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  • Kendra R. Shatswell

A Farm from Scratch

“Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

On the farm, there is so much to look forward to each season, each day. Yes, there are hardships and sometimes winter seems endless, but overall there is a sense of anticipation, not dread.

Hefty Goat Holler Farm started basically from scratch – some stretches of dilapidated perimeter fencing and a roofless shell of a commercial dairy barn. There were no cross fences to speak of, just a few very bent panels clinging to chunks of cement that were meant to contain a previous owner’s hogs. Brush was so incredibly thick and tall in a few areas that it had to be dozed out. I wish I had taken more “Before” pictures to show just how much progress has been made.

A second round of dozing cleared more ground on top of the southwest hill. We tried to utilize as much wood as we could, but we did have dozer decks to burn.

The dairy barn has been mostly re-roofed and a north wall built. It is used for buck housing and hay storage. When the smaller block section is roofed, it will be used for bulk feed and equipment storage – it is a big blank slate, and I look forward to fully utilizing the space. I envision an enclosed feed and storage room, complete with a head gate to hold those smelly bucks when I need to trim hooves, and portable goat panels to easily reconfigure the interior barriers as the need arises.

A new perimeter fence along the road has been installed, as well as several cross fences. I have plans for more but it is a delicate business, balancing the need for fencing that can meet up with a shelter and not over-crowd the narrow holler. I want it to be efficient, with more than enough pastures to rotate and meet the seasonal needs of a breeding operation, such as pens for housing weaning kids, pregnant or dry does, and the bucks.

Letting the forage rest is important, especially for the new grasses sown or sprigged, and the woody-stemmed forages like serecia lespedeza and buck brush. If the goats had access to the woody-stemmed forage all year long, it would likely be gone in a few seasons. Already, my wild blackberries are a thing of the past. I have no doubt that the cross fence at the top of the hill saved the new Arid orchard grass and Korean lespedeza from being grazed to a premature death during the summer; once the goats were fenced away from it, it was able to reserve enough energy to grow again once it started finally started raining in the fall.

About half of the property is wooded, and I intend to keep it that way. Eventually, I want the wooded hill to serve as a “no grazing” paddock when the fields are likely to have the highest number of Barber Pole larvae. By fencing the wooded hill, I will also have the option to limit the herd’s acorn intake in the fall.

My very favorite addition to the farm is the new barn. It faces south/southeast to take advantage of morning sunlight, something the goats very much appreciate in the winter.

The first picture is current. The second was circa 2020 and the last around 2014. In hindsight, I would have made it twice as large! But at the time we started building, I only owned about 10 goats. Currently, it is 20x30 with a 7x10 feed room. The big 20x10 stall is also used for the "main" goat herd. I plan to close in the west end further by adding a sliding door. In fall 2019, we added a cement footer to the opening to divert water in case of the occasional flood. In 2021, I started reflooring the main barn - it was just packed dirt. I got a dump truck load of crushed limestone and bought rubber mats and cut them to fit the kidding stall side. New doors were put it on the kidding stalls, too, so it could be completely shut off from the north wind in the winter. In 2022, I also closed in the front east side and added a window. Eventually, I will make a little covering for it. We also closed in the west side, added a door there, and another cement barrier. Just one left to do as of 2023! Then I will be able to fill the whole barn with the small limestone and cover with stall mats. I also closed in the front east side and added a window. Eventually, I will make a little covering for it. My barn has had many faces over the years!

One day, I have a large barn addition planned...but that is one day... In 2022, I ordered some panels from Northeast Gate Company and had them shipped in! I was able to make three stalls with wonderful gates that either serve as kidding stalls or a milk room, depending on needs. I love these panels and hope to add more equipment from this company one day. Many of the small holding pens have also been remodeled with some locally sourced 9 bar goat and sheep panels and walk-through gates. The wire-filled gates from Tractor Supply just don't hold up to goats, so I've been replacing them with custom pipe and panel gates from a local pipe yard. They're heavy but oh so sturdy and have been fitted with gate wheels.

In 2021, I reroofed the hay barn with new tin! No more wet hay! It is a large building already but one small side isn't even roofed yet. It will get done hopefully within the next few years.

I keep a running list of projects and goals pertinent to the farm. Goals on paper make me pay attention and make me happy. Nothing is more satisfying than crossing one off as it is completed.

In summer 2019 we cut the first hay crop from the top field! What was once woods with many dead trees and a blanket of poison ivy produced several round bales of hay. Additionally, this field was a boon in the fall and winter, as I was able to stockpile the pasture for the goats to graze late in the season. We didn't forget the pollinators! Wild rudbeckia cropped up on the edges of the field, and it was left for a butterfly and bee banquet. Birds abounded, too! We've lived here 9 years now and I'm still constantly striving to improve pasture. Trimming trees, keeping weeds in check, sowing new varieties of grass, sprigging bermuda, and spreading some fertilizer courtesy of the goats. I've had a few unsuccessful ponds but hope to get one to hold eventually. I've added multiple cross fences to the whole place, and have one more in mind. My goal is always to be more efficient, to make things better or easier for me and the herd. For me, farming is an exercise in patience while maintaining a vigorous work ethic. It is immensely satisfying to complete a project, but I am thankful for all the progress that has already been made and for just being on the farm. A farm is good for the soul.


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