We look forward to winter every year as January is the one month per year we get to relax from growing, producing, and planning. This winter, we had the delightful opportunity to witness the birth of two baby goats only one day before Valentine’s Day! Our herd queen Promise did such a lovely job and we are so proud of her. The last few weeks have been filled with yogurt-making, cheesemaking, weighing baby goats, milking Promise, trimming hooves, bottle feeding, and planning for spring. We are about to head into our busy season and while we’re going to miss our cozy evenings bundled up inside with mugs of cocoa, we are all looking forward to barefoot walks, fresh fruit and veggies, and new baby chicks.
We’ve had quite a few changes since our autumn update – farming in Michigan certainly isn’t for the faint of heart and we’ve had our fair share of adapting and letting go. March finds us in a better place in terms of long-term, achievable goals and we are incredibly excited to start this next adventure in our farming journey.
What’s Growing Update
We have a variety of new veggies we’re trialing this year, including leeks, luffa, and okra! Follow along on the Dancing Feathers Farm Instagram page or Facebook page for planting updates, seedling progress, and more details about our kitchen garden planting processes.
Following the horrible, shocking loss of our beautiful burro Binx during his routine gelding procedure and after many, many months of trying our best to ride and love on our favorite mustang Rooster and his two remaining burro buddies, we made the incredibly difficult decision to reach out to Operation Wild Horse for help. Patti and Jimmy came the very next day and, with nothing but love and encouragement in their hearts, agreed to take our equine boys back to Illinois with them. Jen was particularly devastated; after coming off Roo and having more than a few accidents with him on the ground, she felt like she’d failed her horse and her family. Patti and Jimmy reassured Jen that being a good, responsible horse owner means always doing what’s best for the horse – and in the case of Roo, it meant returning him to his buddies at the OWH barn.
We share this update because while exposing our vulnerabilities and failures isn’t easy, we believe it’s important for other first-generation farmers to know they’re not alone in making tough decisions. Jen had a dream of owning a horse and we gave it our all. Turns out, the dream she had in her mind and the reality we faced day to day didn’t align or create a healthy environment for anyone involved. We’re no strangers to failure and loss on our farm and while this one has hit the hardest so far, we know we made the right decision for our animals and our family. We are so grateful to OWH for coming to our aid.
Homesteaders and farming friends – don’t be afraid to try new things…but in that same vein, don’t be afraid to let go of what isn’t serving you. Living to meet unreasonable expectations, either those placed upon you by others or in our case, those you place upon yourself, will burn you out and take you further from the contentment you seek. Be brutally honest with yourself and welcome mistakes, as they’re often the most important learning opportunities you’ll have in this life. We miss our equines, but are really happy to report we’re in a better, more stable place financially, emotionally, and physically.
Our next animal update is also quite devastating, but don’t worry – this story also has a happy ending.
Maggie and Mable sadly came back positive for CAE for a third time. WADDL test results showed CAE levels through the roof and my 20+ years of goat experience veterinarian said the numbers were some of the highest she’d ever seen. Maggie also developed a limp – confirmed by our veterinarian to be related to her CAE diagnosis. Our poor girl was in pain and barely able to get around. We made the excruciating decision to put both girls down. They were loved on and treated with care and tenderness until their very last breath.
If you’ve followed our Maggie and Mable plight on social media, you’ll know Jen is still seeing red about the goat breeder who sold these two babies to us. The breeder maintains she’s “done nothing wrong,” we’re “stressing her out with our messages,” and that “her goats are clean,” yet she failed to provide us with any results showing a 100% negative herd, despite us asking multiple times. The Michigan goat world is relatively small and while we aren’t publically sharing the name of the contaminated farm or the ignorant breeder who refused to refund our purchase price (we didn’t want the thousands back that we’d spent on the sick goats she sold us, just the initial purchase price), we’ve certainly learned exactly what we WON’T do with our own herd.
Going forward, our entire herd will be tested every 6 months for the next 2 years, then every year before kidding season from there on out. New babies will go home with a package of information for their new owners and we will provide lifelong support for every doeling or buckling that leaves our farm. We are taking this horrible lesson and turning it into something good – knowledge, power, and support for other new goat owners. Maggie and Mable will be honored through our dedication to health, transparency, and wellness for every person, plant, and animal on our farm.
Speaking of wellness and doing best by our animals, our favorite Alpine buck Jerry was getting quite restless with only a pregnant Promise to keep him company. As a clean-tested, but unregistered guy, we wanted to find him a good home where he could access as many does as he wanted. We found him a great farm with a bunch of little does for him to romance and while we were sad to say goodbye, we are so grateful for the time we had with him. We love you, Jer!
That leaves us with Promise, the Nubian doe who belonged to the previous owners of this farm and was purchased and brought back to this farm last fall. Promise is perhaps the best surprise we’ve had since moving here. She effortlessly birthed two bucklings on February 13th and despite never having the chance to raise her own babies with her previous owners, Promise took to motherhood like a pro. Both bucklings, Eros (named after the Greek god of love) and Hermes (named after the Greek messenger of the gods), were dam-raised until they were two weeks old, then transitioned to the bottle to save Promise’s teats (turns out bucklings can be quite rough on the udder!!).
Just this week we added a new future herd sire, Apollo, to our growing little herd. He came from a well-recommended breeder, Quarter-Mile Farm, in southern Michigan. We are delighted to have him and his rockstar pedegree on our farm and cannot wait to watch him grow! He is such a handsome dude already and we are grateful to have him.
We’re also adding another Nubian doe to our herd in the next few weeks. Barb is a moonspotted grade doe from Todaro Farm. She comes with a beautiful milking record and an even sweeter temperament. We are happy to finally have a friend for Promise and we can’t wait to see the babies they gift us next spring!!
Our layer hens are loving the longer days and ramping back up to full production. Looking for delicious Michigan farm fresh eggs from free-range hens supplemented with non-GMO layer feed? Connect with us here for more info.
What’s Next Update
While the last 5 months have undoubtedly come with their fair share of hardships and challenges, we are genuinely excited for what’s to come. Jen has found her calling as a human doula-turned-goat doula and she adores every part of raising dairy goats and hand milking. The next few farm projects include:
- Finishing out our seed starting room so we can grow on a larger scale
- Completing our workshop clean-up project so we can create more soaps, balms, candles, and bouquets
- Developing our dairy goat herd share program so local community members can invest in their own fresh goat milk
- Conducting some much-needed farmhouse repairs and upgrades, specifically to our kitchen, hot water system, and septic
- Starting kitchen garden seeds and building four new beds for cold-weather production
- Creating a separate space for goat milk storage and cleaning
- Investing in another rainbow egg-laying flock
- Trying our hand at geese and possibly guineafowl
- Building a roadside stand for pickups and seasonal sales
- Waiting to hear back about the USDA grant and the Farmer Veteran Coalition grant – fingers crossed!
We know it’s only a few short months before we’re wishing for cool breezes and longer nights…so we’re soaking up these last few chilly weeks as much as we can. Hoping this update finds you safe, healthy, and content. We appreciate every single one of you.