I pull on my boots and grab a bucket. Standard fare for anyone in Texas on a homestead. The forecast is 102 degrees. Already I can feel the warmth of the sun rays start to heat the air – even if it is only 30 minutes after sunrise. The young cockerels serenade me as I quickly make my first round on the farmstead to release the goose, check on mamma hen and her chicks, and finally stop at our Jersey heifer calf. By this time I’ve already gone through a half dozen spider webs. I need to remember to moisturize after the morning chores. Otherwise I’m just prepping a sticky pad for the spiders and their silk threads to glom on to my face. Yuck.
Megan the heifer calf lies there gazing at me under bedroom eyes and rhythmically chewing her cud. I grab another bucket and a manure fork and collect her nightly droppings – pulling out as much hay and sticks as I can to ensure the next step in poop processing is easier. More on that later. Next I dump her water and fill it with fresh, clean aqua. In this heat water can go stale quickly. I remind myself of the frozen gallon jug in the freezer. That will come in handy later.
Next I grab a flake or two of hay and position it in her feeder. By this time Megan is up and eager to start in on the fresh feed. I nudge her head away so I can close the grill feeder cover and grab the brush. Megan likes a good brushing, and I’m glad to oblige. Brushing is a good way to bond with her and also inspect for cuts, ticks or other marks. Last, I mist her legs with Aunt Fannie’s essential oil spray (no sponsorship, it’s just what I use). It works well to keep the flies off.
Now that I’m done with cow duties, it’s off to check on the chickens. All 4 groups of them. I top off water, noting who’s low on oyster shells. And make another note to clean the 2nd “round top” coop out. I mentally add that to my to-do list. Later, I’ll feed the group 3 yogurt tubs of feed I prepped the night before. Soaking feed – or fermenting it – makes the nutrients more bioavailable and the girls need a lot less water if their feed is soaked. But I like to encourage foraging first thing in the morning. So I’ll hold off till 11 or so.
Last on the morning chores list is the goats, Bonnie & Clyde. Every morning we move them to a day pen and every night secure them in a night pen. It started off as a security measure from Coyotes and large cats when they were little. Now it’s just part of the routine and keeps them trained on a harness.
Normally I would take a 30 minute break at this point and go sign in on the computer, drink some water and plan my “real” work day ahead. Like most farmsteaders, I juggle an off the farm job, too. But I can feel the temps are climbing quickly, so I continue on.
Before I leash the goats up, I need to get food. And as per the usual, we do things a little different. Our goats don’t eat hay, intstead, they get fresh cut yaupon holly. This native shrub can grow up to 15 feet tall. It’s the only plant in North America with caffeine in it. Search “history of yaupon” and you’ll be amazed with what you find!
But while yaupon is native, historically it was controlled by wildfires. Now, it has become weedy and acts like an invasive – chocking out native bunch grass and forming a thicket of scratchy branches that not even a bunny can traverse. Enter the goats. They are our yaupon recycling center. In goes the yaupon on one end, and out the other in the form of compost gold nuggets. Other than the yaupon we give them each about 1/2 cup of a alfalfa pellet mixture at night. A 40lb bag of feed last me about 6 weeks with them! And believe me when I say these two are delightfully plump.
Perhaps you are wondering why we bring the yaupon to the goats, rather than the goats to the yaupon? The simple answer is that goats don’t have a discriminate palate. Along with yaupon they looooove themselves some baby pine, beauty berry, and farkle berry. Really, anything green is on the menu for them. And that doesn’t always jive with my forest garden plans. So, we found it to be more simple to bring the dining experience to them where we can control what they eat.
Now that the morning chores are done, I can head inside to get to work on my day job. Later, I’ll take a break to feed the chickens and check on everyone’s water. Todd will transform the poop I collected from Megan and use it to inoculate mountains of wood chips from clearing brush by hand to create more compost gold.
When the sun starts to descend I’ll start my round of evening chores. But that is for another time. Another post. Instead I’ll drink my coffee, inhale a deep breath, and give thanks that I get to experience this web of life every morning. A Texas homestead is not for everyone. But I thank God it’s the life I have.