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Farm Fresh Blog
Wednesday, January 29 2014
I clearly recall the 'ah ha' moment I had standing in a tangled jungle of briars as I listened to goats browse. It stirred something in my soul. In that moment I understood peace and living in the moment. The overwhelming spinning carousel of being newly divorced, with a new job, new friends, and new responsibilities slowed, and the fading tune of the merry-go-round was replaced by a patient grinding of teeth. One piece at a time, one bite at a time, the goats tamed an area thigh-deep in thorns. The lesson was not lost on me. Like the old joke about how one eats an elephant, the goats taught me that life's problems could be handled 'one bite at a time.'
I stumbled down this rabbit hole of goats because of the thorns. After a winter of torrential rains, spring brought a growth of blackberries, poison ivy, and briar rose hedges that I couldn't handle alone. My fences were disappearing under the onslaught of vegetation. A woman alone couldn't physically hack all that down, and I refused to use chemicals.
So I turned to goats. I bought a handful of half-wild young bucks from a friend of mine. They were my first introduction to goats. These bucks taught me new cuss words, and how to build better fences. And they taught me the lesson of "one bite at a time."
Not only were they slowly taming the jungle around me, they were teaching me independence. A woman alone could run a farm, but she needed the right help. Work smarter, not harder. And I soon learned that small livestock was the key.
Within a season, the goats had tamed the weeds on the property. I took a couple to the livestock auction and discovered that I could triple my money by buying bucklings, feeding them out a year and selling them. This lesson soon moved me to raisie my own Boer goats.
I appreciated the goats, but they were livestock, not pets. Then I met my first dairy goat. The moment she tugged at my sleeve for attention, the heavens opened and angels broke out in the Hallelujah Chorus.
By the spring, I was milking my first dairy goat, and my relationship with goats changed. They were no longer admirable adversaries in a battle to keep livestock contained, they were friends who gave me milk, yogurt, and soap. While a goat raised for meat showed me a profit only by the sale of her offspring, a dairy goat showed me a continual paycheck in goat milk soap sales that far exceeded my meat goat sales.
And selling soap was a much more pleasant task than watching my kids drive off to slaughter. So I turned my back on the meat goats and embraced the dairy goats.
While the triumphs and tragedies of life are well illustrated in the confined cosmos of a barn yard, there is no greater therapy than a farm. And in this renewed age of homeschooling, I would also argue there is no greater classroom than a barn yard either. So perhaps that is what this world needs - less mood-altering drugs, and more time spent fixing fences, less time spent on a therapist's couch, and more time spent in the pasture, less time learning about life on cable television, and more time experiencing the circle of life on a farm. Perhaps....
Friday, January 24 2014
I just received word that Raisin Bran and Bailey safely arrived at the Houston Zoo this morning, thus beginning their new life as pampered petting zoo goats that may some day have to face a loose tiger but will never have to face a barbecue pit.
After 30 days in quarantine, they'll be in the exhibit where I can visit them.
As those of you on Facebook already know, as soon as she is weaned, another little girl will be joining our family! My first registered Nubian!
Other Half and I were at the Dairy Goat show at the Fort Worth Stock Show on Sunday when I saw this:
We had been talking with Nubian breeders in our search for registered doelings to become the foundation for a registered herd. After three years with my grade Nubians, I was convinced that Nubians were definitely the goat for me and I wanted to improve my genetics and slowly begin to get a registered herd.
And so it was that we were talking with Nubian breeders about foundation stock. A show is a good place to get an idea of what a breeder is producing. I liked this breeder's does and her philosophy regarding raising goats. As a bonus, this doe that I liked won Grand Champion. (this helped reinforce that at least the judge that day agreed with me.) I like this breeder's goats,
..... and she just happened to have some doelings for sale!
A few days later we took a trip to the breeder's farm. We looked at more of her stock. I really, really, really like this lady's goats! Sharon Galbreath of G Bar Acres Dairy Goats in Weatherford, TX is just fantastic! She and her husband spent the day with us and she's even beginning to sway me towards showing this little girl. (I have a background in showing dogs so it isn't a stretch.)
Meet G Bar Acres Juliet's Dahlia!
(and my baby doeling draped over her head!)
These babies are by G Bar Acres Romeo if you happen to be perusing her webpage.
Udder picture for the dairy goat folks who want to see! (apologies to the non-dairy goat folks who think this is goat porn! It's really not. This is very important in the dairy goat world.)
So, now I need to come up with a name for my baby. Her dam is Dahlia, a daughter of Juliet. Juliet was bred to Aslan to produce Dahlia. Dahlia was bred to Romeo to produce these babies.
I have plenty of time to decide since I won't get her until she is weaned. At the moment I'm toying with Shakespeare names, or perhaps I should go with the gardening theme. Ahhhh... naming animals, one of my favorite chores.
Wednesday, January 15 2014
As we have discussed before, I'm a fan of baby steps when it comes to dog training. I like to lay a nice foundation and build on that framework. (It doesn't always happen that way, but that's the way I WANT to do it.)
And then there's Other Half. He's more of a dog handler than a dog trainer. He'd rather just head out to do a job and let genetics and his relationship with the dog do the task for him. Yeah.... sounds like the recipe for a train wreck to me.
But by some miracle, he and the dogs manage to muddle through it just fine. This just grates on my nerves.
Take this dog.
So much potential talent . . .
. . . wasted.
I argue that the dog should be sent off to Boot Camp for some professional training since we have neither the time nor the experience to finish a dog of his caliber, and he could be so much better than he is.
.............. Nah... that's not gonna happen. He isn't sending his little red monster off to anyone.
So they go out together and work cows anyway. No training. No playbook. Just a man and his dog. It isn't pretty, but the job gets done, and they're both happy.
And so maybe I should just shut my mouth, and let them work.
Saturday, January 11 2014
The rancher next door came over this morning to borrow a dog box so he could make a road trip to purchase a new finished cow dog. ($$$ Wow! Finished cow dogs are big bucks! Undoubtedly worth it, but nevertheless, big bucks.)
Anyway, he made the funniest observation this morning:
"Trace is kinda creepy, isn't he?"
Since he isn't privy to Troll Dog's real personality, I was curious as to how he came to this conclusion. His explanation was that Trace lurked by his fence line, peeking through the grass like a stalker (read: sniper). Trace never says anything. He just lurks and watches. Creepy?
By his standards?
Well, since he has Black Mouth Cur Dogs and an Aussie, then yes, Trace's behavior might be creepy, but to us, lurking and staring like a stalker is the very least of Trace's weird behavior. In fact, that isn't weird at all. That's just being a Border Collie. They stare. They just do. They study the world around them like Graduate Students working on a thesis - minus the drinking.
Since Trace is one of the Outside Dogs, he is either in a dog run or loose most of the time. His dog run is elevated so he can see a lot. I assure you that Trace knows exactly what time the cows settle down to chew their cud, what time the rancher's wife comes home from work, exactly how many times the sheep pooped and where, which plants are in bloom, the number of trucks that pass on the highway, how many of those are Fords, Chevys, and Dodges, and who drives them. Trace has a PhD in what goes on around here day and night. He is a Jedi Master in mind control and the art of staring at the world around him. He is - a Border Collie.
They study things, that's what they do.
There are so many other parts of Trace's personality that could be called 'creepy,' but staring is not one of them.
Thursday, January 09 2014
We have streamlined most of the chores, but some things cannot be rushed. In addition to throwing feed at the animals, I must also socialize the baby goats. It's a tough chore, but someone has to do it! This involves feeding everyone else, and then collapsing on the ground in their pen. They find this vastly amusing and so they jump all over me for snuggles and pets. They also push and shove each other as they fight for who gets to be held.
Although this doesn't sound important, it really is. These aren't bottle babies, thus, if I want them tame like dogs, they must be treated like puppies regardless of how tempting it is to just feed the animals and go back to bed.
Because goats are definitely on the menu in Texas, it is paramount that the little boy is Pet Material. Semi-wild goats get eaten. Pet goats that are cute have better prospects than the dinner plate. Because the little girl is destined to be a milk goat like her mother, it's important that she is easy to handle and friendly. Wild dairy goats get sent down the road - and ultimately can end up on the dinner plate, so proper socialization is important.
* New barn will have cameras and baby monitors. This will limit cold, midnight trips to check mommas and babies.
Yessirree. That new barn is gonna be a doosey! In the mean time, please pass me the Nyquil and another Kleenex.
Monday, January 06 2014
The key to a good horror flick is suspense. When armed with popcorn and a supersize coke, suspense isn't a bad thing. When you're naked in the shower, suspense is highly overrated.
An arctic cold front is rolling across the country, and we're trying to juggle a farm and seven dogs. We normally divide our pack of seven dogs into sub-packs: the indoor dogs and the outdoor dogs. Indoor dogs have social skills. Outdoor dogs tend to either mark the furniture, or are primitive, dog-aggressive psychopaths.
Guess who lives outside?
Trace the Troll!
But on this particular morning, in preparation for nasty weather and lots of time spent in dog crates, I had shuffled the indoor dogs outside and vice versa. Thus I found myself, once again, taking a shower with Norman Bates. Since the first time was such an adventure (Read: Behind The Shower Curtain ), I removed all dog toys from the bathroom before stepping in the tub.
But the problem with clever dogs is that Petsmart doesn't have to carry it for an object to become a dog toy.
And so it was that I took a quick scan of the bathroom before stepping in the shower, and the suspense began:
Pull curtain back to peek at Norman Bates. He is staring at me with yellow wolf eyes. Close curtain and pick up soap. Begin to mull over his expression. What was he thinking? Did I puppy-proof the bathroom properly? Mentally run through a diagram of the bathroom in my head. What can he turn into a toy?
Peek through curtain again. His yellow wolf eyes are still staring at me. This time he's smirking. Close curtain. I'm certain the little creep was smirking at me. What's he up to? Peek through curtain again. He is lying on the bathrug. He raises a Spock eyebrow, daring me to question his innocence. I close the curtain. My cell phone by the sink rings. Because I'm soaking wet, I stay where I am and continue washing my toes. And that's when the shower curtain is ripped open.
A cold blast of air rushes into the tub. His dancing eyes smile, "Your phone's ringing!"
He stays there, with the shower curtain draped over his head, staring at me intently, letting in the cold air. I assure him I will return the call later. He backs out. The phone continues to ring. Norman Bates slashes the curtain open again.
"Your phone is ringing! Want me to get it?!"
I see the direction his mind is working and assure him that, "No, I'll return the call."
He disappears again. The phone stops ringing. I go back to my soap, but the ominous music soundtrack in my head begins. Something is going on. I peek out the curtain. He is staring at me. Staring at me. Staring. Staring. Staring. Playing his Jedi mind games. Staring at the phone. Staring at me. I refuse to be trained by a dog. After all, I'm the trainer here.
I tell myself that I won't be long and go back to my shower. Still, the music dances in my head like his dancing eyes. I reassure myself that there is nothing in the bathroom he can hurt, but the mental picture of an expensive iPhone being thrown into the shower pops in my head.
I peek through the curtain again. He would. His front feet are already on the toilet and he's staring at the phone like the RCA puppy listening to his master's voice in a phonograph. And that's when it rings again. He grins at me from the toilet seat.
"Dad? Dad? Dad's in the box?"
Hmmm.... yes, to a Border Collie, Dad is indeed in the box. And that is a bad thing. I hop back in the shower. I peek around the curtain. He continues to stare at the phone like a puzzle.
How is it he has never noticed cell phones before? Judging from his expression, Kong is about to add an iPhone to their inventory. I doubt Otterboxes cover that. I'm sure AT&T Insurance wants to hear this excuse.
"Yes, my dog tried to get my husband out of the Otterbox. No, he's not a Labrador, he's a Border Collie. Yes, you're right. It wouldn't be a bad idea to upgrade my insurance. Yes, they are smart dogs. Yes, I should probably check to see if he downloaded any new apps."
And sure enough, there is an app on my phone:
"Sheepdog Trials - Lite Edition"
And yes, I suck at it. Maybe I should let Trace the Troll play it instead.
Thursday, January 02 2014
There is more to this dog than fluffy white hair - and mud, and thistles, and bits of hay caught in her coat. While the battle to keep a white, heavy-coated, outside dog clean is a constant struggle, I've never regretted adding this Big White Dawg to the farm.
I cannot emphasize this enough: You should not take just any large, imposing dog, slap it in the farmyard, and expect it to guard your livestock!
It isn't safe for the livestock. I know, I know. Your friend's brother's sister-in-law's cousin had a Labrador that did it, and my cousin's uncle's aunt has a blue heeler that is supposedly the best livestock guardian dog ever. And both those dogs are just the perfect farm dog. They are gentle with lambs, children, and chickens. They have the remarkable ability to kill snakes (but only poisonous ones), pick up eggs (and put them in a basket), rescue Timmy from the well, and have the uncanny ability to know which stranger is the tax assessor and which ones are simply school children hawking overpriced fundraiser products.
Folks, if you can ever meet this remarkable dog that probably never existed, ask to do so. My experience has always been that Stoutheart the Wonderous Farm Dog is no longer alive because he was hit by car or shot by a local rancher, because Stoutheart was an unaltered male that ran loose. BUT - there are plenty of Stoutheart puppies available - in the pound, giving rescue organizations ulcers.
The true Livestock Guardian Dog comes from generations (read that: GENERATIONS!) of dogs that are bred to guard livestock! They are not bred to hunt ducks or herd sheep. They are bred to live with the livestock. At no time is this more apparent to me than when the sheep are lambing or the goats are kidding. Briar is more than just an imposing white dog (in constant need of grooming.)
I'm not talking about a dog that just guards the barnyard where the livestock live, and does various odd jobs around the ranch - the "jack of all trades' dog. My Border Collies and Blue Heeler are perfect for that. And that's where your Aussies and English Shepherds come in. The dog I'm talking about is the Livestock Guardian Dog, the dog that recognizes the livestock as family, a dog that appoints itself as babysitter, a dog that walks through the stock without making waves because it submissively 'oozes' around them.
Briar met the baby goats yesterday and again I was blown away by the way she behaved. She oozed over, careful not to piss off their momma.
Then she sniffed them as they sniffed her - and she wagged her big plume of a tail.
And that was it. They are now part of her flock.
Briar then wandered off a little way to sit down and watch them.
And when I put the babies in their playpen, she walked her big self over to the pen, sat down with her back to the babies, and put herself between the playpen and the rest of the world. If she'd had arms, she would have crossed them over her puffed up chest like a nightclub bouncer. No one was coming past this Big White Dog.