Farming Frolics and Fiascos
Well, it’s that time of year again….the little ‘goatlets’ are soon to be weaned and lo and behold, I will have a fridge full of milk to deal with on a very regular basis. Out come the cheese recipes, the pails, the strainers, the cheesecloth, the rennet, the citric acid powder….. I could go on – I won’t.
It occured to me this morning as I stood in the goat barn, that nine or so years ago, I wouldn’t have considered I would even have goats to raise – or milk by the gallon to do something with.
Having grown up on a farm, one would think I would be familiar with all farm type animals – but that’s not the case. We had pigs, chickens, ducks and geese and turkeys. As a farm kid, I didn’t think a whole lot of any of the livestock – I thought the pigs produced too much manure, as did the chickens when they weren’t busy terrorizing each other, the ducks and geese were always down at the pond, and turkeys – well turkeys were just plain stupid. I recall one hopping up onto the stove for the smokehouse – he stood there, little feet just a-frying and didn’t have the sense to do anything other than lift first one foot, then the other off the stove, one at a time – left right left right – until I managed to get over there and pluck him off the stove. Yep – stupid.
Like most farm kids, even these days, I wanted off that damn farm. Seemed to me there had to be something better out there than shovelling endless piles of fertilizer, picking endless piles of roots out of the fields, splitting endless piles of firewood and pulling weeds. And yes, one day my wish came true – we were selling the farm and moving on. My Mom told me years later that she wasn’t so much against farming per se – she was just against Dad plowing around the dozens of sloughs in the fields yet one more time, trying to reclaim yet one more bit of dirt to plant in.
What surprised me the most when we moved, was how instantaneously I wanted to go back. We weren’t one day into a three day journey to our new home and I wanted nothing more than to turn around and forget the whole idea. I spent the next twenty five years wishing and hoping and yearning for a farm of my own – and here I am, ten years into that very project.
We started out with some geese – the ‘just for looking at’ type of geese – my husband has a thing for exotic geese. Now being a ‘returning to the fold’ farmer, I thought we should ought to get some practical livestock – chickens, say. So we got some chickens. Of course when you’re going through the chicken catalogue, you decide you might like to have some of those banty chickens – they’re awful cute – useless but cute – you can see where this was headed. So now we have some eggs – ish. You have to understand how we operate here – we have yet to get an animal on this property AFTER were ready for it. Meaning we had chickens, and geese and then promptly had to build something to house them in.
Now through circumstances beyond her control, my daughter came home to live with us, along with her year and a half year old son. We promptly built her a cabin to live in. No sooner does she get settled, and she decides (I’m never sure how this came about) that she wanted goats. For milk. Yep – goats for milk.
Of course you all understand, that when your kids tell you they want anything that requires feed, or care, be it a hamster or lets just say….goats… you best be prepared to feed and care for them yourself – that way there are no disappointments should your kids change their minds about how much fun owning an animal of any sort might be. First thing I did was purchase a book on Goats and hand it over. Next thing I know, were off on a hours long trip to meet up with some people who also drove several hours, to purchase their two ‘excellent milkers’. We met them in a parking lot at a grocery store, traded goats and money and off we went.
I still remember clearly, chugging down the road in our old decrepit brown Dodge, two big momma goats tied up in the back to the headache rack – getting all sorts of ‘looks’ from people pulling out to pass. At one point an entire bus load of Japanese tourists pulled up along side and windows down, cameras hanging out, started taking pictures of probably the strangest thing they’d seen on their entire vacation. We played the part, smiling and waving and making like the Clampetts for their entertainment – well it was a long trip and we were getting tired.
So the goats get home, we pop them into the only standing building on the property aside from the house and the new cabin, and promptly realize we need to put up a fence – so they can hang out outside and lounge around in the sunshine and maybe graze…..yes, they were apparently greak milkers – but they weren’t milking at the moment, and weren’t going to be until we got them bred. Now begins the search for a nice buck – and a search it was. My husband chauffeured daughter and grandson around the countryside looking for a decent buck. It wasn’t that there were none to be had….but really – there weren’t. At some point my daughter got in touch with a lady who had goats for sale and on that particular trip, managed to solve the whole issue of no milk in a stroke of unequalled genius. She bought two more goats, pregnant ones – named them Thelma and Louise – figured they would make good milkers once the kids were weaned off. So now we have four goats, soon to be eight as they generally pop out two each, and still no buck for the first two (Nicky and Sugar).
Well, as luck (?) would have it, my husband is off visiting a fellow not far down the road and he spies a beautiful buck in his back yard. “You want to sell that goat?” he asks. “Sure,” the fellow replies. “but you have to take the whole herd.” Long story short – he arrives with eight more goats and a nice buck. We need more fencing. We need a bigger goat shed. We need more hay.
Now, we have a hodge-podge goat herd – still not a quart of milk, but what the hey – soon. Soon we will have milk. By now my daughter is thinking of moving on….wait a minute. What do you mean moving on? What about the goats? The goat milk? I am determined, before she goes, she will milk one of those goats if it’s the last thing she does before moving day. She says she needs a milking stand – I instruct hubby to build one. He hauls out the lumber, the saw, marches over to the goats, measures the distance between ground and udder on all of them, averages it out, and constructs a milking stand that takes four strong men to move – no worries about it falling apart mid milking.
Well I have to say, she tried. Next day she wrangles a doe out to the stand, marches her up on the deck, ties her to the head gate, dumps in some distraction treats, parks her hiney on a milking stool and goes for it. First off, momma goat is not impressed. Second off, I am of no help as I’ve never milked a goat in my life. Third off, the barn cat decides to jump down from above, land in the treat tray, freak the goat out – the bucket and what milk was in it (maybe a half a cup) goes flying. Shortly thereafter, the cat went flying as well. Sudden and permanent end to my daughter’s interest in milking goats.
Now remember, this goat project was not my goat project. Yes I understood that I would be feeding them, paying the vet bill should there be one, housing them – but really – milking goats was never high on my list of things to do on a farm. Yet before I know it, daughter and grandson are gone, and now that the big beautiful buck has been busy doing his job, I find myself with thirty some odd goats. Big ones, small ones, short and tall ones. Goats with teeny udders, goats that could feed a small village with the contents of theirs.
We sell some whethers for meat. Still, the herd is increasing, the buck spends most of his time plotting ways to escape from his enclosure and impregnate does like it’s his only job – actually – that was his only job and he was darn good at it.
I think about the milking thing, and I think some more. It seems a big project. The does aren’t really that interested in being milked – in my estimation anyway, I mean they’re friendly and all, but just try and get one on that stand and well, that was enough to make me give up. Besides, what would I do with all that milk?
I used to get customers at work asking me “So do you milk your goats? Do you have any milk for sale?”
I’d look at them for a moment and say “No…..milking….there’s kind of a technique to it.” “What do you mean technique?” they’d look at me strangely. “Well…..first off, you have to catch yourself a goat.” And to prove the pointlessness of the exercise, we pay a visit to the farm my daughter purchased pregnant Thelma and Louise from, and I stand there, during morning milking – staring quite dumbfounded as one goat after another lines up in regimental fashion, and patiently waits to be milked. Some even get in line twice – I can’t comprehend it. Her goat ‘dairy’ is so far removed from the zoo atmosphere at my farm, to me it was proof positive that I was not meant to milk goats. The goats I had were some alien breed from the land of ‘hands off my udder’ goats.
The next time I talk to my daughter, I mention this – she informs me that “well duh – that place is like GOAT UTOPIA mom…if you worked at it, you could have something close…”
At some point I decide this goat thing has to stop. We are foolishly breeding, raising, feeding, feeding, did I say feeding? a herd of goats that had to do next to nothing to earn their keep. I sell a couple of does – a vain attempt to bring the numbers down. I sell a portion of the herd to a nice couple, some distance away who had recently moved to the area and having past experience with goats really really wanted to have goats again. That man actually spent several weeks during mosquito and black fly season, fencing in an entire five acre plot of grass and trees for those goats he wanted them so bad – we deliver the herd gladly, our numbers are almost manageable. Shortly thereafter I sell the remainder to another nice couple who live even farther away who have every single animal imaginable on their farm, excepting for goats. Stands to reason – they should ought to have some goats to add to the mix.
Finally. Goat-less. It was an odd feeling. No racket in the morning as they hollered for their hay, no wasted hay, no pitch forking the barn out – no wee kids popping out on the coldest day of the year. It was very quiet – still, I felt good about the decision to be goat free – for awhile.
The problem is, goats are likeable. Loveable. They all have their own personalities, quirks, the little kids that are born hit the ground almost running – they’re all adorable, they all need names so you name them.
In short you get damn attached to them. A year passes. Then two. For some odd reason I think alot about goats, milking goats. Another year passes and I cave – maybe just a couple of momma goats. Pregnant momma goats so we don’t have to get a buck. And once we wean the kids off I can milk them – it’ll save on the dairy bill at the grocery store. I could maybe make some cheese. We could borrow a buck for breeding and send him home when he’s done his job. We will not keep any of the kids – we will give them away if we have to – yep – maybe just a couple of good milkers around the farm.
Picatilly and Bonnie arrive on a cold winter night in January. Turns out Bonnie wasn’t pregnant – not really a big deal, after some false starts I take to milking goats like I was born to it. I become obsessed with all the dozens of things you can make with goats milk – I rescue a Nubian doe with an udder that’s far too large to be practical but can’t leave her behind. Buttercup. I start milking her. My life begins to revolve around milking times, milking diets, making cheese cheese and more cheese. Soft goat cheese, ricotta, feta, marinated feta, Queso Blanco, Muenster, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, gjetost. I make ice cream, I find dozens of uses for soft cheese – I put it in my bread, my perogies, I spread it on toast, I turn it into a dip, I stir it into pasta with basil pesto – in short I become a cheese lunatic. We borrow a buck and breed them again….stop milking for the winter, start again after the new kids are weaned. We get another milker – Bella – after losing Bonnie to a missed case of milk fever while we were at work. We keep her boy and now use him as our main buck…..does any of this sound familiar?
I’m beginning to think – deep down – that maybe I really wanted goats all along anyway. Maybe my daughter was just the catalyst – the one to get me started. This year I am looking at the lot of little ones and am seriously considering keeping a girl off each of the three does….I mean if I’m going out twice a day to milk, I might as well get as much as I can – after all there are more kinds of cheese to make than I have milk for – I could make a Brie, blue cheese, maybe a nice parmesan……in short – I cannot imagine my life without goats.
Thanks Lish 🙂
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Farmer, Transmission Rebuilder, Self Sufficiency Nut. Like the old school way of doing things. "Fast is fine - accuracy is final" (quote by some way back famous gun-slinger - likely just before he got shot dead)
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