Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Goat Life

As soon as cats and dogs are sated from their own particular morning-time urgencies, I am heading to the goat pen with milk pails, gear, and grain. With two goats I have a system. I start milking Francis first, and since she is in training to be a proper milk goat I like giving her my attention first. I snap a leash to Bonita's collar and let her wait outside the barn with I lead Franny to her station. Fran's tail is wagging, she LOVES grain. She happily lets me slip a rope through her collar to secure her in place while I get to work washing udders and squeezing out milk.

Francis is a darling. She lets me milk her into a little saucepan (she is too short for the big 2-liter stainless steel milk pail I use with Bonita). She chomps into her sweetfeed and I milk out her little teats. After a while she starts to lift a back leg in protest and I say "Foot" with authority and place it back on the ground. After a few days she stopped all kicking. So far she's turning out to be a little rockstar of a goat. She gave birth to a beautiful boy all by herself, she lets me milk her from day one, and she doesn't kick or bite when the going gets tough. It makes me a little sad that I decided to sell her…

Yup. I'm going to sell Francis. She's a purebred Oberhasli, with papers and everything, and she is a proven mother and milker. The reason for the sale is simple: I just want larger goats around here. She is somewhere between the size of a large Nigerian Dwarf and a small Nubian, maybe 80 pounds? I like big goats that offer A LOT of milk, so she just doesn't match the size standards I have in my head. her quart-a-day is nice, but not enough to satisfy my milk needs. I think I will keep Ida, raise her up, and make her the next goat friend for Bonita. I'll sell Francis with her kid to a new homesteader looking for a good backyard goat for cheese and soap.

If interested email me, or message me on the Facebook thing. Asking $200.

When Francis has been milked out I wash her udder with the warm soapy water and cloth I bring outside with me, and then place some pink udder cream on her teats. I don't want her to crack or get sore from this new attention. The whole thing takes about ten to fifteen minutes, a lot of time but since she is new to this I cut her some slack. I walk her out of the barn by the collar and trade spots with Bonita. Now Francis is tied out watching the Big Show inside while Bonita gets to work.

Bonita has been a working dairy goat for over five years. She just turned six and has had four kidding seasons (this one included). She literally dances into the barn, a tango with herself (such a fine goat does not need a partner) and hops up into the stanchion without being asked. I clamp in her neck, fill her trough with grain and a mineral seasoning and she starts chomping while I wash the udders and check her bag for heat or lumps. She is, as always, perfect downtown.

I milk Bonita in five minutes flat. My pail is now heavy, and almost full. I guess that 3/4ths of a gallon is in that pail and when all is said and done I kiss her goat forehead and place the metal lid on the milk pail. (An aside, if there was one investment worth making it was this stainless steel, 2-liter milk canister from Lehman's. It has a tight lid and holds two goats worth of milk and it keeps it from spilling over or hay or dirt getting in. I adore it) I love Bonita, I really do. I think keeping her girl Ida is just an act of hope that I will get to have another girl of her line after she is gone. I am a total goat-romantic when it comes to legacy. I sing to my goats, a song in Gaelic I am learning about a dark-haired woman and her famous wedding. I collect my leash and towels, tubes of cream and the empty feeders and hop the fence to grab them some hay. I always feed hay after milking. It keeps the girls standing and off the ground while their valves close up in their teats. A just-milked goat who plops down in bedding straw could get Loki-knows-what up her tubes while they are still open. It takes twenty minutes for system shut off. My gals enjoy the salad bar while they whir to a halt.

I take the milk pail and such inside and set all washables in the sink and the big pail on the counter. Boghadair knows this canister and starts rubbing his head on it. I am grateful for the 30th time it has a tight lid. I run back outside with Gibson, literally run, because I did it! I got nearly a gallon of milk from half an hours work! I run around the yard with Gibson to celebrate. I open my arms and he jumps up into them and I feel like we have our own version of a touchdown, end zone dance. Merlin is watching this, totally unimpressed. He hollers at us in his deep, British, voice and Jasper just stares alert as a buck in a field. His little white splotched body all taunt with prick ears and wide eyes. I get to the work of morning feeding and soon every heckling sheep, chicken, rabbit, goose, horse, and pig has nothing to say to me but crunch, chomp, griiiiind, crunch, chooommmp, swallow, repeat. With everyone outside content I am finally free to see to the funnest job of the morning. KID TIME!

I let the kids out of the big dog crate and they pile out. Before they can even think about peeing on my floor I scoop them up and take all three outside with Nanny Gibson to keep an eye on them while I return for their bottles. When I come outside I can see all of them jumping and tumbling, Gibson frantic to restore some sort of order. I sit on the front step and feet the three little ones their 8 oz breakfast of warm goats milk. They swill and suck and finish the bottles in short order. I let them run it through their systems and relieve themselves again before coming back inside.

Inside the house there is a baby gate (technically a puppy gate) that keeps all the hoofed beasties out of the carpeted dining room. Annie and Gibson eat their breakfast on the carpet side while the little ones run around (and I mean run!) the living room and kitchen, jumping and carrying on like every motion requires the skill and verve of a Ringmaster. To a kid, every step is a circus and every day they are masters of their own ceremonies. They know I am the milk mama, the only one who has ever fed them, and so where I go they follow. I walk into the living room and they burst into a run behind me. I walk back to the kitchen and they trot right behind to the bright lights. It is endearing as all get out.

I have plenty of milk in reserve for feeding the babies in the fridge so I decide this morning to do something special. I am going to make my first Chèvre of the season! I set a big stainless brewing kettle on top of the oven and pour the strained milk into the low heated metal. I stir it with a metal spoon, letting the temperature of the low burner heat up everything to about 90 degrees. When I feel this warm milk to the touch, I add a packet of Chèvre culture from my fridge and mix it in as I turn off the heat. I set the lid on top and let it rest. The fact that the little ones who made this cheese making possible are trotting around my feet only makes the process feel even better. This cheese isn't just good food, it is a celebration of a successful kidding season! I might even go to the hardware store and get those fancy, squat, ball jars to store it in. Stuff this special deserves a presentation of note, right?

By the time I am ready for bed the cultures will have separated the curds from the weigh. before I call it a night I will pour it into cheesecloth, lightly salt it and add a few herbs, and then hang it to drip over the sink in cloth. By morning I will have a perfect cheese. It will slide across bagels, make crackers sing, and be the perfect topping for salads or pizza. To those of you not fans of "goaty" flavors, I get it. I'm not either. This cheese is mild and smooth. Think cream cheese but fluffier. It will win you over.

The day is just getting started. I feel like I have so much to offer it still. It's colder and cloudier than yesterday but I want to get on my horse and ride. We saddled up for the first time in weeks yesterday and it was bliss. Okay, it was a stubborn out-of-shape pony and a mental wrestling match but I am happier on his back than anywhere else in the world. To feel him under me, moving across the landscape of my mountain road with confidence. I now lack the fear I had off him last spring. Knowing that was a quiet thrill. He was bad, or rather out of practice. Merlin didn't want to trot away from home and he wanted to spring home to quit, but we worked through it. I now know what a crow hop is compared to a buck, and I know when he is being bitchy or dangerous. I have seen both. But today was just a barn sour brat who needed to be reminded that the girl on his back is a thousand times more hard headed and stubborn than he could ever dream to be. And by the end of the short ride he was starting to understand this wasn't my first rodeo anymore. We trotted down the road and turned around to walk back to his hitching post calmly.

Bring on bright spring. I got cheese, kids, a pony and a hoe waiting for my hungry hands. There are snap pea sprouts in the house and eggs in the fridge from the newly-laying hens. I have piglets growing strong, goats for sale, and big plans for a hawk and a garden. I'm excited as hell for this spring, darn near shaking from it. And it is mornings like this that keep me going.

18 Comments:

Blogger Jenny said...

This was such fun to read Jenna. Thanks for the goat circus description!

March 14, 2013 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

This was such fun to read, Jenna. Thanks for the circus goat description. I read it to my homeschoolin' kids who are sitting at the table working on their own writing.

March 14, 2013 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger eidolons said...

Posts like these.. they're just.. lifeblood. Seriously.

I've wanted to homestead for so long. After finding your blog and reading a couple of your books I decided that this would be the year I'd have chickens (on our sad tenth of an acre). Well. Plans have changed. Instead of chickens we're going to fix up this house and move somewhere with real possibilities. It's time to follow the dream in a really real way.

Your posts help keep me focused and encouraged. Thank you for sharing these windows into your world. (:

March 14, 2013 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Lone Pine Farm said...

This post makes my heart sing! Thank you for sharing a snapshot of your morning with us. I too am feeling the hope and energy of spring (even with a snowfall/freezing rain warning for my area today), itching to get dirt under my fingernails and that familiar ache from hauling lumber around in preparation for the Next Big Project. This year holds so many possibilities, once the snow melts!!

Best,
Mandi

March 14, 2013 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Stuff a few dried dates with goat cheese- best snack ever!

March 14, 2013 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Kati said...

It's been such a joy to read about all your homesteading ventures! My husband and I are currently in a suburban 1-bedroom apartment, but after I read "Made From Scratch" I was determined to make the most of our patio space for gardening :). I dry herbs in our kitchen, and come summer, I'm a lean mean canning machine :p. Your book was such an inspiration!

March 14, 2013 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

What a great read. You are making my stomach growl thinking of that cheese.

March 14, 2013 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Hmm, watch out, October might get jealous, you keep on like that. ;)

March 14, 2013 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

October has nothing to worry about. I'm his for life.

March 14, 2013 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Megan F said...

"Goaty cheese" is one thing that keeps me on the fence about wether to start with dairy goats our jump right into bovine when the time comes (that, and I would love to have a calf to raise for butcher every year) we go through a LOT of cheese in our house. Does goat milk mozzarella taste just like cows? And is there any kid-friendly, non-goaty hard cheeses?

March 14, 2013 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Wonderful post Jenna. I could see you in my minds eye, the kids are very cute indeed. It is truely a blessing to be able to enjoy the life that you chose.

March 14, 2013 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger kristen said...

Jenna,

Milk fresh from the barn is the perfect temperature for chevre culture. I used to milk, clean up, strain the milk, and add the culture. No need to heat. :) Bonita does that for you. Have fun!

March 15, 2013 at 12:36 AM  
Blogger Noël McNeil said...

This was an awesome post Jenna. Your adventuresome spirit has really shined through!

March 15, 2013 at 3:37 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Having had your chèvre, nothing else compares!

March 15, 2013 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Wow, you're so energized! I'm reading your blog with a steaming cup of coffee, looking out the window at this mid-March cold front (Georgia style-meaning it's about 35 out), knowing I have hungry kids in the barn waiting on me, but not quite working up the enthusiasm to go take care off all the mouths just yet.

March 15, 2013 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Joleen said...

It's all good!

March 15, 2013 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Karen from CT said...

Yummy-goat cheese! I love all kinds. My favorite is goat feta. Also goat gouda. Oh yeah! Great post as usual.

March 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Raining Iguanas said...

Jenna, just a short note that brings you two points. One is the pure joy you bring to anything you immerse yourself in. The both feet in let's see what happens way you approach your life brings me back here all the time to reenergize my own outlook on life, and I've had a lot longer to figure it out than you have. The second more crucial point that we have all grown so used to that we take it for granted and never comment on is your writing. Your writing is so crisp and real that you make a simple farm experience a Disney-ride adventure. That fact envelopes the entire piece you've written here. You may be a farmer, homesteader, adventurist, blogger, and lover of life, but first and foremost the thing you are with out a doubt is a great writer.

March 16, 2013 at 6:21 AM  

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