New Arrivals

IMG_1139 cropThe Saturday Story will have to wait until Sunday this week, because there’s excitement in the paddock today.

I made the difficult decision a few weeks ago to sell my dairy goats and switch to angoras. The daily grind of milking, dealing with mastitis, kiddings, and all the other stress that goes along with breeding and milk production was getting really old. It was time for a new adventure.

So today, we drove to Rangiora and picked up three lovely wee boys (wethers) from Mohair Pacific. My elderly dairy goat, Artemis, will remain with us. The last of the other dairy goats is due to be picked up on Monday morning.

We’re still getting to know the new boys, and they’re still settling into the paddock. We’ve been tossing around names for them, with such notable trios as the three musketeers, the three stooges, and the three tenors being among them, but I think we’ll wait and learn a bit about their personalities before we stick names on them.

This will be a new adventure for me—learning to spin and dye yarn. I love mohair, though, and I’m looking forward to weaving and knitting with it.

Ahh…sweet love!

'Tis the season.

‘Tis the season.

I swear I’m going to kill my goats.

They caught a whiff of buck a couple of days ago, and all hell has broken loose in the paddock.

Last night, I barely even heard the d*#&$ cat howling at the window over the F@#$^&*ng goats in the paddock. I finally gave up trying to sleep at four this morning and got up and fed them. I figured if they were eating, they’d have to be quiet, right?

Unfortunately, love-sick goats aren’t interested in food. The novelty of it kept them quiet for a few minutes, at least. Around five, I went out and hung out with them for a while—again, it was good for a few minutes, until they decided I wasn’t nearly as interesting as the prospect of a buck. Somewhere. If only they could call loud enough for him to hear.

They’ve worn a path around the perimeter of the paddock—pacing and calling all night.

And they’ve worn a path in my nerves. I’ve warned them. Another peep out of them, and we’re having goat for dinner.

Death in the Paddock

100_1931smI buried a goat today—Ixcacao, my little toggenburg. Well, I considered her little until I had to dig a hole big enough for her, and drag all 65 kg of her deadweight over to it.

I’ve found that, for most of the goats, digging their graves gives me the time and exercise I need to face the loss stoically. Usually, anyway. But each death is a blow.

There was Hebe, 9 months old, dead two weeks after I bought her. No clear cause. Just dead one morning.

Quickly following her was Hebe 2, four months old, who tore the ligaments in one of her knees. “If she were a rugby player, we’d operate on her, but…” was the way the vet delivered the verdict. I had kidded her myself at the end of a long struggle with three tangled kids. She was weak and couldn’t stand properly for the first few weeks, and I’d hand fed her until she could hold her own against her two big brothers. I held her while the vet put her down.

Hebe is the Greek goddess of youth. I should have known no goat named Hebe would live to adulthood.

There was Demeter, eight years old, who poisoned herself on green acorns, destroying her liver and causing her to waste away. She had always been a sweetheart. I sat next to her in the goat shed, stroking her head while the vet injected her.

There was Delilah, three years old, who wasted away, probably from Johnes disease. She was never particularly friendly, but I sat with her, too, when the vet came to put her down.

Ixcacao, four, went too fast for me to call in the vet. She had been off her feed a bit yesterday, which I attributed to being in season. Now, I think she must have had a tumour—she’d been looking a bit lopsided lately. And I wonder if it had been there in the spring when she delivered a dead, malformed kid. I won’t ever know, I suppose. She gave me no signs of trouble until late yesterday.

As a breeder once said to me, “If you have goats, you have dead goats.” It just goes with the territory, I suppose.

And tomorrow we will get up and carry on with another ordinary day.

Sunflowers

sunflowersI am of the opinion that you can never have too many sunflowers.

I have Golden Toasted sunflowers in the vegetable garden, with big fat seeds for eating, and I have half a dozen other varieties of sunflower in other places around the property.

Sunflowers don’t like the wind here, and they tend to grow short and stocky or to fall over unless they’re staked or well protected from the wind. Still, I plant them wherever I can.

Sunflowers serve many purposes in my garden, beyond the seeds for eating. The blooms look great in the garden—pale yellow through orange to deep russet—and make stunning cut flowers, too. They also attract lots of insects. Though there are many pollenless varieties, I steer toward the varieties that produce copious pollen, because they are more attractive to insects. Pollen provides important protein for—bees flies, parasitic wasps, beetles, ants, and many other insects.
2016-01-22 07.43.48 cropThe pollen attracts some insects, and they, in turn attract others. Preying mantises regularly visit my sunflowers.

When autumn comes and the blooms are spent, the sunflowers (the entire plant), make a nutritious snack for the goats.

Beauty, food for me, food for my livestock, and food for the wildlife—what more can you ask of a plant?

 

Watch Out—She’s Packing Secateurs!

Among my favourite garden tools is a pair of small, straight-bladed secateurs. In addition to the secateur function, the tool also acts as a knife—the “back” edge of each blade is sharpened.

It took me a few very deep, nasty cuts to my fingers before I quite got the hang of this tool. When I use it to trim goat hooves, I have to wear heavy gloves, because the goats always kick and send the blade into my hand.

Thankfully, the tool comes with a sheath. The sheath clips to a belt or pocket, and I’ve found it quite handy to always have a knife and secateurs with me in the garden. So I’ve taken to automatically clipping it on when I go to the garden.

With my secateurs at my hip, I feel like I’m packing heat.

**Apologies—I spent most of my day away from internet access, only got home at 10.30 pm, and didn’t get a photo for today’s post. At least I got it posted…just an hour to go in the day!

Reality check

syringesPeople who don’t keep livestock think that having dairy goats is like some sort of fairytale honeymoon. You go out to the paddock, fill a pail with fresh milk, and life is all strawberries and cream.

Reality…is a bit different.

You wake at 5 am to the sound of the goats whining at you. You stumble out of bed wishing that you could sleep in, just one day, but you know you can’t—the milking has to be done, whether you feel like it or not. You go out to the paddock and open the gate. You wrestle desperately with four goats who all want out the gate at once, trying to tease out the one you want. While you heave the gate shut behind her, the loose goat decides to eat those lovely ornamentals you just planted.

You pull her away from your flower beds and head her to the milking stand. She baulks at stepping up, because yesterday the neighbour’s irrigator was hitting the stand while you milked, and she was spooked by it. You cajole, then threaten her up onto the stand. You start to milk her, and she kicks. When you pull back to let her calm down, you discover why she doesn’t want to be milked this morning—she has a cut on one teat, and milking is reopening it. Your hand is covered in blood, but you can’t stop—she’s got to be milked.

You manage to milk her out while she dances around, trying to upset the pail. You get her back into the paddock and repeat the circus with another goat. When you get back inside, you strain the milk, and realise that one of the goats has developed mastitis.

You spend another couple of milkings trying to isolate who is infected, and whether one or both sides is infected.

When you finally know only one side of one goat has mastitis, you go to the vet, who decides that this time, she’s going to give you a systemic antibiotic for it, not the local udder injection like you expected. All that work figuring out exactly where the infection is was a waste of time.

For the next three days, you inject the goat with antibiotics. An intramuscular injection that’s as painful for you as it is for the goat. She hates the injections, and by day three absolutely refuses to get on the milking stand where you give them to her.

Now, for thirty-five days, you need to continue to milk, morning and evening. But instead of making cheese and ice cream, you have to throw the milk away because it’s laced with antibiotics.

So, yeah, it’s all strawberries…hold the cream.

Chevre Ravioli

ravioli1 smI love chevre. Not only is it easy to make, it’s delicious in so many ways—on bread with jam, on crostini with olivade, covered with herbs or black pepper and spread on crackers. It’s a fine stand-in for cream cheese in cheesecake, too. It takes on sweet or savoury flavours and lends them a creamy tartness.

This week, I used chevre for a super-easy ravioli filling—I mixed about a cup of finely chopped herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary and cracked pepper) into about two cups of chevre.

My husband made a lovely spicy sauce full of spring vegetables to go on top.

The result was marvellous! Full of intense, fresh flavours!

 

Waxing Lyrical

100_4015 smWhen I say I’m going to do some waxing, chances are it’s not the sort of waxing you think of. Instead of depilatory waxing, I’m doing cheese waxing.

I used to hate to wax cheeses. The “instructions” for cheese wax say you should brush it on. I used to try to brush my wax on, but very quickly realized that the wax hardens in the bristles before you’ve even got half a cheese covered, and then you’re trying to brush wax onto your cheese with what amounts to a block of wood. Meanwhile, half the wax ends up on your fingers, and you end up with a lumpy cheese, burnt fingers, and a stove covered in wax drips.

So I started dipping my cheese. This worked much better…until I accidentally dipped my fingers one day and dropped the cheese into the wax. I thought drips of wax on the stove were bad, but the tsunami of hot wax resulting from the dropped cheese took weeks to remove.

I still dip my cheeses, but now waxing is quick, clean and painless. Instead of holding the cheese, I create a sling for it out of cotton string. With my fingers hooked into the string and safely above the wax, I can dip an entire cheese all at once. I get a beautiful finish, no drips on the stove, and no burns. I also get a perfect place to attach a label, so I know which cheese is which after months of maturing in the fridge.

 

Feta Cheese

Feta draining the kitchen.

Feta draining the kitchen.

I’m making one of my favourite cheeses this evening—feta. It’s the cheese that inspired me to get goats in the first place.

When we lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, there was a Greek deli just a couple of miles from home—Spiros (a quick Google tells me that Spiros is no longer open). Spiros sold several different feta cheeses, half a dozen types of olives, and all manner of other Mediterranean foods. We almost always had a block of feta from Spiros in the fridge.

When we moved to New Zealand, I was dismayed at the lack of good feta available. When we needed some livestock to keep the paddocks under control (just until we got around to planting the trees…that was 10 years ago), I chose goats so that I could make proper feta.

I was not disappointed by my decision. Feta made from goat milk, and processed just right to get the crumbly texture I like…divine!

We use feta in many ways. Because it is strongly flavoured and very salty, a little goes a long way, and more is wonderfully decadent. We add it to pasta, gratins, and pizza. It browns beautifully in the oven, and the “toasty bits” are everyone’s favourites. It is, of course, an essential ingredient in Greek salad, and also goes well with lentils and grains. And it can be marinated in olive oil and herbs for an incredible pop-it-in-your-mouth snack or appetizer.

And it’s one of the easiest cheeses to make!

Milk the goat

DelilahmilkingI can’t believe I’ve been milking nearly three weeks now and haven’t blogged about it.

After her disastrous kidding, my goat Ixcacao was given an antibiotic to prevent infection of her much-invaded uterus. That meant that I had to throw out her milk until the withholding period was over. So, though I’ve been milking, we haven’t had goat milk until this week.

I milk in a sheltered spot behind our large shed, where a previous owner conveniently built a head-lock for his beef cattle. We added a platform, a feed tray, and a roof to create a sturdy milking stand protected from the worst of the weather.

I milk twice a day for the first half of the milking season. 5.30 am and 4 pm. There are usually a few days of awkwardness after kidding, when doe and kids don’t want to be separated, but once everyone is into the routine, milking runs smoothly.

I enjoy milking, especially the early morning milking, which happens in the dark for the early and late part of the season. There is something soothing and centring about milking.

When it goes well…

“Watching you milk is just scary,” said my husband the other day. “You’re so fast at it.”

Milking is not the stress-free experience for him as it is for me. I forget sometimes what a steep learning curve it was for me the first time I was faced with goats with udders tight as drums who had never been milked. There was a lot of cursing, and more than a few tears. And there was a lot of spilled milk.

But with practice, the goats and I got much better at it. As I got quicker, they had more patience with me. I learned how to tell when they were about to kick, and how to prevent them from stepping in the milk. I learned the particular foibles of each goat—how to get them to stand still, whether their milk squirted from the teat at an angle, how to work with small teats or teats with small holes, how to manage an udder that sagged almost to the ground.

Instead of a test of wills, milking became a partnership between me and each goat. And so it became almost effortless.

Almost.

I still lose a pot of milk to a misplaced foot now and again, and ‘breaking in’ a new goat is never a smooth process.

But usually, if something goes wrong, I can fall back on some advice I read when I was first learning how to milk—relax and just milk the damn goat. It’s good advice, whether you’re milking goats, or taking on any other challenge.