Friday, January 22, 2010

Me vs. sleep continued... or catching Betsy trials

In case you were wondering, I did go back to bed for an hour. I've been meaning to stop long enough to finish the post I had in mind that morning. However, my life is full and I just haven't found a spare moment to get back to it.

Betsy my milking pygmy goat is one of the smartest and opinionated goats. If she were only smart, she would have realized that by helping me out, she would get to the grain sooner, she would walk calmly into the house every day, maybe even be waiting for me at milking time. If she were only opinionated, I could count on her hunkering down in one space and just have to drag her to the house to milk her. Instead she fights me creatively. I think she is betting against my persistence, I think she knows that one of these mornings I am going to give up. Each day is a new challenge. Friday morning she ran past me from the "barn", out the door, up the hill, around the hay shed, then around the house, then started down the road. Thursday, she allowed me to catch her by luring her with a bucket of grain. The day before that, I had to crawl under the house on my belly to latch on the leash and drag her out. The day before that, the dogs managed to block her in the barn. You get the picture.

I've been chasing her down every day for almost 3 weeks now, and every time I think she has settled into a pattern, she does something new.

One day she will have been fairly cooperative and stayed in the barn and let me catch her - well rephrase that to say, I managed to catch her. Another she will get away from me. I have tried patiently luring her with grain, but just when it looked like she was going to put her head in, our other female butted her out, and she moved away. (Why couldn't it have been Annie in milk right now?!) I jog around after her, I get the dog, let the dog chase her, we go up and down, back and forth, finally blocked in under the stairs, I drag her into the house. She will no longer go under the rabbit hutch, which is the simplest place to catch her - she knows. Katie, my mama dog is not a natural herder. And Betsy, won't be forced to do anything she doesn't want to do. So very often Katie gets butted, and Katie learns to stay back, so Betsy will run for a bit, then turn around and face off with Katie. And getting Henry involved would mean chancing waking the children up - since he sleeps upstairs with them.

Once she's into the house, she'll now jump up onto the milking stand - very helpful - and then turn around backwards. So I drag her around to stand correctly, and get her latched into the head bars. I've tried putting grain and other things out for her so she'll just put her head in the bars herself - nope.

I then give her the grain, wash her teats, test her milk, remove her grain, grab the milking bowl and put the grain back. 80% of the time she stands calmly while I milk her and she munches up her grain. 20% of the time it's a different story. She'll kick, and when I resist that, she'll sit. sometimes even lying down. And even when she's behaving properly I have to be ready, because at some point she'll finish her grain, or just decide I'm done, and make every attempt to spill the milk. I'm getting better at sensing when this is about to occur. I grab the milk bowl, then her grain bucket, and ignore her while I pour the milk into the storage jar (filtered through a coffee filter.) There were a few time I just let her be done when she threw the temper tantrum, but I don't any longer, I really want to make sure I get it all, so she keeps increasing. So I head back under, only at this point she's really grumpy, and I have to either hold her leg or squeeze under her because she's decided to sit again.

Why do I persist? Cheese. I'm currently yielding 1 cup per day. I can make cheese easily with 4 cups and a little vinegar and salt. I have my third batch currently draining and drying in the fridge. Hard earned cheese - it is so very good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Me vs. Sleep

I love sleep. Given the opportunity to choose between doing something exciting and a uninterrupted nap, the nap will win most of the time. I also am a night owl. I feel like I can get so much done after 9 or 10pm. Even now as I type, I want nothing more than to crawl back into bed even though I have been up doing farm chores for the last 30 - 60 minutes and am clearly awake. My natural rhythm is to stay up late and sleep in. My life has forced me away from that schedule.

My husband is a drivers ed instructor. He is partially disabled and by our choice, stays home with the kids during the day and works in the evenings. When we moved out here to the country, I had to change my schedule in such a way as to allow him enough time to get to his job. What this has meant is I work 7am - 3pm 5 days per week, and he works 5:30pm - 9:30pm 4 days per week. I have a 1 hour commute, his is 30 minutes. I have to leave my house by 6am to get to the office on time.

I resist life in the mornings. I am not a jump out of bed in the morning kind of girl. I am a hit snooze for at least a half hour every morning, cuddle up next to my warm husband, ignore real life kind of girl. If it were possible to turn off the alarm and just wake up when I'm ready (and not risk the wrath of my boss) I would be the first to sign up! Once out of bed I rush about and run out the door. There has been the occasional morning where I do that in 5 minutes!

Have I mentioned before that we have a little hobby farm?

I have been able to get away with doing farm chores only once per day in the afternoon, usually with my children joining me. My animals have been very obliging and have not seemed to mind only one appearance by me. I bring them fresh water, fill their food dish, bring them table scraps, and check for eggs.

When winter hit it meant a change - I have to stoke the wood stove before leaving for work, and start my car earlier. When we moved our mama dog to the basement with her puppies it meant another change. I had to let her out to potty because if I did not she would whine and bark when I stoked the stove and leave for work. And now I milk a goat... be continued - if I crawl into bed now I can get an hour in before we have to get up to get ready for church.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Milking a Pygmy Goat

When we bought Betsy & Jimmy, Jimmy was about 3 months old and still nursing. We had difficulty getting anywhere near Betsy unless we captured Jimmy first; and Jimmy wasn't easy either. We didn't have a pen, we didn't have anything in place. We caught her once or twice and tried milking her, but never really pursued it. We thought, give her some time, next batch of babies she'll be much gentler because she'll know us better.

As this winter progressed, hubby was fairly certain she was pregnant again, but I wasn't. Everything I have read so far has said it was impossible to tell if goats were pregnant - you had to plan it so you'd know. Well, her son was the only male she had access to, and they were together for a year during which she didn't get pregnant. Just this week I was surprised to fine two beautiful kids (baby goats) that had died.

Death. I always thought that is was silly to have to intervene with the birth of animals. They're animals, they have instincts... both my dog & cat had babies without complications without my intervention. My chickens managed to hatch some babies without intervention. But yes, there is almost always death with the life. I thought I would get used to that - the death. But still anytime I see another animal, especially a baby, I am saddened and I now understand better why people try to control birth a little more. It is very cold outside in Minnesota - it is definitely not ideal for babies.

All that has led to this, a mother goat without kids but with milk! Eureka! I don't have to worry about taking too much milk from the baby, I can just milk her and not worry... Sites I've read say twice a day, 12 hours apart. My first milking was in our basement where we had brought Betsy to clean her up post birth - I did a few pulls, she struggled, hubby helped hold her. We didn't try long.

We kept her in overnight, and the next day hubby let her out because she was only crying. He didn't try to milk her. That evening I trapped her under the rabbit hutch and tried to milk her again. She kept sitting down, and fighting me. Got a little - mostly dirty from the struggle - gave it to the dogs.

Here begins the comedy that is my life:

Stubborn goat + Inexperienced milker/farmer + creativity = the oddest milking set up ever.

Betsy doesn't like people. All my other goats will eat out of my hand - except her. It's nearly impossible to catch her, and like I mentioned before, I don't have pens. During the winter (post harvest to planting season) they are free range. All my animals currently bed down in the summer kitchen - 3 goats, 1 sheep, 1 turkey, 5 chickens, and 2 rabbits in a hutch. The best way I've discovered to catch Betsy is to give them some corn or oats & while she's eating grab her horns. Then once I've got her horns, I can attach a leash to her collar and drag her places. Yes drag. It is impossible to get her to follow me. Even if I shake corn in front of her, or tempt her with bread, she still won't really walk. So between her horns & the leash I drag her across the snowy, icy yard, up a flight of steep steps into our mud room.

Yes, the mud room. After chasing her around the "barn" and catching her, and trying to get her to behave under the rabbit hutch, but not having enough light, and then trying to get her to stand on some boxes in the corner where there is light, I remembered the one place that was fairly small, contained, and a little warm.

I hooked the leash up, around, and through some nails on the wall, put a plastic coffee can under her bum, and put a jar under her. We struggled, we fought, I pushed and I yelled and I gave her treats to get her to stand still. We got a little more milk - it was 5:30 am. That evening I automatically dragged her to the house. The first difference, I have two monkeys following me around, trying to sled a little, and play while I dragged. Daughter's crying because I haven't waited for her. Hubby's trying to leave for work. I get her in the porch, start gathering things together, Daughter comes in then Son. They can't decide if they want to be inside or out...

I was struggling to keep her still on the porch, the coffee can wasn't tall enough, I was crouching down on the floor - these are really short goats, kids were going in & out, hubby left, dogs were fighting and scaring the goat. I tried one of our kitchen chairs to put her food on, and to tie her to, to try to get her to stay - she got her head stuck and started throwing the chair around. I dragged her into the house and tried getting her to stand on two chairs, having the kids help hold the leash, keeping her on the chairs - she kicked and fought until the two chairs separated and she lost her feet in the gap. I was grumpy, and frustrated.

We went back into the mudroom. We tried a different corner - you usually milk from the right, and I had been doing the left. I put food under her nose, I found a taller pot that fit perfectly under her bum, shoved the chair up behind the pot to keep it in place, managed to get a little more milk. YEAH!

This has been our setup ever since. It's been a week since she lost the babies and I still have to drag her up the hill to the mudroom at 5 am & pm. She's giving more milk and we're getting a little better at the milking. She still fights me if I move away from her, so I push myself up against her body and milk by feel only. I am figuring it out - it's easy to milk now when she's full. I milk a little beyond when she's dry to try to stimulate more. On the fourth day we all sampled it, and then I put some in my coffee, and used the remainder for the irish soda bread we had for dinner. I hope to someday be able to make goat cheese, if I can just get enough. I think I'm getting about 1/3 of a cup per milking now.

Oh, and now that I feel like we've got a rhythm and are figuring it out. I find out a friend is bringing us a milking stand. We'll see how it goes.