Fern, the Pig Trainer

Just typing the title for this article makes me laugh. If you’ve been reading here for long, you’ve read that I hate pigs. I’m afraid of pigs. I want to raise pigs for food, but don’t like them at all. I’m just not a pig person. Or wasn’t until recently, as recent as May 15, 2015, five and a half short months ago.

May 19, 2015

Well, after we decided to add pigs to our homestead for the benefits they will provide after the SHTF, I decided it was time to change my tune. So I did. Now we have pigs, and they’re decent enough animals. I’m not afraid they’re going to bite me all the time anymore. I’ve realized that their behavior can be shaped, similar to any other animal, whether it is a dog, or a goat, or a pig.

I admit, I do pay more attention to Lance, the boar, and Liberty, our gilt, than I do the barrows, our future dinner. We plan on having Lance and Liberty around for a very long time, so we want them to be relatively tame and easy to work with. This is very similar to the way I treat the goats. I pay a whole lot more attention to the does and very little to the buck or wethers. It’s just the nature of things. American Guinea Hogs are smaller pigs, 150 to 250 pounds full grown, and known to be slow growers. We originally thought about butchering the barrows in December when they will be nine months old, but there is just not a lot of meat on them yet. For now, the plan is to wait until February or March when they will be close to a year old.


We still feed the pigs very little grain. They get scraps from the kitchen, stuff out of the pantry we don’t eat anymore, like macaroni or cereal, old powdered milk mixed with water or the liquid from a jar of green beans or squash. Stuff like that. In the morning they get two small green bean cans of dairy goat ration. We don’t by pig feed specifically for them. They graze to their hearts content in their one to two acre pasture, and appear to be healthy, happy pigs.

We have been asking folks questions about pigs, their health and behavior, since we have never raised them before. The consensus appears to be that Liberty looks pregnant, which is good. We are hoping she is, and have a rough guesstimate of a January 10thish due date. With that in mind, seeing how she is low pig on the pecking order, um, make that oinking order, I wanted to make sure she is getting enough to eat so not only can she feed her growing babies, but continue to grow herself since she is not an adult, or sow yet. Thus the title of this article.

Pigs are strong, quick, scrappy creatures. Once the feed is poured out in the pan, it’s every pig for themselves. Since we haven’t raised pigs before, I’m not real sure how to think like a pig yet, but I’m learning. Lance is the largest of the four and can easily move the others out of his way to get the most food. I noticed this a month or so ago and started feeding in two pans instead of one. This resulted in Lance eating out of one pan, while Liberty and the two barrows ate out of the other. I used this observation to try to develop a way to feed Liberty by herself.

I moved the feed pans over by the pen we have set up. If I could get Liberty to go into the pen to eat, I could shut the gate, let her eat, then when she was finished, let her out. First I tried feeding everyone in there and running the boys out. That definitely didn’t work. Then I tried feeding everyone right outside the pen in one pan, and trying to get Liberty to go into the pen to eat. That didn’t work. I ended up waiting for her to be on the pen side of the feed pan, they always go around in a circle as they eat trying to get to the ‘good stuff’. At first I kind of lifted Liberty’s front end by the shoulders and aiming her at the pan in the pen. This didn’t work for a day or two, then all of a sudden it did. Yea!


The next day, Liberty walked right into the pen and I shut the gate, fed the boys, but when I opened the gate to feed her, out she came, not to go back in. Humphf. Now what? Keep trying. I did the lifting by the shoulder thing for several more days. Sometimes she was willing to go in and eat, and sometimes she wasn’t. After about 10 days there was around a 60% success rate. Not bad for a novice pig trainer, I thought. I realized that if I put food in the pan closest to the pen, then in the pan farthest from the pen, Lance would go to the far pan and the others, including Liberty would stay closer to the pen. I stayed consistent in this routine for a few days and it worked.


For the last few days I have been pouring out some feed in pan #1 by the pen, then pan #2 for Lance, then pan #3 in Liberty’s pen. As I pour out Liberty’s feed, I tap the side of the bucket to draw her attention, then I walk out and pat her on the shoulders and tell her to come on. For three consecutive feedings it worked great. Then, this morning as I was tapping the side of the bucket, in walks Liberty to the pan at my feet and starts eating. Hallelujah!

Twirling barrows

At first Liberty was fussy and anxious when she finished eating and found herself penned up alone. Now she just talks to me as I come back to let her out. Once I open the gate she walks right up to me waiting for more food or a pat on the back. Now that we’ve reached this point, I’m hoping she continues to trust us a little more. It will be very interesting to see how birthing and raising piglets works out. The docile nature of this breed of pig is well documented. Most folks don’t even separate the sows and boars during, or after the piglets are born. Since Liberty is getting used to eating alone, I should be able to continue this routine while she is nursing, insuring adequate nutrition for her and the piglets, at least that is my theory for now. Again, we’ll just have to see how it all works out.

Fern, the pig trainer. I never thought in a million years I would ever be doing anything like this, or writing about it either, for that matter. Just goes to show that you never know what life will bring you. Sometimes it something that will increase your chance of survival, and in that case, it’s a gift for which I am truly thankful.

Until next time – Fern


This is not Liberty.

This is not Liberty either.

This is Liberty.

Doors….and More Doors

Guess what? We have a new door! 

This is a good description of how I feel about our new doors.

And tomorrow, we will have more doors…….

I’ll fill you in on these projects tomorrow evening. For now, we’re pooped. Frank and crew (I think I’ll start calling him Henry just to have a name) worked hard today on acquiring more supplies and the first installation. They worked out some of the bugs with this one.

Tomorrow they are going to cut a hole in the house. Isn’t that exciting? It is to me. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’ve been out of town in a training session all day and my brain needs a break. It’s almost time for chores, dinner and getting ready for more doors. Talk to you again soon.

Until next time – Fern

Books Are Amazing Tools

Some of this article was originally written on September 20, 2013, only four months after we started this blog and had a very small readership. I thought about doing a whole new article, then I thought about adding some things here and there to the original article, but what I’ve decided to do is use the old one as a base for a new article. We still use the books I talked about then, but now we have quite a few more as well. If you want to read the original unedited version, it is here, You Can NEVER Have Too Many Books.

I have been a reader all of my life and it’s true. You can never, never have too many books. I know, I know. What about your Kindle, or Nook, or iPhone, or laptop, or computer? What about when the power goes down, and stays down? What if you could never read an electronic version of anything again? We have bought ebooks, and now own a Kindle with a number of books on it. Quite some time ago we bought all of the past issues of Mother Earth News on CD and downloaded them on our computers, which has provided us a great wealth of information. Even if we had a solar panel system that would keep our computers charged and running, it would be a waste of energy to do so. Printed material is a necessity for information preservation and a tool that will prove invaluable when the internet goes down for good. I have to tell you, Frank and I will really, really miss the internet. It is a tremendous wealth of information, right at our fingertips. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be having this ‘conversation’ if it weren’t for the internet. We wouldn’t have ‘met’ you and been able to share information, ideas and experiences if it weren’t for the electronic super highway. And sad as it may seem, I do believe that one day information will be passed by word of mouth again for a long, long time. I wonder how many old type set printing presses will be available to create books if we come to the point of TEOTWAWKI? I would surmise not many. And so I would encourage you to obtain or maintain a print copy of the information you frequently use. 

Here is a glimpse of a wall in our living room. It is my favorite wall. Frank built this bookshelf just for me and I love it. After we put most of our books on it there was a lot of extra space, not anymore. Back then I told him, “You know what that means? We need more books!” So we got some, then some more and still some more. After a while, we had to have the floor leveled and  reinforced which was a worthwhile investment. By the way, this is the wall where most people would expect to see the big screen television. Not in our house. You will not find one television here. Computers, yes, televisions, no. An aside. We were listening to someone talking on the local repeater the other day, and this gentleman spoke of his seven televisions. SEVEN? Why in the world would anyone need SEVEN televisions? It’s beyond me to see any value in one, let alone seven. Okay, back to books.

A friend of mine, I have mentioned her several times, I told her the next time I mentioned her [back in 2013] I was going to give her a pseudonym. 

Grace, for by the grace of God we met and have become friends. Grace has laughed and told me I am her only friend that has a ‘bug book’. We have talked many times about needing to know how to do things for ourselves in the case of a collapse or downturn in the quality of life in our country. When she has asked me about a variety of

topics, my answer is often, get a book about it. We have been trying to stock our library with many useful reference books over the past few years and continue to do so to this day. By the way, you can never have too many Bibles.

These two belonged to my mother when she was a young woman.

Patrice Lewis at Rural Revolution recently [September 18, 2013] reminded us in, A project’s that never done, that having our important information on an electronic device may not always be a dependable medium. She has printed out and organized her important information so it will not be lost if she can no longer access it on her computer or online. It is still a great idea.

We would like to share some of the many books we use as resources, and some we have read for knowledge and ideas, as well as entertainment. Here are some of our favorites by category and in no particular order.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Gardening

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible – great general information

The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – We have a very old version that is literally falling apart at the seams. Tons of great, fairly detailed information.

Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver – Good book. All kinds of plant and pest information.

Carrots Love Tomatoes has taught me a great deal about companion planting. I have changed my garden planting patterns with the help of this book.

The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control is my favorite bug book and the one Grace was talking about.

The Seed-Starter’s Handbook is not only good at helping me get my seeds started, I use it for information on how to save seeds as well. It is an old book (1978), but one of my favorites. 
The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food is one  from Backwoods Home.

I have several new and old reference books I use as well. I have begun keeping my annual garden ‘map’ of where I plant things in a binder to make sure I rotate crops and don’t plant a new crop where it will not thrive because of the last occupant.

Recently Leigh from 5 Acres & A Dream wrote an article about the book One Straw Revolution and how she was trying to increase her food production year round. Frank read this book before we were married. His copy is dated 1978. 


Leigh has also written a book about the adventure she and her husband have had in the process of developing a homestead titled, 5 Acres & A Dream The Book.

There are so many different resources that can be used in many different ways to increase food production. That’s what we’re trying to do with the greenhouse, so I will be revisiting the three books that we have dealing with year round food and greenhouse production, The Winter Harvest Handbook, Backyard Winter Gardening and Gardening in Your Greenhouse.


Food Preservation

Stocking Up – the old and new version. This is a great book. It covers canning, freezing, drying and storing. It has things other books don’t. By the way, all of the recipes use honey, no sugar in this book.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a book I use every time I can something.

I have half a dozen other canning books including Jackie Clay’s book Growing and Canning Your Own Food. It is a great book and full of a lot of information besides canning and preserving.

A book I have had for a while and just started using [now I use it each time] with my dehydrator is Making and Using Dried Foods. After I bought the dehydrator, I was surprised that it didn’t come with more instructions. Then I got to thinking…… don’t I have a book about that? Sure enough, I did.

Another new adventure we have embarked on is making and eating fermented foods. This, of course, has necessitated a few more books. Do you get the feeling that I really love books? Yep. I really do. Some of the ‘same’ recipes in these books are quite different which I find very interesting. A little confusing sometimes when I’m trying to learn something new, but interesting never the less. Here they are: How to Ferment Vegetables, Real Food Fermentation, Making Sauerkraut, and Wild Fermentation.

Along the same lines of fermenting foods, we have added sourdough to our menu since the first writing of this article. The first few sourdough cookbooks I bought were a disappointment to me since they dealt mostly with fancy, elegant breads. This book, Baking with Natural Yeast has just the recipes and ideas for me.

Two more books that I have not put to good use yet, but I’m glad we have them are Apple Cider Vinegar and Vinegar. I finally found a recipe for simple, plain vinegar.

Cheese Making

I have several books, but the only one I have ever used is Mary Jane Toth’s  Goats Produce Too! The Udder Real Thing. I have found recipes that work great for chevre, mozzarella and cheddar in this book and still haven’t tried any of the others. I will be branching out and trying a different cottage cheese recipe before long, though, and I’ll let you know which book it comes out of.



Our book collection about herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes started many years ago. This is a mixture of old and new that I use most often now. The Herbal Antibiotics book is from Backwoods Home

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies both have a great deal of information about how to use plants medicinally, but little to none about how to grow and harvest them.

One of my older books Growing and Using Healing Herbs has great information about planting, harvesting, preserving and using herbs.

But the best one I found for information about growing and harvesting herbs is Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. 

When I was researching sources of perennial vegetables that I could get established here I ran across Perennial Vegetables, which has proven to be a good resource.

Here are two new medicinal herb books we have added to our collection, Healing Herbs and The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook. I like to compare notes between all of the different books if I am researching a new way to use an herb, or looking for a remedy.



When we got our first Great Pyrenees to guard our goats, we wanted to make sure it was a successful venture. We had read enough to know that training a livestock guardian is not like training the Labrador Retrievers we used to raise. We found that Livestock Protection Dogs gave us very valuable information, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have kept Pearl. She has a very different temperament, and has turned out to be an excellent dog.

We have a number of books about goats, which I call my goat book collection. If something comes up, like an abscess, I look in all of my books and compare the information I find. I feel much better informed this way because not all authors have the same opinions or give the same advice for a particular situation.

All About Goats has some good basic information.

Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats is a good beginners book with fairly thorough information.

Raising Milk Goats Successfully and How To Raise Dairy Goats are very similar and have good basic information.

Natural Goat Care is by far my favorite book. It raised my learning curve on the natural needs and health of goats. I would highly recommend it.

We have other reference books for animals which include The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable and The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats. I have begun to use the Farm and Stable book a little more, when researching natural solutions to our animals needs.

Now that we’ve added pigs to the homestead, we’ve also added pig books. So far, these are our two references, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs and Free Range Pig Farming, along with another one we have on our Kindle called Raising Pastured Pigs.


Resource Books

We have a variety of books that we have not and may not ever use. They are for references when and if the need ever arises for the topics they cover, such as, establishing a black smith shop, how to train oxen, small scale grain raising, cooking on a wood stove, building small tools or equipment, and more. 

Grace and I have been doing some bartering for eggs [until she got her own chickens]. One of the things she brought was this Chicken Health Handbook which is another good reference book. Books that will add to your peace of mind are also an important part of a good library. The Simplicity Primer from Patrice Lewis is one of many. We read the Little House on the Prairie series last summer [2012]. They are a great resource of information for living without electricity and growing or raising what you eat, or how to do without. There are many books that can help us in our quest to learn how to do things without the help of all of the modern conveniences. I was able to acquire an old set of Cyclopedias. I didn’t even know cyclopedia was a word until I saw these books that were published in 1913. I have looked through some of them, but haven’t sat down and read through any of them.

One thing I ran across dealt with why a war had started. I wonder if the perspective of someone from that time is different from the prevailing opinions of today. Why did I bring these books home? They may be a good resource for how to do things without all of the modern conveniences we are accustomed to these days.



So, to go back to the [original] title I truly do believe you can never have too many books. Printed information may one day be in very short supply. Electronic media may one day be a thing of the past. As memories age, they don’t keep details stored as well either. I have felt a strong need to include a plethora of books as a very important part of our preparations. 

We have even stored more than one copy of some books to share with others if the opportunity arises. Books such as James Wesley Rawles How To Survive The End Of The World As We Know It and The Ball Book of Complete Home Preserving. James Wesley Rawles’ book is what got Frank started in radio. It was the first place he read about MURS radio frequencies. You never know when that little bit of information can revolutionize a person’s perspective and greatly increase their ability to be self-sufficient and provide for their families.

Frank has added a number of books on radio communications, along with some programming discs to our bookcase collections.

We have a small, older collection of children’s readers. As a teacher these books appealed to me. Now I see them as resources when we no longer have schools for children to attend. 

There are several survival/preparedness novel series we have read over the last few years that we have not only enjoyed, but learned from as well. A. American has an interesting series that starts out with an EMP and a long trip home to family. Glen Tate has the 199 Days series that begins with the drive to prepare for the collapse of society and ends with rebuilding a portion of the country. It’s a very interesting series that gives you some things to think about along the way.

We have a number of medical resource books on our shelves. We truly hope there does not come a day when we will need to rely on ourselves, the knowledge we have and the information found in these books. But if we do, I know we will be extremely grateful they are here.

And to top it off, two of these references were a recent gift. You can’t beat that.


The printed word may be a very valuable commodity in the days, weeks, months and years to come. When a society depends upon something as fragile as a bunch of ‘0’s and ‘1’s to maintain  the vast wealth of knowledge we have come to expect to be accessible at our fingertips, they are bound to be disappointed. Sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes for up to a minute, or even a few minutes. What will happen when we no longer have access to electronic data? Period? So much knowledge will be lost and probably lost for good. If there is something you truly value and want to insure your accessibility to it in the future, get it in writing. Something you can hold in your hand. Yes, there are some disasters that will even take your books from you, and we can’t insure against all possibilities, but we can at least try. And besides all that, I love books!

Until next time – Fern

The Ease of Training First Fresheners to Milk

I know the title of this article made some folks laugh. Especially those that have had the pleasure of training goats to milk. Sometimes it can be difficult at best, if not downright unbearable. I have a good friend that

milked a goat for several years and had to hobble her goat every time, even after a couple of years. That, I would find unbearable. We have always had Nubian milk goats, so I am not familiar with the personalities and idiosyncrasies of any other breed. We did raise a Boer goat once, and her baby, but they were a much more aggressive breed and did not fit in with our preferences in livestock. So we ate them. That is typically what happens to chickens and goats that don’t settle in and find their place in the scheme of things. Now we usually sell the does that just don’t work out, but we do it with full disclosure of why we are selling them to all potential buyers. The friend that had to hobble her goat bought Ivory, our screamer, back in the fall, knowing full well how loud her vocal cords could be. We had a laugh about it on the phone the other day. I guess she still hollers every time my friend goes outside, but is supposedly settling down some.

Back to training first fresheners. I commented to Frank the other day about how incredibly easy my three young does have been to milk this year. It has really surprised me. He told me it probably

Faith and one of Penny’s newborn babies

had something to do with my experience, and that after you do something for a long time you figure out how to work out the kinks. That was interesting, and got me to thinking. Why has it been so easy this year, and what can I pass along to others who are just getting started, or are having a hard time? I have also been giving our friend, Faith, milking lessons. You know, you’ve heard of piano lessons, painting lessons, driving lessons, and even cooking lessons, but it’s kind of weird to think of milking lessons. That has also made me stop and think about all of the little steps that have become an automatic part of my daily routine. I’ve been giving milking lessons because Penny, her two boys, and Copper’s girl, Buttons, who is Penny’s sister, will soon be going to Faith’s house.

This story starts back in 2010 when I first began milking here on this homestead. We had two does that I milked for a year or two back in the late 1990’s before we moved to Alaska, but I really don’t remember much about any techniques I used back then. When I started milking in 2010, we had 11 does. I know I didn’t train them all, because we sold some of them that spring after the babies were born. Some we sold with babies by their side and others individually. I think I trained five of them then, but I can’t be sure. I remember being so nervous, trying to make the goats happy and

The girls of 2010

stand still without putting their foot in the bucket and ruining the milk. I remember being frustrated and impatient with their noncompliant behavior. I remember trying to coax, then coerce, then force the behavior I was wanting and expecting. I remember some rather nervous does, because they weren’t real sure how I would be acting at a given time. I remember thinking I would never get a handle on how to get milk out of a teat without squirting it all over me, the doe, the milk stand, the ground, anywhere but inside the bucket. I remember fighting with Katy because she hated, really hated, having teat dip applied after I finished milking….for years. I finally started lifting her right hind leg way up by her hip so she couldn’t jump around while I applied the teat dip. It was much easier on me and quicker, too. I remember being on the last goat, almost finished, when she kicked the bucket over and spilled the milk from three goats, or stuck her foot in it and ruined the whole bucket full. I remember how good that first, fresh, raw milk tasted, too. It was wonderful!

I think the things I remember will bring a smile to your face if you’ve ever tried to train a goat to milk. If you are planning to train a milk goat, don’t be discouraged. It does get better. If you never have goats, I hope this is an interesting story.

The first challenge I had was how to get the goat on the milk stand. We have collars on all of the goats. If you take a goat by the collar and it tightens, even gently, under their chin on the neck, they will choke, very easily. At first, I worried about that, until I realized it doesn’t hurt them. I tried many, many things to get goats to

Copper, 2013

cooperate and willingly get on the milk stand….like they do now. I now start out bringing the young does in on the milk stand when they are young. I start around six months of age, usually not long after they have bred. It doesn’t happen everyday, but with gradual, occasional experience, the does begin to realize that coming into the barn and climbing on the milk stand will provide the rewards of a meal and a back scratch. Initially, I try coaxing the doe onto the stand voluntarily using a bowl of feed. I explained this technique when Copper was young, here. She has now had her second set of kids and gets on the stand with ease. She launches herself up from the side foregoing the steps everyone else uses. There have been a few times she slid when she landed on the stand, which caused her to fall. She was skittish for a few days, but then once again started launching herself on the stand.

With my first does, I didn’t start bringing them in to the milk stand until right after they had their first babies. This added one more thing to the list of new things these young mothers had to adjust to. They had just had

babies, they were sore, some of them were afraid of their babies and still didn’t have the nursing thing down, and now I’m taking them by the collar and bringing them to an unfamiliar place, trying to get them to step up on this platform thing while slightly choking from having their collar pulled on. Sound like fun? It didn’t work very well at all. This was the time of frustration for me and the goat. Now that I have started training the does to the stand well before they give birth, they are more than happy to come in and get on the stand for a meal. They already know what to expect, and I barely need to lead them at all. That takes care of the first hurdle. 

Next is the process of milking. Since I handled the does more and more as they come in on the stand, they didn’t even flinch when I started milking them the day after they gave birth. That was great! I could go into another one of those I remember stories, but I won’t. Lots of handling of the udder,

the belly area, scratching and patting, makes the goat more trusting of your care and handling. Use a firm, not timid hand, to maneuver a goat into the position you want them to be in. Penny tends to stand right on the outside edge of the stand. If she took one step to the right, she would fall right off. When you go to push her back towards the left side of the stand, which has a railing to keep her from falling off that side, she leans into your hand, making her even more off balance. At first I tried to slowly gently, get her to take a step to the left, only to have her really lean into me. That didn’t work, so now, I firmly and quickly push her, making her take a step or two to the left, and quickly remove my hands, causing her to regain her balance right where I want her. And since Penny is going to Faith’s house, she has practiced this as well.

Now that we have the goat on the milk stand happily eating, it’s time to wash the udder, squirt that first stream of milk into the strip cup and begin to milk. I’ve explained here the process we use along with our equipment, so I won’t go over that again. If you’ve never milked an animal, it can be difficult to ‘capture’ the milk in the teat so you can squirt it into the bucket instead of allowing it to escape back into the udder. There is a simple, yet

specific technique for this process that I cannot describe in words. You can get a standard, disposable medical glove, poke a tiny pin hole in the end of one finger, tie off the other fingers in a knot, fill it with water and practice ‘milking’. When I first started milking I was working so hard at it that I didn’t realize that the milk was squirting back into the udder instead of coming out into my bucket. Then I began to feel the milk going back up through my hand as I squeezed, kind of bubbly like. That’s when I realized that I had to have a good closure with my thumb and index finger to trap the milk in the teat before I squeezed with the rest of my hand. Even with a slow motion movie, this technique is hard to understand without trying it.

I remember trying to milk fast enough that I was finished before the doe finished her meal. That never happened in the beginning. Some of the

more docile does would turn around and look at me, and kind of nudge me on the arm with their head. Others would start kicking and dancing, even jumping both rear legs into the air as I continued to try to get that closure, squeeze and squirt technique perfected. Inevitably, some of those dancing feet ended up in the bucket, ruining the milk. Even now, when I have a definite rhythm to my milking, and am much faster, I don’t always finish before my first fresheners. We are now at one week since I started penning their babies up at night, so they have very full udders in the morning. 

I have found there is a honeymoon period when training all goats, with some it may last a few seconds and with others it may last a few weeks. But then, really, there are others that never give you a break from the first time you try to do anything with them. At first everything is kind of new and the goat seems a little oblivious to the whole milking process. Then after a few days, or even a few

They learn quickly where they are in the line up and when it is their turn.

weeks, they seem to wake up and think, “Hey, what are you doing?” and they begin to dance around or even kick a little. If the season has warmed enough for the flies to be out, that is a whole different issue. Goats hate flies on their legs anytime and will have to learn to raise their leg, stomp and knock off the flies, without hitting the bucket. Sound realistic? It does happen, but it takes a while. In time you will be able to read the body language of your goat. If they start to shift their weight on their back legs, it usually means they are getting ready to lift a leg or foot. I always milk with one hand and keep the other hand on the bucket just in case I need to move it quickly out of the way.

During Faith’s last milking lesson, I was talking a lot and not quite keeping up with my normal routine, so Cricket finished eating before I was finished milking. She decided since she was finished, I should be too. This is very typical. If you are a new milker, this is an area where you will have to establish who is boss. It doesn’t need to be in a mean way, but it does have to be in a very firm way. Most people use a head stanchion to hold their goats in place while they milk, so the goat can’t turn around or try to get off of the stand like mine do. If a goat gives me too much trouble, I will clip them to the fence with a leash. It works fine for me, but it’s different than most folks set up. I said this above, but I’ll say it again because I think it’s important to know. Most young does will go through an initial honeymoon period, but then almost always go through an onery or rebellious stage when they decide that it’s time for you to stop milking or else! They will kick at the bucket, try to bring all of their feet in close together to crowd you and the bucket out of the way, or even jump both back feet in the air at the same time, many times landing in the bucket if you’re not quick enough to pull it out of the way. Anytime they decide it is time to stop, even if I’m just about finished, I always continue to milking just a little bit longer to make them realize that I will stop when I am finished, not when they want me to. When I first started milking and this would happen, I would stop. I was unsure of myself and lacked the confidence I have now. These does would get worse and worse in their behavior, wanting me to quit earlier and earlier, or not milk all together. It’s kind of like a kid throwing a fit and getting their way. If it works once, it should work again. So I did myself a big favor, and learned to keep milking, even if all of the milk got spilled or kicked or both feet landed in it. I milked until I was finished. Period. Once I had retaught my does the correct behavior, instead of the behavior I had allowed to develop, things went much smoother. But it never went as smoothly with those goats that had to relearn correct behavior, as it has with those that never learned the wrong behavior to begin with.

And speaking of feet landing in the bucket. After ruining several almost full buckets of milk, I started bringing an extra bucket with me to the barn. I would milk one goat, pour her milk into the extra bucket, then milk the next goat. That way if a foot landed in the milk, it only ruined that one batch and not all of the milk. That saved a lot of milk as I was in the learning process. Any milk that was ruined by an errant foot was always set aside for the dog, cats and chickens.

While I was writing this article I called the friend that bought our screamer goat. I’m going to call her Hope. I told her I was writing about her and

the screamer, and we had a good laugh. Hope has milked both cows and goats for a number of years, so I asked her what she thought was the most important thing in training a first freshener. She has two of them that just had babies. Hope said that bringing the does in on the milk stand and handling them for several months before they kid is the most beneficial thing that you can do. She brings hers in and handles them all over, mimicking the act of milking each time. She has started milking her first young doe just a few days ago, and things are going very well. 

If you have any other techniques you use, or advice for the novice or veteran milker, please share them in the comment section. If you are new to milking or will be, and have questions, please share them as well. There are as many ways to milk as there are people, of that I am sure. I only milk with one hand at a time, due to my arthritis. I trade off hands and teats as each hand gets tired, so it probably takes me longer to milk than some. While I was in the barn this morning, milking our five does, I was trying

to estimate how many squeezes it took to milk them all. My first guess was about 300 to 500. Boy was I wrong! On the last doe I began to count how many times I squeezed each teat before I traded hands. That came to 50. Then I counted how many times I traded hands. The total came to just under 500 squeezes for the entire milking. 500! That really surprised me. And the last goat was a first freshener that isn’t up to full production, so I figure there are about 2500 to 3000 squeezes for a morning milking session for me. That doesn’t include milking the does again in the evening whose babies are being weaned. So, if you’re getting ready to start milking, you will be surprised at how much stronger your hands and forearms will get after a time.

Now that the screamer has gone to live with Hope, things are quieter, usually. Five goats are a few too many to milk each day, so before long Penny will be going to Faith’s house, and we will probably let One Stripe

dry up. She is seven years old now and still has strong healthy babies, but she isn’t producing as much milk this year as she has in the past. I plan to breed One Stripe and Cricket in July for December babies. This will give us a good milk supply through the winter. Then Copper, Lady Bug, Patch and Easter will be bred in November for April babies. Even with Penny gone and One Stripe not in milk, Copper, Lady Bug and Cricket will give us plenty of milk for drinking, making cheese, butter and feeding our kefir, dog, cats, chickens and pigs. We feed the whey from cheese making to the animals, and if there is too much of that, we use it to water the plants in the garden.

I really love my goats. I enjoy spending time milking them, training them and have really bonded with them, especially One Stripe, my old lady goat. Copper is her daughter, and she has a special place in my heart as well. We are also keeping One Stripe’s daughter Patch, who is already a very sweet, tame little doe. Not only do I simply get great pleasure from working with the goats, they perform their function very nicely by providing us with meat, milk, butter, whey and cheese. I hope this story has been entertaining, educational and useful. I will leave you with a rerun of a short video from The Sounds of a Peaceful Morning Milking.

Until next time – Fern

The Sounds of a Peaceful Morning Milking

I’ve told you before how much I enjoy milking in the mornings. Listening to the birds, the goats, and just watching the world wake up for the day. Well, recently I took the camera with me and recorded a few more short videos. Just for you. So, without further ado, A Peaceful Morning Milking.

You will notice a metalic kind of sound in this video. I have just begun to milk, and the bucket is empty. Copper fusses at me every morning because she has to wait and be second in line. She just doesn’t see any reason she should have to wait for her mother, One Stripe, to be milked first. If you milk more than one doe, and are consistent with your line up, you will find that they figure out their place in line, although at first the goats new to the milking routine will try to cut line. 

Now the sounds of milking have changed and Copper is on the stand. I was surprised at how well the sounds came out while taking these videos with my camera. Interesting. By the time I am about half way through milking Copper, the babies start to get restless because they know that they will get to have breakfast soon.

This was the first morning I noticed one of the kids up on their ‘dog house’ playing. This was originally our Great Pyrenees, Pearl’s, doghouse when she was a puppy. Now we use it for the kids when we pen them up away from their moms at night. The first fresheners are still fussing at me because I didn’t feed them out in the feed trough like I do on most mornings. This morning, I brought them in on the milk stand to eat individually. I have been doing this off and on for a few weeks now.

This video shows the kids ‘escaping’ the pen for breakfast. It’s a little shaky here and there, but shows you the routine.

Now I have Lady Bug on the stand and I’m showing you how I feel the babies kicking. You can usually, but not always, feel the babies moving around when the does are about three months into their gestation. At first the babies are higher up on the side and up closer to the rib cage. Since all of the young does are due next week, their babies have dropped down and moved back closer to the udder. All of their tail bone ligaments are very loose, and their udders are growing out nicely. I handle the does a lot when they are on the stand. I want them to be comfortable so when it comes time to be milked, that will be the only new thing added to this routine. I show you how I get them comfortable standing with a little wider stance. This gives more room for the milk bucket and for me to comfortably reach their teats to milk. It is a matter of patience and repetition. After a while they will be comfortable and not resist the repositioning of their leg. 

This is Cricket. Here I show you how much I handle the does. At first they kind of cringe with all of this attention since they are a little skittish about being on the stand at all. But by this time they know they will get to eat while I mess with them. I’ve also trimmed their hooves once since I started bringing them in. It’s much easier for me to have the milk stand hold the goat, and I don’t have to bend over as much making it easier on my back.

Now for the switch over. I will take Cricket out and let Penny in. Penny is the most hesitant to come in to the stand, so sometimes I have to bring her in, but she’s doing better. At first when these young does left the stand they were kind of lost and didn’t know which way to go, but now they have figured it out for the most part. Penny is also like her mother, Copper. She will usually come in, turn in a circle, then jump up on the stand. It’s funny how that runs in families.

I had to find an application to shorten the videos I had originally taken before Blogger would upload them. First I had to learn how to do the video on my camera, now I am having to learn how to alter them to fit into the blog format. You know, if we had never started this blog, we wouldn’t have bought a new camera a year ago, and I wouldn’t be learning any of this stuff. So, thank you for encouraging us in our blogging endeavors. We continue to learn much all of the time.

As I try to think of the things we do and have learned about goats so I can share them with you, it helps me to really think through everything. I guess that can go for just about anything we do. We have felt all along that the purpose of this blog is to share what we have learned so that it might benefit others in some way. I hope that is the case.

Until next time – Fern

Ivory’s Kids & More Goat Lore

Ivory had her babies the day after Copper. She is continuing in her mother’s footsteps of waiting until the 155th day after breeding before she kids. It is interesting to know some of the patterns of our animals. It makes our stewardship more effective and informed.

Ivory, March 6th, 153 days

One Stripe typically has her babies 150 days after breeding, which is the average gestation for goats. This year when Copper, One Stripe’s daughter, had her first kids, she freshened at 150 days on the nose. Ivory’s mother, Katy, typically freshened at 155 days except for the year she had quadruplets, then she gave birth at 153 days. Now, Ivory has had her second set of kids and both years she freshened at 155 days. I find this to be very interesting, useful information.

Ivory’s mom, Katy, March 2013

Last year Ivory had twins, a buck and a doe, with no problems and was an excellent mom, so I wasn’t real worried about her performance this year. She lived up to my expectations, had her babies without any assistance or trouble, cleaned them up, talked to them constantly and made sure they were well fed. She is a very productive doe. Her only flaws are yelling at the top of her lungs when we walk in the barn and butting the other does on occasion. We have debated off and on about selling her.

March 8th

This year Ivory has given us two beautiful replacement does. This may make it easier to sell her come fall. We will use her milk, along with One Stripe’s and Copper’s to make our supply of cheese this summer. After we have all we need for the year, we may go ahead and sell Ivory around August. This will give us five does since we are keeping Copper’s doe, Penny, and Ivory’s girls, Cricket and Lady Bug. This will be plenty of breeding stock for us and more than enough milk production for next year.

Ivory, Lady Bug, Pearl and Cricket

Next year there will be three young does to to train to milk. This year Copper was the only doe that I needed to train and, thanks to how tame she was to begin with, this has not taken hardly any work at all. I will do another post on milking a newly trained goat before long. Over time, if you ever get this opportunity, you will learn little tricks that can make a big difference, kind of like the hints Frank has given about hatching and raising baby chicks. Experience really is the best teacher and I learn more everyday. I will never be through learning or know everything there is about anything. Take your comments, for instance. This is a new source of information that I have found to be very valuable.

Right after the baby goats are born, they will walk right up to you with no fear. When they approach about a four to five days old, they develop the instinct to be afraid of things that are bigger or above them and will flinch or try to get away from you. After they reach about ten days to two weeks old and are more steady on their feet and more confident in their ability to move around and get away, they become curious. It really helps to have tame, manageable does. This is the best way to have easy to handle kids. Velvet’s boys now run around us and try to jump up on our legs. They are very tame and easy to handle. Copper and Ivory’s kids are just now starting to come up and smell our legs or hands, but if we bend over too quickly to pet them, they are off and running. It won’t be long before they will be tame and easy to pet and work with as well.

One Stripe and one of her adopted boys

Pearl, our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian, is the greatest babysitter we have. She has the patience of Job when it comes to these baby goats. And they just love her. Her laid back, gentle nature also contributes to the overall calm atmosphere at the barn with our goats.

Time is the best teacher when it comes to raising livestock. We have researched and read for many, many years. Working with, raising, butchering and learning to cull according to our long term goals are all things that have come with time. When we first began raising goats, I didn’t know much about udders – which ones were good, which ones were bad, what is a good attachment and shape, which ones produces more milk or were easier to milk. There was so much to know and I could only learn so much from reading. The real learning came when I started milking every day and trying to train goats to be milked. I have made my fair share of mistakes,  and will make more in the future, but I have learned in the process. 

Stay tuned. There is more lore to explore. 

Until next time – Fern

Goat Q & A

There have been some good questions and comments about milk goats that we wanted to combine into an article. We hope these answers will help out, or at least give some food for thought. 

From Mrs. T over at Redeeming the Time: I am hoping that dairy goats and cheese making will be in my future next year. We have a good friend nearby who raises dairy goats, so we may be able to purchase some in the spring. It looks like you milk them all by hand, rather than machine, true? If so, how long does it take you? I am willing to hand milk one or two does, but I’m not sure if I can handle more than that.

Fern: Yes, I milk by hand. The time it takes to milk a goat varies. It depends on the size of the udder, the size of the teat, how much milk you get with each squeeze, and the experience of the milker. I find that I am much faster than I was the first year I milked. It’s like driving, after a while it kind of becomes second nature, but it takes a while to get there. On average, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to milk a doe that is in full milk production. If I milk before I go to work, I don’t take my time. After work is another story. I can easily take an extra 15 minutes because I am not on a deadline. For maximum milk production you need to milk twice a day. But, you can also milk once a day and get less than maximum. A lot depends on you and your personality, and the personality of the goat.

From Mrs. T: I know that secure fencing is very important to contain goats. Could you please explain what type of fencing you use? Also, how many bales of hay do they go through in a winter? Forgive me for all the questions. In my part of Canada, they would be on hay from October to May, I believe. We harvested 21 round bales of hay (5 ft. diameter) from our few acres of pasture. Ideally, we would like to produce all of their food right here on our homestead, but I’m not sure how many goats that would feed. Thank you for your patience with my questions! 

Fern: Fencing is very important. We don’t have any problems with our goats getting out and that is due to good fences and plenty of pasture to graze. We use field fence that looks like this (some people call it by different names). It is a woven mesh. We also put a strand of barbed wire on the ground to discourage animals (like dogs) from digging under the fence, and two strands of barbed wire across the top (shown in the picture) to discourage animals from going over the fence (like dogs or our goats). 

Something to consider. A couple of years back we decided to let our goats grow horns because it is more natural and they can protect themselves better. Well, there are two trains of thought here – goats with horns, goats without horns. Even if an animal is not doing anything malicious, it can still turn it’s head quickly, jump upwards when it is scared, and easily result in a serious human

injury. Second, goats with horns have a tendency to get their heads stuck in the fence. You know the old saying, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?’ Well, that is true. We have never lost an animal because it’s head was stuck in the fence, but it could easily happen. So, now we burn all baby goats horn buds. It is a disgusting and revolting procedure, but one that we feel needs to be done. So our answer to the question, horns or not horns? We are a not horn place. But they do make great handles.

The amount of hay you would use in Canada would be vastly different than how much we use in southeastern Oklahoma. It is much colder there and your animals would have different dietary requirements just to keep warm, so I do not have any valid information for you on that question. Maybe there will be some readers from up north that can help you out. Also, ask your neighbor that has the goats how much they use. We use hay primarily for bedding. On those extended periods when it seems to rain everyday, the goats do not like to forage in the rain. Then we do put out hay in a manger in the barn. 

We know someday there is the possibility that commercial grains will not be available. We have been experimenting with other crops that livestock animals used to eat before the introduction of mechanized farming. We have and are experimenting with rutabagas, beets, turnips, carrots and these types of crops. Rutabagas and turnips at one time were the primary source of feed for livestock in this country. We have a neighbor that grows turnips in his pastures. He rotates his cows through these pastures when the turnip greens are ready to be harvested, in this case, the cows do the harvesting. He uses this method in place of hay. There is always something new to learn. There are commercial varieties of rutabagas and beets that are not used for human consumption, but for livestock feed. Cool, huh?

One thing we do for winter forage is leave one pasture growing most of the summer. This is what we call our ‘standing hay’. We brush hog each pasture about every other year. It helps keep down the really noxious weeds, the type with three inch thorns that cause abscesses. We let the natural weedy plants grow since that is what the goats prefer over grass. It is a more natural source of dietary fiber which keeps our animals healthier. We use no herbicides, pesticides or any chemicals on any of our pastures, or our garden for that matter. But there is the occasional homicide on butchering day. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!) Pasture rotation will also help prevent overgrazing and parasite build up. We supplement our goats’ diets with grain we purchase. There is a post about our feed mixing ration that explains the how’s and why’s.

Our herd is small. We are keeping four does this year. We will be butchering our wethers soon (that’s when the homicides occur) and our buck will be going to the sale barn. So far, four does seem to be a good number for us. This summer when we were milking three does we were swimming in milk, so even though we have kept four does, I don’t know if we will be milking all of them.

From Sandra over at Clearwater Farm: I have been lucky to only have one or two goats really give me grief about milking. I do have a Toggenburg now that does great until she runs out of food. When she is out, she flips the feeder onto the ground, my cue that the kicking will commence. If she isn’t getting anything out of the deal, neither am I. 

Fern: We will tolerate a certain amount of obstinate behavior from an animal, but after a while, either the animal comes around or leaves. We find that attaching the feed pan to the milk stand has worked out well. Our first milk stand had a place to put the feed bowl, but I like this set up better. I have also had a few goats that would let me milk for a while then start kicking and sometimes putting their foot in the milk bucket. I have found that after a few corrections with the back of my hand, they usually come around and stand nicely until I am finished. Not always, but usually. The other thing I have finally figured out is to learn the body language of the goat. If the doe is standing, relaxed and eating while I milk, then they are not going to kick. It’s when they have a subtle shift of the weight on their back legs when I know a foot is getting ready to come up. I can usually pull the bucket back out of the way in time, but again, not always! Then that milk turns into supper for the dog or the chickens. Chickens love milk!

From Kathi over at Oak Hill Homestead: I completely agree that raising your own is the best way; they are just easier to milk. I can’t wait till we have milk again, it’s been two years now, but my three current does are due in December, all first-fresheners. (I lost my entire herd in a barn fire last year. My current girls came to live here as tiny bottle babies, I hope they won’t give me any trouble.) 

Fern: Kathi, I am sorry you lost your herd in a fire. I can’t imagine. That would be really hard. It’s too bad you have been two years without milk, too. We are so used to it, I would hate to do without. On occasion, we buy store bought milk, and I’m glad at this time that we can. It sounds like you are expecting kids soon. Have you started training your does to the milk stand? Since they are bottle babies, they should be much easier to handle. I only have one ‘first-timer’, Copper, in the picture above. She was a single when there were no other kids to play with, and she is One Stripe’s daughter. One Stripe is very sweet and easy to handle and I am grateful her daughter is following suit. I can’t wait to see what kind of mom she will be. But you know what? I can’t wait to have baby goats again! I just love baby goats. So I look forward to hearing about the progress yours make. We handle our baby goats a lot, everyday, from the minute they are born. This makes all the difference in training. So your bottle fed babies should train comfortably.

Raising goats can be an experience full of wonder, frustration, heartbreak, laughter and food! There are many types of goats to be had. We have always had Nubians, well, except for one Boer goat we bought. She was okay, but turned out to be somewhat of a bully to the other girls. So we ate her. Some of you will think that is mean and some of you will think that is funny. It’s just the way it is here. If an animal works into our scheme of things, they stick around for a while. If not, they either get sold or find their way into the cook pot. 

Besides the fact that we really like how Nubians look with their long, floppy ears, the primary reason we chose them is because they are warm weather goats. Other milk goats have characteristics and features that are made for more northern climates. Do some research, look around, talk to people experienced at raising goats in your area. Milk goats are not real popular, so it may be difficult to find what you are looking for. You might need to drive a few miles to find some quality animals. Don’t forget Craigslist. A good source to help find just about any animal is your agriculture teacher, and don’t forget the vet.

All of the animals have a job to perform. The goats provide us with milk and meat, and we hope someday they will also provide us with hides or leather. But that is a ways down the road, if ever. Our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, is a great protector for the goats. She is a jewel. The cats are for varmint control. The chickens are for meat and eggs. It’s the nature of things and it works well for us.

We will continue to share the adventures of our animals. They teach us new things all the time. One Stripe will soon have her fifth set of kids. She is getting ‘big as a barn’. She is one of these goats that gets just about as wide as she is long. I can’t wait! I love baby goats!

Until next time – Fern