If you have animals, chances are you have fences.  If you have anything bigger than a chicken, chances are you will need to repair existing fences and plan for more fences.  

Some hints.  I highly suggest putting up the fence before you get your goat herd.  Maybe it’s just me, but having a goat inspect every post hole and wire splice can get on your nerves.  Another thing I highly recommend it clearing out all the crap that you won’t have easy access to once the fence is up.  Sounds like common sense but I’m looking at the remnants of the old fence sitting directly in the middle of an area surrounded by the new fence.  


Zombie Goats! Run for your lives!

I know, that title sort of jumps out at you in an utterly ridiculous way. Still, like “The Pertenders”, I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me.  The wife and I are zombie fans, she also likes vampires and where wolves.  She likes the Underworld and Twilight series but I prefer horror movies like Alien and Phamtasm.  The first Zombie movie I finally coaxed her into watching was the Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Shaun of the dead!  My first exposure to the film happened at our friends, Bob and Karen’s house.  Bob is not a horror fan and left the group to play on-line poker.  Susanne, not being a zombie fan took our dogs home and bib me enjoy your undead carnage with Karen, she would see me at home later.  

Now Karen and I are both devoted fans of Stephen King, Dean R Coontz and Clive Barker.  We trade books often and spend hours discussing the plot points of the books we’ve read.  If I have an unknown sister, it is Karen.  I was delighted to spend the remainder of the evening watching a British horror/ comedy with her.  Being Bruce Campbell fans of the Evil Dead series we settled in to see what the “limeys” had to offer the genre.  To this day Shaun of the Dead is a movie I will watch whenever I happen to stumble across it until the end.  We ate popcorn, belly laughed many times and came away with a renewed appreciation for zombie films.

Despite the high ratio of comedy to gore, it took me almost two years to get my wife to watch this gem.  Eventually through much prodding and pressure I convinced her that she should give it a try.  “Five minutes, if you hate it, we’ll shut it down.”  Two bowls of popcorn later as the credits rolled she looked at me and asked, “What’s next?” 

Evil Dead was the next go to. Campy, funny and in all respects “over the top”.  She liked it.  Zombies were now acceptable viewing.  I know, you’re thinking that’s a win for me.  That’s where you’d be mistaken.  I love zombie comedy movies but America was experiencing a zombie apocalypse renaissance.  While I didn’t have a problem with Zombieland or the New Zealand film Black Sheep, I was a bit skittish about offerings like World War Z and AMC’s, The Walking Dead.  Now with the shoe on the other foot, it was her telling me to give these titles a chance. I put my big boy pants on, covered one eye and sat through everything we could bring up on Amazon and Netflix.  We’d settled on a genre we both enjoyed.  I Zombie, the Santa Clarita Diet. Pun intended, we were eating that shit up!

So this morning, while I’m up at the crack of dawn, I decide to google Zombie Goats.  I love to google the ridiculous.  Most of the time I’m disappointed.  Not today.  Although the content is meager there are some really disturbing pics form a goat simulator video game.  Technically, the goat becomes demon possessed, not exactly the same as a zombie but someone worked hard on the animation and removed from context, before my eyes, was a zombie goat.  Skin peeling, bloody horns and vacant eyes on a creature that could be considered vegan before the transition, now a brain and flesh hungry savage, bent on devouring every living thing in its path.  It’s ludicrous, a ruminant wouldn’t have the biological systems to process a diet of brain and bone and flesh.  My goats won’t even eat some of their favorite treats if it’s not completely free of contamination like sweat or saliva.  If I take a bite of a granola bar, I might as well eat the whole thing. As far as the goats are concerned, it’s contaminated.  

There’s an exception to every rule.  I have three goats that for some reason like to chew on my fingers.  I’m very careful not to let them get my fingernail back to their grinding pallet.  There’s some sharp shit coupled with tremendous jaw strength that will pop your fingernail  off  like a bottle cap if you’re not careful.  Then you have a goat wretching because they now find you distasteful for leaking your nasty blood into their poor vegetarian system.  Still, with the three mentioned, I wonder if they wouldn’t eat me should hay and pellets become scarce.  Clive peers at me like he’s trying to decide which wine I’d be best paired with.  It’s frightening and the reason I googled Goat Zombies.

I imagine that should a zombie apocalypse ever take place that it would be humans that would be affected.  I’m prepared for that.  I’ve got water, chickens, goats, big garden and I’m miles away from heavily populated areas.  I have ways to defend myself and our property.  I’m golden unless more than people are infected with whatever the hell turns you into a zombie.  What if instead, humans remain immune and animals, like goats and chickens become the monsters?  Quite plainly, you’ll find my bleached skeleton somewhere in the goat pen. 


The Milk Pirate 

One of our does, Lauren, gave birth to two kids a week or so ago.  I found her licking and nickering to her second born while her little buckling lay in the sun many feet away.  I brought him over to his momma and watched in disbelief as she refused to let him get close enough to nurse.  It happens, our veterinarian told us over the phone.  Sometimes a mother will reject a kid.  They could be distracted by the birth of the next kid before bonding takes place.  Sometimes there is something wrong with the rejected kid that she senses and  won’t waste time or milk on the newborn.  We could try Oxytocin, a hormone that can aid bonding, try putting her and her kids in a small enclosure or start bottle raising the little guy and see what happens.

The first step was getting him plugged into his mom so he could get the colostrum he needed.  That involved one of us holding her while the other person directed the new buck to the feeding position. Not so easy a task when the doe wants nothing to do with the whole system. It worked pretty well but feeding him in this fashion would mean a trip to the barn every four to six hours and repeating the process described above.  Our other option would be to milk out Lauren and move Patrick up to the house and bottle feed him.  The second option had some obstacles.  First, over the course of kidding our milking apparatus fell into need of some repair and the parts would not arrive for several days due to the Memorial Day weekend.  If we were going to milk, it would have to be by hand.  Certainly not as efficient as the vacuum pump but doable until the parts arrived.  Second,  we already had a goat living in the house recovering from a broken right front leg.  It would be a week before we could return her to the general population as she was still splinted and needed to have her activities restricted.  Third , baby goats were still dropping.  Three more does had babies over the next three days with two of those does having difficulty that required human intervention to avoid disaster.  

All the new moms and their kids get moved to a stall in the shop so the little ones don’t get trampled underfoot by the adult goats. It was filling up fast.  Four does with eight kids are a lot of animals in a 20×20 foot area.  Fortunately that worked out well in Patrick’s favor.  Two of our first fresheners (new moms) didn’t seem to notice or mind that Patrick was nursing along with their newborns.  We were pleasantly surprised when we watched him sneak in and fill his belly along with the other kids.  Every time we went down to check on everyone he was with a mom other than his own, feeding away.  Lauren would still have nothing to do with him but somehow he had managed to find a way to thrive in a less than ideal situation.  Little Patrick had become The Milk Pirate.

We did get the parts in for the milker and our broken legged goat was cleared for splint removal so we tried bringing him to the house and bottle feeding him.  He would have none of it.  Sure enough, when we brought him back down to the shop, the does welcomed him back and let him carry on with his pirate ways.  


This season 

We’re almost done with kidding.  Seriously.  Anyone that knows me will see the double meaning in this.  Our does left to kid are Ramona, Beezus and Malory.  We have a plethora of new goats, most of them boys.  We’ve lost two but saved two does and five kids.  That’s a pretty good outcome, all things considered.  We are learning as we go and this year we have twice the number of goats we had last year.  We’re better about being there as this has become our main focus.  We’ve made friends that have taught us valuable lessons from their experiences.  We are learning how both desirable and undesirable traits can affect your herd.  Still I kid.  Without humor none of this would be possible.  It would be tedious at best and heartbreaking at its worst. It’s hard to laugh at your mistakes but harder to let them drag you down.  It’s easy to give up in the face of adversity.  Dwelling on regret and sorrow for things you can’t change will eat at your soul.  Shit happens wether you’re ready for it or not and you do your best and hope you learn enough to do better next time.

I watch our new babies cavorting in their enclosure.  Seeing them bound around without a care in the world brightens every day. I laugh at their reckless abandon and am able to enjoy their unique personalities without dwelling on the few tragedies that are bound to happen eventually no matter how you prepare to avoid them.  

Along the way I’ve discovered a lot about myself.  I can do what I have to do in unexpected situations. I can push fear and anxiety aside and avoid hesitation and uncertainty that could only make the situation worse.  I’ve learned to do something, anything, is a far better choice when doing nothing will most assuredly lead to the worst possible outcome.  


Right on schedule 🙄

I’m up at 4:00 am again.  It’s nesting time for many different birds that visit us every year.  At this time of day it’s not light enough to see the type of bird making enough racket to raise me from my slumber but they’re up, so I’m up.  I could close the windows and suffer the valley heat trapped in the house but listening to the birds has become a high point of my mornings.  About every 15 to 20 minutes another species of bird will add its song to the mix until there’s a cacophony that defies description in words.  Our rooster joins the chorus around 4:45, followed by the phoebies, larks, brewers black birds and song sparrows.  I can hear them now as I type this post.  Whistles and trills blending together in special way that becomes familiar yet changes everyday.  Some days Canadian Geese add their honking to the mix.  Some mornings the owls stay up a little longer to add their hoots and screeching.  It’s wonderful and magical, something I had never experienced until moving away from the city.

As a younger man, I had never considered bird watching as a hobby.  I’d hunted game birds.  I’d installed screens and deterrents to dive off pigeons and house sparrows. I never had a parakeet or canary and didn’t understand why anyone would want too.  Some where along the line I was introduced to the beauty and diversity of our Avian friends, I blame my mother in law and my wife, a Sibley’s guide to North American birds and Mr. Auduban for my fascination with our feathered friends.

The first foray into bird watching started with a fascination with humming birds.  To be honest here, my god parents had several feeders on their Occidental property that I could observe from a picnic table while the grown ups did their adult things.  The seeds were planted.  Eventually, I followed that example and for the last 25 years or so I’ve had humming bird feeders.  To be honest I could be better at keeping them filled.  More recently the wife and I have started planting shrubs and flowers that support a wide variety of birds and insects.  To that end we now have a resident and seasonal population of  birds that seems to grow in density and diversity every year.  It takes some work and a little forethought but the reward of a new friend making their home in your yard is worth the effort. 

As humans continue to encroach on their natural habitat many species have become displaced.  Do them and yourselves a favor. Provide native plants that provide food and shelter.  Install a small water feature where they can drink and bathe.  Limit use of harsh pesticides and dispose of used motor oil and antifreeze.  Your efforts will be rewarded with every bird you attract that sings a different song, brightens landscape with their plumage or eats their weight in insects.  


For the love of goats

I understand the difference between livestock and pets but have a hard time reconciling that.  Our dog Sam was diagnosed with lymphoma just over a year ago. He’s been a loyal and loving member of our family for 13+ years.  The treatment protocols were going to be expensive and there are never any guarantees that they will be successful.  We bit the bullet and forged ahead.  Two months into treatment he tore a ligament and would require TPLO surgery.  In for a penny, in for a pound, we elected for the surgery.  Shortly thereafter he came down with pneumonia and had to be rushed to emergency for installation of a cannula system to ensure adequate oxygen delivery to his lungs.  Our rescue dog had just become a ” Golden Retriever”.  He’s still with us and doing very well.  

To realize how difficult these decisions were for me you would have to know how I was raised.  Pets were luxuries.  Often time luxuries you couldn’t afford.  Sometimes situations arose that would force you to choose between emotional attachment and fiscal responsibility.  In Sam’s case, his many years of love and affection dictated that we do everything possible to ensure his quality of life.  Many people questioned that decision but money doesn’t lick your face or greet you every time you walk through the door.

Then there’s livestock.  We have a baby doeling.  About 10 days after she was born she broke her leg.  She had already been adopted by good people and left in our care until she would be old enough to leave her mother.  Total sale price $200.  That includes disbudding, all vaccinations, worming and general examination by a qualified veterinarian.  Now we were left with a hard decision.  Reason dictated that we cut our losses and try to splint it ourselves or have her put down.  Responsibility, on the other hand, dictated we do everything in our power to give this little girl the best chance at a happy life, so off we went to UC Davis large animal teaching hospital.  We’re only 15 miles away or so but that is an incredibly long time in ta he car with a screaming baby goat.  It was 10:00 pm Saturday evening and roughly $600 dollars later that we headed home with our charge.  She’s been staying in a dog crate in the house.  She is carried to her mom for feeding four times a day.  The splint has to be changed regularly and we have to do physical therapy every three days.  

This level of care takes endless patience, comes at a financial premium and from a farming point of view makes absolutely no sense.  Here’s the catch.  By working with this baby girl everyday she has become something very sweet and precious.  Her new family will be receiving a very socialized animal and to them she will be a pet, not just livestock.  I didn’t get into ranching/ farming because it would make we wealthy in monetary sense, I did it so I could be wealthy in a spiritual sense.  Knowing that helps me to make the best choices for all the animals in my care.  It helps me make choices I can live with.  To see her now, playing and growing into a wonderful young doe tells me we made the right decision.  The joy I receive from watching her far outweighs the time and money spent.


The Great Buck Breakout

It all started with the Great Buck Breakout.  Let me explain.  Our herdsire, Einhorn, was moved at Christmas to his Tuff shed on the backside of the property.  There were two reasons.  First reason is that guests were arriving and their trailer would occupy the driveway adjacent to the shop where we were keeping him and his constant head butting of the steel door coupled with his strong musky odor would be inconvenient, to say the least, to our arriving family members.  Reason number two, we wanted to separate him from the doe population so we could control which does would kid and when.  I’m not sure how many of you have ever tried to move a rutty buck but it’s not an easy task.  They are mad with testosterone, extremely strong and covered in a stink that is not only overpowering but easily transferred to whoever gets the privilege of wrestling him around.  A collar and leash help, still I recommend a good health plan and access to medical evacuation by ambulance or helicopter if you are going to attempt such a feat.

Somehow we accomplished the task with only moderate injuries and insult to all parties involved.  The soiled clothes were disposed of in accordance to federal hazardous wastes regulations and Christmas happened without accident or incident to all friends and family members that shared in the celebration.  Einhorn was in his bachelor pad with Captain Underpants enjoying the overgrown oats and rye grass while the girls, separated by over an acre lounged in quiet and celibacy in their pasture.

The constant barrage of head butts against a steel building had ceased.  The constant blubbering and tongue wagging stopped and we started planning the breeding schedule for our does so that kidding would be both selective and manageable, allowing us to promote our best milkers, give the younger does a season to mature and stagger the time of kidding so as not to be overwhelmed by everything happening all at once.  We enjoyed this feeling of control and comfort for exactly three days after Christmas.

After a trip to town that spanned less than an hour or two we pulled into our driveway and were greeted by the customary deluge of goats running to the fence for treats, their favorite being paper of any kind, and head scratches.  It was while engaging in this activity that I realized that the buck that was supposedly secure in his own paddock was greedily forcing his way to the front of all our other goats.  How he got out of his pen was simple.  He left through the window, nosing it open and charging through the screen.  What we still haven’t figured out is how he got back onto the pen full of his ladies.  I strongly believe they were active accomplices.