Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rex, The Motivational Chewer

This is Rex. Rexy is our new foster (soon to be adopted) livestock guardian dog/farm pooch. He is a Great Pyrenees mix who looks and behaves very much like a standard Pyr, with the exception of his pink nose and his lack of black "eyeliner" that is a hallmark of the breed.

I initially learned about Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD's) at the same time that I was learning about keeping and caring for goats. There are many LGD's who have been bred for hundreds of years to protect the critters and people in their charge. The Great Pyrenees breed was developed and used in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain, as well as elsewhere throughout Europe, to guard sheep and other livestock from various predators. An LGD is not a herding dog. His job to to alert you to the threat/presence of predators and to keep predators at bay.

I found our fella through a Great Pyrenees rescue that works primarily out of Texas, where Pyr's are a favorite livestock guardian choice for ranchers. Unfortunately, because the dogs live out in the field with their flock, and are often not neutered or spayed, the result is unchecked breeding and an overwhelming abundance of Pyr's and Pyr mixes flooding Texas shelters.

Our boy was either picked up by or surrendered to the Ft. Worth animal shelter, where he lived for three months - an extraordinary length of time in a "kill shelter". He was repeatedly passed over for euthanasia because his sweet demeanor melted the hearts of his caregivers, and caused them to lobby on his behalf for more time to get him to a foster or forever home. They contacted SPIN (Saving Pyrs In Need), and Rex and another Pyr were rescued by Lynnette, a small-scale goat & chicken hobby farmer, just like me. She took him home to her pack and gave him the love and socialization that he'd missed out on for so long. She also managed to feed him up good - he came into the shelter weighing 51.5 lbs, and came to us weighing 65! He's still a lean boy, so I can't imagine him 15 pounds lighter. God bless foster parents of all kinds!

So our pup finally arrives here in the great northwest after a 5 day long trip from Texas. He's nervous, itchy and very tired. His first few days here were bumpy - he chewed into a computer cord, ruining it, ate two skeins of yarn, one shoe, one knitting project and the handle of a Care Bear umbrella. He also put his teeth on Livy, which gave us pause about whether or not he was going to be a good fit with our kids. Time and behavior modification (on all of our parts) has since convinced us that he is the right dog for our little place. He has twice alerted us at night to deer and possibly raccoons in the vicinity of the compost bins and goat pens, and has been "leaving his mark" all over the place, letting the foxes, raccoons, opossums and coyotes know that the era of easy pickins is over, and that there is a new carnivore in town. It's only been 10 days since he came home with us, but the chicken thief, whatever it was, hasn't struck again since.

So he's keeping us safe, as advertised, and seems to be sending me a message with his choice of chewing items - the computer cord, the yarn, the knitting needles - basically telling me, Mama, if you sit on your butt and ignore me, I will remove the things that are distracting you via CHOMP, so that you can play with me again.

Message received, buddy. Let's get out there and frolic with the goaties! :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Obligatory List of Goals for the New Year

I don't do the whole resolution thing, never really have. I like to jot down a few ideas and plans for the coming year, but nothing that I'd go so far as to say that I am steadfastly resolute about making happen. Inflexibility equals anxiety for me, so I like the idea of a list of want-to's and try-to's better. It fits my ever-changing mood and general slackerish lifestyle better.

So here are my want-to, try-to and really oughta's for the coming year -

*Move and expand the veggie garden, which entails tilling up sod and soil that haven't ever been (oy!), setting up deer fencing, moving and spreading a metric s&!# ton of compost and manure, and building new raised beds. This is project numero uno in my book.

*Re-fence the pasture. (This is really Bill's project.) If we can let the goats out of their pens and give them the whole back acre+ to graze and nibble at their leisure, we'll save literally thousands on hay every year. This is Bill's project numero uno.

*Build a pole barn - another of Bill's projects. While our does have a nice house right now, our bucks & wether have completely destroyed theirs, making the building of a stout new barn with enclosed stalls, a milking parlor and hay/grain storage an increasingly pressing issue. The barn and pasture fencing are essentially one item in Bill's mind, but let's be honest - they are two huge undertakings unto themselves. Getting even just one of them done will be a big and costly job.

*Re-vamp the front yard according to the plans draw up by our landscape architect, Brighida. This project includes adding berms and trenches for better drainage, removing the current plants and shrubs that are ill-suited to their present location (and to our purposes) and replacing them with hand-selected varieties of native, rain-loving trees, shrubs and veggies that will take our front lawn from all maintenance and no food, to a low-maintenance, edible landscape. This project will be a spendy one, and therefore might not be in the cards for us this year, speaking realistically.

*Have all of our fruit trees professionally pruned and brought back into shape by an arborist.

*Expand our herd of milk goats (already under way!)

*Get set up for a pair of pigs in the Spring. Our windfall of lovely, free produce makes this project especially appealing and worthwhile to undertake asap. As an offshoot of this, seek out additional free waste food streams for piggy consumption - restaurant food waste, offal, etc.

*Plant more evergreen trees in the chickens' yard for future Christmas trees and for the lovely oxygen that we so enjoy.

*Explore further the requirements of raising turkeys. (This is loooooow on the list.)

*Learn more about the possibility of installing a hive or two of honeybees.

*Forage, fish and hunt for more of our food.

*Replace all or most beef/cow dairy products in our diet with goat meat & dairy.

*Raise a small flock of meat chickens - enough for us to have 1 or 2 per month and to share with/sell to friends and family.

*Make more and different cheeses with our goats' milk.

*Try our hands at making goat milk soaps.

*Can, freeze and dry A LOT more produce, meat and fish than in years past.

*Research the market for milk-fed kid goats and adult meat goats in our community. Including cultivating relationships with and learning more about different cultures/religions/ethnicities traditional food ways, and being able to honor their needs and provide them with their traditional and hard-to-find foods.

*Research/explore the steps necessary (and associated costs of) becoming a licensed raw milk farmstead dairy/creamery/cheese maker.

*Simplify and streamline our chore and maintenance schedule, so that things don't get behind or broken before they get our attention.

*Implement a solid routine for animal vaccinations, grooming, worming, etc. (We've been a little behind the 8 ball with this one, sadly. We want to be more proactive about critter health maintenance now that we have something of a grasp on who will be needing what and when, etc. Bottom line - being proactive should save us from having as many surprise issues pop up. It's a tall order when you have so many species and individuals with particular needs, but we're hell-bent on doing right be each and every one of these critters in our care.

*Attempt to comprise our diet of 20% or more of our home grown foods. Part of the challenge here will be figuring out how to measure this. I'll also have to try harder to find my taste for goat milk. ;)

*Earn enough on egg sales to cover the chickens supplemental feed costs completely. (This means their layer pellets, cracked corn, bread, grit, etc.)

*Prime and paint the chicken coops. This is a must-do!

*Work on my knitting, upcycled crafts and homemade preserves for Etsy, bazaar and farm stand sales.

Oy - I am thoroughly daunted by this list of mine. Let's hope that the financial, health and networking stars all align for us in 2012, so that me might make a real go of this little venture of ours.

Here's to a happy and prosperous new year for everyone! :)

xoxo - Michelle