Spindle vs Garden

2016-10-09-11-01-27My husband presented me with this beautiful drop spindle that he turned for me this week. It’s practically a work of art—beautifully weighted and smooth as glass.

As if the pressure wasn’t already on.

At this time of year, crafts have to take a back seat to the garden, but with the goats newly shorn, I’m dying to actually work with the mohair sitting in my office. I picked up a pair of carders last week and have been slowly learning to use them. I have enough carded fibre to start spinning.

But the garden beckons—weeds grow rampant, seeds need to be planted, seedlings need potting up. And worse still, my hands are garden-rough; every time I touch the mohair, I end up with tufts of it stuck to the dry cracks in my hands.

So I may have to be content to just admire my new spindle for a while, until the spring garden rush is over.

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.

A List of Garden Don’ts

2016-01-16 17.22.14 HDR smAs I head into spring, I always try to bear in mind my list of garden don’ts…

  1. Don’t put the compost pile next to the greenhouse. The rats and mice go straight from the compost to the greenhouse, where they devour everything in sight.
  2. Don’t plant so many zucchinis. No. I mean it. One zucchini plant can feed a small village. Just don’t do it.
  3. Don’t put the pumpkins near a path. You don’t need to do anything to them until long after all the other crops are finished, so tuck them away from heavy traffic areas. Otherwise, they’ll take over your paths. Same goes for potatoes, melons, and broad beans.
  4. Don’t take zucchini to every social function you attend. See point number 2. Even your friends can’t eat all that zucchini.
  5. Don’t plant corn where it will shade the tomatoes.
  6. Don’t freeze your extra zucchini. See point number 2. If you must freeze zucchini, grate it first, and don’t freeze more than what you can use in two batches of zucchini bread.
  7. Don’t plant horseradish. Anywhere. For any reason. It’s fine if you love horseradish. But don’t plant it. Get it from a friend who made the mistake of planting horseradish once ten years ago.
  8. Don’t save extra zucchini in the fridge. See point number 2. There will be more tomorrow, and you won’t eat the ones in the fridge. Get a pig or goat instead and feed the zucchini to it.
  9. Don’t water before you weed. It makes for unpleasant working conditions.
  10. Don’t worry. Your local food bank probably accepts zucchini.

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…?

Confessions of the Resident Exterminator

2016-06-20 16.14.21Being the least squeamish member of the household, it falls to me to deal with all members of the animal kingdom on our property.

That means I take care of the livestock, of course (I can’t even imagine anyone else dealing with kidding or mastitis), I dispose of the gifts the cat leaves lying beheaded on the lawn, and I deal with pests.

Though I don’t enjoy killing anything, I have no problem squishing bugs in the garden, and dropping slugs into soapy water (I don’t recommend squishing them—its really slimy). I don’t even flinch at the idea of setting mouse traps or possum traps, either.

But rat traps? *shudder*

I put it off until the rats are so numerous that they’re having loud parties in the attic, keeping me up all night racing around, gnawing on the rafters.

And then I wait longer, until the rest of the family starts to notice the noise in the attic, or a greasy body sliding through the wall cavities.

Then I pull the rat traps out and look at them for a while, screwing up my courage.

Finally, after many excuses, I get out the ladder, prepare some bait (bread with peanut butter is reliable), and make my way to the attic with the traps.

Bait on the trap, set trap in place, pull back the bar to arm it…


Bait goes flying, fingers sting, and I jump, cracking my head on a rafter.

Try again. Bait on the trap, put the trap in place, pull back the arm…


Maybe we can coexist with the rats? I calm myself and try again. Third time’s the charm, right?

Bait, set it in place, hold my breath and pull the arm…

Breathe out slowly. Carefully move my hands away from the trap, willing it not to spring shut.

Get the second trap. Repeat.

The good news…and the bad news is that the traps work. Within 24 hours I’ll have to empty them and reset them. The parties will stop. I’ll be able to sleep.

But I hate setting those traps.

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.