Is it Spring yet? (or “February is the Longest Month”)

Here he is - the first kid of 2011 at Half Caper Farm

Well, here it is, February 28th.  It’s been a long, cold winter.  I’ve always thought February is twice as long as any other month, calendar evidence to the contrary.  After the excitement leading up to Christmas, the “new slate” euphoria of New Year’s, I manage to get through January.  But then, February arrives.  The holidays are in the past.  Spring is weeks and weeks away.  The goats are all bred, and the new kids are far in the future.  Life is in a holding pattern.

But wait!  The days are now decidely longer.  The chickens are starting to lay again, after a six-week hiatus (store-bought eggs are absolutely nothing compared to farm-fresh by the way).  The geese have paired up and have even laid a couple of big goose eggs.  Last week, we sighted a Great Blue Heron (boy, did he take a wrong turn at Albuquerque).  And best of all, the first goat kid was born last Saturday night!

I bought two bred goats in November, a Saanen and her 1/2 LaMancha daughter.  The seller didn’t have an exact date, just “end of February” so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching closely.  On Thursday, I got the feeling that just maybe, I should put them into a separate pen with lots of clean straw.  On Friday, I did my last “butt check” at around 11 pm, and was out at 4am to check again.  Nothing.  Back again at 8am, after milking the neighbour’s cows, still nothing.  In and out of the barn every couple of hours all day Saturday, and then, when I was putting away the first of my two milking does, I noticed her lay down and give a couple of serious pushes.  I brought out the second doe, and started milking her, and I could hear some pretty serious grunting going on. 

I watched her for a little while, and wasn’t seeing a lot of progress, so I went in and scrubbed up, came back and had a feel to see if there was a problem.  Nope, there’s a nose and what I thought was two hooves.  More grunting and pushing, followed up by a lot of panting, and a worried look, so I went in again.  That’s when I realized that it wasn’t two hooves, it was one rather large hoof!  I pushed the baby back to give me more room, felt around and found the second front leg and brought it forward, thinking that would do the trick.  Nope.

To make a long story short, after about 20 minutes of pulling in time with her contractions, we managed to produce a large buck kid.  He’s 1/2 LaMancha, all white, with silly little ears, and he’s a BIG boy.  After a couple of days, he’s doing very well – getting lots to eat with no siblings to compete with. 

So, to answer my original question, “is it spring yet?” – No, but we’re getting there!

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The Waiting Game

Here it is.  A brand new year.  Things are quiet here at Half Caper Farm.  Breeding season is pretty much finished for the goats.  Now we settle down and wait for kidding season to begin. 

I’ve still got two goats producing milk – Kitty, almost two, and Tiara, coming five.  Kitty decided that she didn’t want anything to do with the boys this year, so I will be milking her “through”, which means that she will keep producing milk through a second year without kidding.  Tiara is only halfway through her pregnancy, but already she is looking large, and the last few days she has been uncomfortable about jumping up on the milkstand.  Time to let her dry off and put all her energy into her growing kids. 

I’m a little concerned about Tiara.  Last year, I dried her off two months before her due date, as usual.  Then the day before she kidded, I decided that she wasn’t showing any signs of being pregnant <mutter, mutter, grumble, grumble> and was planning to throw her back in with the main herd.  I came out next day to find three, count ’em, three little white kids in the pen.  I still don’t know where she had them tucked away so as not to look pregnant.  It’s making me wonder how many she is planning to pop out this year!

I have two does due to kid about three or four weeks before Tiara.  They are new to me.  Dakota is a grade Saanen, two years old, and her daughter, as yet unnamed, is a Saanen/LaMancha.  She looks like a Saanen with no ears.  I don’t have an exact due date for either one, so life will be interesting for the last half of February.  Lots of peering at goat butts and just generally standing and observing.  You know all those stereotypical images of farmers leaning on the gate and staring at their livestock?  That’s what they’re doing – watching their herds and flocks for anything out of the ordinary!

With things so quiet now, I have a little more time to devote to breaking my young mare, Sugar.  More about that in my next blog.

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The Longest Night

And what a beautiful night it was, here in SW Ontario.  The sky was brilliantly lit with stars and the full moon.  A light dusting of fresh snow on every surface reflected the moonlight, twinkling like the night sky.  The wind was calm, the night was quiet.  Everybody was fed and watered, contentedly munching their feed.

This morning dawned clear and bright and cold.  Minus 10 outside and plus 8 in the house – the joys of wood heat.  Brilliant sunshine, snow squeaking under foot.  The sheep met me at the gate, their coats so covered with frost that Baaaa, my black sheep, was almost as pale as the others (yes, silly name, but she’s named more for her voice than her colour – not much wool on a hair sheep, never mind “three bags full”!).  They get some fresh hay.  The ducks and geese set up their usual racket, complaining about the severe shortage of food.  Ducks and geese are big liars, by the way.

Into the barn, where the goats are lying together, cozy and warm as they snuggle together and chew their cud, jaws moving rhythmically.  Their hair is puffed out against the cold so that they all look like chipmunks with big fat cheeks.  Their water buckets aren’t frozen, just a skiff of ice on some of the ones closest to the doors.  They’re happy to dig into the fresh hay that I throw over to them.

The grain is mixed up for the sheep and waterfowl – corn, oats, barley, a handful of sunflower seeds and alfalfa pellets.  Then measure out the chicken feed – it’s a cold morning, so they get some corn and sunflower seeds as well.  Extra calories to keep them warm.  The sheep get their portion poured onto their clean hay, and the geese and ducks get theirs spread out on the clean snow.  A certain amount of stealing back and forth goes on.  That’s ok, they all get the same.  Into the chicken coop, to throw them their feed.  A small bit of water left in their bucket has frozen, so into the barn for fresh.   The barn cats are complaining so I fill their food dish and give them some water too.

Now that the animals have been taken care of, I can go back into the house for my breakfast.  That first sip of hot coffee tastes mighty good.  It feels good to realize too that from here on in, the days will be getting longer as we move towards spring.

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Good Clean Fun

My first attempt at a "swirl" - I'm better now!

Making soap, that is!  Especially goat’s milk soap (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?)!

I’ve always had an interest in self-sufficiency, which probably explains why I’m living on ten acres with a herd of goats, a flock of chickens and a barn full of rabbits.  For years I thought it would be interesting to make soap, and I had amassed a number of books on the subject.  Finally, in February 2009, I attended a demonstration on making CP (cold process) soap.  “That looks easy” I thought, but did nothing about it until much later that summer.  I made a batch using the recipe they gave us, but I neglected to check all the instructions.  I soon discovered that mixing the lye solution and the oils at too high a temperature will create a soap “volcano”!  I had soap oozing up and over the sides of my mold and all over the counter (fortunately, covered with a plastic tablecloth).  I managed to beat it back into submission, and it made a pretty nice batch of soap.  I believe I still have a few bars of it left.

Then, on to the main reason I wanted to make soap – an excess of goat’s milk.  When the girls are producing particularly well, it’s difficult to use up all of the bounty.  To have a Grade A classified dairy requires many more goats than I care to have, not to mention a lot more money than I’m ever likely to have!  And a family of two can only eat so much cheese and drink so much milk.  Mind you, a 3 lb batch of soap only requires 16 ounces of milk, so it doesn’t use up all that much, but it’s fun.  I finally got up the courage to try 100% goat’s milk soap in the summer of 2009, and I’ve been making it ever since. 

I’m still playing around with the original recipe, tweaking this and substituting that.  Trying out different methods of colouring, swirling two colours together.  And the fragrances – oh, the fragrances!  I’m inclined towards the simple, classic fragrances like lavender but I just got in some new blends and I can’t wait to try them all.  One that smells just fabulous in the bottle is “Red Currant and Thyme” – fresh and clean and invigorating.  I just have to decide what I want to do for a colour scheme – and order some more oils and butters.  Yep, it’s an addiction.

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Got Milk?

We do!  That’s what it’s all about – this keeping goats lark.  Well, not entirely.  Since we’ve had goats, we haven’t needed to watch television (what’s a television, again?) for entertainment.  We have “The Goat Channel!  All Goats!  All the Time!”  Comedy, Drama, Tragedy, it’s all there.  And who needs a gym membership?  I can lift all the (organic) weights I want right here on the farm.

But I digress.  I’m frequently amused by the reactions of people who, when told that we have goats, comment that goat’s milk tastes awful.  When pressed, they will admit that, no, they’ve never tried it, but they just know that it tastes awful!  Uh huh.  I spend hours of my time caring for these creatures just to produce something that is undrinkable?  It is to laugh.  We love our goats’ milk.  It’s creamy, it’s tasty and it makes wonderful cheese.  On occasion we’ve had a doe whose milk doesn’t taste quite right, but a bit of tweaking with her diet and minerals always brings it back to normal. 

Goat’s milk is also the “universal” milk replacer for many species of mammals.  You can raise puppies, lambs, calves, foals, kittens on goat’s milk and they will thrive.  Oh, and human babies too!  I’ve had many mothers come up to me at goat shows and tell me how their infants could not tolerate cow’s milk and were raised on goat’s milk. 

Another use for goat’s milk is making soap.  You can use other types of milk, but for some reason, the most common is goat’s milk.  It’s even produced commercially.  I started making soap about a year and a half ago.  My first batch was made with water, then the next with goat’s milk, and that’s what I’ve used ever since.  For the first time in my life, I can wash my face with soap and water, and not feel as if my face is going to shrivel up and fall off!  Lovely stuff.  I no longer come out of the shower with that itchy dry feeling, even in the winter.  And it makes great gifts for friends and family!  (As do free-range eggs and goat cheese – but that’s another topic)

I recently placed an order for a dozen or so new fragrances for making my soap and I’m like a kid in a candy store!  (A human kid, that is – I shudder to imagine a goat kid loose in any store)  I don’t know which one to use first.  I’ve got some lovely florals – rose, lily of the valley, lilac – as well as some musky, woodsy fragrances.  I want to try them all, at once, right now!  I do believe that a certain someone would frown upon me using up all the milk in the fridge, though.  Sigh.

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A good goat

Polly was a good goat.  She wasn’t my very first goat, but she was my first registered goat, and the first goat I ever milked.  Calm and patient, she tolerated my efforts on that first attempt at hand-milking.  She used to turn her head around and sniff my ear, as if to whisper “sweet nothings”.  As time went by, my skills improved and my herd increased.  Some goats were bought, some sold, but Polly was always there.  She was the goat that stayed with the young kids when their mothers went out to graze.  If a doe didn’t have enough milk to feed her kids, Polly would adopt them along with her kids – and still had enough milk for our household.  Once, she milked for twenty-two months without stopping.

I ventured into the world of goat shows, and while she never won a Grand Champion ribbon, she always acquitted herself well, and her offspring have continued to do just as well, or even better.

Her last kid was a large single doeling, born in May, 2009.  At the time, I was afraid it would never come out in one piece, but with a great deal of effort, Annie was born.  Unfortunately, Polly sustained some damage to her pelvis because of it, and showed signs of lameness from then on.  The strain of taking more weight on her front leg caused arthritis to set in, until she was no longer able to walk.  I brought her into the barn, gave her a pen to herself and she remained bright and cheerful, and interested in life – and food!  Then, about a week ago, her appetite diminished and she seemed tired.  I knew it was just a matter of time.  The end came yesterday afternoon.  Her breathing was laboured, her eyes were dull and she was shaking.  I made the hard decision to put her down and she died with her head in my arms, as I told her I loved her and said good-bye to my sweet girl.

Polly was a good goat.

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The Blue Eyed Goat

Really?   A goat with blue eyes?  Yes, indeed.  That’s Phoenyx.  She is one of several here on my farm.

If you are at all familiar with goats, you will know that most of them have light brown or amber eyes.  Nigerian Dwarf goats can also have blue eyes – a lovely shade of pale ice-blue.  Nigerian Dwarfs, or Nigies as they are affectionately known, are a breed of miniature dairy goats.  They come in a wide range of colours and patterns.  Kidding season is a bit like Christmas because you never know what you’re gonna get!  White?  Black?  Brown?  Cream? Spots, stars, belts, socks, bi-colour, tri-colour?  The combinations are endless.

Here at Half Caper Farm, we breed Nigerian Dwarfs, as well as Saanens.  Saanens are lovely goats.  Calm, gentle, sensible, wonderful milkers – but sadly lacking in the colour department.  “Oh look, dear.  It’s a white one.”  To the uninitiated eye, one Saanen looks very much like the next one, but they are all different.  The shape of the face, their size, the udder – and if all else fails, the tattoo!

My goats are well-travelled.  Two have been to Toronto for May Morning celebrations with the Morris Dancers.  If you want to get noticed, just walk down Bloor Street, with bells on your shins, ribbons on your shoulders and a goat on a leash!  Several others have been stars of television and advertising.  They’ve been to Renaissance Faires and Faery Fests.  And of course, they go to goat shows! 

I hope to share some stories with you about life here on Half Caper Farm – the animals, the activities, the antics.  Stay tuned!

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