Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rabbit Shearing Day

Jamie, before her haircut

Ryan and I sheared 2 of our 4 angora rabbits today. It happens 3 or 4 times a year. It's a messy job; the fur gets EVERYWHERE. The photos are of Jamie, our female German Angora. She is even more beautiful in real life. I don’t know why, but it is hard to get a good photo of an Angora rabbit.

It took us 4 or 5 hours to shear 2 rabbits. I’ve been assured that it goes much faster with more practice. Hmmm…. I hope so! We tried using electric clippers for the first time today. Ryan did a lot of the shearing. I think with better clippers and more practice we will be able to do it much faster.

Jamie, after her haircut

Yes, it is the same rabbit in both photos. Jamie’s fur is brown and gray at the tips and white at the base.

As soon as I get a chance, I want to spin some of the angora into yarn and try felting some of it. I don’t know what I’ll make with it yet, but one thing’s for sure… it’ll be soft and warm!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Goat Shelter

It's raining today which reminded me that lots of people have asked me what type of shelter is necessary for cashmere goats. Since cashmere goats grow cashmere, they don't need shelter for warmth. However, they tend to seek shelter from the rain and wind.

As a beginning farmer, I was surprised to learn that a lot of farmers nowadays don't keep their animals in barns. Crowding a bunch of animals in a barn leads to respiratory infections, a condition that goats and sheep are particularly susceptible to. Another benefit of not keeping animals in the barn is that there are no stalls to clean. We use our barn for storage (hay, camper, building materials, tools, etc.) and for temporary animal housing, such as when we need to quarantine an animal because it is sick or new to the farm.

In our goat pastures, we've built sturdy, inexpensive and portable goat tunnels. It is extremely important to build these tunnels with sides that are nearly vertical so the goats cannot climb on them. Also, place the tunnel where goats can access both ends so that none of your “bullies” can block the entrance and hog the whole shelter for themselves.

While one person can build a goat tunnel, it requires at least 2 people to set it up. The following instructions are for building a 13’ x 4½’ tunnel. We purchased all materials at the local farm store except the tarp, which we bought at Wal-Mart, and the lumber, metal strapping, and screws. The total cost was about $140. It took us a few hours to build one tunnel. This is how we built ours and they work well for us. Please consider your unique situation before building this stucture.

NOTE: These instructions say to use cattle panels, which we did for the first 2 shelters we built. However, if you have horned goats, I strongly recommend that you use goat panels. They are more expensive but they have 4"x4" openings which are too small for the goats to get their heads stuck in. The total length of your tunnel will be 12" shorter because the goat panels are 48" tall rather than 52" like the cattle panels.

3 cattle panels (52” x 16’)
9’x12’ tarp
4 – 5’ T-posts
2 – 16’ 2x4s
Metal strapping with holes (about 1/2" wide; it comes in a roll from the hardware store)
1” or 1½” outdoor screws
Fence wire
T-post wires

Bolt cutters
Tin snips
T-post driver
Work gloves
Safety goggles

1. Using bolt cutters, shorten 3 cattle panels to 10’6” to 12’ (we did 12’, but if I had to do it again, I’d do 10’6”). Make the cuts so there is a closed rectangle on the good piece.

2. Cut the 2x4s down to 14’.

3. Cut the metal strapping into 2” pieces with tin snips.

4. Lay the cattle panels side by side and attach them to a 2x4 using the metal strapping and screws (there should be about 6” of 2x4 sticking out at each end).

5. Attach the other 2x4 to the opposite end of the panels.

6. Using fence wire, attach the panels together in 3 or 4 places along each seam.

7. Set 2 of the T-posts 12’6” apart to form the supports for one side of the tunnel.

8. Set the cattle panels on the ground with one of the 2x4s next to the T-posts. The 2x4s should be under the cattle panels so they end up on the inside of the tunnel. Carefully (you don’t want the bent panels to spring back and hit you) push the other 2x4 toward the T-posts and bend the middle of the cattle panels upwards to form the tunnel. The sides of the tunnel should be nearly vertical.

9. While one person holds the tunnel in place, the second person should install the remaining 2 T-posts to form the supports for the 2nd side. (Alternatively, you can install all the T-posts first and lift one side of the tunnel over one row of T-posts to carefully bend it to fit inside them.)

10. Connect the panels to the T-posts using T-post wires. If all has worked out correctly, the T-posts should be positioned just outside the tarp area.

11. Using twine, tie the tarp to the cattle panels.

Viola! You have a goat shelter. Now, give yourself a pat on the back, get a cold drink and sit back to admire your work for a while.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

International Year of Natural Fibers

The General Assembly of the United Nations has designated 2009 as the "International Year of Natural Fibers". The objectives are to bring attention to and stimulate demand for natural fibers, to encourage worldwide governmental support, to foster international partnerships, and to promote the sustainability of fiber industries.

As a cashmere goat farmer and natural fiber enthusiast, I find this very exciting. Around 30 million tonnes (1 tonne = 2204 pounds) of natural fibers are produced annually. However, since the 1960s, the use of synthetic fibres has increased dramatically causing the natural fiber industry to lose much of their market share.

Textiles made of natural fibers have been a fundamental part of human life since the dawn of civilization. Fragments of cotton articles dated from 5000 BC have been excavated in Mexico and Pakistan. According to Chinese tradition, people began using silk in the 27th century BC. The oldest wool textile, discovered in Denmark, dates from 1500 BC.

While the methods used to make fabrics have improved since then, their functions have changed very little. Most natural fibers are still used to make clothing and containers and to insulate, soften and decorate our living spaces.

“Keep the Fleece” is an international natural fiber contest open to anyone. Final judging will be done by a panel of international experts in October at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Visit for more details. To learn more about natural fibers and the “International Year of Natural Fiber”, visit

Now, read those clothing tags and buy clothing made with natural fibers! No synthetic can compare - IMHO ;o)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Yuck!

The Good
After about a week of rain, the sun is finally shining! We had 8 goat kids in a week and all but one are still living. The little guy who was struggling seems to be pulling through.

It's fun to watch those kids playing. They jump around kind of like rabbits, hopping rather than running sometimes. They are very amusing. I'm looking forward to some sunny days so we can watch them without getting soaked!

The Bad
It was a tiring week. All of the goats kidded without problem, but as I mentioned before, one buckling died and his brother was not doing well. We kept him in the house the past several days. Consequently, I did not get much of anything done except tending to him. It's not that he required that much attention, but I couldn't help just watching him. Goat kids are very cute. Besides, I was not concentrating very well from lack of sleep. Just like human babies, goat kids need to nurse in the middle of the night.

The Yuck
Don't read this if you are eating... Part of nursing this little goat back to health included giving him enemas. Honestly, I've never given an enema to anyone or anything before. I sat on the edge of the tub with his hind-end hanging into the tub. I'll spare you the details; suffice it to say it was messy! Fortunately the tub is easy to clean. Once he started pooping normally again, he pooped a lot. Our dogs cleaned up after him, which was DISGUSTING but convenient. I have never, and will never, let dogs lick me!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just Kidding Around

We've had 7 goat kids this week - 5 bucklings and 2 doelings. We were hoping to have more doelings than bucklings, but since 4 of our 8 does have kidded, it looks like that is not going to happen.

One of the bucklings that was born yesterday died last night, and his brother is struggling. I have him by a heater in the kitchen right now.

Several hours later...

My day has been consumed by kidding activities. The little guy I'm nursing along has had most of my attention. I actually brought his mom inside so he could nurse. I kept her just inside the back door. When he was done nursing, I put them both outside in the rabbit hutch with a thick bed of straw, just outside our back door so I could keep a close eye on them.

In the midst of all that, Violet gave birth to twins around noon, which I've checked several times. They are snow-white.

Cashmere goats are very hardy, but in the cool, wet weather we've been having kids are susceptible to chilling. When they are chilled, they won't nurse. When they are cold and don't nurse they get weak and die. It can happen fast. That's why I check on the newborns every hour or so.

I'm looking forward to relaxing with Brett and a good movie tonight. Maybe with a buckling in my lap...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Our First Kid

We are having an exciting day. Eleanor just gave birth to her first kid and I had the good fortune to watch the birth. I wish I'd have had a video camera... it was amazing! Since his mom is a Roosevelt, we decided to name our new buckling Teddy.

We are expecting 10-14 goat kids over the next month or so. We have 8 pregnant does and Cashmere goats often have twins. There are a number of factors that determines if a goat has twins, including genetics, age (first time moms have a higher rate of singles), and nutrition.

The photos on this post are of Grover and Eleanor, the proud parents on the day they conceived, and Eleanor and Teddy, this morning. Teddy is about 1/2 hour old in this photo.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Intro to Cashmere Goats

A lot of people are surprised to learn that cashmere comes from a goat. Yep, it’s true – the ultra soft “fiber of kings” comes from a lowly goat. I didn’t know it either until we purchased our current home and decided to start a farm. Most of our property is mountainside and wooded, so we had to find an animal that we could raise on this nontraditional farmland. Goats seemed like a natural choice. I never imagined I would raise goats, but when I learned that they produce cashmere I was hooked.

All goats except the angora goat have 2 hair follicles; one that produces coarse guard hair and another that produces a downy undercoat. Cashmere goats have been bred to produce a lot of down that is at least 1.25” long and less than 18.5 microns in diameter.

Cashmere is not a breed of goat, but rather a type. The North American Cashmere Goat Breed Standard has been recently developed and adopted by the Eastern Cashmere Association as a measure by which to judge cashmere goats. It is an important step toward establishing a cashmere goat breed.

Cashmere goats have a variety of “looks”. Some have short guard hair and some have long guard hair. They also come in a variety of colors from white to brown and silver to black. The goat featured in the photo at the top of this blog is one of our long-haired bucks, Spotless. The photos with this post is one of our does, Desire. Desire is a short haired goat; you can see the light colored cashmere growing out under the dark guard hair. The photo with the log in the backgroud is from the fall. The other one is from last week. She has grown a lot of cashmere since the fall. I love to pet her – she is very, very soft.