Wednesday 24 December 2014

Merry Xmas everybody!!

It's been the usual festive dash to the end!  Jane the Cheese, Karen the Blue Cheese and myself have been flat out collecting and delivering cheese to the good people of Kent like mad women possessed.  As we are about half way between Karen and Jane, I often end up as a bit of 'cheese mule' taking deliveries back and forth between the two of them.

But it all seems to have worked out OK.  Fridges are mostly empty, just a couple of cheeseboxes to deliver tomorrow and then that's it!

Here's one of the boxes waiting to be delivered - a yummy selection from all the Kent cheesemakers, with some damson cheese and chilli jam. 

Xmas Day will start as usual for us.  Up at 4.30am and off to milk those goatie girls.  I think we just about have enough bananas to give everyone a slice with their breakfast!

And so, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Merry Xmas!  As is now traditional, I leave you with a delightful piece written by a goatkeeper in Wales. 

There is a very lovely ancient tradition that holds that on Christmas eve, at midnight, animals are given the power of speech. I’ve even heard it said that at midnight, all the animals sing songs of praise.

Walking into the warm barn, coming in from the icy, windy dark outside, it’s easy to believe this lovely story. I look into the slender faces of my familiar, much loved goats, with their dark eyes and knowing expressions, and I can easily imagine them opening their mouths to sing at midnight. Glenda, Wandi, Patsi, Juliette – I know all their names, and I can tell them all apart, as identical as they might seem to a stranger. I can imagine just how each of their voices might sound, raised in the choir. Juliette rears up her hind legs to have her cheek scratched – just there, by the hinge of her jaw –and to rub her head lovingly against my shoulder.

I come here every day, twice a day, to milk these goats and commune with these lovely animals, and they have taught me a thing or two about miracles.

They have taught me about dedication, and patience, and discipline. Waking up at 6 am on a freezing morning, and going outside sounds like a punishment when I’m wrapped in my duvet. But as soon as I haul myself up and out, and into the barn, I realize the truth of it – coming into the barn is my reward. The teaching really is in the practice – putting my hands on the goats, tending them and receiving the healing milk that they give me, is all I need to know of magic.

The Christian tradition holds that the king is born in midwinter. The pagan tradition too, speaks of rebirth in the time of darkness. It is a principle as old as man, when we were frightened and crouching in the caves, waiting for the light to return. Peasants have milked goats as long as humans have been around, and I follow this time-honored tradition with gratitude now, as the warm streams of milk hit my pail in a fragmented melody.

In that song, I can hear everything I need to know about rebirth. These goats are pregnant in the darkness, gestating new life. In the spring the kids will be born, and the milk will be freshened. The life force dies back, and blossoms up again. New life. It is a miracle that we few – who are lucky enough to tend the farm – learn over again with our hands and feet, arms and eyes and hearts, every year without fail.

Christmas eve, in the darkness – the goats and I wait together in the silence. We wait for the rebirth that is certain. It is certain as life, certain as breath, as certain as the knowledge that someday, spring will come again and light will return to the world.


Wednesday 17 December 2014

Gracie Moos come home

Yes, it's that time of year again when the Gracie Moos are brought back to the farm to spend the winter tucked up in the cattle yard outside the goat shed (recently vacated by our Big Boys).  David went with tractor and trailer at the weekend to collect them all and, apparently, they were all exceedingly well behaved and loaded without any problem.  Seems like they wanted to come home.

So, now we have all 10 of them close to home which is lovely.  Nice to hear that low mooing sound early in the morning.  And a few of the older ones are due to calve soon as well, so David will be more able to keep a close paternal eye on them.

As the saying goes .. they are big and brown and very very round!!

The goatie girls took advantage of the glorious crisp December mornings to have a little trot into their field.  Brave goaties that they are, they managed to tip-toe through the mud at the entrance and then skip out into that lovely grass for a nibble.

Young Humphrey is a most handsome chap now and still loves to come through the milking parlour with all the ladies at tea time.  He always has to be at the front of the queue ..

And Mora is definitely in with a chance for the Longest Beard in the Goat Shed award this year ..

 And goatlings will be goatlings .. the teenagers of the goat world.  Jigsaw seems to have found a favourite spot in the hayrack each morning:

But it is a little like a bunk bed .. spot those ears underneath!!

Anita and I spent a long day trimming little goat feet with all the youngsters on Monday.  Here are a few of them waiting for their turn:

Everyone is flat out at Ellie's Dairy at the moment with the festive season fast approaching.  Today was our last mail order day for milk until January and so the courier had piles and piles of boxes to collect this evening.

Dairy Fairy Julie will be hard at work preparing and packing cheese orders tomorrow and I will be busy (I hope!) at markets all weekend.  Fingers crossed that the weather stays reasonable until all markets are over .. I have vivid memories of driving home from Wye Market a couple of years ago in driving snow!

Thursday 4 December 2014

A cold, damp day ..

What a thoroughly horrid day!  Very cold and damp - the kind of day that gets into your old bones first thing in the morning and stays there all day ...  But then, it is December I suppose!

The goaties stayed firmly indoors and were very cosy in their new straw.  A few were nibbling on hay whilst others were just lounging about.  Some just seem to have a knack of finding the most comfy bed of straw ..

Bassey & Vivian found a cosy corner:

Siouxsie managed to plonk herself down on the thickest wad of straw that she could find:

As did Baloo ..

Once our bunch of goatlings and kids had gone off to their new home in Herefordshire, we moved the remaining goatlings back up to the farm to live with our milkers.  The idea is that they all get used to each other before kidding time and the goatlings also have a chance to come into the parlour and get used to the noise and machinery before they have to come in and be milked. 

Always very stressful for goatlings - kidding and then having to be milked.  One day they are a  teenager without a care in the world and the next day they are a responsible adult milking goat.  It's hard for them and so we try to reduce the stress by getting them into the milking parlour routine well before they have to do it for real.

And so it is always rewarding to see them lying in amongst the older milkers, thoroughly relaxed and at ease.  Here's our lovely young Cara goat ..

 Older followers of our blog may recall the two very poorly kids from last year that I had living in a crate in the caravan for a couple of weeks whilst we struggled to get them started:

Well ... one of those kids turned out to be Cara.  Doing OK don't you think?!

And of course, when we moved the goatlings we had to bring our little Fizzy goat with them.  We were always a bit reluctant to put her in with the bigger goats as we thought that she might get bullied and pushed around as she is much smaller and slightly deformed.  So she always lived with the younger kids who were the same size as her.

But we needn't have worried!  She is a feisty girl and can hold her own against any old goat that tries to push her around!  In her own mind, she is a big goat too.  Completely at home with everyone else .. happy and relaxed:

As the weather became colder and wetter, we moved the big lads back into their winter quarters in the hay barn.  This year, as we have all these extra kids, they are sharing their accomodation with their offspring but are happy to be warm and dry and nearer to all their lovely ladies.

Our new boy Fenn is hard at work and one of our own youngsters is keeping him company when there are no ladies to occupy his time:

Our little chap goes by the grand name of Clark (Gable) as his mum is called Scarlet.  Name that film ...

Clark was destined to go with some other kids to a lovely lady in East Anglia but as he was quite poorly when he was younger I decided that he should stay with us.  After he had recovered, we were then intending that he should go to the butcher but, as time has gone on, he has become such a healthy and handsome chap that I am trying to find reasons to keep him as a working boy.  And he is Fenn's best mate after all ..

Many of our girls should be in kid now but there are a few still coming into season.  They can be extremely noisy at this time of year and like to let the boys know that they are around!  Here's one of the youngsters in the milking parlour, just dying to get back out to see Fenn and Clark ..

And finally, what of Marmite cat on such a dismal day?  Well, she can be found in her usual place - curled up on her cushion in the airing cupboard ..
I'm going to come back as a Marmite cat in my next life!

Thursday 27 November 2014

Tough decisions

Today was a day for tough decisions as we had to say goodbye to the youngest and one of the oldest members of our herd.  Although there were very good reasons for both, you still have those tiny moments of doubt when you try to convince yourself that everything will be OK ...

Our lovely vet Peter was tasked with the job of sending both goaties off to the big goatshed in the sky.  Always tough for the vets but Peter is a consumate professional and so always handles the situation efficiently and calmly (despite lots of blubbing from myself and David!).  He always examines the animal thoroughly first and if he thinks that there is a chance of successful treatment, he will always give us the option to change our mind.  Though I have to say, in all our years of goatkeeping, this has happened only once!

First up was our last baby, born to Kitty only a couple of weeks ago.

You may remember that he had odd front legs.  Despite all our efforts and treatment, it became apparent that his legs would never straighten and his little knees seemed almost fused solid.  It was impossible to straighten his legs and the little chap moved around on his front knees with his bottom in the air. 
He was a beautiful big boy and such a happy little goat - he would bounce around with the others in his pen, despite being on his knees.  But, with no prospect of ever being able to straighten his legs, there was nothing we could do.  To leave him as he was would have been unthinkable and so we had to say goodbye.  David cuddled him as Peter sent him gently away.
Deep breath and then on to the old chap .. my beautiful old Macsen.  He came to us 7 years ago as a young buck from a tiny cottage high up in North Wales:

He always had a lovely smiley face and used to sing to his ladies during the mating season.  We always thought it was because he was Welsh!

When he arrived he was quite a handful but he soon settled down and was very happy living with our other male goats.

 But recently, he had begun to look quite elderly and frail.  His back legs were getting very wobbly and he was losing weight quite rapidly, despite still having a good appetite.  He hasn't sung to the ladies at all this season and it looked like he would really start to struggle as the winter approached. 

It was a tough call but after many hours of watching him, we took the really hard decision to say goodbye.

 I walked him round into the main barn so that he could see his ladies for one last time and then I held him tight as he slipped away.  Quick, painless and dignified. 

Ffarwel fy annwyl Macsen.

Thursday 20 November 2014

A week of mixed fortunes

Time flies when you're having fun .. or something like that!

I have to say that changing a wheel in the middle of Catford early on a Sunday morning was not really my idea of fun, but that's exactly what I found myself doing on the way to Parson's Green last weekend.  Travelling down the hill towards the Catford Gyratory the van suddenly felt rather odd ... like I was driving on glass.  Driving gingerly onwards, I managed to land in the McDonald's car park with one of my back tyres as flat as a pancake.

A swift pit stop (thanks to VW kitting out the van with all the right tools for the job!) and I was on my way again .. if a little later than planned.  Pondering the logistics of both markets, I made a quick call to Anthony who was en route to Bishop's Park and diverted him instead to Parson's Green.  He had a busy day there whilst I tested the waters at Bishop's Park in the wonderful setting of Fulham Palace.

Fortunately, the drive home was a little less eventful!

Monday afternoon was spent in the company of the wonderful Rendezvous Club in Sittingbourne.  I had given a talk there last summer and when I was invited back again, I thought we should do something a bit different.

So, I arranged for a special licence from DEFRA and took Kimono's 3 little people on a day out.  And you can see just how popular they were with all the lovely ladies at Rendezvous!

The little goaties were very tired after all that cuddling and they slept very well that night.
Sadly, the same could not be said for myself last night as I spent the night lying in the barn next to an extremely poorly Poppin goat.  Just as we finished milking, we noticed that Poppin seemed to be in labour.  She was pushing and heaving and trying her best to get those little kiddies out into the world.  But closer examination revealed that she was not at all ready for them to come out and so all that pushing was in vain.
Around 9.30pm we called out the emergency vet and lovely Pippa spent quite some time examining Poppin.  There was nothing we could usefully do except sit and wait to see if her labour progressed more normally.  Pippa gave Poppin some painkillers to make her more comfortable and I settled down into the straw with a blanket, ready for a long night ahead.
As the night progressed, it became clear that there was something very wrong with Poppin and, as she started to shout in pain, I held her in my arms as she died just before 4am this morning.
We will never know what happened and why it all went so wrong.  Sometimes animals can induce labour themselves if they begin to feel ill as a result of something else.  Is this what happened to our lovely girl?  Suffering with some sudden and terrible condition that she knew would be fatal, she desperately tried to save her kids by going into labour. 
Farwell. my beautiful Poppin. 

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Kitty has a tiring day

So there I was, busy sorting out goaties with waggy tails for a day of romance with Hugo .... when I heard a strange noise coming from the other side of the barn.  Further investigation revealed Kitty goat in labour and having problems with a sizeable kid which was refusing to be pushed out into the world.

It took both David and I quite some time and a lot of pulling to free the kid and poor Kitty was totally exhausted by the end of it.  To my surprise, the baby was still alive when we managed to get him out and, so far, he seems to be doing OK.  His front legs are little wobbly at the moment but that has rather a lot to do with the enormous force we had to use to get him into the world.

And here he is, snuggled up with a very tired and sore Kitty goat.

He has managed to feed, though Kitty does not have much milk for him at the moment.  She forces herself to her feet and is very patient whilst the little chap crawls over to feed, but then she lies down again as soon as he is finished.  Hopefully she will get a good rest tonight and will be feeling a lot better in the morning.

In the next pen, Kimono is still loving her new babies and this morning was settled down in a corner with all of them.


And again, this afternoon ... seems to be her favourite spot!


Monday 10 November 2014

And then there were three ..

Well, three MORE .. to be exact.  Seems like kidding is becoming a year-round event. 

We have been keeping a close eye on one of those suspiciously plump Mary goats as we suspected that there may be more to her waistline than just hay.  And she proved us right ...  these three little people appeared just in time for lunch on Friday:

Two males and one female.  Kimono is a great mum and loves her new babies.  She is very attentive - always cleaning and feeding.  But occasionally she does manage a little nap, as you can see.

Meanwhile, we have released the young goatlings from their pens with Hugo and Fenn .. and, boy, were they excited to be free again!!  Lots of running and skipping about ... Here they go!

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Another Debbie Away-Day

This is getting to be a bit of a habit ... Here I am again, not in the goat shed.  In Taunton, actually.  A rather lovely part of the world which is hosting the Autumn Goat Veterinary Society Conference at Taunton Racecourse tomorrow.

I left Kent in pouring rain with a van full of frozen milk for our wholesaler in Sussex and then came across country through Sussex and Hampshire to arrive in Taunton just as darkness fell.  It was a lovely drive through some beautiful scenery and I never touched the motorway once!  Of course, it was a great excuse to pass by my favourite place in the whole world .. Stonehenge.

As is my habit, I am staying at a Farm Stay B&B - a beautiful place called Pound Farm on the edge of the Quantock Hills just a few miles out of Taunton.  I always like to stay on farms and am looking forward to having a look round in the daylight tomorrow morning.  The scenery is always stunning in Somerset and I think it will be a nice frosty morning tomorrow.

Last week seemed to fly by as there was so much going on.  We had a lovely work experience student called Connie spend some time with us.  As well as doing the usual goatie work, we also had her moving furniture (as goatie assistant Anita was moving house) and packing cheese as Dairy Fairy Julie was laid up with a very badly injured knee).  Here's Connie all dressed up and ready to pack cheese:

She was a great help and was happy to muck in with all the extra non-goatie jobs that we had to get done!

Little Thumbelina goat is growing very well.  Her sight has continued to improve and she seems to be able to see everything now.  Her funny little back leg is still strange though, so I think she may end up as a bit of a 3-legged goatie.  However, she does use it occasionally and I did see her scratching her head with it this morning, so I don't think it is completely useless.

Perdi's two little chaps are also doing well.  Mum has gone back in with the herd and so we are bottle feeding them now.  Hungry little people they are!

And young Fenn is hard at work with the ladies.  He has a permanent harem of some lovely young goatlings and we also send him a grown-up lady every so often!  Hugo is also busy with a group of ladies and it would seem (fingers crossed) that he is actually performing to standard this year!

So, I'm off to bed now .. ready for a nice lie-in in the morning.  I'm not setting my alarm for the usual 4.30am. 

Night night everyone ..



Saturday 25 October 2014

A slide into decadence

Is this the slippery slope into decadence?  Sitting in bed with my laptop and mobile broadband dongle, sipping Sal's delicious homemade kirsch?  I will spare you the selfie of me in my jim-jams with Marmite Cat ..  Think yourselves lucky!

So, I am enjoying my extra hour of GMT and thought I would make the most of the extra time by writing you a little blog.

Today was a lovely dry and sunny market day.  Whilst I was at Notting Hill, young Joe went off to Twickenham for the second time.  And very good it was too!  The meat sold out very quickly (note to self .. take more meat to Twickers) and the cheese, milk and soap were also very popular.  Joe was pleased to see many customers coming back to make repeat purchases and so we are hoping that this new market will be worth while.

Meanwhile, at Notting Hill, Jamie's flowers were still in full bloom:

And it was great to see Omer from the Hackney Deli/Bow Belly who had all kinds of deliciousness on his stall including sage, goats' cheese and squash muffin.  This is made using a mixture of two of our cheeses and it is truly an awesome muffin ..

And Epi continues to be a naughty goat at milking time but now lets herself in to the Naughty Corner.

Here she is trying to help David figure out how to use his new phone!



Saturday 18 October 2014

Just when you thought it was all over ...

So.. there was Kidding Phase 1 in the spring.  Then a few weeks ago we had Kidding Phase 2 - a much shorter version of Phase 1.  And today, dear Perdi goat decided that we should have Kidding Phase 3.

Hearing something squeaking this afternoon, David went to check out the babies but could see nothing wrong.  The squeaking continued and he finally tracked down the source:

Yes indeed - two bouncing baby boys!  In mid-October!  How ridiculous is that?! 

So, just when we thought kidding was well and truly over, it looks like we may be starting again!

Thursday 9 October 2014

There's always one ...

Those of you familiar with our little goatie family may remember that we start all our kids off on bottles of milk and then gradually move them over to feed on milk powder from an automatic machine. 

As we have only a few kids at the moment, it is not worth connecting and running the big machine and so we connect their teats up to buckets instead.  Just like this ..

It all works very well and most babies soon get the hang of feeding themselves ..

But every year, there are always one or two kids who just can't get the hang of it and we have to continue to feed them with bottles instead.

So, here is the latest refusnik ..

Danny Boy.  A beautiful big British Alpine baby - son of our lovely Dani goat.

It took him a while to get the hang of bottle feeding, but once he figured it out, he was well away.  But, I have tried and tried to get him to feed off the teats and he will not have any of it.  Absolutely refuses.  Won't do it.  And, he will not drink milk replacer either.  Has to have proper milk from a bottle.  Nothing else will do.  Little monkey.

And what a change in the weather this week.  Suddenly chilly in the mornings.  It was only 1 degree when I drove up to the farm earlier this week.  Time for fleeces, woolly hats and the head torch!  Always nice to bring a bit of glamour to the goat shed ...