Posted in farmlife

Raccoon Games 

Did you know that raccoons can open the airtight, fire-ant-proof  Gamma2 “Outback Vittles Vault 15” container with a screw-top lid? It’s true. Those bandit-striped opposable-thumbed varmints figured out how to open the cat food container so that they could enjoy Purina Cat Chow Complete (the blue bag) at 3 a.m. It’s now a game of outsmarting the raccoons.

I walked out to the barn to find a pile of cat food on the ground and bite marks on the container. It can be a little disturbing to walk out to the barn and find three items tossed about the barn like a crime scene. I tried questioning possible witnesses, but the goats, donkeys and barn cats refused to speak.

It’s now a nightly competition to see whether or not the raccoon wins a meal.

Interestingly enough, the Vittles container fits perfectly in a plastic milk crate upside-down. I have discovered that the raccoon can lift a milk crate and a 10-pound spool of wire off the container in order to enjoy a buffet. The raccoons can knock over the spool of wire, but they cannot get their little paws around the container when it is upside-down, and lift it from the crate. 

Yesterday, we found the Vittles Vault at the entrance of the barn where it had been tossed, end-over-end, yet still snug inside the milk crate. 

Today, the farmer went outside and found the Vittles Vault lid at the back steps of the house; at least a 100 yards from the barn.  Just the lid…as statement that the vault was empty, and proof that they mastered the obstacle course. The discovery of the lid in the backyard, 100 yads from its origin was a bit creepy.

Yes, my 3-month-old Vittles Vault 15 looks a little like the luggage on the Samsonite commercial where a bear tosses it in the air. It is covered with bite-marks and scratches. Yet it still maintains its airtight seal and is a well-made container. I highly recommend it. 

Now to figure out what they want. We must brush up on our “raccoon whispering”.

Posted in farmlife

Did you always….

Recently, someone asked me, “Did you always want to be a farmer?”

I almost spewed my coffee and said, “Lawd, no! As a teenager, I wanted to get off the farm as quickly as I could!  I despised smelling like iodine and cow manure; no air conditioning and working every other weekend. I didn’t want to be tied to a bunch of smelly animals. Besides, Daddy told me not to be a dairy farmer where it’s like you’re beating your head against a brick wall…and Mama didn’t want me to go into nursing where people are sick all the time.”

“What made you come back?”

“My husband became interested in beekeeping. We loved our suburban neighborhood, but it didn’t welcome the idea of a few hives. So, when a place close to my old home became available, we jumped at an opportunity to move. It means a longer commute for work, but the location is worth it.”

Farming takes on many forms; our current state is a small-scale family farm of donkeys, goats, chickens and bees.  It’s not the large operation of twice-daily milking dairy cows, but it’s still a passion. I don’t always jump out of bed on a freezing-cold morning so that I can break ice from water buckets. Sure, it would be easier if I didn’t have to mow grass for 2 hours each week…and my back would not be sore from lifting 50 pound chicken feed sacks, but there’s something about new life with goats, donkeys and chickens. I love the fact that entire meals that we eat often come from the garden. I love to make soap with milk from our goats (even though she thinks that it’s torture).

Sure the house is old and seems to constantly need repairs and updates. It will never be a shiny McMansion with all the creature comforts, but it’s home. When we open the windows at night, we hear coyotes, cicadas, crickets and owls. The donkeys munch grass beneath the security light in the pasture next to the house.  Fire ants find their way into feed bags, the car, and even the house. We question when strangers drive down our road; those we call “looky-loos”.

We welcome friends and family for visits and revel at the sunrises and sunsets. I scare myself with creaking noises in the barn. I laugh when my brother stands in the pasture and calls,  “Here Kitty Kitty” so that the goats come running toward me! I take vacation time from work so that I can be at home when the vet visits for a herd-check.  Our farm is an outreach to the community.

Our community is larger and smaller because of our connections through social media and through extended family. Everyone is our neighbor. Events around the world impact us, just like they impact you: gas shortages, riots, maternal health, education, wildfires, and politics. Yet, sometimes, amid the daily milking chores, gathering eggs, checking fences, committee meetings, requirements gathering, SQL statements, and commuting…goat antics are the things that make the most sense to me; and that includes goats in hot-pink tutus and neon-green halters.  These are the things that bring us joy and what we want you to see. We find it difficult to share when we lose a hive, when the goats need to be treated for intestinal parasites, or when the chickens are sent to the retirement-home-in-the-sky. These things, you will not see.

What you won’t see, is me crying in solitude for the losses of our hurting friends while the pine trees whisper in the wind. What you don’t see is me making phone calls and writing letters to those who have experienced loss of loved ones. What you can’t see is my fear of uncertain times, and my outstretched arms in faith and prayers for peace and love.

Did I always want to be a farmer? I wanted to make an impact.  And it happens to be that my experiences make me who I am, just as your experiences shape who you are. If being a farmer lets me be part of the greater good, to see beyond the exterior, and to own part of the hurting world, then I will be a farmer.  Find your outreach.

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” Hebrews 11:1

Posted in farmlife, goatlife

Weirdo Goats

As the days turn to fall, the days shorten and dusk falls earlier each night. The goat still needs to be milked. Tonight, it was just me with Faith Hill who easily went to the stanchion. As I sat to milk her, 3 other goats nudied my legs for treats. Then, I felt something breathing on my neck. I jumped, turned and met the gaze of ADHD Sam, who licked me on the cheek. At least he didn’t make those crazy mating calls. I gave him an apple treat, and he headbutted Connie Francis. Rita Rudner laid her poke-berry stained head in my lap and Betty White nibbled at my apron.  I only screamed a little when the old barn made creaking noises and a barn cat streaked by my feet. Weirdo goats. 

Posted in farmlife, goatlife, Raised by a village

You Get a Collar! You Get a Collar! Giveaways on the Farm….

In all those years of 4-H cow showmanship contests, I garnered white-participation ribbons and learned to appreciate 16th place. Now, decades later, the skills paid off…in goats. 

Catching goats is worse than herding cats. With their sharp horns and cheetah-like sprints, we quickly tired of grabbing horns and chasing them like a rogue version of a ninja warrior television show. Animal scientist, Temple Grandin calls goat horns the “no-fly zone” for human touch. 

There had to be a better way. Faith Hill weighs at least 45 pounds and the other night, I picked her up, and she smacked her horn into my jaw. I thought I was going to lose a tooth. 

That night, I watched a video by K-N-S Farm of the lady using a dog harness for her blind goat, and I finally saw the light. A quick trip to Tractor Supply after work the next day, and I scored a goat halter, lead, and a medium dog collar. We cornered Faith Hill in the barn, and I added the pink collar.  She allowed me to walk and coax her to the milking stanchion.  

Once we had her head secured, I added the halter.  She stood for milking and when we released her head, I held the lead, walked her down the stanchion, and around the pasture.  

This small success involved an ancient trick of bribing the her with a bowl of feed and a treat. My technique works now, but all those years ago, judges in the fairground exhibition ring found my tactic to be completely wrong. As a youngster, I watched in frustration as all the other 4-Hers easily maneuvered their cows into straight lines like dog handlers at Westminster; my stubborn calf wanted to find the nearest bucket of feed…in the stand with the spectators. Mortified, the judges handed me a white ribbon, and I think one may have muttered something about not coming back.  That calf, known by her number ,”583″,  grew up to be a milking cow who was always first in line at milking times, and she didn’t mind being handled by us humans. 

I certainly would have never imagined that all those failed attempts at cow showmanship would one day be a shining moment in our milking time with goats. 

After my next trip to Tractor Supply, it’s going to be like an Oprah Winfrey car-giveaway-episode on the farm when I go to the pasture saying,  “You get a collar..and you get a collar…and you get a collar!”

Photos courtesy of Kelly Reep. 

Posted in farmlife, Raised by a village

Here, Hold My Goat

Goat  “Faith Hill” and baby buckling “Jim Cantore”

“What is that smell?”  I sniffed the air, then my arms and hands.  “It’s me! I smell like a goat!”  I grimaced at my rain-soaked shirt drenched in sweat, dirt, feces and goat milk. It was July 4th, and the humidity was rising to fierce levels. 

It had been over 20 years since I smelled that combination.  It’s a smell that hid in the recesses of my mind once I moved away from the dairy farm as a young adult.  Now, with a small herd of goats, the smell engulfed me.  My brother Kelly and I spent the morning walking the fence line, cutting tree limbs off the fences that had fallen during the previous night’s storm.

My goat named Faith Hill had just given birth to a buckling the previous week,  and he was only nursing on one side. 

Goats have an udder with two teats, but the milk is compartmentalized, so if the kid only eats on one side, the udder is lopsided and full.  If not milked out, i feared that the goat could develop mastitis (an inflammation and infection of the udder).  Without a stanchion to hold the goat, Faith Hill refused to stand still so I could relieve the pressure from her udder.  I looked at Kelly and said, “If I grab her, will you hold her while I milk her?”  He said, “Sure, why not.”In one quick motion, I grabbed the nanny goat by her horns, and Kelly lifted her on to a crate.  He held her, and I milked into a jar.  Unlike cows, the goat lifted her hoof, pawed at my arm and knocked my cup of warm milk to the ground.  “Crap!”  I exclaimed.  Kelly said, “Hold her leg.”  I said, “eww, it’s wet and covered with dirt!”  He laughed and said, “Mamaw used to milk Susie the cow, and it had stuff in it before she strained it.”

I muttered, “How do I know she’s finished?”  Kelly replied, “You’ll figure it out.”  Sure enough, a few minutes later, the goat’s teat and side of her udder felt flaccid and withered. She was done.

A few weeks later, my friend Joci came to visit the goats, and I realized that Faith’s udder was once again filled, because the buckling was not nursing from both sides. I looked at her and said, “Here, hold my goat.”  I grabbed the nanny, and together we lifted her to the crate.  I repeated the process of milking that smelly gray and white horned animal.  This time, she patiently stood while this stranger held her horns.  With her back leg, she scratched my wrist and her own udder… which required a quick spray of Blue-Kote… the same magical spray that I’ve used on myself!

In August, my friend Lisa stopped by for a surprise Sunday visit.  When the rainstorm stopped, I looked at my teenaged godson and asked, “Want to hold my goat?”  He looked up from his phone and said, “Aunt Janet, I think I’m really tired.” 

I laughed, “aw, c’mon, you know you want to hold the goat.” 

Finally, we convinced him to go outside and he did hold the goat, for about 30 seconds. Then, Lisa took over and we laughed as 3 goats tried to eat snacks and I milked out another 1/2 quart of milk. 

Now, it’s September, and Jim just finished the goat stanchion last week. It’s a daily thing to milk the goat now.  Stay tuned for more of the goat milking adventures!

Photos courtesy of Kelly Reep and Jim Morgan.

Posted in farmlife, goatlife, Raised by a village

As The Goat Turns

We welcomed 2 new goats to the farm.. Sam, the yearling buck, and a yet to be named year-old female who happens to be Faith Hill’s daughter. 

Any suggestions on names for the new gal? She has one white side, two black circles on the other side, a black neck and head with fawn-brown legs. 

Buckling Jim Cantore went to be a growing stud on the farm where he was conceived.