A week ago today...

...our herd arrived in the bed of a truck. It was raining and they were skittish and we were petrified. Armed with three weeks of farming experience and the overconfidence typical of our generation, we kind of officially started a goat farm.

The goats – Hope, Pixie, Button, Kidaloo, and Mariooch – seem to be adjusting to their new life: all they really do is eat grass, lay in grass, and poop in grass. Meanwhile we try to keep them alive.

The kids are warming up to us and we’ve just about melted for them. For the first time today they jumped on our backs – I was face down and Peter was on hands and knees – while we formed human steps. Mariooch ended up kicking Peter in the head, but sometimes a kick in the head is just what Peter needs.

We’ve been milking since Sunday and it’s been a nightmare. For some reason Hope doesn’t like it when we separate her from her kids all night, then lock her head in a milk stand and squeeze her teats. But to make it worth her while we stuff her face with vermicular grain pellets and a few sunflower seeds. Just a few though. Those are a real treat. 

The milking has been discouraging but we keep reminding each other that a month ago none of this existed. Luckily the barn was here, but other than that we needed a fence for the pasture, an indoor pen, gates, doors, a milking stand, hay, pellets, goat mineral, kelp meal (I’m still not positive we need kelp meal). Then we had to put it together.

We found fifty-year old rusted t-posts from the woods down the road which saved us about six hundred dollars. We dug holes four feet deep for wooden fence posts. We bought cattle panels at Tractor Supply and fencing off of Craig’s list. We stretched the fence using trees for support and then a wooden pole, which subsequently broke which meant we had to put in another wooden pole (thanks, Peter’s dad for digging and tamping on repeat for many hours over many days).

We also cleaned out the barn and built an enclosure out of scrap wood, then stretched more fencing across it to keep the goats inside. Peter and his dad made a milk stand and hay mangers out of even more scrap wood (basically, screws + scrapwood + screws + scrapwood = a goat lair).

We went through the pasture and cleared out plants that are poisonous. By that I mean Peter hacked his way through every square foot of the quarter acre of wooded pasture with a machete while I was inside hacking into the current draft of my next book. If you’re interested, check out my last one here. Apparently the wilted leaves of stone-fruit (e.g. cherries, peaches, plums, etc.) are cyanogenic and will end a darling little goat life in short order, so he spent most of his time cutting down cherry trees and dragging them out of pasture (Check out the list of goaty-no-no’s that we’ve been using here). This past Wednesday, we had 220 bales of hay delivered, which makes the barn smell so good it could be a candle, except that barns and candles are not a good mix I’ve heard.

We’ve learned that goats love banana peels and hate kale. Ferns will kill them, but ingesting half of a plastic garbage bag won’t (thanks Button). They’re nosy and curious and like to be exactly where you don’t want them to be. Even with half an acre of pasture, they press themselves against the wire and long for a raspberry an inch out of reach. They love climbing, and they’ve been up and down the apple tree since Peter nailed slabs of wood to the trunk.

I think the top one is too high, but Peter thinks it’s more likely that a goat will die from a predator. Namely, coyotes and dogs. We were leaning towards getting a livestock guardian animal (donkey, llama, or dog bred for the purpose), but after talking to local farmers who have raised sheep and goats for decades without incident, we’ve let that worry rest… for now. Our own dog, Winnie (she has her own page here(she will soon, I promise), is a bit of a concern as she’s a herding dog and can’t seem to resist her instinct to chase, but Peter is working on training her with a muzzle and lots of sliced turkey.

It’s been stressful and exhausting and delightful and oh my god, the milk! Even though milking has been hard, what we’ve managed to get has been delicious or dope-dillity-dope dope as Peter says. (Peter insists that he only says it because he’s absorbed my vernacular). It’s fresh and creamy and we milked it by hand from our very own Hope.

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