Homestead News, Volume 23

Things have slowed down somewhat here for the winter. Outside of the opinion pieces we have been sharing for news, in our little corner of the world things are relatively quiet. We have our daily routines of animal chores, cooking and eating, and eating. The small lane that leads to our house is about 1/4 mile if you walk round trip. Frank walks it twice a day for about a mile or so. I usually make it about half to three quarters before the arthritis in my back starts complaining. We take the half hour drive to see my mother in the nursing home regularly. Some of those trips are easier than others. Her dementia is now limiting her speech significantly and it’s hard to keep her attention. So, go our days. Watching the demise of the world and wondering when it will reach our doorstep.

We have some food growing in the greenhouse along with some basil and flowers. More flowers than usual and surprisingly, some of them like to bloom in the winter.

Turnip greens

Salad fixings – amaranth, pak choy, kale, cress, lettuces

Looking out of the door that goes into the house.

Balsam – I had no idea they would bloom in the winter greenhouse.

And believe it or not, the tomatoes are blooming. I don’t think they will produce because it gets too cold at night.

But this will be the first plants I set out come spring if they make it until then.

Our baby goats are all on the ground for the year. We had one set of twins and two sets of triplets. One of the does has continued her mastitis problem from last year so we gave away two of her kids when they were four hours old. They got a few good drinks of colostrum and we sent more home with them. 

Now we have fresh milk again which we both consider to be a wonderful treat.

I have been using up some of my fabric and quilt batting making lap quilts to donate to the nursing home where my Mom lives. It’s part of my downsizing effort.

And speaking of eating, today is a good day for a pot of soup. It’s still warm outside, t-shirt weather, but I wanted to use some of our harvest for a good hot meal.

 
I don’t like the feeling that these tools are always necessary when I walk out the door to go milk the goats, or garden, or take a walk down our lane, but so go the days of our lives. Anymore, you just never know what you need to always be prepared for.


 Until next time – Fern
 

Life Cycles & Learning

The cycle of life continues, and so does the learning. The first baby goats of 2016 arrived right on time, 3:30 am, January 5th. It was a little chilly that night, and interrupted our sleep, but they arrived healthy and strong, well cared for by their mother, our ‘old lady’ goat, One Stripe.

One Stripe


One Stripe is seven years old this year. She arrived here in January, 2009, at the age of five months, with our first herd of goats at this homestead. Our first baby goats arrived in March, 2010. Since that time we have birthed, sold and butchered quite a number of goats. No two years are quite the same, they each bring their own learning experiences, some successes and some failures.

Copper with 2015 babies

In the past we followed the standard practice of selling our does as they got older. One Stripe has been the exception to that practice, and now we are rethinking the practice entirely. Keeping an older, highly productive doe has taught us that there is something to be said for proven performance compared to new, unknown performance. We now also have one of One Stripe’s daughters, Copper, that is a three year old, and expecting her third set of kids in a few days. She is also a proven performer and will be with us for the foreseeable future.



 

We had the barn built when we moved here. It has been a slow process of getting everything set up in a functional arrangement. We’ve had the birthing and weaning pens set up since we stated having babies, but just this year we now have electricity, lights instead of lanterns, and soon will have pressurized rural water and a rain catchment system, instead of running 400′ of hose from the house or using the hand pump on the well.


Many things on a homestead take long term planning, not to mention money. But even more than that, it takes knowledge, experience and time. Just this year, due to a very, very wet year, which still hasn’t let up, i.e. the recent 12″ rainfall we received, we have had a number of animal health issues we had never encountered before. The goats had a serious issue with barberpole worms and lice, so we learned about copper boluses and using diatomaceous earth. The young chickens have come down with coccidiosis, and aren’t growing well. We usually don’t have chicks growing out for meat this time of year, but we wanted more jars on the shelf, so we thought we’d try it.


Over the past seven years we’ve learned a lot about giving shots, banning young bucks and burning horns. There have been times we waited a little long too burn horns and ended up with scurs. We used to vaccinate all of our goats, but now only newcomers to the farm get vaccinated. We’ve learned about abscesses, and how to deal with them. At first they were pretty scary and worrisome, but since they haven’t proven to be contagious in nature, we just let them run their course until they break open on their own, just like this.

We have had a number of bucks over the years, some good, some too spotted, too hairy, too cantankerous, or too small. We find that if we keep or sale animals based on the attributes we desire, we are much happier with our animals. Since we tend to keep a young doe or two each year, our buck is the animal that turns over. If we had a group of does we planned on keeping for a number of years, we could also keep the buck. It is a common practice to breed father to daughter with goats, it’s called line breeding. Some people don’t mind it, while others wouldn’t hear of it. It’s a personal preference and decision.

There are many goals on a homestead that take long term planning. Some plans you can develop for a couple of days down the road. Some plans take weeks, months, years or decades to develop. It takes the same amount of time to develop competence, experience and knowledge. There are some things you just can’t wait for. Start now. After four years, I have finally figured out how to make a good wheel of cheddar cheese. Most things take time, effort, experience, failure and determination. Take gardening, for instance. I have read many blogs and comments recently indicating that folks are increasing the size of their gardens, most substantially, including us. This comes after a number of years of experience, with it’s trials, experiments, successes and failures. But like the challenges we have had with our animals this year, even the dog had an unusual infestation of worms, most gardeners will tell you that no two years are the same.


The time is fast approaching when failure may be devastating, and our opportunities may be greatly diminished. It is a time to learn as intensely and thoroughly as possible. For the cycle of life to continue to sustain us, whether with animals or plants, we must be able to use the knowledge and experience we have gained to our distinct advantage. I remember stories I’ve seen of crop failures and starvation, and can only pray those times will not come to pass again, but I fear they will, and all too soon. Be ready.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 18

I’ve been thinking I need to update you on the animals around our place. They are a big part of our daily lives, so sometimes the changes appear subtle to us, but others notice the changes more readily. The young ones are growing, and some of the older ones will be increasing our numbers soon.

 

I’ll start out with the goats. We still have three older wethers waiting to fill some of the freezer. I’ll have to wait until the surgeon gives me the okay before I tackle this project. Believe it or not, the meat from the previous goat we butchered and ground is gone. Since these are dairy animals, we don’t get a lot of meat from one carcass. Last year we kept three young wethers, this year I think we’ll keep them all. More meat on the hoof that way.

We will be having baby goats soon, January 5th is the first due date with one or two others to follow by mid January. One Stripe, our old lady goat of seven years, will be first. She has developed her characteristic waddle and her udder is developing nicely. I need both hands back in action to begin milking her the day of delivery. I will milk her everyday and give the colostrum to the pigs, dog and cats. After five days, I will begin keeping it for us to drink, which we really look forward to.

Next in line is up for grabs. Back in the summer I turned Cricket in with the buck for breeding, wrote down the date and thought all was well. Later on, she spent the day by the gate with the buck indicating she was back in

heat, so I didn’t think she ‘took’. At that point we had decided to sell the buck and borrow one from Faith, which is what we are doing now. Well, Victor the borrowed buck,

Victor the borrowed buck

has now been here for 22 days and Cricket has yet to come in heat. So, is she pregnant and due in January? She is the only one what knows. She is also the only one I am milking once a day now. We only get about a pint, so it’s barely enough to keep the kefir going, another reason we look forward to new baby goats and an increasing milk supply once again. I didn’t keep Cricket’s summer breeding date so I can only guess a due date. If memory serves me correctly, which it often doesn’t, that’s why I write things down, she is due somewhere between One Stripe and Copper. We’ll see.

Next in line is Copper, one of One Stripe’s daughters. Copper is an old hand now at having babies and she looks very good. Her due date is January 11th. With two does back in full production we will soon have plenty of milk which is very good. We also need to replenish our reserve supply of frozen milk.

Besides having plenty of milk for us, another reason it will be very good is the expectation of having piglets sometime in the next month. That’s a guess anyway. We are estimating Liberty may be due around January 10th if we have an accurate breed date. That estimate could be anything but accurate, so we will just have to wait and let her tell us when the time comes. I figure after a few weeks the piglets will be more than happy to drink some goat milk, so it turns out to be very good timing. Right now the pigs are getting some of our old powdered milk in their daily ration. They will be happy to have goat milk instead.
 

 

Two of the pigs have turned up with greasy pig disease again. From all of my reading, this is caused by a staph infection that sets up in scrapes or scratches. It can be very contagious and it can spread all over their body, but it can also run it’s course and heal without medical intervention. According to the vet, staph bacteria is everywhere, in the soil, on the surface of most animals skin, etc., it just needs an avenue

to grow. With all of the briers and thorny plants in our pastures, the pigs are going to get scrapes and such as they graze and root around, so this looks like it may be a recurring event here. The first time they got it the vet came out and gave each of them a penicillin shot. We don’t want to repeat that performance on a regular basis so I did some research to see what we can do naturally. For now I have added dried minced garlic and yeast to their daily ration. The sulfur in the garlic is great for it’s anti-fungal and antibiotic properties. The yeast contains zinc which is good for the pigs immune system. I have found a book that I will be ordering about natural pig treatments to see what else I can learn.

We did some more bartering with Emmet and he took home all of our older hens and two young roosters that were causing too much commotion in the chicken house. We kept our older Buff Orpington rooster. He is calm, not aggressive toward us, calls the hens to eat and overall, has been a great rooster. This leaves us with 20 young hens, many of which are laying. There are two different ages of hens in this flock from the first two sets of eggs we incubated in the spring, so some of them are almost a month younger than the rest. We are getting 10 to 12 eggs a day for now and a few of them are getting to be good size along with the smaller pullet eggs.

There are about 40 more young chickens that will be ready to butcher in about two to three weeks if the surgeon releases me to do so. This chore will have to be completed around the healing of my right hand and the timing of the surgery on my left hand. It will be the same thing, trigger finger and ganglion cyst, so I will have another splint for a while at some point.

Life on the farm is good. Very good. It fills our days and our bellies. It seems with each passing day we talk to more and more people that see very hard times coming our way. There are pieces of the coming storm that some focus on, the economy, the terrorist activities, the racial hatred, the government, but most don’t consider the immensity of it all. It’s a huge complicated mess and there is no telling which way the avalanche will fall when it all lets go. I have talked to some older folks that know something is coming and they are afraid. Some of them hope to be gone before it gets really bad. Fear is a powerful thing. It can paralyze you or motivate you. Remember, even though it is the holiday season, it appears to become more important everyday to avoid crowds. And if that bus or truck every pulls up out front, don’t get on it. You never know what may await you at the end of that ride, but it will no longer be a life of your choosing.

There is still much to be done here. We can only pray we have it completed before the time comes. You might want to do the same.

Until next time – Fern

Barely Enough Milk

And it’s all our fault. Well, maybe partially our fault. We’ve been trying to have year round milk for several years now. This is the closest we’ve come so far, and if we make it this year, we will barely squeak by if we do. There are a number of factors that contribute to having year round milk, or not. Here is a run down of our situation this year.

We had four does in milk this year, starting in January, two experienced and in April two first fresheners. As a general rule a doe will not give full capacity milk the first year since her udder is developing. The second year will be a better indicator of full milk production for a particular animal.

Obviously, if you want to have year round milk, there have to be animals capable of producing at particular times of the year to meet your needs. We have tried to accomplish this by breeding at least two does in the summer to provide the ‘carry over’ milk during the winter. A lot of folks don’t like to milk in the winter. It’s cold, it requires more feed, and it means scheduled breeding and birthing twice a year instead of once. All of this has to be considered to see if it will fit the lifestyle you choose to live.

We attempted to breed two of our does in July. Yes, it’s hot then, but we’ve had animals breed then before, which resulted in surprise babies we weren’t planning. Our Nubian does originated in Africa and definitely prefer hot weather to cold, so summer breeding is not out of the question for them. Our July attempt didn’t work, so we tried again in August with success. One oldest doe, who is seven this year, bred and is due in January. We planned to breed a first freshener as well, but it didn’t take. We found this out three weeks later when she came back into heat. On a whim, we also bred our other older doe when she came into heat thinking we would have three does due in January and three due in April. What we ended up with is two experienced does pregnant, dried off and providing no milk, and two first fresheners not bred and providing very little milk.

These two first fresheners may be producing more milk than we are getting, though. The problem there is that they are still letting their seven month old kids nurse. Yes, I know, they should have been weaned months ago. The pasture we use to wean the kids has now turned into the pig pasture. The first set of kids we had in February were weaned there successfully. The second set of kids we had in April were there for one month, but then we had to get ready for the pigs and they took over the pasture. We crossed our fingers and put the kids in a pasture next to their mothers with an adjoining fence, but that didn’t work. The does let their kids nurse through the fence. We temporarily put the does in the pasture that now has the water storage tanks, but it wasn’t long enough to break that cycle of allowing the kids to nurse.

So, why are we getting barely enough milk? We ended up relying on two first fresheners that are still letting their kids nurse. Not a good choice on our part. We have already discussed successful weaning with the next kids that will be born in January. Now that we have become familiar with the pigs, the weaning kids will go back into that pasture with them. We will pen off the kids at night, with their own little barn and feed them there. In the mornings we will let them out to graze with the pigs. Training Liberty, our gilt, to go into a pen by herself to eat has worked out very well and gives me confidence that we can juggle pig and kid feeding just fine. I will feed the pigs first and get them situated, then feed the kids in their pen and close them off from the pigs. Then we won’t have to worry about competition for feed, housing or water between the kids and the pigs. That’s the theory for now anyway.

I hope to get these two first fresheners to provide enough milk to get us to about January 10th, which will be five days after the first doe is due to kid and the milk will be drinkable. The second doe’s milk will be ready for consumption around January 16th, which means we’ll have more than enough then. That may be perfect timing since we are guesstimating that Liberty may have piglets by then. Some of that extra milk, especially the first milk with colostrum, will be excellent food for Liberty and her babies. There are some things that work out just right.

There are always so many things to learn when raising livestock and trying to meet certain goals. Sometimes things work out just like you want them to, and sometimes they don’t. Speaking of barely enough, our 17 hens have been giving us around 5 eggs a day for a while now, which isn’t enough. We’ve had to buy eggs to fill in the gaps. Sometime this month our young hens should begin laying which will be great. After their production becomes enough to keep us in eggs, the older hens will fill up more jars on the shelf. It all usually works out in the end, one way or another.

Lessons learned, whether from successes or failures, are always valuable. The more we learn now while failure is still an option, the better off we will be. 

Until next time – Fern

Easter Is Here

Lady Bug decided to choose Easter Sunday to present us with a beautiful little doe. In keeping with the celebration of birth and new life the Easter season brings us, we decided that would be a great name for the last baby goat we had arriving here this spring. Please meet Easter.

Isn’t she beautiful? Goats come in many different sizes, shapes and colors, but this is one of our favorites. The only color she has besides a dark, soft red is the black on the front of her legs and the end of her tail.

Lady Bug did very well for a first freshener. Once she decided to have her baby, she did so without any assistance and without complaint. These short videos show the birth. We started weaning our older kids the day before, and you will hear them in the background. Some of them obviously aren’t happy to be separated from their mothers. The noise you hear, did not come from Lady Bug or Easter.




Lady Bug wasn’t sure what to think of Easter at first. She spent the first 10-15 minutes smelling and nuzzling the baby, but did not lick or clean her at all. I was beginning to become concerned, but after a while, her instincts kicked in and she made up for lost time. Since the weather was cloudy and cool, I used some towels to dry off and stimulate Easter while she was waiting for her mom’s instincts to start.

Easter arrived healthy, active and ready to eat. As I do for all of our newborn kids when I attend their birth, I helped Easter get her first meal shortly after Lady Bug stood up. Lady Bug has a good milk supply, nicely formed teats and udder for a first freshener and a great attitude. She is attentive to her baby and is exhibiting the signs of a great doe. We are very pleased. There has been something about Lady Bug that Frank has really liked, ever since she was born. That she has presented us with a beautiful, healthy doe her first time to give birth, has increased her value in our eyes. We look forward to watching the two of them grow, one kid into a doe, and one doe into a mother and milk producer.

Grace, a friend of ours who came over to see the newborn baby goats recently, told me something that has really stuck with us. As we all sat visiting and laughing in the barn while she was holding a soft, newborn baby goat she said, “You have a great life. You really do.” You know what? She’s right. And we give thanks each and every day for this wonderful life we’ve been blessed with. Is it perfect? Not even close. Does it have it’s frustrations, difficulties and challenges? Regularly. But it is truly a wonderful life.

 

Easter, the time of celebration, the time of rejoicing over an empty tomb and renewal of life. Easter, our little doe, will be a constant reminder of these blessings.

Until next time – Fern
 

It Was a Very Good Day

I guess I could say our day started at 2:00am when I went to the barn to check on Lady Bug to see if she was in labor. She wasn’t. It always takes a little while to get back to sleep after a nighttime trek to the barn. I intended to get up at 6:00am to check on her again, but I just couldn’t talk myself into it. We’ve been at this middle of the night routine for three nights now with no end in sight. It does wear me down. Anyway, I rolled out at 7:00am, got the milk buckets ready, enjoyed a swift cup of coffee and headed out to the barn and the morning.

One Stripe and Copper enjoyed their typical morning routine. Penny now likes to stand around and talk very loudly to anyone that will listen. I hope she becomes more content soon because she has an irritating voice, and she needs to turn the volume down. Especially in the morning. But this morning was especially noisy because once I finished milking One Stripe and Copper, I did not let their babies out of the baby pen. They remained there awaiting their move to the weaning pen.

Penny was next up on the milk stand and so far has been very cooperative. She was followed by Cricket who is doing well at day two post delivery. I have some concerns about her boy I will share in a few days after I see how things work out. Lady Bug got to eat in her birthing pen, the lone pregnant doe now. She is pretty interested in the other babies. 

After the milk was strained and breakfast was cooked I debated about starting a batch of bread and a batch of cheese. I’ve been waiting for Lady Bug to deliver so I won’t have to worry about cheese sitting in the pot too long, or not being able to work or bake the bread when needed. Today we decided we had been waiting long enough. The sourdough starter has been out on the cabinet being fed for at least a week in preparation to make bread, and the frig was overflowing with over five gallons of milk.

So I ground some wheat and stirred up the sourdough bread and set it to proof on top of the frig where it’s warm. Then we started a double batch of cheddar cheese using up four gallons of milk. One thing about cheddar, is it needs attention in frequent intervals all day long. It’s now set to press for 24 hours and will be ready to remove from the presses tomorrow evening to dry for a few days before it is waxed. This is our first cheddar of the season. It won’t be ready to eat until about the middle of July at the earliest, for a very mild cheddar flavor. 

Making cheese means washing all of those jars the milk was in.

And washing up the cheese press that hasn’t been used in a while.

After the cheese reached the point that we had about a 30 minute window, we went up to the barn and moved the babies into the weaning pen. There was still some commotion, but not a whole lot. We have weaned babies before that screamed and hollered for their mommas until they were so hoarse they didn’t hardly have a voice left. These guys were running around playing some of the time and didn’t seem to be very stressed, which is great.
 

Frank drilled a couple of holes in each of these so the rain would drain out.


Frank had a great epiphany recently about the garden. We have kept enough room between the garden and the house to drive around the house if we needed or wanted to. He was standing outside looking at something the other day and thought, why don’t we forget about driving around the house and expand the garden into that area? It will make the garden a third again as big and allow us to grow a whole lot more food for us and the animals. Great idea! We have been thinking about how to incorporate an ‘animal garden’ into one of the pastures, but we use them pretty regularly. We have four pastures that connect to the corral at the barn and right now there are goats in three of them. When we add pigs to the mix, that will use them even more. Frank’s idea of increasing the garden size where it is will give us another way of increasing food production now.
 

This green grassy area is now becoming part of the garden. 2014 picture


So with that in mind, as we were leaving the barn, Frank brought the tractor down to start tilling up the ‘new’ garden spot. Right off the bat the shear pin broke on the tiller. So we replaced it. He went back around to start tilling one end of the garden which is very, very rocky, and immediately broke the shear pin. So we replaced it. This time he started at the other end of the garden down by the herb bed. He made it the whole length of the garden back into the rocky area just fine. Then he turned around to come back down the other way and immediately broke the shear pin. That’s when he announced that he was finished with the tiller for the day. We still have at least one, but now we need to get some more shear pins.

While Frank was busy breaking shear pins instead of the soil, I was trying to get some manure tea started. There is a new piece of garden we have already tilled up in front of the herb bed where I planted turnips, spinach, lettuce and swiss chard. This area has not had all of the great barnyard, ashes and such added to it, so it is not very rich in nutrients compared to the garden. Some of the spinach leaves are turning yellow. I wanted to give this bed a boost, so I took a couple of five gallon buckets to the chicken house, collected a deposit of manure and hay, filled the buckets with water, put on the lids and set them out in the herb bed where I will be using them. I’ll let them steep for a number of days before I begin side dressing the plants with tea. I won’t water them directly with this tea because I don’t want to burn the plants. I will also give them some wood ashes we have saved in the ash can from the woodstove, and some whey. 

After about 35 years of mowing our lawn with a push mower, we finally broke down and got a riding mower, which is a pretty green color and runs like a deere. It arrived yesterday but we were too busy to do anything with it then, and it was trying to rain. Today after Frank returned the tractor to the barn, he brought the mower down to try it out. In the meantime, I’m in the house working the cheese again. When I got to the point that I had a few minutes to go outside, I tried out the mower as well. It’s interesting, and since we have never had one before, it’s different. I do like it though. It will make it easier to keep some areas from becoming a jungle and needing to be brush hogged with the tractor in the summer. So I played on the mower for a while. Then I went back in and worked the cheese. Then I mowed a little more, returned it to the barn, checked on Lady Bug who refuses to have babies, and went back to the house to work the cheese.

Now one of my goals today was to get some more things planted. I didn’t. It’s all still sitting there waiting on me with rain coming tonight and tomorrow, and a chance of more every day this week until Friday. But maybe I can still get a few things planted over the next few days if it doesn’t get too wet.


Since we are weaning the older babies that means I will now be milking One Stripe and Copper twice a day and getting two gallons of milk a day instead of one. That means every two days I will have enough milk to make a double batch of cheese. But I still need to get things planted…… And then when Penny, Cricket and Lady Bug’s kids, if she ever has them, are two weeks old and I start penning them up at night, we will get more like three gallons of milk a day. Am I sure I need or want to milk five goats every day? Hmm……something to think about. But before long we hope to get those pigs and they will be happy to drink milk or whey everyday.

The old way to store whey.


And speaking of whey. Frank had a great idea. In the past when we made cheese, we put the whey in old peanut butter jars and sat them on the floor in the kitchen. There is way too much to fit in the frig with all the milk coming in. We feed one jar to the dog and cats each day, and two jars to the chickens morning and evening. Frank recommended we get out the water bath canner and just put all of the whey in it and dip it out into a jar as we need it. Great idea. Simplifies things. If we get overrun with whey, I will use it to water some of the garden plants. They love it, too.

So, now the animals are fed and tucked into bed, the cheese is doing it’s thing in the press, the bread is baked and sampled, and this blog post is now written. It has been a very good day. We enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine, each other’s company, the quiet peace of a country life and the blessings that work brings. Peace, joy and contentment. We pray that the season of Easter, with the renewal of life, brings much joy and happiness to you and yours.

Until next time – Fern

The Saga of Penny’s Babies

The past few days have been very busy. You see, Penny, according to my obviously inaccurate estimations, was due to kid tomorrow, on Saturday. Instead, she and her kids decided this past Tuesday was to be the day. So we will start this saga that day and see if we can squeeze the events into one rather long post.

Tuesday morning when I went up to milk and feed the goats, I realized that Penny’s udder had really filled in the night. I had been checking to see how far her hips, or ligaments, had spread for a number of days. I told Frank the evening before that Penny really seemed to be almost wide open and I just didn’t see how she was keeping those babies in there. Well, it didn’t last much longer.


Tuesday was supposed to be a laid back day that allowed us to clean out the barn and get the birthing pens ready at a lolly gagger pace. Not to happen. I called Frank on the radio, remember we use them all the time. I told him that I didn’t think it would be long before Penny went into labor and that we needed to get the birthing pens set up. I asked him to scramble up some quick eggs for breakfast while I milked two does. His idea was better. Milk the goats, bring the milk down and start chilling it, then we would clean the barn and set up the pens before breakfast. Thus began the mad dash to prepare. Not our preferred mod of operation. We would have much preferred the lolly gagger pace. Anyway. I quickly completed the morning chores, took the milk to the house, filtered it and set it to chill in ice water, we woofed down a few bites of cottage cheese, and away we went. 

Frank fired up the tractor while I started in with the pitch fork. It was a surprisingly quick and thorough cleaning. Since Penny was not showing any signs of imminent birth, we went back to the house for a real meal and a cup of coffee. By this time we were hungry, I cooked up a big brunch of sausage and eggs hoping this would hold us for a while. We both knew this would turn out to be a long and busy day.

After we ate, I went back to check on Penny. She was out in the pasture grazing with the herd, showing no signs of labor, no discharge, nothing. She was talking a little which made me think she may be in the beginning stages, but that was all. So I left her grazing thinking this would be the last good exercise she had for a few days and that the new green growth would do her good.

We decided to go to the post office and buy gas. While we were at the gas station some folks from church called to let us know the bacon and sausage we ordered from the local ag class had come in and they were heading our way. So we waited at the little country convenience store, got our bacon and sausage, visited for a few minutes, then headed back home. The longest possible time we could have been gone was about 45 minutes, maybe an hour, but I don’t think so.


As we drove in past the pasture, I could see all of the goats except Penny. Uh-oh. I still had my radio with me, so as soon as we hit the house, I hoofed it up to the barn. As I topped the little hill where the barn sits, Penny saw me from the pasture and started hollering at me. Double uh-oh! I called Frank on the radio to let him know what I was seeing as I went through the barn and into the corral on my way out to the pasture. As I got closer I called him back and said, “We have babies! I need your help!” As I got even closer, I called back again and said, “We have twins!” 

Now, we have had does birth or begin birthing out in the pasture before. I usually pick up the baby or babies, hold them in front of the does nose, and she will follow them to the barn. Penny would have none of it. She paced and she hollered, and she paced and she hollered, but she was afraid of her babies and would have nothing to do with them. I know I called Frank on the radio again and reported the situation, but I have no idea what I said this time. He was busy trying to get the bacon and sausage in the freezer because he knew it would be a while before we would be back down to the house. He asked me to think of what we may need from the house for the birth. We had just about everything there except some towels, so he gathered them up and headed up to the barn.

In the meantime, I decided to take the babies to the barn, get them set up in the birthing pen, then go back for Penny. When I took the babies to the barn, the whole herd followed me there. That is, the whole herd except Penny. She stayed where she had given birth, hollering and pacing. She knew her scent and the scent of her babies was there and she wasn’t going to leave it. After I went back out to the pasture, it took me a while before I could catch her. One Stripe led the herd back out and helped me catch Penny by standing between us. Penny was comfortable enough with One Stripe, our old matriarch, that I could reach across and take Penny’s collar. It took some coaxing to get Penny to leave her birthing place, but when the herd came with us, she did much better.

Now I have her in the barn, in the pen with her babies. I quickly leave them alone hoping she would begin to lick and tend to them. She still frantically called and called, even though her babies were right there, she ignored them. Not a good sign. But she was quite agitated. So we put a brass double end clip on the side of the pen down low, clipped it to her collar, then placed her babies right under her nose, and left her alone. As she continued to fuss and call, her babies answered. She started to smell them, then after a few minutes started tentatively licking them. Thank you. I was relieved. After she showed serious interest in cleaning her babies, we unclipped her collar from the pen and let her finish the job. I’m sure you’re not surprised that there are no pictures of any of this process.

Now the next hurdle was for the babies to nurse, and to make sure Penny would let them nurse. I left them alone for quite some time since she was tending to them and I didn’t want to disturb that. Lucky for us the temperatures were right around 80* so I wasn’t too concerned about the kids getting chilled. Penny wasn’t real excited about letting the kids nurse, so we clipped her collar back to the side of the pen again. I put one kid under her nose, while I assisted the other one in getting that first meal. Once the first one was full, I traded them off and made sure the second one had a good meal. We also trimmed off the umbilical cords and sprayed them with 7% iodine somewhere around this time. Now, I could sit back and relax for a bit.

Faith came to see the babies. She plans to have her own goats soon.


Now for some reflection. What a surprise this birth was. Here is what we based our decisions on this day. Penny is a first freshener, meaning this is her first set of babies. Most, obviously not all, but most first timers take a while when they birth. Most pending births are indicated by the amniotic sack breaking and a long string of mucous type material hanging from the doe’s vulva. This is fairly standard. So, when I checked on Penny in the pasture before we went to the post office and she had no discharge, I figured it would still be at least a few hours before she gave birth. Now, we haven’t been able to see all of our goats birth over the years, but we have seen many. I don’t remember any of them having twins from start to finish in under an hour. Penny is definitely the exception when it comes to that observation. 

If I had known she would be giving birth in such a short period of time, I would have penned her up right after we finished cleaning the barn. No matter how much experience you have dealing with animals, there will always be an exception, or a difference that needs to be dealt with that you can learn from. Penny has been an interesting teacher for me this week.


After Penny calmed down and bonded with her sons, yes they were twin boys, she was very attentive, talked up a storm and just fussed over them for hours. She showed no signs of rejecting them, and they are healthy, vigorous and doing great. Since One Stripe and Copper have already provided us with boys named Breakfast and Lunch, we are calling Penny’s boys Dinner and Dessert. They will be banned and become wethers when they are about two weeks old.


We let Penny and the boys out with the herd this evening. First we penned up One Stripe and Copper’s babies in the baby pen for the night, so there weren’t any extra babies around to cause any confusion. And little do the older kids know, but they had their last drink of milk this evening. In the morning we will move them from the baby pen to the weaning pasture. They are now eight weeks old and their moms are ready for them to be weaned. So we will have new little babies in the barn with the herd, older babies in the weaning pasture, and the buck and older wethers in their pasture. We still have wethers that need to be butchered and had plans to put one in the freezer today, but there are only so many hours in the day, and there just weren’t enough of them today. 

Cricket had a son yesterday, but that story will have to wait for another time. I think I learned some important lessons from her as well, and I want to share them with you. Life is an interesting journey. There are many, many lessons to be learned. Some of them are even taught by a goat.

Until next time – Fern