Our darling buds of May

Apple blossoms

For the first time since the kids were born, May gave us a true spring day (an afternoon, at any rate). Poor Darcy had been cooped up in the barn for nearly a full week. It was time to throw the doors open.

The rest of the herd was down in the pasture, so I closed the gate between the pen and pasture, just to give the new family time to adjust to one thing before the next. Then I opened the barn door.

Darcy fairly bounded out, loudly calling to her babies to follow her. It took them only a few minutes to let curiosity override fear, and then all three were out in the sunshine. In her happiness, Darcy did a twisting joy-leap off the high drive, and galloped down the hill to the back of the barn. The babies followed with their first real run down the slope, their sturdy little legs gathering and reaching beneath them as if they had always known how do to this.

After awhile, Darcy, with her gaze focused on the pasture, started calling. I’m guessing she was calling after her last-year babies (the 3Gs). Soon the rest of the herd had assembled on the other side of that gate and I let them in to the pen. Everyone huddled around the fresh kids and there was much sniffing. Darcy kept an eagle eye on the babies, nickering constantly, butting away anyone who was a little too interested. The unconcerned babies were everywhere, trying out their running and balancing skills on the rocks and ledges. I’m sure poor Darcy felt like she had toddler twins loose in a busy shopping mall.

Eventually, everyone got busy eating hay, except for Gideon, who was fixated on the little ones (whether it was interest, curiosity, or jealousy, I don’t know), so Darcy kept checking him, heading him off, butting him, pushing him away. She was gentle as these things go, but persistent. After a time, he got the hint and left to eat some hay. I hung out for quite awhile, sniffing noses with goats and snapping photos until my camera battery died. And then I went inside to leave the herd to themselves.

When I checked a little while ago, the adults were all lying in the straw and grass, sunning themselves, while the little ones explored the run-in stall and the rocks of the barn’s foundation.

Just beyond the pen, the apple trees are budding pink. Dandelions have sprung up out of nowhere and I saw honeybees sipping from them. The lawn is suddenly long enough to mow. The snowshoe hare we’ve caught glimpses of this winter has turned mostly brown again. The goldfinches are brilliant gold. There’s no stopping us now.

p.s. If you have an insatiable appetite for goatling photos, you can follow along as they grow by visiting their album on my Flickr page.

Surveying their kingdom Heels Both sides Meeting the family Mother and son, reprise

Here we are now

Darcy kept us waiting six days. She seemed unbothered by it all. It was just the humans who were anxious, all the way through yesterday morning when I suggested maybe we should talk to the vet to see if we should be concerned.

Of course, that’s what did it. Like taking an umbrella along to ensure it doesn’t rain, if you express your concern to the universe, the goat says, “Ok then, I guess I should oblige.”

It was around noon yesterday and I was going to give her one more check before going for my usual dog walk. No sooner had I stepped outside than I heard a bellow from the barn. I scooted out there with a confused dog by my side and found one wet baby lying in the barn bedding, with Darcy and several other members of the herd assembled around her in a protective semi circle.

I moved Darcy and baby 1 into the prepared birthing stall, then ran to call M home from work. Back out to the barn and Darcy was cleaning that first little one, a girl, whose fur was turning light as she dried.

M arrived in plenty of time to watch baby 2, a boy, arrive. He’s lovely, darker than the girl, and with funny ears that flop around and won’t stay out straight like his sister’s.

They are both doing well. Nursing, napping, being cleaned by their mother, working on learning how to use those little legs.

Outside, it’s raining. I hear it’ll rain for a week. That’s as good an excuse as any to hang out in the barn, listening to baby goats dream.

Being born is exhausting

Boy, still to take on goat appearance

Family portrait Learning to nurse

The ears Cleaning cleaning cleaning


Domestic tranquility

Love shack

But get to the important stuff! I hear you shout.

What about the new little buck? How is he settling in? Do the girls like him?

What is his NAME?

He’s been here nearly three weeks and he feels like part of the family.  He’s sweet but shy. I don’t think he had a lot of direct human contact before, which is often normal for bucks; they hang out with other males and are only handled when their special skills are required. But he’s coming around.

Every time I visit him, I make sure to have a little treat (carrot ends, apple peels, an animal cracker) and now he comes right over to sniff my hand and gently take the treat. Yesterday, when I lowered my head to his and offered to sniff noses, not only did he not run away, he sniffed, then licked, then nibbled my nose.

Shy doesn’t enter the story when it comes to him and the girls. They’re separated by a fence and he’s mostly got his head through it, trying to get a good whiff of them. They’re  curious about him and come visiting—we put a hay feeder on the fence so they can share a meal together—and, when it’s their heat cycle, they show intense interest.

This interest takes the form of loitering near his pen all day, sniffing noses with him, and rapidly wagging (flagging) their tails. When we see a doe asking for a solo audience with his majesty, we let her in with him and then they start their dance. Much sniffing, circling.

He talks a lot, sticks out his tongue, makes a pathetic bleating that sounds remarkably like one of those old toys that looks like a can and you tip it over and out comes a noise that sounds nothing like a cow. Apparently it’s the sound of a lovesick goat. She keeps still for him, then circles around. Sometimes there’s running and chasing. Sometimes they just get down to business, which is a bit tricky because he’s quite small and they are mostly quite not.

Poor guy could use some stilts.

Still, where there’s a will there’s a way.

When we let Willow in with him, I tried to coax her out of the pen after about an hour and she said, “Why? I’ve got everything I need right here.” So I left her overnight. That’s the two of them at the top of the post the next morning, as content as any settled couple. He’s inside reading the newspaper. She’s gone out for a snack on the porch.

The same thing happened with Westwind. They spent the day together, then the night. She was lounging on the porch when I came to ask her if she wanted out. She said, “I’m just fine right here, thank you.”

Wellesley, Doris, and Darcy weren’t quite so placid, but they’ve each had some time with him. Doris has since gone to her new home in upstate, New York. Our hooves are crossed that she’ll have some kids for her new owner in the spring.

We won’t know for sure sure if any of the rest of the girls are pregnant until the spring, but it’ll be a good sign if none of them come into heat again next month. Maybe you could cross your hooves along with us, for caramel-colored kids in the spring?

And his name? Nope. We’ve thought of 50, and nothing’s stuck yet. So we call him “GG” (Golden Guernsey) and “Bucky” and “Little Guy” and he answers to anything because he’s a darling, and he’s fond of the attention, and as long as we keep delivering him food and pretty ladies, he’s a happy goat.

Porch sitting

On his porch

House move 2.0

New view

This move was a whole lot simpler than the last one, particularly as most of it happened while I was out of town.

And we didn’t have to empty the contents into a shipping container.

And we didn’t have to live in a rental house with no oven for six months.

And we didn’t have to take out a loan.

But, in its way, it’s nearly as exciting and nearly as significant feeling because it means we’re stepping up to the next level of micro farming. A buck on the property means more complications (separate housing, fencing, etc.), but it greatly simplifies breeding. And a Golden Guernsey buck on site means we can move up the Guernsey breeding ladder much more quickly.

And, besides, he’s really cute.

So, a week ago, we scouted around the property and decided the best place to put the buck pen was within the main goat pen. This has a few advantages: we can use the existing fence for two sides of the pen, and the buck can be near the girls even when he needs to be separated from this. Goats need company.

Somewhere around here


Buck shed

Over the weekend, Chip came by and leveled off the little hill he’d built in the goat pen a couple years ago, and then put down a layer of crushed stone for good drainage. And then lifted the little house, carried it across the yard, and planted it with its front porch facing the barn.

(And here’s where I remember back to a photo I took of a very little H, sitting on the front porch of that same house just after we built it for her, and I get that little lump in my throat and the dizziness from the whizzing years, and I have to pull myself back from that nostalgiac brink and remind myself about baby goats.)

This morning, Gordon the fence guy came with his crew and, in the matter of an hour-and-a-half, pounded in the new posts and put the fence in.

Westwind watched from her tower room.

Let down your beard!

Fence inspector

Walking the line

This afternoon, I painted the house’s floor with a whey-based polyurethane to help protect it from, um, fluids. When that dries, we’ll put down some thick stall mats for more protection, then a layer of bedding, and the house will be ready for its new occupant.

Tomorrow morning, we drive south to pick up GG (still unnamed) and bring him home, to our home, and his.

Oh, and the spot where that little house used to live? We have plans for that, too, come spring.


Hidden treasures

Little house

Milk can

Old bricks

Old foundation

Hidden 2

Out of the blue, a month or so ago, a friend forwarded me an email, “Isn’t this the type of goat you have?”

Her husband had been browsing craigslist and found for sale a purebred Guernsey buck. You might know that this is a very rare breed. There aren’t that many in this country (a handful, really), and our goats are part of the breeding program to establish an American version of the breed. Their rarity makes them very interesting to us, and it also presents breeding problems. In the past, we’ve trailered our girls on a four-hour (each way) excursion for breeding.

We hadn’t really considered getting a buck of our own because doing so entails all sorts of extra complications, like separate housing and fencing to keep the girls and boy apart until you want them to be together.

But, you know, a purebred Guernsey is a real find, especially one just a couple hours away from us.

So the wheels began to turn, creakily at first—there were some problems to solve—and then more rapidly and smoothly.

First, we have a small barn, perfectly sized for the herd we have now, but we’d need more space for kids in the spring. The obvious solution to that problem is also the difficult one: selling some goats. We’ve been through this once before, but we didn’t know if we’d find someone who wanted to buy goats this late in the year, when everyone is readying their own farms for winter.

But we got lucky and found good homes within a week for two does.

Next, we needed a place to house the buck separately, at least until the breeding was done and we relatively sure of conception dates. We’d need a shelter, and a sturdy fence.

So we called our favorite fence guy, and, whattaya know, he has a little room in his schedule in the next couple of weeks.

We called our friend Chip (you remember Chip, right? he of the fun earth-moving equipment?), and he had room in his schedule to visit us this morning. We showed him H’s old playhouse, sitting at the side of the yard, overgrown and forlorn, waiting for a new purpose (personally, my idea was to use it to house ducks, but you can’t have everything…).

It seemed sturdy enough after years of neglect. Yeah, he could move it down into the goat yard. Would Monday work for us?

We started talking about the wood-fired bread oven we want to build next spring. He started talking about his stone wall building experience. We went wandering together into the woods to the side of our house, an area we’ve barely explored in 21 years because it’s filled with all sorts of junk that the long ago owners threw there (typical of most old properties, decades before curbside trash collection and recycling centers existed). Old toilets? Check. Car parts? Check.

But Chip has an eye for hidden treasure, and within minutes we were uncovering antique bricks and perfectly shaped field stones for oven building.

Who knows what will happen with that project—spring feels ages away and, if we’re lucky, will be taken up with kidding and milking and cheesemaking—but this morning it felt like a lot of little things that were very mysterious and complicated were becoming a little clearer and a little easier.

How often does that happen?

So, in a little over a week, this lovely young man is going to come live with us. But we still have one major decison to make: what to name him.


Pasture perfect


It took some time, as most good things do, but we finally expanded the goats’ pasture this spring by a large degree.

The three original goats came from what was essentially a dry lot—a spotlessly clean pen where they were fed a mixture of hays and other farmer-provided food year-round. They were healthy and gorgeous and knew nothing about eating the way goats were made to eat: browsing.

The pen we put them in when they arrived was fairly dry also because it was newly formed and nothing much was growing. We spread a bunch of meadow seed and, between that and nature, the pen grew a nice carpet of green stuff. The girls explored and gradually began to graze. When Willow was pregnant, she’d eat anything and became a champion nibbler of stinging nettle and burdock. Her sons followed her lead. Everyone else took note. Now they’re all champion grazers. But it’s still not browsing. Goats love woody, stemmy, leafy things that grow tall, above their heads.

Also, it’s always bothered me that they were penned. Caged. I know we can’t just let them roam the valley. They’ll get lost or hurt or eaten. It’s just not feasible. They have a really nice pen. A really nice barn. They have most everything a goat would want. Sure, they don’t have a tower, but you can’t have everything, right?

But now they have a pasture. Room to explore. Room to get lost in. Room to get away from each other if they wanted it.

I think it’s actually a bit intimidating for them in a way, and, let’s face it, a lot more work than just lounging around the barn, waiting for us to deliver the hay, but they’re out there, exploring, nibbling, stretching their necks to reach for a tantalizing leaf, just the way the goats are supposed to do. We can’t wait to see how this affects the milk and cheese.

For now, it’s just a pleasure to watch them wandering into the brush, tasting and savoring, and then napping in the tall grass. And when I go into the pasture with them, we’re still a herd together, exploring.

p.s. The addition of the new fence gave us a new little “pocket” of space between the existing pen and the new pasture. M did some mental figuring and bought some fence posts. We spent Saturday clearing out a new fence line, digging post holes, and stringing some polywire between the two fences. Now we have a new enclosed bee yard, surrounded by electric fencing. Will it be enough to dissuade a bear? We’ll find out soon. We bring the new bees home tomorrow.


New line



Altered view

New fence line

Brave Westie

New digs

First nibbles

Willow vs. honeysuckle

Bear proof?


Doris watches

Goat home improvement

Walk right in

I’ve spent the last two days in the land of pie: first shopping for their ingredients, then making them (pear-cranberry, peanut butter-chocolate, and good ol’ apple), then delivering all but the apple (that one’s ours) to the school’s language trip fundraiser (where the pies were to be sold), then driving H to the aforementioned fundraiser, then returning later myself to help clean up from the same.

In between, there was house cleaning and laundry folding and grocery shopping and wood moving and dish doing and right now my fingers aren’t much interested in typing. They’re more interested in curling up beside me as I watch a movie or stare into the fire.

Continue reading “Goat home improvement”