Wednesday 30 November 2011

Mad women and parrots

Do you have to be slightly odd to drink goat's milk?  Or is it the drinking of goat's milk that makes a person slightly odd? One of life's burning questions to which there is no answer I feel.  However, it must be said that many of my customers are rather unconventional and, in fact, one of my shopkeeping customers always complains that his shop is always full of 'mad people' waiting for the goat's milk delivery to turn up!

I would hate to think that we were boring!  As I have said before, one of the absolute pleasures of doing farmers' markets is the opportunity to meet our customers personally and get to know them a little.  I absolutely LOVE meeting all my customers as they are all such interesting and enthusiastic people.  And some are clearly totally mad!  Take Sara, for example.  She is 'mother' to GeeGee the parrot whom we have met in an earlier blog.  I have come to the conclusion that she is even more eccentric than I am - for those of you who know me, you may find that hard to believe.

But here's the proof ...  Sara has mentioned in a couple of her emails that GeeGee goes with her into the office some days.  There was me thinking that Sara probably works from home ... but no.  She puts GeeGee into a ferret travel cage, covers her with a Primark 'Vuitton' bag and then takes her on the bus into the office!  And what's more, GeeGee will be coming to visit me at my London market this weekend!  I MUST remember to take my camera with me.  I can't wait!

And when Sara does voluntary work 2 days each week, GeeGee is left at home.

Says Sara ... 'This is the eye of an African Grey Parrot underneath the duvet having the monday early am cuddle.. I do volunteer work 2 days a week so she is 'home alone'.. to sweeten the day, I get up 15 mins earlier than normal and she comes back into bed with me.  Right underneath the duvet!'  Now isn't that just the most spoilt parrot in the world?!

And to end the madness .. there was a great comedy moment in the parlour tonight when David started the circulation cleaning of the milking parlour, without replacing the milk filter housing.  There was a shout as a huge jet of pressurised hot water shot into the air.  He got absolutely soaked but sadly I was not allowed to take a picture!  Saves him having a bath tonight though.

Monday 28 November 2011

Enjoying the dry weather

I have to say that there was a distinct nip in the air this morning when I went to milk the goats.  I think that it's only the second time in the past few weeks that I have actually had to scrape ice off the windscreen.  But a beautiful clear and dry morning.

The goats obviously thought so too.  Despite the excitement of having a whole new bale of straw put in for them, most of them decided to make the best of the dry weather and ventured outside into the field for a few hours.

Gate leads to the yard area between the main barn and the field (to the right of picture).  Building to the left of picture is the milking parlour.


Goats on a mound!  This pile of earth was created when David dug the foundations for the new goat barn several years ago.  It was only meant to be in the field temporarily, but the goats enjoyed climbing on it so much that we decided to leave it there!
Pandora checking whether the grass tastes good

So, how many goats can you fit on top of a mound of earth?

Coming to investigate what mum is up to

Just as an aside, I forgot to include in my Saturday blog that I almost had a close encounter with the Kent Constabulary on Friday night!  One of my occasional milk customers lives down in the Weald and so we arrange to meet at a central point to save us both driving miles.  The place we have chosen is a fairly large car park outside a warehouse that is closed at night - the car park is therefore always empty.  I arrived there quite late on Friday night to find a police car parked up just across the road, watching my customer who was already parked and waiting for me. 

The two policemen watched with interest as we both got out of our cars, money changed hands and car boots opened.  Large boxes were moved from van to car and then both boots were firmly shut.  As we got back in our cars, the police car started to move off as well and we were eagerly waiting for them to come and arrest us for dealing in unpasteurised goat's milk.  Great disappointment when the car turned the other way and went off down the road!! 

Saturday 26 November 2011

Bad behaviour in the parlour (again)

Before starting milking we separate those who need milking from those who don't.  So, all the goatlings (goat teenagers) and dry goats are moved to one side of the barn and all the milkers are moved to the other side so that they can all pass through the parlour.

Here's KiKi waiting patiently at the gate to come in:

And here's young David demonstrating how to milk a goat!

As the girls leave the parlour, they go down a ramp and along the outside of the barn to join all the goatlings etc on the other side. This ensures that goats only come through the parlour once and that we only have those who need milking. Nice theory ...

At the end of the parlour there is a small wooden gate which is opened to let the goats out onto the ramp.  And it is here that the theory falls down ...  certain goatlings have discovered that they can run UP the ramp from the outside and into the parlour as the gate is opened to let the others out.

The main culprit is young Bassey (as in Shirley) who appears regularly at the outer gate:

She stands and waits for the gate to be opened and then seizes her chance as she barges through in the opposite direction to everyone else going out:

The main reason for doing this, apart from annoying the humans, is to check that there is no food left in any of the food troughs in the parlour.  And so, she works her way along every trough just in case ...
And no picture of the parlour would be complete without Tinky facing the wrong direction:

Thursday 24 November 2011

Feathered friends

One of the nice things about doing new markets is the opportunity to meet a whole load of new and interesting people.  One of my London markets has introduced me to one such lovely customer - Sara - and her beautiful African Grey Parrot, GeeGee ('pronounced like 'gee' in 'gee whiz' and she DOES whiz about a lot' says Sara).

I thought that as GeeGee also loves goat's cheese (and therefore counts as a customer!) that she should appear on our blog.  And it makes a change from pictures of goats!!

So, here she is - meet GeeGee Parrot (also known as 'She-Who-Flies' and 'Miss Featherface'):

Sara keeps an old souffle dish full of water which makes a perfect ducking dish for GeeGee.  The only problem is that Sara often gets as wet as the parrot!

It would also seem that she is great at helping with preparing dinner.  Whilst Sara is cooking, GeeGee gives a hand with the vegetable peelings - here she is with a bit of parsnip:

Hopefully, we will have more pics of GeeGee in the future ... When Sara was younger she used to live in Kent and had a goat of her own called Victoria - hence her liking for our goat's milk.  Now she lives in the town, she can't have a goat but it looks like GeeGee has plenty of character to keep Sara occupied!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Feeding time for the animals

As I have mentioned on several previous occasions, goats are not slow in coming forward when there is fresh hay to be had.  After milking all the hayracks are refilled with fresh straw and hay and when the gate is opened, it is like the first day of the January sales!  It is always wise to stand well back and wait for the crowd to dash past. 

One of the first books I ever read on goatkeeping contained a section on housing and the author mentioned that all doorways should be wide enough to accomodate even the largest goat entering at speed.  This always comes to mind when I see the girls running to their hay racks, udders swinging.  Even when they are hugely pregnant, they do not seem to slow down at all - those poor kids inside must get thrown around and squashed all the time!

David and I always joke that it's almost as if they have never seen hay before.  To a visitor, it would certainly look like we never bother to feed them as they are SO eager to get to those hay racks.

This morning, after I had survived the onslaught of a mass of large hungry goats pushing past me, I decided to take a few pictures.  And so here they are, stuffing themselves at the various hay racks:

There's that naughty black goat in the hay rack again!

I still have a number of little meat boys waiting to go to the butcher.  But, as our butcher has recently burnt his arm very badly and is currently off work, it looks like they may well be spending Xmas with us.  I could take them to another abbatoir but that would mean a longer journey for them and I am not particularly happy to take them anywhere else.  And so we wait!

Here are the little chaps eating their breakfast this morning:

Look at those lovely horns!  We don't bother having the meat boys disbudded like the other kids (no point and saves on the huge vet bill!) and so they grow the most beautiful horns.  I do love my little men - they are SO handsome!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Where there's muck ....

There is even more muck!!!!

David has spent the last 3 days mucking out the entire barn so that everyone is clean and ready for the winter.  Still, he got to play with his new dung fork grab thing, so he was a happy boy.  Amazing what keeps men amused :-)

And here he is toddling along in his tractor in the sunshine spreading some of last year's muck onto one of our fields:

And while everyone is starting to get ready for Xmas, it would appear that my Xmas cactus has got a bit ahead of itself:

In full flower with 5 weeks to go.  I think it has peaked too early - there won't be a single flower left by Xmas Day!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous for the past few days and the goats have been making the most of the sunshine.  Even though the big chaps are now indoors in the barn, we can open up the big front gates so that they can enjoy the warm sunshine.  It also gives the place a bit of an airing as the barn is getting a bit 'manly' with all those hormones still raging.

One of my jobs tonight is to go through my mating list and see who is left.  We have to make a final decision on who is running through the winter (ie, not being put into kid) and then I need to organise my scanning man to come and check who is actually pregnant and how many kids we can expect next year.  And then I can book my nervous breakdown ...

Whilst looking for some more goatie pics to post on the blog, it suddenly occurred to me that I have never posted any of Ben and Nell, our two Border Collies.  It would seem that I haven't got any up to date shots of them either - they are now about 18 months old.  So, for the moment, here are a couple of pictures taken when they were puppies:

Ben - fast asleep at a couple of weeks old

Nell and Ben

Friday 18 November 2011

JoJo has a boyfriend!

JoJo is our beautiful Anglo-Nubian goatling. 

Johari, to give her her full name, is our only Anglo Nubian.  She came to us last year as a kid from one of the top UK breeders.  Although she looks very different to everyone else in the goatshed, she fitted in extremely well and has made lots of friends.  The other kids did look at her a little strangely when she first arrived and many of them were fascinated by those lovely long ears.  But now, everyone has got used to her and they no longer stare at her or chew her ears!

As I got out of my van early this morning and walked towards the barn, I could hear an extremely loud noise.  At first it sounded like someone had their head stuck in something and so I ran to the door and switched on the light only to find young JoJo standing up on the gate, wagging her tail and bawling her head off at the boys in the next barn.

We do not possess an Anglo-Nubian male and, although we could happily use one of our own boys on JoJo, we wanted to keep her kids as pure ANs. So, after milking I immediately called up another goatkeeper some distance away and booked JoJo in for a little amorous liaison later in the day.

However, Friday is my main delivery day and so David drew the short straw of having to load our young madam into the trailer and take her for a little drive.  Apparently she behaved herself impeccably and was rather taken with young Dazzel.  Here she is, meeting him for the first time as he peers over his door at her:

And here is the man himself ... just a kid at the moment but he will grow into a fine big male in a couple of years:

Hopefully, everything will go according to plan and in the spring we will have some small black kids with very long ears!

Monday 14 November 2011

Ginger - the Houdini of the goat world

Once upon a time there was a very naughty goat called Ginger.  When she was very small, she would slide out through the bars of her pen and run around the barn.  She would jump in all the feed troughs and sleep on the lucerne bale, until a human came and found her and put her back in with her friends.

The humans thought that as Ginger got older and larger, she would not be able to fit through the gaps in the bars any longer, but still she continued to squuueeeeeeezzzze herself out through the gate.  She would run around the barn, eat all the best hay from the large stack of bales and would then curl up in a corner and go to sleep.

As Ginger grew larger and fatter (due to all the extra hay that she ate) she began to develop a small udder, even though she had never had kids.  She started to produce milk and so the first 'maiden milker' in the herd had to join in with the routine of milking twice every day.  The humans thought that having an udder would definitely stop her climbing out of her pen.  Just goes to show that humans know nothing ...

Ginger has now grown so fat that she can no longer squeeze through the gap in the gate.  But as she has also now grown taller, she just climbs OVER the gate instead.

And here she is ...

Checking the coast is clear

Getting into position

And over she goes!

Apparently, it's all my fault.  According to David, Ginger only climbs out when she hears my van drive into the farm yard.  And whenever I open the door to the barn, there she is waiting for me - usually with a large mouthful of something to keep her strength up!

Ginger is now about 18 months old and has been mated, ready to kid next spring.  Many goats change character completely once they have kidded - they calm down and become much more friendly.  It will be very interesting to see what happens to Ginger.  Genetics are very powerful though and so I suspect that we will just end up with a couple of small very naughty kids who are taught escape tactics by their mother!

Saturday 12 November 2011

Modern Art in the parlour

It would appear that David has taken up modern art in his spare time.  That, or extreme boredom has set in!  On entering the milking parlour yesterday I found two creations.

 Exhibit number 1 - Water Pipe:

Two short lengths of water pipe balanced on a gate post.

Exhibit number 2: Feed Bins

Random lids.  Too lazy to put the correct lid on the bin or an artistic statement?!

I'm going to try and sell them to the Tate Modern - see if they are interested in a bit of agricultural art.

Anyhow - to more important matters!  Balham Farmers Market was excellent again today.  Seemed busier than the first time I went there a couple of weeks ago and I certainly sold a lot more cheese.  I also had a couple of pre-orders via email - one family came to pick up 60 pints of milk!

I have found the customers at both markets to be extremely welcoming and friendly.  It is also absolutely delightful to be thanked by shoppers for taking the time to come up to London.  They really seem to appreciate the time and effort given by the stallholders and recognise that everyone has a very early start and travel a long way to bring their products into town for them to enjoy.  Once again, the weather was very kind to us but I'm sure that it won't last much longer!

Back in the parlour, I managed to get a photo of Willow being exceedingly lazy.  Why stand when you can sit?!

Thursday 10 November 2011

RIP Cherie

When you have livestock, there are good days and there are bad days.   Sometimes there are very bad days.  Today was one such day when we lost one of our lovely girls.

Cherie was a lovely little British Toggenburg - not even 3 years old.  She was named after her father Cherokee and was mated to our white male Daramac last autumn.  She was the last of our goats to kid this spring, giving us a little white female (Zola) and her little brown brother.

Although she had a slight problem with mastitis on one side of her udder when she kidded, she quickly got over it and had been fine ever since.  However, about 3 weeks ago, she suffered another sudden bout and, despite all our efforts, did not respond to any treatment.  On veterinary advice, we took the heartbreaking decision to have her put down and so she died quietly in my arms with all her friends around her.

Although little white Zola is a different colour to her mum, she has the same cheeky little face and a very similar character so Cherie will not be forgotten.

Monday 7 November 2011

When it all goes quiet

The only time that it's really quiet in the goat sheds is at feeding time when everyone has their head firmly stuck in a trough.

Usually we feed into troughs that are hung outside the metal gates so that the goats have to put their heads through to feed.  This keeps the troughs clean and prevents the naughty goats from jumping in them. 

Here they are - as demonstrated by Larkin with his current girlfriend, Bassey, enjoying their evening meal:

However, we are using temporary feeding troughs for the female kids in their new house and these are at ground level inside the living area.  Getting the food into the troughs without being mobbed by a horde of small bleating creatures is virtually impossible.  I thought I would try a different approach this morning and fill up their hay racks first as a diversionary tactic.  Always good to have a plan, I feel.

Well, it worked very well for about 30 seconds and then everyone noticed that I was sneaking in over the back gate with sacks of food.  Amazing how much speed a herd of small determined goats has over a short distance ...

Somehow I managed to get food into all the troughs without losing my balance ... and then suddenly it all went quiet.  Just the contented sounds of munching for a few minutes.

As soon as they have finished eating, the naughtiness begins again and whilst some wander over to the hayracks or the water bowl, others head straight for me and I am flattened by a number of them jumping on me.  Always wear old clothes when visiting small goats ...

Sunday 6 November 2011

Markets and mayhem

My poor little van ... fully loaded up again this morning to sail up to Parson's Green farmers market.  I hadn't been there before and so it was a whole new experience to find the end of the New Kings Road and the market.  Why doesn't my 2006 map of England tell me that you can't turn right onto Putney Bridge!  Fortunately it was easy to do a u-turn a bit further along the road and then come at it from the other direction.

This is another new market and seems to be doing rather well, judging by the very favourable comments from my immediate stallholding neighbours.  It certainly proved to be rather a good day for Ellie's Dairy and our milk, meat and cheese went down very well with the good people of SW6.  I look forward to my next visit there in a month's time.

Back at the farm, Daramac has decided that he wants to be in the same pen as the other big males.  As I said yesterday, he is separated from them in his own area but the gates that surround him have vertical railings with gaps.  Being a slim chap, he has discovered that he can squeeze through the gap and so he lets himself in and out of his pen as he wishes, using the railings something like a cat-flap!  He squeezes out into the main area, does a bit of bleating and running about, winds Fremlin up a bit, and then squeezes back into his own private house, knowing that the other males are too fat to follow him. He seems quite happy though and the other boys don't mind him - they just seem to view him as slightly odd - 'ah, here's that mad white thing again.  Ignore it and it will go away'!!

I think there must be something in the air at the moment as we are having all sorts of naughtiness in the milking parlour as well.  Tonight we managed the '13 goats to a parlour' routine again as Dolores and Winky managed to jam themselves into the same stall.  Here they are in the centre of the picture - Winky is the brown goat to the left and Dolores is the black goat to the right.

And yes, if you were thinking that the name 'Winky' sounds familiar .... Winky is the sister of Tinky who has also appeared in our blog.  She is the small naughty goat who turns round in the parlour to face the wrong way.  As you may gather from the picture above, Winky is also a small naughty goat.  I think it runs in the genes as they both bear a striking resemblance in looks and character to their mother Cobweb.  I blame the parents ...

And due to popular demand ...  more small goatie pics!

But bear in mind that small goats grow into large goats ... One of those tiny people above grew up to be our first 'head boy', my beautiful Shaggy.

Saturday 5 November 2011

It's all go!

First of all, let's start with the most important bit ... piccies of female kids in their new house.  Here we go:

Here's Mum!!! 
I tried to sneak in at the back and over the gate but I was spotted! 

Lots of space to skip about and big boxes to jump on

Those hay racks are very popular!

Everyone seems to have settled in very well in the new barn and they all have so much more space to run about.  Despite being so large and open, the barn is actually very sheltered from the weather and David has also put a row of large straw bales along the open side to stop any draught at ground level. so everyone keeps nice and cosy.

The big (smelly) males have now moved back into the front of the hay barn for the winter. It's always good to have them back indoors when the weather starts to turn wet.  Although they have a huge covered area outside at the back of the cattle yard, they tend to spend their time out in the open snorting at all the girls and, as a result, get very muddy and dirty.  Indoors, they can see the girls from a distance and snort at them in comfort!

However, uproar in the male household this afternoon as we took Daramac away from his ladies and moved him over to be with the other boys.  Not happy.  Not happy at all.  You have never heard such a noise!  As he has been a busy boy and has finished with all his ladies, he was due to return to Margate to be with his best friend Gus.  However, poor Gus hurt one of his back legs very badly last week and so Daramac has to stay with us for the moment whilst Gus recovers. 

We have penned him separately right next to the other boys while they all get used to each other.  It is not fair to keep him on his own but, to put him straight in with our other boys would cause a lot of fighting - especially at this time of year when the hormones are raging!  So, everyone has a chance to make friends before we either move him back to Margate or put him in with the other boys.

Larkin, on the other hand, is a very happy boy as he is now penned off with several ladies of his own.  Heaven!

Wye Market was a little damp this morning but didn't stop those hardened shoppers from coming out, despite the fact that our cheese stall was located behind the largest puddle in the market.  I think we either have to supply wellies for bad weather or construct some kind of bridge!

Off to Parson's Green market in London tomorrow.

And, amidst all the frantic activity, you will be pleased to know that Marmite had another busy day as well: