Get Your Goat! (a love story)

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Remember near the beginning of this blog when we were kind of afraid to get goats?  We loved goats after meeting one at a petting zoo while we still lived in the city.  After being butted and bruised and bullied by our friend’s goats while pet sitting we questioned whether we still wanted goats.  Her goats were rescues, males, had horns, and were not neutered.  We looked like good candidates for wresting, apparently.  So, we thought maybe all big goats were like that and wanted as small as ones as we could find.

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We met babies at Nancy’s for the first time and fell in love.  Then we were directed to Jill who had the smallest, most adorable baby goats.  They were Nigerian Dwarves.  We gave in to our long time hopes for goats.

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She gave us two goats that were half Dwarf.  They were a huge hit at the farmer’s market.  An adorable addition to our farm, but they were little escape artists and loved to prance under the storming feet of the horses in the fairgrounds, or nose around our neighbor’s garage for spilt chemicals.  We sadly gave them back to Jill before they could get hurt.

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Then she gave us two more dwarves, each pregnant, the younger one was the sweetest animal you can imagine.  The older one had her baby, who we sold to our friends, and then the mom went to live with a family in Colorado Springs because she liked them better than us.  The younger one died in child birth and broke our hearts.

Do you have anything to eat?

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Jill, in her unending generosity gave me yet another goat.  Elsa Maria, who went to schools with me when I spoke, went to the library, the coffee shop, and Walmart.  Who loved to snuggle and sit on my lap (I think she would still like that, but now it would be like a Rottweiler sitting on me!  But more wiggly.) and brightened our home.  Jill had to move and gave me Elsa’s mother, Isabelle, who patiently let us learn to milk her and was a great companion to Elsa.

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We boarded four goats.  We have visited countless caprines and I must say, we are definitely goat people.

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Now we just have Isabelle and Elsa (who are Saanens, one of the largest breeds), who are each expecting and will increase our little herd by trading one of their doelings for a newborn Nubien that our friend is expecting.  We loved having goat milk shares available, making our own cheese, and having these sweet, gentle creatures as companions.  Goats do make a farm.

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Five Reasons to Get Your Goat

1. Farm Pets- These animals are like having an outdoor puppy all the time.  Any time you can give is most welcome for snuggling, petting, getting them wound up and watching them hop around, and for treats.  You could pull up a lawn chair and watch the comedy show if you liked.  Goats are ever the comedians.  You can add a little happiness to the farm.  Goats are becoming more and more welcome across the country.  Big cities, including Denver and Colorado Springs, welcome small breeds of goats.  Many places with HOA’s don’t.  Don’t move there, folks.  It’s not worth it.

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Farm Products– In the spirit of everyone must pull their weight, goats are excellent at doing so.  There are fiber goats that can give the farmer lovely threads, dairy goats that produce delicious milk (and cheese, yogurt, ice cream…), and, well, here on this little farm we have no meat animals, but let it be said that there are goats bred for meat too.  Male goats can be used for breeding, or wethers can be used for companionship or protection of the herd.  Babies can be used in place of Prozac.

Farm money can be made from selling said fibers, milk, dairy products, or babies.

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3. Easy to Care For– Goats don’t require too much in the way of care.  They like a couple flakes of hay a day, some minerals and baking soda in a dish, and sweet feed during milking.  Fresh water and bedding.  A good fence.  The adage goes though, “If a goat isn’t happy, nothing will keep it in.”  So, keep your girls happy and they should stay put but a good field fence is wise.  They need their toenails trimmed and some good herbal medicines at the ready if needed but outside of that, they require not much more than a few hugs.

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4. Lawn Mowers– Goats do love a good bite to eat (don’t we all?) and they would like to eat whatever you place them on.  They will not eat everything as the rumors would say but they like grasses and weeds.  Oh, and trees.  Don’t let them near the trees you want to keep unless it is large and quite established!  They will mow down an area so that you don’t have to.

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5. Shock and Smile Factor– Have you ever walked down the street with a goat on a leash?  No?!  Oh my, you don’t know what you are missing.  Traffic slows or stops, people point, take second looks, question slowly if it is a dog, and it brings countless smiles to stranger’s faces.

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Goats=Happiness

Goats 101 (becoming a goat herder)

Our alpaca venture failed miserably, with a great financial loss, and two stubborn alpacas now working as lawn mowers somewhere in Limon.  I had to give them away.  I do love our chickens.  I adore the ducks.  I love goats.  I am smitten.

Our adventure started badly enough, a doe that wouldn’t come near us, would sit in the milk bucket, and give us dirty looks.  Katrina is so happy in her new home though, surrounded by baby goats, chickens, little kids, and even lets her new mom milk her without a stanchion!

Our other doe loved us tremendously, following us like a lost puppy, always wanting to help and snuggle.  She died in March giving birth.  Yet, our hearts were still in the game.  We were ready to be goat herders.

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Elsa was a gift from my goat guru, Jill, after Loretta’s death.  Jill had to move shortly after and also offered me Elsa’s mom, who is our milker around here.  Gentle and sweet, she is the perfect goat.  Amy and Rob adopted Katrina’s doeling that was born on the farm and adopted three others from Jill and have been boarding them here.  Six caprine comedians taking up residence.  They are a delight.  I highly recommend getting goats.

Here are some things you may want to know when contemplating becoming a goat herder.

1.  What kind of goat?

Fainting goats and pigmy goats are very good companions for horses and other pack animals that may get lonely in a large pasture.  They are fun to watch and are incredibly, ridiculously cute.  However, they are not really great as milkers and pigmies have issues giving birth.  They are more pet status then anything else.

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Nigerian Dwarves make really great goats in the city.  Denver and Colorado Springs now allow small goats, which Dwarves qualify as.  They are a sturdy, fun-loving breed.  They can give a quart or two a day of fresh, raw goat’s milk, perfect for a family homestead.

Twila giving Isabelle ideas of things they probably oughtn't be doing.

Alpines, Saanens, Oberhasli, and Nubians are great milkers.  Large in stature (Isabelle is bigger than our greyhound), they have large udders and drop twins and triplets often.  Nubians have higher milk fat in their milk which makes very creamy cheese.  Turns out Dwarves have the highest milk fat but you would need four days of milk to get enough to make a good block of cheddar!

We started with Dwarves because they were easier to handle in my mind.  We ended up with a purebred Saanen and her daughter who is half Saanen and half Alpine.  They are very easy to handle.  I am coveting Amy and Rob’s Alpine that lives here.  She looks like a Siberian Husky and is gorgeous and adorably sweet.  I may be adopting one of my friend, Nancy’s goats.  When she passed away her goats were quickly dispersed but one has come around to needing a new home again.  She is an older girl but still a great milker and now that I am obsessed with making hard cheeses, I would like a Nubian.

Expect to pay anywhere from free (if someone is desperate because they are moving) to $200 for a non-registered goat and between $200 to upwards of $800 for papered, purebred kids.

Always get two.  They are pack animals and cannot live in singles.

2. What About Disbudding? 

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Remember my story about the bad goats at our friends’ house that were babysitting?  Made me not want large goats at all.  Or goats with horns.  One thing that Jill and Nancy did the same in their goat raisings was disbudding.  Seems mean, hold down a two week old goat kid while they scream bloody murder and set a hot curling iron looking thing to their horn nubs and burn it off!  But, on closer inspection, it is actually not what it seems.  Jill’s goat guru (do you think I will ever be called that?), Brittney, disbuds all of ours.  She showed us how they are screaming because they are prey animals and being held down means they are about to be eaten.  You’d be screaming bloody murder too.  The burning is only on the hard, nerveless horn endings and takes about ten seconds.  Done.  It doesn’t touch the skin and two seconds later the goat kids are running around playing again.  I appreciate not having horns stabbed into my hip if someone wants to play, or having them stuck in the fence.

3. What Do They Eat?

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Goats like a diet of pure alfalfa flakes supplemented with pastures of weeds.  Actually their favorite is trees.  They love giant, green, taunting limbs of leaves.  And tree bark.  After the trees are gone, they will reluctantly munch on weeds.  It is a fallacy that goats eat everything.  One would be surprised to know that they are rather finicky eaters actually.  They will eat about three quarters of the hay you set before them, sigh, and wander off to find a nice bush sticking through the fence from the neighbors yard.  They do not eat tin cans, or odds and ends.

They should also be supplemented (this can be set out in small bowls to free feed) minerals and baking soda.  Minerals they are missing and baking soda to get rid of bloat.  They will help themselves as needed.

Lots of fresh water is imperative, of course.

4. Playtime

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Goats love a good time.  We have several discarded tires that are stacked up along with an old, rusty keg.  Doug calls it Mount Kegel.  It is a playground of fun (and used to reach the higher branches of trees).  Goats are really fun to watch play.  They head-butt (good thing they are disbudded) and jump 360’s off of wood piles and feeding troughs.  One night Doug was in the pasture with them at dusk.  Goats are particularly silly at dusk.  He would run across the yard then stop and turn to look at them.  All at once they would all rear up and start hopping on all fours like giant bunny rabbits….sideways towards him!  It was the funniest thing I have seen in a good minute.

5. Pasture Rotation

We are in a fine, old fashioned back yard so how we do pasture rotation is by fencing off half the yard.  They stay on one side for three weeks, then move to the other.  This allows them the grass to start growing back.

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6. Housing

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I bought a simple igloo for the goats as their house on one side of the yard.  The old alpaca shelter consists of a covering between the chicken coop and the garage.  It keeps the rain out and there is a gate on one side.  Goats do not need an entire barn.  The igloo is weather proof and kept rather warm even on our below zero days and nights last winter.  They enjoy sleeping outdoors when the weather is nice.

7. Breeding

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This one I have not experienced yet.  This is what I know.  Boys are smelly when they get older.  When they want to get it on they pee on their faces and let loose an oily substance on their skin that makes them irresistible to the opposite sex (of goat).  Lord, they are maniacs.  So, we will rent a man.  Jill knows of the perfect date for Elsa and Isabelle come late fall and either they will visit him or he shall come here and we will have a rendezvous and come spring will hopefully have adorable new babies around.  Dwarves should not be bred their first year.  That is what happened with Loretta (on accident).  Only the large breeds can have sex as teenagers.  The Dwarves need to wait a year.

8. Births, Milking, and Bottle Feeding.

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I have only had one birth here at the farm and it was while I was at the coffee shop so I missed it.  I did a post on milking. Click on any of the highlighted words in this post to read the relating post.  I highly recommend bottle feeding.

9. Fencing and Keeping Them In.

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Remember last year’s babies were out running down the street, eating the neighbor’s grass, and running through the fairgrounds during a rodeo?  We had the fence reinforced with smaller field fencing before this new bunch arrived.  Twila was being terrible to the little ones, as she usually is, so we put her in the other yard.  A split second later she cleared a four foot fence and was back with the little ones.

“How do you keep a goat in?” I asked Jill before this whole goat herding thing started.  She replied that if a goat wants out, there is no stopping it.  If they are happy, they will stay put.  I have friends that use six foot fences, some electrified, watch for holes, and things that they can use as spring boards.  We have a three and a half, some places four foot, fence of field fencing.  The kids stay put.  There was a new hole in one though the other day and Doug asked real casual like, “Why is Tank in your potatoes?”  He didn’t wait around to see if anyone was coming to fix the fence, he just wanted those potatoes!  Be vigilant but also know that they will and can outsmart you if they wish.  Just give them more tires and a lot of hugs.

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I am by no means an expert yet.  I am learning by trial and error, from my goat gurus, and from lots of books.  The goats teach me most of all.  Goats, as with every other creature on earth, are all very different.  Each one has a unique personality.  We have found a whole new layer of joy by becoming goat folks.

 

Bottle Feeding Goats (a handy schedule)

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When we got our first baby goats last summer, I had no idea how often to bottle feed a kid.  There was nothing in books.  Nothing on internet searches.  I ended up texting my friend, Jill, every week to see what the new ration should be.

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This year was no different, I couldn’t remember how much to give each age and with Amy and Rob’s goats here we had three babies on three schedules.  We had their bottle feeding schedule written on the blackboard door.  Instead of a burden, it was truly an act of love and instant happiness bottle feeding the babies.

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The babies are finally weaned and the bottles go up for another year.  I thought it might be helpful for other new parents of goats to have a feeding schedule.  Also, when I forget, I can revert back to this post and see myself how much each monster gets!

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I had to call Jill one more time to find out about colostrum.  She has always given me the babies post-colostrum feedings.  She filled me in and we will be ready next year when Isabelle and the new babies start giving birth.

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Day 1-2 Colostrum.  Colostrum is the milk that all mommies produce the first few days.  It is not like the milk we think of, but rather filled with immunities and nutrients to get the little babies off to a good start.  Milk the mom immediately after she gives birth if it wasn’t too difficult of a birth.  Have some colostrum in the freezer (you can purchase it from another goat farmer if needed) to have on hand just in case.

4 oz.. of colostrum should be heated up and given to the new baby every 2 hours around the clock.  If they want more, they can have more at the feeding.  This is the most important of all their feedings and they need as much as they will take.

Now starts our weeks.

Week 1- Post-colostrum.  6 oz. of milk every 4 hours.  Feed late in the evening and then early in the morning. No more midnight feedings! (Five times a day)

Week 2- 8 oz. of milk every 6 hours. (Four times a day)

Week 3- 10 oz. of milk every 8 hours. (Three times a day)

Week 4- 10 oz. of milk twice a day.

Week 5- 10 oz. of milk once a day (this is when they start to get really nervous.)

Week 6- Weaned.  Treat if you feel really bad but they don’t need any more bottles now.  They should have noticed the other goats eating and be eating hay by now.  A touch of sweet feed as a treat starting at 3 weeks helps entice them to eat solid foods.

Sadly put bottle up and wait until next year!

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Homestead Animals

“Your goats were out again today,” the boys across the street casually mentioned.

“Again?” Doug said, with a little laugh.

“Not funny.  I turned around in my garage and there were the two little goats about to drink antifreeze!”

“You need a chain for those goats,” our neighbor, Leo, joined in.

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I guess the first thirty-five times the baby goats were romping around the neighborhood was cute, but now not so much.  We fixed the place they were getting out of.  They refuse to show us how they are escaping now.  We have scoured every inch of fence line, moved any possible catapults, and taunted them to come over to our side.  They are rather smart and will just baah innocently at us and stay put.  That is until the car drives away.

My rurban farm may not be the best place for goats.  If I had forty acres, they would get out of their pen but still be in my yard.  If I lived in the city I might have a nice, sturdy six foot wood fence.  Here, their area is too large to any more elaborate fencing, but there is a highway with their name on it running in front of my house and neighbors ready to turn me in for nuisance animals if I don’t do something.

The reasonable thing to do is to call the girl I got them from and say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out.”  There is one thing in farming that we have not learned yet.  Letting go.  We get so attached to our animals, you would think we were running a shelter over here.  We just love those little goats.  But I know we cannot keep them.  I have no desire to chain the little girls up.  But making the decision to give them up does not come naturally to us.  A sense of dreaded permanence sets in.  An instant regret.

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We have a very old dog.  In fact I have had him my entire adult life.  He is older than my daughters.  He cannot find his food bowl.  He is blind, deaf, itchy, incontinent, and sweet.  Wags his tail every time he hears someone pass.  Do you think we have the heart to put him down?  Half of my friends would have shot him by now.  I just pray he goes soon.

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I have a cat who is very lovey, very beautiful, very bad.  He has never used a cat box in his life and has no intention of starting any time soon.  He is nine years old and we should have booked his sorry ass back to the shelter as soon as we noticed it when he was a kitten.  But we did not and now the heartbreak we feel every time we consider taking him to a shelter is just too much.

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We have been vegetarian for more years than we can count.  We were vegan for a good stretch because dairy animals get killed off for meat, and cheese is made with calf stomach (rennet).  We feel for these invisible animals.  It would be so much easier to just be able to buy some of my friend, Krista’s pastured beef, or to be able to slaughter our own chickens.  But, I can barely cut the heads off of fish.  There will be no decapitating Ethel and Peep.

I sure hope I am cut out for this homesteading bit.  We need to harden up a little bit when it comes to animals.  Or, is that one of the things that makes us who we are?  It seems like many people have a filter that they can turn on and not think so much about how the animal might feel.  Or not have regret when giving up an animal.  This homestead is getting out of hand!  Heaven forbid we get a cow.  You might find her watching television with us in the living room!

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Grow Where Planted

So, what would be the perfect homestead size?  5 acres?  20 acres?  100 acres?  A river running through it?  Near a library?  I am starting to wonder if instead of always thinking, ‘THAT would be the perfect homestead’ and then being frustrated because it is out of my reach, that perhaps I should look around where I am at.  I may very well have the closest-to-perfect-possibly-at-this-time-in-my-life homestead.

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We spend a fair amount of time at my friend, Nancy’s homestead because for our new business and lifestyle venture, Farmgirls-From the Homestead. (http://facebook/5farmgirls.com)  The goat’s milk is at her house (cause her goats are there!) so we make soap over there…and cheese….and go over there to view baby barn kitties and baby goats.  Very sweet.  She has a lovely forty acres, a red barn, horses milling in the fields.  Idyllic.

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We started discussing our seemingly endless design of ideas for this year’s business venture ranging from multiple farmers markets, incorporating the idea and products into my current shop, The Garden Fairy Apothecary, teaching canning classes, bread baking classes, homestead tours, and Farm to Table dinners, all of which we will do this summer and fall.  We discussed the Farm to Table dinners for her property and found a level area that overlooks the hills and would be quaint and ethereal for a Farmgirl fancy dinner.  She mentioned that we could do one at my house too.  I was thinking….but I live in town.  Who wants to go to a Farm to Table dinner on the driveway?  But then it hit me…I live in town.  How many people live in town but are still interested in homesteading and making their way more self sufficiently but, like me, cannot and may never be able to afford acreage?  I live a mere three miles from Nancy, I am not in the city of Denver, but I do live in a neighborhood, on a busy street, with neighbors.  And a large garden, and a small orchard, with chickens, soon to be goats, and checking the zoning, alpacas.  I can turn the garage into a barn.  I could turn the yard in front of the porch, who’s grass has long since left us, into a magical apothecary garden and bee garden.  Swirly paths of bricks and oregano, sweet scents of rosemary and thyme, carpets of chives.  I could host the Farm to Table dinner in the driveway, next to the raised beds, in view of all of the farm animals.  I could place a long table in the back yard and eat with the chickens (not eat the chickens, I said, eat with the chickens!) and have a nice view of the fairgrounds.  Perhaps a rodeo will be going on.

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I mean, I may not be able to get the alpacas, and in some areas folks can’t even have chickens, but there are so many options we can do.  Bee hive?  Chickens?  Goats?  Garden?  Balcony garden?  Community garden?  Use less electricity?  Preserve food?  Use less water?  Walk more places instead of driving?  Crochet your own scarf?  Bake your own bread?  Smoke your own fish?  Grow your own herbs?  Plant an apple tree?  The sky is the limit.  And even in smaller quarters, there is always something we can do to be more self sufficient and homestead.

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Here on this homestead, I can have all the things I want, not have too much to keep up, and walk to the library.  The best of both worlds.

Goats in the Kitchen (and homemade chevre)

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Not in my kitchen, though that would be fun!  My cats would wonder what kind of odd dog I had brought home this time, and Bumble, the greyhound, would have thought he had a new playmate.

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I went to Nancy’s house for an impromptu lesson on cheese and butter making.  The snow was falling softly and thickly outdoors, creating a mood more like Christmas than Spring, but the effect was nonetheless calming and beautiful.  Her little farm lay softly beneath the quiet snow and inside the kitchen things were hopping.

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Faleena brought the infants in to play for a few minutes and as they skittered about the floor, and took to us snuggling them, all was right with the world.  Goats in the kitchen seemed a perfectly normal activity and fueled my desire to have a proper homestead, complete with goats.

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The kids are still nursing so there is less milk to be had then if Nancy chose to run her mini-dairy as a commercial operation.  Which suits us fine as we don’t do anything to maximum production, just enough is fine with us.  We still had several half gallon canning jars filled with fresh milk at our fingertips to turn into delicious chevre.

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These little packages sure make life easier.  If don’t happen to have a young calf or goat to slaughter and retrieve the stomach lining from (traditional rennet), you can use one of these packets that have the proper cultures already made up for you to make your cheese.  You can also use vegetable rennet.  All we had to do was sprinkle this packet onto a gallon of raw, fresh milk and wait for 12 hours.  Nancy set up a bit of a television test kitchen by preparing half the batch the night before and letting me prepare the second half.  The first half was ready for me to finish and take home.

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At the end of the 12 hours, the milk has coagulated into something resembling panna cotta which made me start craving caramel sauce.  I then strained the mixture through a thick cheesecloth lined colander saving the whey for soups or dressings.  I was instructed to gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and hang it over the bowl to drain for 4-12 hours depending on desired consistency.  Promptly at 4 hours I unwrapped it.  Forget desired consistency, it depends on one’s patience!

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I made a delicious dinner of chevre filled manicotti covered in rich sauce of tomato, spaghetti sauce, peppers, wine, and spices, all from the root cellar.  Topped it with parmesan and breadcrumbs and baked it for 25 minutes.  I still have more chevre in the fridge waiting for the addition of green chilies to be spread on crackers for lunch.  Self reliance never tasted so good!

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Feeling rather pioneer woman-like, we moved on to butter.  We set up an elaborate hand cranked cream separator (goat’s milk has to be separated manually) and went to work separating rich cream from sweet milk rendering it skim and still quite good.  We placed the cream in pint jars and each took one.  We shook, and shook, watched homesteading films, and shook…..then moved it to an old butter churner and cranked…and cranked.  Doug has delicious cream for his coffee but alas, we did not succeed at making butter.  Next time!