Staring Down the Barrel

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3 does

Sienna, Maia and Meredith, expanding rapidly.

Three weeks until the first does are due to kid.

I haven’t had does due this early before. It feels like it is still Autumn, with a whole winter to get through before Spring returns. Spring didn’t really start until November last year, when the rain finally stopped after a miserable two and a half months, so based on that, we have a long, cold, wet half a year ahead of us.

And kids due in three weeks. The first to kid will be the older does in the quarantine paddock. Sienna was bred on consecutive days before Australia day and didn’t come back into season. Meredith seemed to miss on the first cycle and was bred three weeks later, but she showed heat on and off for a couple of months so could be due any time. She is the size of a house, though, so no doubt about her.

Maia seemed to be doing nothing for a very long time, but recently it became apparent that she is already in kid. The only time this could have happened would have been when the bucks first came in rut and Fitz broke the gate latch and got in with the does. Making Maia due a day or two after Sienna.

Sienna and Meredith will both be 7yo this year, and it is my intention that this be their last lactation. They are both residents of the quarantine paddock, so their kids will be hand raised as a biosecurity measure to give them the best chance of not contracting cheesy gland. The plan is to milk them both for a full 365 days and get the highest herd recording result possible for them, as well as a Q* 24 hour production award for Sienna, who has proved her ability to get the butterfat and volume required during previous lactations. Maia is only a fairly young doe, who lacks the production capacity of the other two but has a really nice udder. She had really lovely twins last year, but the doe was lost to joint ill, so another daughter from her would be wonderful.

There are still a few things to do before kidding. The gutters have been installed on the shed, which should solve the problem of water running off the roof and coming in under the back wall during wet weather. The feed area has been cleared out and will be used for raising kids. I’ll need to get a lamb bar or similar for feeding multiple kids.

I’m in the process of acquiring a milking machine. With two high-volume does to milk, and a history of carpal tunnel issues, I’ve had to admit that hand milking more than one or two does is more than I can cope with. I’ve found the make and model I want, now it’s just a matter of having it delivered and figuring out how to work it.

After last year, I am pretty apprehensive about facing another kidding season. After the three older girls kid I’ll get a bit of a break before the other five younger does are due, spread over September and October. Hand raising kids is a lot of work, and very time consuming, even when everything goes well.

For me kidding season is about late nights and early mornings. It’s about the moment when you realise that even if the doe kids right now and with no problems you are still going to be up most of the night. It is huddling under the heat lamp, staring at a glassy-eyed goat who could give birth at literally any moment yet manages to hang on for hours. It is the accumulation of straw on the carpet due to all the washing that has to be dried in front of the fire, and all the straw your clothes pick up from the pens while you are on your knees trying to get frustrating newborns to feed. It is dry, cracked hands, the smell of amniotic fluid and colostrum on the cuffs of your coat, and endless trips back and forth to the shed in the dark.

It’s the feeling of relief when all the kids are out, even if they haven’t all made it. It’s the difficult decision of when to wait and watch and when to help a doe to deliver.

I don’t know how many kids we will get this season. Between none and 24 is the reality of it. Somewhere around 16 is likely if things go well. Inevitably we will lose some, but all I can do is hope that the 50% losses we experienced last year were a one-off.

For now I will enjoy the good nights of sleep and the relatively quick morning and evening routines milking just one doe. The calm before the storm. But before long I’ll be under pressure to get up at 6am, fit in feeding kids three times a day and go to bed early. I’ll be working out how to fit in evening milking with footy training. Checking the online camera every hour when there are does in the kidding pen.

There is no going back now. This will happen, soon.

Raising Ripley

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As our disastrous kidding season came to an abrupt and premature end, another battle was just beginning.

I arrived home from Melbourne five hours after Maude’s horrendous kidding. I found Matt asleep in front of the gas heater with a skinny brown doe kid beside him on a towel. She was wearing an ICU rug with a heat pad inside it. Her eyes were half closed and she was flat on her side. I thought she was dead.

She was floppy when I picked her up, but moving. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electric thermometer couldn’t get a reading – less than 34*.

Since losing Meredith’s premature buck kid, I had learned that it can be fatal to feed a kid whose body temperature is below 37*. This bit of information, from an experienced breeder on a Facebook page, is probably the main reason why Maude’s doe kid survived her first day.

My human children rallied around to help get the kid warm. They warmed her with the hairdryer while I went outside to get the infra-red lamp and set it up over a plastic tub full of straw. Between the heat lamp and the heat pad in the rug she was warmed from all sides.

It took a few hours, but eventually she was warm enough to feed. Her mother hadn’t come into milk properly, but fortunately I had some frozen colostrum that I had put away for soapmaking. I partially defrosted this in the sink and put the rest in the fridge to melt slowly.

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Being alive is hard work

 

The kid had no suck reflex. In another stroke of fortune, the vet had sold me a stomach tube for lambs that he had bought and never taken out of the packet. He thought I might need it more than he would, since he carries a length of tube and a supply of appropriate syringes that do the job. Over 24 hours we got 450ml of colostrum into the kid via stomach tube. The next day we switched to milk.

She took her first feed from a bottle on the Sunday night, towards the end of her second day. She was still only taking a little over 100ml at a feed, but it was progress. That weekend I spent both nights in the TV room, feeding her through the night. It was not unlike having a newborn baby, albeit with significantly less crying.

She spent her third day at work with me, under the desk in her heated coat, next to a heater, where I was able to monitor her temperature and give her frequent feeds. She was still unable to stand at this stage, so in no danger of running off. Luckily I have a pretty casual workplace! She had her photo taken dozens of times and spent most of the day snoozing. Matt had the next couple of days off so he was able to look after her. We would split the night feeds so we could at least both get half a night of uninterrupted sleep.

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‘Bring Your Kid To Work Day’

After a couple of days she was able to stand. We got some non-slip bathroom mat to make it easier for her, as her feet would slide away on the carpet. As she got stronger she started to take a few steps. Her tendons were very lax to begin with, but strengthened over time.

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Standing up by herself

Until this point I hadn’t really expected her to live. But when she was getting up on her own and downing a cup of milk at a time I decided it was time for her to have a name. She was named Ripley after the tenacious heroine from the Alien movies. Also known as Pickle or Miss Kiddy.

She progressed from a plastic tub to a large cage, and developed a liking for sleeping on Matt’s feet while he was at his computer. She liked to sit on the sofa bed with whoever was watching the big TV.

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Crashed out in my lap in front of Prime Suspect.

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Bottle and nap time…

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Watching the Brownlow Medal count with Callum.

Once she looked like she had decided to stay, I kept in mind that she would eventually have to go outside and live with the other goats. I started to take her out with me whenever I went to the shed, but the other kids were so much bigger and stronger that she wasn’t able to interact with them much and she spent most of her time sleeping in a corner of the feed area.

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Visiting the relatives is hard work.

Into her second week I started putting her out in a pen under the heat lamp during the day. I had not long put elastrator bands on a couple of the buck kids, and this had taken the wind out of Charlie’s sails enough that I was happy to put him in with Ripley for a couple of days. Soon they were standing side-by-side to have their bottles and the other goats started to look at Ripley like she might actually be a goat.

With the start of Daylight Saving Time I decided it was a good opportunity for Ripley to start spending nights outside. She learned how to locate her warm corner and and how to navigate her way between sleeping adult goats to get there. She had also learned that other kids were a good source of warmth.

Over the next few days Ripley had some supervised walks down the paddock with the rest of the herd. The kids started to include her in their games and she became less intimidated by them. The older goats began to tolerate her as they would any kid who wasn’t theirs.

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Ripley with Cookie, who is 10 days older and the next youngest kid.

She is still on four feeds most days, but at three and a half weeks she is living outside with the mob full-time and starting to catch up to the others in size. She was finally disbudded at 24 days, the latest I have ever disbudded a kid, but her horn buds were too small before then. This is a sign that although not premature on dates, she was definitely a dysmature kid.

Normal gestation for a dairy goat is 145 – 155 days, but mine have nearly always kidded between 148 and 151 days. Ripley was born at 158 days, possibly due to some level of dysfunction in the placenta caused by whatever infective agent caused the first triplet to die and be so swollen. Ripley had almost no fur on her ears, was unable to maintain her body temperature, could not stand or suck and took an extra 1o days for her horn buds to start to grow. Classic signs of prematurity. We treated her like a premature kid recovering from a difficult birth and she responded. I have lost kids born much more ready for the outside world than she was, but this time we got lucky. I had the right combination of experience, knowledge and motivation and a kid who who was determined to soldier on and never take a backwards step.

 

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Off down the paddock like a real goat.

Nothing Like Christmas

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After the last post we had two does with live, healthy kids on the ground and one who had lost her twins. Gaia was being treated for an infection in her joint, and the next doe due to kid was Meredith.

Gaia hung on bravely, hopping about on three legs, feeding and growing, but the antibiotics didn’t work. She was put down at 23 days and buried behind the barn.

Meredith kidded unexpectedly a week early. Her big buck kid was a beautiful mottle, but despite two days of nursing he didn’t make it. He was buried next to Gaia.

At this stage I had four does kidded and only three kids running around. The next three due were maiden does and I wasn’t completely sure when Juliet’s due date was.

Lizzie kidded on a Saturday afternoon at 150 days on the dot. We were out shopping when I checked the barncam and saw that she was getting very close. We rushed home and I watched for a while. After about half an hour, with only the kid’s nose visible and not a lot of progress being made, I decided it was time to investigate. I found that only one front leg had come forward. I dragged Lizzie up onto the head bail, thinking ‘I just need to push the kid back, find the other leg, and it will slip out no worries – I’ll look like a hero’.

Nope.

Being such a small doe, Lizzie, as it turns out, has a fairly small pelvis. I was able to push the kid back a bit and feel about for the other front leg but what I found was more like three or four legs and I had no way of knowing which one belonged to the halfway-born kid.

I called the vet and got Anna, his wife, who I had not met before but who is also a vet. She was in town but came straight out to my place. She had a poke around and discovered what I had – a stuck kid with a leg back and whole lot of legs to choose from. After much pushing and manoeuvring the second leg of the first kid appeared, and with considerable traction she was removed.

The second kid followed hot on the heels of the first. A doe and a buck, both big-boned and rowdy. They were on their feet within an hour and after a little bit of encouragement Lizzie was happily feeding them. I paid the Saturday call-out fee with a smile on my face, relieved to have healthy kids on the ground and a healthy doe to feed them.

Juliet started to make her udder and I was apprehensive, with no way of knowing what stage her kids were at or what to expect when they were born. She laboured all day Wednesday with no visible goo, which also had me spooked. Just after dark I checked the barncam to see that she had produced a very interesting little kid. I put on my outside gear and rushed out to the shed.

The first kid was a boldly marked dark brown and black with loads of white, black ears with a white border, a big white top-knot and a white dot on her otherwise black face. Very cute. I left Juliet with this kid for a while, as they were both lying down peacefully after the effort of birth But after a while I moved it to where Juliet could more easily clean it without getting up and took a look under the tail – a little doe. Juliet cleaned her up very well and after about 45 minutes lay down again and produced two more kids, both bucks. The kids were small, but clearly fully-cooked, they were up and feeding before I got around to weighing them.

My kid population had grown to eight from six does and things were starting to look up. Maude was due a few days after Juliet kidded, but the date came and went. At 154 days she started to make an udder. At 157 days I was due to make a trip to Melbourne for a two-day Radical Feminist conference.

When I bought the ticket for this conference my calendar showed that the dates were in the middle of a 23-day window between Maude’s due date and Hera’s. I should have been fine to leave the farm. Matt assured me everything would be fine, so I left everyone in his capable hands and headed off to Melbourne.

It turned into the sort of scenario that even Murphy could not have anticipated. At 11pm on Friday night, with me ensconced in a hotel room and the next train home not leaving for 8 hours, Maude went into full labour. She was working very hard, pushing and getting up and down. I messaged Matt to keep an eye on her. I used up my hotel free wifi allowance and had to use my mobile data to keep watching. At about 1am Maude lay down, exhausted. I must have nodded off after that, but when I woke at 4am Maude was still lying in the same place. I rang Matt again and told him something was wrong. ‘Those kids have to come out now’ I told him. He sighed, put on his waterproof gear and headed out.

With Maude up on the bail, Matt quickly identified a hind leg presenting first. I instructed him to find the other one, which he did. ‘Now what?’ he asked. ‘Now you pull’, I said.

The kid was stuck. Really stuck. I suspected that it was probably already dead, but didn’t say so. It still had to come out. I could hear the anguish and rising panic in Matt’s voice as he worked to get the kid out. The geese were squawking in the background. Another doe somewhere was calling out. Poor Maude was silent, she had basically dissociated and gone to her happy place.

Matt got the kid out, but the reason for the obstruction was obvious – it was grossly swollen, big but underdeveloped, mostly hairless and incredibly grotesque. With this kid out, a big gush of fluid followed then another kid, front feet first. Then came the words I was not expecting to hear.

‘This one is alive.’

The third kid was also dead, and mostly normal. But we had one live kid, which meant there was still plenty of work to do.

Maude was not at all interested in her kid, so I instructed Matt to bring the kid inside. I told him to take her temp and not give her any milk unless she was over 37 degrees. I left the hotel at 5.45am and caught the early train home. When I got in just after 9am I found Matt asleep in front of the heater with the kid wearing a heated ICU rug on a towel next to him. I thought she had died, but when I picked her up she opened her eyes. I took her temperature and she was so cold that the electronic thermometer couldn’t get a reading.

I sent Matt to bed and the boys and myself set about warming the kid up. I got the heat lamp from the barn and set it up in the TV room, while Rohan warmed the kid with my hairdryer. I put her in a tub with some straw and towels, the heated rug warming her from one side and the heat lamp warming her from the other. Then I headed out to milk and feed all the healthy crew and clean up the mess from the hours before.

Hera had a bit of goo under her tail and was clearly uncomfortable. ‘Here we go again’ I thought. With two weeks still to go until her due date I knew her kids had probably died. I put her in a pen and got on with my tasks.

I watched Hera through the day and into the night. She did not look distressed, so I left her to it. In the morning I found her lying flat on her side, legs and neck stretched out, with a recently-expelled dead kid behind her. For a moment I thought Hera herself was dead.

I called out to her and she opened her eyes and sat up. A second kid, tiny, was still hanging from her in its sac. It was malformed, as was the bigger one, and neither would have been viable. She seemed much relieved to have that all over with, and after the second kid came out she was up and about, and I let her out to be with the others. She went looking for food and water, and was back to her normal self by the evening.

In total, four does had either dead kids or, in Meredith’s case, a live kid that died soon after birth. From those four does we lost two doe kids; four bucks, one too small to tell and at this stage one doe kid is still alive. Meanwhile four other does had healthy kids. The only link seems to be that all the aborted or unviable kids were by one buck, the healthy kids by my two proven bucks. Whether that is just a coincidence I have no idea. We have run a few tests which have turned up nothing. The only option is to roll the dice again next season, and do a full investigation if we encounter any similar problems.

I used to say that kidding time is like Christmas – you never know what you are going to get. After a couple of bad years I now approach kidding season with trepidation rather than excitement, and when things go well I can hardly believe it. Just when I think I have seen all the problems goats can throw at me, and learned how to deal with them, something comes up that scares me. I am incredibly grateful for my vets who are not far away when I get to a point where the situation has gone beyond what my skill and knowledge level can deal with.

Every now and then you catch a break. A particularly nice kid turns out to be a doe or a first year milker comes in with an especially good udder. The wet weather is making things even more challenging, but with kidding season over and half a dozen does to milk there is plenty of cheese to be made. Show season is around the corner, and that can always go one way or the other.

But when all those Nubian does come screaming into season in Autumn there will be little hesitation in breeding them again. And once the kids are in there, they have to come out eventually. And so it goes again.

 

A Tale of Two Kiddings

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Every year kidding brings something new. You think you have seen everything, you think you have a contingency for all possibilities, but every year a new challenge presents itself.

This year our first challenge was hoping that Maia would hold off kidding until we got back from our trip to North Queensland. Our animal carer Mel was glad to be relieved of her duties without having to deal with a birthing goat. As it turned out, Maia waited until we had been back for three days, which was nice of her, but kidded at around midday on Monday while I was at work.

With my mobile data running out fast due to a high volume of Instagram posts during our holiday, my workmate Morgs got me onto the work wifi so I could monitor my labouring goat without leaving my desk via our excellent internet barncam.

Maia’s first kid was a bit stuck, so I had to instruct a somewhat reluctant Matt to don some rubber gloves and apply a bit of traction to help pass the shoulders.

It was a miracle of modern technology… I had Matt on speakerphone, watching events via the barncam, and he assisted Maia with the delivery of a very nice big doe kid. I was then able to send him back to bed to prepare for his upcoming 12-hour night shift while I kept an eye on the new family.

Of course, a few minutes later Maia delivered a second kid. By the time I got home she had cleaned both kids and they were up looking for the udder. The second kid was a buck, and both are absolute rippers.

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Maia with her twins

Maia is one of those goats I have had a complicated relationship with. An only kid, she was big and flash and went to a few shows. She was champion kid at Geelong Royal, and from five shows as a kid she won three championships, one reserve and was only unplaced once. As a goatling she decided she wasn’t going to walk in the showring. She would lie down, walk sideways, crouch, and generally sulked her way to the bottom end of a lot of line-ups.

As a first lactation doe she was still incredibly stroppy. She took her trick of lying down whenever things got difficult and applied it to milking time. That was once she finally developed an udder – she kidded with almost no udder development and it took a week for her udder to turn into something useful. She would lie down on the milking bail. I was advised to put a bucket under her belly to stop her from lying down, and this often led to me milking with my arm jammed between a tall, crabby red goat and a bucket.

Eventually she became more agreeable, and after a few shows she settled down and was happy to walk. She was also fairly okay with being milked at shows, and as long as I milked from her right side everything was okay. She still will only agree to being milked from the right side. She won a couple of Best of Breed awards as a first-year milker, ending up with 17 points towards an Australian Champion award. She also became my second ever doe to win a Best Udder class.

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Maia at Geelong Show

In order to gain an Australian Champion award a doe needs a milk award. And on the two litres a day she gave in her first lactation, that was never going to happen. I decided that no matter how nice her udder was, unless she could do four litres in her second lactation she would not be shown or bred again. We are here to make milk, after all.

Imagine my delight when Maia came in with the same neat, symmetrical and well-attached udder, but this time with much more volume. She is feeding her two big kids and has a little bit left for the house each morning. I’m not sure exactly how much milk she is making, but four litres is a reasonable estimation and enough to attain a production award with a bit of luck. Whether or not she ever makes it to 100 show points, at least we have a chance.

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Maia’s udder this year

A couple of days after Maia kidded, my little spotty doe Juno, known as Pud, started to show signs that her unborn kids had died. She was three weeks from her due date, in kid to my new buck Anara Eclipse, known as Buddy. She birthed one dead kid on her own and I had the sad and unpleasant task of going in and removing the second one. Two big spotty buck kids. Nothing evidently wrong with them. I put it down to ‘one of those things’, dosed poor Pud up with antibiotics and buried the unfortunate kids.

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Sad Juno after losing her kids

A couple of days after that Matt noted that Maia’s doe kid, Gaia, was unable to walk properly and was drooling. I did a quick Google of what could make a kid drool, and found all sorts of unpleasant possibilities, some of which also mentioned stillborn or aborted kids as their other effects. I called the vet, left work early and arrived home fearing for the health of my entire herd.

Gaia was diagnosed with sepsis, and not expected to live. She was put on twice daily antibiotic injections. My old doe, Rianna, due to kid the next day, was put on a precautionary course of antibiotics and I was left with some extra medication and instructions that if any other pregnant does gave the slightest inclination of being off-colour I should start them on antibiotics too.

Gaia seemed to make a miraculous recovery, and I was relieved to be able to watch her make her first journey out into the farmyard with her mother and brother.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben, enjoying the outdoors

Rianna kidded that Sunday evening, two days after the vet had been. She asked to be put in the kidding pen when I came out to do the evening feeds and jobs, so I did as she requested and headed off down the paddock to put the horse’s rug back on. When I got back Rianna was in the process of birthing her first kid, so I got a couple more tasks out of the way and then came back to watch.

Rianna was my first registered Anglo Nubian, who I purchased at six months of age. Prior to this season she had given birth to 13 kids and raised nine of them. Every year she has given me one doe kid and one or two bucks. Her udder still looks like it did on her first lactation. She has a lot of what is referred to as ‘dairy quality’ and part of this is that she never carries much condition. Even after a year off, and with an appetite that seems to know no limits, she still looks like a hat rack with a blanket over it. I used to worry, but now I know she is healthy and that is just how she runs.

This year Rianna has produced her 14th and 15th kids, a buck and a doe, and only once needed any intervention, when a kid was partway out with a front leg pointing backwards. As I watched her 15th kid enter the world I had a moment of confusion when it appeared to have two front legs on one side of its body. I thought for a moment that there might be two kids trying to come out at once, but at that stage there could only be room for one in the birth canal.

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Rianna with her newborn kids, including a rather floppy Titania

It turned out that the kid had been delivered with its head under one front leg. That was the doe kid who I named Titania. She was quite weak, although very determined, and got around for her first four days as though the ground was a magnet and her nose was made of metal. She did not raise her head like a normal goat until she was nearly a week old. I began to wonder if she ever would. Slowly but surely, with some help to feed, she got stronger and now she looks just like a normal kid.

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Titania stared at the floor for a few days, while her brother Oberon bounced around oblivious

Some years you have those kids who worm their way into your heart, and Titania is one of those. She will be Rianna’s last kid, and she has decided that I am her best friend. I can’t photograph her without her trying to climb up my leg. She is just delightful, and I admire her strength, determination and humour.

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Four kids from the first round of kidding hanging out with the family. Titania is now as strong and bouncy as the others.

Little Gaia, Maia’s sick kid, has had a setback with an infection setting into one of her joints. She is otherwise healthy, feeding, growing and getting around, but there is a chance that the antibiotics she is now on won’t cure her. So for now we wait.

Meredith and Lizzie are due to kid next, followed shortly after by Maude. Meredith gave me a big fright, doing the sort of uncomfortable shuffle that Pud was doing before she lost her kids, so as the vet suggested Meredith got a course of antibiotics and so far she seems fine. Her belly is enormous, and she is due in another nine days. Hopefully these will be Buddy’s first live kids. Lizzie is Rianna’s great granddaughter, so her kid/s will be Rianna’s great great grandchildren and fourth generation Elcarim goats.

Farm Update

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I’ve been finding it hard to find time to write over the past few months, and the simple explanation for that is that I have been working more hours. My job had got to the point where I just couldn’t keep up with everything I had to do in the time I had available, and since so much of what I do is time-critical I spent most of my time feeling like I was chasing my tail. So I put my hand up to do more hours.

This has meant that while work is less stressful because I actually have time to get everything done on time, I have less time at home and I have to go to bed earlier so that I can get up earlier. The rest of the family have had to learn to do more around the house and since I no longer have time to do everything I am also no longer the default person to look after everyone else. We look after each other, we all pitch in, and we all benefit from mum bringing home a bit more money each month.

I took a break from soapmaking and writing just to let everything settle down. Like anything else, it comes down to priorities. You make time for the things that make the most noise. But you also need to make time for the things that you get the most value from, and value can definitely include enjoyment.

When I found myself home alone on Sunday with the sun shining and the birds singing I was almost overwhelmed with excitement and an urge to get as much done as possible while I could. I popped out at 9am to do the milking and ended up having ‘breakfast’ at about 2pm.

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Hanging out with my farmyard friends

I sent Maia and her kids out into the world for the first time. Those babies got to feel the sun on their backs and the dirt under their feet, as well as meeting the rest of their family. This was especially sweet since little Gaia had been treated for sepsis two days earlier, and the vet had warned me that he did not expect her to live.

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Maia and her kids, Gaia and Reuben

Moving in and out of the house and between the shed and the garden, I got the milking done, cleaned the goat pens and delivered some straw to the garden beds. I did some weeding, thinned the silverbeet, cleared the dead tomato plants from the small greenhouse, baked the sourdough, did four loads of washing, replanted some strawberries, pruned the apple trees and cleaned out the cat litter. It was glorious.

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Yay! Sourdough. My lunch for the next fortnight.

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The food garden, with the berry nets up to allow for weeding, pruning and planting the strawberries.

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None of my winter vegetables sprouted last year, so I cheated this year and used the greenhouse. So far so good, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli and lettuce.

I sat down for a bit around 3pm and ventured out again an hour later when Leo the Italian Greyhound started complaining that it was getting cold and he wanted his coat back on. This seemed like a good time to go around closing up the windows and the big greenhouse door, and put the blanket back on Stella the old Thoroughbred who also got to get her kit off for the day. I was wondering what feat of culinary genius to make for dinner when I found that old Rianna, my boss doe, was about to have her kids.

I popped her in the kidding pen I had prepared earlier and set off to get the furthest away tasks done, which meant wandering down the paddock carrying a Weatherbeeta horse rug trying to find two full-size Thoroughbreds who seemed to have disappeared into the 10 acre paddock. I found them in the back corner behind the dam wall, re-clothed old Stella, took some pictures of the impressively full dams, and headed casually back up to the shed.

Where I found this…

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First kid out, nothing to do but keep on with my to-do list and check on Rianna occasionally. I got the goatlings and bucks in the small paddocks fed, put the poultry away, fed the cat and put out the call to Matt to pick up some dinner on his way home from work.

We ended up with a small but nice set of twins from Rianna. They were a little slow to get going, the buck was frustratingly resistant to feeding from his mother, but they are doing well now and feeding themselves.

After such a long dry Autumn, the recent rain has been very welcome, but it is much wetter here than we have seen it previously. The main dam is at its highest level since we moved in after almost drying up completely a few months ago. The interesting bit of earthworks described by the real estate agent as a second dam actually looks like how I imagine the previous owner had intended the water trap on his golf course to look.

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The main dam

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The back dam, aka hole 3

Days like this give me the enthusiasm to press on through the cold and wet, to make plans for the spring and start thinking about what to plant where. I’m hoping to do a lot more seed propagation this year, rather than buying seedlings, so I’ve got some equipment to use the small greenhouse to start seeds. I’ve started mulching and weeding the vegetable garden and ordered some seeds for the spring and summer crops. I hope to get some peas and beans planted next weekend, and I’m thinking about where I might be able to plant some hazelnut trees.

The daffodils and wattle trees are blooming, the geese are getting aggressive, the ducks are laying and the pregnant does are expanding alarmingly. Spring is on its slow march toward us and will be here before we know it.

December Farm Update

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I haven’t been very active in here lately, with my activism stuff taking on a life of its own and my other blog getting 600 hits in two days. I actually had to shut The Barefoot Cook down for a little while to make sure none of the ‘wrong’ people found their way here and started causing trouble.

Now that is out of the way, and I have a bit of time up my sleeve over the next few weeks, I’ve got a few ideas for Barefoot Cook posts that should appeal to those who come here for the cooking, farming and cute baby animals.

My first round of kids from the Epic Kidding Weekend are now 18 weeks old. First born (of triplets) Jimmy has recently gone to South Australia where he is to be a stud buck. Bottle baby Katie has won her first show championship. Sienna’s daughters have grown into big fat sassy monsters, with excellent dairy quality and their mother’s awesome rump and hind legs. Victoria’s boy Greg (aka Buckethead) is now a wether and is taller than all the others, with a temperament reminiscent of our beloved Thumper, who we had to have put down earlier in the year.

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Rohan with Katie (Elcarim Gloria) at Ballarat Show.

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Sienna’s triplets, Ruby, Jimmy and Rosanna. with Cecilia second from right.

Hera’s only surviving triplet, a tiny and exquisite doe named Cecilia, has had a bit of a tough time. She gained the nickname ‘Sausage’ at about a fortnight old, as despite being tiny she put on a lot of weight in a short time and her skin got so tight that she felt like an overstuffed sausage when you picked her up. She somehow hurt her back when she was about a month old, and hobbled around determinedly for a few weeks until with some days in the pen to rest and twice-daily massage from me she came good again. Then her mother suffered a laceration on her teat that took ages to to heal, during which time she would not let the kid feed. Sausage learned to take a bottle, and continued to do so until Hera’s udder finally healed.

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Cecilia (aka Sausage) chilling at the Geelong Milk Test in October.

Then a couple of weeks ago Sausage developed a cough. She was seen panting, with a rattly chest and off her feed. The vet diagnosed pneumonia, prescribed antibiotics and said poor Sausage was probably down to about 25% lung function. She is on the mend now, although a long way from fully recovered, but at least she is taking milk again, which is a huge relief.

So we get to the rest of the kidding season. Maia had a big doe kid by Tazzy at the end of August, who we called Maria. She is a complete spoiled brat who gives any smaller kids hell just for sport, and doesn’t like people. She is only now starting to come up and sniff humans of her own accord. Maia has done quite well at shows this season, winning a first lactation Best Udder class (my first doe to win a Best Udder class against other does) and two Best Anglo Nubian sashes. She has chilled out a lot and become quite good to handle and take out, so hopefully her brat child will become a model citizen with maturity as well.

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Maia and Maria.

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Maia at Geelong Show.

Goatling Elaine had a big buck kid, the biggest we’ve had so far at 4.2kg. He is the last kid by my buck Zeus (also lost to urinary calculi earlier in the year), and while a doe kid would have been nice, a big flash buck is a pretty good outcome too. Elaine has a fabulous udder, with seamless fore attachment. Her kid has been named Ebeneezer Goode, and I’ve nicknamed him Yeezy because he has an ego like Kanye. He is a grandson of foundation animals Rianna, Meredith, Jupiter and Tazzy, with a double cross to Tazzy, and should cross well with my daughters of FitzWilliam to double up on some of my successful female lines.

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Elaine with Ebeneezer.

Last of all was Ambika, who kidded for the third time on December 13th. She kept me up until 3am, when I helped her birth impossibly leggy twins. The first was a buck who looked more like a long-eared giraffe than a goat, and the second, much to my delight, was a black and tan doe with dark ears and hardly any white. The doe has been named Delilah, and the buck has gone as a pet to a local family to be hand-raised.

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Ambika’s kids.

Ambika didn’t start cycling as early as the others, and once she did get into the swing of it she took four cycles to get in kid. Old Tazzy was just about sick of the sight of her, and the only reason she was bred on her fourth cycle was because Matt was standing right there and offered to go and get the buck. I’m glad he did, because I am very relieved to finally have a daughter from her, and it should give Ambi a bit of status in the herd to have a girl child who is half-sister to some of the higher-ranked does. Ambi is milking really well, giving well over 4 litres a day, which, along with bottle baby Jimmy leaving us, has drastically increased the amount of milk I bring in each day.

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Kiddie pile-up.

Now I get a bit of a break from dealing with the sex lives of goats until autumn when I will have to decide which eight does get a chance to kid next year, which bucks they will go to and when I will schedule kidding.

Every year around September, when the poultry start showing signs of breeding behaviour, I think about getting an egg incubator. And every year, a few weeks later when half my birds are broody, I realise that would be a bad idea. I had broody geese, hens and ducks, four ducks wanted to sit at the same time. I am still not really properly set up for birds sitting on nests, and although my Rhode Island Red sat very determinedly, she wasn’t able to hatch any chicks. The geese sat on a few Muscovy eggs and managed not to hatch any.

But my Muscovy girls did a great job, with first-timer Millie hatching all 13 of her eggs in one day like an absolute pro. Martha had a few Pekin/Appleyard eggs, and we had to deal with an exploded rotten egg in the nest around day 25, but she hatched seven ducklings.

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Millie with her brand-new ducklings.

All 20 ducklings are growing at a rate that hardly seems possible. They smash down about a kilogram of starter crumble for breakfast, and spend the day chasing flies and swimming in the clamshell pond. Martha took hers down the paddock yesterday, which is a bit of a worry, but she did this last year so hopefully she knows how to keep them safe.

Old Thoroughbreds Red and Stella have their shiny summer coats on and while Stella, at 20yo, is showing signs of her age with her grey patches and swaying back, Red still looks incredible for her 18 years.

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Morning milking in Summer, with horses.

I finally got sick of the terribly useless rat traps and finding nests of rat and mouse babies in the drawers in the dairy, so I got a barn cat. Rufus had his first trip to the vet yesterday, where his maleness was confirmed and he got his microchip and first vaccinations. He seems completely happy living outside, and is currently spending his nights in a big cage on his big plush cat cave. Once he is a bit bigger he will be allowed to stay out at night to stalk rats.

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Rufus.

That’s probably about enough for one post, except to add that my dear old Rosie dog is still with us, although rather wobbly on her back legs these days. She is 15yo now, and Leo Skinnydog, who was acquired to ‘replace’ Rosie so that Lister (who is still spry, if a little ‘forgetful’ at 14yo) wouldn’t get depressed when she died, is now four years old.

I’ve got plans for a post on the summer garden, how much cheese I can make with over 5lt of milk a day coming into the house, and a Barefoot Cookin’ Chrismas over the next little while, so stay tuned.

 

Curam Hircus

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So I have a bit on my plate, what with all that saving the world and empowering women to be done.  But first, let me talk about goats.

There is a lot of misinformation about goats. That they eat everything, that they smell, that their milk tastes nasty. Some people think that they are wary of humans, like sheep tend to be. Many visitors to my place are surprised when my goats come up complete strangers looking for cuddles. Very few are prepared for the level of intelligence that goats display.

Goats do not eat everything. There have been times when I have wished I could get one of my goats to eat at all. Many times when their dinner has been sniffed at suspiciously and left untouched for no discernible reason. They will make a mess of your fruit trees, roses, jasmine, herbs or vegetable crops. Some of mine will nibble on your clothing as a means of getting attention. As browsers, they will try pretty much anything green and if they like it they will keep eating it. Due to the high nutrient requirements of breeding or milking goats they cannot be sustained on grass alone and will eat more slow-growing, nutrient-dense plants when they can get to them. They love soft young trees.

Billy goats do indeed stink very badly in the breeding season. This is not ideal when they also want scratches and pats. But does hardly smell at all. As for the milk, goat milk is the most consumed milk in the world. It is different to cows milk, and tastes much better fresh and raw than from a carton. I find that fresh goat milk is sweeter and richer than cow milk from a carton. In summer I find few things more refreshing than a big glass of cold goat milk.

Goat milk is a superfood. Sometimes referred to as ‘universal donor’, it can be used to feed baby mammals of almost any species. It is better for you than cow milk, and is less likely to cause adverse reactions. So if it tastes ‘different’ to the heat treated, homogenised milk you are used to, bear in mind how much better it is for you. Especially raw, with all those beneficial bacteria and enzymes. Just being around goats has been shown to reduce skin allergies and even asthma.

In the quest for a more sustainable existence, the milking goat is a great ally. She can convert forage into a versatile protein source. She produces an ideal amount of milk for a household. She is also a very lovable family member.

Anyone who has spends a bit of time with goats soon realises how good they are for the soul. And anyone who regards goats with contempt will find them impossible to deal with. I have spent hours in the barn or in the farmyard with my goats. With four or five of them all clamouring for scratches at the same time. With bottle-raised kids in my lap, chewing my hair or climbing on my back. Attempting to get jobs done in the farmyard or paddocks with a mob of helpers demanding attention, getting in the way or knocking things over. During the high-stress kidding season ‘just popping out to the barn’ to check does close to kidding or their delicate newborns can turn into a 45 minute odyssey of watching kids play or comforting over-ripe does.

As you become a ‘goat person’ you realise that the real value in them is in their character. They are complex people. Some are easygoing, others frustratingly determined. On the whole, I find the bucks much less bossy than the does. The buck hierarchy is a simple one, based on size, age, and seniority. With the does, it is much more complex. My ‘alpha’ doe is a tiny, delicate, but rather fierce girl. She has also been here the longest. She has stood up to much bigger does. Her daughter never challenges her, and her grandchildren know that being in Grandma’s favour gets you a good spot at the feeder, even if you are just as likely as anyone else to get headbutted by her.

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Elcarim Sienna, my best milker.

 

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Rianna with her 2012 triplets, Venus, Kevin and Bacchus.

 

They are all very different in personality, as diverse as us humans. From non-confrontational Sienna, a somewhat sensitive, short fat lady who doesn’t expend any more energy than necessary, to the slightly ditzy and very glamorous Meredith with her slender neck,  long ears, and even longer legs. From the sad poet Jupiter who cries forlornly (and loudly, and at length) to his lost loves on the other side of the property, to gutsy little Ambika, who doesn’t let being the smallest and youngest doe or being a ring-in from another farm mean that anyone can push her around.

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Ambika and Thumper, bottle-fed kids.

 

My goats are part of my family. From kidding, which can start as early as the end of June, through the spring shows and into the summer when the kids have been weaned, necessitating twice-daily milking, they are a huge part of my daily life. Whether they are pointedly positioning themself so that my hand rests on their head, calling out from the barn for more hay so that they don’t have to go out grazing in bad weather, or loudly announcing their willingness to breed, they are constantly demanding my attention. The farm can never be unattended, even in the quiet time between drying-off and kidding, when keeping up the hay and grain to rapidly-expanding bellies is crucial.

I love my little herd, and I am incredibly proud of them. They are a lot of work, but I could not imagine life without them. I know that tragedies are inevitable, but I hope the rewards will be worth it.

And now, with the support of my goats, I will get back to saving the world.

PS With kidding to start in three weeks, and my plans to exhibit at the Royal Melbourne Show this year, expect to hear more about my floppy-eared crew in the next few months.