Of Sailors and Farmers

Did you know that sailing and farming have a lot in common? Both involve a lot of water, and the movement thereof (although, in sailing you’re ON the water and in farming you’re CARRYING the water). Both tend to develop your vocabulary of foul language. And both involve being careful of ropes, lest you be carried away, potentially to your doom.

I’m sure you’ve got an idea of what happened right about now. It’s a nice, overcast day, so I thought I’d bring out the weed-powered-weedeater, Buckbuck, and help the Grumpy Farmhand clear out the path to the Buck Run/GCFII. I set up the line where I wanted him to be, opened the gate to the run, and took Buck gently by the collar to lead him to the right spot. He’s so docile, this is usually enough to get him anywhere you need. However, I had FORGOTTEN he’d learned about the morning grain for the lady goats, and rather than following obediently, he took off like a big stinky shot with my hand still in his collar.

I managed to swing him around back to where I wanted him using his own force and clip the line to him. I did not, however, think about the fact that as I looped Buck around me, so too was the rope looping. I felt the braided line touch my calves, I saw the glint in Buck’s ridiculously wide gaze, and then I put a few things together.

Firstly, I swore. A lot. It wasn’t very creative swears, either, it was mostly like a frantic machine gun that had just learned a new word. Secondly, I wished that I had a barn/field camera, because I really wanted to be able to see what happened next. Thirdly, the rope closed around my legs, slapping my ankles together so quick they actually clacked (ouch), and then I toppled over to the ground, and Buck proceeded to drag me for about four feet as fast as he could go, til he reached the end of his rope. At that point, it unraveled from me and straightened.

If I were on a boat, I would have gone overboard. I was kinda mad about that thought. I wasn’t mad at Buck, though – he hasn’t got a mean bone in his body, and he probably didn’t even notice that he was pulling me. If you recall, he can actually walk through my legs, stand straight up, and carry me if he so desires. I’m really glad I have small goats.

So yeah. You can see in the photo the twisting motion I made in the dirt as Buck dragged me. My other leg is clean, but my hair is full of straw, sticks and goat poop, and these clothes are gonna need a wash. Oh well. Now my path is getting cleared, and I’m going to be looking into a camera system. I really don’t want to miss the next time I’m a dummy!

Hoof Trimming

Much like yours and mine, goats’ toes require maintenance – but unlike you and me, they are unprotected from the elements, so extra care needs to be taken in making sure they’re trimmed well and often.

Unfortunately, whenever I’m trimming hooves, my hands are kind of full, and I feel a little silly asking my husband to come out and take pictures instead of working for his real job, so here’s a photo of him modeling the milk stand where the hoof trimming takes place.

Today, a gal that’s been coming out to the farm to learn about goats got to help out with trimming the hooves of our entire herd. It took two hours, but everyone got a pedicure: Abigail, Buckbuck, Sketti, Star, Hefe, Peach, Zelda, Cosmo and little Luna. That’s 36 hooves! We couldn’t find my favorite tool of all time (pictured here), so we used a set of tree pruners and a couple of different knives. There are official tools, and then there are the tools that work for you. Whatever does the job best is what you should use.

Trimming hooves isn’t hard, but there is technique to learn: what healthy hoof material looks like, side wall vs. pad, what the quick looks like, and the most important one of all – holding onto a hoof, and a knife, without stabbing yourself, while a goat is kicking repeatedly. I realize that sentence was overwrought and had lots of grammatical errors, but I feel it got the point across.

At any rate, no stabbings occurred, despite a few close calls with Sketti and Star. Luna was too tiny to fit her head into the grain bucket, so she got a pile of grain on the floor of the stand. Peach was as mellow and unperturbed as Buckbuck (seriously, you can do anything to them if there’s grain involved, even moreso than with Abigail). Cosmo… well, little boy Cosmo needed cuddles while his hooves were being trimmed. He required hugs, and pets, and a loving bosom to lay his little head upon while his delicate hooves were being done. My visitor bravely volunteered to snuggle him while I trimmed, and I deeply regret not having taken photos while he took solace in the cuddles.

I really enjoyed showing my friend how to trim hooves, and the goats are all now free from overgrowth, hoof rot, and cracked hooves. It was a definite good day.

Maaaaama

There aren’t many more exciting things on a farm than baby animals. Zelda, Peach, Luna and Cosmo are all old enough to frolic together now, and there are times during the day that the traffic on the street alongside the goat pen has slowed to a crawl so everyone can take photos and video as they pass by. I’m not even joking. The babies are neighborhood celebrities, and everyone from the local schoolbus to the local police officer stop to say hello to the babies.

I’m used to it this year, but last year it sort of weirded me out. When we lived in town, it was unnerving to have people look at our property. Were they casing the joint? Did they see something they were going to complain about? Ugh. Now, though? I’m glad to see everyone enjoying the farm animals. We have little kids visiting pretty regularly, and big kids too. Baby goat snuggles are pretty much the best thing in the world when they’re small enough to hold in your arms.

All four babies are also big enough to start eating hay, so that means they’re all old enough to be separated from mama at night. The older two babies are more or less used to it by now, but… the two little ones are very put out. Last year when I separated them it darn near broke my heart to hear them crying for mama – mostly because it actually SOUNDS like they’re saying “MaaaaaaMaaaa!!” I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter what species they are, little ones can really tug on a mom’s heart strings. Here’s a photo of Zelda, who the kids have elected their tiny herd leader. She stands on the little half house inside the stall, and yells out the window at me. I’m fairly certain she was elected leader because she’s the damn loudest.

Tomorrow morning, I start milking Star again. Hopefully, this time around she won’t be my “tap dancing idiot,” as I have called her in the past. Signs don’t point to any change, though, considering that when I was checking her udder a few days ago she put both back feet into the milking bucket at the same time. That takes skill and dedication, folks.

Wish me luck. If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll be able to tell when I’m done – the babies will be done yelling, and I will be done cussing.

In the Stillness

It snowed about 2 inches, give or take, over the course of last night. With the lights from the riding arena up the hill, it felt like 6am at 2:30am when I woke up to let my brother’s little dog out to potty. APPARENTLY, when you’re itty bitty and you are too excited to potty when you’re playing with your big dog friends, you can’t hold it all night. I found my frozen bare footprints on the back porch this morning, from when I was standing there yelling through gritted teeth for the little creep to come back inside. Something scared the bejeezus out of her, so she came running with hair standing on end. Oops.

But back to the stillness, the utter calm of a snowy morning. Kiddo isn’t  feeling too good, so I sneaked out to go milk before Ranger would wake her up. There were no footprints, no nothing. The neighbor hadn’t gotten down the hill to open his gate and say hi to the baby goats yet. Modern homes have the constant drone of electronics in them, and to go outside in the utter quiet is sort of awe-inspiring. The trees feel taller somehow, and I feel smaller. If it were a little warmer, and I didn’t have stuff to do, I would just stand there like John Travolta in that movie where brain cancer made him a genius (Phenomenon, Google informs me).

Until, of course, I go out to check on Hefe, who is out with the big boys because he’s trying to nurse off of his mama again (weaned for a whole year, he is. Super successful). We put up a child’s playhouse for him to stay in to get out of the cold and wet, and I even put some hay in the window in such a way that the waste would fall to the ground and be bedding for him. Nope. I wish I’d had my camera ready at the time, because I found the little idiot wet, cold and freezing, with snow literally iced to his horns. He hadn’t gone into the playhouse at all last night. I think he slept under the maple tree. I facepalmed when I found him, and I facepalmed again writing this. He’s such a sweet boy, but at the same time, I keep thinking “Bless his heart,” which is southern for “Good Lord, what a dummy.”  I brought him into the main pen again, and just… decided to deal with it another time. I went out to check on him again later, and he’s fine now. Still a little wet, but he’s drying off, and he’s not shivering.

The long and the short of it is that we need to build the Goat Containment Facility 2 to even start to minimize weather- and goat math-based chaos (who gets to be in with who when, like with wolves and sheep and cabbages), and that’s in the works this month. The Grumpy Farm Hand is slated to spend some vacation time digging… if it ever stops snowing. Now this isn’t the Midwest or anything, but digging holes in snow sucks no matter where you’re from. You get wet, the ground is heavy because it’s wet, and the outdoor temperatures hover right around freezing. Pretty sure fence-digging doesn’t happen in winter in North Dakota, even if it’s only a couple of inches.

He’s from Texas, by the way. The Farm Hand.

He’ll have fun.

Lest We Forget

Star is getting all the attention right now for her brand new babies, but it’s important to remember that Abigail is still being a great mommy, and a tremendous milker! I had heard that the second freshening (lactation cycle) would be more productive than the first, but man, I had no idea. Last year, Abigail was producing a quart per milking, one in the morning and one at night. Now, with one milking in the morning, she’s producing two quarts easily – this morning, two and a half! Poor lady
was waddling her way to the milk stand as fast as she could.

She’s been my best milker this whole time, patient and productive. She lets anyone milk her as long as there’s grain in front of her, even two-year-olds! It’s rather impressive. She doesn’t even mind it when her babies are at the pen gate crying for her – she knows she’ll be back in there with them soon enough. I kind of suspect she prefers to be milked by human hands than nursed on by kids; I mean, hands don’t have teeth. And when she’s milked out and put back in the pen… well, she gets her exercise running away from the hungry babies! But don’t worry. They eat hay and grain just fine now, so they’re FAR from starving.

Lil’ Big Boy

Watching Cosmo playing with his cousin Peach makes one realize that he’s a *very* big boy. His cousins are a little better than a month old, and he’s… days old. He’s so much like his daddy, Buckbuck, too: he’s slow, steady, docile and kinda… well. Slow. Not much perturbs him. He sat in the Grumpy Farmhand’s lap for 10 minutes yesterday without so much as a peep. He’s gonna be a sweet, sweet pet for the family who’s taking him.

Cute Fluffy Babies!

After the excitement of Luna’s slow start (my heart is only just now starting to beat at a normal rhythm instead of going ninety to nothing), the babies are doing what they do best: be freakin’ adorable. Seriously. The two new babies are very distinct, even moreso than Zelda and Peach, and it’s really interesting.

Abigail’s girls were tightly bonded right from the start (you can see in the photo), hardly leaving each others’ sides except for brief sessions of running and jumping – but then you would find them laying together on the ground, sunbathing or just huddled together for warmth and comfort. Star’s kids, though, are not as tightly bonded. They routinely sleep in different little houses, and don’t need to maintain close proximity like their cousins. They still play together and follow mama around, but it’s clearly not the same kind of bond as their cousins.

Luna is the more active of the two, surprisingly. She is constantly hopping, jumping, kicking and “running” as much as a three day old can manage. Cosmo, on the other hand, is much slower and steadier, and isn’t as interested in the frolicking as his sister. He is HUGE, though. He’s almost the same size as his cousins. He tries to play with them, but they’re so much nimbler and faster than he is that it’s comical. They’re trying to figure out how to play with him, too, but it sort of comes off as bullying unless you understand how goats work. Peach tries to push him into running, but he… just sort of moves along as far as she pushes him, then stops and looks at her like “What was that about?”

Star is recovering, but as the subordinate female in the herd, she doesn’t have the same access to all the food resources like Abigail. I have been feeding Star a third time during the day to make sure she gets everything she needs – she doesn’t like to eat a lot in one go, since it keeps her away from her babies too long. She is much more protective of her kids than Abigail – Abigail’s like “thanks for babysitting, human, I’m gonna go take a nap” – and Star gets nervous if she loses sight of either baby for very long. Again, I think it’s a subordinate female thing.

I realize it might seem a little “crazy goat lady” to pay so much attention to all the critters’ personalities, but it’s hard not to notice when you’re out with them at least twice a day. I’ve helped them give birth, I’ve treated them while they’re sick, I’ve played with them, fed them, groomed them, milked them – it’s a surprisingly intimate relationship. I’m excited to have Zelda grow up with me, because she’ll be the first generation of milkers who I’ve raised from birth.

I read once that dogs must consider us gods, because we are there when they’re born and there when they die of old age. I don’t know about gods, but there is something deeply profound about being there for the entire lifetime of a creature.

Sheesh, sorry, this went from ‘omg fluffy!’ to philosophical. I can’t help it, though. My heart is so full when I think about these animals, whether they’re little fluffballs or cantankerous old farts. It’s a good life, if you can get it.

THEY’RE HERE!!

After all my bitching and moaning, the babies are finally here! I took a photo of Star’s lady bits this morning, and shared it with a couple of farmer friends – and another friend who didn’t believe I had photos of a goat’s vulva, lol – and noticed that hey, it sort of meets the description the gal from the Country Living Expo gave me.

And I did my chores and went inside, because that’s how it works.

Well, then I went back outside to check on everyone later, and realized that Star wasn’t out in the sunshine with everyone else – so I looked into the stall, and sure enough, she was lying down, straining. I ran back inside, grabbed the birthing kit (antiseptic, a knife, towels, gloves, etc) and stopped just long enough in the Farm Engineer’s office to inform him of the situation and that he should “call people.”

When I got back out, Star was in the thick of it, and I noticed… a nose! And hooves! Awesome! But upon further examination, the hooves weren’t pointing the right way. They did not, in fact, belong to the baby whose nose I could see. Both kids were trying to come out simultaneously. That’s not going to end well – and after much study and research on my part, plus a lot of instructional pictures, I knew what I had to do. Don’t read this next paragraph if what I’ve told you so far has made you uncomfortable.
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I stuck my hand into Star alongside the babies, and pushed the one to which the toes belonged to the “back of the line.” I actually managed to get in almost up to my elbow, because I had to figure out who belonged to what. Star howled, because duh. I mean, I have small hands, but come on. It was all about as gross as you can imagine, but at the same time… not too bad. I was wearing gloves, after all. And I was still wearing both gloves when I pulled my hand out!
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After that, the whole thing took ten lousy minutes. Ten! A little boy and a little girl both came out hollerin’ and covered in goo. The boy (on the right in the first photo) is significantly bigger than the little girl, much like with Zelda and Peach. I did end up having to take her inside to dry all the way off, since it was so cold that she couldn’t retain body heat enough to get moving to nurse. My friend Christina and I pretty much force fed her colostrum with a soft syringe, and once the baby’s tummy was full and her fur was dry, we gave her a jacket and gave her back to mama.

That would have been the end of it, but baby girl still wasn’t nursing – older brother was getting in the way too much. So, I did what any good farm mama would do, and got down on the ground to support the baby while she nursed. Here I am, covered in goaty effluence, laying on goat poop (pebble and myconium styles!), holding up the babe so she can successfully latch onto Star. After a few minutes of her nursing, I let go – and the baby managed to do it all by herself. The ulcer that had previously been planning to move into my stomach sadly packed its bags and left when I saw baby girl strong enough to nurse. That is to say, I was quite relieved.

While the baby was in the house, Ranger did his darndest to help clean her off, which didn’t seem to perturb the baby too much. Here is mama Star, who looks SIGNIFICANTLY more comfortable now, with little baby girl “Luna” and little boy “Cosmo.” Those won’t be their names forever, unless the wonderful family who’s going to take them home in a few months happens to like those names. In the meantime, though, the little stellar goat family seems to be doing quite well. GoatWatch 2017 can finally be called off. Thank God.

Foreplay. For the First Time Ever, It’s Not Helping.

Star has still not dropped babies. And here’s why.

Goat gestation length is 150 days, give or take a few. If we’re calculating since the video below was taken (don’t worry, it’s just courting), September 3rd, then we’re on day 148. AND, as I have just pointed out, the behavior demonstrated in the video is just courting, not… well. Goat porn. So with that in mind, we don’t actually know when Star and Buckbuck did the deed, as opposed to Abigail, where I chaperoned the whole event (which is why I did not, in fact, wish to supervise Buckbuck and Star).

So, how many dates do you think Buckbuck took Star on before they actually conceived? They’re pretty hot and heavy in this video, I guess… I’m not really certain about the rules of thumb about goat courtship, especially since they don’t have thumbs.

 

Victory Comes in a Quart Jar… Or Two! 

It’s always been a little heartbreaking to me when I start separating mamas and babies at night in in goat pen, listening to the babies call out in their tiny voices. Mamas, however, are usually thankful for a full night’s sleep by the two week mark, so that helps some. The milk, however, makes it alllllll worth it.

I’ve waxed poetic before about how much I love fresh, raw goat milk, but after having been without it over the winter, I’mma do it again. It’s sweet and luscious and full of flavor, and I can definitely tell the difference in my guts when I drink goat or cow milk. I can tell the difference in my daughter’s guts too, man. I’m fairly certain she’s got some mild lactose issues, judging by the sound and the fury after she drinks cow milk (that was a fart joke, for my more literal friends). Goat milk makes creamy, delicious lattes that don’t even really need a sweetener. It makes bomb yogurt. I have even got a successful system for making goat butter!

Speaking of success, last night was the first successful night separating the babies from mom. The goats had chewed and rubbed some of the slats in the stalls enough that the babies could squeeze through. The Grumpy Farmhand and I covered one wall with wire fencing, and they found another way out. We covered that hole with boards, but apparently underestimated their ability to squeeze through things. So last night I put up another fence panel.

I was rewarded this morning with Abigail running towards the gate when I arrived, bawling at me to JUST MILK HER ALREADY. She ran to the stand as soon as I opened the gate, and assumed the position. No wonder – she was trucking around a full half gallon of milk! Unsurprisingly, that’s twice the milk she was putting out last year. I know that as far as official dairy measurements go, I should be weighing the milk and measuring it in pounds, but for what I’m doing, we measure by the quart jar. Mostly because that’s what I’ve got on hand.

So now the farming schedule becomes a little more strict, because if you lock a lactating mama up at night, you better get your booty out there to milk her asap in the morning. Good thing I have good stuff for lattes again.