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Rachel Sullivan

Wrapping up Pasture Management

Our Pos/Neg fencing had arrived! Excited, I set it all up, with the help of a highschool intern, Dylan, who had been helping on the farm for 2 weeks. We put this fencing up in a different spot (less dry/rocky soil than the previous test site) between the creamery and the farm house, and put some babies inside to test it. We figured that since there was a large tree in the test site, any adult goats might damage it.

Successful fencing!

Successful fencing!

It ended up working well! The two ground rods created a high enough current to provide enough shock to keep the babies in (with the exception of Rafiki who often escaped, but returned). This was really exciting for me, because it meant that in the future (probably once I was back at school), Dylan and Hadley would be ready to move this fencing around on our hay field beyond the pastures. We’d been dreaming of this hay field becoming a pasture all summer long, since it was pretty much the only green land left on the property! However we wanted to wait until there was sufficient regrowth, and until we were comfortable with the fencing system to begin MIG. I believe that Dylan actually started doing this in September.

My final project at Toluma was getting their hay tested (nutrients, ash etc…). Over the summer, I became a “Certified Hay Sampler” online, and ordered the Penn State Probe tool for testing. Only on my last day on the farm did I actually have time to complete the testing! This consisted of taking random probe samples from around 40 bales (attaching a drill to the probe and filling up plastic bags with the contents), and sending the combined sample to the UC Davis Analytical Lab. For sampling, I created a random number generator and counted along the faces of the stacks of bales to pick the specific bales for sampling.

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Example stack, random within this were tested

Example stack, random bales within this were tested

More Projects

In July at Toluma, a new herd manager, Dylan became part of our team! As I mentioned before, in late May there were some complications with farm staff, and Hadley (the previous apprentice) had to step up as herd manager. Now with Dylan, who came in with lots of previous goat experience, the three of us had time for more daily projects – we could finally start getting to tasks that were impossible to do with just Hadley and me. One of the first things Dylan did when he arrived was set up an organized whiteboard in the barn, with daily & weekly checklists of things that needed to be done (from giving a certain goat certain medication to cleaning the water troughs). This was really nice because after milking in the mornings, I could go check the board and transition quickly into working on another project.

Also! I forgot to mention this, but one morning in mid-June, we found a newborn kid in the barn! She was the most precious, pure white baby. It turned out her mother, Eavesdrop, was among the dry herd, and had somehow gone unnoticed as pregnant (kidding had ended in March!). Eavesdrop also had pretty severe mastitis, so we ended up having to treat her specially, and bottle fed the babe for a few weeks. Eventually the baby became our little helper – she would jump around in the barn while we were cleaning, or dance around the mamas in the milk parlor.

The baby a few days after birth! Mom, Eavesdrop, in the background.

The baby a few days after birth! Mom, Eavesdrop, in the background.

Bottle Feeding

Bottle Feeding

Some other projects I worked on in late July were creating a “Pasture Inventory Sheet” GoogleDoc for the farm. Because we were trying to move towards MIG, it became clear that we needed to be doing a much better job with record keeping. The final document ended up including the following columns: Date In, Date Out, # Days on Field, Paddock, Pasture Name/Location, Season(s) of Use, Soil(s), Slope, Size, Stock #, Stocking Density, Notes, and Photo Point. Tamara had said that she wanted the herd managers to use this daily, but I don’t think they actually ended up using it. I think Dylan had a pretty ingrained system of handwriting his daily notes. Making the document was still useful for me to understand an ideal record keeping system. Over these weeks, I also took milk cultures from our mastitis girls, and brought them to the local vet for testing. The results showed that some of the girls who we considered as having mastitis, actually had very mild cases with somatic cell counts under the specific Masitis level. This was good news!

Fencing Challenges

It was early July and the dry California heat was intensifying. The Premier1 package had arrived and I decided to test the fence in a little piece of pasture under the vegetable garden. This way, if we put a few “test” goats or weeners in there, we could keep an eye on them from the farm house. With each electric fence came a galvanized steel ground rod and a solar charger. The idea is that the connection between the sun –> charger –> ground rod –> fence creates a current, ideally above 3000 volts to shock the animals and keep them within the fence. So, after charging the solar charger in the sun for a day or so, I began to assemble the parts. But, of course I hit into my first problem… literally. The ground was so dry that the ground rod would barely go more than 5 inches under the soil (even when hit with a sledge hammer)… it was supposed to be 2 feet deep. I tried moistening up the soil, but even then the voltage was too low to be effective. The few weaning babies we put inside the fence escaped with barely shock at all.

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Bucket of water with tiny hole, dripping water onto the ground rod to moisten soil

Babies testing out the new fencing

Babies testing out the new fencing (Behind is the milking parlor)

 

Discouraged, I called up the Premier1 help center and explained the problem. The woman on the phone told me that of course I was running into this problem, and that since we live in a dry area we should have ordered their “Pos/Neg” fencing! Interestingly, the woman who I originally consulted about the purchase never mentioned this item… Anyways, the Pos/Neg fencing comes with 2 ground rods, less flimsy fence spikes, and works better with dry soil because of it’s alternating hotwires and groundwires. Essentially, it relies less on the soil moisture to create the current. Finally convinced, I packed up the two fences we bought, and shipped them back to Premier1, making an exchange for the Pos/Neg ones. What a headache…

 

Pasture Management & My Blossoming Love of Goats

When I first arrived at Toluma Farms, Tamara, Hadley and I sat down and talked about efforts towards improving pasture management on the farm. I came in with some knowledge about Management Intensive Grazing (I shared with them Gary Fick’s old powerpoints), so we discussed the changes that would need to be made to move in this direction. At that point, Toluma was rotating 3 herds (milking ewes, milking does, dry ewes) between 8 out of their 12 total pastures, while the dry does would graze continuously on 1 lush pasture with a system that irrigated the hill with recycled water from the creamery.

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Milking does grazing in the “raddish pasture” – Early June

We decided that the first step that would need to be taken towards MIG was buying portable fencing – this became one of my projects! So, I contacted Premier1 Supplies, and after some research decided to order the “ElectroStop Plus” electric goat/sheep netting – one 164” long and one 82” long.

During the few weeks of waiting for the fencing to arrive, I became more and more independent with my work at Toluma. I became comfortable milking alone, and Hadley and I would often divide up farm work between the two of us. I also became much more comfortable and loving with the goats and sheep. At first, I was a little hesitant about how to interact with them (just because of a lack of experience), but after a few weeks I had made bonds with many of the goats – specifically Timon and Thumper (weening babes), Natasha (a crazy milker), and so many other lovelies!

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Thumper! The most affectionate kid

Toluma Farms!

This summer I worked at Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery, an organic goat and sheep farm & creamery. I came in with no previous extended farm experience, and minimal previous work with livestock. From June through August, I headed out each Monday from Berkeley, CA for an hour long-drive to the rolling hills above Tomales Bay. I stayed on the farm for half of my week, returning to Berkeley for weekends to bus tables at Chez Panisse Restaurant. Toluma is a beautiful 160-acre series of pastures, with an on-site milking parlor, creamery, farm house, barn, chicken coop, bees, and small raised-bed vegetable garden. Tamara and David, the owners, started the farm in 2003, while simultaneously working as a respective psychiatrist and lung surgeon in San Francisco (which they continue to do) Рimpressive! When I arrived at Toluma, there were a total of 3 employees on the creamery side, 1 head milker, and 2 alternating herd managers, with additional help from neighbors and volunteers. Officially, I was to be the intern focusing on pasture management, with plans to move them towards a Management Intensive Grazing system.

On my first day, and every following morning, I helped Kristy, the head milker, milk the 120 milking goats and around 50 milking sheep using electric pulsation equipment. Generally, we would begin around 8-8:30, depending on whether the creamery folk emptied the milk tank and began a chemical wash in the tank that morning. On wash days, milking was usually a little behind. With 2 people milking, the whole process could take about 3 1/2 hours for goats, the changeover of equipment, sheep and clean up. The actual milking process involved filling grain feeders and letting in lines of 12 goats, or 6 sheep, into the stalls. To protect against possible infection and mastitis, we would clean their teats with a warm cloth, strip them (3 squirts on each teat), and use a lanolin-based “predip” and iodine-based “postdip.” If we noticed hard, or cracking udders, we would apply udder balm. Before milking, we would have separated all “mastitis girls”, goats (identified as having mastitis with green ankle bands) into a separate holding pen, to be milked last. Once all lines of clean girls had been milked into the tank, we would turn off the pulsing system, and test each mastitis girl, by hand, using CMT testing (California Mastitis Testing). The mastitis milk would be directed into a plastic tub, to be donated to various people — sometimes to feed neighbor pigs or baby goats. Finally, once all milking was over, I would herd up the goats to whichever pasture was being used that day. At the beginning of the summer, I’d say I was a fairly timid herder, but quickly learned the ways. Goats were generally much easier to herd than the sheep (although naughty about sneaking back in the parlor to steal more grain) who were often skiddish or hard to get out of the parlor.

Goats in Holding Pen Waiting for Milking

Goats in Holding Pen Waiting for Milking

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After milking was finished, I would then switch over to helping Hadley, the herd manager, take care of all other farm jobs. Projects were always switching, many of which I’ll write about in other posts, but we would consistently fill up the gravity fed water tank, and drive it to the pastures to fill water troughs for the animals. On a few pastures at Toluma, water is actually pumped directly into troughs, but there are still many which depend upon the gravity fed system. We would also take care of any sick girls in the afternoons, for example a feverish ewe with parasites or pneumonia, or Blue Moon or Babe (goats who had occasional limps). Daily, we would also lay down straw in the barn beds, put flakes of hay (grown at Toluma! I’ll get into this later) in the feeders, cleanup and reorganize the barn, check on the non-milkers, and then bring down all goats (milkers and non-milkers) to the barn for nighttime.

 

Hadley showing me how to herd down the sheep for milking

Hadley showing me how to herd down the sheep for milking

Thirsty goats

Thirsty goats

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