Get Your Goat

03/23/2011

Animals

Official Greeter

Is the name of the class I attended yesterday at the Angelic Organics Learning Center in Caledonia, Illinois.  There is so much going on out there!  I encourage you to click on the Angelic Organics link to the right and explore this wonderful farm.  You may become a shareholder in the spring and have fresh produce delivered to your neck of the woods until the end of the year!  (This includes Chicago and western suburbs.)  Angelic Organics is a CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) farm.  Take a few minutes to tour the farm and the Learning Center, right AFTER you finish reading this blog entry.  If you’re reading this and you’re not local, please search CSA on the internet and find your opportunity.

I drove the 50 or so miles out to Caledonia on a fine Saturday morning under a bright blue, cloud free sky.  The land is still brown and gray here in Illinois, but sun you can FEEL means there is a stirring beneath the detritus of last year’s growth.  I drove along knowing tiny roots are thawing to sip spring rain that will travel up to unfurled, albino sprouts.  The sprouts push up and out into tightly rolled leaves that will flatten and turn green when they break through the soil into sunlight.  I get excited about that miracle, year after year! 

I left the toll way, passed several farms and turned onto a bumpy, puddle-pocked, dirt road leading to Angelic Organics.  I spotted the purple Learning Center sign and turned right into the driveway.  The drive is long and as I neared the house and outbuildings, I found myself grinning at the colors!  It’s obvious there is at least one artist in the family.  There aren’t many people who would paint their home in the oranges and reds and purples I love so well.  I liked these folks already. 

Colorful house!

I passed the house and zigzagged to the parking area, called Lot of Worms.  There was one student ahead of me, parked next to a painted sky blue horse trailer with giant, bearded goat profiles adorning the front, which I suppose makes it a goat trailer.  I pulled in next to the first car, got out, stretched, and followed the Learning Center Path signs past the Lot of Chickens. 

In the Lot of Worms

The Lot of Chickens contains fowl and a big dog that does not even try to pretend he is friendly.  The signs on the chicken fence said to keep your hands out.  As the snarling, barking chicken guard races up and down the fence line, I said to him, “Don’t worry Boy, I have no interest in chicken-thieving.  I’m here for goats.”  He didn’t believe me.  Another visitor commented that my bag was just the right size to hold a chicken and the dog knew it.  I proceeded to the Learning Center and took a quick look around.  I smelled coffee and heard people talking inside.  There were several goats in two paddocks.  Two mallard ducks with the goats in one paddock, just goats in the other.  Behind the Learning Center there was another muddy paddock where a big, black draught horse was waiting impatiently for grass to green up.  I found a two story, biodynamic restroom that I stopped to inspect and use.  In it, I found the sweetest handwritten copy of a poem about sun-warmed peaches, framed and strategically placed for reading during, well, you know…  So I read it and smiled again.

On to goat class!  I signed in, collected my copies of the printed materials, and found an empty chair.  The Learning Center is a workshop/store/classroom.  There was a slide projector and screen.  The walls were lined with counters, slop sinks, and refrigerators and shelves containing farm products for sale.  It was warm, sort of dark, and there was fresh coffee with honey from the farm.  Mmmm.  The farm cat was sleeping on the table behind my chair.  I turned back to scratch around his ears and he smiled, purred, and bit me lightly.  

I glanced at the printed materials:

  • Preparation for kidding (as in birthing, not joking around)
  • Directions for worming
  • Dairy Goat Record Sheet
  • Buck Record Sheet
  • Individual Milk Record
  • Recipes for goat milk yogurt, buttermilk, butter, and ricotta
  • A list of reference materials related to the upcoming presentation

The Instructor, Tracey Hall (of Grace Note Farm) and two new hires to Angelic Organics, Cyndi and Ted, helped all the newcomers get settled.  Tracey began by having everyone introduce themselves and describe their farms.  I can say with confidence I was the only one with a “mental farm.”  All the others had actual farms!  A couple of the attendees already owned goats and wanted more information, but most had other animals and were considering the addition of goats.  Tracey is a fun and energetic Instructor, but I am not going to try to describe the three hour class in detail.  You can take the course if you want to know that much, but I will give you the basics. 

Tracey reviewed the reasons people keep goats, some of the breeds, what to look for when buying your first goat, and touched on goat registry and transporting animals across state lines.  She told us that the males are bucks, the females are does, and babies are kids.  Then we all went outside to do a health check on pregnant does.  Each person or pair was given a clipboard with a photograph of a doe attached to it and a health check form.  We were to climb over the gate into the pen, find our assigned goat, and see if we could figure out if she was close to giving birth.  The goats were lounging in the sun, but got up and showed polite curiosity as we approached.  Chicken Dog went nuts, of course, but once he figured out we were planning to assault the goats rather than his chickens, he settled back down in the shade. 

My goat’s name was Tierra and she was snow white, so was easy to spot.  I walked up and petted her and gave her a scratch behind the ear.  (Unlike the cat, she did not bite me.)  She did give a little cough and blow green stuff onto my clipboard, however.  One of Tierra’s friends walked up and grabbed the corner of my clipboard.  I

Miss Tierra

gently removed it from her mouth.  She came back for more.  Tierra’s belly was humongous compared to the other does.  According to Tracey, twins are most common in goat births, with singles and triplets tying for second place.  Miss Tierra had at least two buns in that oven, I’m sure of it!  I felt her sides and could feel the kid(s) moving a little. We were supposed to check for movement – apparently the kids stop moving about 24 hours before birth.  We check to see if the does had little hollows on either side of their tails, behind their jutting hip bones.  When the doe nears labor, the birth hormone Oxytocin kicks in and hollows fill in a little and are softer.  We check to see if the udders were full or if there was a waxy discharge from the teat.  No and no.  By the way, a goat will stand there and let you do just about anything.  Tierra was a tolerant creature.  She began to lean on my leg while I poked and prodded.  I was hoping for a birth during the three hour window I was on the farm, but no such luck.  We made our way back to the classroom and took our seats.  We talked about what we had found.  Tracey told some stories about the births she has been present for, and how you have to help Mama out sometimes by reaching in and straightening out a leg or head in the birth canal before the kid dies from a lack of oxygen.

We learned more about proper housing and what fencing to use to keep goats safe.  (It seems goats are escape artists and those with horns get stuck in fences and other things.)  We talked about bedding, rotational grazing (5 goats per acre, please), and how goats will not eat tin cans.  They will eat the paper and the glue off, but not the can itself.  Goats are ruminants, which mean they have multiple stomachs and chew cud.  I read up on the subject and I am guessing most of you will lose interest if I go into biological detail… so I won’t.  Suffice it to say that there is a lot of softening, regurgitating and cud chewing involved in the four stomachs of a goat.  Goats have rumen racket you can listen to in their tummies.  Every 40 seconds or so, there are gasses and bubbles moving between the stomachs.  If you don’t hear it, your goat is in imminent danger – the factory is shut down.  We learned about parasites, worming, fecal counts, and immunization. 

Time for hoof trimming and milking!  This is what I had been waiting for!  Off we marched, back to the barn.  Milking first!  We stood in a circle around a milking table.  Goats are short, so they willingly leap up onto a foot-tall milking table for the convenience of humans.  There is a stanchion at one end, and the volunteer goat, Tierra, put her head through willingly.  I was proud of my girl, though I suspect her cooperation was related to the little feed bucket on the other side of the stanchion.  Tracey described the milking process.  The teats are cleaned with an iodine solution and dried thoroughly to keep bacteria out of the milk.  Then, the Milker (spell check says this is not a word, but I am using it anyway) grasps the teat at the udder with a thumb and forefinger and lightly pinches.  This is to keep milk from going UP when you’re milking.  The three remaining fingers are rolled down the teat (don’t pull, it is unkind and will damage the doe) and voila, out comes milk.  Or in this case, some clear mucus-y stuff.  Since Tierra has not yet birthed her kid, she has no milk right now.  This was the case with all of the does.  I tried the milking technique as Tracey described it, and got the idea.  Goat teats are soft and warm, and smaller than I thought they would be.  (Insert wisecrack here, funny man.)  Did you know a sweet little 80 pound goat can give a half gallon of milk in one go?  Who knew?  Alert:  the plants consumed during grazing affect the milk’s flavor.  For example, garlic mustard in a pasture can be pretty awful as a milk flavor.

Hoof trimming next.  Tracey described the hoof, when to trim (varies depending on terrain, activities, etc.) and then began the demonstration.  It’s not unlike trimming a horse’s hoof, which I did many years ago, but seems easier and safer!  The goat (not Tierra) was again tolerant.  I had the job of sprinkling handfuls of food into the trough to keep her occupied while Tracey trimmed her hooves and showed us different ways to go about it.  Some farmers choose to straddle the goat facing backwards, so the animal is between the trimmer’s legs.  Others just stand next to the goat, lean against her, and lift a food backward to work on it. Trimming to close can result in bleeding, so you want to be careful.  And don’t twist their little knees the wrong way!

Back to the classroom we traipsed, onto the next subjects.  Lots of next subjects!  Tracey touched on pasteurization processes.  Did you know that pasteurization came about in the late 1800’s?  Cows kept in poor conditions in cities way back when had bad bacteria introduced into their milk.  Did you know that you don’t need to pasteurize milk if you are going to use it for yogurt?  We learned about handling milk safely – speed is of the essence!  Cool it fast.  We learned that a lot of people allergic to cow’s milk can’t handle the large fat molecules is cow milk, but can handle goat milk because the fat molecules are much smaller. 

How about this:  you can drink raw milk from your own animals in Wisconsin, but you can’t sell it, even to your best friend?  Apparently you can sell Illinois raw milk in Illinois.  There is great controversy surrounding small farm laws related to dairy products.  I could be wrong, but I have a theory that these laws were meant to protect giant factory farms from an intrusion into their market by smaller, local farms.  Intentional or not, that is the result.

We talked about the breeding cycle, whether to “lease” or “visit” bucks, artificial insemination, gestation, what to include in a birth kit.  Caring for kids, disbudding (a process in which one essentially cauterizes the horn bud) and it hurts the baby but according to some, keeps them out of trouble later.  I guess if you let one goat keep horns, the whole herd needs to keep horns for obvious reasons.  We got a lesson on the various forms of castration and passed a piece of equipment around for inspection, which gave us a collective not-so-pleasant mental image.  This segment could also have been called “Making Humans Squirm in their Seats.” 

At the end of the class we went to the barn where the bucks live, to meet Elvis “Escape Artist Extraoridinaire.”  Elvis was a handsome buck, known to bust out of confinement when certain young does are in bloom.  And the buck barn had another painting I liked.     

Class wrapped and then I shopped!  I bought goat milk soap that is beyond delicious.  I got a lemon balm scented soap shaped like a curled up kitty.  I got a honeycomb with a bee on it that was very cool looking and smelled like lavender.  I got a goat face soap that is eucalyptus mint.  I tested the lemon balm kitty soap this week.  It’s so delicate and creamy that I am hooked.  I took the honeybee soap to my neighbor and once she got over her disappointment that the individually wrapped brown disk was not a giant cookie she really liked it.  (Round, brown, wrapped in cellophane, who could blame her for thinking it short bread?)  My hubby is testing the manly, goat eucalyptus mint soap… he likes it, too!  I cannot adequately describe the softness and volume of the lather… it’s just yummy.  You should try goat milk soap. 

Bottom line:  I still want a goat or three or four.  I will definitely go back to Angelic Organics for additional classes.  Soap making, raising chickens, bee keeping, or just to meet more really bright, cool people with like interests.  Bee keeping… hmmmmm.

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7 Comments on “Get Your Goat”

  1. Mary Says:

    I got an email from Deb at the Learning Center last night. Kids are being born since I attended class last weekend. Twins called Myles and Stella, and my favorite, Boom Boom Chicken who was named by kids at the Day Camp. See photos at the Learn Grow Connect link!

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  2. EC Says:

    Great story! But no goat cheese? If I had goats that would be my main product…best cheese in the world in my opinion. LOVE the photo of the Official Greeter…too cute! Btw, what exactly is a “biodynamic bathroom”?

    Oh, and will you ask your new friends if we can borrow or rent their goat trailer to transport Gracie on our next road trip to NC?

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    • Mary Says:

      I hesitate to describe the biodynamic bathroom in the same paragraph as our love for goat cheese… Tell you what, I will write a separate article on the toilets, and just agree that goat cheese is awesome! I’ll find us some farm fresh and bring it over with a bottle of wine one of these Saturdays. Or you and her Highness can join me for a picnic in the country.

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  3. Dorothy Ward Says:

    Loved reading about your goat class. When you come to NC, you should visit the Carl Sandburg home near Flat Rock (south of A’ville) where Mrs. S. raised goats, and where their offspring can still be petted. Keep the blogs coming!

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  4. Jennifer Richardson Says:

    Swooning over the sweetie in the first photo
    ….such a kissable nose.
    Reminds me of a goat I once knew.
    RIP Ethel.
    Love your goatwriting!
    -Jennifer

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