I guess! I am feeling a little sad, as we said goodbye to Pickles and Sassafras today, SnowPea’s only twin girls, ever. The girls are a Lamancha/Alpine cross, where their mother and grandmother were purebred Lamanchas. The Alpine in them is how they got those big old ears! (It was a bit of a rodeo as we took them out of the pen… Sam had them on leads, but they took off backwards, and in the process they mowed me down and took Sam for quite a ride. But all was well, Sam never let go. Oy. I have a sore knee, but it will all work out!).
Decisions about how many animals to keep on the farm change from year to year as our needs and capabilities change. Having slightly morphed our focus toward breeding the Guernsey goats made me have to take a really hard look at how many goats overall I really can manage to milk in a season. Keeping more than a few girls just ends up with me only breeding half, and carrying the others along. Not only is it more work and management, but it’s an added drain on the budget for hay and grain. The market for crossbred goats is not huge around here. I am hoping that the Guernsey youngsters will be more salable, so keeping some around and not milking all of them will hopefully pay off a little bit.
We shall see! It looks as though Pickles and Sassafras are going to a wonderful home where they will have plenty of other goatie friends. Lovely folks. And now we are down to only one Salsa/SnowPea progeny, our little friend Fergus the Buck. He will have to carry those wonderful milking genetics forward to some of our new girls. It’s all good :*)
And so October is in and we finally got a little rain. I don’t even think it amounted to 0.5,” but at least it was something… we even have a few puddles in the driveway! That’s quite a novelty for us this summer.
Since I need to be finished with milking before I go away toward the end of this month, to that end I have been spacing out the milking schedule a little more and more. I know some folks go from twice a day, or every 12 hours, to an 18 hour divide (which means the middle of the night), but I back it off to once a day as I am lowering the feed ration a bit. The first few days are tough, lots of milk in that udder and almost tough to get it emptied before the girls rebel and want off the stand.
And so I am working on this right now. I don’t want to stop milking, I love the milk that we get in the autumn, the curds are larger and we get more cheese for our efforts out of each 3 gallon batch I make. But this year family obligations and another weekend (a fun weekend), have conspired against me! Two 4-day weekends in a row that I will be out of town. Neither my husband or my son milk. Even if one of them started, the girls wouldn’t be trusting them all that quickly. The milk and cheese thing really is my specialty, so I plan accordingly.
I have been milking just once a day for the past 5 days, and I did my first 36 hour separation today. I won’t milk again until Tuesday morning. On Wednesday the girls are going to be wormed in preparation for breeding, and that will effectively mean the end of the milk usage, even though I will continue milking farther and farther apart. We have a 7 to 9 day withdrawal on the wormers that we typically use, so by the time that is up, so will the milk!
Another year’s cycle is coming around, and as much as I love Joni Mitchell’s rendition of The Circle Game, I am kind of sad to see this part of the year go into dry dock. But, then we have the excitement of the Breeding Game to attend to! Farming is all about the yearly cycles, and each one is exciting in its own way. And this year I get to experience it all without the stress of the day job. Yay for retirement :*)
Getting our two groups of girls together seamlessly was very nice, but we now have another problem: not enough milk!
Betsy, who is now 6 months old, had been separated from her mother for over two months. I have had varied luck through the years with weaning; sometimes I can separate kids and does for 6-8 weeks and when they get back together, everything is fine and I can continue milking the moms. It does not always go so well, however! And this is one of those times. After all the does were reunited, 4 days went by and I continued milking Battie with the same amount of product that we had before. But that little bugger Betsy soon caught on that she could get the goods before I milked them away, and Battie finally gave in. (Betsy didn’t let up on her and Battie knew when she was beaten…)
Sigh! My cheese production is suffering… with only the two does milking, getting that cut down by a lot is not boding well! I will do what I can with the milk from Pippi, and make smaller batches of chevre. Maybe it’s time for me to try some small samplings of different cheeses. Hope I have time, I am busier now in retirement than I was when I was working :*)
The Train is on a full schedule these days. I am only milking two of the goats, Pippi and Battie, but each milking is getting me 3/4 of a gallon. This means that every 48 hours I have enough milk to begin a new 3-gallon batch of chevre (with leftover milkiness for my grandson and for anyone who wants it in coffee). It’s lovely! As the lactation season goes through its cycle, I get more and firmer curd structure, so I actually can get more cheese per gallon than I do early in the lactation cycle. Yesterday I got 15 chevre forms out of the 3 gallons, and earlier in the season I was lucky if I got 8 or 9.
Most of my days are spent on the chores surrounding handling milk and cheese. Sanitizing! But it’s worth it. I will end up with a good amount in the freezer to dole out during the long winter and the early spring. If I can find a day when I am not running in 20 directions, I have to try and make some more Haloumi and Mozzarella as well.
Maybe I will be able to dabble in some aged cheeses as well this fall. If I can find a wine cooler, and then also dig out a place to put it. Definitely a work in progress!
I have been working on making milking work a little more smoothly. Early in the week I made the decision to only milk Pippi, because SnowPea still has some pain in her right foot, and I could tell that being on the milk stand was not comfortable for her. She has an enormous bag and crazy amounts of milk (sniff, sniff), but it’s better for her to get a break. When her foot is feeling a little better we can try again.
So, the paddock arrangements had to change yet again! Farming requires quite a bit of flexibility, and sometimes it feels like nothing will ever be set up in a way that you can count on from year to year. So there was Pippi, all alone on her side of the fence once SnowPea went back to join with her kids, and all the other girls. Have to have a companion for a lone goat (although she can be nose-to-nose right through the fence with all the other girls when she wants to be). I decided to put her yearling doe in with her, Beezus the sweet chestnut brown girl. She is a skittish one, but I did get her over onto the other side of the fence. Pippi wasn’t all that happy. In fact, not pleased at all! They did a few fighting feints, and it appears as though I need to make sure that there are two distinct areas where hay is available, because Pippi will just fight her right off, with a scene worthy of a daytime soap opera star.
Pippi is not the herd queen, but whenever SnowPea isn’t around to interfere, she takes her almost-queendom very seriously. What a brat! She was pushing Zelda and Marigold around so hard a few weeks ago that she opened up a spot on her bony little head after headbutting Zelda extremely hard. (And the noises Pippi makes while meting out her brand of justice is almost too funny. Grr!)
You just never know with goats! And Pippi is definitely quite the drama queen. (She will be fine with Beezus after her two newest babies are out of the picture… How fickle!)
Yes, a new batch of chèvre is in the works and we got curd! I was a little anxious, but I had about 2.25 gallons of fresh goat milk. So yesterday I started a new batch and swaddled it with towels, to be opened this afternoon. I remembered both the culture and the rennet, this time. Phew! It’s early in the milking season (calculating from when the kids were born), so the curds are still very delicate and we don’t get quite as much return for our milk amounts, but it’s amazing, nonetheless.
So when I scooped out the curds, I got 8 forms filled with curd, and the rest of the curds got sent into the colander, so maybe I can salvage all that I couldn’t scoop with my spoon. I added wild Maine blueberries to one of my forms, so that should be a little bit of a treat as well.
I am not separating my does and babies this week because I am getting ready to go on a little bit of a fiber retreat with some friends this week, on the island of Vinalhaven. I can’t wait! But to keep things simple for my husband, who is doing chores, the babies will have to take up the slack on the milk end of things. They won’t mind at all!
A week from tomorrow, hopefully the babies will be separated from the moms and I will be seriously milking twice a day. It’s Weaning Time! Gotta get some serious cheese in the freezer.
Another insanely crazy week is moving by. A family friend from NJ has been staying with us for the past 10 days and left today, to make the drive back to the NY area. It’s been a wonderful visit, and in the midst of all that I had to go out of town over the weekend.
I knew this crazy weather system was moving our way, but really did not want to believe that we would be getting the better part of 3-4 inches of rain. The paddocks are a mess, but John and our friend got to replacing a tarp on the greenhouse that the girl goats use for their shelter. Just in time. And the grassy areas in the paddocks are very firm and nice, so I am feeding them up in those areas while things are soggy.
On the milking front, while I was away this past weekend, John was unable to catch SnowPea in order to milk her (that little bugger, she is a caution). So she went another 4 days without being milked. I think I am going to start drying her off. Two 4-day non-milking days in the last 3 weeks is enough of a cosmic sign for me. So we are down to milking every 4 days, and then we will be finished. It’s that time of year!
I couldn’t wait for the weekend, and it’s been great so far. We went out to breakfast this morning at a local Round Pond eaterie, John went up to Jay, Maine, to register the pigeons for tomorrow’s race, and I had some down-time at home to do some cheesemaking chores and a little paperwork. Tonight our grandson is here and we have been watching Thomas the Tank Engine videos and setting up Brio train tracks. The day was grey and cool until this afternoon when the sun finally joined us.
Columbus Day weekend is usually the peak of the autumn color in the midcoast Maine region, and it’s right on schedule. The Damariscotta Pumpkin Fest is this weekend, so there are lots of wonderfully carved giant pumpkins in town. I have not gotten any photos yet, but maybe tomorrow. I love a good three-day weekend!
Tesser is holding her own so far and seems to have perked up with the extra hydration. Monday I will take her back to the vet to have some more blood work done, and we will get some firmer answers, we hope, on her condition.
SnowPea continues to give us a goodly amount of milk, just once a day. And she seems pretty happy about it too!
I have been chugging along with the milking and cheese making this last few weeks without a thought. Every day I try to let the goat groups have access to a different area of weedy goodness. The other day big Zelda got out of my movable panel area, so I left the girls inside their paddock (with plenty of hay) because I was going to be out most of the day and didn’t want her getting into trouble.
When I returned and went out on Monday afternoon to milk, I found that not only did SnowPea not want to get onto the milkstand, but her udder was almost empty. That was really quite a shock! She wasn’t in the mood to eat her grain, either. This kind of situation immediately led me to start frantically thinking about milk fever, or something equally bad. As I got her off the milkstand, I fumbled with the gate, and I noticed that she was greedily munching on some of the weeds at the side of the greenhouse. So I left her there while I finished chores, took her temperature (normal), and put them in for the night with some molasses water.
Yesterday morning I did not milk SnowPea, even though her bag had grown a little. I made the girls a new weedy/grassy pen, and left them to it (I always put some hay out for them as well, which they pick on periodically during the day). And last night she got onto the milkstand with a full udder, and happily went after her dinnertime grain. This morning she was her usual milky self as well.
I think our sweet mama SnowPea was having a little sit down strike! She was not happy with me about no greens on Monday, and it sure translated quickly into no milk. She certainly is the Queen of the Herd here, and she knows how to get the best working conditions for her girls :*)
SnowPea’s boys are amazingly cute, but they were more than ready to be weaned. I couldn’t milk their mama until they were, or gone. In the beginning when the babies are small, they don’t drink up all of their mother’s milk and I can get in there and get some uneven amounts. But once they are about a month old, there is no extra for us. So I had pretty much stopped doing any milking for the last 6 weeks.
Yesterday the two boys went off to live in Jefferson to be weed control for a friend of ours. I am seriously hoping that it works out for them, so that late in the autumn they can go into the freezer for the winter. Many people euthanize bucklings as they are born. I just can’t really understand that practice, although we do goats on a very small scale and that makes a big difference. I may not make much money on our little bucks that probably won’t make the cut as breeders, but we try to set them up as feeder goats at the very least. It probably doesn’t make economic sense to keep them hanging around until they are butcher size, but if they don’t feed someone else, at least they go into our freezer.
I suspect that our receiving family may have had a noisy night last night. Their mama was calling loudly for her boys this morning, and she is still checking all corners to see where the they may be. But SnowPea is our best milker, and this morning she did not disappoint. I just wish we could get a doeling out of her someday. The only one she has ever had got tragically strangled in a feeder. We can hope again that next year she graces us with a female, but until then we shall certainly enjoy her milk.
Coopworth Fiber, LaMancha Dairy Goats and Cheese on the Coast of Maine!