Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."

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Goat Break

I hate it when parents talk about how glad they are to send their children back to school.  We homeschool, love it and I always wonder how the kids must feel when they hear their parents saying that…it makes me sad for them…both of them, actually.

That said

my goats, who are not at all my children, are off at boarding school and I am really happy for the break!

Angel got really ornery before she left.  She wouldn’t let me milk her at all one night and this dropped her milk supply down by about 1/3 right away.  I milked her for two more days, trimmed her hooves, while she repeatedly kicked at me (nearly got me a couple of times while I did her back hooves) and I was DONE with her.  Maybe the rottenest thing about that rotten goat was that once she got over the neighbor, she turned into a little lovey-dovey lap dog…er, goat.  Our neighbor suggested AGAIN that it was my fault for letting her nurse her babies and that she’d be all right if only I hadn’t.  When we first got her, if I tried to move her anywhere she didn’t want to go, she would lie down on her side, close her eyes and pretend to be dead and that was when she was still pregnant.  Maybe she doesn’t like it over here, maybe she doesn’t like me, I will allow that, but bringing her to the point that she will tolerate my leading her, messing with her feet and milking her most of the time has been a herculean effort…as is smiling in the face of what one feels to be unjust criticism.  Sigh.

I would be happy to bring home a different goat..if she has one bred as late as I need mine to be!

Anyhow, Penny’s drying up didn’t go terribly smoothly.  I tried slowly weaning her off grain, hoping her milk supply would drop off as I did so.  It didn’t and she was still giving a full quart the last day I milked her.  I was feeling unwell, so I had the boys give them their hay the next few days and they checked her udder and said it looked ok.  Here’s hoping she’s good and dry and that there are no complications.

I just drank the last of the goat’s milk for nearly six months!

It’s been quite a first year at goat school.  We dealt with a CAE diagnosis with Margo, goat birth, a deluge of milk and all the cheese and custard-making that went with that, hoof rot, a couple of minor infections, disbudding and castration (though it was mainly just watching this year), small teat orifices, goat orneriness, goat handstands, we sold our first goats and experimented with various bedding techniques.  I am hoping that this year is a little quieter, that we’ve learned and don’t have to re-learn too much of it again.

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Poor Ducks

And now they are both gone.

We think the other one flew out a gap in the netting at the top of their pen.  We will hope that their natural instincts were simply unbeatable and that they migrated with a passing flock, but Oldest Brother was hiking around the back of the forest and found fresh bones and feathers which may or may not have been duck.  I can’t think of this whole thing without a sigh and a substantial helping of guilt.  It’s just been unfortunate all the way along.

So we throw open the door of their stall (for air?  it doesn’t have a roof…), throw away their cracked and filthy kiddie pool and start thinking about housing little goatlets there in May.  We are planning to separate overnight and then milk in the morning.  I hope this (human) baby sleeps!  Otherwise I will have to start napping with baby or figure out how to build udder covers so I can milk in the evening.  Sleep, baby, sleep…..  We also met with our neighbor goat-lady and she sold one of her bucks and has two empty pens, so we’ll drop off our girls the Saturday before Thanksgiving and they will just stay there until they are bred.  She is only charging us a dollar a day for boarding and breeding, which is essentially just the cost of hay.  It’s a pretty wonderful deal.  I don’t do everything the way she does and she thinks I’m a little nuts for it, but all-in-all she’s been great, made this whole dairy goat thing possible for us and I am very grateful.

One last goat item.

spray patt

Spray Patterns

Penelope is a 5 on her right teat and a 1 on her left.  Since I milk facing her back end my right hand ends up significantly more sore and tired than my left.  That’s ok, I’ve toughed out worse.  Angel, though, is sometimes a 5 on both sides, but sometimes ends up more of a 4 or 6 on one side or the other which necessitates my holding the bowl up right under that teat or losing 1/2 to 2/3 of the milk from that side onto the stand, the wall, her legs or my lap!  Seriously!

Does anyone know how to adjust a goat’s nozzles?

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A Farm Loss

Back when we first moved here, my husband went out to buy a dozen chicks.  We had raised chickens back in Oregon and had a good idea of their needs and I was pretty confident that I could get a coop built before they got big and needed it.  I had been reading a couple of days before and had mentioned to my husband that this particlar author suggested that ducks could be helpful with fly control–that maybe we might consider getting ducks at some point to help with that.  Well, he went for 12 babies and came back with 14, 3 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Barred Plymouth Rocks, 3 Ameraucanas, 3 Buff Orpingtons and 2 Mallards.

Now, ducks are not chickens.

First, they are obsessed by water.  Chickens may make a bit of a mess, but with ducks, it’s intentional, they like soggy.  Chickens may try to roost on the waterer because it’s a high point in the brooder, but ducks really want to spend most of the day sitting in the waterer simply because it has water in it.  Ducks also dabble, meaning that they get a mouthful of food and then go swish their bills around in their water until it’s sloppy and then, finally, swallow.  If you’ve ever shared a drinking glass with a two-year-old you’ll have some idea of how this affects the cleanliness of the water–except that it’s much, much, much worse.  Between their sitting in it and dabbling in it, clean water is nearly impossible.  This means you really cannot brood ducks and chickens together, unless you do not worry about the same things I do, I guess.

Second, you can watch them grow.  Not like chicks where you look back to pictures from last week and realize that they are bigger this week, but more like you pick them up and they are bigger when you put them down.  I think it took a week for them to outgrow their largest-size plastic tote, but we had to keep them there anyways since their grazing pen (I used this basic design) was not complete.  Once the pen was complete, they were horribly in need of roomier sleeping quarters.  I pretty much lived in the garage/woodshop and, though I love working with wood, I have five children (one a baby at the time) and a giant-sized house and my absence was soon apparent.  And by the time all that was done, the chickens were huge, escaping regularly from the enormous stock tank we brooded them in and needed a coop.  I got it started and then we had a parade of houseguests and everyone got sick in succession and I couldn’t touch it for another month…but that’s another story…

Third, they really don’t like to be touched or held.  This might be specific to mallards, maybe even just to ours (my experience is limited) but the kids could never pet, pick them up or hold them like they could the chicks.  Our approach always raised alarm sounds even though ours were “the hands that fed.”

Fourth, they do like flies, but they are still ducks.  When the flies were so terrible this Spring we tried putting them into the goats’ stall.  They waddled around and ate flies like champs, but they dabbled and they sat in the goats’ water bucket and I determined that one cannot raise ducks and dairy goats together, unless you do not worry about the same things I do.

Fifth, they really, truly, seriously fly.  Not flaps and flutters, but migratory fly-for-miles-and-miles.  Once their housing was all built, the boys would have to catch them (an event unto itself, see #3).  Oftentimes, they would escape and fly a lap or two around the house before returning home.  You can clip their wings to prevent this, but then they are just that much more vulnerable…

Which brings me to my sixth point, I can’t see how their lives with us were better than they would be in the wild.  Chickens are pretty defenseless, goats are a prey animal, we provide them easy feed and a safe environment and they seem to like living with us. What could we give the ducks?  For safety’s sake we kept them from flying, swimming in our nice pond, migrating in the winter, eating fish and all but the odd insect and we gave them instead a nasty little plastic kiddie pool and terrorized them every time we came in to feed them the dry food that they didn’t like and to collect their eggs.  Sigh.

And this returns me to the title of this post.  We didn’t even manage to keep them safe.  Monday night after I finished milking, I looked in on them and said, “goodnight, poor little ducks”.  In the morning, one of them was gone.  Something had dug under the side of the stall and snagged one, or perhaps she escaped and decided finally to migrate with her comrades, either way, it seems like we’ve done her a great disservice keeping her in suboptimal conditions that didn’t allow the full development of her duck-ness–creating a less-happy and more vulnerable animal.

The other one (the kids are divided as to whether it was Anka or Nicka that is gone) is really, really unhappy now.  She was pretty quiet before, now she quacks loudly and regularly and just wanders around looking lost.  Poor thing.  And I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want her to be lonely, but I really don’t enjoy being a duck-keeper and I’m disinclined to get more.  The kids and I thought for a few blissful hours that we had a neighbor with a bunch of drakes who could take her, but when I mentioned that idea to my husband he said he’d talked to her last week and that something had gotten her flock.  What to do?  It’s times like this that I feel heavily the stewardship of the lives entrusted to us.

Anka and Nicka

Anka and Nicka (“duck” and “to duck” in Swedish) in their younger, fuzzier days.

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Milk Report and Clothes for Children I Don’t Have

All right.  The goats surely think they are pretty funny, but I’m getting a little worried about how this whole drying up thing is going to go!  Angel is consistently back up over a pint and Penny up over a quart again.  At some point I need to draw out their milking curves.  Most of the ones I’ve seen from normal goats look like a slow, gentle curve–my goats’ have precipitous drops and now unexplained rises!  Seriously!  My husband proposed trying to milk through and just skipping breeding this year (oh yeah, their cycles are REALLY hard to nail down.  My predictions didn’t come about, and I am having nightmarish visions of daily driving goats to our neighbor’s house until we can get them bred…), but I really don’t think that this will hold out.  A bit over a quart and a half just covers our normal daily milk needs but no cheese, custard, butter, and other things we were looking forward to and if they drop just a little, it doesn’t cover those daily needs anymore.  I am just trying to figure out WHY.  Was their condition poor enough that they were producing much less than they were capable of?  Oy, being a goat newbie sure is perplexing.

We just went through the huge, horrible seasonal clothing swap.  I remember this being exciting when I was a child–the thrill of pulling out old favorites and restocking dressers–not so thrilling as a mother.  Clothes multiply in my house.  A child will say they need something, I’ll find something for a reasonable price and purchase it, but then birthdays and Christmas come and now they have three of said item and THEN someone looks at us and decides that with all these kids we could surely use clothes and so they give us all the ones that their kids have grown out of and so it goes.  By getting rid of loads of perfectly good clothes I been able to have strictly limit our clothing storage to one full Rubbermaid tote per size (both genders) and this only takes up one of the smaller walls of our bonus room.  So I only have complete wardrobes for 21 children that I do not have.  Reviewing my grandfather’s letters about his growing up during the Depression made me just a touch wistful–maybe three outfits per child, two for regular use and one for special occasions AND THEY WOULD ALL BE WORN TO RAGS BY THE END OF THE YEAR.  No totes needed!  Reading Dickens reminded me as well, that people were often recognized by the outfit they wore because they wore the same thing every day and no one expected any different.  Being a mother and somewhat concerned for cleanliness, it does make my skin crawl just a little, but looking at our mountains of laundry every week, I have to admit there is something to be said for doing this whole thing a different way.