Saturday, December 31, 2011

Linear Appraisal 2011

I meant to write about Linear Appraisal earlier in the year, but often the work of farming keeps me from writing in a timely manner about the farming. If you need a primer on what Linear Appraisal is, I wrote about it here.  You can go ahead and read it.

I'll wait.

In 2011, Northern California was scheduled to have its normal appraisal sessions in September and/or October.  Since I had freshened 42 does starting in early February, and was on the fence about several of them, and because I wanted to use LA to help me decide who could stay, and I was not about to milk all of them until the fall, I had to schedule a special session.  This allowed me to have my appraisal session in May instead of October, but that convenience does cost a good deal more than being a part of the regular schedule.  On the other hand, milking ten more does than you would like for an extra five months isn't free either.

The session was scheduled the one free weekend I had in May, with two show weekends before and two show weekends after.  Several of the does had already been clipped for shows the previous weekends, though we still had upwards of 20 does to clip in about four days leading up to the appraisal.

We were fortunate to have help once more from friends Amanda, Jenn, and Rebekah in getting the rest of the does washed and clipped in time for appraisal.

One of the things that finally sunk in for me this year is just how much harder appraisers are on first freshening yearlings than they are on any other age group, and that one should not expect even her first freshening two year olds to all appraise at the top of the scale.  In short: I've adjusted my expectations.

One of the does I was really looking forward to having reappraised was Penny Wise, since I was somewhat depressed about her 82 as a two year old first freshener.  As a second freshener, her udder really filled out, looking well balanced and capacious- her udder looked so good that I decided to take a chance and keep a buck out of her for myself and for those people wanting to breed their home milkers to a buck who would get them better capacity.  But, because I had some lingering doubts, I sold her other two bucks as wethers- my philosophy being: I generally don't take chances with bucks, but if I do (see Guy Noir), he's going to stay here and mess with my breeding program, not someone else's.

Penny Wise, sired by Guy Noir

The appraiser took one look at her udder as she was walking away and said "that's an excellent mammary system!", and I heartily agreed with him.  She scored a VVEE 88, which was a huge relief to me, and gave me the confidence to take her to REDGA the next weekend.  There, she easily won grand champion three rings in a row.  Woot!  A long time Toggenberg breeder came over to ask me about Penny Wise at the REDGA show and to offer congratulations, so I asked her if she could believe that Penny Wise had scored an 82 as a first freshener.  She said that an 82 is really pretty good, especially if the doe is developing well.  I was a little surprised, and asked a few more breeders about linear appraisal scores, and it turns out that I was being way too hard on my first fresheners in the past.  Lesson learned-- it's always nice to find out that I can be more relaxed about things.

Overall, my three year old second fresheners (and the one three year old first freshener cough*BlackIce*cough) did well, mostly scoring in the 86-88 range, and I was happy with my first freshening yearlings and two year olds who scored in the 82-86 range.

The real highlight of the day for me was when Alum Root and her younger half sister Blizzard both ended up with scores of VEEE 90 on appraisal.  They are both granddaughters of my much-loved and much-missed doe Sara, and the first Castle Rock does to score 90s on appraisal.   Because I think very highly of Sara's daughters, granddaughters, and even some great granddaughters, it is especially nice to get independent verification of their niceness. 

Blizzard looks much happier in real life
I was also very pleased that Purple Rain scored VEEV 90- the second year in a row she's gotten such a high score. 

I was allowed to have the does milked out before they got final mammary scores, allowing the appraiser to really get a good idea of texture and capacity.  Many of our does scored E (excellent) in the mammary category (this is not to be confused with the E in the final four-letter score), and the appraiser told me that he gave more Es for mammary in my herd than he'd given out the previous year for all breeds.  There were quite a few more excellents at this session than there had been four years previously during my first LA session, which can be seen as an indication that the herd is moving in the right direction.

Overall, it was another good session, though with so many does to appraise (three sheets worth!), it did take quite a bit of time.  The appraiser even asked me if I didn't want to take a break and get off of my feet for a while, but I told him I'm pretty used to being on my feet for the vast majority of the day.  Had I not had extra help from friends, it would have been a much longer day, since others were there to observe and to get animals out of the barn and put them away when they were done.  Oh! And to milk (thanks Amanda!) before the girls got their final, final scores.

In looking over all of the scores for all of the categories and comparing them to the 2010 appraisal and the 2008 appraisal, I like the direction that the scores are moving in as the herd evolves.   I'm already looking forward to our 2012 appraisal session...I should say, I'm looking forward to seeing the scores, not so much the washing and shaving of all of the senior does again!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Out & About

Yesterday, after finishing morning chores, I was sitting on the couch watching a random movie from 1940, when Andy asked me what I hoped to accomplish for the day.  I told him I had pretty much accomplished it already and wasn't planing on doing much beyond watching classic movies and eating tasty fudge made and given to us by our lovely neighbors. 

With the exception of getting Bert and Ernie out for a walk with their packs.  Gotta work on getting those boys in shape!

I've added the pack bags to their saddles, so they get used to the "extra" weight, and the feel of the material against their sides.  We don't have many trails in the immediate area, so we end up on what country roads we can find, which usually have more traffic than either I or the boys would like, since passing cars tend to freak them out a bit.  Fortunately, we have friends who live at the end of one of the longer and steeper country roads within walking distance, which makes for a decent training walk where we can let go of the leads.  The boys do better at keeping up when allowed off lead, but are unpredictable enough when cars pass us that I can only let them off when we've gotten off the main road.

We do gain several hundred feet of elevation on this walk- these pictures were taken at the highest part, and our turning around point.

What's that in your hands? Can I eat it?

Notice how Ernie is in the lead (usually the case), and how Bert's tongue is sticking out. Bert is still getting tired faster than I would like, but at least there isn't any (extremely) pitiful bleating like the last time we walked up this road.  That was two years ago, the boys didn't have any weight on them and it was around 90 degrees.  So I suppose this is an improvement.

Bert sees many hills in the distance and contemplates laying down right there should we decide to go any further.

I was hoping to get a nice picture of the Valley, or possibly the Sierra Mountains, which you can see on a clear day from this location, but it was so hazy, we couldn't even see Sacramento.

Pssssst! Bert! Snacking opportunity this way!

You may have noticed that Bert has matching accessories, where Ernie's red halter clashes rather loudly with his purple packs. Apparently, really bright colors and pastels are all the rage for goat halters these days as I've only been able to find a pinkish purple (meh), and the dark green halter was a special order because granny-smith-apple-green just wasn't going to do and Bert needed something.  Ernie is actually wearing a llama halter, which I think fits him much better than the large goat halters do, so I'm waiting to get some motivation to shop for llama halters in dark purple before Ernie gets to be all matchy.

The boys don't seem to mind the addition of the packs to their saddles, and while the horses, llamas, and alpacas we pass on our walks seem to find them fascinating, Bert and Ernie pay them little attention.  The one thing Bert couldn't seem to tear himself away from on our walk was the half blind teacup poodle with all of three teeth who was barking and tugging at the end of his leash as though he was fixing to tear Bert to shreds.  I had to drag Bert away from the little monster because he had stopped walking and just wouldn't stop staring at it.

We did get asked if we were walking alpacas (it's the big ears and all the wool that fools 'em every time), and another person slowed her car down to ask if we let children ride our animals, and by the way, what were they?  When I told her they were goats, she wanted to know how much I'd charge, since her daughter wanted to ride a pony, but she though that would be too dangerous.

Somehow, a goat seems safer?

Good to know.  And now I'm tempted to see if the great Google will find me some goat saddles, as there is apparently an area of the goat-related economy I've been ignoring all this time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Russian Beehives

Make my bee hives look boring.

I saw these little gems in Yaroslavl, Russia, and they supposedly are reproductions of buildings found in the town of Uglich along the Volga River.  They are fully functional bee hives set in a large garden within an old monastery that also served as a fort (or as they call it- kremlin). 

My mom and I went to Russia for about a week in early September, which is just enough time to see the very highlights of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a few towns in between.  We traveled by boat along an extensive canal and lock system, which is very heavily traveled by both tourist boats and small oil tankers. Our first port of call after leaving Moscow was supposed to be Uglich, however, heavy fog kept us in one of the river locks for five hours, putting us far enough behind schedule that we had to skip that stop.

At least this gave us some small taste of what Uglich was like.  And an idea of what beekeepers with a short active season do with some of their downtime.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Refreshingly not goat related

Looks like someone is under the impression that she's found some fresh hay before anyone else did.

It's all mine!  Mine I tell you!

Every so often, someone will leave the man-door to the barn open, and some of our free ranging hens will take the opportunity to go where few hens have gone before.  The discovery of one (or more) of these hens manages to surprise me since I'm really not expecting to see a chicken in this particular part of our barn.

You look puny from up here!

It took a little while to convince her that she was not, in fact, a fifteenth century explorer who could lay claim to something just because she "discovered" it.

Ha! I told you we weren't allowed in there!
 A bit later I found the same hen trying to lay claim to a new piece of real estate, which did not please the hen who had already made herself comfortable in that space.

It's too bad I wasn't able to capture sound with this picture- our explorer friend next tried to move into this nest box (also known as a corner feeder), and the Maran fluffed up and let out a steady growl in an attempt to intimidate the red hen. 

Have you ever heard a chicken growl?  It's kind of a funny sound, unless you hear it while you are trying to remove eggs from under a hen.  Then it is a sound that means your hand is about to be attacked.  And can I just say- for those of you who want broody hens so you can hatch out your own chicks- please contact me.  I seem to specialize in getting broody hens, and while they are fantastic for hatching out your own eggs, if you don't want to hatch eggs yet find yourself with a hard-core months-on-end broody hen, it makes daily egg gathering very unpleasant.  Unless you are in to collecting new beak scars on your hands every day.  And if you are, man, do I have an opportunity for you!

Seriously? You're talking about chickens?

 Yes, well, perhaps if you didn't usually close your eyes when we pull out the camera...

I'd have more pictures of you I felt like posting.

At least someone kept their eyes open while the camera was out...

Weighing in at almost 100 pounds, Mini is looking much more like an adult.  She and Stella get along very well, and for quite a while, they were enthusiastically playing together during chore time.  Now though, Mini has gotten more serious about her job and play holds less of her interest, which seems to be sort of confusing to Stella who had gotten quite used to play time.

She's transferred that play energy into following me from room to room while I try to do work.  Sometimes she just stands and stares. Which isn't at all unnerving. There's nothing I love more than having my own entourage of one.  All the time.

My plan to have the blog updated more regularly with a guest writer has, for now, fallen by the wayside.  Katie had some family matters that needed immediate attending to, so her stay with us was unfortunately cut short. I hope to have other guest writers in the future, and will let them introduce themselves as they accept the invitation to blog. I am still hoping to get a few more posts up in the near future about native plants, and the benefits of finding space for them both on and off farms.  I am hoping this partly because more time for writing means I'm probably finally getting a break from milking.  I just need to get one more milk test done, and then I'll be able to start drying off more of the girls.

But, that is a subject for another post...