Food, Sleep, and a Good Scratch

I know it’s been a good day of writing when I suddenly realise it’s four o’clock, and I haven’t written a blog post for the day or prepared for tomorrow’s school programme or fed the animals, collected the eggs, filled the firewood box, gotten the mail…

Thankfully, I have an effective alarm to let me know when I’ve gotten too wrapped up in writing and need to stop.




The goats are polite, but insistent. They like their afternoon feed, and let me know when it’s late. Animals are good for that. They don’t get caught up in things going on inside their heads. Life is clear and uncomplicated—food, sleep, a good scratch now and again.

Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of that.

She Just Wants To Be Useful

Artemis in her younger years.

Artemis in her younger years.

Seven months ago, I blogged about my 12-year-old dairy goat who had been diagnosed with heart trouble. The vet clearly was trying to tell me she ought to be put down at the time. I heard the message, but couldn’t bear the thought, provided she wasn’t uncomfortable.

I got a prescription of diuretics for her to try to clear the fluid from her lungs. It seemed to help a little…until she got wise to the medicine and began to refuse it. By then it was springtime, and I thought she might just be okay without the medicine. I stopped giving it to her, and she was fine. With the spring grass growth, she put on condition, and toward the beginning of summer, her udder started to fill out.

Artemis has always been a strong milk producer. In years when she’s kidded, her udder gets so full, it drags in the grass, and her kids have trouble finding the teats. I haven’t actually gotten her in kid for two years, and she still gives milk every year.

This year, she was supposed to be officially ‘retired’. I replaced all my other dairy goats with fibre goats so I wouldn’t have to be tied to daily milking.

Artemis had other ideas. In spite of her dicky heart, in spite of her age, her body decided to produce milk.

At first, I ignored it. If there was no demand for the milk, she’d stop producing. At least, that’s what the textbooks say. It’s never worked for Artemis in the past (drying her off in winter has always been challenging)–I don’t know why I expected it to work this time.

Eventually, I had to milk her. And once it milked her one time, her body responded by producing more milk. It was a vicious cycle–the more I milked, the more she made.

I’m now milking her twice a week. Not much, really, compared to the usual daily milking. I have to say I appreciate the milk, but more importantly, Artemis appreciates the milking.

She knows the signs I’m coming to milk her. When she realises that’s what’s happening, she saunters over to the gate, full of self-importance, nipping haughtily at the fibre goats. She slips out the gate when I open it and trots to the milking stand. She talks to me a little bit as I milk her, as if to bring to my attention what lovely milk she’s made for me.

When I release her from the stand, she leaps off and scampers like a kid back to the paddock, kicking her heels in the air. When I let her back into the paddock, she skips around the other goats, as if to say, “See, I’m useful, unlike some around here.”

It clearly gives her so much pleasure, I feel bad that I hesitated to start milking her.

Maybe producing milk will be the last straw for her heart–just too much to ask of her body–but I believe it makes her happy.

And so, I will milk her. For as long as she wants. After all, isn’t that what we all want? To be useful? To be needed?

Washing Day

2016-09-30-08-29-27I finally had a nice sunny day to wash mohair. I only got a little over half of it cleaned before I was totally sick of washing it, but it’s been a fascinating process.

Stiff and grey with grease (yolk, it’s called) and dirt, I was dubious about my chances of ending up with useful fibre.

The first three washings, the water came up positively black, but little by little, the dirt and grease came out, leaving me with beautiful, shiny white locks of mohair. An amazing transformation!




Einstein before

Today was our first shearing of the goats. The boys were pretty shaggy, and having trouble seeing around the mops on their heads.

Our lovely shearer was very patient and gentle with them, and made a point of talking to them and calling them by name as he worked. Newton and Darwin submitted quietly, looking like a bag of wool with hooves as they lay on their backs. Einstein was more indignant—he bleated the whole time, as though he was being tortured.


Einstein after

Of course, once they were shorn, they didn’t recognise each other, so they had to re-establish their dominance hierarchy. Artemis, the remaining dairy goat (still herd queen, of course), was offended—she spent the afternoon nipping them all on the bottom.

I feel a little bad for the boys—it’s going to be a chilly night tonight—but they seemed relieved to be free of the weight of all that fur.

Now I have two big bags of mohair…I suppose it’s time to learn to spin.

Homemade Goat Parmesan

2016-09-05 17.16.17Today was the day—the day to finally crack open one of the parmesan cheeses from last October. Eleven months in the fridge, and they were every bit as disgusting as they always are. Covered in mould, in spite of my efforts to avoid it, and with a hard, dry rind.

And as usual, once the rind was cut off, the cheese underneath was the most divine, flavourful cheese ever.

My parmesan is drier than the standard commercial block, a bit less salty, and with twice the flavour punch. It takes at least ten months to reach full ripeness, but it’s worth the wait. We put commercial parmesan on pasta, in risotto, and in pesto. My parmesan, we also sneak onto our sandwiches for lunch, or onto crackers for an after school snack.

Of all the cheeses I’ve learned to make, it is one of the most rewarding for its sheer over-the-top gourmet decadence. I’d say we live like kings, but I wonder if even kings get cheese this good on a daily basis.

My life in gumboots

2016-08-16 12.32.47My daughter and I wear the same size gumboot, but there’s never any problem telling them apart.

That’s because gumboots tell the story of their wearer’s activities.

Mine tell many tales.

A smear of paint—Sicily White—tells of a hot summer day scraping and painting the house. A job that had to be called off, because the paint was drying so fast, I couldn’t spread it.

Another glob—brick red—tells of another summer day fixing and painting the roof, balancing paint bucket and feet on the peak, and looking out over the hedges to the lake and sea beyond.

Lavender speckles recount an afternoon drenching goats, when a syringe of purple medicine burst open and splattered everywhere.

Bits of hay relate frosty mornings feeding the animals in the dark, by moonlight and starlight.

Smears of mud describe weeding and planting in the vegetable garden.

Clumps of goat poo tell of afternoons in the paddock, hand-feeding grain to eager goats who push and shove to get more than the others.

The tales are fleeting—even the most enduring splatters fade in time, replaced by the next instalment of my life in gumboots.

Presiding Over Death

Artemis in her younger years.

Artemis in her younger years.

It was bound to happen, this winter or next. My ‘old girl’, Artemis is showing her age.

She’s been coughing for a couple of weeks. At first I suspected lung worms, as she was due for a worming. But a drench didn’t help. Then I thought she must have pneumonia.

But when the vet visited today, she diagnosed heart problems. Artemis is just old, and her heart is starting to give out, allowing fluid to build up in her lungs. No injection or pill is going to fix that. The only thing we can do is keep her as comfortable as possible.

In a way, it’s almost a relief, to have a goat dying of old age and not any one of the myriad ills that have befallen my other animals. But it also makes it that much more difficult to face the farewell I know is coming. She’s been a fixture in the paddock for nearly eleven years—it will seem bare when she’s gone.

Until then, my job will be to fill the remainder of her life with treats and scratches. To keep the bedding where she spends more and more of her time thick and fresh. And when the time comes, to make her passing as painless as possible.

Gonna Feel That Tomorrow!

Einstein smI put it off as long as I could.

I waited until the new goats were happily eating out of our hands, enjoying (or at least tolerating) a good scratch.

Then I found other excuses for a couple of weekends—excuses to put off trimming the new goats’ hooves.

I knew it would be a circus the first time I trimmed their hooves.

I’ve been spoiled by the dairy goats so used to the routine I didn’t need to even hold onto them when I opened the gate—out of the paddock, onto the milking stand, stand calmly while I do whatever needs doing, then trot calmly back to the paddock.

But of course the three new boys aren’t used to the routine. For them, hoof trimming means being herded up, and slung onto their backs. I could have done that, but training them to stand nicely while I trim their hooves will make life much easier in the long run.

For today, though, it was killer. It was a day of many firsts for the new goats—first time on a lead, first time on the milking stand, first time to have their hooves trimmed standing up.

Their personalities came out. Newton was the timid one. As soon as he found himself on a lead, he stood stock still and refused to budge. I practically had to push him all the way to the stand. Einstein was a bucking bronco, lunging and twisting to get free of the lead. He sent me sprawling to my knees, and then cracked me soundly on the chin with his horns. Darwin was happy to go, but not ever in the direction I wanted him to.

In truth, it was exactly as I expected, and no different from a dairy goat her first time on a lead and on the milking stand. I was thankful that angora goats are small—nothing like being dragged across the yard by a 70 kg saanan. Still, my chin is black and blue, my back is sore, my knees are skinned, and I have a rope burn on my arm. I have a bad feeling that tomorrow morning, I’m going to feel every bruise and ache even more.

Tell me again why I do this…?

One of the Herd

He wants to be a goat and a writer...

He wants to be a goat and a writer…

My daughter and I have been feeding the new goats by hand every afternoon, to help them become more friendly.

But it seems everyone wants to get in on it now.

Of course, Artemis, my remaining Saanen, is quite jealous of the attention ‘the boys’ get, and feels the need to eat the majority of the food, or at least keep the other goats from getting it. She alternates between gobbling up as much as possible, and beating the stuffing out of the others.

That’s no surprise, really. Artemis is a goat, after all.

But today, the cat decided he needed to get in on the feeding, too. He meowed from outside the paddock for a few minutes, and when we didn’t come out, he came in.

He and Artemis have always had an adversarial relationship—she’s been known to tear after him if he gets in her way as she’s going to the milking stand. But the new goats, after a few rather curious sniffs and head-butt feints, seemed to accept him as just another goat, albeit a rather odd one.


The Naming of the Goats

2016-05-07 12.47.01 smIt’s been over a week since we got the new angora goats, and I was beginning to stress because we still hadn’t named them. At lunch today, we talked over the options, and nothing seemed quite right.

Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo (the three tenors)? Meh.

Athos, Porthos, and Aramis (the three musketeers)? Too hard to remember.

Larry, Mo, and Curly (the three stooges)? Too dumb.

Well, we named all our dairy goats after goddesses, perhaps the wethers should be named after gods? But their behaviour isn’t godlike, and who can imagine a castrated god?

Bumble, Fagan, and The Artful Dodger? No.

Mars, Neptune, and Uranus? Er…no.

So we sent my daughter out to the paddock to ask the goats what their names were.

She came back saying the goats were giving confusing answers. She said that they claimed their names were Dennis, Darwin, and Dale.


That was it! Scientists!

So out in the paddock there now graze Darwin, Darwin sm

Einstein, Einstein sm

Newton sm and Newton.