"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Breeding Goats is No Fun

I'm having the most difficulty finding a buck to breed my does. I never thought it would be this hard. Goat sex is a natural thing, right? There are a couple of problems: finding a suitable buck, and dealing with the owners. I want to breed my does to a Boer this year, a meat goat, because I don't want to keep any kids. My herd is big enough for now. My milkers are young and healthy, and I'll keep the same ones for a few years, I just want them freshened. So I might as well breed kids that will be good eating.

Boer bucks are fairly thin on the ground. There was Buddy the baby billy, who didn't know what to do with a doe. Technically, they still owe me a breeding; maybe he's learned a little something by now. I've spoken with a couple of other owners, who sound gung-ho on the phone but then fail to call me back. That's happened two or three times.

Then there's the issue of CAE. Caprine Arthritic....Encephalitis? Oh, I'd have to look it up. But it's a sexually transmitted virus that causes crippling arthritis. It is also transmitted through milk to kids, so if you have it in your herd, you can't let does raise their own kids, you have to bottle feed. Which, of course, also means you are committed to milking twice a day for the length of a ten month lactation. So quite apart from the issue of the goats' health, you can see why I don't want CAE in my herd. Goat owners are divided into two camps: those who don't test and don't care, and those who test obsessively and demand documentation in triplicate before they'll let their goats touch your goats with a ten foot pole. 

My goats are all either tested or from a closed herd, but I don't have documentation for all the goats on my farm, so that means I can't get breeding from an obsessive type. And I, while I don't want to be an obsessive type, kind of have to be if I don't want to be chained to the milking stand all next year. So I've been asking for test results on bucks (even offering to pay for them), and getting the brush off. Meat goat people don't bother testing because the kids are all doomed to be eaten long before CAE would become a problem for them, and nobody milks the dams. 

I did talk to a kid tonight (FFA) who has a Boer and is willing to get him tested if I pay half. But of course, my doe is in heat NOW, and test results don't come back for a few days, so we're looking at the next breeding cycle, in 18-23 days. 

Oh, and there's the issue of the electric fence. It doesn't work and we can't figure out why. Without a working electric fence, I doubt we can control who breeds with who when.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fall Color

I wish I had taken these photos on the farm, but I don't have any lovely trees like these. I took these pictures down the street a ways. Wonderful that we still have days like this so late in the fall. Thank God! No matter how stressful or harried my day is, all I have to do is look up through these leaves at the sky and I am instantly peaceful and happy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hooray for Mushrooms!

The mushrooms in the picture in the last post are, according to the experts at the mushroom festival, Shaggy Mane mushrooms, part of the Inky Cap group, rated as "edible and choice." That means yummy, but you have to gather them while they are still closed and cylindrical, and that phase lasts only a day or two. After that, they deliquesce. That means turn into horrible black, stinky runny toadstools. Which, unfortunately, has already happened to most of mine this year. Oh well, now I know. I'll be out there with a paring knife after the first rains next year. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mud and Mushrooms

What to do about mud? The recent rains have turned the barnyard into the most disgusting mire. Calling it mud is just a euphemism; it's really more like liquid zoo-doo. There is apparently no drainage at all out in front of the barns. It just puddles up and stays there. I have admittedly made things worse by spreading around the dirty straw. I thought it would soak it up and compact, but it just makes everything deeper. Homero spread two pick-up truckloads of gravel, which was just enough to make slender paths from the gate to each of the two barn doors. I think I'm going to have a big pile of gravel delivered. I know it's expensive, but holy sh.....

The rain has also brought forth the mushrooms. This cute little clump is actually part of a much larger patch of huge, shaggy, rapidly decomposing toadstools, which aren't cute at all. There is a mushroom festival this weekend somewhere in town, this just reminded me. I think I'll go take pictures of all the different mushrooms I can find on the property and try to identify them at the shroom show.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Evil Doe

I must get rid of Xana. There is nothing good about that goat, nothing. Well, okay, she's big and healthy. But she's a big, healthy pain in the butt. Xana is the destroyer of fences, and now she has taught the nubian twins to destroy fences, too. Believe me, there are plenty of things I would rather do than fix fences in the freezing cold. Which is what I was doing today. And catching escaped goats, which is no fun, either. They are really so much faster and more nimble than I. They hardly ever fall down in the mud. 

Plus, Xana gives no obvious signs of being in heat. She should have come back into heat about 10 days ago, and who knows? Maybe she did. I didn't notice. Theoretically, goats are supposed to scream and flip their tails around when they go into heat, but so far this year, I haven't noticed anybody acting that way. How am I going to get them bred? I going to have to buy a billy, or lease one for the season, I guess.

These goats are not currently worth the aggravation. It's so dark in the mornings - and cold -that I haven't bothered to separate the babies or milk the mamas. I don't want to try to milk goats in the dark with numb, frozen fingers. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. I'm running out of my last gallon of milk and my last pound of cheese, so we'll soon find out which of my vices is stronger: Laziness or miserliness.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Holy Steer

         What approximately 150 pounds of grass fed steer looks like.

                                Filet Mignon in red wine caper sauce

Today we picked up our beef from Keizer meats. My sister's family came with us to pick up their half of the half. It turned out to be a bit more expensive than we had figured, for two reasons. Our steer just happened to be a big one, weighing in at over 900 pounds hanging weight. My neighbor had told me they usually dress out at around 600. Each of our quarters weighed 247 pounds. That's a lot more cut and wrap fee than we had anticipated. Also, there is more waste on a cow than there is on a hog. From our hog, we got about 80% of the hanging weight back in meat, but a steer yields more like 55-60%. Instead of paying $2.30 a pound, we are paying about $4.00.

But still. Go price grass fed beef at your local grocery store. Oh wait, you probably can't find any. 

In preparation for this day, I hadn't bought any beef in weeks. I wanted to be hungry for it. Deciding what to cook for dinner tonight took me a few minutes. Of course I went right for the Filet Mignon (which they label tenderloin steak). I also grabbed a package of short ribs. My brother-in-law Marcus opted to take his ribs in a big old barbecue slab, but I chose to have mine cut into more manageable portions. I snarfed my filet just a few minutes ago (that plate in the picture didn't last long), but the ribs are braising in the oven in a bath of barbecue sauce made from cider vinegar, soy, siracha, garlic, mustard, ketchup and honey. Homero ought to be home in about two hours, which sounds like perfect timing.

Filet Mignon in red wine caper sauce

two or three or four 8 ounce filet mignon steaks, 3/4 inch
olive oil
3 0r 4 tablespoons butter 
1/2 cup red wine
tablespoon or two of capers (rinsed, or the sauce will be too salty)
tablespoon or two of heavy cream
chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet until very hot, almost smoking. Salt and pepper steaks on both sides, and lay in pan. Let a nice crust form, then flip. Cook to desired doneness, but anything beyond medium is a crying shame. 
Set steaks aside, lower heat to medium-low and add half of the butter and the rinsed capers. 
When butter is foamy, add wine and let simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced. Add the rest of the butter in small pieces, stirring with a wooden spoon, and last the cream. Put sauce on plates, steak on sauce, and shower with finely minced parsley.

First Frost

The night before last was the first frost; not a very hard frost, but then last night was harder. I feel so bad for the baby goats, I've been separating them at night in the new field shelter, which has a gap running all the way around on the bottom. I'll need to insulate it somehow, probably with straw bales. Valentine was all fluffed up in the morning. The Nubian twins have short, sleek hair and can't fluff. But they are fat enough to be insulated.

The frost also means we have to start using our hay. I hadn't been giving anybody any hay, because everyone was looking so fat - especially the goats - on pure pasture. But after the frost, the grass loses most of it's nutritional value, even if it looks as green as ever. Also I'll be moving all the goats to the new enclosure for the winter, which doesn't have very much browse, so they'll need more hay. I think I'll most likely go through a bale in three days. I have seventeen bales, plus the loose hay we put up from the small field, so I'm hoping that will take us through December. Maybe not.

Hay is so expensive. Next year, I'm going to use the whole front field as hay and just not have any lawn. I've never been a big lawn fan anyway. If you want it to look nice it takes so much work and so many chemicals. Then you have to mow it and mow it, using gasoline and spewing pollutants. For what? A smooth green expanse of poison. (Of course, I never used chemicals on our lawn, which is why it was yellow instead of green - field of pure dandelions. But you get the point.) I'd rather make the space productive and use it as animal feed. We ought to get twenty bales off it, easily. That saves me about $120, well, minus whatever I pay the neighbor to bale it.

It is still gorgeous outside. I'm going out to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Really Good Day

Today was beautiful. Blustery, but sunny, and warm enough to wear a T-shirt. I felt like working outside. I finally tore out the remains of the garden (the tomatoes were disgusting, oozy and slug-eaten.), cleaned up all the tar paper that blew off of the new shelter in last night's windstorm, and mucked out the barns. Then I decided to let the goats out for one last go at the blackberries.

As I followed them around, I noticed that there were actually quite a few blackberries left on the bushes, and the goats were in heaven munching them up. None the worse for wear after their scare a few days ago - you never saw such happy goats. Well I wasn't going to let the goats have all the last blackberries of the year; I ran for a bowl. I think I picked about a gallon of blackberries. Some of them were pretty mushy, it's true, but they weren't moldy and they still had that intoxicating deep purple scent. They weren't really good enough for eating out of hand, but I made three pints of blackberry jam.

It was a day for finishing things off. The last of the pears went into pear-applesauce; a bowl of beautiful and very, very ripe plums went into a plum upside down cake. The last tomatoes, which had been sitting on the counter ripening for a week or so, went into a fiery cooked salsa. 

Talking with my Dad on the phone today, I went over my stores of food that I have put up myself this year. There are 10 pints of strawberry jam, 6 pints of raspberry jam, and 12 pints of rhubarb sauce (okay, there are 24 cups. But I didn't want to sound like a maniac). And as of today, 3 pints of blackberry jam. That's enough jam to take us to doomsday, I know, so I'll have to make christmas presents out of it. There are 10 pints of cajeta, but it seems to have separated in the jars and I'm not sure I like the looks of it. There are six quarts of pickled beets, three pints of pickled green beans, and six of pickles, three dill and three bread and butter. Can you tell, I didn't have a pressure canner, so everything is water-bath safe. 

In the freezer we have about a dozen quart-sized ziploc bags of blueberries, and the same of strawberries. There are a few bags of chopped kale, too. There is approximately twenty pounds of pork left, mostly ham and sausage. I may yet add some frozen corn kernels. The corn is still standing in the fields, so I assume I'll see some at farm stands soon. And of course, apple season is only half over. I talked to my neighbor over the fence today and she repeated the invitation to come take as many apples as we want. I think my hard cider experiment was a flop, but there's room in the freezer for several gallons of sweet.

I'm so glad I had this day. I had been mentally begging for just a little bit more summer, a little bit more warmth, feeling like I wasn't ready for the sun to leave yet, I hadn't stored enough solar energy to make it through the winter. Working out in the sun all day today went a long way. Someone was listening. Thank you!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Kids are Allright

Thank God, the goats are going to be just fine. In fact, they never got sick at all, as far as I could tell. I found the goats standing over the open chicken food bin at about 8 o'clock in the morning, and the vet was out by nine. We spent the next hour and a half wrestling them into a corner, putting a tube into their stomaches, and drenching them with approximately a quart each of mineral oil and activated charcoal. This was no easy task, and by the time it was over, I was so oily that the filth and muck practically slid right off me. Also bruised and bitten. The vet looked slightly only slightly better. She, of course, was wearing the right gear; a full body slicker. 

In addition to the oil and charcoal, each goat was given an injection of Betamine, which according to a google search is just thiamine, or vitamin B1. Hmm. She told me what it was for but I can't remember now. It's been a long day. Then the goats were let out on the pasture and never looked back. They might have been slightly lethargic for a while, but they certainly never vomited and they didn't have diarrhea, either. Just a lot of very slippery pellets. 

Maybe I found them only minutes after they spilt the chicken food. Maybe they didn't eat very much. In any case, I am taking no more chances. The food is now outside the main fence, where nobody can get at it. And there it will stay until I have made the barn one hundred percent goat-proof, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

We dodged a bullet today, apparently, and by sheer luck my goats are alive. I am so relieved and so thankful, and so very very tired.

Terrible Day

All my goats might die, and it's my fault. They got into the small barn, where we keep the feed, AGAIN, and this time they got into the chicken food. Chicken food is the worst thing a goat can possibly eat, as little as a half pound can kill a full grown goat, and between the six of them, they ate 10 pounds or more. They managed to knock the chicken food bin off the shelf and the top must have popped off when it hit the floor.

The barn has two latches on it, and the feed is kept in snap top bins up on a shelf, but it's clearly not good enough. Iris, my Nubian mama, can open the bottom latch, and recently the top latch got bent out of shape and she could open that, too. I asked Homero last weekend to put a new latch on, higher up where she can't reach, but he just banged on the old latch with a rock and said it was fixed. It did hold, and I watched Iris try to open it and fail, so I went along even though I really felt we needed a new and better placed latch.

That's why this is my fault. They are MY goats, not Homero's. If I felt the lock was not good enough, then I should have fixed it. They are my responsibility, and I didn't protect them, because I'm lazy and I didn't want to argue with my husband and I'm afraid of power tools.  

The vet is on his way right now, and we will do what can be done, which is to pump mineral oil and activated charcoal directly into their stomaches. Then we wait. 

I'll never forgive myself if I've killed all my goats.