Happenings in the life of a Goatherd

October 2014

It is time to start thinking about breeding our does if we are to have spring kids and be in milk once again. That means we need to find a buck to provide “service”. It turns out that is no simple task out here in rural western Mass. In Sonoma County there was no shortage of Nigerian Dwarf breeders within a 20 minute drive (including Foggy River Farm where our does came from), not to mention our neighbor Stacy down the street on Middle Rincon Road who had Nigerian Dwarfs including a buck Brambles (Buttercup’s dad). Heck, when the girls were in heat we could walk them down the street to get our buck service or load them in the truck and drive up to Windsor to Foggy River farm. It doesn’t get more convenient than that! But it is a different story out here. The closest Nigerian Dwarf owners are 1.5 hours drive from here, making a “driveway date” somewhat impractical especially when the does come in to heat at different times. And then there is the challenge of knowing when they are in “Standing Heat”, which is really the only useful narrow window for practical breeding purposes.    So, even though they may be visibly in heat, it makes no sense to load them up and drive them 1.5hrs if they are not in that precious few hour window of standing heat and they refuse to stand for the buck. Additionally most folks keep a closed heard out of fear of bringing illness and disease to their clean herd, so that means frequently no buck service at all. Finally add to all of that the fact that the going rate for buck service out here is $100/doe (compared to $25 in Sonoma county). So even if we could find a buck for service it would cost us $400 to breed all 4 of our does! Yikes!!! The search begins to buy our own buck.

November 2014

Through the power of networking, we have found a buck. Judy has been active in an online Nigerian Dwarf forum and through that she met a lady living on the VT/NY border about 1hr 15 minutes drive from here that has a nice buck for sale. We drove out to meet her and look at the buck. He is proven in his service, the genetics look good, there is no conflict with the bloodlines of our does and she is offering him to us at a very modest price. He comes with a companion weather (who is free). We drove back out there to pick them up and bring them to their new home 2 weeks later. We have decided to call them Oscar and Felix (can you tell which is which?). Immediately when the truck pulled up the driveway here at Wilson Hill with the two boy goats in the back, the girls knew something was up. We did not know it at the time but that moment marked the end of tranquility in our small herd of goats!

Introducing Oscar and Felix
Introducing Oscar and Felix

Sunday December 13th 2014

We had reinforced the summer shelter that the does were using in Katywil and added doors, set it on the far side of the Wilson Hill house and given this to the boy goats as a separate house far from the girls house-on-the-trailer. For those of you not familiar with goats, quite simply boy goats stink! They always stink a bit, but when the girls are in heat their powerful aroma goes up by several orders of magnitude. We are new to boy goat ownership. We quickly learned that we need to each have a dedicated set of clothing that we put on before heading out to handle to boys. Because if we didn’t….. all it takes is for friendly, pushy Oscar to enthusiastically rub against us and that meant a load of laundry was imminent. Occasionally we would get lazy and decide to “risk it” because we were in a hurry to get out the door to do errands. We’d jump in to the goat pen in our regular street cloths. Oscar approaches. We start this little dance, trying to juggle performing said goat keeping task and at the same time ensuring that no part of our clothing come in to contact with friendly Oscar. We’d think we were successful, then jump in the car to leave on the errand. While driving away 1 mile down the road we’d realize with horror…sniff, sniff, is that me??? Or you? …… There was that aroma again. Oh no! We’d all start sniffing various parts of our clothing trying to identify that spot where Oscar managed to rub up against. Maybe it was just one spot and we could peel of that one item of clothing before we had to interact with the public? Maybe?

Rain started to pour down all Tuesday. As the evening hours set in, the rain turned to heavy freezing rain. As the sun was setting I went out to lock up both goat houses for the night. When I got to the boy’s house I discovered that their house was in the middle of a swale which had become a stream. The floor of their house was soaked, in parts there were 2 inches of standing water.  There was no way they could spend the night in there. I first thought about trying to pick up the house and move it 5 feet up the hill, then quickly realized that the house was much too heavy for just Paul and me to lift. We needed an emergency plan B. The other half of the girl’s house-on-the-trailer was intended for hay and straw storage, but we had not completely finished it and it was sitting empty. So we decided we’d move them to the food storage side of the girl’s house.  But we had not installed latches or cleaned it out, so we feverishly set about doing this in the dark and freezing rain. Our waterproof gear was tested to the max. Working with flashlights we installed the latches, our fingers painful and frozen as we tried to line up both parts of the latches and drive screws in under the dim light, fumbling and dropping screws in the dark, patients tested to the limit, shivering and cold to the bone. Finally we got the latches on, installed a water bucket, rescued the boys and put them away on a nice thick pile of dry straw for the night. Coming in to the house and trading our soaked (and bucky stinky) clothes for dry ones, we warmed up slowly over a cup of tea.  Hot tea never felt so good!

Breeding has started. Oscar is enthusiastic. Felix is too, but he doesn’t understand that he does not have the qualifications to perform the job successfully. Oscar and Felix (normally inseparable buddies) fight over the ladies. Oscar is getting a work out. He alternates fighting off Felix, and resuming breeding duties. He is taking his job seriously. This goes on every day.  Ever morning when we look out, Oscar is standing at the closest physical location possible to the girl’s pen that he is capable of getting to, eyes starring and burning a hole through the invisible barriers that separate him from his lady of the day….

Goats in the snow
Goats in the snow

Wednesday December 17th, 2014

We had a bit of an “incident” here last night.  Paul was in Greenfield this afternoon, Monique was enjoying her birthday outing bowling with the Turkles and I was here home alone as it was getting dark.  I had put the boy goats in for their afternoon romp with the girls per the good vet’s directions (twice a day romps in case anyone comes into that critical Standing Heat time period for just a few hours, we want to be sure not to miss it).  It was getting dark and all 6 goats were all lined up waiting to be let out of their fenced area and into their respective house for the night.  Since the arrival of Oscar and Felix, the energy level of the herd has been off the charts. Herd management has been a few orders of magnitude more challenging with all that hormonal energy and caprine single mindedness. I didn’t know how long it would be before Paul or Monique would be returning home so I decided to tackled putting them away on my own.  They were cold and antsy, and as I futzed with the electric fence with cold fingers they charged through it and knocked me and the fence down.  Now there is a rhododendron bush on the side of the house.  Rhododendron is highly toxic to goats and yesterday when the vet was here he warned us to cover it up (since this house is a rental it is difficult for us to pull it out).  He said that one leaf can kill them.  Well, guess what, one of the goats went to the rhododendron bush and started nibbling.  I ran down to the bush screaming and so all the goats followed.  Before long everyone was nibbling.  I kept screaming and pushing them away, but that was totally ineffective at keeping them away. I panicked. So, not knowing what else to do, I sat on the bush (in desperation) to cover the leaves and branches and started kicking the goats away and screaming.  Well, there is only one of me and 6 goats, plus it turns out that I am not big enough to account for the entire bush when I sit on it.  This for sure is the only time in my life that I found myself wishing my rear end was bigger! It was a mess. Fortunately Paul finally drove up the driveway.

So, the bottom line is, all of my beloved goats ate some unknown quantity of a highly toxic plant that night. There isn’t much that the vet can do if they start throwing up.  But needless to say I stayed up in to the wee hours of the morning researching alternative remedies that I’ve read about before to be prepared to do something if they showed signs of toxicity.  And we did a whole lot of praying that we didn’t loose any goats. For the next 24 hours we were on pins and needles and constantly checking on the goats. Amazingly no one came down with any poisoning. Small signs of toxicity were there. They were not very active all the next day, they consumed a ton of baking soda in an attempt to settle their stomachs and they drank a ton of water, which without doubt helped them. But that was it! Amazingly we didn’t loose anyone, and after 24 hours we started to breath a deep sigh of relief. The next morning we heavily “pruned” all the evil plants.

Sunday January 18th 2015

There has been a definite shift in the pecking order of our does. While we lived in Santa Rosa it was clear that Clover was my herd queen. Honey was a close second. Buttercup, born tiny at 3 weeks prematurely to Honey the first time Honey freshened was always small, not very assertive and on the bottom rung of the ladder.   A few weeks before we left Santa Rosa, Cinnamon joined our herd from Foggy River Farm. She looks a lot like Honey, in fact they come from the same Sire (Gobi fathered both of them). From a distance it is easy to mistake Cinnamon for Honey until you see Cinnamon’s face. She has a pretty stripe down the middle. Cinnamon is also sweet and affectionate, but she was extremely skittish when she joined us. And as the new entry to the herd, she joined Buttercup on the bottom of the ladder.

With time, Cinnamon mellowed out and the skittishness subsided. These days she is just as calm as the others. She comes to us for love and attention as much as the others. And over time she had started to move up the ladder. Now it is clear that Cinnamon is our new herd queen! Honey remains in second place. Clover has dropped to a clear third place. And little Buttercup remains firmly on the bottom.

In this cold weather, Honey and Cinnamon are doing amazingly well. However Clover and Buttercup are not. We are particularly concerned about little Buttercup.  When we feed the does, Honey and Cinnamon push aside Buttercup, and to some extent Clover as well. But Buttercup has given up fighting for her food altogether. She doesn’t even try! She has taken to crawling underneath the House-on-the-trailer and staying there huddled up on her own most of the day and not interacting with the others. I have started to lock up the others at feeding time in their respective sides of the pen and have been feeding Buttercup on her own outside. When she is alone, she eats well. I am hoping she will strength a bit with this extra attention.

 

And now I close this posting with a little story about repurposing. About 4 years ago a pretty little girl called Colleen was given a new dark red fleece with a pattern of cute white hearts all over it. She looked sharp in her new fleece sweater, her stunning long red hair draped over the burgundy red fleece. And she loved her dark red fleece and wore it a lot. But Colleen grew as little girls tend to do and one day the fleece was just too small and no longer fit her. The fleece sweater was set aside.

3 years went by. Colleen had a little cousin names Monique. Monique was now big enough that she fit in to Colleen’s beloved red fleece. Colleen gave the fleece to Monique.   Like her big cousin, Monique looked sharp in her new fleece, her big dark chocolate brown eyes and hair contrasting to the red of the fleece. Monique adored her fleece, just as she adored everything from her beloved big cousin Colleen. She wore the red sweater almost every day, especially after she moved away from California to New England with her parents. Wearing the sweater made her feel close to her dear cousin who was now so far away. But Monique grew, as little girls tend to do and one day the fleece was just too small and no longer fit. The fleece sweater was set aside.

Monique wearing the red fleece sweater.
Monique wearing the red fleece sweater.

Now Monique had a goat named Buttercup. Buttercup was a small sweet goat. As the New England temperature dropped to -17F, this little California goat was struggling. She was shivering constantly. Monique was only a little bigger than Buttercup, and she thought she could help. She went through her boxes and found the little red fleece with white hearts. With her mother’s help they cut the sleeves off the red fleece at the elbows and went out to the barn. Voila! Buttercup now had a little sweater. It fit perfectly, and Buttercup stopped shivering. Just as Colleen and Monique before her, Buttercup looked sharp in her new fleece sweater! Buttercup says “Thank you!” to Colleen and Monique.

Buttercup sporting her new sweater.
Buttercup sporting her new sweater.

 

May 2012: Cousins Colleen and Monique holding 2 day old little Buttercup
May 2012: Cousins Colleen and Monique holding 2 day old little Buttercup

 

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