Category Archives: goats

Later Goaters

I woke up at the crack this morning (not usual what with a newborn, but she was fast asleep) to the sound of a bleating goat. This wouldn’t be unusual except that I gave my goats away some weeks ago.

I feel like I might be letting people down in admitting this but I just could not stay on top of the goats and the baby. When Francis would cry, the goats would hear and began crying. I would be sitting there in my LazyBoy, trying to settle Franny down and I would imagine how I would just open up the gate and let the goats free. Some days I would forget if I fed the goats or not. When I did, I would invariably be carrying the baby while I threw them a chunk of hay, and it would get all over Franny. Forget about mucking out the goat area. I just couldn’t do both–care for goats and a baby. I had to choose. Of course I chose Francis.

I remember I used to read this one farmgirl’s blog a few years ago. I loved it, she was really sarcastic and funny, then one day her posts changed. She kept talking about her bun in the oven, not about funny things that happened on the farm. Then the baby came, and I stopped reading her blog. I felt betrayed, annoyed, BORED. I hope none of you feel that way, but I understand if so.

I remember asking my sister if having a baby was like having livestock. I can report that it is, but 20 times more time consuming and identity modifying. I was lucky that I have a great community of goaters, and Bebe and Gretel went to good homes, where they are happy and loved.

Speaking of which, this Saturday, at Market Hall on College Avenue in Oakland:
The Oakland’s Havenscourt Homestead’s Nigerian Dwarf Goat Petting Zoo is available from noon to 4:00 p.m.
Willow and I will be there too, doing a honey extraction demo from 1-2, followed by a panel discussion and signing our new book, “The Essential Urban Farmer.” Margo True, Sunset Magazine Food Editor and editor of Sunset’s popular book, “The One-Block Feast,” will moderate.

Also, Sunday at noon, I’ll be at Jack London Square Farmers’ Market doing a little soft shoe.

As for the nickering sounds, I leaned in to Francis, and realized it was her, snoring.

Goat Birth Story

Here’s Bebe with her latest batch of kids: Lazarus and Gretel.

It was August 1, and Bebe started acting kind funny one night. My friend Trista was staying at our house, and I told her to brace herself–she had come just in time to see a goat give birth. By midnight, Bebe had bedded down on some fresh straw and the birth blanket I keep around for such occasions. Nothing. I woke up at 3am and on a hunch ran down to the goat area. Bebe had already squeezed out a tiny–tiny!–little brown and black goatling who was in a heap, not moving. I’ve never had a dead goat baby on the farm so I was extremely upset. Especially because I’m pregnant myself and often have superstitious thoughts. Bebe didn’t seem to even see it, she was just delivering her second–a big healthy white doeling with red splotches. I grabbed a towel and wiped off the little guy’s face (I checked, he was a boy). Once he got warm from the blanket, he started moving around and making pitiful bleating noises. I tried to get him to suckle on Bebe’s teat, where the little girl had already latched on and was thriving. He couldn’t even stand. Bebe didn’t even acknowledge him–he was a dead kid to her.
I carried him upstairs. “Trista,” I knocked on her door. “Want to see a baby goat?” I brought him into her room. “Don’t get attached,” I said. “He’s not going to make it.” I felt a pang in my belly where my own growing child was gestating.
We looked at him–he was really cute with speckled ears. He got very quiet.
“Can’t you save him?” Trista asked.
“Probably not, plus he’s a boy–worthless in the dairy business.”
Then I carried him into the kitchen and did everything I could to save his ass.
Trista had drank a bottle of one of those Smirnoff Ice things, so I washed it out and filled it with colostrum powder mixed with warm water. I slapped a nipple for bottle feeding onto the Smirnoff bottle and offered it to the little guy. I figured he was too weak to suck. But he took to it. He gulped it down. I could feel his energy bounding back. He was alive.
I took him down to Bebe and his sister. I gave Bebe a snack of warm beet pulp and molasses water. She and her daughter were bonding, Bebe made little nickering sounds at her and licked her butt while she nursed. She would not do the same for him. I stayed down there, in the goat birthing cave swearing at Bebe, latching him on until he could get the real stuff. He couldn’t stand on his own and kept collapsing. After an hour of sneaking him onto Bebe’s teat, he finally could stand. I went back to bed thinking he was 50/50.
After a few hours of sleep I went down to check on everyone. Bebe and Gretel were snuggled up together, Lazarus was in another corner. One of his eyes looked glazed, like it had gone blind. I carried him around, warmed him up, stuck him back on Bebe.
Called my friend Kitty who also keeps goats in Oakland. I felt terrible. I’ve never had something bad like this happen with birth before. I didn’t have any medication to give him. Kitty did and rushed it over–anti-biotics for his eye and nutra-drench and a pro-biotic to give to weak kids. I was so grateful for the help and advice. I also gave him a dose of selenium just in case. After a few days Laz started to thrive. Bebe finally recognized him as her own and let him nurse without my intervention.
Now almost two months old, Lazarus is still small but he’s healthy and adorable–kind of like a pocket goat. A friend is going to take him and raise him with his other goats. Viva Laz! And thanks Kitty!

Getting my Sh*t together

My vacation sucked. Baja was freezing. My old back hated sleeping on the beach. It snowed in Arizona. We did eat some amazing borrego tacos (lamb!) and soaked in the hot springs of Puertecitos, but for the most part I felt like I should have stayed at home or gone to Hawaii (never been) like the Obamas.

When I got home, I felt grumpy. Luckily, I cleaned my house before we left so the bed was made and Kuzzin was waiting with open paws for us. My farmgal Friday, Amy, did a great job taking care of the animals, so all was fine on that front. Still, I felt blah. I blamed it on 2011. I blamed it on my birthday (so close to 40). I blamed it on the fact that I just found out it’s going to cost me $20,000 to get a water meter on my abandoned lot. That’s almost how much I paid for the land! I freaked out that Blue Shield is raising my health insurance (i can only afford to have catastrophic in case I get hit by a bus…). I got my first bill for property taxes for the lot, and had to pay liability insurance for it too. Being a responsible adult is so lame and expensive. And I’m not even being that responsible.

That was my state of mind when I first faced 2011. I hunted some flies with my zapper racquet and felt a little bit better. Then I started thinking about little things that I could do to make myself feel better. I mucked out the rabbit area. I fixed the hay “barn” so it won’t fall over during a strong wind. I made some cheese. I mucked out the goat area. I did some weeding. I rearranged the goat milking room. I started thinking about how I want to do things differently this year. I want to streamline my operations so they are pleasurable, not a pain. One of the biggest problems has been with my hay manger.

The manger used to be two sets of window bars lashed together and set on a chair. I had the pleasure of having Gianclis from Pholia Farm over this summer and I asked her (goat expert) how I was doing. I mean, did she think the goats looked ok, had enough room, etc? She said yes, especially because of the stairs, and they looked very healthy. The one thing she said I should do is get a real hay manger. We looked at the homemade manger, hay spilling everywhere, and I realized she was so right. Contrary to popular opinion, goats are actually picky eaters and if hay falls on the ground, they won’t eat it. Even if it’s their fault it fell on the ground. That’s just goats. And my ghetto window bar manger allowed them to pull hay from the side where it would fall to the ground and make a big mess. But I can’t build for shit, and the hay mangers I’ve seen at the feed stores seemed overkill and expensive. Enter my birthday money from my mom (thanks ma!). I drove up to Larsen’s feed in Cotati and bought the Ruff Ranch feeder. It wasn’t cheap: $240. But look how happy this goat is now.

When I installed the manger, I sat and watched the goat enjoy using it. I think they like the challenge of reaching through the bars to get the good bits. And they are wasting 80% less hay. Organic alfalfa is not cheap, either, so perhaps the Ruff Ranch manger will save me money over the long-term.

This kind of pleasure isn’t cheap, but the pleasure of doing something right made me feel good and somewhat responsible. I realized that I just have to set goals, save money, and work slowly. So often I want things to happen quickly, but I realize that change is slow, it takes time to recognize how something can be easier/quicker/better.

So I guess it’s going to be a few years before I save enough money for a water meter, or building an outdoor kitchen, or a greenhouse but pleasure is often sweeter when you’ve waited and yearned. On that note, I’ll be having my first 2011 Farmstand and Food Fundraiser on February 27 (Sunday) from 11am-2pm. Stay tuned for details…And Happy New Year!

End of the Year Look Back: 2010

I just read my goals for 2010 and I’m pretty psyched that I managed to get two things done: the cob oven built and the property purchased. I had actually forgotten about my pledge to buy some property for my high density orchard dream in 2010–who could have guessed it would have been our squat lot?

I noticed, too, that I didn’t do a lot of the things on my list of things to do. Like tan all those rabbit hides in the freezer. Like to not grow vegetables during the hot summer months. I also didn’t go foraging much, even though people were nice and offered to show me their secret spots, etc. And I also didn’t get serious about my finances (again).

That’s life, though, you do what you can. In that spirit, here’s my look back on 2010, and plans for 2011.


I ended up increasing my rabbit flock, what with the San Lorenzo farm and all. Now they’re at my place, in really nice Bass cages, and I’m so happy how they are thriving and reproducing.

The dairy goats were a disappointment on one hand because they kidded all males. On the up side, Ginger has a really nice udder for a first freshener. I’m hoping it’ll get huge after her second kidding. My goal is more milk production, and I’ve realized that I just have to grow my own champs. Bebe is giving up six cups of milk per milking, a new record for her, and a tripling of her intial production when I first bought her almost three years ago. Yay Bebe!! Photo by Morgen Van Vorst.

The bees gave quite a few gallons of honey this year, enough that I could sell some of it at my pop up farmstand. My split didn’t work, I realize now because I didn’t put the new hive far enough away from the old one. Duh. Good to make dumb mistakes, in order to learn.

Next year with the animals, I’m looking forward to my Muscovy ducks successfully hatching out babies (they sat on a clutch of eggs for two months, nothing hatched though there were embryos in there). I’d like to add one more milker to the farm, most likely by birth. And one more beehive at the farm.


My triamble squash were small this year. The clear winner in terms of production was the trombocino/rampicante zucchini. Not only did I get million little zukes, I also let a few of them go and they made gorgeous, sort of phallic winter squash. Great color, and delicious eating. I’ll def grow this squash again (but only one).

I learned to love rapini, which is a great weed, and turned others onto it at my farmstand. I also learned how to cook borage leaves. The garden definitely thrived with the new French Intensive Bed layout. I also learned how to use floating row cover and shade cloth–two essential tools for the new stupid weather conditions caused by global climate change. I got a little better about starting enough seedlings on prop tables so I can do on-going plantings throughout the year.

Next year’s garden goals are to do more continuous production, higher sales, better staking and garden infrastructure, espaliered fruit tree fence, build a greenhouse, get the compost under control, and wack back all that ugly stuff that I don’t like.  Oh–and slowly pick axe the concrete, one bed at a time. I guess I can use the urbanite to build the walls for the outdoor kitchen?


Really happy to finish, with Willow Rosenthal, the Essential Urban Farmer. It’s due out in 2012. Also glad to be working on my next book, Gone Feral, for the next year.


My mom’s a teacher, I never thought I would be. But there I was, teaching animal husbandry classes at the BFO. I’ll be teaching more in 2011, including cheesemaking, goat, rabbit, and chicken raising. See for a list. As I get the outdoor kitchen built, I’m looking forward to teaching hands-on classes at my place. I’m also hoping to have more kids come to the farm to learn about urban farming.

Those are my highlights. What are your plans for the upcoming year? What was a success/lesson that you learned at your place?

Happy Summer Solstice

Ahh, it’s officially summer again. Just like a new year, the summer solstice always makes me want to write lists of things and projects to do. For some reason, every summer I forget that it’ll be over soon and that the rains will come and so I should do as much as possible now. Here’s my list o’things to do before the days shorten and I lose my momentum.

1. New t-shirt design. How lucky I am that a woman who buys chicken feed from us at the Biofuel Oasis is also a talented artist! We struck up a conversation and came up with a barter: she makes me a logo for Ghost Town Farm, I give her stuff from the farm. Here’s the new design, which will be on t-shirts and for sale soon. Thank you Miriam Stahl, you rock star.

2. Finally build that cob oven. When I posted about the cob oven in January, lo and behold, a talented potter called me up and offered to help build it. We’ve had a couple of consultations, and I’m just building the urbanite (broken concrete) foundation. The end of next week, we’ll be mixing up the cob and making the oven. Thanks to the fire marshall’s visit, I’ve place the oven Very Far Away From the House. If you’re reading Victor–it’s all good.

3. Build an outdoor rabbit area in the backyard. I’ve realized that I had a lot of unused space in the backyard. Namely, a back fence that could have an elevated rabbit run. That way the chickens could sift through the bunny droppings.

4. Have a big tour on July 5. I’m helping with an Outstanding in the Field dinner on July 5, partnering with my soul sister, Nicole LoBue, to bring some urban ag snacks to the table. The event is happening at a winery in Berkeley, but people will be coming by GhosttownFarm for tours. In the interest of stacking functions, I’m going to open up the farm that day to everyone. I’ll be busy in the next weeks making signage and a donation jar. Open Farm day, July 5, 10-2.

5. Buy a new milk goat. I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be buying a doe from Castle Rock Nigerians. I really want a herd of three goats in my backyard, and it looks like that dream in coming true in the next few weeks. And like I told people who took my goat class this weekend, it is a good idea to buy really good breeding stock–something I didn’t do and am now correcting after two years of sub-par goats (cover your eyes, Bebe, I still love you). Thanks Sarah!

6. Go camping/learning about wild food. I realized this spring at the Buckeye Gathering of Primitive Skills, that I don’t get out into nature as much as I should, and I’ve been craving it. So I’m going to make it a point to find camping spots that I can ride my bike/take BART to this summer. Bill and I have always talked about hiking that green belt that runs along the East Bay, and maybe this July it will happen. I met a new cool herbalist, Tellur Fenner, at Buckeye who leads urban herbal walks, so I’m excited to learn more about that. He lives just around the block, and brings classes to my garden and assures me that wild radish is delicious.

Whew, I’m going to stop there. I’m sure more projects will present themselves as the long hot days of summer continue. Happy solstice, now what are your plans?

Mr. Lincoln

For those of you who requested a photo Mr. Lincoln–or for those of you too polite to ask–here he is, my borrowed stud goat.

At first I was a little worried. After meeting Ginger and Bebe, he wandered over to the manger and started eating alfalfa, without a sideways glance. He was really into the alfalfa. I mean, sure a few hours later he drank some of Ginger’s urine but then he went back to the manger for another snack. I told my farmer friend Abeni and she said in an old man voice, “Hmm, I know just the type! He’s like, ‘well now wait a minute, let me get some food here and then I’ll take a nap…'”. We cracked up laughing.

But I wanted action! I needed Mr. L to get going so my goats would be bred before I set off on my book tour. Luckily, just his majestic presence was enough to throw both my ladies into heat. I woke up this morning to Bebe howling and Ginger yelping. Mr. Lincoln did that crazy tongue thing and I knew that soon mounting would commence. I didn’t take photos, you’re going to have to use your imaginations!

Look for kids in the very odd month of November.