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All About The Goats

Our Herd - (from left to right) The Buckling, Bridget, Springbok, Mayday, and Sabine

Things are moving along at the pace of a spring river and it has become a bit trickier to keep everyone up to date. Every time I talk to my parents, even though it’s only been a few days, I feel like I could go on for hours about everything that’s gone on since we last spoke!

I feel the same way about the blog, so get ready for a hefty read! Like I said, there's so much going on that it would be almost impossible to cover it all, but here’s an update on the goats to get you started…

We’re really beginning to settle into life with a herd and it’s hard to imagine that less than a month ago we didn’t have one! Milking and “goat walks” have become part of our routine, each enjoyable and relaxing (well, when everyone’s behaving, that is). We drink their milk every day and, just this weekend, have been enjoying our very own chévre and ice cream. Ah, life is good!

I milk twice a day, Bridget and Mayday in the morning and Bridget only at night. Bridget hits the stand first. My lovely has come a long way since those first dramatic milkings and she now jumps up on the stand all by herself. I don’t even have to put a collar on her, she just comes to me, no matter where the other goats are (even when they were all out on the other end of the farm grazing with Scrapple), at milking time, comes into the milking area, looks around and maybe scowls at a dog for a second or two, and then daintily climbs up to the stand. There’s no more struggling to wrangle her head into the gate, no more fussy flat out refusing of food (goat for “I don’t want your money, creep!”), and no more snorting (I do sort of miss that one, Bridget snorts are cute). Milking too, previously a wrestling match, has become a pleasure. I’m pretty good with the two hand thing now and although Bridget’s teats are almost too big for my hands, it works. She’s so patient and her milk has been amazing.  I’m not just saying this because she’s my goat (and also, ok, my favorite), it truly is the most delicious milk I’ve had in my life. It’s super creamy and sweet with not a hint of anything less than fresh. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized because of the size of the butterfat globules. They’re smaller than in cow’s milk and remain suspended in the fluid. That’s why you’ll get a creamline (the mass of cream that has separated and floated to the top) on fresh cow’s milk, but not typically on a bottle of fresh goat’s milk. That is, unless it’s Bridget’s milk! After a day, Bridget’s labors are always frosted with a beautiful layer of cream that’s somehow even whiter than than her already bright white milk.

I weigh her milk and then get ready for Mayday, new teat wipes, clean stand, GRAIN. Mayday, oh, Mayday… Why do you torture me so? Mayday’s problem has never been getting up on the stand, or having anything to do with eating… Oh no, hers has been one of goat bribery. Give me more grain, and I’ll give you more milk or don’t give me more grain when I’ve finished inhaling my portion and deal with my devilish tap dancing routine complete with many a flying kick, two legged heel clapping bucks, and bucket balancing. Oh yes, this lady makes me jump through hoops. For the first week, I tried to teach her a lesson. When she was done with her grain and the scramble started I hung on for dear life and just kept going, one handed while dodging the bucket around to avoid her not-so-little hooves on those frustratingly agile legs. After a week of that with no improvements we broke down and decided to just let her eat her fill. The next time I gave her almost double what Bridget gets. It worked! But no… I should have known better. Mayday would not be tamed so easily. The next day, today, it didn’t work out so well. This morning we got into a good rhythm. When you can actually milk Mayday, it’s like (what I imagine to be) the optimal hand milking experience. Her teats are the perfect size and you can milk them out completely in less than 2 seconds (compared to Bridget’s 5+). Milk just jets out in a nice sturdy stream and you can really get going. And then, after a few minutes of this, she decided she didn’t want any more grain. No, she didn’t want ANYTHING to do with anything I had to offer. She wanted to get off the stand and back in with her herd. Tap dancing act ensues complete with a hoof right in the milk pail (good thing the dogs love the milk too). Oh well, I can’t say I blame her. She just wants to get back and feed her babies. I’m stealing food from their mouths and she doesn’t like it one bit.

Mayday, browsing

Mayday is the matriarch of our little herd. Although she’s the same age as Bridget, she’s much larger. She has beautiful coloring, her café au lait neck fading into roan and then black with light cream to hazelnut markings on her legs and sides that look like she rolled around in some Tiramisu. She’s taller and her head can only be described as majestic and handsome. Where Bridget’s personality makes me think of a young Goldie Hawn (all that ear tossing!), Mayday is all Tilda Swinton… or cranky librarian. Severe and graceful or strict with a maniacal bent, I guess it all depends on how the milking went the morning you ask me. The other 3 alpines are all her children. Springbok, the dry yearling, is her daughter from last winter’s kidding, and Sabine and “The Buckling” are her kids that were born in February. If I want to lead all of the goats from the barn to the pasture all I have to do is lead Mayday. Her kids follow because she’s their mother and Bridget comes along because she’s just agreeable (and wants to be with her herd). Lead Bridget and you’ll end up with one goat in the pasture and the rest raiding the barn, eating the rose bushes, and peering into our windows. Mayday and I are still working it out, as I’m sure you can tell. I’m hoping we come to an understanding and mutual respect soon.   

During the day, I’ll take the goats out into the pasture to browse and graze. Although this is a temporary solution until we have our rotational grazing set-up ready (this week!), it's been a great opportunity for us to spend time observing the goats and for them to get used to us. Sometimes we’ll go for long walks around the pasture and forest, sometimes we’ll just hang out in one particularly tasty patch for a few hours. We go out again in the late afternoon/early evening when Scrapple is finished with work. Here they eat all of the grasses, leaves, herbs, and flowers that make their milk so tasty. While we’re out here, everyone usually stays in a pack, with the exception of Bridget who thinks of herself as the guard goat. She spends some time, each excursion, on watch. With ears in bi-plane mode (I love it), craning her neck around, she makes sure all is clear. After, she’ll come over to use me as a scratching post and try to lick my face if I’m too engrossed in a list or a book to give out a neck scratch. Springbok, Sabine, and the Buckling will play around a bit, especially if they come across a log or a rock, and also eventually come over for some neck scratching (it really seems to be “the thing”) which is a good sign. When we first brought them home they weren’t too interested in us and were very skittish. They say that when kids are raised nursing on their mother and not separated and bottle fed immediately, they can be a bit wild. Especially if you’re comparing them to bottle babies who think you’re their mother. We’ve been trying to spend more time with them, especially Springbok and Sabine, who will be one of our milking herd in a year, and it’s good to see that it’s having an effect.

The Buckling and Sabine playing on a goat walk

Tomorrow I make a little 2 hour trip to a farm to the east of us to look at Nubian doelings. We would like to add 2 more to our herd to balance out the Alpine to Nubian ratio a bit and also to give Bridget her own little crew. She and the Alpines get along, but she seems to understand that she’s different. I’m not sure if doelings from a goat she’s never met will change any of that, but I guess we’ll find out!

Oh, and did I mention that we have 2 new LGD’s?! Izzy and Sheba, the Great Pyr’s, joined us on Sunday and have been fitting right in. They’re friendly giants and we’re loving having them here. I’m sure Scrapple will give you the full update on them later this week so I’ll stop mine here.

Hope you all had a great weekend!

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