Category Archives: goats

Happy Birthday Orla

Well, almost. Orla May was born March 17, 2008 at Ghosttown Farm. I still haven’t sent in her registeration with the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association, even though I have the paperwork filled out. Bad goat owner!

Here’s Orla at two hours old. So adorable. So perfect. So new.

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This was why it nearly broke my heart when I had to take her to the vet in order to get her horn buds fried off. She and her sister both made sad bleating noises when the vet held the iron up to their tiny hornlets. Thank goodness she doesn’t have horns now that’s she’s a sassy one year old who definitely looks for trouble and is the most stubborn goat ever (next after her mom Bebe, that is). None of the neighborhood kids have gotten their eye gouged out by a toss of her head, for example. Looking back on it, I’m proud that I had them disbudded even though it was a tough decision and it wasn’t so attractive….
hornorla

A year later, I find myself becoming more and more nervous because Orla is going to become a mother now. It does seem soon, doesn’t it? Only a year old and having babies? Goats are natural mothers, though, and this early pregnancy is normal. She doesn’t look worried.
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I, on the other hand, am a nervous wreck. It’s two months before Orla and Bebe will give birth to their kids. Since the last 8 weeks are critical, there’s so much to do. Yet there is no book (yet) called: What to Expect When Your Goat is Expecting. To that end, I’ve been reading all these websites about goat pregnancy and kidding. But I hate the internet. There’s too much information! All those injections seem wrong and freak me out. I’m frantically looking up selenium deficiencies and contemplating a copper bolus injection. I just read that I need to start giving the goats more grain, probably twice a day, with more alfalfa hay to increase their calcium and phosphorous levels. I’ll have to decide whether I’m going to bottle-feed or go natural. I’m leaning toward bottle feeding them myself. But I need to get Bill used to the idea of three plus goatlings in our apartment.

Aside from the dizzying information glut and my nervous nightmares, goat babies might be just like human babies. Because the amazing thing is: the stress is all worth it when they join us here on this Earth. goatlegs

Merry f-ing Christmas

Yesterday I felt all Scrooge-like about xmas. but then after a shift at the Oasis, the biofuel station I run with some friends, suddenly my heart was filled with goodwill and joy. Our custies are so wonderful and happy! I came home and made some spicy tomato soup and baked lime bars for our loyal customers. Then I packed some olives to give as gifts. Then I squeezed on Bebe’s teats and tried to get a whisper of milk out of her.

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I went up to Lake County and picked up the goats last week. Of course it started snowing. Of course I had no heater and only one windshield wiper worked (the wrong one). Bebe and Orla looked like mountain goats. They sprouted some major fur while up north. I got a quick glance at another buck she got to be with–a dark hairy guy who was just adorable. Leah told me Orla’s probably not preggers because she’s a bit young and um, stubborn. I might try to breed her again in March. We packed the goats into a dog crate as the snow swirled down. I drove like a banshee to get home before it got too dark and cold. When I opened up the dog crate, Orla and Bebe were all cozy and warm inside. They smelled like bucks, which is to say, high goat.  They jumped out and ran toward the backyard where they live. It was a joyous homecoming–I really missed having them around.

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But I also miss their milk. Bebe isn’t producing much, which Leah said is normal post-breeding. I’ve been milking her twice a day to increase production. The milk tastes bitter and gross–a natural occurence post-breeding, somehow the buck hormones get into the milk. Eventually I’m hoping Bebe will give me her usual sweet, high-fat milk. I sure do miss my morning goat cappuccino.

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Reunited

Alas, I’m not reunited with my family this Thanksgiving weekend. My mom is up in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m sure had a great supper at our dear friend Jean Moore’s house. My cousin, aunt, and uncles are vacationing in Australia. My sister is probably hunting pheasants and mushroom in France. Dad is in Wickenberg, AZ. Bill and I went to Max and Nina’s house, and brought a smoked turkey (it was pretty good–tasted like candy coated bacon, a little dry, though).

But, then who in my family is reunited this Thanksgiving? Why, Bebe and Orla with their goat family in Lake County!! Bill and I drove up north on Sunday, the goats in this very folksy home-made cage.

We got lots of honks and whistles driving through Berkeley before we got on the highway. The goats liked being in the back, kind of like dogs. Three hours later, we arrived to the farm where I bought a pregnant Bebe almost a year ago. Bebe let out one bleat of excitment, then played it cool as all the other goats from the farm circled the car and sniffed. Orla and her sister Georgina (now known as Goldy) touched noses. They didn’t seem *that* excited, to see each other. I don’t know what I was expecting. It made me have a deeper love of dogs, who are so willing to love on each other.

But there was love in the air. One reason we had taken the goats up north was for, um, stud service. Wee, getting my girls laid! Leah the goat lady gave me a tour of the available bucks. I selected a black and white spotted La Mancha for Bebe (mini-Manchas!) and a cute, twerpy Nigerian dwarf for Orla. Babies will be popping in mid-April, if all goes well.

Enjoy your reunions!

Goat estrus

Ok. Here’s the story. About 10 days ago, I was puttering around the house–feeding the rabbits, washing the dishes, putting grain in Bebe’s milk stand so I could milk her–when I heard Bebe yelling. I ran downstairs because this was an odd sound. I thought maybe the turkey had attacked her. At the gate, Bebe lunged. Bilbo seemed especially concerned. So I let them out, and Bebe raced up and down the stairs like a crazy goat. Then, I hate to report: Bilbo mounted her, made this unbelievably clownish face and stuck his tongue out like the devil. Sick. It didn’t last long. Meanwhile, Orla was making horrible bleating noises. This went on all day, and then for a few more days. My poor neighbors. Bilbo is just so in love.

Most dairy goats go into estrus at the end of summer through early winter, every 18-21 days. If they’re bred, they’ll carry for 5 months and give birth in the spring. With Dwarf Nigerians like Bebe, they actually can breed all year ’round. This most recent cycle must have been her first since having Orla. I’m hoping to breed her in December for a May arrival of babies. So it’ll be a little loud around here every three weeks, I guess.

A few days after all this noise, I was down in the chicken house trying to convince the new chickens to roost there when I heard some goat noises again. I looked up on the stairs and the goats were looking West. Our neighbor two doors down, a young Vietnamese mom, was yelling, “Baaahhh,” and laughing her ass off. The goats returned her call. Neither the goats nor the lady knew I could see them–so I waited in the henhouse until they were done talking. Have I mentioned how much I love my neighborhood?

Aged goat cheese

You’d think I wouldn’t have enough milk to make cheese. But the little bit I get each day from Bebe adds up and then I have to make something. I’ll toss a tablespoon of yogurt into a quart of milk, warm it up–and voila! a quart of yogurt.

Or, the other day, my postal carrier told me about something called cajeta. He often drops off the mail and then we talk about food–spit-roasted rabbits, steamed pumpkin drizzled with honey and mashed up with goat milk. Cajeta was goat milk slowly cooked with sugar until it became a caramel-y goo. The way he was drooling, I knew it had to be good. I had two cups of milk, so I decided to go for it. I had to stir the milk and sugar for an hour. Luckily, Bill was in an expansive mood so we talked and I stirred. The result was a gloppy goo–dulce de leche, great straight out of the jar.

I also made an order through Caprine Supply. Got a hobble, udder wipes, an iodine dip, and cheese molds. I tried making my own out of plastic containers drilled with holes, but they kind of sucked. Armed with these new molds, I hoarded milk and made cheese.

The fresh, triangular stuff turned out nicely. Creamy and light.

Because I had hopes to make aged cheese, I ordered some penicillin culture too. After the cheese firmed up, I started spritzing it with the white mold culture. It formed a rind after a few days left out (but covered to prevent flies).

After 10 days, Bill and I had a tasting. I secretly hoped it would taste like boucheron. Um, no. It wasn’t creamy in the middle, just firm. It kind of reminded me of the cheeses I tried in Portugal. Sturdy, nothing fancy. Definitely edible.

Goat smells

At the edge of the room in our apartment that I call the mudroom, the room where we milk Bebe, store tools, keep seeds, make vinegar, house crusty jars of canned goods, right where the door opens onto the backyard, lingers an odor of Farm. Bill’s even noticed it. I’ve wondered where exactly it emanates because I harvest the goat turds and sawdusty clods of urine every morning before milking. Then I saw Bilbo pee on the back porch. Ah-a! Goat pee plus wooden deck plus sunlight.
It’s an unbearably delicious smell as far as I’m concerned. It means good things, to me. Maybe I’m remembering my parent’s farm in Idaho or an old goat barn visited in the 1970s. The odor to my mind speaks of good things–goat cheese, dirt dappled potatoes, thick slices of multi-grain bread. Promises of coffee ground with a handmill in the morning, and marijuana smoked in the evening. Of course those days are gone, and we’ve all gotten over those silly pleasures, right? I guess some of us have not.

This past weekend I took Orla and three rabbits to Berkeley Fun Fair. The Berkeley Farmer’s Market manager asked me to bring some baby animals for the kids to pet, to be a one woman band of urban farming.

When I arrived, I unfurled my ghetto fence made of chicken wire and wooden stakes, put Orla on a leash, and sat under a tree. So many kids and their parents came up and told me stories about having farm animals, some of them in the city! Of wanting their kids to grow up knowing animals. One little girl cradled a baby bunny, and I told her it was destined for someone’s plate.
“Oh,” she said. “When will he be ready?” Matter of fact, she was. It might be the parents and our culture that socializes us to think that cuddly creatures can’t be meat.
“What about the goat,” she said. Orla was curled up in my lap.
“She’s going to be a milker,” I said, “But if we have boys, well, we eat them.” A Berkeley vegetarian lady heard me say that.
“So you eat the boy goats?”
“Yeah, I mean, how many boys can we have if these are milk animals? Or how many boy pet goats?”
She nodded, handed me a benediction in the form of a Stop the Spray flier, and went on her way.
I only stayed for a little over an hour–the noise of the music freaked Orla out–but I felt like I had done my work for the day.


When I came home, the adult goats came running, as is their habit, along the concrete corridor that separates our house from our neighbor’s. Bebe sniffed Orla, let out a sighing Bah, and she was welcomed back into the fold. Where she can piss on a falling down backporch with a view of downtown Oakland. Ah, the life of urban goat!

Let the cheesemaking begin

In my squalid kitchen, cheesemaking has officially begun!

More than two years ago I ordered chevre culture from New England Cheesemaking Company, promptly stuck it in my freezer, and forgot all about it. I had just befriended a guy in Berkeley who had goats and I had delusions of getting milk from him. It didn’t happen. But now, oh now, I can finally make my own.

But it’s not like I have an excess of milk. I’ve resorted to milking Bebe only once a day (Fiasco Farm said she does this, with healthy results, for over 10 years). Just as I get less milk from my Nigerian Dwarf goats, who work great in small backyards, I don’t mind getting less milk if it means I don’t have to milk twice a day. It’s not like I’m in the cheese business! I let Orla, Bebe’s daughter have access to her mom during the day (she’s milking for me!) and pen her up at night so I get the morning milk.

So, it took me four days to stockpile half a gallon of Bebe’s sweet, creamy milk. The directions on the chevre package said to add one packet to a gallon of milk, so I just heated up the milk to 86 degrees, and sprinkled in what looked like half the package. It was hard to see four days worth of milk used in an experiment like this. What if it didn’t work?

For 12 hours, the cheese set up in an undisturbed area. I heard that the culture can be finicky, so I didn’t peek at all. That night, when I finally looked into the bowl, the milk had pulled away from the sides and had two distinct layers: there was just this creamy, yogurt-like substance, which I ladled into cheese cloth, and the clear liquid, the whey, which I put in a bottle for drinking later.

I hung the cheese to drain, above the sink, using (as you can see) the rope from our cheap blinds. For using only half a gallon of milk, this cheese ball seemed massive! Of course, it was mostly residual whey. The next morning, the ball was deflated and hard. I peeled off the cheesecloth and viola! A white cluster of something—cheese—in the shape of a deflated ball of cheese. I whipped it up, a bit, added a shake of salt, and then, like I saw at Dee Harley Goat Cheese, molded it into plastic wrap with a bunch of pepper sprinkled on it.

How’s it taste? Pretty good, but it’s a little dry, and not as creamy as I had hoped. Later I read that I’m supposed to put the curds into these plastic cups with holes in them, and let the cheese drain for two days. So what I made was fomage blanc. Now I need to buy–or make–some chevre cheese molds. Then I want to try making St. Maure–a penicillin infused goat cheese. And, with the right cultures, there’s some hope of making mozzarella.