cover pic

cover pic

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Butting Heads: The Joys and Frustrations of Owning Goats

     My husband wants to buy another billy goat.  I am reluctant to agree to this.  We have only had five female Nigerian Dwarf goats on our farm for the past year, and there have definitely been fewer hassles.  Once we bring in another buck, I know my frustrations with the goats (and my husband) will greatly increase.  When it is breeding season (which it is right now,) we have never been successful at keeping these goats under control.  All bets are off as the male does everything in his power to get to the does, and sometimes the girls do the same.  Then there are these extremely cute babies born in late winter when we have freezing temperatures, and my entire family wants to bring them inside and raise them like house cats.  It does not make me happy.  But I have to admit that I do love seeing little goat kids jump and twist and play in the pasture, and I miss the fresh goat's milk that I turn into pudding, yogurt, ice cream, and butter.  So today I sort through the positive and negative aspects of raising goats, and maybe by the end of this post, I'll come to a decision to either concede or remain stubbornly opposed to a new addition to our farm.

     Goats have personality---way more so than our sheep.  Some are shy and stand back to watch what you and the rest of the herd will do before they come near.  Some are bullies as they are always trying to keep someone else below them in the pecking order.  There is always a Queen Bee who gets to be first at everything, even if it's something she won't enjoy, such as vaccinations or hoof trimming. Some are more athletic than others and go to great lengths to get out of the luscious green pasture you have put them in to get to the other side of the fence just to eat the same grass that they were already eating.  Some are the most wonderful, attentive mothers to their kids and never let them out of their sight.  Others want nothing to do with them and we have to hold them still just to let their babies nurse from them.  Most of our goats are extremely friendly and absolutely love to be scratched and talked to.  The queen of our herd is especially fond of my husband and acts like he belongs to her. Once we got goats, they quickly became my favorite animal to own.  They feel more like our pets than our livestock, which makes it hard to sell the surplus to others, but once they start having babies, there are just too many goats to keep.

     I forgot to mention that there is a clown of the herd too with lots of quirky habits, such as jumping into open vehicles and hoping for a ride.  This leads me to my biggest frustration with owning miniature goats: their ability to escape and their total lack of respect for boundaries.  We thought we were being so smart to use metal stock panels for fencing.  My husband moves them around our land to practice rotational grazing.  They are supposed to be escape-proof, but obviously, the designers never owned this breed of goat.  Not only can the kids squeeze right through the openings when they're little, but the adults find all kinds of ingenious ways to get out.  Sometimes they put all their weight against the middle of a panel until it bows out enough and sags down, and they either jump over it or push their way under it.  Even though we disbud our goats as kids, the bucks sometimes keep a remnant of a horn, and we have witnessed them use that horn to pull a fence panel hard enough to pop the staples right out of the wooden fence posts.  Several of our goats have been able to jump straight up and over six feet high fences.  Sometimes the younger ones get on the backs of our larger sheep and jump over the fence that way.  One of our goats can actually climb the stock panels like a ladder, as could her twin brother, who was the infamous billy goat who could always find a way to get to the girls when it was time for breeding.

     In addition to the escape methods I already mentioned, we have a few very agile goats who can climb trees.  Okay, they can't actually climb straight up a tree (at least, I don't think so) but if a tree is growing at an angle or has partially fallen, they climb it and walk on it like a tightrope until they are on the other side of the fence, and then they leap down.  When the wind uprooted this willow tree, it was like a jungle gym for some of our goats.  My husband didn't think they would do this because it was quite high off the ground, but they did.  Of course, our garden was directly underneath the end of this tree.  When one goat would do this, the rest would watch, and then one by one, they would all give it a try.  The heavier ones weren't successful, fortunately, but the ones who were did it over and over again until our son cut the tree into pieces.

     One of the best things about having goats is that they do help with keeping a couple of acres "mowed" for us, and they also eat up all of the fruit and vegetable scraps and peels that we have.  This comes in especially handy now when we are saucing and drying apples and have the cores and peels remaining.  They gobble this kind of stuff up like candy.  They are our living garbage disposals.  The flip side of this is that they also eat things you don't want them to have.  Since they are escape artists, they run to berry bushes, grape vines, strawberry patches, and young fruit and nut trees.  In the four years we have had goats, they have destroyed a rare chestnut tree, all of our newly planted pear trees and blueberry bushes, our entire strawberry patch, numerous wild raspberry bushes, and the entire row of grape vines.  Not to mention crop after crop of just about everything in our gardens.  I told my husband that he can either have goats or he can have produce, but he can't have both at the same time.  He, however, believes he will outsmart them and will successfully keep them contained.  We shall see.

     Last Halloween is a perfect example of how their culinary tastes can be a good thing and a bad thing.  While we were carving our jack-o-lanterns, the herd escaped and came straight to where we were on the front porch.  While it was great that they wanted to eat the pumpkin pulp and some of the seeds, it was not good that they also tried to eat our pumpkins.  It was impossible to get any carving done with them loose because we couldn't keep their heads out of the insides of our jack-o-lanterns. There were also no seeds left for roasting.  This is also a huge problem in the winter time when we keep 50 pound bags of sweet feed stored in the garage.  Every time we would bring in a goat to milk, the whole herd would ambush us and devour the bag of feed in minutes.  Moderation is not their strong point.

     What is one of their strong points is winning blue ribbons for our children at the local county fair.  This summer was the first one in five years that none of our children showed goats, and it was rather sad.  Because we sold our last remaining buck last fall, we had no breedings, and therefore, no kids this year at all.  Since Nigerian Dwarfs are considered dairy goats, they don't place well in a show without an udder full of milk.  With none of the nannies in milk and no kids to show, there was no goat show for us this year.  The miniature goats steal the hearts of people walking through, especially the children.

     If we purchase a new billy goat now, we will probably have kids in March or April.  Our goats typically have twins, but singletons and triplets are not uncommon, and we have even had quadruplets once, so it is possible to have as many as twenty goat kids here next summer.  That would be a lot of fun for the children, as well as give them a chance to be in the 4-H Youth Fair again.  It will mean I'll have to find homes for most, if not all, of the kids after the fair, but that's also extra income, and our children get to keep some of that.  It will mean lots of milk for us, but also the extra work of milking that someone has to do every day.  It means no vacation because it's so difficult to find someone to come and not only feed and water all of our animals, but also milk five of them daily. Even though goats are small and easier to handle than cows, if they don't want to be milked, they do everything in their power to make the task nearly impossible for you.  They chew on your hair or your collar, kick the milking pail, step in the milking pail, and even collapse their entire bodies on the milking stand so you can't even get your hand underneath them.  We had one goat that someone had to hold upright while the other person milked as fast as they could.  These are some of the frustrations I'm referring to.  Do I really want to deal with all that again?

     Yes, I think I am willing.  In an unexplainable way, these goats bring us together as a family. When our son comes running up from the barn to announce that babies are being born, we all throw on our coats and boots and go running down, ready to assist if necessary in eager anticipation of witnessing the miracle of new life.  When a smaller one looks too weak or cold to make it through the night, we take turns wrapping it up and holding it and giving it all our warmth and love and positive energy.   From youngest to oldest, we all go out to the pasture to watch the kids frolic and play with one another.  We can't resist holding and brushing them and taking lots of photographs.  As a family, we decide what to name each one because it's our tradition to name all kids born on our farm the name of a different cheese. When we expect new births, we peruse the gourmet cheese sections of the upscale supermarkets because we've used up all the common cheese names.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, when a goat gets sick, we all help take care of it, and we are praying for it as a family at the end of the day. So, for reasons that are more emotional than sensible, I think I'll suggest to my husband that we do some goat shopping this weekend.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Attempts at Making Fall Crafts with the Kiddos

Craft #1: Glycerin Soaps

A few days ago, I was in the mood to make some apple-scented fall soaps, which the children shared with their teachers at school.  This led to a weekend of trying my hand at some fall crafts with our children.  Unfortunately, I discovered that crafting is not one of my strong points.

Glycerin soapmaking, however, is simple enough for me to handle.  I like to buy seasonal buttons and scrapbooking items to place inside the soaps.  These can be found at any of your fabric or hobby stores.

All you have to do is take a block of glycerin soap base (I got mine at Michael's,) cut it into cubes, and microwave it for a few minutes until melted.  Then add about half a dozen drops of fragrance oil or essential oil.  I used to buy mine from a company called Lorann Oil's, but fragrance oils can be found in hobby stores.  Pure essential oils tend to be more expensive, but they are of better quality and can be bought at your local natural foods store.

To prevent the soap from sticking, line the molds with vegetable oil or coconut oil.  Then pour enough melted soap to cover the bottom, and place the decorative items in.

Then you just fill the molds with more soap and let cool.  Several hours later, they should be ready to pop right out.  To get rid of the bubbles on the bottom, you can spritz them while hot with some rubbing alcohol.

I had some melted soap left, so I added a little yellow liquid coloring and poured it in these leaf and sunflower molds.  Candy molds will work too.

image from

Craft #2: Fall Leaf Mason Jar Candle Holders

I found these cute DIY fall leaf candle holders on Pinterest and all over the Internet.  I thought this would be a fun, sticky, and inexpensive craft for the children and me to do this weekend.  We have Mason jars galore in our basement, and we picked up leaves on one of our evening hikes last week, so all I had to do was buy some Mod Podge and raffia ribbon.  I couldn't wait to see how these would turn out and had visions of lighting them up all over the house and front porch.

This was SO much harder than it appeared.  My boys gave up after the first ten minutes, but my girls and I stuck it out a little longer.  We could not get those leaves to stick.  I googled our problem, and the suggestion was to wrap elastic bands around the leaves to keep them in place on the jars.  This didn't work very well either.

The Mod Podge stuck to our fingers, to the table, to the jar, but not to the leaves on the jar.  We couldn't figure out what we did wrong.

We eventually gave up and abandoned this project too, but with much reluctance and disappointment.  With so many pictures and sites featuring these on the Internet, it must be a popular craft.  I would appreciate any reader tips on how to make this work.  If you want to try making these yourself, you can visit this website:

Craft #3: Jack-o-Lantern Candies

After the failed attempt at the previous craft project, I figured we'd do something simple and less messy.  My teen daughter has experience in candy making, and I found these pumpkin spice candy melts at Michael's and wanted to try them.

She and I melted the candy wafers in the microwave and used a wooden skewer to "paint" in the black lines with the black chocolate.  This was more challenging than I expected too because it was such a time-consuming, tedious task.  Or maybe I am just that impatient.

After we finished with the black chocolate, we filled in the rest of the jack-o-lanterns with the melted orange pumpkin spice candy.

Then we put them in the freezer to cool.

And this is what we ended up with.  Not quite what I had hoped for, but they tasted good.  I don't know how those kids at the 4-H fair create those fantastic winning candy exhibits.

My Tried-and-True Oatmeal Cookies

The only way I redeemed myself and saved my self-esteem was by helping my teenage son bake some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a party he was attending that evening.  Maybe I just have to accept that I'm a much better baker than a DIY crafter.  Unfortunately, that doesn't help my expanding midriff.  I guess instead of spending the weekends trying out the great projects I find on Pinterest, I'll just have to go on more hikes with the kids.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Signs of Autumn

Autumn has just begun, but signs of it are all around our mountain farm.

The swimming pool is covered for another eight months.

Crabapples are ripe on the trees.  One of these years I am going to attempt to make jelly from them.

Goldenrod is everywhere.

Pumpkin and apple products are displayed in all the stores.  The Pumpkin Cupcake candle from Bath & Body Works is my favorite this year.

We've picked the last of our tomatoes and peppers...

...and we've begun a second crop of radishes, beets, and Swiss chard.

Fall clothes now hang on the clothesline.

I'm just beginning to adorn the porches with autumn decorations.

The sheep are starting to get fat and wooly as they prepare for the upcoming winter.

We don't have a lot of beautifully colored leaves yet, but they're starting to come down from the trees.

Along with fewer hours of daylight and chilly mornings, I think everything has a golden hue.

Next to summer, this is my favorite season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It's Apple Season

Apple Crisp (recipe below)

We spent some time Sunday picking apples from the trees at our new cabin.  Thanks to the agility and strength of our nimble 9-year old son, we were able to collect quite a few without even dragging out the ladder.

He stood on branches, hung from branches, and shook branches until we could reach the apples from below...

...or until they fell down to the ground, sometimes clunking us on the top of the head. (It's amazing how much that hurts!)

We don't spray anything with pesticides, and no one had pruned or fertilized these trees for many years, so the apples are not aesthetically pleasing.  However, they taste great, and we're saucing and juicing most of them anyway, so the appearance doesn't really matter.

All of the bruised and fallen fruit went to a good cause too.  As soon as we approached the pasture, all of our goats and sheep came running.

Unfortunately, they do not have top teeth, so it takes them quite awhile to consume them, but it's rather humorous to watch.

Because it's apple season, it put me in the mood to make some green apple scented soaps in a fall theme.  I'm thinking that some teachers might receive a fragrant surprise this week. 

But what my family wanted most of all was my steaming hot apple crisp with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  So we had it after dinner tonight, and I share the recipe with you.

Apple Crisp
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book)

Core, peel, and slice 6 medium apples and place in a Pyrex baking dish.  Sprinkle with 3-4 Tablespoons of granulated sugar.  Combine 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup unbleached flour (sometimes I use whole wheat), 1 tsp. cinnamon, and a dash of salt.  Soften 1/2 stick of butter and add to the mixture until it is crumbly.  Sprinkle the mixture over the apples, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or it's great plain!  This feeds the seven of us, but barely.

Have a wonderful first day of fall, everyone!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Perfect End to a Fabulous Summer

With the official beginning of autumn this Wednesday, we spent our final weekend of summer hiking some trails at a local state park.  Other than a few campers fishing in the creek, we had the entire place to ourselves.

Before our hike, the younger children rode bikes and played on the playground.  We had to walk right past this beautiful---but rather frightening---orb spider that was next to the steps leading to the swings.  I wasn't willing to get any closer than this to photograph it.  I just had images of it leaving its web and landing on my head.

The first signs of autumn were visible with fallen leaves accumulating on the water.

This trail has a lot of bridges, and the fishermen in our family had to pause on each one to search for trout.

We've had so little rain here during the past two months that local creeks are lower than I've ever seen.  Some are just dry rock beds.

Since I was taking photographs with my tablet while hiking, our precocious six-year old was also stopping to "take pictures" for her imaginary blog with an iphone that she made out of cardboard.

It was such an incredibly beautiful day with temperatures around 80 degrees and a brilliant blue sky.  My photographs could not do it justice.

This trail is one we hike quite often with our children because it's fairly light climbing, and it winds right alongside the creek.  They love all the bridges, rocks, and "beach" areas.

Um, did I already mention there are a lot of bridges in this park?

I stated in a previous post that we are fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Our youngest son does the best impersonations of Gollum, and he can't resist jumping and crawling around on all these flat rocks like Gollum does in the first part of The Hobbit.  I know, it's a little quirky...but that's who we are.

There were even plenty of spots to sit and relax when we were finished.  The rock in the middle of the creek was not my choice.  I found a nice squishy mossy spot up against a tree instead.

Now, I feel ready to welcome in fall.  Bring it on!