Animal Husbandry and Farm Exercise

In this post I want to give an update on our animal husbandry tasks and expound on how much exercise is a daily part of farm life. Over the past couple of weeks we have trimmed hooves on most of our small goat herd and sheep flock plus the donkeys. We are still waiting on the anticipated birth of a new mini-donkey. And we made a trip to Meadowcreek Dairy in Galax, Virginia to check out their operation.

Farm Exercise

Let’s start with exercise. One of the main reasons we have for starting our farm business is to do creative things and keep fit into our twilight years. Many people retire then get almost no exercise. Others have the freedom in retirement to spend lots of time at the gym. By far, the ones frequenting the gym live longer with more productive and active lives. But the gym has no appeal for us. We like the outdoors and love nature. Just watching nature do its thing is a joy for us. Getting our daily exercise is completely integrated into our lifestyle. There is no need to cut out a part of our day to go somewhere else.

I know a lot of you may have a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. That’s a lot of steps and likely difficult to manage in a normal day without just going to the gym and walking on the treadmill. I could never manage it. Boring!  😯  Here’s how the day goes for me. Just this morning my tasks included feeding the bottle lamb, milking the cows and moving the main herds to another field. I walked nearly 5,000 steps. Yes, that’s right. Just the morning chores got me halfway to the goal. And it was a joy!

Our farm is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No matter where you go, it really is uphill both ways. Yes, yes, there is some downhill in between. But still, those hills are the bomb for getting that heart rate up. The birds are singing. Often a light breeze is blowing. This morning was cooler than previous mornings so that was good too. Life is good.

There are days when the heat is oppressive. I sweat a lot. In addition to other benefits, sweating is really, really good for my skin. The milking and other chores get done in the morning no matter the temperature. But in the afternoon I can work inside on stuff like this blog, the finances or some other marketing task until later in the afternoon when it begins to cool down. That’s when I will go out into the garden, pull a few weeds and generally enjoying the fruits of our labor. Scott rarely does that. Usually, he is out there sweating continually doing some task or another.

And that brings me to the next topic.

Goat the Sheep Hoof Trimming

A big part of animal husbandry on our farm is keeping those hooves in good shape. Donkeys, sheep and goats all need that treatment. Last week a task popped up on my calendar that it was time to check the goats and sheep for general health and trim their hooves. We still need to get to the boys later this week. Two rams and 8 bucks. The girls and their young were done a few days ago.

We currently have 15 goat and 9 sheep in the main ‘girls’ herd/flock. Starting at around noon on a hot summer day, we began the task. Scott manhandled each animal and I wielded the hoof pruners. Scott catches them and then turns them upside down into a “chair” that is specifically made for this purpose. Once a goat or sheep is on their back kind of sitting with feet up, they stop resisting. They don’t resist as much anyway. They can, and the young goats do, make lots of noise but they can’t really get out of the “chair” until Scott turns them right side up again, out of the chair.

We finished at 6:00 pm. There is nothing for it but to work straight through with only short breaks to drink some water or Gatorade. Yes, six hours straight to get done. The task entails digging out manure from the hooves prior to trimming the excess material. I smelled that long into the night. Should have used the neti pot on my nasal passages during my shower. Well, live and learn.

Donkey Pregnancy

We are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of Sweet Pea’s offspring. No ultrasound to tell us whether boy or girl. We will be surprised and accept whatever creation brings to us. Young animals being born are always eagerly anticipated on our farm.

This will be Sweet Pea’s last foal. Daisy and Cocoa will also continue their lives without additional foals. We made the decision to keep this small herd of donkeys and no more. Our land can support a limited number of animals and each needs to have a purpose supporting the whole. The purpose of the donkeys is protection for the lambs. They have been doing a really great job and we expect that to continue. Daisy is about 10 years old now and Sweet Pea is 7. We expected to have them as our companions for years to come. Donkeys live a long time. They will both likely be with us for another 30 to 35 years.❤ ❤ ❤

Visiting Other Farms

The last thing I want to mention is our trip to Meadowcreek Dairy. They are a little less than an hour’s drive from us. The business operates near Galax, Virginia in Grayson county. They have a new piece of farm land that buts up against the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was gorgeous up there. They make cheese at an elevation of 2800+ feet.

As we get ready to lay the foundation for our creamery, visiting other farms has been part of our preparation. Scott wanted to see how others set up their barns. How does the animal flow work? What kind of equipment do they use? What are the advantages and disadvantages that each farmer found with their choices? We have visited about a half dozen farms and each one is different in how they set up their milking operation.

The great people at Meadowcreek Dairy spent more than a 1/2 day with us, showing us the cheese make room through a window and two different milking parlor setups. They have traveled to Europe and New Zealand, performing a similar action to ours on a world wide scale. They wanted to see how milking and cheese making is done in those areas of the world. Their milking parlor reflects those cultures.

There are two sides to the cow milking parlor. Rather than running the milkers on both sides at the same time, they do one side and then the other. With two people that allows one person to be prepping the cows on one side for milking while the other person is actually setting up and monitoring the “claws” on the other side. Then those cows are let out, then next group of cows comes in and the farmers switch sides while walking along the pit. The one setting up and monitoring the milking machine moves to the freshly prepped cows, while the one prepping moves over to prep the new set of cows that just entered the parlor. Or they can simply work in tandem. Lots of choices.

The barns are open and tall, with lots of air flowing through. This was the part that I really liked. Closed milking barns can be very, very hot in the summer. Also, the cows are much happier if they don’t have to go into a hot, dark place. They are much more willing to just walk into the open-air space, stand while being milking, and then parade back out into the field to continue their daily joy of eating lots of grass.

The folks at Meadowcreek were very generous with their time and information. We look forward to the time when we can do the same for the next small farmer looking to create a hand-made, farmstead or artisan cheese operation.

That’s it for now. Long days and pleasant nights.


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