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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. Since flat land is at a premium, it is a not a large structure – just 30x20 feet. It faces south/southeast to take advantage of morning sunlight, something the goats very much appreciate in the winter. It is multi-purpose; though the horse rarely gets stalled, the 10x20 stall is built to accommodate him as well as goats. We have also loaded cattle out of it and the solid wood and 2x4 horse panel lot – it is stout enough for the cattle, has small enough openings that even the littlest goat kid can’t squeeze through, and is smooth and tall.

In hindsight, I planned the tack/feed room a bit too small, but it is still a functional space. The two 10x10 stalls are used primarily for goats, usually does with young kids, and each have their own paddock comprised of tall 4x4 panels. 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.

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. Aside from those already mentioned, goals include a water collection system on both the dairy barn and the storage shed/pumphouse. The dairy barn is on a slope above the orchard and garden, so it would be a good gravity-flow watering setup.

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! 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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