Category Archives: dairy goats

On life in the milk lane

P1030148My baby with the one and only bottle baby on the farm, March 2010

Many, many people find my blog because we all share an interest in gardening.  And gardening, particularly of foodstuffs, is wonderful, is fodder here for almost six years of blogging, and is of its very nature sustainable:  if I can continue to put seeds in the ground, those seeds will continue to become sustenance and seeds for next year, so repeat, repeat, repeat.

But:  gardening can be kind of boring.  (Can I admit that and still remain a member of the faith?  I often wonder.)

February has come and gone and it occurred to me that I have been a milkmatron (someone closer to 50 than 40 can hardly be called a milkmaid) for three years now.  Interestingly, I have been matron to one particular animal, one crabby doe whose parturition on 2/27/2010 elevated my status from casual animal owner to active teat-squeezer.  Yes, every day for three years, I have been milking one goat.

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Actually that is skirting the issue.  In those three years, I have milked four goats, sometimes all four on the same day, sometimes even twice a day.  Today I am milking “just” two, once a day.  One goat though has been the constant.

It is a bit of luck that has caused me to milk this one animal.  The other three goats could never have been milked this long for various reasons (youth, health, and temperament factor in that calculation) and luckily those other three were not my first goat.  Not being a statistician I cannot begin to tally the hours spent or the gallons produced; all I know is milk is one of the great constants in my own life and that both tallies are “lots.”  Sure, I only go on daytrips now away from the farm.  It is a choice.  It would be an easy choice to have a different life if I had a goat-sitter.  Parents of youngsters often feel the same way, and pay someone for the honor of an evening away.  Me, well, there is nowhere I would rather be than here…though I suppose I wouldn’t turn the services of a goat-sitter away should one appear….

So yes, lots of milk becomes lots of milk products.  At this point I believe I have made 45 or so different cheeses.  I have made kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, cajeta, puddings, fudges.  Milk has found its way into any and all dishes; my very first use of it was crepes with home-grown eggs and home-grown, ground buckwheat.  I have flubbed more than a few gallons of product and somehow I do not feel bad about the time spent because the chickens, turkeys, and dog appreciate errors of this kind.

It is, boringly, a lifestyle.

But it is a good life.  I have given this one animal a good life.  We have established a solid routine, have a solid affection for each other and we do respect each other’s needs.  The other two goats here are also lucky, I think.  I have not established as strong a tie to either of them, so in the shifting sands of farm dynamics, their tenures here are not guaranteed (though I do like them both).  If this were a university, those two others better publish or perish.  Even Michigan’s rejection of collective bargaining is felt here too:  you all stand alone and are to be judged on your production.  It is a hard thing to swallow if you love your animals.  But I am neither wealthy enough nor emotionally crippled enough to become a goat-hoarder:  you must be productive to live here in my barn.

Of course I am gaming the system against the other two because 2013 is the year of No Babies!  Yes, one must need be pregnant and give birth to actually produce milk (something that surprisingly few people fully realize…where to place the blame for that?  our educational system?  or our squeamishness of mammalian processes?) so if I do not load a goat or three into the back of my now-decrepit 20-year-old hatchback, those goats will not become pregnant on their own, so…if I was not milking you constantly you will not magically lactate on your own either.  But I have calculated my needs, and my needs did not include goat kids this year.

I wonder where I will be and what I will be doing in ten years:  will my life include goats?  I read with interest a study that states that we are closer to being the same person within a range of ten years than twenty, and that, indeed, the folly of one’s youth is cringe-inducing.  So sure, twenty years hence I might laugh at the foolishness of my late forties self the way I laugh at the antics of my teen- or twenty-something self:  that person is miles away.  And she owned goats, and foolishly milked them every day.

I do not know.  But:  I know that a goat’s poo and bedding is FABULOUS for my garden.

Rinse and repeat.

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On thankless tasks

Perdita and Puck joined the herd at 8:40 Friday night

They say that 95% of goat births are uneventful.  My percentages stand at 80%…Sabine’s birth was not fun at all.  Less than two weeks after that fraught event, Cricket calmed the waters by delivering these twins.  As a goat midwife, my job should simply be to wipe their faces, dry their bodies, trim their umbilici and back off to let the mother do the work.  And in so doing Friday, we stood witness to the nonevent, the simple wonderment that is animal husbandry.

2012 is the year of the white goat, apparently.  All our other goats are either chamoisee (brown w/ black legs) or sundgau (black with brown legs).

So the weekend may have started with a bang, but the rest of it felt like I was stuck in a thankless-task loop.  Another round of weeding of invasives like bindweed and bamboo grass, another grubbing with the spade to uproot the deep roots of dock, another wheelbarrowload of straw mulch to cover the potatoes and strawberries, and an assortment of other icky tasks left me feeling fairly done in come Sunday night.

I have to tell myself it’s all of a piece.  You may want to compartmentalize, but gardening, like most worthwhile things, has its fun and unfun tasks.  The overall picture is the one you’re aiming for.  A big harvest requires I grub out that bindweed, like having a baby requires I change a diaper or two (or two thousand).

But then I look around and see the fruits of my labors (the full milk pail, the delectable harvests, the funny and accomplished child) and I really don’t mind the thanklessness of it all.

On timing (not) being everything

Sabine is doing well:  the splint (not shown; she wears it at night) has helped straighten her right front leg…this pic was taken last Tuesday.  She and her mom are integrated with the herd now during the day.

I often have believed the world would run more smoothly if it ran on MY schedule.  And on MY schedule, things need to be done sooner than later.

I am not quite sure what happened (motherhood?  the onset of middle age?  moving to the country?) but my usual foot-stomping impatience has waned!  What is it, have my expectations diminished?  Have I just run headlong into that closed door called reality?  Whatever the cause, I have accepted a lot more leeway in my schedule.  “Take a deep breath and get over it” seems to be the new m.0.

The apiary.  First hive has been split; we added two more this spring; and the first hive yielded just shy of 27 pounds of honey from the first harvest

Most of the pressure that I have put on myself revolves around getting food for my CSA people.  It’s been almost two years now since I have transitioned from bartering my extras to running a year-long, once-a-week box scheme for my friends (6 full shares, one partial share).  There have been weeks where I panicked that there wouldn’t be “enough” but I have set up the shares in such a way that flexibility is a key to it all.  Yes, bread-salad-greens-milk product-eggs is standard per week, but weeks like this one (honey, chive-blossom vinegar, fresh sauerkraut, and no eggs) work for both me and for them.

I spent my Mother’s Day morning assembling the greenhouse frame.  Ah, the life of the weekend warrior-farmer.

And that’s a good thing.  I do have a life, after all, and can’t spend all my days puttering around the garden or whipping up bread and cheese in the kitchen….much as I would like to.  Sometimes, work interferes with my farm life (actually, that happens quite often); sometimes, a child must be chauffered to and fro; sometimes, I just want to get away or just sit with my book.  Having some flexibility built into the schedule is key to it all.

And with that flexibility?  I don’t do nearly as much foot-stomping.  I leave that to my crabby goats.

Willow and Sabine.  Willow is a fairly patient mother, all things considered.

On ba(aaa)d births

Welcome, Ms Sabine

To have milk, you need to have babies.  It’s an unavoidable fact.  And this milk year, because I was unable to get our doeling pregnant (our daughter was in the hospital during Ivy’s last heat of the year) we ended up buying a pregnant doeling from a local dairy.  Willow, the pregnant goat, has been an adorable addition to our herd.  It’s too bad the other goats don’t feel the way about Willow that we do, however!

Because Willow is tiny AND bullied, we’ve been having her sleep elsewhere.  Goats hate being separated; they’re herd animals, after all, and in Willow’s mind, she’d much rather be head-butted than be alone, even just at night.  Poor thing.  I took heart in the fact that she could deliver soon, and she’d at least have her kids for company.

Problem was, we didn’t know when she would kid.  Unlike my other does who have driveway dates to get pregnant (thus I hang my hat on a solid due date 155 days after their visit) I just had to wait and watch with Willow.  “Watching” basically means I felt her up and hung over her, daily…and “waiting” means I have been doing it since mid-March.  But on Saturday, all signs pointed to a Cinco de Mayo baby goat or two.

Not two baby kids, though; one kid.  Sabine made her way into the world only with our help. She’s huge; she’s nearly a quarter the size of her mother in length and height but not weight.  And her cramped quarters weren’t helpful; she was born with a badly twisted leg and foot…a splint is helping those flexible young bones to straighten out and develop normally.

The bonus, of course, is that she’s a girl, and she’s a lusty eater.  But poor Willow!

And then there were three

Baby Ivy

Cricket delivered a gigantic doeling yesterday!  Not bad work for a first-timer.

She looks a lot like her mama, but even more like her daddy Moses.  Everyone’s happy, well, except for our old goat Bell, who has to sleep alone now.

On the expanding farmstead

Every spring, the number of creatures goes up on most farms.  Ours is no exception…except, well, our numbers exploded this year, thanks to:

the bees.

We took delivery of them on Tuesday night.  I chatted with them in their box on the sideboard as we ate dinner, telling them all about the farmstead and neighborhood.  After dining, we went outside and watched Tom place them in their new home.

We’ve also got a few baby turkeys.  Not the 17 of last year’s first hatching, we’re content with four, maybe five.  Queen Ruby has successfully raised five in the past; it seems about all the girl can take.

And as usual, it’s baby chick season.  The spring has been so cold that all four of our sitting hens lost their eggs so I supplemented their mothering need by giving them meat and egg chicks from the feed store.  They don’t care.  Babies is babies.

There are also bunnies.  Ugh, bunnies.

And we’re expecting one, or maybe two, kids to be born toward the end of the month.  I’m getting a half gallon daily from Bell, but it would be great to squeak out another half gallon from Cricket…is that being greedy, counting-unhatched-chickens-wise?  Time will tell.

On the dairy calendar

The subtitle of this post could be My Dairy Year.  (Say that fast and laugh to yourself.)

Today marks my first year as a milkmaid.

Indeed:  a year ago today, T-bell gave birth to three adorable kids, little bucklings all.

Mama T-Bell, lucky thing, gets a year off of breeding this year.  I believe she’s had three sets of kids (twins, twins then triplets with us); she will be six years old in April.  I will continue to milk her as long as I want to:  I should be able to “milk through” as she’s an awesome milk goat.  I feel so fortunate to have had her as a first goat, first milker.  Why?  Because she’s a bitch, that’s why!

Yes, in my first doe, I seem to have selected a definite herd queen.  She’s not really a bitch, you see.  She’s more, well, strong-willed, more particular.  She’s very friendly (a great thing) especially to little people.  The dog is her mortal enemy, although they do love to play.  But other goats?  She lets them know where they stand.  And they stand below her, way below, so…watch out.  And:  she HATES being outside.

But it’s nicer in here!  Bell, eating her bon-bons and watching the world go by

Learning to milk a goat and then learning to milk THIS goat was a bit of a challenge.  She’s smart, see.  If she’s not in the mood, you better guard that bucket.  If her feed bowl (the bribe which ensures her getting onto, and staying on, the milk stand) is less than filled, you’ll hear about it.  Milking is an intimate relationship forged between she with the milk and you with the desire for it:  really, it must be so, or the let-down (milk release) won’t happen.  And indeed learning to milk with those three rambunctious kids just inches away was terribly stressful at first, especially since one of the babies was expecting the milk himself (he was a bottle baby).  But we forded that whirling river.  She’s quite happy now, our routine is well set.  And starting the thirteenth month of her lactation, I am still getting nearly three quarts of milk from her a day.

On the Sunday after Christmas Tom and I coaxed our little Alpine doeling into the back of my small hatchback.  She was off, you see, to visit her new boyfriend, a handsome, smelly fellow named Moses.

The aptly-named Cricket:  Gotta love a youngster’s airborne enthusiasm.

Cricket is an adorable creature.   Curious, hippity-skippity, not super friendly but not skittish, the one thing she is is LOUD.  I made sure I brought earplugs (seriously) for the 60-mile round trip to the goat farm east of us where she was be bred.  It does seem strange, and kind of bad-mother-ish*, but yes, you can breed goats when they’re less than a year old.  She’ll continue to grow, and I only need to watch her feed to ensure she’s eating enough for two or three or (eeps!) four.  And let’s state the obvious here:  you want milk, you need babies.

So, yes.  Cricket will have her kids at the end of May, with luck.  It’s a different kind of calendar, the dairy one.  Bell will still be milking when Cricket throws her babies.  There will be two goats using the milk stand in the morning:  whee!  Say cheese!

*Indeed, though, it’s like I am condoning teenage motherhood; I guess I should state that she’ll technically be a yearling when she delivers.  Not a teenager, then, but definitely a young mom…!