Monday, December 20, 2010

Politics: Speaker Designate John Boehner: A Traitor to His Class

Our future Speaker of the House John Boehner isn’t afraid to cry in public.

He readily admits to being an emotional man. His friends and colleagues all know it and accept it and he’s not about to change.

But what does he cry about?

During his victory speech on Election Night, Boehner teared up as he spoke about being a working class stiff who has been chasing the American Dream all his life. Now that he’s gotten hold of the brass ring, however, the rest of us should realize that he has allied himself with a bunch of revolutionaries who seek to destroy that Dream by getting rid of “safety nets” and services that have helped the working class lead a decent comfortable life.

“I’m a regular guy with a big job” said Boehner off-handedly to Lesley Stahl in a “60 Minutes” interview where she cooed and giggled over him like a schoolgirl with a crush. She found the man likable because he was so “authentic.” She predicts the public will like him, too, probably because he represents the epitome of the twentieth century log cabin story.

“I put myself through school, working every rotten job there was,” he continued.

The small-town Ohioan grew up as the second oldest in a working class family with 12 kids. He went to Mass every morning at an all-boys Catholic school and lived in a small house with one bathroom and both parents—who happened to be John Kennedy Democrats.

Boehner worked in their father’s bar in Reading outside Cincinnati where he mopped the floor, helped with breakfast, cleaned up the dishes and washed the windows.

He worked nights to pay for tuition at Xavier University in Cincinnati, a private Catholic institution, and became the first person in his family to attend college, which took him seven years to complete. He met Deborah, his future wife of 37 years, when he was a janitor on the night shift emptying the trash.

After college he got a sales job in the packaging and plastics industry and worked his way up to become president of the firm. He resigned in 1990 when he was elected to Congress.

These are all admirable qualities by working class standards but unlike most, the self-made man became a millionaire. He also said this was the time he converted to Reagan Republicanism because he was so shocked that taxes ate up so much of his income.

What’s missing in this picture is the recognition that tax monies have always been critical to business success, including Boehner's. How? They provide the legal framework to enforce business contracts, roads and airports to transport goods and people, regulated utility rates that provide reasonably-priced utilities to industrial concerns and public schools and universities that provide a trained workforce. And yet, John Boehner thinks his success is due entirely to his own efforts and that he owes his fellow citizens nothing.

Now that he's in power, he wants to attack the public services and programs that make it possible for working class people to succeed just as he did. And in doing so, he is undercutting the most important resource that any business needs: well-educated, skilled and healthy people. He wants to do it by underfunding or defunding the monies used to subsidize state college tuition, public health, affordable housing, public education, public transportation and roads.

It shouldn't escape our attention that these things were made possible by those liberal New Deal Democrats, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and his successors.

Over the past 100 years as the richest Americans have profited most from the United States’ rise to world prominence and power, they have consistently complained about paying taxes.

Unfortunately, working class people have been suckered into these concerns to their own detriment. They see the high cost of living, the global economy and job downsizing affecting them but they believe what Republicans tell them:  high taxes are the culprit.

There is no doubt in my mind that Boehner is sincere in his tears but he's completely misguided in his analysis.

For example, he says he can’t bring himself to visit a school anymore because it’s “too emotional” for him. He’s not sure the kids will “have a shot at the American Dream.”  If John Boehner has his way, they won't.

Over the past 30 years the the GOP has been doing everything it can to get rid of public schools, including the imposition of high stakes testing that ties the schools’ funding and teachers’ jobs to students’ performance.

Boehner’s biggest cry is government spending.

“Your government is out of control,” he yelled in his campaign for re-election. “Do you have to accept it? Do you have to take it? Hell, no, you don’t.”

Lesley Stahl characterized Boehner’s campaign as a “strategy of defiance” against Obama and the Democrats. What this really turned out to be was obstruction against working class Americans who are unemployed, underemployed and uninsured for health care.

Boehner, who co-authored the Contract with America in 1994, has now allied himself with the Tea Party, that ruse of a group that appeals to working class Americans’ fears and insecurities in this disastrous economic climate. 

Truth be told: Boehner is a traitor to his class, the working class, and he should be ashamed of himself.

The Republican Party has consistently shown itself to be the party of the rich and it has been reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans for decades. Last week they forced passage of an extension of the Bush tax cuts that helps millionaires!

The Republicans have also been chipping away at government services in the name of tightening the belt of Big Government. However, after eight years of Bush and now two years of Obama, the deficit has reached $900 billion anyway.

“Washington has spending problem,” said Boehner. 

This is the typical businessman’s complaint and quite frankly it’s a little old.  Spending is what you do with tax money. 

Boehner says he will attempt to cut spending by addressing some spending measure every week.  He’ll start by cutting the expenses of Congress by 5 percent.  He admits that will amount to only $25-30 million but he says it’s necessary to start somewhere.

Fine sentiments.  We’ll see where such symbolism goes with the institution that oversees its own raises.

Let’s face it. This system is made for the rich by the rich. They take care of themselves and don’t care about anyone else, especially the working class. They hire expensive lawyers who get them around tax codes and they lobby for legislation that benefits them.

The working class—and those of us who came from it—must start our own revolution and resist these Republicans, Tea Partiers, and the sell-out Democrats who are protecting the rich.

If we don’t, it will take more than crying to fix what ails America.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Politics: Richard Holbrooke Dies

Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. career diplomat and President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, died on Monday, December 13.  He was 69.

Among his achievements were writing part of the Pentagon Papers and serving as the architect of the 1995 Bosnia peace accords, which ended the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

I interviewed Holbrooke in November 2005 for an article I was writing about the Dayton Peace Prize, an event sponsored by Dayton Peace Prize Committee.  The committee is part of a community planning group called Dayton: A Peace Process (DAPP). It organized a series of high-profile events in fall of that year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords.

The article was subsequently published in the Christian Science Monitor on November 17, 2005.   Here are some excerpts:
Holbrooke chose Dayton as the summit site, an unimpressive alternative to opulent settings in Geneva, Paris, or Washington. The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest in the country, provided stark accommodations for the nine participating delegations, sealed off the press, and displayed America's air power. This environment augmented Holbrooke's use of the "Big Bang" strategy - now known in diplomacy circles as a "Dayton" - where negotiators are locked in a room until they reach an agreement.
Proud that their town had been selected for the summit, Daytonians responded by welcoming the negotiators and then forming human peace chains around the base, holding candlelight vigils, and praying for peace throughout the 21 days of talks. Dayton's ethnic diversity did not escape the notice of the warring Balkan leaders, either.
"I love them," says Holbrooke of the people of Dayton in a telephone interview. "I believe that they are the absolute epitome of the best of America. They just showed what great energy and faith is out there in the heartland, which was dismissed by Washington."
 Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph offers a more down-to-earth assessment: "People reacted. There was a fire in Bosnia, and it was brought to our neighborhood. We took our garden hoses and tried to put it out. We just acted like neighbors. That's what we do in Dayton. If they're in trouble, we're in trouble."
Community leaders created the Dayton Peace Prize in 1999 to recognize individuals who contributed to the peaceful reconstruction of a society torn apart by war. A stipend of $25,000 goes to each recipient, who agrees to donate the money to a charity in the Balkans. The award, which is not given every year, went to President Bill Clinton in 2000 and philanthropist George Soros in 2002.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Food: Victorian Bakery Opens in New Location

Maria Brennan prepares for opening day at her new bakery on Crosstown and Burdick in this photo by William Wood, Kalamazoo Gazette (December 10, 2010)

William Wood posted a story on the bakery in the December 10 edition of the Kalamazoo Gazette and here is an accompanying video that I produced.  It's only my second video production so it's a little rough but it's a new way of reporting the news and it's a kick. 

Victorian Bakery has its own website at

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Travelogue: Gazette Story on Trip to Rwanda

Katsey Long, one of the therapists of our team, prepares to attend the Healing Mass where 5,000 people showed up.  Some people walked 15 miles to get the Mass, which lasted 4.5 hours.
I went to Rwanda in November to accompany my pastor, Fr. Ken Schmidt, and his parish associate, Sharon Froom, a therapist, as they gave trauma recovery workshops to 123 priests and human service professionals who are counseling people who survived the genocide of 1994.  One million people were killed during the 100 days that the genocide lasted and 100 percent of country is traumatized by this event.  

We stayed in Cyangugu, Rwanda, which is located in the southwestern part of the country.

Here is a link to a story I published in my home newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette on Saturday, December 11.

During the trip I kept a daily blog of our activities and you can see it on Trauma Recovery Associates in Rwanda.

I'm currently writing more articles and will post them on this blog as they are published.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Food: Kalamazoo Foods Market Opens

Today, the Kalamazoo Foods Market opened its doors and it was a hit with shoppers.

The market provides yet another winter market venue with local fruits, vegetables, meats, baked goods, eggs, and coffee.

Kavan and David Geary are the owners of the market.  Hear Kavan talk about it on the video.

Vendors were also happy to have this new market especially after the City of Kalamazoo kicked them out of the Bank Street Market parking lot last March.  See the Gazette story.  This year the city is offering stalls during the winter for $200.  Has anyone taken them up on that?

Congrats to the Geary brothers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Farm Journal: Shadow died today

Shadow was always the first to be milked.  Here she is at Dancing Turtle Farm in July 2009.
Shadow died today.

We were finishing cleaning up the barn on the goats’ side and were starting to pick up the pot roasts from the water buffalo’s side when there suddenly was a commotion out on the pasture.

This all happened quite a distance away so it was difficult to see and too dangerous to do anything about it.

The buffs were running up and down the west fence line. Running away from what? I couldn’t see who it was or what was going on.

Frequently, the animals play chase with each other, but this was different.  More chaotic.

Then I saw one of the buffs, don’t know which one, head down racing toward the black goat

“Stop that!” I yelled. “Get away!”

But I was locked out of the pasture and at least 200 yards away from this. I could do nothing but hope nothing had happened.  I heard a goat bell ring.

A few of the buffs stopped running and slowly circled around something that was on the ground. I realized a goat was down but even then I wasn’t sure that’s what happened because the goats and the buffs have been living together for two seasons and there have been no problems between them..

Maybe it was a coyote. I saw something brown running in the midst of the circle of buffs.

Meanwhile, the goats all ran to the pasture gate. I petted them and looked around for someone missing but couldn’t account for anyone. One of the buffs had some blood on its face. It wasn’t smeared but more like a sinewy string of blood hanging from its forehead.

Then the buffs ran like mad to the south gate and back to the spot where something bad had happened. They did this a couple times in a run I’d never seen before. It obviously wasn’t playful but was more like panic.

I ran back to the barn and yelled out to Soo and Jessica. (Jessica is Mike’s 15-year-old daughter who lives across the street. She has been helping out Ron on the farm.)

“Goat down.” I cried.

Jessica ran down the hill outside the pasture fence to see what had happened.

“It’s a goat!” she shouted and then started crying.

Soo ran out with a pitchfork.  She kept it in her hand because she didn’t drop it back at the barn for some reason. She climbed over the fence and headed toward the circle of buffs. It was a brave and very risky thing to do, really, but she acted on instinct and her aim was to protect the goat. After she reached the goat, she stood there with it to keep the buffs away who by this time were curious about what was in their midst.

Then she told Jessica, who was just outside the pasture fence, that it was Shadow and to find Ron and have him bring a gun. Shadow had been horribly hurt and was in shock. Soo instantly knew that the best thing to do was to put her down.

“It’s Shadow,” Jessica yelled back to me. “Tell Ron to get a gun.”

I ran looking for Ron and called him as loud as I could, but there was no answer and I couldn’t find him.

Then I realized he was spreading compost on the pasture by the road. It was probably three football fields away so I jumped into my car and drove out there down the farm’s entrance road and then onto the field, honking the horn along the way to get his attention. At first he couldn’t hear my horn over the tractor motor. Then he saw me pull up next to him.

“What happened?” he asked looking worried at my strange behavior.

“Shadow’s been attacked by a buff and Soo says to bring a gun,” I cried back.

Even this message didn’t really compute for him but he turned off the tractor and climbed into my car.

We drove up the road but as we neared the barns he told me to slow down and stop. He looked out to the pasture.  The goats were to the north protected by the llamas and the buffs were in a cluster to the south around Soo. We moved forward again and stopped. I think he had the presence of mind not to let the animals see us rushing toward them because that might agitate them even more.

He ran into the house and got his pistol. I expected to see him carrying a rifle but I saw nothing. He a pistol in his coat pocket. He had Jessica restrain Max, the Kleins' dog.

Ron went down to the pasture and climbed over the gate. He “shhhhhhhhed” the buffs—moving slowing to figure out what happened. Soo was with Shadow. The goat was on her side and a leg was sticking up.

Maybe she’s alright, I thought. Maybe she’ll have to go through another surgery.

The buffs were slowly milling around but not on top of the downed goat as they had been before.

Suddenly, two shots rang out.

The animals jumped, startled, but still hung around. Ron said they were more curious and wanting his attention.  They pressed in on him very slowly. Then Ron fired two shots into the ground and they moved away quickly.

It’s a little blurry about what happened next but Soo had somehow managed to get the goats to go through the gate that leads to the barn. She told me to call the goats and move them closer to the barn so they’d be away from the gate.

Ron was out with the buffs. He “grew big” to let them know who was boss. He did this by opening and raising his coat with his arms in it high over his head. When the buffs backed off, he began to move Shadow toward the gate. Later he was in the middle of the herd petting “Shissssshhhhhhing” the buffs, and trying to calm them down. Soo went back to him to lend a hand. He was probably with the buffs for half an hour or 45 minutes.

Eventually, Ron dragged Shadow’s corpse outside the gate. I had already gone into the equipment barn to retrieve the cart I had seen earlier in the day when I was in there looking for a scraper. I asked Jessica to bring the cart down to Ron while I stayed with the goats. He would have to take Shadow somewhere sometime and he needed something to transport her.

By this time the goats were pretty passive. I realized that as Ron was calming down and reassuring the buffs, it had now become my job to do the same with the goats.

Different ones would come up to me and want to be stroked for a longer while than usual.

When I saw Ava and Dina, the two goats I had “delivered” last January, I patted them.

“Your mama’s dead,” I told each one.

In a dairy, none of the goats is allowed to bond with the mother because they must bond with the farmer. So Ava and Dina surely didn’t know what I was talking about. On the other hand, they seemed distant and reeling. Ava had previously walked into the buffs dry lot outside the barn alone. Dina squatted down on the ground alone. Maybe they knew something.

The goats weren’t their playful selves at all. They just hung around. Many sat down and waited. Maybe they were trying to process what had just happened. Maybe they were heaving sighs of relief that they were now safe. Pastoral animals are very vulnerable because they have no defense other than to run. Maybe this incident was a reminder to them of life’s realities.

I checked over as many goats as I could to see if any of them had blood or cuts on them. They all seemed OK other than to be suffering from the unfathomable scare they had just been through. Layla (a.k.a. Cowgirl) had a gooey, gray snot-like dropping on her head but it didn’t appear to come from her. Some of the goats’ neck hair was wet. Lilly had tears on her cheeks.

Their herd queen was missing and they certainly knew that.


Ron and Soo and Jessica had put Shadow in the cart. I went down to them and Ron asked us where we should bury her. We decided that the grave should be near one of the trees in the little dell by the pasture.

Ron asked me what happened and what I saw. He needed to understand what had triggered the animals and if a single buff had been an aggressor. It could be a danger to other goats. Unfortunately, I can’t tell the difference between the buffs so I wasn’t much help. He and Soo had noticed that a couple of them had blood on their heads and horns. Was that from nuzzling Shadow or attacking her? Others had blood on their muzzles where they had touched and gently prodded shadow. Ron thought the buffs seemed to be either protecting the downed goat or curious.  What had happened and what to do about it in the future probably weighed heavily on his mind.

Ron went back to the front pasture to get the tractor. He wanted to dig a hole deep enough so that the corpse would remain undisturbed by any wandering scavengers.

About this time I took one last look at Shadow. They had put he on her side head down in the cart, thank God, and only a few drops of her rich, red blood clung to her head. 
I touched her flank. Her fur was soft and her corpse still warm. I recalled last December after Ron had slaughtered the three bucks and hung them for butchering in the milk room. The steam still came out from them an hour after they had been killed.

Soo helped Ron bury Shadow while Jessica and I stayed in the barn so that the two of them could manage this tragedy together, alone.

After Ron drove the tractor away, Soo put a few extra shovelfuls of dirt on top of the grave and patted them down securely. Maybe it was her way of saying good-bye to Shadow. Finally, Ron and Soo placed a large log over Shadow’s grave to discourage any coyotes from digging at it.

Jessica and I finished cleaning up the goat pen and layed two bales of straw on the floor. We had a little straw left over so we put it aside in the place that Shadow had adopted as hers for sitting and resting. Three weeks before she was penned in this spot after she had inadvertently gotten hurt by ramming her butt end into something sharp during the move to the new farm. Bob, the vet, came out and sewed her up. She stayed in the private pen for about a week.

Kathy Halinsky helping to prep Shadow for surgery four weeks ago
It’s a wonder if this new farm just didn’t suit Shadow or if it was just her time. She was old and walking more arthritically. At the old farm, she’d return from pasture way before the rest of the herd and she’d lay down quietly by herself. She wasn’t prone to harassing the buffs or meddling with them like Lucy, who has taken again to walking on top of their backs, or like Lil’ Man who used to tease them until one day he got his leg stepped on by a buff, probably in an unexpected rollover. (BTW, his leg seems to have healed as he is walking on it again instead of dragging it.)

We do not know what triggered the buffs. It may have been a predator-a coyote or feral dog running the fence. We saw one feral dog on the north fence line earlier that day. 
Something triggered the buffs and probably the goats and llamas. When Ron came over the hill he saw the llamas had moved the goats to the north pasture as they do when coyotes are running the outside of the fence. Was Shadow initially “run over” and thought to be a threat? Was she seen as weak and “targeted?” But then why would all of the animals flee from the south pasture? Were they driven out by one of the buffs? Or something else? We’ll never know. 
Ron’s friend who has a lot of experience with water buffalo and exotic large ruminants said that sometimes something unknown triggers a startle-fear reflex just as it does in cattle. The behavior of the buffs he said sounded like a response to a predator. We must always remember these are animals and we’ll really never know what they think nor can we always predict what they will do. They are also very large animals and despite their docile nature, we have to be careful and respect them.

These thoughts, however, don’t make it feel any better. We were all pretty sad tonight.

Before I left the farm to go home, Ron gave me Shadow’s collar with the bell on it.

I thought he’d want to keep it and put it up in the barn, but he wanted me to have it. He’s also going to give me some pictures of Shadow when she was a young prize-winning goat. Maybe that’s his way of handling his sadness.

Ron and Shadow had a special relationship. She was one of his first goats. She was dependable. A good milker. When she delivered babies, she did it in style by moving her body in such a way that she positioned the babies for a good, clean drop. And, of course, she was queen of the herd. She kept order and whenever she confronted challenges for that honor from Koo-Koo, she prevailed.

Shadow gives birth and new life to Dina as I assist

Shadow and I didn’t get along at first. She’d snub me every time I approached her. She eventually let me know the rules of my contact with her: “Don’t touch the ears and don’t smother or mother me like you do the other goats.” Then last January when she delivered her triplets and I caught two of them, our relationship changed. I admired her style and she accepted that. In the spring she’d nuzzle her jaw on my thigh over and over and over again. That’s when I knew things had changed for us—and that I had given her proper respect and distance.  She "loved" me back in return.

It’s hard to know why bad things happen to people—or to animals but the loss and the sorrow attached to those we love hurts just the same.

Good-bye, Shadow. Rest in peace. You were a good ol’ girl—and a queen—always.

Shadow with Elle in fall 2009.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Travelogue: Into Africa

I will be traveling to Rwanda and Kenya October 27 through November 16 with my pastor, Father Ken Schmidt, and his associate Sharon Froom, a licensed therapist.  They have developed a worldwide reputation for their work in trauma recovery and were invited by the Rwandan Catholic Church to provide workshops for priests, educators, and health care workers who work with survivors of the 1994 genocide.

My role on this trip is to document their work.  This will be my first trip to Africa and my first gig as a "foreign correspondent."  I am keeping a separate blog called:  Trauma Recovery Associates in Rwanda, taking photos and videos, and writing stories that will be published subsequent to our trip.

Wish us a bon voyage.  We leave for our two-day journey to Africa on Wednesday.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farm Journal: Moving Day for the Animals

Like Noah and his Ark, Ron invites the goats and buffs into
the trailer that will take them to their new home, Windshadow Farm

Animals don't voluntarily hop on a trailer to be carted off to an unknown place. Usually, they have to be cajoled with food. That's how Ron got the big 1,800-pound water buffalo to board the trailer for a ride to their new home. 

The buffs gathered at the side of the pen where the trailer was parked. Ron called them and shook a white bucket filled with grain. They wanted the grain but they were leery of the trailer. Dave ___, who operates an animal-moving business, positioned himself behind the buffs and moved a portable fence closer to the trailer. He slowly “convinced” them that the only way to go was into the trailer. Once all were on board, he closed off the buffs' part of the trailer to make room for the goats.

The goats during this whole time were their characteristic curious selves. They'd jump in and out of the trailer as the buffs were being led in.  They acted as if this were a new game Ron had invented for them and they were willing to play.

The llamas were another story. Their big, dreamy eyes were wide open with confusion about what exactly was going on. At first, Ron wasn't certain how he'd get them into the trailer but once again, the white bucket invited them to consider the idea. One thing that probably helped was their instinct to protect the goats. So wherever the goats go, the llamas follow.

Once all the animals were on the trailer we immediately headed for Bangor.

Dave transports animals for a living and it is a highly-valued skill that not many people have. He drove his trailer with the same ease that I drive my little Scion. In fact, he transports animals all over the country. One time he moved 300 cows in 30 trips. On another occasion, he drove animals all the way from Michigan to Texas in 30 hours. He hauls zoo animals, including wildebeests, but he's never hauled elephants. He is gentle but firm with the animals, careful to make sure that none of them is hurt or missing. He's very efficient and time-conscious without rushing, and laconic during the loading and unloading. He's a master of his craft!

I asked him what the animals do while they're in transport, especially since they're not used to being in a closed, moving vehicle. He said they mostly stand but some lie down.

New Digs
Buffs emerge from the trailer to check out their new home.
The buffs and goats seemed comfortable enough when we arrived at Windshadow. The goats, the first ones out, walked off the trailer and into their new pen like a bunch of school kids on a field trip. The buffs ceased their fear of the trailer and had to be coaxed out to leave it. They probably wondered where they were.

Once the animals were all in the new pens, they spent a lot of time just looking around, studying the place, and then “baptizing” it both in liquid and solid form. Ron had built the barn so that the buffs and goats were separated, unlike their arrangement at Dancing Turtle Farm where they lived together.

Ordinarily when we lay new straw in the barn, both the buffs and goats come in from pasture utterly amazed at its transformation. They wander all around to check it out, much like humans do when they move their furniture. In this new barn, they were curious but probably more puzzled with their new digs.

Goats check out their new pen
I watched to see if any of them would stake out their territory as they did in the old barn. The only pattern I saw with the goats were the twins who lay together in the southeast corner of the goat pen and Shadow who took the southwest corner. They will undoubtedly create their new “spots” before long but this barn is quite a bit different from the many nooks and crannies of the old barn. This one is rectangular and open. It also has several 4x4 black locust posts driven into the ground, from which temporary stalls can be constructed to accommodate different needs like confining a sick animal, separating kids from the older goats for safety purposes, and providing birthing stalls.

In the center of the barn is a milking station that has not yet been completed. The animals have their own walk-up ramp that leads them from their pens to the milk machines, which have yet to be installed. Ron has been milking the goats by hand but that will change as he increases the herd from about a dozen goats to 40. The nine water buffalo will also be milked by machine. This will increase milking efficiency and ease the pain of those precious hands that will milk so many animals.

It was my job as the “goat whisperer,” as Ron sometimes calls me to help the goats feel at home. What a trial! I got to hug and kiss the goats all day long, watch them adapt to their new surroundings and to brush them. Brushing is probably the most intimate thing you can do for a goat next to milking. Some love it more than others but clearly, brushing is its own reward. Some of the goats, like Lucy, Lil Man and Ella couldn't get enough of it. When I tried to spread myself around, they'd cut the line and try to get a second brushing.

The buffs had to take care of themselves as far as easing into their new home. , Ron was too busy with other things and I don't go into the pen with them, especially when LeBon, the bull, is there, so I couldn't interact with them to any great extent. In the past year they've been in three different places with a couple alterations of the pens at Dancing Turtle Farm. However, when I was in the goat pen and close to the adjoining buff pen, they all came toward me as if to ask: “whassup, girl?”

M131 got a “front row seat” at one point and licked my hand and forearm as I pet her jowls. Then I noticed that she had been crying. Lilly, one of the older does, tends to cry a lot and here was a buff crying. These animals, as big as they are, have feelings, too! Tomorrow, Ron will put them out in the pasture, which has already been prepared with clumps of hay scattered all around the pen. He will spend more time with them now that he, Soo, and all the animals are at one farm. They will surely like that!

Meanwhile, the llamas walked all around the barn and the new outdoor pen surveying the territory so that they could be at-the-ready to protect the goats. I'm sure they felt a little off-balance from the move because both llamas came right up to me as if they wanted to be petted but then walked away when I reached out my hand. They usually just avoid me.

After we were at the farm for a while, Cathy Halinsky and her husband, Tom, came by with the three bucks in their small trailer. One by one Tom led Leonidas, Tiger, and Latte Boy out of the trailer and into their new homes, which was at this time a makeshift pen. He tossed a bale of hay over the fence and the bucks went right at it. (None of the animals had been fed yet to avoid a massive poop-in on the trailer.) I later brought them some water in their usual green bowl. There was no hose hook-up like we had at the old farm so I had to carry water in a bucket from the hydrant next to the animal barn to the buck pen, which was probably about 50 yards away. After I poured the water over the fence, the bucks stopped eating and took a drink. But they were more intent on eating.

Before the bucks arrived Ron had me put up a temporary electric fence. I stuck the plastic, white posts into the ground and pushed them as far as I could with my boot but the clay soil made it difficult to get the posts down as deep as I wanted. I then strung the wire in four places on the slots of the post. Ron returned from doing something else to see how I did with the fence and then he had Tom hook it up to the electrical system, which is all run by a solar-powered set-up.

Hi Neighbor and Tapping into a Forgotten Dream
One of the wonderful things about rural life is its neighborly quality. Maynard Kauffman and Barbara Geisler had prepared a nice picnic lunch for all of us and set it up in the Klein's new kitchen. It consisted of tuna sandwiches with sides of onions, tomatoes, and salad greens; potato chips; and apples. They greeted us with their red-and-white checkered paper dishes when we made the second delivery of goats and buffs. It was like something out of the Westerns I had seen on TV in my youth. Now here I was living it!

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was living a childhood dream of living on a farm. We don't have horses like Joey on the Saturday morning show, “Fury,” but we have goats, buffs, guinea hens and turkeys. We don't have Lassie, but we have Max.

Well, I don't live on the farm. I just work there and I do it as a volunteer. And what a farm it is! Who wouldn't want to be here? In fact, lately many people from around Bangor have been stopping by to ask Ron if he's hiring workers. That says something about the impressiveness of this operation. It also illustrates the poverty people are experiencing in Van Buren County, which is a lot poorer than Kalamazoo County.

Poor Shadow, Queen of the Herd
The move of the animals went smoothly without a hitch, so to speak, except for Shadow. Somehow she had gotten hurt by ramming her butt end into something sharp. At first, Ron thought she was aborting her baby, however, she had only been mated two or three weeks before, so that was unlikely. When Cathy examined Shadow, she noticed that the cut was deep. Ron called the vet immediately.

While we waited for the vet, Ron and I brought straw to the Animal Barn. Earlier in that day a farmer brought the straw and stacked it on pallets in the Hay & Straw Barn. We needed two bales for each pen. Ron carried one bale and flipped it over the fence with ease. He tried to get me to do it but the fence was too high for me. Instead, I got a wheel barrow both to carry the bale AND to use it as a prop to get the straw over the fence. It was awkward and I'm sure a hilarious sight to see, but I did it. I “tossed” three bales into the pens. Ron spread the straw in the buffs' pen and I took care of the goats' pen. As we worked I noticed that Shadow was isolating herself from the herd and standing in a corner of the barn.

"That is bad when they do that,” said Ron. who by now was very concerned about Shadow. He didn't say it but I began to get very worried about the doe's fate and started to tear up over her. Then I got an idea. I'd pray to St. Francis of Assisi, the protector of animals. I first prayed that he'd help the veterinarian arrive there real soon. Then I prayed that St. Francis would help Shadow heal and survive this terrible wound.

Shortly after my prayers, Bob, the vet, arrived. He brought his beautiful little daughter, Jill, with him. Someday, she wants to be a vet, too.

Vetenarian Bob in surgery on Shadow as
Ron and Cathy Halinsky assist.
Bob took one look at Shadow and quickly realized he needed to stitch her up. Ron and Cathy put together a makeshift surgery center in the milkroom. The vet gave Shadow two injections of an anesthetic, one on each side of her neck. She stood still for a minute and then dropped. The three of them lifted the 120-pound goat and put her on the table.

Bob had been very meticulous about laying out all his tools, bandages, and meds before he gave Shadow the anesthetic. Then he went to work. He first wiped the wound clean of its rich, red blood and examined it. He said the rectum was not damaged, which would have been a very bad problem. The vulva, however, had been separated and needed to be re-attached. He sewed up the wound and explained each step of the way to Ron and Cathy. I took still shots and videos of the operation.

As Bob worked, Shadow breathed heavily. Her saliva dripped out of her mouth. That was good, he said. In the background of all this the other goats were munching on the freshly laid straw and not paying much attention to us. The buffs were lying down and chewing their cud. Occasionally, one would drop a pot roast nearby us.

“Whoa-ho,” said Ron. “That's good!”

Tom Halinsky watches over Shadow,
who is a bit wobbly from the anesthetic.

The surgery only took about half an hour and Shadow soon woke up from her anesthetic. She was a little wobbly so Tom held on to her and walked around a bit with her. She looked a whole lot better already. When I first noticed her wound, her eyes were sinking back into her head. She was obviously in great pain. I tried to comfort her but she would not accept it from me so I backed off and respected her wishes. I'd learned that lesson quite a while ago.

Most of the goats left her alone because they were too busy exploring. However, after her surgery she would be too vulnerable to their butting her if she weren't protected. That's what goats do; they pick on the weak ones; it makes for a strong herd. So Ron built her a small stall in the northwest corner of the goat pen. It will be interesting to see if she subsequently adopts this area as her own after she recovers or if she chooses another. The vet said she would be fine and fortunately, she will have a long time to heal before she has kids. We'll have to watch her to determine whether she'll need a C-section or not, he said.

It was about six o'clock and Soo was ready to take me back to Dancing Turtle Farm. She needed to pick up Max, the dog, and Mickey the cat. Together they would all spend their first night in their new home at Windshadow now that all the animals were there.

I hope they had sweet dreams as they now were nearly ready to begin their new adventure as a commercial goat dairy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Farm Journal: Moving Day to Windshadow Dairy Farm

Soo guides the tractor with a load a hay to the Hay & Straw Barn

Ron and Soo have been gradually moving from Dancing Turtle Farm to their new Bangor place called Windshadow Dairy Farm.  I helped them on Thursday and Friday.

I hate moving.  All that packing, re-organizing, tossing, and heavy lifting is a real burden.  Kurt and I have moved eight times over our past 20 years of marriage. 

However, moving a farm with animals is a tremendous undertaking.  Of course, the Kleins have been working on the move every day for months.  And they did it all without a PERT chart. 

On Thursday I helped Soo with packing at the house by wrapping up and boxing wall hangings.  Then we loaded the truck with boxes of clothes and other house items.  We still had room in the truck and went down to the barn to pack some of the equipment like the honey maker, bee boxes, and and outdoor goat shelter. 

It's a good thing Soo is strong.  She can lift heavy and awkward things while I really strain and drag them along.  She wheeled a full dolly up the ramp to the truck and hopped on and off the truck several times to open or close the back door like a pro.  She could also pull the ramp that is attached to the truck almost without effort.   

Mike Sullen, the Kleins' new neighbor across the street from Windshadow—and the excavator of the property, had loaned them his blueberry farm truck.  Soo's expert driving between Kalamazoo and Bangor didn't escape the notice of the neighbors.  She was offered a job to drive the truck during blueberry season next summer!  Needless to say, she declined.  She'll continue her legal work and make delicious goat/water buffalo cheese at her new cheese plant.

Once the truck was loaded Soo and I stopped at Asiago's to buy some sandwiches.  Half an hour later we arrived at Windshadow and immediately tore into our sandwiches.  Well, Ron and I did.  It was 2 p.m. and we were both famished.  Sue gave up her sandwich to Ron because she ate power bars on the way to the farm.  They keep her going and seem to be sufficient for her during these busy moving days.

Hay & Straw Barn
We had to move the hay from the Equipment Barn to the Hay & Straw Barn, a white, covered structure that matches the animal and equipment barns only without sides.  ___ operated the ___(name of the machine) and we all stacked the hay.  Well, I didn't do so well with these heavy and awkward bales.  The trick to stacking hay is to criss-cross it so that it stays in place.  Then, getting the bale on the pile takes a little kick with the knee on the bottom of the bale and a swing upward.  My muscle strength couldn't manage the kick or the swing so I wasn't much help.  Walking on the pile was equally challenging as there are holes in between some of the bales and it's a little unstable.  But Soo could do it.  She was at the top of the pile arranging the bales that Ron, ___, and later Maynard Kauffman (who is in his 80s!) threw up to her.  What a woman!

Ron hoists a bale of hay onto the pile
as  Soo prepares to arrange the bales on top
Eventually, Ron needed to get the pens ready for the animals who would arrive the next day.  There was a lot of lumber and debris left over from the construction so I followed him and began the pick up and sweeping detail.  I was much more useful with this work—until I inadvertently let go of a heavy black locust 4x4 that hit Ron's shoulder.  Ouch!  I was mortified.  He can't afford to be sidelined with an injury now! 

Ron also needed to put up the fences inside the barn and I helped with this, too.  He had me wrap the hog's rings around the wires of the adjoining fences to tie them together.  I had to be very careful not to drop any of the rings on the floor because the goats and buffs would eat them, and the metal would stay in their rumens.  Not a healthy thing for them, especially as milking animals.

It was 9 p.m. by the time we finished all this work and Soo drove me back to Dancing Turtle Farm where I retrieved my car and went home to take a hot epsom salt bath, down a couple Motrin pills, warm up a heating pad for my knees, and then sit down to a hot bowl of oatmeal that Kurt made for me.  I tried to watch a movie just to unwind but fell asleep sitting up.  Then I went to bed about 11 p.m.  Tomorrow would be another exciting day:  we bring the animals to their new digs.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Farm Journal: Qué Desastre!

At first it took me a while to see what I was seeing.

Lots of sand and tire tracks over what had once been a garden.

A month or two ago half of the sunflowers had been removed to make way for the new septic system and I thought that was all that would be lost. 

Today, three-quarters of the squash field and a third of the raspberry bushes were gone.  Unfortunately, they was still more fruit left to ripen. 

Then, when I looked at the potato field, I couldn't believe what had happened.  Green stalks that were turning yellow were now withering brown vines.  A few unearthed potatoes sat on top of what had once been a hilled potato plant.   Tire tracks now covered the field.  I dropped the two white buckets I brought for harvest out of disbelief.  What had happened?!? 

Last summer I had spent entire days in the hot, 90-degree sun hilling the potato plants so they would be protected—and so I could find them easier during harvest.  I learned that from last year and wasn’t going to make that mistake again.  But now the hills were flattened.

June 20 -- shoots starting to come up
Instead, I found the plants by spotting the brown vine, which was bent over but still stuck in the ground.  I pulled it out and dug out a batch of potatoes.  Luckily, most were still good.  I tried another plant and most were still good.  But as I continued digging, I began to see a pattern of the real damage.  Green potatoes lay on top of the ground and had to be thrown out.  That was to be expected because rain had washed away enough of the soil to expose them to the air and sun.  Truck damage, however, had left several wounded spuds.  Rotted potatoes that had been cut or squished open were obviously no good.  The squashed potatoes or those with cracks in them had to go, too. 

It turned out that I was tossing between one-quarter and one-third of each plant on the compost pile.  A plant yields about five pounds of potatoes or more.

The earth was also quite packed down from the weight of the trucks and it was hard in some cases to dig the potatoes out of the ground.  I now saw the effects heavy equipment has on the soil and why some people advocate “no till” farming.  This soil had largely been composted, grown and cultivated by hand over 25 years.
Early August -- flowering potato plants

I suppose it hurt to see this destruction of the squash and potato fields because so much work had been put into them.  In June, Ron and I had planted 100 pounds of potatoes and were expecting between 500 to 800 pounds at harvest.  He then taught me how to grow a squash field by a cross-hatch method of measurement:  you plant a seed at the intersections.  The ducks ate half the field by chomping off the tops of the young plants.  On the other hand, we got so many squashes and zucchini with just half a field, I didn't regret the loss.

It took two times of rapid weed growth to learn that I needed to cultivate the plants at least once a week so I usually spent Saturday or Sunday weeding.  I hilled the plants twice and on the second hilling created a mound as high as I could get.  It sure took a lot of muscle and sweat to move earth by hand! 

Farmers who visited the farm told Ron how good the fields looked and they remarked on the obvious care I had taken.  That sort of encouragement gave me some pride in my produce and in my work and I suddenly understood why farmers’ eyes gleam brightly at the markets when they sell their stuff. 

I would pick the crops as they matured.  Some of the zucchini and summer squash went to the goats because they like it and because we had so much.

When the potato plants matured, I harvested them in small sections so we could eat just-dug potatoes.  Then I systematically cleared the field of the dead vines by collecting them in various compost piles around the field.

First shoots in June and first harvest in late August
I began to identify with the potatoes and even gave myself a new name, the Potato Lady.  I admired my dirty fingernails and used them as cause for a conversation about gardening.  I began talking with Matt and Kurt Wiley about potatoes, conferred with Dennis Wilcox at Blue Dog Greens about storing them over winter, and used the Internet to learn more about the plant.

Until today, the biggest problem I had was what to do with the expected surplus.  I began looking for ways of distributing the potatoes because I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.  Besides, I wanted to share these good-tasting beauties with others.

Carrie Young agreed to sell some at the Texas Farmers Market and reported they were "a hit" with customers.  Family, neighbors and friends gladly took them.  Ron brought some potatoes--and squash--to the workers at the new farm.  Chef Channon and her boys gladly took some potatoes, squash and raspberries after they finished cleaning the barn.  Kalamazoo College had a harvest fest and I gave away a few potatoes to the students there. 

There really were more potatoes than we could eat, so the lost potatoes really won’t make that much of a difference in us giving us our share.  It’s just that it was hard to see the garden ruined.  We had even dodged potato beetles, blight, a prolonged hot sun, an overabundance of rain, and animals taking their portion of the crop. 

What we couldn't fight, however, was the new septic system that had to be installed.  Well, now that’s done so I’ll just harvest and store the rest of the plants.  It's just one more lesson in why we give thanks for our food.  You never know what can happen to your crop!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Farm Journal: Barn Cleaning and Pen Mating

Ron put me in charge of cleaning the barn today while he and Soo were busy setting up at the new farm.  This was the first time I was on my own for this project and all went well.

Channon Mondoux and her sons, Jim and Luke, scooped the poop while I put it on the compost pile with the tractor.  We worked as a team, got the job done very efficiently and finished in about three hours.

Jim was marvelous at guiding the tractor.  His physics skills came in handy.

Channon has been lifting weights for the past six months and she has enormous strength, which is what it takes for lifting a pitchfork full of straw and water buffalo dung. 

Luke excelled in throwing the fresh straw down from the loft, which enabled us to spread it all over the barn in no time.

After we finished, Channon and the boys picked raspberries while I harvested a bucket of squash, onions and potatoes for them to take home.  She said they would have done this work for nothing just to help Ron, but since we had food to give, we were glad to share it with them in gratitude.

Thanks again Channon, Jim and Luke!!

Pen Mating
Tiger has returned to Dancing Turtle Farm after a brief rendezvous with Anne Cavanaugh's goats.  Rone put Tiger in the pen with the does so that he can mate with them as each goes into heat.  This is called "pen mating."
It was a sight to witness and not at all like the tender, loving mating ritual I witnessed the other day when Shadow was with Leonidas. 

Tiger spent most of the day cavorting with the does in the north pasture and in full view of us as we cleaned the barn.  He was especially interested in Shadow who apparently didn’t take the other day when she was with Leonidas.  Once a doe is mated, she is no longer in heat and therefore no longer “available” for mating.  This is all hormonal.

Meanwhile, Ava and Dina, two of this year’s kids who have now grown into big girls, were hanging around Tiger and Shadow.  So was Maggie, a year-old doeling.  Apparently, they were all in heat.

Leonidas was nearby in the buck pen watching and anxious to get to the does.  He and Tiger were both groaning with excitement in the ruff ‘n ready buck way.  Ron warned us that Leonidas might try to bump heads with Tiger through the fence.  The two of them had spent a lot of time butting heads a couple weeks ago, which is all preparation for mating season.

During our barn cleaning, Tiger and the does spent half their time romping with each other and half their time sitting down on the ground and resting.  But they rested with each other.  That surprised me because I expected some kind of mating exuberance among them—but it wasn’t long before I got my wish.

After Channon and the boys left, I prepared the gates so the goats and buffs could get into the barn.  I attached three heavy chains back on the north pen gate, secured the locks on the side gate near the barn and opened the pasture gate so the animals could get to the barn.  I was still on the north side of the pen when Tiger and his girls came for water and that’s when the real action began.

Several more does had joined Tiger, which meant that he had his pick of whoever was ready for him.  Shadow had begged off at this point but still hung around the area.  Maybe, as queen of the herd, she was “supervising.”  (There I go again:  anthropomorphizing!) 

The pace in the pen suddenly picked up as Leonidas, who was in the adjoining buck pen, began groaning more intensely.  He also stuck out his tongue.  These are signs of a ready-to-mate buck or as Jim described it to Luke, “Leonidas wanted to get layed.”  The buck was so excited, he tried to squeeze through the gate at one point and I feared he would, especially since he somehow got out the other day.  He would have hurt himself badly if he had!

Tiger seemed especially intent on Mary (a.k.a. Haley), one of this year’s twins, and she was more than willing to oblige.  They went around each other for a while licking and positioning themselves.  He mounted her several times but without successful penetration. 

Maggie, a year old doeling, had followed Tiger to the north pen along with Ava and Dina.  Then Lil’ Man came on to the scene.  He got into the spirit of the day by trying to mount a doe or two even though he is castrated!

Ava began to imitate Tiger and mounted a couple of the girls.  At one point she tried to mount Tiger and he snapped his head back and pushed her away in disgust.  She is a doe who likes to please but sometimes she doesn’t understand the way things work.

The intensity increased.  The goats went around and around in circles hungering after each other as if in Dionysian revelry for a good 15 minutes.  Tiger mounted whomever was in front of him and this changed frequently. 

Leonidas seemed to get more excited and I feared he’d jump his pen.  What would I do?  I then thought my presence may have drawn these goats to this side of the pen so I left them to finish digging potatoes.  Eventually, the goats ceased their frenzy and all went out to pasture again.

This was all quite an amazing sight to see in the lives of the goats.  Not your normal idea of a pastoral farming scene, but obviously very much a part of it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Farm Journal: Who’s Your Daddy?

Lucy went missing last night—and then today Ron found her in the buck pen. 

Lucy just hours old on January 14, 2010.
Our little explorer and scout has consistently led the way for this year’s kids to their next stage of goathood since she was a week old last January.  She “announced” their readiness to join the herd in pasture, she “potty trained” them within their first week since birth, and she taught them how to relate to the water buffalo.  Unfortuantely, this meant that they were standing on the buffs who were lying in the barn or barnyard.  She even stood on the buffs while they were walking, which is an extremely dangerous trick to play since she could fall and get hurt.  Ron thinks she was trying to jump the fence.  Her size allows her to be the consummate escape artist, just as Lil’ Man was last year for the same reason.

With the fall, however, comes mating season and Lucy confirmed it by “leading the way” again. 

This little hottie who Ron thought was too small to mate this year, escaped from the does’ pen and apparently squeezed her way through to the bucks’ pen to cavort with them.  The problem is that only Leonidas was there— and he’s Lucy’s father.  (Tiger is out on loan breeding goats at Anne Cavanaugh’s place.)

This presents some problems genetically as it’s not a good idea to breed father and daughter.

For example, Ron ran a chi square analysis on the genetic possibilities facing us with the assumption that there are deleterious recessive traits.  Lucy has a one quarter chance of bearing kids identical to Koo-Koo, her mother, and a one quarter chance her offspring will pick up her grandfather's traits (Victor Vito, a super buck).  But she also has a 50 percent potential to birth kids with undesirable traits if Leonidas’ genes are passed on (i.e., parrot beak or fish tail teats or small stature).

I saw Lucy this morning and she was resting in the doe pen as close to the bucks as she could be.  She seemed a little under the weather and yet she was her typical phlegmatic self.  The white part of her beautiful coat was soiled—possibly from the bucks spraying her or literally because she took a roll in the hay, so to speak.  She stunk like a buck at this time of year.  Her butt end was swollen.  Was this a sign of penetration? 

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she will be OK.  More on goat genetics later.

Harvesting Raspberries and Squashes

Actually, I was at the farm to harvest the raspberries and squash plants.  I thought I'd be there for less than an hour but ended up staying three hours.

The abundance of the garden never ceases to amaze me.  Picking fresh raspberries is a particular treat.  Because they are not sprayed, I can eat them right off the bush as I pick one and drop three in my bucket.  Of course, I kept most of them to share with Kurt at home (raspberries are his favorite fruit) and with Ron and Soo, who are just too busy with the new farm these days to pick berries.  My harvest was probably about two pounds—and there are still many more to come.

I’m keen on harvesting as many berries as I can because I don’t want them wasted.  Some of them have withered and dried out.  Fresh, organic raspberries are too good to miss and I have an aversion to wasting food.

The guinea hens that roam the farm really like the berries so I leave the “low hanging fruit” for them.  There is really plenty to go around.  At first, I was hoarding the berries and shooing the hens away.  Then I remembered one of last summer’s lessons:  the insects, fowl, and four-legged wildlife around the farm depend on the garden for food just as we do but that its bounty provides enough for everyone.  (This attitude would not make for a good pesticide or herbicide commercial!)

The squash field is quite overgrown with weeds so in addition to searching through these broadleafed plants, I had to navigate over and around the giant-sized lambs quarters, tall grasses, and the other God-knows-what weeds.  I held my breath that I wouldn’t come across any wildlife because some of the weeds make for good nests, rest stops and hiding places.  I haven’t worried about weeding for the past couple months because I’ve been gone a lot or have been busy with many other things.  The fruits seem to be getting along just fine anyway.  The garden is not the pretty sight it should be but its purpose of growing delicious vegetables remains in tact. 

One thing I recognized with my walk through the squash field was that as I searched for mature squashes, it reminded me of the egg hunts my sister and I conducted on Easter Sunday.  Some eggs were obvious, like in the corner of the room or next to the leg of a chair.  Others were harder to find but they elicited the most joy and excitement when we found them. 

The squashes are propped up on their vines as if they were primping themselves and waiting for someone to find them.  (Fortunately, we haven’t lost many of them to wildlife.)  Their colors are incredibly beautiful and they come in many shapes and sizes depending on the length of time they have been growing.  The giant-sized zucchini are just as good in flavor and freshness as the smaller-sized ones and as with everyone’s garden, there is much more zucchini produced than anyone can eat.  Ron says the goats like the zucchini so I toss the biggest ones into their pen and they usually disappear, oftentimes with some help from the white ducks.  Meanwhile, I’ve grilled the zucchini, put them in mixed vegetable and meat dishes and frozen them for the future. 

The summer squash has been out over the past couple weeks and their rich yellow color makes a fine contrast to their green leaves and vines.  This week the acorn squash turned from their light green to their pick-ready dark green color.  I’m anxious to try one right away!

We got a few cucumbers this year and they were delicious, but the ducks had eaten their tender shoots and thus didn’t leave much for harvest.  Next year, I’ll plant more.  They are very good.  Their freshness has the taste of the earth.

Last year we had butternut squash and pumpkins, which were supreme.  Because we planted so late this year, we were unable to get seeds but that’s the best part about a garden:  there’s always next year.  I plan to grow watermelon, musk melon and cantaloupe, too!
So, in lieu of growing our own squash, I’ve been buying Matt and Kurt Wiley’s squash and it is to die for.  (They are located near Schoolcraft on U Avenue just east of Oakland Drive.)  So sweet.  So orange in color.  You can hardly believe your eyes.  And isn’t that what makes food a totally aesthetic experience?  It tickles your visual, taste, smell and touch senses and if you scream with delight upon eating good tasting fruits and vegetables, you get sound.  All that compost we shoveled from the barn over the past year (and that Ron has applied during many previous years) pays off in taste and in the abundance of the harvest! 

BTW, the Wiley’s also sell tomatoes and they taste like those my Dad used to grow in the 1950s and 60s.  Sweet, succulent, tasty.  So I’ve bought several tomato-seconds by the bucket from Wiley’s—for only $6—and have canned or frozen them for winter eating.  Donna McClurkan gave me a pasta sauce recipe as follows and it has turned out to be a good one, although it is very time-consuming by the time I clean and cut up the tomatoes and then reduce them, like nine hours.  But it is totally worth it for the taste.

The frozen squash, raspberries and pasta sauce have totally taken over my freezer so I’ve had to use the bottom drawer of my sister-in-law’s freezer to keep them.  I am so proud of myself for this new venture this year.  Next year, I’ll freeze more (we need to buy a small freezer!) and learn to can with greater confidence.

Shadow and Leonidas, King of the Spartans

After I finished harvesting the garden, I threw a few humongous zucchinis in the doe pen even though no one was there.  Suddenly, a number of the goats appeared and were eating the treasured fruit.  I watched them eat when out of the corner of my eye I noticed Shadow “making eyes” at Leonidas.

Ron had taught me that a doe in heat will linger around the buck pen.  Because Ron was at the new farm, I called him to report the news.  (Thank God for cell phones!)  He asked me if the buffs were in pasture, they were, and then gave me the go-ahead to put Shadow in with Leonidas, so I did. 

Leonidas, King of the Spartans
Shadow had moved away from the buck pen about 10 yards so I had to lead her to the gate—and she made no attempts to resist at all.  Once in, she immediately headed for the bucks’ feeding bin and began to eat.  Leonidas went over to her and began what turned out to be a long and quite beautiful mating ritual of licking ears, head, neck, sides and of course, the rear end.   They
stroked each other and “danced” around the pen.  I expected that he’d immediately mount her but she seemed to play coy with him and move about wanting him to chase her, which he did without complaint.  I wondered if she was prolonging this once-a-year game as much as possible or not or if this was just part of the ritual.
As the two goats carried on, a number of the doelings and kids stood with me watching.  I told them that they would soon get their turn as I rubbed their backs and necks.  I felt a little joy and a little sadness with them at this point, perhaps like a doting mother with a young adult venturing out on the dating scene. 

The mating of goats is all hormonal.  I guess this is the way it is with humans, too!  It is Nature’s way of continuing the species.  As a goat dairy, we depend on the proliferation of the species and aim to breed the best characteristics of mother and father goat as possible.  Since Ron is a geneticist, he takes special pride in goat breeding.

I had missed last year’s breeding time so bringing Shadow for the first mating of the herd—at least the first “official” mating—had particular significance for me.  It felt like an honor, especially since I was on my own.
Ron with Shadow as she gets ready for triplets in January 2010
I have really come to appreciate Shadow since I watched her give birth to triplets last January.  She knows what to do and then follows through.  She demands a certain respect, which I did not recognize at first.  And she doesn’t like her ears touched, at least by me, nor does she desire to be hugged and cooed over as I do the younger goats.  After I learned the “rules,” she began to relate to me more warmly, including rubbing her head against my thigh and even seeking me out when I visited.  She is a super goat!

While the mating ritual was going on, Shadow would occasionally look at us as if she were instructing the younger goats in the proper methods of dealing with a hot buck.  Then they got bored and sat on the ground with their backs to the buck pen.  The older does looked on at Shadow and Leonidas with the knowledge of what to expect:  Koo-Koo more interested and Lily just tolerant. 

On the other hand, Shadow might have been signaling us to get lost so she could have her privacy.  And like a queen should, she got her wish.  I was getting cold standing there so I left; the goats soon retreated to pasture.  The two lovers were in the far end of the pen and Shadow noticed we were all leaving.

I reported back to Ron and he was glad the goats paid so much attention.  That meant they are getting ready for mating as well.  He wants to bring Tiger back to do the job.  We’re going to have some fun, now!

Leonidas was totally focused on Shadow and didn’t pay any attention to us.  I was amazed at his affection but I also watched his virility expressed in different ways.  He’d dig his front hooves into the dirt as he kept up with Shadow’s “dance.”  He stick out his tongue and blow on it (it sounds like a sneeze) or he’d wail with anticipation.  He’d mount Shadow’s back from the side or he’d prance around her showing off his stiff neck and flowing hair.  He was magnificent and he’s been a good breeder for Dancing Turtle Farm and other goat operations that have used him as a breeder.  I couldn’t help contemplate that his whole existence was tied up in this yearly “job” of breeding the does that will produce kids who will breed and produce kids of their own.  Just another example of the cycle of life on the farm. 

One final thought on what I learned watching Shadow and Leonidas is that animals are not the wild creatures we make them out to be. They can be tender and they definitely relate to each other as individuals, which surprised me. They have rules and rituals, territories, likes and dislikes. I must investigate this more.