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.


  1. Hi Olga, I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know I'll be reading along on your adventures! I attended the Resilience talk at the library last night and picked up your flyer. I was really pleased to learn that I have resilient neighbors, as I live on Oakland just around the corner from the D&W. It's good to know there are people who are interested in these issues in my vicinity! :)


  2. thanks, Jen, for coming to the talk and for reading my blog. I'm glad to know that you're in the neighborhood!