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.

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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.

 

642 Days…

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That’s how long Sienna was in milk for. 642 consecutive days of milking. Over one and a half tonnes of milk.

Not bad for an undersized Anglo Nubian doe with dangly teats.

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Sienna with her newborn triplets.

It all began on 11th July, 2013, when she kidded her second set of triplets. I had been in hospital having my pacemaker replaced only a few hours before Sienna went into labour, and it was a very long night waiting for her to kid, but she eventually got all three kids out without any drama. Thankfully this time one of them was a doe kid, a very cute little spotty brat who we named Juno. Twelve days later I thought that doe kid was lost when Sienna came back to the barn without her baby. I assumed a fox had taken her and I was devastated. The next morning my neighbours brought a very hungry Juno home after finding her in with their Suffolk lambs.

Sienna’s kids were all bouncy and healthy, and after the two boys went to another home as bottle babies, she settled into life with her doe kid. She came in with loads of milk, producing a huge five litres per day in the beginning. Her body condition fell away due to her being such a fussy eater, and by the time she was balanced again she was producing a steady 4 litres a day. I left her kid on her and took whatever excess milk she had in the morning.

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Sienna down the paddock with Juno

This was my first attempt at herd recording, which requires monthly reporting of milk production and testing of butterfat and protein. Sienna’s herd recording results slightly edged out her bigger half-sister Meredith’s in the first six months of her lactation.

I took Sienna to the Ballarat Show that year as a second lactation doe, and mentioned to judge Alda Jackman that I was planning to give her a year off to grow out a bit more after the huge effort she had put in birthing six kids in 13 months and milking heavily. She suggested running her through; continuing to milk without kidding. Sienna had shown a tendency to milk on in her previous lactation, so I figured it would be worth a try.

Meredith and Sienna were still very close in their herd recording results when, in kid again, Meredith stopped milking after about nine months. She achieved her standard for age in herd recording, and in her following lactation she gave over five litres at an official test, qualifying for a * award and just barely missing out on a *Q* award.

Sienna kept on producing. When the other does were drying off, she dropped her production to around three litres and continued at this rate for the next five months. Over the winter she dropped back to two litres, which she kept up until recently when she started to dry off. Having fresh milk through winter was wonderful.

In the first twelve months of her lactation, Sienna produced 1152 kilograms of milk, achieving the production award F115.

With that award to her name, and my A-team of does sidelined due to illness and injury, Sienna did the rounds of the shows with me in the spring of 2014. She did Type and Production – Herd Recording classes, where she was not only the only Anglo Nubian entered, but often the first doe to receive that prize at a particular show in several years. She won the special award at the Branch Show in Bendigo for Type and Production Anglo Nubian. Sienna brought home her first tricolour sashes since being Champion Kid at the Branch Show three years earlier.

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With her spoils at Ballarat Show, 2014

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At the Vic Branch Show, Bendigo 2014

She stood beautifully to be milked out, and paraded like she wasn’t having a completely terrible time. This was a huge improvement from the sour, crabby, stompy little goat she had been in her first lactation.

While the other does were birthing kids, Sienna milked on. Her coat was glossy, she maintained good body condition, and developed into a much more mature doe with good bone and depth of body. She was giving the same amount of milk to the house as she would have if she had kidded, but without the burden of producing a litter of kids. Her daughter Juno kidded twins and raised her own daughter, a sturdy yet feminine kid with great Nubian type, who we call Lizzie. Lizzie is now nine months old.

Juno with her newborn twins, Abel and Elizabeth

Juno with her newborn twins, Abel and Elizabeth

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Sienna’s granddaughter Lizzie (Elcarim Elizabeth)

Towards the end of her lactation, with her milk volume dropping, the protein and butterfat content rose. This resulted in me creating some amazing cheeses and fabulously creamy yogurt. Where four litres of milk would normally yield about 800g of chevre, I was getting closer to 1200g. My hard cheeses were turning out bigger too, and I made some amazing camembert. Late lactation milk is great stuff to work with.

So finally, five weeks after being bred, Sienna has dried off. I definitely intend to run her through again. In the meantime, her daughter Juno has been in milk for nine months and after weaning her kid she is still producing steadily. After kidding a few days after her first birthday she will need the year off to grow and catch up, but if she will give enough milk to keep the kefir going through winter that will be a great help.

Not a lot of Anglo Nubians will run through, and I am proud of my little doe and her achievements. I will run her through after this kidding as well, try for a 24 hour production award, and give herd recording another go. Her full sister Hera will kid this season too, and it will be interesting to see whether Sienna’s sisters and progeny also have the ability to milk through.

It just goes to show that it doesn’t take a big, flash doe to produce a lot of milk. And that sometimes a little Anglo Nubian can milk like a proper dairy goat.

Value Adding

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I had horses for years. I bred them and raised them and trained them. Sometimes I even sold them. Sometimes I even got something like what they were worth.

They say with horses that the only way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune. I’m going to have to agree with that. While I saved a lot of money by having my own property, trimming their hooves by myself and occasionally breaking one in, the fact was that I spent a substantial amount of money on them and didn’t get very much back.

When people ask me how much my goats cost to keep, they are often shocked at my response. It’s not just feed, things like disease testing and other vet bills really add up. While worming and vaccination are a lot cheaper with a smaller animal, and I can whip through and trim everyone’s feet in a couple of hours, I go through three bags of grain a week in summer and a lot more when the does are milking heavily and their kids are small.

Showing is another area where I think the goats are much better value. I can enter half a dozen goats in a dozen classes at most shows for what it would cost to enter one horse in one dressage test. And I can fit half a dozen goats in the horse float.

The main thing that tips the scales in the direction of the goats, is that you get something back from them. Not just milk, but offspring who are worth something.

Even when I had my own stallion and could basically produce purebred ponies out of thin air, the amount I sold them for was never as much as it cost to raise them. And selling them could be a drama in itself.

Twin doe kids are worth more at a year old and cost a lot less to raise than a foal. And castrating the boys costs a matter of cents, rather than hundreds of dollars.

I worked out recently that each week my goats provide about $80 worth of dairy products for the house. At the moment I only have two in milk, and my feed bill is about $40 a week.

A kilogram of hard cheese, the same again of soft cheese, perhaps a mozzarella or ricotta. A litre of yogurt. And then there is the daily kefir for two people and the milk that is used on cereal, in drinks and in cooking.

Even if we were to replace all that with regular home-brand cow milk supermarket substitutes, it would still cost more than the weekly feed bill.

Sure, if I didn’t have goats I wouldn’t buy some of those things. I would still buy ‘good’ full-fat yogurt with as little added sugar as possible. I would still buy mozzarella for pizza or lasagne.

But we wouldn’t have the benefits of raw goat milk kefir. I wouldn’t have chevre to spread on my toast instead of sugar-filled jam. Our life and our health would not be as good.

And that is the real value-add of ‘pet’ dairy goats. The stuff you can’t buy. The goat cuddles and adorable newborn kids. The occasional broad sash on a home-bred goat at a show. Knowing that your milk has traveled about 30 metres from the goat to the house and only been in the one container from source to consumption. Making yogurt with a taste and texture exactly how you like it, and with no added sugar.

You can’t replicate this. Not without a milker or two of your own. People who drink well-traveled, processed, reconstituted white stuff from the supermarket and dyed yellow slices of plastic ‘cheddar’ will never understand what they are missing out on.

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Camembert Necessities

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I have finally done it. Kind of.

I have produced what seems to be an edible cheese made in the style of Camembert, from goat milk.

As a gung-ho amateur cheesemaker, I set about making my favourite cheese, that being Brie. Brie and Camembert are pretty much the same thing these days, although they were once distinguished by the district of France that produced them and the particular climate in that area. Basically, they are a mould-ripened cheese, with a gooey centre.

Armed with an instruction book, a few successful attempts at basic cheddar, and my kick-ass new cheese fridge, I set to work. First time round my poor cheese was kept too cold for the mould to grow properly, and it took nearly three weeks, rather than the prescribed ten days, for the mould to cover the whole cheese. Further aging led to a nasty case of slip skin, where the outer casing of the cheese hides a nasty, slimy liquefaction. This is not edible. Camembert attempt #1 went in the bin.

Online advice suggested that the cheese was kept too cold and too wet. I tried again. Now, this is not a quick cheese like chevre or cheddar. Camembert requires a full afternoon of work, with hourly turning of the cheese baskets and later daily attention as it serves its time in the cheese fridge. Failures were not cheap.

The second time around I pressed the cheese a little to remove some excess whey. I set the fridge a little higher for the mould to grow happily. And, as if by magic, somewhere between days nine and ten a lovely coating of white fuzz appeared.

 The one that didn't work.


The one that didn’t work.

You can see already here the bulging sides, evidence of slip skin brewing again. When I cut this cheese open it had a layer of ooze, the consistency of unthickened cream. The solid cheese in the middle tasted pretty good, but on the whole the cheese was another disaster. It went in the bin as well.

I consulted the ladies from Cheeselinks while I was at the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo. They had some ideas, but the main culprit seemed to be that I was letting the Camembert mature for too long in the cheese fridge. If I put it in the cold fridge a bit earlier, it would mature more slowly and more evenly.

Then the Ballarat Permaculture Guild announced a cheesemaking workshop featuring… Camembert! I signed up, and I was very excited to get some first-hand advice in making cheese. I learned a lot, and came home with my own little cow milk Camembert to tend until it was ready to eat.

My cow milk Camembert

My cow milk Camembert

That Camembert may be the best cheese I have ever eaten. It was perfect. Salty, buttery, nutty and mushroomy, but also mild and milky. My confidence bolstered, I put aside a day to have another crack at making it with my goat milk.

Thanks to the high butterfat in Sienna’s milk now that she is eleven months into her lactation, I got oodles of curd and two very chubby cheeses. But I stuck to the plan, and at day ten in the cheese cave they looked like they should have. I wrapped them and put them in the cold fridge.

I read in the interim that sometimes the mould used for Camembert does not agree with goat milk, and this can be the cause of slip skin. Because of this I decided I was better off checking my cheese early. So on day 14, I cut one open.

No evidence of slip skin. Clearly not quite as mature as it should be, but starting to develop that creamy texture around the edges.

Goat milk Camembert

Goat milk Camembert

You can see that the texture is not right, it is a bit crumbly, but this is changing from the outside in. Even a few days later this cheese has improved in texture and taste. To begin with it was very sharp and strong, almost like a blue. It tasted like a sophisticated cheese, but almost completely devoid of Camembert characteristics. Tonight it seems to be softening, again in taste as well as texture, and a smoothness is starting to show through. Hopefully it just needs a little more time. I still have the other round, unopened, in the fridge.

I am pretty pleased to finally have an edible product, and now it should just take a bit of fine tuning to get the timing right. What will be my next cheese challenge? I have managed to make a mozzarella that my pro-pizza but anti-goat cheese 10yo actually enjoyed. I really need to revisit feta now that I have the secret ingredient lipase to add to it.

I think next I will try Gouda, a washed-curd hard cheese that can be aged for several months. So stay tuned for my next cheese adventure.

 

Measuring Success

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With goats, so it seems, those days where you wonder why you put yourself through the stress of keeping them happen to pretty much everyone, and fairly regularly.

Keeping my Anglo Nubians healthy is a juggling act of observation, preventative measures and learning. You watch their body condition, their growth, their milk output and of course you monitor their poo. Few things put a smile on my face like a healthy output of goatberries from all the goats. Yet this seems to be frustratingly difficult to achieve sometimes.

In the beginning, a successful kidding season was one where I got a good proportion of doe kids. I have since amended that qualification and lowered my expectations. First of all, I want all my does to live. Then I want my does to be healthy before, during and after kidding. Then I want all the kids to live. Or at least, all the good ones. So this season, three nice doe kids from seven live, healthy kids born without assistance to four live, healthy does was a success. Until one doe got mastitis. And another was diagnosed with staph in her udder. But these are things we can fix. Success. For now. Don’t turn your back on them…

My bucks have been a different story. Normally a happy trio of easy-care, low stress fellows, for the last month or so they have been plagued by persistent scouring. This distresses me greatly. And in the absence of other symptoms it is incredibly frustrating. The younger two are still growing well, they have all gained body condition since winter, and they are otherwise showing no signs of disease. I have tried different wormers as well as bi-carb therapy. They have had a course of antibacterial injections. They have had mineral supplements. They are currently shut in their small paddock on a diet of home-grown grass hay to see whether there might be something in their big paddock causing the problem. On a good day, it looks like the latest thing I tried is working, and I smile. On a bad day they are passing puddles of poop and I feel so defeated. My mood is linked to what comes out of the back end of these goats. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, some tests to do, but I just want my boys to be well, and hopefully to find out what is causing this so I can keep it from happening again. Meanwhile, what is the opposite of success? Because that is what this feels like.

Milk production is another measure of success. My oldest doe gave 3.5 litres in her first lactation, but has not gone anywhere near that since. This year I found out why. High cell counts on her milk tests led me to have cultures done on her milk, and a staph infection was diagnosed. Well, that explains that. So now I look at treating her and hopefully curing it after her doe kid is weaned in six weeks time. Then maybe her milk production goes back up next season. Stay tuned on that one.

My little doe came in with an alarming 5lt of milk per day after kidding triplets. This was alarming because she is such a little girl and I really worried about how she would manage to keep that up for her whole lactation. She has settled down to produce just over 4lt per day and do it with relative ease. She didn’t pass her 24hour test at the Royal Melbourne Show, but is on her way to a 12-month production recording award. So stay tuned on that one too. I’ve got very bold plans to attempt to run her through, that is, milk her continuously for two seasons without kidding. That is a real leap of faith, but she has shown a tendency to milk on well after weaning her kids, so I have decided to give it a try. If it works, I’ll be over the moon. If she dries up after the first 12 months then at least we tried.

Showing sounds like an easy way to measure success, but it doesn’t always work that way. I rely a lot on the comments of show judges to help me see the points of my goats and how they compare to others. Winning is fun, and broad sashes are nice to hang on the glory wall, but it really is mainly a learning experience for me. A season of showing helps me know what to look for when selecting which bucks to put over which does. This is not only from the does themselves being judged, but also their young daughters. When a judge discusses the faults and virtues of a doe kid, he or she is evaluating last year’s mating for me. For goats of all ages, as far as I am concerned, the more comments the better and don’t sugar-coat it. I have done better than I expected in the show ring this year, but a Champion Milking Doe award still seems a long way off. When that finally happens, you’ll know by my jumping for joy.

With goats, there are so many things to consider. They are an all-encompassing lifestyle, and managing a herd is a huge undertaking. From planning matings, formulating feed rations, and keeping up with the paperwork, to the routine maintenance of hoof trimming, vaccinating, worm treatments and blood tests, there is always something to be done. Holidays are for other people who don’t have to be home to do the milking, and following the show circuit through spring uses up a lot of fuel.

One day maybe I’ll have a roster of milk-awarded does, effortlessly producing over five litres per day, sporting neat udders with tidy little teats. Maybe one of these does will gain Australian Champion status and give me triplet doe kids. For now I can dream, and face each challenge as it comes, even if some days those challenges make me question what on Earth I am doing.

Soap Star!

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soap

I don’t know why I took so long to do it.

Everyone loves goat milk soap. It is fabulously good for your skin and I won’t use anything else. But it can be hard to find and quite expensive to buy.

I had wondered for a while about making soap. I have the main ingredient, but the array of oils and equipment required seemed a bit daunting. The process of mixing caustic soda with the milk sounded pretty intimidating too. The lye and milk react, making the mixture super hot. So the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while.

Then I found a very basic soap recipe on the AussieGoat forum. The ingredients were readily available at the supermarket and fairly inexpensive. The batch size was very manageable. So I bought a few bits and pieces and gave it a go.

It was easy. So easy that I thought I must have done it wrong.  With a couple of plastic containers and some old chocolate moulds I made my first batch. The soaps popped out looking creamy white and perfect. After a week I had to try one out. It had a lather and felt like soap. It worked!

So then I tried adding Manuka honey to my next batch. The caustic soda reacts with the sugar in the milk and in the honey, so that batch was an orangey caramel colour. It took a little longer to cure, and didn’t come out of the moulds as well, but it is amazing. I used it to shave my legs in the shower. Not only did I not get razor rash, I also didn’t even have to moisturise afterwards. It makes the skin on my face baby soft too. I freaking love it. I made another batch with honey tonight, which I managed to keep much cooler, so it is a much better colour.

After starting out with only the bare necessities – a cheap electric mixer specifically for soap making and a digital scale – my successes have encouraged me to expand my equipment with more specialised items. A ladle for scooping the soap mix into the moulds, a silicon loaf mould for making bar soap and a great set of silicon cupcake moulds from my friendly Avon lady Pam. I’ve even cleared some cupboard space to keep it all in.

I have had some rave reviews from the samples I have given out, and sold a few bars as well. The honey soap is 50c a bar more than the plain because the jars of Manuka honey are $10, but it is still great value soap.

So drop me a line if you would like to try some. I am trying to get a decent supply together for the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo which is coming up at the start of April, but I still have plenty of sample pieces to give out.

I’m also preparing lots of 500g bags of milk for the freezer so I can keep making soap all winter.

Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.