Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Summer intentions

April is around the corner and I can feel it. We are all over winter. It snowed a couple inches the other day and the kids were puzzled - like isn't it summer yet? It has been pleasant and warm in the afternoons. We've been spending a lot of time outdoors. The snow is finally wet enough to make snow balls. I was trying to get the kids excited about rolling big snow balls yesterday. I think the snow has lost all interest for them - they are ready for it to be gone and so am I.

There are depressions around each tree, where the snow is starting to melt and recede - a sure sign of spring. Yesterday Avery wanted to go up to the garden and pick peas. I humored her and we walked up to where the peas usually are and talked about the life cycle of peas. I pushed her in her summer swing and together we dreamed of long summer days in the garden.

Our beloved farm helper, Becca may be getting a real job this summer, one that actually pays well - and not just in eggs and vegetables. We love her so much and wish her the best in everything she does...and we are going to miss her desperately. I've been thinking of our summer and what is possible. The last two summers have been tricky as Avery as been a baby and a small, somewhat needy toddler. I think now that she is growing into a mature young lady of two and a half, I think that the kids and I will be able to accomplish much more together.

I've been resolving myself to earlier productive morning while the kids are still sleeping. Milking several goats in a row with both kids fighting over who fills grain tubs and whining -asking when are we going to be done - is more than enough to inspire me to get up early and milk solo. We will see how the summer routine shapes up but I'm gradually resolving myself to early productive mornings, milking with a baby monitor nearby.  Other thoughts I've had lately have been that if I have to start buying sandwich bread it is not the end of the world. Getting farm chores done and getting the kids out to the playground or swim lessons are more important. On that note, I'm going to start looking for used playground equipment to set up near the garden. I'm also thinking a screened tent with a small table would be helpful.

April is for hatching chicks, starting our milking routine, starting seeds, planning and preparing. I started tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and the 8-10 wk flowers on Monday. Today I'm going to transplant some herbs into pots for spring snipping. April is an ugly month here, melting snow, dirty white and eventually brown and muddy. For all the farm smells coming to life, animal housing that needs cleaned out and snow melting, exposing the clutter here and there, well I'll take it. I'm ready for April.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Facing my fears; geese and honey bees

I grew up with my dad raising bees for honey. My brother and I got stung a lot as children. Now, my brother has severe allergic reactions when he gets stung. I just have a slight fear of handling bees. I must have been in kindergarten or first grade when I remember my dad running circles around the house hollering while we tracked him from inside the house, running from window to window to peer out at him. I remember him stopping to pound on the door demanding entry and mom telling him to keep running. As far as the benefits go, I grew up on honey, honey and PB sandwiches, honey and PB on ricecakes, honey and homemade yogurt. I did not realize how much I appreciate good honey until I no longer had any. Now, we eat honey on hot cereal and honey on pancakes. I use honey in our weekly bread and on sandwiches. I have a strong appreciation and desire for local honey which is outrageously expensive here. I've been mentally working myself up to raising bees for a few years now. Last year D got me a beekeeping book for Christmas, which I read. Last spring I signed up for a beekeeping class, but later decided I already had too much on my plate.

This is going to be the year. I'm starting off by taking a beginning bee keeping class which covers all the basics. It is a couple hour class, once a week over five or so weeks. I'm gearing up to order a suit - or maybe just the jacket and head covering. As much as I'd like to imagine myself with barefeet and bare hands among the bees- well I think I'll be a lot less intimidated if I'm suited up and protected from stings. I'm starting off with one hive on the hill above the garden. I'm hoping to meet our honey and beeswax needs, with some leftover for gifts.

I don't have many experiences with geese. Actually I've only met one flock of geese, and we did not get along. There was a flock of large white geese at a farm where I boarded my horse for a couple years. This farm had attack geese and an attack rooster (which finally left me alone after it flew at me while I was holding a shovel, which was the bat. He was the ball). The geese would corner me in the barn, chase me, chase my car, pluck the rubber trim out from my bumper while I was off riding.

I've been doing a lot of geese research. I've learned that my shying away from the geese initially may have instigated our poor relations. I've been deliberating between Pilgrim and African geese, two of the more gentle breeds. I decided on the Pilgrim too late, multiple suppliers are already sold out for the season. I really liked the idea of the Pilgrims as they are the only breed of geese that are sexed. The males are white and the females are blue and gray. I ended up ordering a pair of French Toulouse geese, and an extra un-sexed goose - possibly for Christmas dinner. Looks counted for a lot in deciding which breed to get. The Toulouse are gray and blue, they look like the French aristocrat version of geese. They are stately, blue and gray and handsome.They are also one of the more gentle breeds, good layers, setters, parents, and they make a nice roast goose, good fat, feathers... I would have like to get the ones with the dewlaps, but those are way pricey.

I am getting geese mostly because I like the idea of having a couple pet geese. I also like the idea of large hardy birds wandering around the homestead. We have a lot of birds of prey issues, mostly Ravens attacking young chickens and ducks. As a result the ducks are hesitant to free range. I think they've been traumatized. So I'm hoping to raise the geese with some same age layers and ducks, and maybe the geese will look out for the smaller birds. The ducks are very skittish, not inquisitive or friendly. I'm hoping the geese will fill my desire to have some pet birds.

Now, if you have traumatic geese memories you may be thinking I'm crazy. Well, if they end up attacking my children, they will be dinner. We are just getting a few to try them out. We are going to handle them a lot. I'm going to work with the kids on not running from the geese or establishing any bad behavioral issues - no running, no intimidating etc. We will work on carrying treats daily as we do chores. So hopefully we will have friendly geese. Geese don't lay a lot of eggs. We're talking twenty to fifty/sixty a year depending on the breed. The French Toulouse lay towards the higher end. I like the idea of bonding with the original pair, letting them hatch and rear their young, and then eating the wild things. Obviously I have some details to work out, like they are going to be vicious when setting on their eggs and caring for their goslings. And then, wild goslings may be too wild... It is an experiment.

Other poultry notes: I'm still trying to decide whether to get regular Cornish Cross this summer or a slower growing meat bird. I think we are going to do four Broad Breasted Whites again as opposed to heritage breeds. I'm collecting duck eggs to start incubating in the next few days. I'm collecting Peking eggs and Peking crossed with Saxony eggs. We will keep the females for layers and eat the males. We just need a handful of layers. I'm going to set a few Ameraucana eggs and probably buy a few Ameraucanas and Sexlinks at the feed store. Each summer I end up with five groups of birds to feed and water. I'm trying to think of how to simplify the chores. There are the established layers, established ducks, then the turkeys, the cornish and then the new layers, ducks and geese. I may combine the established birds, and then all the new birds except the turkeys. Does anyone have experience raising turkeys with other poultry? Everything I read says that is a big no no, but then I've heard of folks doing it without problems. Also, if you have experience with raising geese and have any advice I would love to hear it. Thanks again for your words of encouragement and kindness regarding this years kidding losses. Take care.

Oh yeah, and here is to facing our fears, bees, geese or whatever they may be. Cheers!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A kidding season of lessons and losses

I'm having a rough goat week and kidding season in general. Last week was our Sustainable Agricultural Conference which I attended all three days - and I've been intending on writing about what I learned and was inspired by. Zuri was due to kid on Friday, and all week while sitting in on goat and farming lectures, I was just sure she was in pre/early labor. On Friday night she entered active labor. She was progressing enough at ten p.m. that I dared not go to sleep for a couple hours. However, those first timers take forever! I watched her labor until four a.m. before I woke Dustin up for an extra set of hands. I always have a hard time deciding when to go in. You don't want to go in and risk infection or interrupt the natural process, but you don't want dead kids from waiting too long either. One of my goals for this kidding season was not to go in pre-maturely. In Zinnia's case, she had been having mild contractions sporadically but then her labor had stalled. She was dialated but the kids were pretty far in, so I don't know if she would have kidded on her own or not. In Zuri's case, her labor was long and also intense. She was really pushing for a while, but nothing was hapenning. I went in to my wrist and felt a mouth and tongue, with the hooves under or next to the face. I worked on grabbing both hooves and then hanging on. With her contractions I pulled the legs forward so she was in the correct position. Even then, the kid was big, and a first timer does not have a lot of room back there. It took a lot of work to get the kid out. Yeah, a doeling!

The doeling seemed fine. She was a silvery gray and white, with lots of white on her face. She was standing and nursing in less than an hour. I headed to bed about six a.m. sure that she was off to a good start. D checked on her a few hours later and reported that the doeling wasn't interested in nursing so we figured she was full still, or finding it on her own. At one p.m I headed down to check on her and she was flat on her side, limp and floppy. We brought her up and fed her with a drenching syringe every hour or two over the course of the day. She was the first doeling to spend the night by my bed. The next day she seemed stronger but still weak. We would take her down to see her dam every few hours. Then bring her back up.

Zuri was an overenthusiastic mom. When we first noticed the doeling was week, we wondered if her mother had pawed in an anxious attempt to get her daughter up and moving, and possibly kicked or pawed her own daughter in the head accidentally.Zuri licked her doeling constantly, and kept getting her wet after we'd dried her off. She would lick her so hard from behind that the doeling would topple over and have a hard time uprighting herself.

By Sunday morning she was standing again, finding the teat and nursing on her own. She spent all day Sunday with her dam. Dustin asked me if I was sure I didn't want to bring her in for the night. I was insistent that she was strong enough and that she would be better off if she could nurse throughout the night. I was positive that she would live. We would keep her. She is Zuri's first doeling. Zuri lost her dam, and has no family among the does. So we were overjoyed that she now had a daughter.

This morning I anxiously headed out to check on her. We have the barn divided into four stalls, three are closed off with a dam and kids in each, Zuri and her doeling were in one of these. The other stall is currently housing Xan the next doe to kid, who can come in and out through the goat door. Xan was outside and in her stall was the doeling. The doeling had gotten out through the slat in the sliding pocket gate and was trampled to death. I have a board that I usually wedge between the gate and a hanging waterer to keep determined kids from getting through the slat in the gate. It hadn't even occurred to me to put it back in place. I didn't think the doeling had the strength or incentive to leave her dam and go investigating outside her safety zone. Another lesson learned.

I can't be mad at Xanadu. She is a goat, and her actions were not abnormal for a goat. I can only be mad at myself.  Disappointed with myself for not being more observant and attentive. Full of regrets for not taking proper measures to insure the safety of the new fragile doeling. I nursed a doeling for two full days, put all my determination and will into keeping her alive, and then to have it lost over one small mistake. I'm regretful and very, very sad.

As of today I'm milking Zuri twice a day. She is amazingly sweet for a first time milker. She almost stands in her stall untied while I milk her. Today I got her up on the milk-stand for milking and she stood still the whole time, although she was obviously disconcerted and uncomfortable not being used to the stand or having her teats squeezed. She has always been close to my heart and I look forward to spending more time with her over the coming months.

Our kidding losses this year have given me lots to think about. For one, I'm resolved not to sell our goats to anyone who just wants hardy brush clearers. A goat vet presenting at the pre-conference said that ten percent of goat kiddings are assisted and probably only five percent really need it. I think about my kidding experiences over the last four seasons and how many times I've interceded. Most of my goats would be dead or would not have been born if I had not been there at the right time. I wonder about the dairy goat in general and if has been bred too much for looks and milk production and not hardiness. Or maybe I just have incredibly bad luck. I think about how much blood, sweat, tears, money, effort, labor, thought and research I put into our goats, and to think that I still have this many losses. I don't have the answers.

I promise to write about my recent soap making spree or setting duck eggs next post.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kids play with goat kids

 Zinnia and her twin doelings.

 Zuri is the next doe in line to kid. Her day 150 is next Friday. Her udder is just starting to form. I was beginning to worry, until the last few days when it seems to be taking shape. She is handling her first pregnancy with ease. No where near as awkward and lumbering as Rose and Zinnia. We are guessing she will have a single kid. If she has a doeling we will definitely keep her. We lost Zuri's dam a couple summers ago, and she was our strongest all around doe. So Zuri has been an orphan and has no mom, sibling or daughter in the herd. I have missed Zuri. Between milking the milkers and caring for kids, sometimes the adolescents get neglected, or just not handled enough. I am looking forward to milking, and therefor handling Zuri more this year. For her sake, I hope she has a daughter in there.

 New doeling meet new but older by a few days buckling, your half uncle.

 One of the twin doelings. Their coloring is different than any kids we've had yet. They are more of a brown and white than black and white.

Currently Rose and her kids are in one stall and Zinnia and her kids in the other. We are letting them out for a couple short closely monitored play sessions in the afternoon. The kids are playful but still pretty fragile. If the does get a chance they will butt and pummel the kids that are not theirs, into the ground. Zuri is spending the night in her own indoor stall. Xan and her daughter are free to come in and go out as they please, for now. Soon, Zuri will move into the kidding stall where we can keep track of her on the goat cam. I'm guessing she will kid during the conference next week. I've been meaning to mention the Sustainable Agricultural Conference is taking place next week at the Princess Hotel. There is a pre-conference day on goat care and cheesemaking. Other topics range from raising chickens and building chicken tractors, storing root crops, growing fruits and berries in the interior, and various other garden farm related topics. I'm registered for all three days. I am most looking forward to the goat day and cheesemaking workshop. Hopefully one goat kidding next week won't wreak complete havoc on my conference attendance.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First trip outside for first goat kids


 And why we do it all; fresh unadulterated milk. I did a little taste test. We still had part of a gallon of organic cow milk from the store. So I poured each into an 8 oz glass jar. The goat milk was clean tasting, creamy and rich, no trace of goatiness or too sweet, it was perfect. The cow milk on the other hand, had a bit of an odor and tasted kind of weak and overly sweet. To be fair, it was nearing the expiration date. There was no comparison, the goat milk won hands down, and the rest of the cow milk went to the chickens. Hopefully we won't have to buy milk for a very long time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A sad loss, followed by Zinnia's triumphant kidding

On Monday night we lost our little cream colored doeling. She had been very weak since her birth. I kept hoping if I could squirt enough milk down her throat she would perk up. I had thought that she just needed milk and rest and was overly weak from being cold and wet for too long. I don't know if maybe there was something else wrong as well. In the evening it seemed like she was getting weaker so I decided to bring her indoors for the night so I could keep a closer eye on her and feed her frequently with the drenching syringe. I gathered some supplies and waited for my kids to go to bed before bringing her inside. I went out to get her about an hour later and she was dead.

We don't take goat deaths lightly. I have never experienced much death. I use to cry when we'd lose a chicken. Now, several chicken, duck, and goat deaths later, well, I don't cry over chickens anymore. Goats are a different matter. I was very sad. Frustrated with myself for not bringing her indoors sooner. This is Roses fourth kidding season, second doeling and the first doeling we've had that wasn't black and tan, and our first doeling out of Zoro. We were all pretty excited to have a pretty little buff doeling. More lessons learned and taken to heart. Be there for kidding, get the milk and colostrum in to them immediately, pay close attention to them, and if they are not doing well; take action. I should have brought her indoors first thing, kept her warm and fed her by hand.

On a lighter note, Roses other two kids are doing great. They are very spunky and friendly. We've named the buckling Briar, Wild Roots Briar to be exact, and the black and white doeling is named Wild Roots Bramble Rose. We have a deposit for Briar and will be registering him as a buckling. I disbudded Briar today, the first time I have done it by myself. In the past we have taken the kids across town to have them done. Last season I decided it was time to step up and learn how, as unpleasant a job it is. I was dreading doing it, but it feels good to be able to do a good job myself. I think he has already forgiven me.

Zinnia, Roses first daughter kidded on Wednesday morning, after a very long labor. We noticed she was in labor Tuesday evening. She was in early labor but was progressing into consistent obvious contractions. I started sitting with her around nine p.m. thinking she might kid within a few hours and hoping my presence would be reassuring. Becca joined me shortly thereafter and we began a long night. Her labor progressed until she was just beginning to almost push, and then she started dosing off. I thought maybe I better see what was going on, but she was very energetic still, not distressed, and wanted nothing to do with my inspection. So we decided to wait and see if she could do it on her own. 

Deciding if she was actually in active labor was the key issue. I decided that she hadn't really gotten there and being a first timer, it must just be taking her a while dilate. She started dozing off and so did we. At six a.m. we came in to warm up and watch her on the goat cam. We decided to go to bed, but not before waking up Dustin and putting him on goat watching duty. After a couple hours of sleep, we headed back out. She hadn't progressed. I had been worrying all night that the kids weren't in the correct position and that is why it was taking so long. It is always a tough decision deciding whether to "go in", not wanting to jump the gun when unnecessary, but not wanting to wait until it is too late and be pulling out dead kids.

By late morning I decided it was time. Zinnia was still having contractions, dozing in between, and every once in a while giving a light push, but nothing was progressing. Becca held her in a corner, I lubed up and slowly went in, one finger at a time. The kids were pretty far in, so not close to coming out. I grabbed ahold of two hooves. I thought they were the front hooves but upside down, but I wasn't sure if I was feeling a nose or a sack of fluid. Turns out I had the back feet, the kid was backwards. Zinnia pushed and I pulled, pausing in between contractions. Finally we had her out. As much pain as Zinnia was in, she was enthusiastic from the get go about her new baby girl. The second kid wasn't far behind. Soon we saw a bubble, and then a head, a fairly large head. I debated for a minute whether she could push this kid out on her own as her mother had doe earlier this week. But this baby was bigger, and this was Zins first time. So I put on a fresh glove and went back in. I got her left leg out, but the right one was pretty far back. She gave a push and I was able to pull the kid out with just one leg. Another doeling!

 We spent a lot of time looking at this end of Zinnia.

First doeling out.

 Second doeling out!
 I'm wiping all the slime off, especially around her nostrils and mouth so she can breathe.

 We go through a roll of paper towels per birth just getting the slime off and drying them off. Once they are somewhat dry I finish up with old cloth towels.

Zinnia is extremely attentive over her daughters. She was not interested in her grain, molasses water, hay or eating her placenta. She turned to nip at Becca and I several times when her doelings would cry out as we were trying to get them to nurse. I've never had a doe this protective over her kids. The doelings are big and strong. We weighed them today, one was seven and three quarters and the other eight and three quarters pounds. They were standing on their own within minutes, and nursing on their own within a few hours. I haven't had to help them find teats or angle the teats for them at all, as I often have to do. Part of it is that her teats are small and higher up which helps their little mouths grab on easier. This is our first new mama in a while. I am relieved that she is doing such a great job with little assistance. She may have delivered them on her own, but it would have been a lot later in the day. I am giving her an immune support tincture twice a day, which will help with the inflammation, pain and prevent infection. The new family look like they are doing just fine. We are thinking Belladonna (Bella) and Bryona, (Bree).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rose is Hero of the day

Noah looking up at Rose.

After Rose kidded, Noah asked if Rose is a hero. Having experienced natural childbirth myself firsthand, although never triplets and all by myself) I replied: Rose is certainly a hero, the hero of the day.
We checked on the does last night before going to bed, then again around 4 a.m., 7a.m. and finally came downstairs around 8:30. If I had watched for ten minutes instead of two, I probably would have noticed the contractions, but as I didn't we had a surprise waiting for us as we got up. Avery and I sat on the couch looking at Rose on the goat cam. Every time I turned on the cam/tv last night Rose was standing still, looking like she was sleeping on her feet. I thought we'd better watch her for a while before turning on Sesame Street. As we sat and watched Rose, she leaned forward and started pushing, and a black blob shot out. I yelled up to Dustin and raced to get my clothes on and get down to the doe stall. As I entered, Rose was licking the new baby. I saw that there was a buff/light red kid against the wall in a pile of goop (the back wall is just out of range of the camera). This is the first kidding we weren't waiting with hands outstretched to catch the kid as it came out. The buff kid on the floor was cold and wet. I immediately piled both kids next to each other and started wiping off the goop and drying the kids off. The buff one was trying to stand and nurse but Rose was getting ready to push another kid out. 

As Rose started pushing a good size head pops out, dangit. I debate whether to see if she can push it out or go grab some lube and gloves. I race into the house in a frenzy, impatient as D draws a bowl of warm water for me. Then I race down the slippery slope to the milk area and grab gloves and sprinkle some lubricant powder into the water. As I enter the kidding stall, I see Rose on her side, legs flailing in the air, her two kids near her belly about to get squished, and another buff wet kid sprawled out behind her.

Dustin was inside watching. He said that Rose gave such a big push that she fell over sideways and he thought that she was going to fall on her first two kids. This is the first time that we've had a goat deliver a kid head first. After the first year of having a kid get stuck there for hours till the vet showed up, we go right in for the legs when a head presents first. 

After all the kids are dried off, we work on making sure everyone gets several good sucks and nurses until they aren't interested anymore. I took Rose warm molasses water, grain and fresh hay. We let Rose eat her afterbirth as it is full of vitamins and minerals- and she gobbled it down. The first doeling is weaker than she should be. She still hasn't had the strength to stand up and nurse on her own. So I have been holding her mouth open while I squirt milk down her throat. She weakly swallows, but has a strong cry. We are going to keep a close eye on her and continue getting the milk into her.

Rose has been great, caring for her kids, licking and cleaning them, standing still why they bumble about looking for the source of nourishment. This is her fourth kidding, one buck her first year, one doeling/one buck her second year, three bucklings last year, and this year: two doelings and a buckling - Yeah! We've been tossing around Briar and Bramble for the doelings. But nothing set yet. We will most likely sell the black and white doeling. We will to wait until some more kids are born, but I would love to keep a light red doeling out of Rose and Xoro. 

Good job Rose, you are my hero today.

First goat kid pics

story coming

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March kids and goats

The daylight is waking us up around seven a.m. The sun is pouring into the house all afternoon and into the evening. It is so bright outside, that I've been needing sunglasses on while outside doing afternoon chores. The kids and I have been getting out most afternoons for a walk. We've been choosing a select few goats to come along as well. Two does get left out as they've taken to butting Avery and Noah when given the opportunity. Rose and now Zinnia are getting left behind because they are too uncomfortably pregnant, and while I thought a walk would still be good for them, Zinnia complained, bawled the whole way on her last walk- poor thing.

Avery got this new snowsuit - Thankyou Grandma! As you can see it is cute if a little impractical. Avery is getting opinionated about what she wants to wear these days. She is into pink, purple and pockets. I do not recall Noah being choosy about his clothes when he was two.

Noah has been enjoying the freedom of walking on top of the snow, venturing away from the driveway and trails. We had some serious winds a while back that seemed to compress the snow.

This is Zinnia on her last walk for a while. She has two due dates, as I bred her once and then she continued to act like she was in heat for the following week, so I re-bred her six days later. The due date I put on the calender for the goats is 150 days from when they are bred. They tend to kid a few days earlier. Zinnia's first due date was this Friday, so we started checking on her at night and throughout the day last Monday. Of course, once you start watching goats constantly, they act totally suspicious and like they are about to go into labor at any moment - at least the first doe of the season does- most likely I'm just overly jumpy. Zinnia is so uncomfortable right now, she paces, paws at the ground, nudges and nips at her belly, scratches her head with her back hoof, paws some more. Then when she tries to lay down she stops half way so she is sitting on her hind haunches unsure of how to lower herself down any further, before rising and pacing some more. She shifts her weight, grunts, huffs and begins chewing her cud again, but only after staring off as though she is closely paying attention to something internal, eyes glazing over as I wonder if she is having an early labor contraction - nope.

Zinnia is either at day 151, or more likely, day 145. She and her mom are in their own stall and pen. We can monitor them on the "goat cam" which is a security camera in their stall which is wired to our TV. This makes late night checks oh so much easier. I just get out of bed, turn on the TV, watch for a few minutes and go back to bed, rather than getting dressed in under and outer layers, boots, gloves, hat and headlamp to trek down that slippery slope and disturbing a bunch of sleeping goats. We've been going to bed and getting up early. Last night the alarm went off too many times, I think every 4-5 hours should suffice. Although, when the overly pregnant goat is pacing late at night instead of sleeping, you've got to wonder if she knows something you don't.

This is Zuri. Hard to believe that she is due in just two weeks, but she is! Her udder is just starting to take shape. So far she is keeping up with the un-bred doelings, running, jumping, letting them know she is still boss. Yesterday I moved three does up to our extra top pen, reserved for breeding and this time of year, when we need to weed out any extras who aren't close to kidding. So Xoe, who is bred but not due till May, and her daughter'sYin and Asia are up next to the bucks and not too happy about the arrangement, but everyone else is. Now, Zuri and Xan, the next does due, won't be picked on. The doe pen is peaceful and calm, for the moment.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is it spring yet?

I am ready for spring! There was one morning last week, where I stepped outside and the air was warmer than I expected, (above zero) and I could almost smell soil, dirt, the ground that is buried way down there somewhere. I thought, spring! I forget about the absence of scents outdoors in the winter. The farm doesn't smell, not when everything is frozen. I dreamed that I was hearing the songs that the chickadees sing only on spring mornings. We are gaining around seven minutes of light each day. Each morning I am surprised at how early it is light out. At evening I find myself looking at the clock and thinking; is it really this late? Shouldn't it be dark by now?

Yesterday as I drove into town the sun was so high and intense. The warmth seeped into my skin. I had to put my sunglasses on. Everywhere was sun. Sun glaring off the shiny metal buildings and white snow banks. The roads are icy and slick. I thought, isn't this what spring is - in Fairbanks?

I'm watching the goats belly's grow heavy and thick with kids, their udders filling with milk. I looked back at last years posts on goat kids this morning. Spring is: goat babies, collecting eggs for setting, bags of seedling mix and tinier bags of seeds, the smells of thawing manure, a warm day followed by a cold one and the sun; most importantly, the sun, full of promise and certainty.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Lamanchas?

When I first started looking into goats, I discovered that one of my co-worker's partners had been a large breed veterinarian in California.(She still is, but at the time was not working as such). Once I told her I was thinking of getting dairy goats, we began an ongoing dialogue that continued over the months. I was working in a kitchen atmosphere, so as we baked and cooked, we talked. It was common for friends to stop in for a muffin or a bite of something, and visit a bit. My main questions at the time surrounded what breed to get. She told me that of all the dairy goat breeds, Lamanchas were here favorite and that is what she would get if she were to start her own herd which she intended to do some day. Her main reason was personality. In her opinion they had an easy going, friendly disposition, that endeared her to this particular breed more than others. I have very little experience with other goat breeds, so I cannot say if Lamanchas seem friendlier than other goats. I have a feeling that all well loved and cared for goats can be loving and friendly with their owners. However, it was this bit of insight, early on in my quest for goats that first steered me in the direction of Lamanchas.

As I begin to research online, Molly's Fiasco Farm site was a wealth of information. Her goat herd consisted solely of Lamanchas. Her heard was beautiful. Her goats coats were short and shiny (as ours only look in late summer). They were all different colors, ebony, shades of rich browns, whites, creams and light reds, buff and butterscotch, added to this they had various white stars, strips, splashes and belts. I am very partial to variety in coat colors and markings.

What about their lack of ears? Well, I suppose that just by looking at so many pictures of Lamanchas online, I grew quite accustomed to their lack of large ears, and then when I would see a goat with large ears, I would be surprised, oh yeah, that's right, some goats have ears that stand straight up and stick way out, or flop and hang way down. I like large ears, they add personality. However, I also find that there is something very graceful and streamlined about the lack of large ears that I find very smooth and pleasing to look at. Some people can't get past the lack of ears. It doesn't bother me, nor was it a major factor in why I chose Lamanchas. I have heard that Lamanchas should be more hardy, as their ears won't freeze. In response to this, I would say that I'd hope the goat has the sense to go indoors if it is that cold out. Or, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't provide them with a warm enough and large enough area that all the goats were able to escape from the cold in.

I prefer full sized goats to miniature breeds. I owned a horse for eleven years, she was 15.3 hands, a good sized quarter horse. We have a large dog, full sized chickens. The cuteness of miniature breeds has never appealed to me as it does to some. Miniature breeds often look more stocky and stout. I enjoy the gracefulness that longer legs and height give. Entirely personal preference. And the thought of milking those tiny teats is not appealing. Last night I was dreaming of milking our first fresheners, and grasping those new little teats, after growing use to nice large teats that my entire hand comfortably fits around, I've gotten spoiled, not milking first timers in a while.

As far as milk quality and butterfat go, I've read that Nubians have higher butterfat. There are other subtle differences in milk properties between dairy breeds, but nothing significant enough to point me in a different direction. I am still smitten by Nubians, their floppy ears and high butterfat are tempting. I have heard that they are nosier, I haven't been around any to know if this is true or not. I think that someday we may have a couple Nubians, but not for a while - and I'll have to hang out with some first and see if the stories are true.

The dairy breeds most common in the interior are Toggenburgs, Saanans, Boers and Nigerian Dwarfs. I suppose I figured that if we were going to bring goats in from out of state, might as well bring in something different. It seems as though Lamanchas have been increasing in popularity over the last several years. There are quite a few now in southern Alaska.

I am convinced that as people become more educated and aware of our current food situation; the lack of "real" food, the over processing and killing off of the beneficial nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and even healthy bacteria that our bodies need, the demand to have control over what we put into our bodies, the desire to put real food, real milk into our bodies, will result in a demand and appreciation for dairy goats and cows. Demand for quality milking animals can only go up, especially here in interior Alaska, where we are at the very end of the supply line, so far removed and so easily cut off from our food sources.

So here's to dairy goats whichever breed you raise or decide to raise!!!