Sunday 24 December 2017

'Twas the night before Christmas ...

Well, we made it through another festive season and have landed on Xmas Eve still in one piece, though a little weary ... The dairy fairies have done a fabulous job of keeping our market stalls and counters stocked with yummy cheese, Joe has worked his little goatie socks off at Borough Market and the goats are completely oblivious to any of the chaos going on around them!

And now the fridges are all empty, the last hampers have been delivered and I am tucking into some scrummylicious truffle Brie from our friends at Allsop & Walker .. You can never ever ever have too much cheese! 

And so it only remains for me to thank all our customers for their support over the past few weeks and to wish everyone 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.


Saturday 11 November 2017

A trip to the vet for Hugo

And so Wednesday morning duly arrived and straight after morning milking, I loaded our rather large and stinky hormone-driven Hugo into the trailer and set off for the veterinary surgery where Peter was scheduled to perform a little 'operation' on him.

Poor Hugo!  I had explained to him what was going to happen but I don't think he really understood!

As I mentioned in the last post, we had taken the decision to have Hugo completely castrated for his own sanity and the safety of other goats in his area.  It was not a decision that was taken lightly - any operation carries a risk and although Hugo is a big healthy chap, this kind of procedure under general anaesthetic can be quite dangerous.

Having unloaded and weighed him (to calculate the anaesthetic dose), we moved him into one of the stables at the clinic where Peter gave him a couple of injections to sedate him.  Very quickly, Hugo sank down into a deep sleep.

The operation was swift and perfectly executed by a well-practised Peter and his team of nurses and having administered a final dose of painkillers, they then left Hugo to come round in his own time.  And so I sat with his huge head in my lap, snoring and drooling away for almost 2 hours before he was finally conscious enough to haul himself to his feet.

Turn your sound up and you can hear him gently snoring away!

He is now recovering well at home and, when the hormones all finally work their way out of his system in a few weeks, he will be able to live permanently with all his old lady friends.  Lucky old Hugo!

And, just as a little footnote .. those of you who follow us on Twitter may have seen a photo of one of our little female kids who has recently been very poorly:

She has been living in a cosy corner with a nice warm fleecy jacket and a heat lamp and has been getting lots and lots of cuddles and treats and TLC ... All our efforts seem to have paid off as she is now much better and almost back to her usual cheeky little self ..

Such a difference and so nice to see!

Saturday 4 November 2017

It's all about the boys!

August, September, October ... and here we are already in November!  Leaves are falling and so is the temperature as the thermals are starting to make a more regular appearance for morning milking .. And, as we all know, dear readers .. as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, so goatie thoughts turn to romance ...

Joe and I spent a very wet and stinky day some weeks ago moving all the working stud boys back up to the farm so that they could be closer to the girls ..

And so it was that our lovely Hugo was first out of the blocks this season with our gorgeous goatie girls Lara and Zenobia ...

And here he is doing his very best to woo our lovely JoJo with his best chat-up lines ..

But our young buck Hilton has now taken over and is proving to be very popular again with our ladies this year .. This is a group of girls vying for his attention!

Two of his young sons, Percy and Wilbur, have also managed to escape a couple of times this week when their hormones got the better of them, so we may well have a few unexpected 'surprise' babies in the spring!

Sadly, our lovely Hugo is getting older now and, understandably, he gets very frustrated at not being allowed in with the ladies all the time.  He cannot live with the younger males as he tends to get quite violent with them and we are concerned that he may also manage to injure himself with his constant attempts at trying to knock over very large and heavy metal cattle gates which we have to use to keep him separated.

For those of you who have followed our blog for several years, you may remember that Hugo came to us as a young chap from an older goatkeeper who was suffering from dementia.  He was kept alone and did not receive a lot of attention and was quite a handful when he first arrived.  It look a lot of TLC and persistence (and personal injury to yours truly!!) to get him settled and happy.  In a more 'commercial' herd he would now be put to sleep as his working days are over but, as you know, we are not your average commercial herd.

So .. David and I have taken the rather non-commercial decision to have Hugo castrated.  This means that he will become a much calmer boy and we will then be able to either leave him in with the girls permanently (where he can no longer do any damage!) or with the younger stud boys.  His hormones will completely disappear, he will not smell any more (for which David will be eternally grateful) and he should live a good few years being perfectly happy and content.

To those of you who have no concept of adult male goat behaviour, I understand that this may seem a little drastic!  But, trust me .... there is nothing quite like a 120kg testosterone-fuelled male goat in season.

His little op is scheduled for this coming Wednesday morning with our lovely vet Peter and so we all cross our fingers that everything will go well for our big Daddy Hugo!

Friday 18 August 2017

Everyone needs a friend

One of my favourite things is to wander into the goat shed and just watch all my lovely goatie girls.  I am always particularly interested to see who has a special friend, who cuddles up next to whom and who prefers to be alone.  It never fails to amuse and fascinate me .. why do certain goats become special friends?

Some team up when they are very small kids and continue to stay with their friends all through their lives.  Our current goatlings all tend to sit together in the same area of the barn:

Most sisters will always stay together, although our dear old Betty and Wilma never used to sit together.  But there was still a bond there which became very clear on the night Wilma died.  Having sat holding her for a few hours while she slipped peacefully away, I became aware of a goat standing behind me  - Betty.  And Betty spent the rest of the night lying right next to the gate where Wilma's body lay overnight before we moved her in the morning.

Girls who have joined our herd from outside generally stay together - safety in numbers I think!  Witness our beautiful big Nubians, Lara and Zenobia ..

Although it is interesting to note that when Zenobia has been feeling a bit under the weather, she does not want to be anywhere near Lara.  She takes up position on completely the opposite side of the barn and just stays alone until she feels better ... then she returns to her friend.

Incidentally, Zenobia is getting much braver at coming into the milking parlour on her own and happily leaves her friend behind.  Lara was being particularly lazy yesterday and didn't even bother to get out of bed for her dinner ..

The group of Mary goats generally all stay together in the same area ..

And of course, sisters Truffle and Mocha are totally inseparable .. the Chocolate Frogs!

Almost like they are joined by a piece of string .. Where one goes, so does the other!

You may remember that our lovely JoJo (our first Anglo-Nubian) used to settle down with her daughter Cleo.  Sadly, Cleo died earlier this year and JoJo has been a bit lost without her.  Even Mel who helps us with morning milking was heard to remark that JoJo looked sad and hadn't been the same since she lost Cleo.

And so I was overjoyed to come across this pair earlier this afternoon:

To the left is JoJo and the younger goat in front of her is Pakora, one of her triplet daughters born a couple of years ago.  Lovely to see!  Hopefully this means that JoJo won't be on her own any more.

Of course, there are always a few goaties who just prefer their own company.  The most notable is our oldest girl Tammy who is not really a people person at all.  Loves humans, hates other goats!  If you ever hear a grumpy growling noise in the goat shed, it is generally Tammy complaining that someone else is invading her personal space!  Although she did allow Betty to share her bucket at feeding time ..

I suppose you're allowed to be a bit grumpy if you're over 14 years old!

Saturday 12 August 2017

Big goats, little goats

You may remember the two beautiful Anglo-Nubian girls who joined us last year from an elderly goatkeeper who was suffering from dementia ... Lara and Zenobia

Well, they have really settled in and are truly part of the herd now.  They do like their own space though and, when it comes to feeding time, they won't let any goats with 'normal' ears eat out of the same trough.  Goats with long floppy ears are, apparently, fine to eat next to them!  Goat racism ..

They do actually come into the parlour for their food occasionally and we have discovered that they both enjoy a scratch on their shoulders.  Lara is particularly fond of it and goes all silly ... Allow me to demonstrate with a little video clip:

Always brings a smile to my face!

And, at the other end of the goatie spectrum, we have a little white chap who has been a bit poorly recently.  Poor Skippy had a terrible chest infection and, although we managed to sort that out, he was looking very thin and sorry for himself.  So, although all our babies are now weaned, I decided that he should be given a couple of bottles of milk every day to try and build him back up again.  All those lovely natural probiotics and enzymes had to be good for a poorly wee goatie ..

And it seems to be doing the trick!  Skippy is getting bigger and stronger every day but is still looking for his bottle of milk at feeding times ... And here he is:

Such a sweetie!

Thursday 27 July 2017

No ordinary day ..

Today was never going to be just another day.

Today was the day that lovely vet Peter had been booked to come and send our dear old Betty goat to join her sister Wilma in goatie heaven.  Over the past few weeks, Betty had become increasingly frail and, although still eating well and happy, we decided that she should be put to sleep before things got any worse.  Her poor old legs were starting to stiffen up and you could feel her aches and pains whenever she tried to lie down or stand up.  Twice this week we have found her lying on her side and unable to get herself up again.  So, it was time to say goodbye.

I had been hoping for a sunny day so that we could have one final walk together around the farm.  The morning did not bode well, but the sun broke through in the early afternoon and so we set off for a short stroll around her favourite places to have a final snack of docks and thistles.

We finished our walk with her favourite thing - a nice ripe banana - and then we waited patiently for Peter to arrive.

But Betty did not make the journey on her own today as we also had to say goodbye to our lovely Dusty - the girlie with the bone tumour in her jaw.  Coincidentally, Dusty was Betty's great-niece.

So, they lie together in the tractor shed overnight, waiting to be taken away in the morning.  It would be lovely to be able to bury Betty in one of her favourite spots but, sadly, this is not the harsh reality of farming.  Betty is livestock and must be incinerated.  All that will be left of her will be an official 'pink slip' and a whole bundle of memories.

Betty and Wilma were our first two goats, all those years ago .. Here is a very young Betty at 4 weeks old when I went to visit them in Essex where they were born:

A couple of weeks later, we brought them back to Kent and that's when the fun began!

 Wilma was always the quiet dependable one.  Betty was stroppy and much more 'in your face'!  As a kid she was always inquisitive ..

And, as a goatling in the show ring, she was unbeatable ..

In 2006 she had her first two babies, Perdita and Morticia ..  The first of many kids she gave us over the years:

In 2014 she celebrated her 10th birthday with a special birthday breakfast of fresh fruit, lovingly prepared by goatie Auntie Anita ..

A few years ago, both Betty and Wilma were quite poorly for a short while and so they got a lot of extra walks and grazing to try and build them up again ..

And so they continued, until we lost our beloved Wilma last year.  Betty always had the air of a wise old goat .. been there, seen it, done it all before.  She was there right from the start and had seen a lot of changes through her 13 years with us.  But even Betty goats don't live forever and so we sadly had to say goodbye.

During milking this evening a young hare appeared in the field - something I have never seen before so close to the farm buildings.  It approached the milking parlour and sat watching the goats.  Then it disappeared, only to reappear the other side of the hedge in the other field.  And later, when I was feeding the kids, it skipped across the yard.  As it disappeared round the corner, the black clouds gave way to a rain shower and the most beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky ..

Strangely enough, hares have a special significance in Celtic mythology and the Celts considered that hares had supernatural powers and a link to the Otherworld.  It's probably the over-active imagination of an emotional old goatkeeper but I like to think that this was Betty saying her final goodbye.

RIP my beautiful old girl.  And our lovely Dusty goat to keep you company.

Sunday 23 July 2017

The boys ...

Two blogs in two days ... we're on a roll here folks!

We spend so much of our time working with those goatie girls that it's easy to take the other half of the herd for granted ... those lovely boys!

All our boys live together in a separate area - our stud boys:

and our little meat boys:

Big Hugo is in charge, ably assisted by young buck Hilton and stud-boys-in-waiting Magellan and Ivanhoe ..

And, as you may remember, there is also Jack and Babba.  Two of our chaps who never quite made it to the butcher ... Now almost fully grown and catching up in size with daddy Hugo ..

Babba is a beautiful boy with his long elegant ears:

And Jack is a bit of a silly thing ... If you get too close, he will happily lick your nose like a dog!

The big chaps are very tolerant of all the little people and can be found snuggled up next to them at bed time.  Or, like Hilton, surrounded by his sons at feeding time this evening!

Saturday 22 July 2017

Alive and kicking!!

Please can someone explain where the last 4 months have gone??!  Blimey .. what happened there?!  No, we haven't disappeared off the face of the earth but I do admit that it's been a bit of a long time since I managed to sit down in front of my laptop and string a blog together ..  No excuses really - maybe I'm getting busier or older or something but, by the time I finish with those goatie girls, have dinner and do paperwork and email, there's just no time left for blogging and I often find myself face down asleep in my keyboard (and wake up with QWERTY .. imprinted on my forehead)

In my defence, I have managed to keep twittering (when we have had a mobile signal!) so hopefully some of you may have been reading our news up there.  But here I am .. alive and kicking and (hopefully) ready to get back into the swing of keeping you up to date with all things goatie ..

So, a quick waltz through the past few months .... Kidding season came and went.  The usual endless round of babies, new mums, buckets and buckets of milk and sleepless nights.  We had a few weeks with our wonderful vet students - a new lot this year and they were all absolutely fabulous!  So, many many thanks to Joe, Erin, Arabella and Lucy.  Couldn't have done it without you all and we hope to see you again soon!

We ended up with about 150 gorgeous babies .. around 50/50 male and female.  Sadly we did lose a couple on the way which is always gut-wrenching, but we are always happy that we try and do our very best for every single one.  Just that sometimes, there is nothing more you can do ..

Here's a few pics of those bouncing babies for you to enjoy:

And, not to be outdone, the Gracie Moos provided us with 7 lovely calves between them all.  Such gorgeous little creatures who are all growing up very quickly!

Harvest is in full swing at the moment and David is really busy helping out neighbouring farmers with carting grain and baling hay.  Thanks to the good weather and David's impeccable timing, we have already got all our own haylage baled, wrapped and safely stacked ready for the winter.  Those goatie girls have got plenty to eat for the next year!

On a more sombre note, we have had to say goodbye to some of our older girls during the past few months.  Our beautiful Diddi goat died very suddenly one Sunday morning when I was away at market .. David was there with her but I never got the chance to say goodbye:

But I was there when we lost lovely Millie and two of our characters you will be more familiar with - dear showjumping Shares and long-eared Cleo .. As you may remember, Shares was our first mum of the year:

She was absolutely fine after kidding and was happily up to her old tricks, jumping all the gates around the barn.  But several weeks later, she started to go downhill rapidly - she didn't want to eat (not like Shares at all!) and just lay around looking miserable.  A visit from the vet confirmed that she had a serious heart condition which would not improve and so the sad decision was taken to send her to the big goatshed in the sky .. She was a very feisty, stroppy old girl and we miss her very much.

Equally sad was the demise of our beautiful Cleo .. Those of you who follow us on Twitter will have seen that Cleo had a hugely difficult kidding.  It took all our skill to deliver her and, miraculously, her female kid survived the ordeal ..

Cleo was pretty poorly for a few days afterwards but then seemed to pick up and was doing really well, being very attentive to her little Olivia who was doing a great job of looking after her mum.  One afternoon a few weeks later, I started to move the goats across the barn ready for milking and found Cleo fast asleep in the middle of all her friends, with her head stretched out on top of her sleeping baby.  Only she wasn't asleep ...  Poor Cleo.  Young Olivia was gently moved in with some other babies the same age with whom she quickly made friends.  She is a very bouncy, happy little person with the most ridiculous ears!

So, as you see .. a few months of ups and downs.  And in the midst of all this goatiness, the dreadful events at Borough Market and Grenfell Tower which shook us all to the core.  Our hearts go out to all those affected and we will never forget the horror of events which were very close to us and those who work with us.  We were all very lucky .. we remember those who were not.

Thursday 16 March 2017

30-something .. and counting ...

The new arrivals have been steadily appearing this week .. No major traumas (so far) but there's still plenty of kidding time left!

The glorious spring weather has made life much easier and it's lovely to have all the barn doors wide open with the warm sunshine flooding in.  The girls have been spending a lot of time out in their field enjoying the sunshine and even our two new girls, Lara and Zenobia, were also spotted testing out the electric fence!

David has been busy getting the front field ready for sowing new grass seed.  You may remember he ploughed it .. well, the next stage of preparing the ground is with a power harrow - this breaks up the big clods of earth left by the plough and leaves a lovely fine soil which is then rolled before the seed is drilled in.

As with all boys' toys, a power harrow is a big bit of machinery that fits on the back of the tractor ..

The plough turned the soil and left the field very rough ..


And it's interesting to see where the worms have been hard at work in the newly turned soil .. Their casts show up as darker soil where they bring everything back up to the surface .. We like our worms!


The power harrow breaks up the soil and you can see the difference here ..


In between arrivals this afternoon, I had a ride in the tractor with him, just to enjoy the view and watch what was going on.  

This is all so important for us - getting everything right now means that we will have great forage for the goats to eat and that means we will have lots of lovely milk!

Anyway, enough about fields ... We want pictures of baby goats!!

So, here's a quick selection of new arrivals for you to enjoy ..

Many more to come yet!

If you use Twitter, keep an eye open for our postings on the new arrivals (when we have a mobile signal!!)  @elliesdairy

So, that's it for tonight .. I'm back off to my little caravan at the side of the goat barn .. Another night of listening and waiting ... Night all!