The “S” in K-N-S Farm

While many of my readers have met me, very few people have actually met my husband. Even fewer have been lucky enough to speak to him! My husband is not the most sociable person in the world, preferring to leave that part of life to me, and he takes a long time to warm up to new people. But without him, K-N-S Farm could not exist. The “S” in our name stands not just for Steven, but for SUPPORT.

My husband and I are one of those fortunate pairs that found each other early on in Highschool. We stuck together like glue, even through some pretty terrible times. We grew together, sometimes with friction, but we found the appropriate middle ground time and time again. And time and time again, we defeated adversity and moved on to the next step in our lives.

One of those steps was what brought us to where we are today, and as I said before, it absolutely would not have been possible without him.

We started with poultry on our little farm – he brought home a box full of random chicks from the feedstore after hearing me lament my lack of animals to care for. Though he’d never before handled a live chicken (and to this day, holding a wriggly feathery bird is not something he’s a fan of) he gamely helped me care for them and eventually move them to their outdoor pen. He celebrated their first eggs with me and peered with interest into the cheap incubator he brought home as our first chicks hatched. We were still newlyweds at this point, and our new adventure was strange to him – but exciting!

As I browsed and participated on chicken forums (where I coincidentally ended up meeting my best friend as well), I found myself drawn to posts from people with pet goats. I began to do as much research as I could on goats, especially dairy goats. I’ll tell you a secret – I despise milk. I have since I was a child. To this day I do not drink milk. However, Steven is a huge fan of milk and goes through impressive quantities, so I felt some little dairy goats would be a perfect addition to our flock of chickens and ducks.

Mother’s Day was approaching, and though we have no human children, I felt that was a good enough excuse to show him some little goats I’d found on Craigslist.

My husband has always indulged pretty much my every whim, even when it travels into a world he has had absolutely no experience with. We drove home with two wild-eyed goats standing in the backseat of a Chevy Malibu, and when we arrived home again, he bravely held onto the horns of the female goat while I did my best to milk her out into a pickle jar. I wonder if he had any idea what spark had just been struck.

When we chose the name for our farm, he was the one who chose the simple, K-N-S. He wanted to be represented, and rightly so – without him, there would never be a farm. There would be no goats or chickens. There would be nothing.

His support continued as we chose a new place to live, one specifically with enough room to grow our goat herd. He drove the posts for our fencing and nailed together our shelter. When I wanted to add ponies to our herd, it was him who bravely pulled the frightened and unhandled pony onto the trailer, trusting that I would know what I was doing when we arrived home with it. When a goat died and needed to be buried, it was him who dug the hole. When I wanted to buy a new goat, it was my husband who drove the necessary distance to pick it up. When I drug him to friends’ farms to help them, he came and did his best, and even made a few friends in the process.

Never did he balk, or argue, or debate. Trusting in my ability to balance everything we were and are doing, my husband only gives support.

When we began to work at the dairy, he came along with no complaints and was interested in what they were growing. However, as we began to discuss moving there so that I could take on the job of stock management, he had some trepidation. As I mentioned before, my husband is not a social person. My husband is always ready to help out when needed, but it has lead us to trouble before. We have, unfortunately, lived with other people who would expect too much of him, until the point it became exhausting and leads to conflict.

Other people often have trouble understanding him as he is – they see a large quiet man who does not wish to socialize or talk much, and begin to believe that he is always angry, or dislikes them, when in reality, the poor guy just wishes to be left alone in most cases. We wanted so badly for this situation to work, as our current home was in a very bad location and I was becoming very afraid of being alone while he worked all day.

So we did what we could to prepare the owners of Honey Doe Farm for the peculiarities of my husband. And honestly, I believe it worked. Certainly there were some issues in the beginning we all had to work out together as we learned each other, made much more difficult by the stress both Steven and I were under due to our home burning down before we could make the move. It took us all time to settle in, but I must give the farm owners here more credit than I could express in words – where others would have just become frustrated and thrown their hands up in surrender, they pushed through and did their best to understand. With time, we found our footing, and I do believe it’s been quite the success story.

In fact, the farm counts on Steven as much as I do now – he now handles the majority of our hay shipments, everything from unloading to refilling the feeders. Barn cleaning too lays upon his shoulders every year, a hard difficult job that he does without complaint, knowing how important it is that we have a clean barn for kidding season. In fact, last year he laid down rules to ensure the barn’s build up of deep bedding through the winter was done in a fashion that would enable him to clean easier. It’s him who scolds us when the hay barn is closed improperly and the goats break into to cause chaos. And when we make mistakes and do silly things like buy a herd of sixty untested Toggenburg goats, it was my husband who was the most against it, warning us what a risk we were taking.

We should have listened!

Even though now he may not know all of their names, he still buys apples and treats for our goats. Despite now having a nice car, he still will put a goat inside – though it must be crated! Regardless of how busy our lives have become, he always has time for what the farm needs.

None of this could be possible without Steven. Though I may be the active face of the farm, the person everyone meets and knows, I pale in comparison to him when it comes to importance. If it wasn’t for him, everything I do could not be done.

So if you ever happen to catch a glimpse of Steven when you visit the farm, or have the chance to say hello, remember that you are meeting the true support beneath K-N-S Farm – even if he barely says hello back before vanishing out of sight!

 

 

The Wandering Goat

Today I have a story that comes from long before most of the others. Throughout my life, I spent many years living on the farm my grandfather bought and built. It was a special place, my true “home” for the longest time. It was there that we kept our exotic mammals, many of our reptiles, and our livestock. As a small child, we kept a few lambs and goats as well, and plenty of poultry.

When I lived there as a young teenager, many of the animals were gone, leaving empty pens and overgrown pastures.

As a young person still trying to find footing in the world, I often struggled with many of the same things others at that age do. I was living alone with my grandmother, which brought it’s own difficulties, but we slogged on and got along as well as a pair so different could.

It was during this otherwise dull time that the wandering goat joined my life.

I think we were on the way home from church when we found him. As we drove down the very long and lonely dirt roads, I was absorbed in watching the trees and underbrush pass by in an unending rhythm when my grandmother hit the brakes and exclaimed, “Look at this goat!”

I looked up and indeed there was a goat. A long legged white buck stood in the center of the dirt road, gazing nonplussed back at my grandmother’s old Buick. He was the epitome of the story-book billy goat: two light colored horns topped his head and a nice little beard graced his chin. We waited for him to run off, but he only stood and looked at us.

After a moment I got out of the car and approached the goat, who walked over and butted my leg gently as if to ask for patting, just as my goats today do. I looked around – not a house or car in sight. In these deep backwoods of Navasota, TX, it was miles between homesteads and you could drive your entire way home from the highway without seeing another car. We knew most of our neighbors too, and none of them kept goats. This goat’s appearance was a mystery – where had he come from?

Well, we certainly couldn’t leave such a cute goat all on his own! I seized him by one horn and drug him over to the car and opened the back door. I shoved him into the backseat, his oversized testicles that hung entirely too low swung comically as he scrambled onto the luxury suede seats. Jumping back into the front seat, we continued our journey home. When we arrived, I pulled my new pet over to the very pen that would house the first K-N-S Farm goat herd over eight years later, and gave him water. There was plenty of brush to eat already in there for him, and I happily christened him “Billy” to top off the stereotype fully.

Billy was uninterested in staying in that pen however, and the next morning he was waiting for me on the porch. After a couple of repeats, I just let him stay out and go where he pleased – which he did! He even followed me into the house once, causing my grandmother to screech at a decibel I hadn’t been aware she could achieve. I suppose her patience could only go so far.

When I’d come home from school, I would make my way down the half mile lane from the road to our farm, and Billy would frisk up to greet me, his testicles practically mowing the grass as they swung back and forth. We would play together and I would give him a piece of bread before we’d go off and explore the forest and creeks that ran deep within them. Afterward he would sit on the porch and chew his cud while I read a book or talked on the phone with a friend.

When I had goats and lambs as a younger child, they were just livestock – food for our family. Billy showed me that goats could also be your friends. To this day I wonder where he came from – who raised him?

Billy stayed on the farm for around a month. One day when I came home Billy was not there. I was upset, as you can imagine, and spent much time looking for him on the farm, to no avail. I accepted the reality that a predator must have gotten him, but a few days later, one of the neighbors called to ask if we knew anything about a white goat. Billy had reappeared in his horse pasture, but could not be caught. My grandmother told them to keep the goat (no doubt tired of the pellets on the porch) but Billy only stayed with their horses for a short time before he vanished from their pastures as well.

I later heard that Billy reappeared on several farms before going missing for good. Perhaps someone finally was able to put him into a pen he could not escape, and he enjoyed a long life as some other child’s pet. I hope so.

I forgot about Billy until years later, when we brought home Hope and Uno and put them in that same pen. I shared those good memories with my husband, and I was able to pull out a picture that showed me in my dorky glasses and messy hair standing next to a silly looking lanky young billy goat. Did Billy unknowingly create a spark that would someday bloom into a passion for goats? Is his friendly companionship why I have bonded so strongly with our current pets? Even if not, he gave me some very fun memories and a new appreciation for goats that no doubt played some part in my current life, and I am grateful.

How I wish that picture had not been lost in the fire so that I could share it with you today, but sadly it only lives in my memory now – just like Billy himself.

Visiting the Vet

As you can imagine, vet days are fun days around here.

Not only do all our goats need health testing which includes Brucellosis and Tuberculosis testing that can only be done via the vet, but all of our cats and dogs need their regular rabies vaccinations – both of those are important and can never be ignored, so we are pretty regular at the vet’s office.

The goats are generally the easier side of vet visits, believe it or not. We often stuff smaller goats straight into one of the cars and larger goats can now go in the back of the truck.

Usually when we arrive at the vet’s office with goats, we stay outside. I remember when my husband and I brought my new doe Rainbow in, however, they stuck me in a waiting room, goat and all. Sure, Rainbow as a Nigerian Dwarf isn’t much bigger than most dogs – but the bowel control doesn’t quite compare now does it? I spent the short wait for the doctor asking Rainbow politely to not poop all over the place. By some miracle, she complied, and though she screamed when her tail was pricked for the TB test (scaring the entire waiting room), she was otherwise well behaved. That was the last time Rainbow did as I asked however – she’s been a rather stubborn opinionated addition since!

On another visit with some Nigerian Dwarves, I had to turn away as the vet pricked one of my new (and expensive) does over and over, unable to find the vein to draw blood. It can sometimes be a challenge, and the vets don’t often see goats as small as mine, so hard to blame them, but it was giving me terrible anxiety! Lance noticed my pained expression and asked the reason. Francine quickly explained, and before we could stop him, he stopped the vet and told them I could do the blood draw instead!

Which I did – sorry vets, I’ve just had more practice, that’s all!

Another memorable time, we had quite a load in the back of the truck – seven La Manchas and two Nigerian Dwarves. We’d gotten a new ramp made for dogs, which we propped against the tailgate. I had the idea to loop a leash across the grill guard in front of the truck and make a tie-out so that we could unload most of the goats. They promptly turned themselves into a tangle, only made worse once the vets arrived and we started sorting through them one at a time. At one point one of the La Manchas got tangled with one of my Nigerian Dwarves, a particular favorite called Oddball. I intervened quickly, snapping at the offending goat, “Knock it off, Oddball cost a lot more than you did.”

The vets were amused.

Nothing can compare to Rabies Day however. On the farm there are four Border Collies, four Livestock Guardian Dogs, three of my small dogs, and multiple cats. Getting them all to the vet in one trip is an accomplishment, and not one we always succeed at! During one trip, we managed to get everyone loaded up only to have one of the cats cleverly escape at the last minute. She went to the vet another day.

The first time the Z-Team went to the vet as pups, they were so horrified that they just lay flat on the floor and refused to move. We had to slide them along the tile to the room, the vets laughing the entire time. During the ride home afterward, Zeni the Anatolian lay her head on my shoulder and drooled in a steady nervous stream.

On our most recent visit, the Z-Team were much more well behaved, especially once I put Ana the Chinese Crested among them. She’d helped me raise and train them from pups, so they were calmed by her presence. However, as we stood in the waiting room, no fewer than three people stopped to stare at the sight of the little hairless dog standing in the middle of four furry monsters. “One of these doesn’t belong here!”

Of course, that scenario only repeated itself in the same visit when the four Border Collies were unloaded and Ana wanted to stand next to her boyfriend, Kalev.

Undoubtedly, the most exciting visit was a Rabies Day. We had somehow managed to arrive with all of the animals in tow and safely contained. The Border Collies rode inside the truck with Lance, all sitting politely on the seats and looking out the window. As we worked through all the other dogs and the cats, they waited patiently in the truck, which was left running and the air conditioner on, of course. Reloading the other animals, we asked Lance to start bringing in the collies. He went outside, only to return quickly. The collies had moved to the front seats – and locked the truck.

Oh dear. We went outside and Kalev and Dov peered happily through the windows at us. Old Malka was sleeping on the backseat, completely uninterested, while the one-eyed rather anxious Ace barked at Lance questioningly. Pulling on the door handles did nothing – we were locked out!

I wish I could say that one of us cleverly jimmied the lock, saving the collies from their unintended imprisonment, but that would by lying. No, Francine called Triple A, and she and I then left poor Lance at the vet’s office to wait for them.

Probably not the nicest thing we’ve done!

However, the Z-Team needed to be home with the goats, the cats were crying in horrible soul tearing rythem, Ana was irritated and snapping at the guardians, and my small dogs were disgusted by being outside this long. Plus Francine and I have work to do! So we abandoned Lance and the collies, wishing them well.

Triple A saved the day instead, and once the collies had their vaccinations, they joined us at home, no worse for wear.

Goats as Artwork

Ever since I was young, like many people, I have had a great affinity for artwork. As a child, I drew everything I could think of – from scenery (I really liked mountainscapes) to animals like horses and dragons. Fantasy drawings mixed freely with reality.

As I grew older, my eyesight unfortunately started to slowly fail, and I drew by hand less and less. Eventually, I discovered painting models, and with a lamp fixed with a magnifying glass, I jumped into 3-D artwork, and loved it.

I continued to paint models for years, up until my home burned down in 2012, along with everything within it. With that, my painting days pretty much ended.

However, my love for artwork didn’t go anywhere. Though I mourned my own, now lost, I turned to other artists and began to collect pieces I really liked. From paintings to figurines, I covered my walls and desktop with new art, and felt better. I have always greatly appreciated having nice things to look at – perhaps because I know at some point I may not be able to look at beautiful things at all. Perhaps too, that is why I can find beauty in almost everything, even if it is something that may not be to my taste, or fully understood.

I still desired to create my own work, but as my workload continued to increase and my eyesight decreased, the opportunities to create came fewer and fewer. Even my writing began to suffer, as novels and ideas sat for long months untouched. I felt a great deal of sadness over what I perceived was a loss of my creativity, my motivation.

It took me entirely too long to realize I was still creating art. It just wasn’t hanging on my wall or collecting dust on my shelf – it was running around in the fields.

From the very beginning, I have aimed to produce beautiful goats. I want bright colors and gleaming eyes, with spotted coats and trim little ears. I want sleek long bodies, graceful legs, delicate faces. I want round soft udders tightly attached high between the back legs, and sharp little hooves to carry them. I want living artwork.

Any breeder with an end goal in mind is creating their own artwork. When the show goat breeder poses her new champion doe, that is the result of years of planning and work, come to literal life. When the hunting horse stretches over the jump with his rider clinging to him, the breeder can see her own results flying without wings. When the labrador swims back to his owner, the limp duck in his jaws handed over without a feather ruffled, he is doing justice to every moment spent in his creation. And yes – even when the farmer carefully wraps the perfect cuts from what was once a little piglet pulled wriggling from his mother, he has created and brought to (near) completion his own form of art.

We are artists together. A living being is our canvas, the genetics our paints and oils. The care we give them are the strokes made upon the backing, and the result reflects every morning and evening spent with our stock.

Branching into (very amateur) personal photography only broadened my appreciation for my little goats. Though little can compare to watching the actual animal in the flesh, often their lives come and go so quickly compared to ours. When their spirit is captured in a photograph, it lives forever. It can be shared across the world, as artwork is meant to be.

So though I may no longer have the eyesight to draw, or the patience to paint, nor the time to write, I continue to create. I can run my fingers through the soft damp fur of a brand new creation many times a year. I can watch them grow, and in turn, become what’s needed to create the next year’s success. I can send them to new homes and see them upon a new backdrop, bringing brightness to a friend’s life.

I am an artist.

A Day During Breeding Season

6:00AM: My alarm is terribly loud, mostly to make sure I don’t hit the snooze and have to hear it again. Untangle myself from both pets and husband, but eventually make it out of bed. Clean jeans today! That sometimes can feel like a bit of a luxury. A little time to fully wake up and check messages, then out the door I go.

7:00AM: Set up the machines, prep for milking, fill the water buckets by the dairy, and then bring the girls into the holding pens. Most of them come along easily enough, but Witchcraft and Scary slip away to go sit by the other door. They’re too good to be around the others goats or something. A couple ladies lean against the fencing – Arby the Nigerian Dwarf buck is on the other side snorting and stomping. I make mental note of who those girls are.

There’s still some time left before milking and it’s the only time of day I don’t feel like I’m boiling alive, so the boss and I catch a few does and check their feet, vaccinate them, and shove pills filled with copper rods down their throat. This makes them upset and they keep their distance afterward.

8:00AM: Time to start milking! I turn the machines on and open the door. I’m almost immediately nearly crushed to death by a flood of overeager milking goats. The first line is mostly Nigerians, and they mostly follow the routine. While they’re on their way out, Bumble runs inside and needs to be caught and removed from the parlor.

8:30AM: Halfway through milking, and it’s already starting to get hot outside. Upon letting the third line in, Larkspur – a black La Mancha – stops long enough to poop all over the doorway, then runs up the stand, leaps off onto the floor again. She squats and pees, then trots her merry way back around, pooping the whole way.

I decide I no longer like Larkspur.

Bumble needs to be removed again.

8:45AM: The final line. Everyone goes in easily enough, until Dill Pickles makes a break for the other door. I’m wise to her tricks, and grab her by the long hair on her rump.

She outweighs me and I slide along behind her flat-footed until she mercifully stops by the door. I’ve invented goat skijoring. I rethink my life choices and make her get on the stand to be milked.

I discover that Macy escaped while I was distracted and needs to be fetched back. This is a regular occurrence with this very large tan La Mancha doe.

9:00AM: The last line leaves, I throw Bumble out one last time, and shut the machines down. Cleaning the equipment is currently a mercy, as the air conditioning in the rest of the dairy is much better than in the parlor. I rush through sweeping before the heat gets the better of me, and escape the dairy. The goats immediately shout at me to let them out for browsing. But this is breeding season and there are things to be done before they can go.

10:00AM: I pull out Arby and take him for a walk in the herd. He tries his best to mate with every doe he gets close to. Most of them run away or try to give him a bashing, but a few are more receptive. It’s already too hot and I shove him back in his pen, where he immediately begins complaining. I catch several does and drag them to various pens on the property. In each pen is a buck that smells bad enough my eyes sting. One doe refuses to be caught and has to be herded into a smaller pen and then tempted with grain. I resist the temptation to choke her with the leash. Finally I let the goats out. The Z-Team, three huge Livestock Guardian Dogs, race out to join them, nearly knocking me down.

11:00AM: After a quick break to check messages, back out I go. There are currently seven different pens that need water buckets cleaned and refilled, and hay delivered. Can’t forget the water up front for the browsing herd too. I make my way pen by pen. Most of the bucks are distracted and leave me be. Nobby, a big chocolate La Mancha buck that is entirely too friendly, decides to ignore his current ladies to rub against me and beg for pellets.

My pants are no longer clean.

11:50:AM: Finally I’m finished. I head back to my house to take a break and eat lunch. Except as I approach, there is another doe hanging around the buck pens, flirting unashamed as Forest, a big Nigerian Dwarf buck, bellows his desire. Too bad for him this girl goes with Twister. I reach out to grab the doe’s collar.

She runs away.

12:00PM: I finally catch the doe and unceremoniously shove her in with Twister, who immediately jumps on top of her and goes to town. I realize Forest has knocked his hay to the ground, so I go into his pen to fix it. I look down to see him spraying urine all over my boots and pants. Great.

I escape and finally make it inside.

1:00PM: The herd is back because it’s just too damn hot to stay out. I refill all of the buckets in front for them, including two that need to be cleaned once more because Big Z decided to stand in them. A big La Mancha doe goes to flirt with the bucks, so I catch her (easily for once) and take her to see Marty, our massive La Mancha buck.

This makes Marty happy.

2:00-3:00AM: It’s too dang hot to do anything outside at this point, so I focus on whatever work I’m behind on on the computer. It’s a never ending list. The goats hide in the shade and nap.

I end up spending most of that time answering messages and watching Youtube instead of doing anything useful. I almost forget to eat my now wilting salad but bolt it down at the last minute.

4:00PM: Unpeel myself from the computer to head back outside. Prep for milking, refill all the water buckets. I release all of the milking does that are in with bucks, and they run gleefully back to the herd. The bucks complain. Twister, Forest’s neighbor, makes an attempt to follow and needs to be wrangled back into his pen. Now my arms and hands smell as bad as my jeans. There is another doe begging to go in, but she is a milker and will just have to wait until afterward now.

5:00PM: With the goats safely penned in the outer holding area, I take this chance to refill the alfalfa in the interior holding pen. The goats see this and begin feigning for a hit of that sweet, sweet alfalfa. I open the gate for them and am nearly drowned in a flood of four legged bodies.

I manage to survive, and have to throw out several goats that don’t have udders between their hind legs.

This includes Bumble.

6:00PM: Milking starts, and for once, goes smoothly. I only have to throw out Bumble once, though she lays by the door and looks up at me sadly every time a line goes out. I feel sorry for her and let her come in and get a handful of pellets, ensuring that she will continue to be a complete pest.

7:00PM: Milking is over. I clean the equipment, check the temperature of the milk in the chiller, and close up the dairy. The concrete pads in front need to be scraped clean of goat poop. I stop halfway through to answer a message on my phone. As I’m refilling all the buckets (again), I remember the doe that needs to go in with her buck. I walk around the herd three times before I finally spot her snoozing in the barn, and shove her in with Nobby.

I have to walk uphill both to work and to go home, thanks to the layout of the property.

I can’t wait until it snows again so I can complain properly about it.

8:00PM: I look at the food I could cook for dinner. Instead I text my husband to bring home Taco Bell. Peeling off my clothing, I leave it in the bathroom so that he can also enjoy the smell of bucks in rut. I stay awake just long enough to watch a few more Youtube videos and browse Facebook. I post a picture and chat with a few friends. The goat records get updated with today’s matches.

10:00PM: The best time of the day. Bedtime.

Tomorrow comes early, and is sure to bring it’s own unique adventure – not just during breeding season, but every season.

Apple & Spyder – Part 2

When I first found out Apple was pregnant – talk about a mix of emotions! Of course excitement won out on top, and the closer we got to the birth, the more excitement was in the air. It wasn’t exclusive to just our farm either – I was sharing every step of Apple’s pregnancy with my friends online.

As Apple showed signs of impending labor, my husband and I set up an area just outside the backdoor where we could watch her closely. I strung up a web camera, attaching it to the side of the house, and began to livestream her overnight so that others could help me keep an eye on her.

It turned out that the camera wasn’t needed for that – I was standing nearby as labor began, but I left it streaming so that all my friends could watch the birth. They got to watch me embarrass myself too – which I bet many still remember!

The birth went picture perfect, and as the foal lay steaming on the ground, I asked my husband to get me a towel. It was early May, and still quite chilly at night, so I wanted to help Apple dry the newborn colt off. I got no response, so I repeated the question – perhaps with a bit of aggravation – to no avail. I turned around to see my husband standing there gaping at the spectacle outside our backdoor, totally oblivious to my request. In his defense, he’d never seen a foal born before, but I was on edge from several sleepless nights watching over my mare, and the emotions were running high that night.

I must confess that I have a rather filthy mouth around appropriate company, none more appropriate than my husband. Might be hard to believe for those who know me in polite company, but good lord, I could make a sailor’s ears blister. Having lost my temper with my husband – who was still gazing down at the wet foal in befuddled wonder – I snapped at him.

“Get me a F*&%$# towel!”

He vanished back into the house and I stomped inside to get my own dang towel. The computer that was streaming the webcamera sat right inside the backdoor. I took a quick look to make sure they could see clearly, only to realize that the camera’s audio was not muted.

Oh dear. In a rush I realized almost a hundred people had just heard me curse quite vigorously at my husband. Embarrassment replaced annoyance as I read the chat in a quick glance and then quickly muted the stream to prevent a recurrence. To the people who called me “inappropriate” – well, I would have a hard time arguing with you!

Despite all the excitement, the colt was here and as he staggered upright on his long legs, the people watching chatted happily amongst themselves. A friend pointed out that he looked like a big wet spider with those legs, and it stuck. Using both his sire and dam’s registered names, we settled on Thunder’s Spyder Prince as his full name, and he was our little Spyder.

He grew quickly and was nearly as tall as his dam in no time. Apple wasn’t really a fan of being a mother, and we ended up weaning Spyder quite early to give her a break, which she was grateful for, never batting an eyelash as she walked away from her colt. From the start I halted and handled Spyder. He was a very mild mannered little fellow and I can’t recall many instances where he gave me much trouble. He was eager to learn, and before he was very old, he could be handled as easily as his dam in all aspects.

Shortly afterward, we sent Spyder to live with a friend’s geldings. Socialization is important in all species, horses no less than others, and we knew it would be a great opportunity for him to turn into a well rounded horse. We came to visit him several months later, and hauled him to the vet clinic to get his testicles removed. Slow to awaken, when he finally did, poor Spyder sang a drunken love song to a mare standing nearby.

The next spring Spyder returned home, a polite gelding with legs almost as long as I was tall! I continued to handle him on a regular basis, throwing a saddle over him when he was ready. His response was to go to sleep. Nothing phased him.

As he continued to grow, I knew it was unlikely that I would feel comfortable riding him. The older I get, the smaller I want my horses to be, and as time went on, I was riding less and less to begin with. After we moved to the dairy and my responsibilities grew, I had even less time for my ponies. I couldn’t bear the thought of so much good work and preperation going to waste, so I knew I would have to find Spyder a better home.

I kept him long enough to be the first to climb onto his back, both with and without a saddle. I made sure his first few rides were the best I could provide, and as always, he responded with little issue. So with not just a little bit of sadness, I listed him for sale.

He had quite a few people come look at him – there’s no doubting he was one handsome Foxtrotter! Finally, a wonderful gentleman decided that Spyder would make a great new trail horse, and they went home together. Once in a while I get to see a new picture and hear an update, which is awesome! He’s really in a home where all the hard work me and others put into him is being appreciated, and what can be better than that?

I really enjoyed the experience with Spyder from start to finish. I have, however, reassured Apple that that’s definitely her last one!

 

 

Apple & Spyder – Part 1

The farm’s inhabitants certainly aren’t limited to goats, and one of the most notable among the non-Caprine family is Apple, my Missouri Fox Trotter pony. This chestnut mare has certainly had her time as front and center too, as those who have followed our farm for a long time would remember.

I’d seen her advertised online from time to time, and would often click on it to reread and look at the pictures. I had a much smaller black pony at the time, and I had been toying with the idea of something larger.

Finally I decided to send an email with a few questions, and I had a response soon enough. It ended up that the soonest time we would all be available was Christmas day, and the owner graciously invited us to come out and take a look despite the holiday. I remember that the directions I copied from Mapquest sent us through the strangest dirt roads we’d seen in years. However we arrived safe and sound, and I gave the horse’s owner a Pecan pie, which is rather hilarious to think about looking back.

We then proceeded to catch a little chestnut mare, called Red at the time, along with a nice grey mare. Red fussed and fidgeted when tied, but otherwise didn’t act up too much. I rode the grey and the owner rode Red as we walked along a road, so that I could see how she went. The little mare danced about, spooking in place and generally acting like a silly nitwit, while the grey I was aboard plodded along, probably with her eyes closed. I tried out the foxtrot and enjoyed it, and as we reached a good place to turn around and head back, I switched to riding Red.

Since we were heading home, she perked up her ears and picked up her pace, though she was still a bit jumpy. During the ride the owner and I chatted about her. I learned that she was so small due to being born a twin and a little stunted. She was a registered Missouri Fox Trotter, and the owner had purchased her as a brood mare. However, after being checked via a veterinarian and declared unfit for breeding, the owner needed to find her a nice trail riding home. Most folks who had inquired were turned off by her pony size, and her inability to breed. Neither of which were an issue for me, of course.

After we ended the ride, I was torn – on one hand I didn’t want a pony scared of it’s own shadow. On the other, I really liked how she felt under saddle despite the shy behavior, and for some reason, it didn’t turn me off totally. The owner, sensing my hesitation, offered to bring her out to my place for another ride. If I liked her, she’d just stay, if not, no big deal, the owner would take her back home. That sounded like a good idea, so we quickly made plans and my ever tolerant husband (who spent this time watching some type of sports with the other husband in awkward silence, bless them both) drove us home.

A week later the owner arrived with Red and Storm, (the grey mare), and this time I rode Red from start to finish. This time around, she was nearly perfect, walking along with perked ears and just a bit of looking around. I was delighted, and when the owner and horse trailer pulled away, wasn’t in it this time.

The first thing I did was change her name to Apple, which is a very old inside joke with one of my long time friends at the time, which would take entirely too long to explain and wouldn’t make sense anyhow. Her registered name is Foxy’s Prissy Princess, but as I wasn’t interested in the paperwork, that didn’t make much different and I tried to forget she had such a gag-worthy name. I rode her again that day and she was just as good, and even better, she fit the knock-off Australian saddle I’d become very fond of.

With regular riding, Apple’s spookiness lessened, and I found her to be very mild mannered otherwise. However, her expression was always rather grumpy. She was willing to listen and cooperate, but she would make an ugly face while doing so, obviously wishing she was back in the pasture sleeping away the day. It became a joking point among me and my friends, and despite her sourness, I was very pleased with my new pony. Yet – I couldn’t seem to get rid of that big grass belly she had. My suspicions were really starting to grow when I posted a picture on Facebook.

A horse friend commented, “When’s she due?”

Oh dear me – I contacted my vet and went outside to peer more closely at Apple. The vet ended up being rather redundant, as I could clearly see the foal rolling about in her belly, kicking away so hard I was able to capture it on video. I contacted the previous owner, who was furious! Not at me – at her vet! Apple had been bred, but the veterinarian declared her open and full of scar tissue, making her incapable of settling anymore.

Seems like the vet was wrong.

 

I have to admit, I was pretty excited. I’d handled a few foals before, but never had one of my own. Delighted, we set up a pen right outside the back door, and I even put up a camera and live-streamed a very foul tempered Apple every night so that people could help me keep an eye on her. I was determined to be there for the birth. I documented her progress on Facebook and on forums, posting near-obscene pictures of her teats and backside for others to analyze alongside me. The previous owner sent me a picture of the sire, and as we chatted, we started a lasting friendship.

Apple was a textbook example of what to watch for in a pregnant mare and when she started dripping milk and pacing one evening, I knew it was going to happen soon. I made sure the camera was live and posted on Facebook, then settled in to watch.

Just like with her pregnancy, Apple’s foaling went just the way it’s supposed to, and Spyder was born – read more about him in the next blog post, Part 2 to this story.

Beyond all of that excitement, Apple has turned into one great pony. With regular riding, her foxtrot is a delight to ride, though when she’s out of tune, it’s more like a drunken camel. She’s even become a little more brave in my opinion, though windy days are still a bit scary.

I’ve put many a child and beginner on her, knowing she’ll either following me or follow their bumbling instructions with patience, only pulling an ugly face from time to time. I can let her sit in the pasture unhandled for a year and then bring her in and ride without much more than some grumpy fussing of the bit. Her favorite way to complain: a long rumbling deep snort, her trademark growl.

She even shows restraint with the goats, and has lived with them during the periods I did not have an equine companion for her. She doesn’t like them at all I’m sure, but she’s very tolerant of them. Unlike her gelding companions, who prefer to chase and play with smaller quadrupeds, she can be trusted to leave them be.

Apple turned 21 this year, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think she was an eight year old. Though I rarely have time to ride anymore, I try to make sure to visit with her and her current companion Finn whenever I can spare a moment. I know Apple’s happy to laze about every day, and I justify their otherwise freeloading status by claiming they are picking up goat parasites and killing them off as dead-end hosts. Which is true, though being very easy keepers helps out too!

I hope Apple’s around for quite a while longer – something about that sour old pony really just fits perfectly into my life.

 

 

My Experience with Toxoplasmosis in Goats

Anyone who has kept goats can tell you some years are harder than others. The year we had an outbreak of toxoplasmosis reigns supreme as the worst year in goats I’ve ever experienced, and I hope that nothing ever comes even close to how difficult it was to deal with.

It started out in late autumn – a doe aborted. With a herd this size, that’s generally not an unusual occurrence. Does can slip their pregnancies for a number of reasons, and I tend to expect at least a couple a year.

She wasn’t the only one to abort though – several others did as well, but they were weeks apart and we decided on a round of antibiotics to clear up any potential issues. That seemed to put an end to the issue, but it was really just beginning.

With kidding season less than a month away, another doe aborted her twins in the field. Two does kidded a couple weeks early, and all of the kids were born weak and small, and soon died. One thing that I noticed was that the afterbirth smelled absolutely horrible. A rank rotten smell that filled the air around it. Obviously by now I was incredibly concerned, and we sent off blood to start looking for a reason. I sent a warning to our volunteer barn watchers, concerned that this could possibly be a zoonotic issue, and I cannot put anyone at risk.

We were able to rule out the big-bad diseases every goat keeper lives in fear of, including Q-fever and Johnes, fairly quickly, which was a relief at the time. At this point I assumed our issue was chlamydiosis, and we decided on another round of antibiotics for all the does and kids. More does kidded, and more weak kids were born. The entire farm spent several days and nights pulling all the stops to save them, to no avail.

Finally after testing of dead kids, a set of fetuses, and blood-work, we had our answer: Toxoplasmosis. Not a virus or bacterial infection at all – a common parasite than can infect many species, and reproduces in cats. Cats! We do have cats, but they are almost always indoor and the goats had been exposed to these cats for their lifetime. We’d not added any new cats, and no feral cats are ever in our barn, thanks to the farm dogs. It turned out that the cause of contamination had been a hay shipment – round bales kept in a barn that obviously must have had barn or feral cats within.

The infected birthings were obvious – it affected mostly the Nigerian Dwarf, though many of the La Mancha were also infected. The babies were born dead in varying stages of decomposition, or very weak. Some babies would appear normal at first, but quickly decline and die within one to two days. The placenta and amniotic sacks had a terrible smell and were sometimes decomposed themselves. Particularly interesting were many placenta that had quarter sized red lesions upon them. Most of the does showed no signs of illness, even with infected births, but several did become ill, and one young La Mancha doe died shortly after giving birth to weak kids and an afterbirth that smelled like death.

Just a couple weeks into kidding season and I was totally trashed – running day and night doing what I could to save any kid I could. So many kids died as we held them, and I felt every loss very deeply. Added to the horror of the situation was the fact that many – most – of the kids who died were sired by a very promising young buck that had died young. These were his only kids, and every one that died remains in my memory to this day. To make matters even worse, my best friend from across the country visited for the first time ever, only to find me in zombie mode surrounded by death and devastation. The entire farm had a sad grey pallor over it, and I remember that the weather matched – long days of dreary rain and thick mud. Some of the does would cry piteously after their kids died and were taken away; I’ll never forget Catnip’s confused cries as I milked her out the day after her first kids, a beautiful set of triplets, died shortly after being born.

Not all of the kids from infected birthings died right away, but many were terribly effected. Blindness was very common, as well as failure to thrive. One little black buckling lived for almost two months, and never gained more than a couple pounds. He had only partial sight, and would run along the walls of the kidding pen if he heard me. Other blind ones would just run into corners and wail non-stop, even injuring their faces as they bounced off the walls. Stargazing was common, and some could not stand or walk. There was also several cases of contracted tendons, the worst I’d ever seen.

Only three obviously infected kids survived longer than three months. The first was a little Nigerian doeling, born alongside two rotted siblings. The second Nigerian doeling lived when her two siblings died and after a short time, flourished. The final was a Mini Mancha that developed a terrible infection in the eyes, but with round the clock in house care, survived, though she lost the majority of her sight. Unfortunately, the first was lost to pneumonia and the second to uterine rupture. The blind goat, Pinky, is doing great and lives a very fulfilling life.

She’s the only Toxoplasmosis kid left alive now.

The entire event feels very surreal now, but I only need to look at my paper kidding records to be reminded – an orange highlight slashed through each dead kid is chilling, especially as you turn each page and count just how many there were. I regret not taking more videos and pictures, but I was so depressed at the time it didn’t even begin to register in my head. I do have one video showing a kid stargazing that I will post at the end of this blog. At the time, I talked very little about the specifics of what was going on to the online public, and I closed down even more after a couple of people decided to take that information and run with it, spreading rumor.

The silver lining is that goats are not good hosts for toxoplasmosis. It affects them for about forty days, and is spread through fluids, most commonly birthing fluids. It causes abortions during early pregnancy, and in latter pregnancies, starves the unborn kids in utero, causing them to be stillborn or weak at birth. Once they’ve acquired it and been affected, does develop some immunity to the parasite. Kids that were born among the chaos but not infected had no troubles at all, and most have grown into lovely young does. We deep cleaned the barn, hauling the dirty bedding out to the back of the property to compost, and precautions were taken between handling goats in labor and birthing. I developed a great dislike for the idea of a barn cat – cats belong inside your home, and I’ll not be budged from the thought.

As you can imagine, we were on pins and needles awaiting the following kidding season. I’m happy to report that there were no illness or infections among the kids or births, and it was an all-around successful kidding season.

I’ll never forget that horrible season though – if there has ever been a time I seriously considered calling it quits, this was it.

 

 

 

Father of the Herd

Early on in my herd, I made a buck decision that would influence not only my own herd, but the dairy’s Nigerian Dwarf herd for years to come. From the moment I saw his picture along with his sale ad, I knew I wanted him – I just had no idea that he would become, effectively, the father of my herd.

His name was Blizzard, he was well bred and beautiful, and listed at what seems like an insanely low price now. My only obstacle was how far he was – six hours!

Thankfully, my good goat friend was making a goat buying trip, and I tagged along. We picked up a great many exciting goats that day, including both Blizzard and his sire, Pride of Texas John. I was smitten of course – my new buck was everything I would come to covet in my herd, and he was sweet and gentle as well. At the time I only had a few does, but I put him right away with a sweet chocolate girl named Bunny. The results were a beautiful little blue eyed girl, and a black buckling covered in moonspots. That buckling is still around – our wether Commando with his ever changing coat of colors, Blizzard’s first son.

As I had few does for him these days, I traded him back and forth often with my goat friend I’d gone with to get him. She had some beautiful kids as well from him, and he sure saw no lack of action in his youthful years. The funny thing about Blizzard is I never actually saw him breed a doe – he was a night breeder, preferring the cooler air, and terribly lazy about flirting with his does. Several times I figured nothing happened at all, only to get evidence to the contrary five months later.

(Pictured below, Blizzard’s sire & Minx)

  

Even with his small size, he was able to settle the two big Mini Nubians I have, producing flashy beautiful kids, though most were bucklings. At that time I was on quite the buckling streak – JuneRose was the first doeling I produced along with her sister, and it was her who would produce Blizzard’s most recognized daughter, the very doe who is in my logo.

When I met Honey Doe Farm and became friends with them, I saw a wonderful opportunity. Their herd was full of beautiful solid does, but was lacking one thing – color. It wasn’t long before I loaded him into the truck and brought him over to stay at the dairy and visit their does. I didn’t realize at the time that I would be at the dairy to witness the birth of all those kids, but I was.

That first kidding season at the dairy was a challenge – I’d gone from handling four or five does in a season to almost a hundred! The reward however, far outweighed the work, as the Nigerians offered up the most beautiful kids I’d seen yet, in all colors, some covered in spots, many with their sire’s bright blue eyes. There wasn’t a single blue eyed goat on the farm before I came with Blizzard if you can believe that!

Oh I can’t lie, I greedily kept so many kids that year! Tempest, Windstorm, Moony –  along with many others. And when we repeated Blizzard’s lordship over the does next season, we kept even more – Catnip, Saffron, Anise – just to name a couple.

It ended up being his last season – if dear Blizzard had one fault, it was a predisposition to delicate health, and when the drought ended and the wetness brought the parasites with it, he struggled. At the end of his final breeding season, I found him curled up as if he’d gone to sleep, gone from us. A loss I felt keenly, and I’m grateful we kept so many of his daughters – and even a couple sons.

To this day his progeny stand out in the herd, and not only does he have many daughters here, we now have even more granddaughters and even great granddaughters. I have absolutely no doubt that his lines will continue to dominate our herd for as long as possible. They just have the whole package – color, beauty, friendliness, and a good producing udder between the hind legs. His does freshen with nicely shaped udders that explode into production as second fresheners, and it carries through to their own offspring. Their teats are plump and easy to milk, and all of them have been much hardier than he, thanks to their dams.

Blizzard will always be what I consider the father of my herd.

It’s amazing to think that a $150 buck could change the entire course of our breeding program, and influence it for generations to come. He walked into the dairy herd and turned what was a pot of gold into a shimmering rainbow. To this day his descendants turn heads and catch the eye – they are my real stars. What I wouldn’t give for just one more season with him!

So thank you Blizzard, for all you did for us. Thank you to the polite young lady who sold him for a song. Thank you to the great goat friend who drove six hours one way to pick him up. Thank you to the does who produced his offspring and made him into our farm’s legend.

The Luckiest Unlucky Goat

When it comes to hard luck stories, you’d be hardpressed to find a goat on our farm that has faced more challenges than little Alibi.

Yet for all the troubles she’s found herself in, things always work out in her favor.

It started immediately after birth – her mother was Mia, a very gentle and sweet doe that everyone loved. Unfortunately, the birth was a difficult one and Mia, who was on the older side, did not recover, leaving Alibi as an orphaned bottle baby.

Around the same time, Mia’s oldest daughter Jojo also gave birth. Jojo had triplets, and all three went to new homes fairly early. These were supposed to be Jojo’s last kids, signaling her entry into retirement. (They turned out not to be, and Jojo later manage to sneak a pregnancy past me and have one last son, but that’s another story.) Jojo however is not a fan of being kid-free, so she continued to insist on being allowed into the kid pens, even after hers were gone.

And before we knew it, she had taken tiny Alibi as her own. I personally was very pleased – one less bottle baby! And it was absolutely adorable, the older sister stepping up to care for her sibling after the mother has passed. Sure, a ton of anthropomorphising, but it was a nice thought and still is.

They were joined at the hip instantly, the long bearded lady and the incredibly naughty kid. We always have a “teenager gang” made up of weanlings that make a great deal of trouble instead of staying in their pasture, and I’m sure you can guess who was the leader the year Alibi was born.

She made no end of trouble, from breaking into the garage to tap dancing atop any car parked in front. The fencing was just a suggestion and more than once the gate was opened by someone – so much so that we started tying it closed.

Yet for all her naughtiness, she was also the sweetest most gentle kid of the year, always wanting to crawl into your lap and be cuddled,

Yet I wasn’t the only one who would get annoyed with her – she was so incredibly pesky that even the other goats grew tired of her shenanigans. After harassing one grouchy doe a moment too long, Alibi lost a chunk of one ear. Thankfully it healed without issue, but it remains a long lasting symbol of her ability to drive a soul to near cannibalism.

But the toughest of Alibi’s troubles was still to come. As a weanling, she was up to her old tricks, this time playing in the driveway with the other kids. It was nearly time for milking so time for all of the goats to go back to the barn and pasture. When I came back to shoo the kids along with the rest, I found poor Alibi in the most wretched state and in need of immediate rescue.

She had been jumping onto the truck’s bumper then leaping off – but this time, she caught her back hoof between the bumper and license plate, and was now hanging by one leg. She didn’t even make a sound!

I hurried over and extracted her, heart sinking. It was very obvious that her leg was broken, and her hock turned completely the wrong direction. Thankfully it was a closed break – there was no injury to the skin. We headed straight to the vet to see what could be done. The whole trip there, Alibi sat very quietly in my lap, and when I put her on the table at the office, she laid on her side and did not struggle. When the vet and I worked together to put the leg back into place, she only made a soft noise.

Several weeks of crate rest followed, but Alibi recovered very well. Today you would never know she’d busted her leg so badly, and there’s only a small hard lump to be felt, if one knows where to look for it.

She and Jojo remained close all the way until Jojo’s passing, and now Alibi herself is a mother, producing a big single doeling that looks a lot like her for her first kidding. She is also fast becoming one of the dominant does in the herd, though she’s still young and has a lot of growing and fighting to do to get there. Yet she probably has the highest number of recorded fights on our Youtube channel, challenging everyone from larger La Manchas to month old kids.

As much as I would like to say that her penchant for trouble has ended – alas – she is definitely one of my worst behaved first fresheners on the milking stand!