18 January, 2016

Sometimes I’m the goat grinch

There’s been an article going around Facebook about a farm here in Virginia that’s soliciting volunteers to help provide round-the-clock care to the approximately 90 baby goats they’re expecting this spring. People are very enthused, and last I heard the farm had way too many volunteers after their plea for volunteers went viral. And in the middle of people being very enthused, here I am, very disgruntled.

Spice, a tan baby goat with a black blanket, black knee stockings, black nose, and nifty black diamonds over her eyes heads toward me with a mischievous look on her face.
Baby goats: more weirdly fragile than you think.

The first reason I’m disgruntled is that this isn’t a non-profit farm that’s asking for volunteers. This is a for-profit goat dairy that is asking for people to do work and not get paid. I have no idea what actual labor law says about this, but ethically it’s a goddamned nightmare. They’re separating mothers and babies at 24 hours after birth so that they can maximize the profit they’ll make by maximizing the amount of milk they take. In short, they are making money off the unpaid labor of these people, and that’s not ok. They also have no idea where these people have been or how well they understand biosecurity. Lord only knows what a big pile of volunteers is going to bring in on their shoes and clothing that may harm baby goats.

The second reason I’m disgruntled is that this is actually a terrible plan for caring for baby goats. It’s incredibly easy to kill a baby goat by over-feeding them, for instance. Baby goats will literally drink enough milk to kill them. If they’re using formula instead of milk, having differently mixed formula from meal to meal (eg one batch a little weaker, one batch a little stronger) is another great way to make a baby goat sick. Unless you’re monitoring every single volunteer (which then means you’re getting up every four hours to supervise the feedings, and they’re trying to get out of the lack of sleep that comes with raising baby goats) you are risking the health of the kids in the name of profit.

They could, of course, choose to leave the mothers and babies together for two weeks and then separate them overnight, milking the mothers out first thing in the morning. This would give the babies the best opportunity to be healthy while letting the owners get sleep during the early weeks of baby goat life and wouldn’t require a bunch of people to supply unpaid labor. But it would also cut into their profits. Margins are already tight on dairy farms, so they may not feel this is possible.

In short, this isn’t a warm fuzzy feel good story. This is about a for-profit business engaging in practices that endanger the goats and exploit people for free labor. No bueno. There’s a reason I offer to barter with my friends who come to help out.

14 January, 2016

So much new life in the pasture

Let’s do some photos, shall we? At two weeks old, and with the mud finally freezing, May’s babies are getting out of the barn and doing some exploring. And of course last weekend Kate-with-Soays dropped off 5 beautiful new Soay ewes! With seven new faces in the pasture I don’t know where to turn my camera, honestly.

A leggy sheep with fleece in shades of gold and sharp black trim walks toward the camera, pursued by two tiny goats. One is white with a red blanket, dramatic red eyeshadow, and black highlights on her legs. The other is pale tan with a black blanket, black knee socks, and sharp black diamonds over her eyes. They both have long floppy ears and are soft and fluffy.
Ella was rather dubious about her tiny entourage, as you can tell by the set of her ears and the way she angled her head to keep an eye on them.

The tan and black baby goat, Spice, sucks on my fingertip.
Spice pauses in the middle of exploration to find out if my fingers are food. Spoiler: they are not.

A tiny sheep, about knee high on your average human, nuzzles at my hand. His body fleece is golden-red-brown, while his face is a complex mix of cream and ash brown hairs that yield subtle stripes from his eyes to his muzzle.
Reuben seeks reassurance that despite all the new animals, he’s still my favorite Soay. Of course you are, little buddy!

Three Soay ewes rush past side on to the camera. They are varying shades of auburn brown, made darker by the angle of the light. Their bellies and insides of their legs are creamy pale, and there are markings around their eyes in the same color.
The new ewes are still in Confused Sheep mode, which means they stand still and stare at things then rush off. Here three are rushing between sets of grain dishes because a pig got too close to them. I love their graceful, high-stepping gait. Horse people will probably notice that the one in back is pacing (the legs on each side move together, rather than diagonal legs moving together). So far I’ve identified three or my seven ewes as pacers, which is intriguing. Unfortunately it’s not something the scientists on Hirta are studying. However it’s probably genetic, and if you study pics of Soays found online you can identify a lot of pacing sheep. To complicate matters, my pacing ewes sometimes trot. If I ever win the lottery, I’m funding a grant to study the locomotion of the population on Hirta.

12 January, 2016

Life as a chemistry experiment

I don’t talk a lot about my various medical issues here. Partly that’s because I’m convinced that they’re not nearly as interesting as livestock and crops, partly because they’re such a part of my day to day that they don’t strike me as remarkable. But every so often something happens to bring them to the fore, such as a change in the medications that manage my chronic pain.

Recently my gabapentin dose got doubled. At 300mg a day it was doing really great things for my quality of life, but I still wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. So my doc bumped me up to 600mg, increasing 100mg weekly to give my body a chance to adjust. One problem with gabapentin, you see, is that it makes me fall asleep. it also vastly improves the quality of my sleep as measured by my Fitbit: once I’m out there’s no thrashing around and periodically waking up, I just sleep like a log until Mr. Goat Lady brings me my tea the next morning.

Initially I tried adding an extra 100mg in the morning, but that resulted in 3 hour naps in the evening, which was not exactly desireable. So instead I’ve added it to my bedtime dose, when the sleepiness is a feature and not a bug. Unfortunately the other horrible side effect has come into play: vertigo is kicking up something fierce and as the day progresses I find it harder and harder to walk more than ten steps without trying to fall over. Experimenting with drugs always goes this way, an endless measurement of side effects against benefits, the scales always in flux until we finally find a balance that works. Meanwhile winter has moved in and the cold makes me hurt, although it makes me hurt less when I’m taking gabapentin than it did previously. My opiate consumption has dropped dramatically, which is awesome. Long-term daily use of opiates has some effects, such as suppressing the immune system, that I’d really rather not deal with if I don’t have to. I’d rather keep the vicodin in reserve for the days when nothing else works to cut the pain.

So we’ll see how this goes. I have high hopes that 2016 will be an awesome year so far as chronic debilitating pain is concerned. Don’t let me down, gabapentin.

8 January, 2016

Well that was unexpected

Some months ago we had three Silver Fox rabbit does get loose in our shed, where the rabbits are currently living because the colony is escapeable. There are two black does and one chocolate, and we leave food and water down for them.

A couple days ago, I moved the Cinnamon doe in with Norm the Silver Fox buck to get pregnant, so her cage has been empty.

This morning, I went in to feed and water rabbits, and was filling the feeder for the rabbit in the Cinnamon doe’s cage when my sleepy brain registered that the cage should be empty and I did a double-take. As it turns out the loose chocolate Silver Fox doe had climbed the stack of cages to get to the empty one and moved herself in, at which point the latch had fallen shut (doubtless due to jostling).

I guess it’s time to assemble that extra cage, since I am now one cage short…

5 January, 2016

Winter finally remembered us

I should have known when May gave us surprise kids that the weather was going to turn. Goats are infamous for kidding at the worst possible time and sure enough no sooner did she present us with her two adorable doelings than we’re suddenly having actually seasonally appropriate weather. This after spending Christmas Day running around outside in a t-shirt for the novelty of it!

Not that it’s actually been cold enough to freeze the waterlogged ground good and solid. May and her twins are still confined to a stall because the mud is four inches deep in places and I’m afraid the babies would get stuck in it like tiny unfortunate mammoths in a tar pit. Meanwhile I’m battling hoof rot with every goat except Ben and Stu (Nubian blood does goats no favors in the hoof department) and keeping a close eye on the sheep. I gotta love the Soays though, they’re charging through winter fat and happy with nary a limp, cough, or sneeze. The only change in their behavior has been a shift from hanging out in the shade to hanging out in the sun when the temperature plunged. These ridiculously hardy little sheep are a real delight.

Meanwhile the place is so much quieter with the Christmas geese gone. Ours was incredibly delicious. I told Daniel that it was the first time I’d eaten a food I only knew from Victorian novels and not been tragically disappointed! In fact we enjoyed it so much that we’ll be raising geese again. Their obnoxiousness is completely outweighed by their deliciousness, so there will be geese honking and hissing their way through the spring, summer, and fall again.

Alas for me, the sudden turn of the weather has aggravated my chronic pain issues and I’m spending more time huddled under my electric blanket and taking painkillers. Still, a hard freeze or ten (or twenty, or thirty) is what we need to reduce parasite burdens in the pastures, fleas and ticks in the dog yard, and hopefully let the black cohosh seeds I planted germinate.

Inside, dreaming of summer continues. The first sweet potato slip got big enough to come off the potato and go in a jar of water to develop roots, and there’s 5 or 6 more working on it. Those sweet potatoes will make an excellent accompaniment to the goose next Christmas.

2 January, 2016

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Alas, this is not a post to show off my beautiful new ewes! Unfortunately both Kate-with-Soays and I have come down with some kind of terrible stuffy-nosed plague, and thus the beautiful new ewes will not arrive until next weekend, when I am hopefully feeling well enough to enjoy them.

Meanwhile, most of you are probably aware by now that May presented me with a pair of surprise doelings, Sugar and Spice. After doing the math I figured out that she somehow managed a liaison with Sanglant a mere 4 days before he was wethered. Sigh. Goats will find a way, I guess. May was supposed to be retired from breeding ever again but apparently she had other ideas about it. Still, they’re freakin adorable and I promise as soon as I can handle the html there will be pictures.

24 December, 2015

A new year, new ewes

Excitement! My friend Kate-with-Soays (not to be confused with my friends Kate-the-author or Kate-with-cats-and-soap and yes Kate-with-Soays needs a website) hit upon a fabulous deal on Soay ewes, at less than half their usual sale price, and graciously shared it with me! You may in fact have noticed the latest round of crowd-funding to expand the herd.

The new ewes have genetics I don’t already have, and have been sending time with an equally worthy ram. This will mean at least five but potentially eight ewes unrelated to Ferrington will be here, opening up the possibility that I can isolate his daughters from him and keep him an extra year before I move him on. Which would be nice, because I’m fond of Ferrington. He’s small for a ram and mellow and good with goats, sheep and humans (pigs occasionally drive him to violence and have learned to avoid him). So another breeding year with him would be no hardship, really.

The three new ewes are mouflon-patterned like my current flock, but come from South Carolina. And that is the extent of what I know as Kate-with-Soays will be surprising me with three of the six she picked up when she made the trip to get them. Unless of course the rain here in the southeast stops and she gets a chance to get pictures — cross your fingers!

At any rate, they will be here in January and then there will be an unstoppable deluge of pictures over on Instagram (they also get automatically broadcast to the farm Facebook page), so stand by.

Other things to look forward to: lambing should start in February, so cross your fingers that the winter stays mild. Ella and Mabel’s lambs will be raised for meat, Soay lambs get to live and grow wool. There may also be piglets around the same time, all of whom will be available as pasture-maintainers, pets, and meat. And of course now that rabbits are back up and breeding like, well, rabbits, there will be an endless assortment of meat bricks, a few of whom will get held over to provide prime furs next winter.

21 December, 2015

15 December, 2015

Math is hard?

Yesterday was exciting in a bad way, as we discovered several baby rabbits born on the wire in their mother’s cage. This wasn’t her fault but mine, I had miscalculated her due date and didn’t have a nest box and hay waiting for her. Luckily all of them but one were still alive and kicking, so I tucked them in my shirt to warm them while we got a nest box set up, and then installed them. The mother went immediately to work putting the nest in order (humans are apparently very bad at making rabbit nests) and hopefully I’ll find them still in the land of the living when I check on them in the morning.

Normally, of course, baby rabbits would be born in the colony, but it’s severely in need of rehabilitation at the moment. Once the Christmas geese are harvested this weekend work on converting the former large poultry pen into rabbit spaces can begin in earnest, including putting down wire around the edges to prevent young rabbits from escaping via digging out. The trick will be to escape-proof the colony areas while simultaneously allowing rabbits to do things like dig, which make them very happy and also prevent losses to the ungodly warm and humid southern summers.

My incompetence aside, it’s nice to have baby rabbits around again. Rabbits are a faster and more reliable source of meat than poultry for us, most especially since to have chickens ready for harvest as quickly as rabbits are I’d end up raising mutant meat chickens and I refuse. I don’t want animals who can’t enjoy their lives while they’re here, and meat chickens most assuredly have problems doing much beyond eating and sleeping if you want them ready to go in 8-12 weeks.

In other news, the warm, mild winter continues. We’re sleeping with windows open to avoid overheating because it’s not quite warm enough to need air conditioning but not cool enough to keep heat from accumulating in our snug little house. The onions, garlic, peas, and other fall-planted crops that were meant to go dormant are instead having a grand old time with the rain and gentle sun. The one exception has been the einkorn wheat, which has gone surly and sleeping just as it’s supposed to.

30 November, 2015

The rabbit colony still lives!

Many months ago we moved juvenile ducks outside into the large covered poultry pen, which turned out to be a terrible idea. Two of them promptly went through rabbit tunnels between the colony and the main section and proceeded to make a terrible mess of the colony, which meant that we got no rabbit meat at all this summer.

I was just beginning to ponder moving the last two rabbits, Nahadoth and Syenite, out of the colony and into cages when lo and behold, we spotted a tiny Naha look-alike hopping around in there. Hooray! Whatever the ducks did, the colony is recovering! If this little guy makes it to adulthood we’ll probably use it in the breeding program just on the general principal that as the first survivor, it’s a tough little booger.

Meanwhile the Christmas geese are the last feathery occupants of that pen, and one they’ve been slaughtered we’ll be converting it to a hybrid cage/colony set up for rabbits. I’ve found rabbits to be easier, cleaner, tastier, and more productive than poultry in general, so while we’ll continue to keep a free range flock to help with pest control and composting, rabbits will be responsible for the bulk of our protein production.

But I digress! Look carefully at the cinder block on the left side of the photo:

image

You can see Naha, my black and white colony buck, catching some sun in the house. His lady Syenite is behind him but since she’s black and in shadow you’ll have to trust me on that. And there peeking out of the cinder block on the left is a tiny black and white rabbit, like a miniature version of Naha. Evidence of resurrection!

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