Becoming a Herd

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. — Albert Einstein

Ahhhh… the sun and its wonderful powers. The girls and I spent time outside today in the goat and chickens run. We were trying to teach the goats that they want to follow us; we are the herd leaders. We walked in a big circle around the fenced area watching to see if they would follow us. Most of the time they followed right away. It is a proximity thing. They will stay where they are, licking the ground or chewing on leaves, if they can see us and are within about 20 feet. The moment we are out of their line of vision, they run around the corner and find us or trail closer behind. As we played our follow us games, I yearned to unlatch the gate, take a few steps out into freedom, and walk down the grassy path that follows the stream towards the woods. Pure happiness. I guess I can wait a bit longer to take that walk with the doelings for the first time. We want to be sure we are officially a herd.

Caroline, Chris and I went out to the barn for the last feeding of the day around 8:15. As we fed  Luna and Areida, Caroline told us a story. Last night, while I was grocery shopping, Caroline and Sabrina went out to the barn to feed the goats around the same time as tonight. Chris was a couple of minutes behind them. The barn is fairly lit, but still some dark corners. Caroline said they didn’t hear the barn door slide open, and suddenly their stood,peering into the goat area… Big Foot in the dark doorway.  All they could see was the big fuzzy head, which actually was a funny winter hat that reminds me of something Elmer Fudd would where, plus some extra fur. Fun in the barn…

A New Kind of Farmer


“A farm, by definition, is a departure from nature—it is land taken from its wild state and turned to human ends. But it is possible for a farm to learn from natural systems, to work with mother nature and integrate her patterns. A good farmer creates a managed ecosystem, where the various parts all contribute to the health of the whole.

This is the soul of sustainable agriculture; it is also a practical way to produce high quality food while building soil and conserving the habitat and biodiversity that come with well-managed open land. No farm will ever approach the ecological sophistication of nature, because the balance of activity is focused on the needs of our one species. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take good care—and a little better care every year, as we learn, and learn.” Prodigal Farm Owners

Things to not forget:

Day 6 in loving and learning from our goats. They spent 4 nights in the kitchen, 1 day in the porch, and now they are frolicking in the barn. I went out this morning and double checked safety issues and organized their living environment.I made a woodchips/hay bed with heat lamp above it, checked for spots they could escape through, and set up a climbing and jumping off area. Sabrina and I tried out the bed for ourselves and we were quickly joined by the kids. It was so nice and warm under the heat lamp and there is nothing like snuggling with a baby goat. Luna and Areida laid down with Sabrina, nuzzling their noses between her legs.

They are starting to eat grain and hay in small amounts. They are also licking the goat mineral. They sleep through the night. No night-time bottles. They sure are growing up fast. They are drinking four bottles of milk a day, 8-10 oz. They will be down to 3 bottles next Monday. The more they are eating hay and grain, the better. They are both good for developing the rumen.

I will end with Sabrina and I’s realization in the barn: Goats smell like milk. It is lovely.

Curling up with Sabrina in the barnStarting to look like home in the barn

The Kids have Arrived

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”    ―      Ralph Waldo Emerson

We arrived at Poplar Hill Farm yesterday at 11:30 am, after our six and a half hour car ride, to pick up our baby goats. We were travelling from Marengo, Illinois to Scandia, Minnesota. A beautiful drive it was. There was fog and then sunshine; fog then sunshine; fog then sunshine.

As we approached the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, the trees were covered with frost and there was some snow on the ground. A tad bit colder than our Chicago weather, by about 5 degrees. Funny though, because as we crossed over the river on Highway 94, we looked one way and saw people in their boats fishing, and to the other side, cars driving on the river’s frozen surface.

When we first arrived at the farm, we were greeted by some Adult Saanens, Nubians, Alpines and Toggenburgs. They peered out from their barn, checking us out. As soon as we walked towards the fence, some ran right over to us and others looked at us suspiciously. We later found out that was the breeding barn. No wonder they looked suspicious. These were the does in heat, that were mingling with  very substantial looking bucks. The different doe breeds were in separate pens, with a buck of their breed all to themselves.

Peeking Out

Adult Saanens

Farmer Vincent, founder of Poplar Hill, met us in front of the baby and youth barn. He gave us a very informative and interesting tour of the systems that they have in place for new goat arrivals and the “teenage” goats. He gave us the low down on things like bottle feeding, disbudding, milk dispensers, and his repair shop. We did not find our little babes in that barn. They were in the milking barn, with the other “just born” kids. They normally would have left that area by then, but they  stayed there because we were coming to pick them up.

We were anxious to meet Luna and Areida, yet we were so enjoying our tour. So much great information that will come in handy one day soon.

Farmer Vincent took us over to the milking barn next. We learned about the entire milking system, from start to finish. I have to admit that I was having a hard time concentrating at that point in the tour, because the baby goats started crying in the next room as soon as they heard our voices. That next room was just an office of sorts, with some extra sinks and vet care items on the shelves. This is where the just born kids were brought. There were four goats in four separate plastic totes when we got in there; two Toggenburgs, a Saanen, and an Alpine. We are very lucky that goats are not too cheap, or they would have all been coming home with us. WOW, were they cute. Their little cries have to rank high in giving the “most desire to pick up and take home” effect. This is when the girls got to receive and give their little goatie friends a big hug.

Caroline with Areida in the office of new arrivals

Sabrina meeting Luna for the first time

The next leg of our tour was the most fun and interesting for me. I think Chris and the girls really enjoyed it to. We went over to the pregnant or just became a mom barn. There must have been 150 does and dams in that barn, plus a few bucks for the last few does to become pregnant.  I had just asked Farmer Vincent how they keep track of new baby goats when there are so many mom’s to be, when we looked over to find two babies that had literally just been born. The dam and the kids looked completely dazed. She had birthed two bucks. Vincent grabbed a tub and jumped in with the does. He slowly went up to the new dam and put a red collar around her neck. That color indicated that she now needs to be milked. She would also head over to the other side of the barn with the dams who have recently delivered. He put the new kids in the plastic tote and we were all off to the just born office again.

While I was standing watching Vincent in there with the new dam, gently taking the kids and putting them in the bin, I have to admit that I felt a mix of amazement but also sadness for both the dam and her kids. Even as I write about it now, it gives me that tight feeling in my throat. There are different philosophies on how to manage the dam and kid separation. I am sure Vincent spent his own time pondering the different philosophies being that he was a philosophy professor many years back, before entering farming. I wondered how he felt about separating the dam and kid immediately and never letting them begin their newly found bond. I did not ask though. What I did do though is thought about my own feelings on this important issue.

Poplar Hill Farm is still a wonderful place in my eyes, but I can see now where becoming a big outfit does creates moral/ethical questions and issues. I need to remember what is critical for me as a farmer is to feel that my relationship with the animals is as symbiotic as possible. I could not sacrifice kind heartedness for profits, convenience, or creation of easier “systems”. I am constantly re-examining the relationship between humans and animals and I find that I am not fully sure of its acceptability. I am obviously enough on the side of the fence for keeping that relationship than not, but it is a fine line. What keeps me from stepping over that line has to be my own loving actions and those loving actions of others. It is a complex issue and like my dad says, ” There is no cornering the truth”. There are so many complexities and contradictions in everything that humans do and humanely keeping animals maybe one of them. I do know that if I am going to continue eating meat, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and drinking milk, I want a very high set of standards met on how those animals were raised, or I would rather go without. Again, it matters so much how we treat animals, not only for the animals sake, but for the sake of us all.

Pregnant Does

Dam with kids

Pregnant does laying together

Cuddling in the laundry basket/ Car ride home

Rest Stop Fun

Rest Stop Fun

Slumber party with new kids in the box

The Unexpected

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mohandas Gandhi

Also known as Mahatma Gandhi

My heart ached last night as I laid in bed thinking about Frannie. I tried rationalizing with myself that she is just a chicken; this is what happens to chickens; there will be more chickens. No matter what I tell myself or try to convince my children of, there is only one Frannie. She is worth grieving for, just like you or I.
The problem with letting myself grieve losses is that then I don’t want to do it again. I want to shield myself from anymore loss. It got me thinking about the loss of our goats in River Falls and the enormous amount of pain that held. “What the hell am I doing? Why do I have animals? Do I really want to keep going through this? “. The answer is yes. I will not shut myself off from all of the happiness and love that comes with a guarantee of grief.
This morning I woke up, and put my shoes on and went and called for Frannie. I couldn’t see out in the distant field very well because of the thick fog.  I walked the perimeter and decided that she had truly become dinner. I again had a stern talk with myself about the life cycle, which includes dying at some point in time, and this was Frannie’s time. I went back in the house, warmed up my toes and tried thinking about other things.
At about 11:00 am I decided to go out for one more look. I knew there was a slight possibility that she had hunkered down out in the field because of either running after a potential threat, or being chased by who knows what. Chris said that last night she looked like she was on guard patrol in the yard. She was taking her job very seriously.
As I rounded the corner of the barn, what I saw could have been out of an ending to a sappy kids movie. There was Frannie in the distance, “walking heroically out of the fog”, with her crazy Polish hair, wet and flopping to either side of her head. She looked exasperated and let me pick her up without any resistance. What relief… I love that feeling when something turns out better than you would have imagined.
*( Caroline had asked if Frannie “walked heroically out of the fog” and I deemed that she did looked heroic and there was fog.)

Frannie warms up under the heat lamp

Right before I had gone out to check on Frannie for the second time, my phone whistled at me. It was a text from Farmer Sara. Our second baby, little Areida, was born last night. It gives me the goose bumps writing about it. We will be picking up the “kids” Saturday morning, February 4th, at 11:30. We will stop at our property on the way home and pick up the electric fence materials. The cabin and the milk can be warmed with the wood stove, and they can receive their first feeding there, from the girls. Caroline was so happy to see that she was exactly the colors that she had hoped for; tan and black. Those traditional Alpine colors…
So, here are the soon to be sisters side by side:
 Amazing Areida

Lovely Luna

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

“Why did the chicken cross the road?  Here are three answers from the Poultry Project Blog:

Ralph Nader’s Answer: The chicken’s habitat on the other side of the road had been polluted by unchecked industrialist greed. The chicken did not reach the unspoiled habitat on the other side of the road because it was crushed by the wheels of a gas guzzling SUV.

Jerry Falwell’s Answer: Because the chicken was gay! Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the “other side”. That is what THEY call it–the other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashed with seemingly harmless phrases  like “the other side”.

Dr. Seuss’ Answer: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed, I’ve not been told.

Why do you think the chicken crossed the road? I’m still thinking.