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.

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