We’ve Got Kids!

Part 1 – Birth and Death

After 148 days of anxiously waiting and preparing myself for goat birthing - on March 3, Phoebe snuck off and quietly had her babies without me. I went to the barn to find her and saw three perfect mini goats standing in the middle of the kidding stall. Mama was still cleaning up the last one.

Then I noticed a fourth one on the floor. I tried clearing it’s mouth and nose to get it breathing, but the baby could not be revived. As a new goat keeper, I was upset by the loss, but after consulting our wonderful vet, Jim Adams (veterinarian, adventurer, consultant), I have accepted that loss is an inevitable part of goat breeding. Phoebe was fertile when Pythagoras did his magic, so she made four babies. But in reality, her body is better suited to bringing two babies (or at best three) to maturity. And at least now we know why Phoebe looked like a dirigible for the last two months…

Phoebes’ three surviving babies are robust, good-natured goats. La Bandida, the girl (shown pouncing on her sleeping brothers below), looks like a little raccoon and loves to cuddle. She’s also our maverick - first at everything and just as tough as the boys. The boys are as gentle and sweet as can be, often pawing at your legs to be picked up and snuggled.

Fancy gave us fair warning on her “labor day.” In the morning on March 7th, she “told us” with a series of alarmed bleats that the babies were coming. Pye kept trying to mate her like she was “in season” and Phoebe kept sniffing at her with concern. Fancy told them both to get away with furious head butts. Until then, I had (naively) thought that Fancy and Phoebe could harmoniously share one large kidding stall, but Fancy made very clear that she needed a private suite. I stacked up some straw bales to split the stall in half.

After her “room” was ready Fancy settled down for several hours of labored breathing. Around 1:45, she gave her first labor scream (distinctly different from her earlier warning bleats). I sat in the straw next to her, petting her favorite spots and hand-feeding her treats. A few minutes later, she screamed again, got up, turned around and pointed her rear-end into the corner, and started pushing out a baby. It took about three pushes for half of the body to be out, then there was a short wait before the rest of the body followed. As soon as the baby was out, Fancy went to work cleaning up the “slime”. A few minutes later round two followed pretty much the same routine.

By round three, Fancy seemed over it. The baby hung half way out for several minutes before finally dropping to the ground. Fancy just kept cleaning up the other two, ignoring the goat attached to her rear. Once the baby was out, I used a clean towel to clear his nose and mouth and made sure he was breathing until Fancy could get to him. If it had been a cold day, I would have dried him off, but it was 65 degrees, so I let nature take its course. The third baby cried out and Fancy replied with a clear command. They repeated this conversation a couple times, then the baby boy stood up, shook himself loose from the after-birth, and walked (seriously) around to Fancy’s head so she could clean him. All three babies nursed right away and wobbled around getting their solid-ground legs.

Fancy’s little girl (shown nose to nose with her mama above) was born runty. I watched to make sure she ate as often as the other goats. She seemed to be eating fine and was energetic. She was less coordinated than her brothers, did not like to be held, and screamed like a banshee when separated from her mama. But she seemed healthy. The evening of March 10th, I noticed “monkey” - as I’d been calling her - was sleeping while the other babies played. I picked her up and she just laid in my lap without crying. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I stood her up. She stood still for a few minutes than laid back down. I did that a few more times with the same result. I bottle fed her twice that night before bed. I planned to take her to the vet the next morning if there was no improvement. When I opened the goat barn at 7:00 AM, she had already passed away.

Her loss was harder to take because we held her and watched her play. Although we don’t know for sure, she was likely not coordinated enough to get as much milk as she needed on her own. So over her few days of life, she became malnourished. There was no more than 16 hours between the deterioration in her condition and her passing. I thought a bit of bottle feeding would fix her up, but it wasn’t enough. If we have a runt again, I will supplement bottle feed the kid from birth.

The two boys are strapping blue-eyed beasts with Pye’s good body structure and Fancy’s elegant beauty.

Part 2 - Goat Growth

Goats kids mature fast. On day 1 they walk, nurse, and sleep. On day 2 they run and jump. By day 3, except when they nap, they have a constant goat dancing party. They jump straight up in the air like goat pogo sticks. They lock heads and run around in circles until one of them falls over dizzy. They try to mount each others’ sides, heads, rears, and fall over each other when they overshoot. They start eating a piece of two of timothy grass when their mamas eat. It’s incredible to see.

They also start growing horns. So, last Friday, March 13, we “disbudded” them - burned the just-forming horn buds from their skulls.

Yep - it’s as bad as it sounds. I planned to do this on my own, but after losing two kids in less than a week, my confidence was shaken. So, I loaded our five kids up in two laundry baskets in the back of my Honda Fit and drove them over to see Dr. Jim. His assistant shaved a patch of hair on their necks so he could see their carotid artery and Jim gave them an injection of anesthesia. A couple minutes later, the goats were out and the assistant shaved the hair around their horn buds. Jim and I then took each kid outside to a hot iron and did the deed. (You do this outside because the smell is horrendous.) Jim demonstrated the process on the first three kids and I used my newly learned skills on the last two.

The babies were only separated from their mamas for just over an hour. For the couple hours they were under, they were like rag dolls with no muscle control. A few of them had their mouths open and their tongues out which looked really creepy. Seeing the goats in this floppy state was the most disturbing part of the procedure for me, but other than being whiny and groggy when they woke-up, there were no lasting effects from anesthesia. They all had swollen eyelids from the damage to their skulls. La Bandida - Phoebe’s girl - had one eye swollen completely shut. This is normal. Within 24 hours the swelling was gone and goats were tentatively bumping heads again.

Why would I subject our babies to this? Because goats butt heads with each other constantly. If I let their horn buds grow into horns, they could seriously hurt each other or the people around them. Horns have their place. If we were raising goats in open pasture and were not in constant contact with them, we might leave their horns for protection. But these are dairy goats, kept next to our house, so disbudding was necessary for us. Doing this as soon as the buds are obvious (around two weeks old or less) is easiest. The longer you wait, the bigger the buds, and the more damage you do when removing buds.

Now the kids have peach fuzz growing over their burned areas and they butt their imaginary horns together without hesitation. They’ve started taking short goat walks with us. We’re quite the posse - three grown goats, five baby goats, a host of chickens, and Honey and me.

Next up for goat boys - castration. But we’ve still got a few weeks before we have to tackle that…

Bring Home the Bacon

We’re bringing home the bacon… and the sausage… and the Boston pork butts…. We bought four Yorkshire piglets to pick up in mid-April and fatten up for fall butchering. Matt and I are both animal lovers and we are also meat eaters of “happy meat,” i.e., ethically and humanely raised on pasture, in fresh air, on farms we can visit. Now, the reLuxe Ranch will be one of those farms and we’ll get to learn first-hand about the life cycle of our own happy meat.

Mushroom Madness

Matt and I took a road trip to Easley, SC last Saturday to visit Tradd Cotter’s Mushroom Mountain farm. Tradd’s got lots of cool things going on in his lab related to mycelium-based pest control and medical remedies (e.g. a personally tailored cure for strep throat). While there, we picked up some winecap mushroom spawn and a new idea for how to use red wrigglers for compsting (more on that in the future).

On the way home, we stopped to have lunch at Bacon Brothers in Greenville. It’s a gem of a restaurant with an emphasis on farm-to-table food and preparing their own cured meats.

2015 Snow Siege - A Readiness Recap

Let me start by saying - we are not “preppers.” We don’t have a year’s supply of food and water in a bug-out bunker on our property (and we never will). But given that certain environmental factors have already been put into play, record breaking weather events are likely to continue to be the new norm for the foreseeable future. So, some preparation is not crazy, it’s just smart. Our unexpected 10-day snow siege at the end of February gave us a good opportunity to assess our readiness and set-up strategies to be better prepared in the future.

Here are some highlights:

  • Our front porch was a bit…rustic (read: rickety). So, Matt decided to make some urgent “strategic” improvements to our porch before the storm. He spent about 10 hours buying supplies, scaffolding up the roof, and replacing some of the wood joists and beams to ensure the porch didn’t fall down on us. Just as he tightened the last of the bolts and took down his scaffolding, the snow started piling up. Would the roof have held without improvements? Probably, but why risk it? Better to weatherproof your property before the storm than to be sorry later. Chickens can walk in deep snow, but they didn’t seem to know that. They spent three days afraid to leave their open coop and squabbling over space since they aren’t normally confined. I finally got smart and cleared an area around their house and scattered some corn to lure them out. This relieved tensions and got the chickens more comfortable with snow. By the second storm, they braved the white sea eagerly. Who knew that you’d need to train chickens to snow walk?

  • Ducks can barely walk in snow. They have wide flat feet and short legs, so with six inches of snow, they were exhausting themselves to take a few steps. They could not make it to the spring where they normally drink when their pond freezes, so I filled my watering can with hot tap water and poured it into their bowl several times a day. I could have dug them a path to the spring, but I wanted to see how they weathered the snow as well. Other than being bored and dirty, the ducks managed just fine in prolonged cold. They sure were happy when their pond thawed though!

  • The goats were my close call. With two pregnant does weeks away from kidding, I seriously mis-calculated their food needs. Part of their daily diet is forage, even in winter. With the ground covered in snow, they only had access to pine needles and those are more of a garnish in their diet. Basically, with the girl’s increasing appetites and no good forage, their food supply dwindled quickly. We made it out before they ran out, but I will keep more food on hand in winter in the future.

  • Cats, dog, and people all had plenty. We had to ration our half & half and sour cream after the first week, but we made it work. I was very glad that I keep us so well stocked in luxury goods (coffee, tea, butter, wine, bacon…) because we managed to survive being stuck in the house for ten days without killing each other.

  • ALWAYS hide dad’s car keys before a storm. He managed to get his car stuck in the snow twice. The first time he nearly slid into the pond trying to get up the driveway. The second time we parked his car at the top of the drive, and when he came back from town, he tried to come down and got stuck half-way down.