Thursday, September 16, 2010

Country Homestead Tour #3: Dairy Goats

Ginny and Minnie
 Dairy Goats.  Alpines to be specific.  Love them.

These two lovely ladies came to us three springs ago at two days old as culls from a local goat dairy.  They were the first mammal that we brought home that was going to really be a long term resident (i.e. we're not going to eat it).  It was an exciting undertaking, riding in the back of our Volvo 240 Wagon with three little goat kids climbing all over me and snuggling in my lap.  (stay tuned for tale of #3).  Our first animal shed that we built from scrap lumber (originally for hens) would become their new home and we would bottle feed them every few hours for several weeks.  The girls (then 1 and 4) were great at holding one bottle each and I the third.  We bonded well and the three of them became more "cat" like than goat like, following us and snuggling in for chin scratches. 

bottle time
We took heed of everyone's warning about goat craftiness and strung galvinized wire fence 5...yes 5 wires high and put a nice strong charge on it.  Knock on wood, we haven't had any trouble with goats getting out, into our garden, or climbing on our cars...or any other number of goat horror stories.  I swear by a really hot charge on your fence..and making sure the fence line is clear of debris so it doesn't short. 
And so they grew all summer long and did an amazing job clearing the underbrush of what is to become a new pasture.  This was purpose #1 for getting the goats.  Low cost bush-hogging.  And it really does work.  They eat every last leaf and twig and pine needle and strip of bark that they can reach while standing on their back legs.  It makes it tons easier to go in with a chainsaw and cut firewood without all of the dense underbrush that crops up in old-pasture-now-badly-managed-woodland.  So, developing pasture has provided goats with food for 2 years and us with heat and hot water for a few winters.  How great is that.  These guys are so useful....and cute. 
So arrived the first fall and the first heat cycle of our two female goats.  And here is where #3 comes in, the buck.  OH the buck.  The buck we intended to castrate and just never got around to it.   The buck that, thankfully, bred our ladies....and bred, and bred.  Oh dear.  And well, that is truly what bucks do.  It is their one mission in life.  It also results in them being 'buck-like' which you could also call 'jerky', 'annoying' 'smelly', 'rude', 'dangerous around small children' and any other number of unpleasant things.  We were those people.  The one's that don't really prepare for owning a buck.  And, after I forgave myself for being a bad farmer, I called our friend who gave us the kids and she gladly took the buck back to her beautiful large meat goat farm.  His future was probably somewhat limited, but since we had named him and become rather attached, we chose not to contemplate that too much, at least around the kids.  They deal with enough animal processing, this was one hard lesson that we would shelter them from a little.

Purpose #2 came along that next February when I fulfilled one of my life fantasies and became a midwife...well a goat midwife.  It was an amazing birth and we all participated.  My oldest was amazing, giving mama Minnie her energy drink and comforting her post-delivery, helping to blow-dry and name little Liza who shivered against the 20 degree February chill.  And my husband out stapling up typar and grain bags around the outside of the house to keep out the drafts. 

Home dairying that year was insanely satisfying.  I, being a bit of a lactivist, left Liza with mom and just milked once a day, sharing the milk.  We had pounds of chevre and felt so extravagant eating it on everything and in everything.  We had more milk than we could use for baking and drinking.  It was an easy chore that I never dreaded, even on the coldest or buggiest of days.  The peaceful satisfying rhythm of the milk stream hitting the pail and the steam rising from our breath.
Liza:  The next generation

Well, Liza, at 1.5 years old, is still sneaking 'nursies' now and then...crouched under her very patient mother.  And fall is coming again.  In the next couple weeks the girls will be taking a little vacation at a farm down the road.  We're hoping they'll like the male company there.  Looking forward to some more midwifery and piles of chevre next spring.  It'll probably be our last freshening before we switch over to cow dairy.  But the girls have made a permanant home here and their contributions and companionship we are grateful for.

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Thanks for visiting with us girls...put your feet up and stay for a while.