I write the first draft of this story with a special pencil — white with green lettering and a green 4-leaf clover. Each leaf is imprinted with a white H. Below the clover is this motto: “To Make The Best Better.” Further lettering states: “I pledge my Head to clearer thinking – my Heart to greater loyalty – my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
As I walk to the pasture, I pass Arnost, one of my guardian dogs, dozing in the morning sun. He moans a bit in his sleep, a sound that always makes me smile. Behind him, the does graze while their kids mostly sleep. They all look fine. But I still don’t see the kid I’m looking for, so I walk through the pasture gate and check one pile of napping baby goats after another. Behind me, a savage growl interrupts the quiet morning. The hairs on my arms stand up. I swing around. Arnost is fully awake and looking skyward. In one graceful movement he leaps up and runs hellbent past me into the field. His growl grows into a warning howl as he follows something in the sky. I shade my eyes so I can see what has made Arnost so upset. Eagles circle above us. “NO!” I yell.
The introduction of the Boer Goat has stirred up a lot of interest in all sectors of agriculture. The demand for goat meat exceeds the supply; goat meat is the most consumed meat in the world. One of the main points about South African Boer Goats is that out of all meat goat breeds the Boer is the top meat producer whereas in the cattle business you have over 100 breeds of beef cattle that all compete for the beef dollar.
The dark stillness of the night rushes out to greet me as I step outside. It is midnight as I make my way to the goat barn for yet another routine check of the pregnant does. I peek my head inside, flashlight in hand. I notice a doe off by herself and the slight rustle of straw as she paces. As I walk to her, I see the visible signs of birth on the way. I stroke her gently and murmur to her quietly. My breath quickens as the reality of it catches up to me. I bustle her into the pen already set up for kidding. Once she is settled, I turn from her and quickly grab my kidding bag from the garage; this bag is my lifesaver. Birth is never clean. Then the waiting begins. I go to and from the house, leaving her for a while, only to come check on her a few moments later. My heart beats fast, but I am outwardly collected. I mostly just sit with her, and occasionally talk to her reassuringly. This helps to calm us both down.
Establishing the age of farm animals through the appearance of the teeth is no new thing. The old saying, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” is attributed to Saint Jerome, of the fifth century, who used this expression in one of his commentaries. Certainly for generations the appearance, development, and subsequent wear of the teeth has been recognized as a dependable means of judging approximately the age of animals.
Goats are one of the most incredible homestead animals. They are usually affectionate and sweet, with such funny and smart personalities. Goats give so much goodness for the amount of hay and grain they eat. One cow weighs 1,000 lbs. or more and gives 4-8 gallons of milk a day. One goat weighs around 130 lbs. and gives around a gallon — can you see the difference in feed conversion?
Eating invasive vegetation that compete for the scant water supply and inhibit the growth of grass, goats are a biblical-age solution to a modern-day scourge. To restore the land, 1,300 goats mimic the buffalo herds that once grazed the region – breaking the soil’s crust, stomping decadent grasses, knocking over dead trees, fertilizing with their droppings and embedding seeds. And, all the while, the goats voraciously defoliate and ultimately kill the water-guzzling Tamarisk.
Having a not-so-great day, I opened the stall door and called them from outside for supper. Immediately enthusiastic to hear my voice, they came running. In fact, even when they hear my car pull up, they start asking for me. They don’t do this with any other car and I have no idea how they have been able to discern the difference between my engine and anyone else’s. As I hand them dinner, Daisy’s tail wags furiously with delight. They munch away and I watch. I pet them along their ridges, tell them what good friends they are, and then go on to refill water and add more hay to the hay racks. Once the fresh water arrives, I giggle at their silly slurping and their excitement for the simple pleasures of nourishment that exist within our lives: food, water, care. Ah yes, care.
You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.
Chevre is a lovely thing. It’s delicious, can be fluffy, spreadable, buttery, a little tangy and a perfect companion to a dollop of honey and a hunk of crusty bread. It’s also what people think of as goat cheese. Every time I do a tasting, I realize how many folks aren’t really acquainted yet with the beauty of aged and bloomy-rind goat cheeses. So of course I like to add in a lovely Crottin or Valencay inspired cheese to the mix. These goat cheeses are generally aged about 2-3 weeks and showcase a natural mold rind that is edible. These are my favorite of goat cheeses. They are also the least familiar.
Dairy goats are different than other types of livestock, even Angora goats. They are independent, unimpressed by efforts to thwart their supremacy of the barnyard (or your garden), and like to survey the world from an elevated perch. Though creatures of habit, they will usually pull off some quite unexpected performance the minute you “expect” them to do their usual routine. For the herdsperson who can keep one step ahead of them, they are one of the most enjoyable species of livestock to raise and ideal to small farms.
The logical and fun solution to vegetation management for us has been employing goats. We do not have the time, nor the income to support mechanical means of clearing brush. Our goat cost averaged about $100 each — a much smaller upfront investment. In addition, the goats can do some work while we are occupied with our day jobs. Above all, we believe utilizing goats instead of traditional mechanical and chemical means impacts our local biodiversity in a positive way. We want plant species that naturally grow here to flourish and provide food and habitat for wildlife.
Change is inevitable. Over the past 40 years we have seen body types of beef, sheep, and hogs go from short legged and blocky, to longer legged, leaner, longer, and larger animals. People want meat that is healthier, less fat, and still tasty. Ranchers and farmers want to raise the animal that will fit the criteria, make the most profit with the least of problems (disease and vet costs), and for it NOT to be a “fad.”
According to the Livestock Conservancy, the Arapawa goat derives from the extinct Olde English milch goat that would have been brought to the country by English settlers. Historic records show that goats of that breed were released in 1777 by European colonist Capt. James Cook on Arapawa Island, known today as Arapaoa Island, located off the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. Although they eventually went extinct in the U.S., the breed thrived on Arapawa Island.
“Free goats?” my husband Henry said, trying to control himself. “You said you’d take on these goats?” He stared at me with the look that made me know I better have thought this out. “You are going where to get these free goats without even seeing them?” He knew that when it came to building a goat herd, there were some things I just did not do because they were far too risky. He also knew that I was about to do one of those things. “This will give me some really important DNA in my herd,” I said, looking at him with eyes full of as much conviction as I could muster. He knew that I always try to have a well thought out breeding plan for my herds of Spanish and Savanna goats.
Have you been staring longingly at those wide eyed alpacas you see out to pasture on your way to work? Or maybe you’ve been mentioning to friends that you would love to have a couple sheep whose wool you could use in your knitting, crocheting, or weaving. If these thoughts have crossed your mind, you are in luck as author and fiber farmer Chris McLaughlin’s new book Raising Animals for Fiber gives an informed overview of owning your own fiber flock.
I held the stick across her horns and wrapped the duct tape around them and the stick, crisscrossing back and forth, securing the stick to the horns. The hard part was doing it with a goat that was just a little wigged out under me. Rip, twist, press down. Rip, twist, press down. I wrapped until I could not move my creation off Dove’s head and the stick was too wide to go through the wire fence.
The frail kid has a strong heartbeat – and he’s sucking on my sweater. Good sign. I wrap him in a towel and nestle him in the hay. Then I tie his mother to the stall wall and milk her. The whole time a voice in my head says, ‘you never bottle-feed babies.’ If the doe can’t feed her kid, the kid dies and the doe is a cull. But here I am making a bottle of colostrum for this kid. If he doesn’t get this in him, he will die. Despite my “hands off” rule of farming, it just seems wrong in this case – especially after all his work to get to this point. When I have enough milk, I hold him close in my lap. With some struggle, he gets the hang of the bottle, downs it, and finally perks up a bit. His head stops bobbing and he looks right at me, his eyes trying to find my face. He’s tired and frail, but his belly is full.