Wednesday 29 February 2012

And we're off!! First babies arrive ...

Lara and Bramling wish to announce the birth of their twins about an hour ago!  One male and one female.  Lara decided that it was a bit crowded in the barn and sneaked outside to find a quiet corner to have her babies:

Nice easy start to the season. Lara is a first time mum but she had them with no problem and they were up and feeding within a few minutes.  Just how it should be!

Moyra, on the other hand, is still playing the waiting game.  She has looked increasing uncomfortable for a couple of days and was moved into her own pen yesterday, which she seemed very happy with.  I don't think that she has sat down since and clearly has something on her mind.  Could be a long night ..

Sunday 26 February 2012

Got some catching up to do!

Well, what an end to the week!  A rollercoaster of emotions and no time for blogging.  So, get yourself a cup of tea - I have a feeling this blog may be a long one as we catch up on events from the past few days.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I shall begin ...

So, Thursday was delivery day as Friday was taken up with other things.  Quick whizz up to London and then back home via the farm/country store in Aylesford where I stocked up on kidding essentials.  More feeding bottles, milk powder, bucket loads of spare teats and other such exciting purchases.  My colleague who has the most gorgeous Cashmere and Boer goats in the Lake District National Park, calls this our 'nesting' phase!  The days when we try and get ourselves organised ready for the ensuing chaos.

Friday started very badly as our little Morgana goat took a serious turn for the worse.  She has been living up in the main barn for a few weeks now as we have been treating her for some kind of strange nervous condition.  She had been recovering exceptionally well but, for some reason, went rapidly downhill on Friday morning.  We took the very painful and heart-rending decision to say goodbye as we had exhausted all the possibilities, and so Peter called in to send her to the big goatshed in the sky.

Not a good start to the day.  But we had to pick ourselves up and carry on as the BBC were coming to film us in the afternoon for Countryfile - how about that for bad timing?!

As we were not entirely sure what they would be filming, we tidied up a bit, put lots of clean straw and hay in and then patiently waited for them to arrive.  Here are the girls busy getting themselves ready for the BBC:

A very grey and overcast morning gave way to brilliant sunshine and blue sky and by the time the film crew turned up, lots of goats were out in the field and it all looked lovely.  Couldn't have wished for better weather!

The Countryfile team were spending a couple of days filming in various locations around Kent and wanted to come and visit us before they went off to Buttercups Goat Sanctuary later in the afternoon.  Our presenter was the lovely Matt Baker - what a thoroughly nice bloke!  Very down to earth and really nice to talk to.  He was completely at home with the animals as he had goats as a child and was very interested in what we were doing with them and how we looked after them.

So, they spent the whole afternoon with us, doing various things with the goats.  Monica came and did an acupuncture treatment, Michael came back and did some pregnancy scanning and they also filmed the start of milking.  I don't expect we will have more than about 5 minutes on the program but they certainly have plenty of material to choose from! 

It was an exhausting experience but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially the cameraman and the sound engineer when certain goats who shall remain nameless (Willow and Footsie) tried to eat the microphone and the very expensive camera equipment!

Here's a few pics of the day:

 You can see the results on BBC Countryfile on Sunday 11 March. 

An early start to Saturday saw me go off to Wimbledon market.  This time of year is always entertaining at markets as we have virtually no cheese to sell and so I have to concentrate on the raw milk, kid meat and goat's milk soap.  I did have a little cheese but had sold out an hour and a half before the market ended! 

It was lovely to see some returning customers as this was only my second time at Wimbledon.  The meat went down particularly well and a lovely Indian lady gave me a great recipe for a traditional Parsee kid meat curry.  I love to collect goatie recipes as they are great to give out to customers who are not sure how to cook the meat. 

My loyal GeeGee Parrot's Mama came along to collect her milk ration and brought with her some frozen fruit from her own allotment for me.  Delicious victoria plums and morello cherries! 

While I was at market, David took advantage of the good weather and decided to muck out the rest of the barn.  So now we are all ready for kidding.  The little men have moved round into the hay barn with the big chaps.   Little chaps to the right, big chaps to the left:

 This has left one large bay in the main barn completely empty:

Along with another bay on the opposite side of the barn, where we have squashed the big girls up a bit:

And we have moved the hayracks round as well, just to confuse the goats!

So, it looks like we have LOADS of space in the barn but, believe me, once we get into kidding there will be pens and babies everywhere!!

So I wonder what this week will have in store?  Well, I know that tomorrow morning, I have to take the last four little chaps to the butcher.  Taking the last kids of the year is like the end of an era and it always seems the hardest run to do.  Especially when my beautiful Little Floppy Ears is one of them:

Later in the week we will start to see babies arrive.  In theory, Moyra is due on Tuesday, followed by Alice, Lara, Dolores and Whoopi on Friday and big fat Footsie goat on Sunday.  Things will get a bit frantic over the next few weeks, so please bear with me!  I will blog as often as I can to keep you all up to date with the new arrivals. 

Wish us luck!!

Wednesday 22 February 2012

So who is Ellie?

Having attended a Careers Fair at Hadlow College today as an exhbitor, and having been called 'Ellie' for the umpteenth time, I thought I would do a wee blog on the subject.

Not that I mind being called Ellie, you understand ..

So, as I have mentioned in a previous blog - Betty and Wilma were our very first two goats in 2004, closely followed by Ellie who came to us just a few weeks later.  All three came from a very good show herd in Essex.  Ellie (or Langhome Luella, to give her her proper name!) was the last female in an important breeding line of British Toggenburgs.  Her mother, Patrician Peace, was a Breed Champion and a very beautiful goat.  Here is Peace pictured with her owner, Gordon Turner, who bred Ellie:

Here is Ellie as a young kid:

In the summer of 2005, I took all three of them to the Kent County Show - here is Ellie in the ring:

And it was at this show that I took the photo that was to become our logo:

You can see Betty and Wilma in the background.

We decided to call our business 'Ellie's Dairy' because it had a nice ring to it and also because the very talented Whitstable artist Sue Clinker had done the most wonderful pencil drawing from the photo above:

Ellie kidded for the first time in 2006 and produced two male kids, one of whom was Fremlin:

Amazing how these tiny things grow into huge smelly boys!

Bunnie was Ellie's next kid and she carries on the female line in our herd now, along with her kids Cilla and Ellie (junior).

Poor Ellie had a really bad time kidding in the years after Bunnie and ended up with an emergency caesarian in March 2009 - a fairly unusual operation for a goat. 

Despite the horrendous looking scar, which healed up totally, she made a complete recovery and we put her in kid again the following year.  But it was not to be.  Sadly, we lost her after another very traumatic kidding in 2010.

Bunnie gave birth to a daughter just three days after we lost Ellie and we decided that the new kid should carry on the family name - so she was named Ellie after her beautiful grandmother.  She is currently pregnant now herself and is due to kid in March.

So, there you go ... the original Ellie is watching from the big goatshed in the sky whilst little Ellie is getting ready to become a mum herself!

Monday 20 February 2012

Bubblewrap and aprons

Well, we are now officially in a drought area ... surprise surprise.  Looks like it's going to be a struggle again this year to make enough hay.  Hey ho.  So, the more that the goats go out and eat grass, the better!!  Saves the hay ...

And here they are enjoying the sunshine today:

Far off down the field in that last photo!

Whilst I was in Ashford today making arrangements for David to have a hire suit fitting ready for the awards dinner next Friday, I made a quick visit to my old workplace to relieve them of some of their bubblewrap.  They have mountains of the stuff taking up space and so are pleased to give me a large bag full every so often - I get through a fair bit of the stuff packing up milk for mail orders and it's nice if you don't have to pay for the packaging!  My polystyrene boxes and ice packs come courtesy of Macknade in Faversham and Franklins in Dulwich  - recycling at its best! 

And on a totally different subject .... when I had a few minutes last week, I was trawling through the 'stats' for this blog.  You can find out lots of information about the location of people who read the blog, which websites they come from, what search terms they use to find you etc etc.  I was intrigued to see that one particular blog from last September had over 5 times as many views as any other entry.  Curious, I started to delve further into it.  It was a blog entitled 'say cheese!' and was mostly about my day making cheese ...  Maybe there are a lot of people interested in cheesemaking, I thought to myself.

And as I continued looking at various bits and pieces, I came across some of the search terms that people had used to find our blog.  Amongst the usual things like 'goat dairy', ' raw milk' and 'milking parlour' was the search term 'rubber apron'.  Mmmm ....  And where did this phrase appear?  Yep, you got it .... In the 'say cheese!' blog ...  So that explains why that posting had so many hits!  Sadly, most of the people who read it will have been very disappointed to see a picture of me in my white wellies and cheesemaking apron!

It's a weird and wonderful world!!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Happy Birthday Daphne!

In our herd of goats, most people have their birthdays between February and May (for obvious reasons).  When we only had a few girls, everyone would get a banana on a birthday .. Sadly a bit impractical now - not to mention expensive!  But, with the older girls, each birthday is special and today Daphne was 8 years old.

As one of our original 5 goats, Daphne has been with us from the beginning and so today marked a special kind of day for the herd.  We did manage to sneak her a banana skin and a bit of bread when noone else was looking!

Next significant birthday is Thelma who will be 8 on 23rd Feb.

I had a pretty restful day attending a British Toggenburg Breed Society meeting in Guildford today.  Met up with a few goatkeepers and had a very nice lunch.  Quick trip around Nick and Michael's goatsheds to see the gorgeous Ashdene and Theban herds (two of the most prestigious show herds in the country) and then back round the M25 to start feeding and milking once again.

Siouxsie had obviously had a busy day though as she was absolutely fast asleep at milking time - she had found a nice comfy spot in front of the hay rack and was far away dreaming little goatie dreams.

Well, we are now into the final full week before kidding so it's time to start getting the place sorted out.  David has mostly finished the mucking out and a space has been cleared for the kidding pens to go up. The caravan ('Kidding Control Centre') will be moved in sometime over next weekend and I need to start gathering bottles and teats.  We have a box full already but some of them are getting quite old now and need to be replaced.

We already have the automatic milk feeder machine on site but that won't need to be set up until a couple of weeks time when the first babies are ready to be moved onto it. 

We leave them on their mums for about 5 days, then they are bottle fed for a week or so and then they are moved onto the auto feeder which is rather like a huge coffee machine that whips up lovely warm milk all day long!  Francesca and I had a good system in place last year to deal with large numbers of hungry babies, so hopefully we should be able to do it all again without too much trauma but only time will tell!

Saturday 18 February 2012

Tales of kidding

When I went to feed the youngsters yesterday morning, I got to thinking about how much they have grown and how, very soon, they won't be the 'babies' any more!  Watching them tucking into their food and run about, I was reminded of when they were small and how we struggled to keep some of them alive and healthy.

Look at them now!  Watching me climb over the gate with their breakfast:

As with all kidding seasons, we did have a few traumas last year, but most turned out well in the end.  Here's a couple of stories for you:

This is Stevie now.  First time mum Cerys had a really difficult kidding with Stevie's twin being born dead.  Little Stevie was very small and frail when she was born and Cerys really struggled to look after her.  Mum and baby both needed a lot of love and attention.  You can see just how tiny she was from this photo:

Once little tiny Stevie was up and about, we quickly noticed that there seemed to be something wrong with her eyes.  Closer inspection showed white cataract-like films over both eyes and we assumed that she had been born blind.  No wonder she was struggling! 

When David took her for disbudding at a few days old, our vet checked her out and said that it looked like her eyelids were growing inwards - they were scratching the eyes and this was what had made them 'blind'.  Quite common in sheep apparently, but not so usual in goats.  Solution - inject the eyelids with a type of botox to plump them up and bring them away from the eye.  If this didn't work, there was something else that he could try.  But he was hopeful. 

And, indeed, after a few days, her eyes slowly started to improve and she came along in leaps and bounds.  She has grown into a cheeky little person and now has no problem at all with her sight.

And then there was Tattie.  She was one of twins born to Tinky goat.  Remember Tinky?  The little naughty brown goat who turns round in the parlour?

Well, she had twins on the same day as her sister Winky also had her twins.  As they always spent time together, we put both mums and all the babies into the same pen.  For some reason, Tinky did not like Tattie at all and refused to feed her.  She would happily feed Tattie's little brother but when Tattie tried to feed, she would bite her until she ran away.  That's how she got her name - she had bits of hair pulled out and nibbled and looked really tatty!

Fortunately, Winky was a bit of an Earth Mother and was quite happy to feed all the babies.  We had to get Tattie away from her mum and put her over to Auntie Winky for her meals.  Good old Auntie Winky!

And here is Tattie now ... beautiful and well grown.  She shows no sign of being traumatised by her experience with Tinky!

And, finally for today - Faye and Teasel.  Otherwise known as the 'Cilla goats'.  They were born to young Cilla and although they were well looked after by mum, they didn't seem to thrive.  They needed a lot of attention and remained on extra milk feeds for much longer than other kids the same age. 

Before we had decided on proper names for them, Francesca and I used to call them 'the Cilla-goats'.  When you needed them to come out of their pen for feeding, you just called 'Cilla goat! Cilla goat!' and both of them would come running to the gate.

Seems that all our hard work paid off - here they are now:

Thursday 16 February 2012

Diggle gives us a fright

So there I was, yesterday morning, watching the youngsters tucking into their breakfast. All of sudden, a small brown goat fell on her side and started twitching and kicking her legs. I rushed over to find little Diggle goat looking like she was having some kind of fit – her eyes rolled back and legs twitching . In true goat fashion, none of the others cared at all and were trampling over her to get to their next mouthful, quite oblivious to her distress.

I pulled her out from under the greedy hordes and managed to get her lying on her stomach. A vigorous rub and a cuddle and she was right as rain! Back off to the trough to finish her breakfast.

I can only assume that she got her head trapped against the feed trough by one of the larger girls and had her oxygen cut off for a moment. Certainly, she was up and about quickly and looking like nothing had ever happened. Poor little Diggle goat!

BBC chaps turned up yesterday afternoon and spent some time with us looking at the goats and asking lots of questions. They seem quite keen to come and do some filming, possibly next week, but we will hear for definite within the next couple of days. We sent them away with some milk and cheese to sample. They were very taken with the goats – particularly that they are so inquisitive and affectionate. It also tickled them that Footsie comes over to have her ears scratched and Bunnie shouts at you when you call her name. Far too intelligent ...

And to end the day, we had another visit from Michael the scanning man who checked out all the remaining pregnant ladies. So, most of them are in kid but, as we suspected, there are a couple who didn’t manage to get pregnant. Little Big Ears Johari, our sole Anglo-Nubian, is due to have triplets in April. Not sure that we have the space to cope with all those extra ears!

So, finally we have a complete kidding calendar and we know for definite who will carry on milking through this year and who is dry (and gets a year off!). I have sprayed a red dot on the bottom of those who are milking through to make it easier when we split the goats at milking time. It was quite easy until last week as they were really the only ones with udders! However, as some are getting near to kidding now, their udders are getting bigger and it only adds to the confusion. Mind you, it doesn’t take much to confuse us early in the morning!

Kidding starts 28 Feb and goes through to 22 May – all dates subject to change of course! Our busiest time is mid-March and then everything gets a little more leisurely towards the end of April and into May. Approx 141 kids due in total but there will no doubt be a few traumas and surprises!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Water water everywhere ...

The problem with snow is that it doesn't stay frozen forever. So, spare a thought for Jane the Cheese who wandered out to her dairy yesterday morning to find torrents of water flowing out of her maturing room. And the cheese room. And several other places. Poor Jane the Cheese. Having located and fixed the burst pipes, the mammoth cleanup operation started. Hopefully, not too much damage there.

Meanwhile, at the soft/goat cheese making plant we also had a couple of minor bursts but, having suffered badly a few years ago, we now take the precaution of leaving fans running and turning the water supply off when we leave the place overnight in the winter. Lucky lucky lucky .... One of the bursts blew the water meter off the wall, but hardly any leaks. Lucky. David managed to mend the pipes pretty quickly and so we were up and running and making cheese by 10.30am. Hurrah!

And then last night it started to rain and this morning all the snow has gone! Looks like someone has been over my garden with a hoover and taken it all away - not a spec left. Must admit that it's nice to see green again!

So, it's a Happy Birthday day today (as well as being a Happy Valentine's Day). Firstly, my dear Auntie Celia is 87 today. And then, it is also the 1st birthday of Valentine (guess how she got her name?!) who was our first live born kid last year. So, she is now officially a goatling! Big grown up girl that she is ... I tried to get a picture of her this morning but she was having none of it .. nice blurry pic!

So, as you see, we are a couple of weeks later starting to kid this year. Just as well, as our assistant goatherd Francesca, has decided to go swan off back to the Gambia for 2 weeks sunshine! No dedication ... She has given instructions that none of the goats are allowed to give birth until she gets back - especially her beloved Footsie goat!

And, to continue the excitement of last week's visit from the Taste of Kent Awards team ... tomorrow we are receiving a visit from the directors of BBC CountryFile.  Apparently, they are coming to film in Kent in the next few weeks and may want to come and do some filming with us.  They are on a scouting mission tomorrow to visit various potential filming sites so that they can decide where to send the crew.  So, we may or may not be on TV again but watch this space!

Sunday 12 February 2012

Put your thermals on!

Well I must apologise for not writing you a blog last night.  To be honest, by the time I got home I was so cold and tired all I wanted to do was have a hot drink and go to bed.  So I did.  In bed before 9pm.  What an airhead.  No dedication ... sorry ...

Anyhow ... I have to say that it was rather on the chilly side when I left for Balham yesterday morning.  It was -13 as I left the farm and I struggled to get my little van up the lane on the ice.  As I drove past Leeds Castle I saw -14.5 on the van temperature.  Didn't think it went that low!  But it was an absolutely gorgeous morning.  So cold but no wind .. just very still freezing cold air.  Absolutely gorgeous.  And then the sun came out and it was a balmy -7 standing at market.  But the good people of Balham did us proud once again and I came home with a lot less than I went with.

Sal, the Mad Parrot Woman, came along to pick up a leg of goat and some milk.  I didn't see her arrive but heard this faint bleating in the distance as she walked along the road towards the market!  The market was quite quiet when she came and so it was lovely to have a bit of time to spend having a good chat with her and hearing some more of her stories.  She was wrapped up warm against the cold but still looked so damn elegant!  Don't you just hate people like that?! 

Isn't it about time for another GeeGee Parrot picture?  This is a totally gorgeous one taken by Sal:

Called in on the little girls on the way home to find that their water had finally frozen up during the day.  They had been doing so well as most of their water pipe runs underground and there is only a very short part that rises up to feed their trough.  I was unable to defrost it and so had to call in the cavalry.  David arrived with large troughs and a tank full of water - this is how we get water to remote animals during bad weather:

So it looks like we will be doing that for the next few days as well!  Needless to say - everyone else in the main barn has frozen up again and so it's buckets and buckets and more buckets!

We had a quick visit from Jane the Cheese's partner, Dave, and her daughter Kelly yesterday evening.  Kelly was amazed at the size of Footsie goat and took a pretty good picture of her ..

Poor Footsie.  Not long to go now!

Today is murky and foggy, although we did have a quick blast of snow earlier this morning.  The goats are not impressed with the weather and were much more interested in the contents of their hayracks that were filled up after milking. 

Seems that we have a different goat in the hayrack each day now.  This is Aretha (yes, as in Franklin).  Notice how she has her head down, butting at the other goats who are trying to eat HER hay:

Right, I'm off to get a nice cup of tea and a bit of cake (purchased at Lenham Market this morning) before I have to start getting all my layers back on ready for the evening goatie shift.  I feel like a Michelin Man at the moment ..

Friday 10 February 2012

Just a quickie!

Looks like David and I have to dig out our best frocks for 2 March.  Seems that we are in the final of the Taste of Kent Awards Food Farming and Landscape category!!  So we get to go to the posh dinner!  Downside is that we will probably have to sit on the same table as Jane the Cheese .. still, can't have everything.

Judges were extremely nice yesterday and spent some time looking at the goats and various bits and pieces.  There is some very serious competition though so I doubt we will win, but at least we get to go to the dinner!!

And I just thought you might like to know that as I finished my milk deliveries tonight my van told me that the outside temperature was -12.5 degrees.  Brrr ... chilly .....  Not looking forward to getting up at 4am to get sorted ready for Balham market .. Hey ho ...

Back with a proper blog tomorrow night! Wrap up warm!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Judgement Day

Those of you who have been following our blog for some time may recall that we were voted into the Top Ten in the Taste of Kent Awards Artisan Food Producer category.  Well, what you didn't know is that Jane the Cheese and ourselves have also entered a couple of the other categories that are selected by a judging panel.  And, although you may accuse us of blowing our own trumpets, we would like to announce some success!!!

So, step forward Cheesemakers of Canterbury!  Canterbury Cobble has been placed in the top three in the Kent Food Product of the Year (Foodservice) category and the Bowyers Kent Brie has been placed in the top three in the Retail category.  Well done those cheesemakers!  This means that Jane now has to borrow a frock in order to attend the Awards dinner on 2nd March where the winners are announced.  Not often those little legs see the light of day!  There is some stiff competition though as our fellow cheesemakers at Kingcott Cheese, Karen and Steve Reynolds, have also made it into the top three in the Retail category with their Kentish Bluebell.  Curd knives at dawn!

And, as for us humble goatkeepers .. well, tomorrow we are receiving a visit from the eminent judges of the Kent Food Farming and Landscape Award, as we have been deemed interesting/special enough to warrant further investigation!  Not sure how many of us are in the final but we will try and find out a bit more tomorrow.  Wish us luck!

And, finally, our friends Sarah and Mark Hardy at High Weald Dairy in Sussex have received the coveted title of 'Sussex Food Producer of the Year'.  Well done!

Anyway, enough back-patting .... What about those goatie girls and boys?

Another beautiful sunrise yesterday morning:

Unfortunately for our youngest bull calf, we had a visit from our vet in the afternoon.  Peter was on site to perform a necessary little operation on the young chap as we had not been able to fit a castration ring on him when he was younger ... I don't think you need the details or any photos, but I leave it to your imagination.  Quick and relatively painless ... and now he sings soprano.  Poor lad.

Today saw a quick trip to High Weald in Sussex with a vanload of frozen milk.  The main roads and motorways were clear of snow but the little country roads made for interesting driving in the ice! 

It's always interesting trying to get round our regular doorstep deliveries in this weather, as all of them are in neighbouring villages not served by main roads.  One delivery this morning would have proved too much for my little van so I nicked the truck to make sure that I had enough grip to get up and down the icy hills.  Just as well I did, as there was no way I would have made it in the van.  I did manage to get stuck on one occasion last year and had to call David very early in the morning to come and pull me out.  Think I had been a bit over-optimistic when faced with a series of snow drifts!

The goats stayed firmly indoors today as it was pretty miserable and there were some snow flurries drifting about.  Kitty found that the best place was right on top of the hay rack: