Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Sorrowful Saga of Seventh Goat

In addition to our goats and sheep, our property is enjoyed by other ungulates.  When we moved here, there were no fences to speak of, and deer roamed freely in and out.  A year ago, there were at least five deer more or less resident.  I saw one of them trying to run away from me one day last winter, hobbled by a rear leg that seemed to be attached mainly with skin; I guess she was winged by a car, and I never saw her again.  By early summer, we had the main field fenced off, and the hot wire may have diminished the appeal of the place a little.  The summer was pretty dry, and may have attritted the population somewhat.   However, a doe chose to give birth to a pair of fawns within the field, and they couldn’t hop the fence.  By fall they were weaned, and their mother left, but they remained.
These two little deer spent the winter getting fat on our grasses, and not feeling the least compulsion to leave.  We weren’t wild about having tame deer, and though their relationship to our flock is distant, they bring chance of disease transmission. 

Early in winter, the field’s main gate was left open overnight, and one of the twins wandered out just a little bit.  This happened just as the Real Doctor was driving off to the day’s work, and the little thing spooked: instead of heading back through the gate to home, it ran away from the Real Doctor, and down the driveway.  It wasn’t a pretty scene; the Real Doctor’s car inching down the driveway, a juvenile deer panicking in front of her, trying painfully to jump through the fence.  Its efforts were paralleled by its twin, stuck inside the fence.  Eventually, the Real Doctor got around the deerling, and the deerling calmed down and trotted back through the gate.    

One day during the dark of winter, I noticed that there was only one of the deerlings trotting around.  The next day, I found the corpse of the other deerling, without any visible signs of injury.  So, what to do?  It’s said that if you have livestock, then at some point, you’ll have dead stock, so you’d better have a way to deal with corpses.  When it comes to our sheep and goats, we’ll probably burn or bury, but I wanted this particular stiff off the farm—I wasn’t sure what killed it, and I didn’t want the chance of something infecting our critters.  I also knew, from biking around here, that there are plenty of dead deer in roadside ditches of Douglas County.  So, I got in touch with my inner mobster, loaded the corpse into the trunk of my car the loader on the tractor, and dumped the body in a ditch by the side of a dead-end side road. No trace of it remains

The tale of woe continues; the remaining deerling, bereft of its twin, grew desperate for company.  It decided it was a goat, a member of the herd by our front gate, and it spent the last month getting tamer and tamer. The last time he visited, the vet thought that we’d gotten a seventh goat, and “Seventh Goat” became the deerling’s name.  The goats, however, did not requite the affection. 

A couple of wilder deer came and visited, and the deerling did seem interested in them, but not interested enough to hop the fence.  The wild deer wandered off, and Seventh Goat wandered back to the indifferent familiarity of the herd. 

I tried leaving the main gate open again today, in another effort to get Seventh Goat to leave.  It was an absolutely lovely spring day, warm and green and bloomy, the world lush and lovely.   I looked up from my tea this afternoon and saw that S.G. had—very hesitantly—walked out through the gate.  Not wanting to spook it, I went around the back of the house while it investigated the browsing in front of the house; I sprinted over to the gate and closed it with a clang.  S.G. gave me a startled look, and I’m probably projecting to say that the look had some realization that the known world had ended.
It’s evening, and when I was doing the chores, I saw Seventh Goat forlornly patrolling up and down the fence, looking for an open gate.  The animal’s big enough to clear the fence in an easy hop, but I think it’s an insurmountable mental barrier.  Hopefully it will move on, and find cervine happiness and fulfillment, not (as we worry) the front of a log truck. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013


The Real Doctor and I jumped into this business of sheep and goats in a way that is both deliberate and precipitous.  The deliberation comes in how we’ve chosen most of our animals:  the Real Doctor spends hours and hours studying bloodlines and breeders, sifting and winnowing to find the best available that we can afford.  The net she has cast for quality Shetland sheep covers Oregon; bundles of desirable genes, carried both by cute little Nigerian Dwarf goats and by mysterious containers in liquid nitrogen, have arrived from all over the United States.

The pell-mell aspect of this process has been the timing.  Goat time (as previously noted) and sheep time do not pay attention to the conveniences of human time.  So, for all of the animals that we’ve gotten, there has been an absolute panic to find adequate housing in time for their arrival.  The hurly-burly has been complicated by delays in building our barn.  It is built, but not yet ready for animals, and given my work docket, it won’t be ready until the end of April.  It was supposed to be finished in March—of last year!   

There is a sort of cascade of jury-rigging, where incoming animals get shunted from one temporary accommodation to another.  Our first animals were four goat kids.  These were to be housed in what the previous owner of our property had built as a dog run, but that had decayed considerably and had no gates.  I was still assembling the gates as the Real Doctor was returning from the airport with the kids. 
The next animals were eight sheep.  The sheep were to displace the goats, who were to go out to a childrens’ play area that had just been fenced in.  But the play area had no secure pen to shut the animals in (and the predators out) over night—so we were up until 11:30 at night, working with headlights, hanging up fencing and plywood and a makeshift door to fortify what we now call “the castle” for the goats. 

The eight sheep, who we had picked up from farms in the Eugene area, spent their first night here in the horse trailer in which they’d arrived. 

We got a couple more goat kids, and we wanted to quarantine them before introducing them to the rest of the herd.  There were already sheep in the dog run, so we had to figure out where to put them.  Again, we jury-rigged a structure built by the property’s previous owner—in this case, a garden area surrounded by an eight-foot-tall corral made of steel pipes from a closed-down lumber mill.  The structure was goat-permeable, so I spent a fatiguing day stringing four-foot tall no-climb fencing over the steel-pipe framework, and erecting a sort of field shelter that would only later acquire a roof—but, amazingly, the accommodations were sort of ready the same night the animals arrived!  This was cause for heady celebration.

We’d seen examples of field shelters that were on trailers so that sheep could easily be moved from pasture to pasture.  This is facilitates “rotational grazing” (which has nothing to do with tethering the sheep to a stake so that they’d mow a spiral pattern, but rather alternating a field’s grazing between goats and sheep).  So, last summer, with the capable captaincy of the Real Doctor’s brother H., we built the Sheep Housing/Mobility Unit, or SHMU—a twenty foot trailer with a shed, barn flooring, a feeder and waterer.  As soon as it was ready, the sheep that had been festering in the narrow confines of the dog runs were moved in.  They were very happy—they were still confined, but it was like moving from a monastic cell to a decent apartment. 
It was good that these sub-optimal accommodations were vacated, because as soon as they were emptied, they were filled again with more sheep that we acquired from a woman who was shutting down her sheep operation so she could concentrate on horseback riding.  Oh well.  Those are still there, because they have been bred and we’d like to keep them separate from the youngsters. 

The garden also got vacated, and again it was a good thing; soon after the young does left to join their comrades in the castle, a pair of bucks arrived and moved in to the field shelter. 

Not to go too much into the details of animal husbandry, but the Real Doctor’s plan for the bucks involved using them for Artificial Insemination (AI), which (among other things) meant keeping them together (so they wouldn’t go insane—they’re herd animals) but separate (so they wouldn’t get—how to put this politely for a family blog—too intimate with each other).  So, hastily, I built a fence subdividing the garden.  The AI scheme also involved taking the bucks to a clinic in Washington—still separated—so, hastily, we purchased a truck topper and hastily, modified it to make the “Goatabago.”
After the AI clinic, the bucks could be together, which was a good thing, because that’s when the rams arrived.  So, we kept the subdividing fence in the garden, hastily erected another field shelter, and put the rams there.  We’ve discovered that this is not an optimal solution—fencing that is proof against 30-pound dwarf bucks is not resistant to a 110 pound ram, and a field shelter that easily contains those bucks is not resistant to two rams sorting out their dominance issues.  I posted about this earlier; this is what their shelter is like now.  I watched one of them spend a half hour on a sunny afternoon, patiently and methodically using his forehead to destroy one wall:  If it weren’t my work that I was watching being destroyed, I’d be amused. 
So, we have this recurring theme—animals, good animals and carefully selected, arriving before we are good and ready.  Hasty accommodation is thrown up, and only in the case of the castle goats, has their been any access to pasture. We have a big field, about 11 acres, with really nice fence around it, but no internal fencing.  It’s a drag to try to bring in animals for the night if they are skittish and have 11 wide-open acres over which to elude you. 

Now, thankfully, there is a fix to this problem.  We’ve gotten some easily set up, lightweight, powerful electric fencing.  I moved the SHMU, and spent a day setting things up, and now the eleven residents of the SHMU are happily—and I do mean happily—grazing and kicking their feet up in one corner of the field.  I then spent another tiring day mowing, stringing fence, making a gate, and breaking down and rebuilding a field shelter.  Now, next to the sheep, contentedly munching on some brambles, are the bucks.  I am, honestly, so happy to see these animals out in the pasture, contentedly doing what animals are supposed to do, that I find myself just standing there with them, smiling.  This is real progress. 
And none too soon.  We have two more doelings arriving in a little over a week, and they have no place to stay. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Flora It might as well be spring edition

It might as well be spring, except it can't quite make up its mind.  This picture was taken a half hour before some intense hail.  The days have been a mix of brilliance and abject snottiness. 
But when it's nice, it's real nice. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wednesday Wordless...

...or "Now I understand why farmers talk to their sheep."

The Real Doctor is out of town for a week, and I am keeping as busy as possible here on the farm, in an effort to get stuff done and keep my mind off of her absence.  Though I've been on the phone and emailing, I just realized that I'd gone over 24 hours without saying anything to anyone face-to-face* except for a hasty "Thank you" to the mailman as he sped off.

The Real Doctor's friend S.  suggested I ought to get a dog so I have someone to talk with.  I'm OK with the sheep--after all, I've taught freshmen. 

*Here's our word of the day:  Meatspace, a back-formation from cyberspace. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday Tool

Alas, today's tool is the tow truck.  It was supposed to be the Ford F-350 Super Duty Diesel truck, which I was going to use to pick up a bunch of fencing and building supplies, and then use to deliver a sheep with a possible eye infection* to the vet.  But, the darn thing wouldn't start.  The starter would crank mightily, and every so often it would cough and deliver a cloud of smoke, but no go.  The guy at the shop said it sounds like fuel injectors, but we'll get the diagnosis tomorrow.

The sheep was also to be diagnosed tomorrow; I was to bundle her into the back of the truck (which has a topper) and have her visit the vet.  I called the vet, and explained the situation.   I might be able to come by in the afternoon, if the truck were healed by then.  Or, the vet might have to go out to make a house call.  "So," said the receptionist "until then, we don't know whether we're coming or going."

That's about right for all of us today.

*The real doctor is unfortunately out of town.  What timing!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Poultry report

(Soundtrack for today's post--you can think of it as ein Montag Musikalische Opfer)

I was in the Co-op last week, and I saw that they’ve got their chicks in.  Little baby chickens are the chick magnet—the galvanized bathtubs full of peeps were surrounded by little girls (and their parents) oohing and cooing.  Which reminds me, it’s time for a bit of an update on the chickens.  They are not the glamour animals of our farm, but they work hard and they are the only ones who have brought in any revenue.

We acquired our birds from Murray McMurray hatchery in May of last year. Their numbers have been reduced by three deaths (one was a day-old chick, two were possibly due to heat), a dozen being given to the guy who did our fencing, and one who was given to a neighbor as a meat bird rather than dying from being low on the pecking order.  Thankfully, there have been no losses to predators.  Raccoons and skunks are always a worry, and a few days ago we saw a bobcat four miles away from here.

We now have fifteen birds, representing fourteen breeds.  We’ve got a hefty Black Australorp, who makes the soft ground tremble when she runs, and the petite, neurotic Golden Penciled Hamburg.  There is a shiny, green-black Sumatra, who will follow you around all day, clucking and purring the whole time, and the Speckled Sussex, who would rather you don’t see what she’s doing and why don’t you mind your own business thank you very much.  They’re an amusing bunch to watch as they roam around the house and fields on their important chicken business, or take a dust bath under the porch.

We got our first eggs in late October of last year.  The first eggs are always funny—so small, like quail eggs!   
We joked about how this, the first product of our farm, was the $300,000 egg, more precious per ounce than pure gold.  The Wyandottes were the first to lay, but the others followed over the next few weeks.  I thought the Speckled Sussex was one of the only birds not laying, but I found that what she was being secretive about was where she was laying: in a nook in the trailer shed, where I discovered a nest of fifteen eggs.  As soon as I found those, she decided to find a different nest; a few weeks later, I found a nest of another dozen eggs behind the woodpile.  It’s been a few weeks, so I wonder where the next trove is concealed.  I’ve seen her lurking around the toolshed.

The birds give us about eight eggs a day now—sometimes five, today there were ten.  They range from dark brown to white (we don’t have any colored egg layers; they have a reputation for difficult personalities), from small to jumbo, and yesterday we got a double.  Most are deposited in their nest box, but almost half arrive in the hayroom—I guess the hay feels nice on a chicken butt. Fresh eggs are a treat, and they give any baked goodies a lovely golden color.  We sell a couple of dozen a week to friends and coworkers.  If you visit, we’ll probably foist a dozen onto you.
Four days' eggs.  The double is a first.  I bet it hurt. 
The birds are, at this point, the only revenue stream here, and they look to be it for a while.  They will probably take a break from laying in spring, in order to molt.  We’ll use the break to decide whether or not to buy more birds. It depends on how we view their role on the farm.  The first reason we got them is for eggs for ourselves, but the secondary reason we have chickens is to eat bugs and snails, which can carry worms that will infect our sheep.  If our goal is more egg money, then we’ll probably get more chooks.  If not, we’ll probably get some runner ducks, which are almost as amusing as chickens, and champion snail-eaters to boot.