Meet Redwood

25 05 2010

A first poor attempt at milking Redwood at Kary Dairy Goats

Last week I was once again trolling Craigslist for goat ads.  I am a believer in fate and I have been convinced all along that the right goat was just going to present itself to me.  Well, on Wednesday night she did.  I saw an ad for two Mini Manchas that were in full milk.  One was three years old and had just had her second kid.  She was a cream color and kind of funky looking with one curled horn and one horn that stuck straight out.  The other goat was a year old and had just given birth to her first kid three months ago.  She was dehorned, a beautiful reddish brown with black and white mottling on her face, and I decided she was destined to be ours.

To show the seller that I was serious about this goat, I made payment via Paypal and made arrangements to come and pick her up on Saturday.  There was another interested couple who had also seen the ad on Craigslist and, while they said they wanted to purchase both goats, the seller had no way of knowing that they would actually follow through — or even show up.  It may seem highly impulsive (even stupid) to buy an animal sight unseen, but I do like to exercise my instincts from time to time and trust in a person’s seemingly good nature.  Anyone who knows me well understands that my dry humor and sarcasm really serve as a mask for a frighteningly open heart.   There was something about how much time Lynne took on the phone to talk about the goats that made me believe that this was going to be a good experience.

What made this the perfect goat for us is the fact that Mini Manchas are a relatively new breed and are therefore not highly sought after.  Mini Manchas are a mix between a Nigerian Dwarf and a La Mancha.  They take the good, strong dairy traits of the La Mancha and the diminutive size of the Nigerian.  Where a Nigerian Dwarf doe might sell for anywhere between $300-400, an MM will sell for half of that making our initial investment much less thereby giving us a little room for risk taking.

Drilling the Trex planks onto the goat shelter floor

Once the seller, Lynne, had received our payment, the work for preparing for our new farm friend had to begin.  Standard sized goats require around 200 square feet of roaming space and about a 15 square foot shelter.  The nice thing about minis is that they require about 1/3 to 1/4 of the space.  I wanted to clear enough room to make an enclosure that would easily accommodate two small goats.  Goats are herd animals and really require the companionship of other goats.  The area of our yard where I wanted to put the enclosure had four raised planter beds on it, so the first thing that I needed to do was remove the raised beds and move all of the dirt that they contained to another area.  In all, I had to relocate about 54 square feet of dirt and then, with a flat-edged shovel, I scraped the top layer of remaining grass down to the natural dirt line.  Since Hoover has been using the unused planter beds and the lawn as a toilet over the winter, I wanted to minimize the instance of parasites that might be hanging out in the weeds and fescue.

Me and Kaherdin inside the goat shelter

The following day I had to build the shelter.  We decided to place it next to the chicken run under a lovely birch tree that partially shades our back patio.  I made a foundation of cinder blocks and 2×4 then made the floor boards out of Trex.  Since Trex is made out of a combination of wood and plastic it is highly durable.  Goats make no issue of using their bedding as a toilet, so I wanted a material that could be easily (and repeatedly) be hosed down.  I am also hoping that it doesn’t taste very good, unlike cedar, which is a favorite goat snack.  The rest of the shelter is a simple slant-away design — five feet at the entrance and three feet at the back with a corrugated tin roof.  Eventually I would like to shingle the plywood sides and add a window, but for now, this three-sided structure will do.

Friday evening, after my son was finished with preschool, we set out for Ukiah — the closest town to Redwood Valley where Lynne has her farm.  While it took less than three hours to get there, the kids fell asleep in the car and we didn’t get ourselves to bed at the hotel until one in the morning.  My daughter woke up no later than seven o’clock the next day, completely excited.  How were we going to kill four hours until we were set to meet Lynne and our new goat?  We ate a leisurely breakfast then drove around the area (pretending to look for the farm) until the kids couldn’t stand it anymore.  We then pulled over and finally called Lynne to see if we could come a little early.  She graciously agreed to meet us at the bakery where she gets her morning coffee and we could follow her back to her place.

Gwen and Kaherdin watch their mama's feeble attempt at milking

We followed Lynne in her truck up the hill past the cows (where she stopped briefly to feed them) and up to her house.  The farm, Kary Dairy Goats, is a cute little enclave consisting of three houses and several goat pens.  As we stopped the van the kids unbuckled excitedly and jumped out of the car, running immediately to the goats asking, “Which one is ours?”  They really wanted for us to come home with Redwood (Gwen named her for her color) and her daughter, but as soon as we saw Redwood it was clear that one goat was more than we could manage on the car ride home.  Too, Lynne had just started the process of weaning the kid so if we were to bring her home she would be likely to continue suckling, which would defeat the purpose of keeping a dairy goat.  This, kind of like eating meat, is the sort of food tragedy we like to gloss over.  In order to get milk from a dairy animal, she must be bred.  Unless you are a large-scale outfit, you simply cannot accommodate all of the offspring (no matter how cute and precious) that come from keeping a goat in milk each and every year.  Typically a goat that has kidded will stay in milk for around ten months.  After that you need to breed her, or you are left with what amounts to a weird looking dog, or a stinky, expensive lawn mower.

Lynne was wonderful.  She put Redwood up on the stanchion and allowed us each a turn at milking her.  Redwood had never been milked by a human before but was, I think, more patient than could have been expected.  She allowed us to fill four bottles of milk for the pen of babies before she grew impatient with our incompetence.  In hindsight I realize that I was trying too hard for technique.  On TV or in the movies it looks like people are pulling on the udders when milking a dairy animal — this is simply unnecessary.  The teat works as a simple open and close valve.  If you grasp the top of the teat (at the base of the udder) in the web between your thumb and forefinger then squeeze with your entire fist, this allows pressure to build up at the tip and the milk falls in a strong stream into the cup or bucket you are filling.  Open your grip and more milk fills in, ready to squirt out with your next firm squeeze.

Lynne showed us everything about the goat — what and how to feed her, how to trim her hooves, how to handle her.  We spent no less than an hour and a half learning the ins and outs of this animal.  Lynne was more than generous with her time.  And Redwood was beautiful.  She has a gentle spirit and the quietest bleat I have ever heard.  This gentle bleat prompted me to come up with a bad joke for Gwen — What is a baby goat’s first word?  Meh meh.  I know, groan.

Lynne loads Redwood into the van

When it was time to go, we loaded Redwood into the back of the minivan.  Danae sat in back with her until we stopped at the Rainbow Ag in Ukiah to get supplies then Gwen took over.  Redwood lay at Gwen’s side the entire ride home.

We arrived home a little after four in the afternoon.  Redwood’s shelter was complete, but the fence was another matter.  My brother and sister had helped get the posts up the night before but, as soon as Redwood brushed past one in order to get to her shelter, it fell right over.  It would seem that the concrete in the pre-form post bases was too porous to hold the nails.  Flimsy as the rest of the posts were, this was never going to work.  Goats are master escape artists.  They figure out ways to jump over, crawl under and chew through many different kinds of fencing.  Some goats have even been known to figure out latches and to time their escape between pulses in an electrical fence.  It was getting dark, there was no time to re-do all of the posts and sink holes, so Danae ran over to Home Depot and got some metal stake posts.  She and Nicole quickly rammed them into the ground and attached the wire fencing.  This was the same type of system Lynne had — it had to be good enough.

My first attempt at milking our new goat without expert guidance

It was getting late and by this time Redwood needed to be milked.  We were all very nervous at the prospect of doing this without a stanchion, and at doing this on our own.  I decided to bite the bullet and asked Danae to hold Redwood while Nicole distracted her with tree leaves and a bucket of special grains (only given at milking time).  We stood her on the front deck of her little house and I began to milk her.  I got about one pint before she started kicking and I gave up.  This was all so new to her — strange surroundings, even stranger people, and only the second night she was without her baby.  You could see the sorrow in her eyes — she didn’t need this right now.  We decided to do a late night milking later and let her rest in her new environment undisturbed for a while.

Our first small haul

We took the milk into the house to try it.  My sister, brother-in-law, Danae and all the kids got a little taste.  It tasted like sweet cream — not a hint of goat in it.  We use filters (very similar to coffee filters) on the milk to strain out any hair or dander — apparently it is bacteria from this debris that reacts to the fat in the milk and causes that goaty tang.  The milk was unbelievable!

At around 11:30 that night I milked her again (with the help of Nicole and Danae) and got a full two pints.  We tried different methods to keep Redwood calm — talking to her, allowing her to sniff and lick faces, playing Baby Mozart for her from my iPhone.  But again, she kicked a lot (getting a full hoof in my bucket at one point) and it became clear that building a stanchion would be first priority the next day.  Redwood spent a peaceful night in her new shelter and the next morning we team milked her again — getting another two pints.  Danae worked all day, into the late afternoon, on a wooden stanchion built from plans she found on the Fias Co Farm website.  It turned out beautifully.  Danae felt such a sense of pride in having built this contraption and this is the sort of thing I am striving for by having my family participate in back yard farming.  The things that you do to tend to your garden and animals have a direct effect on the yields you enjoy.  Everything you do gives you a sense of purpose which helps build a general sense of well-being.

Redwood's pen and stanchion

After a couple of milkings in the stanchion, with much bucking and kicking, Danae did a little research and learned that we were handling her all wrong.  When she bucks and kicks we should not let go, but rather hold her firmly by the teat and let her know that milking will not stop from such behavior.  After one milking using this method things became much calmer.  Then, yesterday afternoon, I got a wild hair and decided it was time to try milking her on my own.  I had been up until two a.m. team milking her with Nicole and Danae the night before and was completely exhausted.  My exhaustion overrode my nervousness, so the timing was right.  I entered the pen saying, “Milkies!” our signal to her for what is about to happen then I took her by the collar and led her to the stanchion.  She hopped right on, put her head in the stock, her face in the bucket of grains and we were good to go.  I wiped down her udder with a warm cloth to clear it of any dirt, hair or dander and I milked her.  Her head remained in the bucket almost the entire time maybe BECAUSE she wasn’t distracted by the people we usually set up to be the distraction.  She kicked once when I switched sides, but I held firm and came away with a bucket of beautiful, clean goat milk.

I walked a little taller for the rest of the day.  Just one week after finishing my coursework for my teaching composition certificate, I was actively living my dream.  For a year and a half I have been imagining the day when I would get a goat and start a routine of milking and cheese making.  Every night I would go to bed counting down the days when I would be finished with school and my time would be my own again.  Here it is.  I was able to milk the goat in the morning and whip up a batch of queso fresco before taking my son to preschool.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Now I can shift my dream to the day when I can purchase a pastoral property where I, my family and my animals will have acres to run around.  I don’t know where the property is, but I can imagine what it will look like.  Until then I can roam around our small space feeling successful, purposeful, with a belly full of milk.

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6 responses

25 05 2010
lothlorienw

Amen, sister! And congratulations on making a dream come true. There is nothing as good for the soul as living in harmony with our plant and animal friends. –Lothlorien

25 05 2010
bonnetj

Thanks, Lothlorien! It feels good to walk away from the theoretical and into the actual…at least for now. You’ll have to come and meet her and try some cheese!

26 05 2010
Nicole

That cheese yesterday was heavenly and I can’t wait to have MORE!!! Here is a recipe for mozzerella as we discussed; seems like a lot more work, but something to think about:

http://fiascofarm.com/dairy/mozzarella.htm

26 05 2010
bonnetj

That looks like a nice, detailed description of what to do and what NOT to do. I can’t wait to give this a try!

26 05 2010
Frank Farm

🙂 What do you feed her? Chickens, a goat, what’s next?

26 05 2010
bonnetj

She eats Goat Chow — no KIDding (har har). She also grazes around the property and eats half a flake of oat hay or alfalfa each day. She also gets a special mixture of grains as a treat during milking. I’ve always loved slopping my chickens with carrot peelings and other kitchen leftovers, and now the goat serves a similar function. She LOVES lettuce and carrot greens. My personal treat to her is a leaf or two off of my champagne grapes. Next up: a Nigerian Dwarf boy, then maybe another milker?

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