they are ready. For the first six to eight weeks after kidding we give them their own space and place to graze before they join the main herd. We have run them as a little herd, kept them on familiar ground and close to the sheds, so they feel confident and have strong connections before they join the others. We make sure the maiden milkers come on the line first-up, feed them a bit more concentrate whilst on it, for about six months. We give them individual attention and focus. As a result, there’s no bullying in the dairy or paddock, everyone knows their place. The entire herd get used to the routine and the herd leaders (us) reinforce it and advocate for the new milkers. This gradual introduction and the setting up of rituals and systems means minimal stress on the herd. Our milk production lifts enormously because every doe is producing. Milk flow continues to increase as the herd moves through new paddocks with fresh pick. It’s spring flush.
We’re seeing the bush coming back, tree plantings growing and new habitat.
Spring is … native regeneration and restoration. Australian native plants are the best adapted to growing on our farm. We are turning to them, rather than introduced species, for our fodder and to increase biodiversity across the farm. The long dry periods have proven them. As well as encouraging the native grasses, we have fenced off the corners of our paddocks, previously underutilised areas, using weldmesh and planted with acacias (eg. black wattle, golden wattle) hakeas and bursaria, for fodder and habitat. A mouldboard plough, press roller and potti pukti treeplanter – link to you tube video – are our main tools and we also use treeguards to stop ‘roo and rabbit grazing. The ploughing means no chemical weed control is needed. When pruned the trees and shrubs will give more green feed, high in minerals and tannins, for the goats come summer. We are also protecting our big, old, sentinel box and redgum trees with the same weldmesh protection. These very large treeguards (!) allow goats access to shade, but protect the trees from ringbarking by goats teeth and will allow some regeneration of seed. We’re aiming at protecting around 20 large trees each year. Our farm would have once been an open grassy woodland – EVC Goldfields 175_61, so our focus is on protecting the big old trees and planting understory species (shrubs, ground covers, grasses) rather than planting any more trees.
We’re renewing our ideas.
Spring is … new approaches and learning. Ann-Marie was 16 years old when she first had a goat to care for and we’ve both worked with goats for some 20 years now. But still we are constantly learning. The more you learn, the more you appreciate the subtleties, reconsider your ideas, and the deeper you go, and learn. Over the autumn and winter we’ve had the time, and need, to reassess how we deal with animal management in our herd. We’ve developed a four step process that’s all about observation. In any certified organic system observation is the key because you don’t have the luxury of any conventional ‘quick fix’. Our mantra is “know your herd”. Know your individual animals and their unique traits. Respond quickly as soon as they behave or appear outside of those traits. Acknowledge that treatments take time and are more labour intensive (persist). Finally, review your actions; what would you do again and what would you do differently?
So, after winter, comes Spring. Rejuvenation, renewal and a pup called Ruby.