Monday, 24 August 2015

White Gold

After a few days of bribing the goats with grain and with a little help from Mike to steady the front end, I have collected my very first harvest of goat's milk -



Ok maybe "harvest" is too grand a word. I had milked nearly a pint when the goat stuck her poo-ridden back foot straight into the jug. I had to throw that milk out, grab a clean jug, and start all over again. I don't want to take too much milk as her baby needs first dibs. I just want her to get comfortable with the milking process, and the bonus is enough milk for my daily tea and coffee intake.

It doesn't taste "goaty" like store-bought goat's milk. Except for being less creamy than cow's milk, there isn't a whole lot of difference. I filter it, but I don't pasteurise it. I practice basic milking hygiene and cool the milk quickly, that's about it.

The vet comes in a week to give the goats a thorough check-up and some blood tests. If they pass, they can move from their pheasant pen quarantine to the new goat enclosure. The goat pen is already finished, I just need to put some rubber matting in the goat shed for their comfort.

I put a section of rubber matting in their temporary shelter, and the kids immediately started leaping and springing on it. I found myself on second-hand websites looking for a small, cheap trampoline just to see what the kids would make of it. I think it sounds like a fun idea; Mike thinks it sounds like evidence to be given at my future sanity hearing.

I forgot to give you all an update on J the jay fledgeling. We released him a few weeks ago and he hung around the garden for a few days. He's since expanded his territory, but we see him around. He's easy to identify as his tail feathers are ragged from being in a cage. When he moults and grows new feathers, he will melt into the general jay population. J was never domesticated, or even tame. As soon as he could feed himself, he wanted to move on.

I miss him though.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Little gifts

It's late summer now. The hay in the field is baled, and the combines have started bringing in the corn. The partridge pairs have formed the coveys, many with wild-raised chicks, that will be their winter social group until they break off into pairs again next spring. The second hatch of swallows has finally fledged from my freezer room, early enough and strong enough to face their great migration to Africa.

The dogs know it's nearly autumn too. Most of this year's pheasants are in their woodland pens. On overcast days, the pheasant wander looking for the sun. Spud and Quincy know that means it's time to chase them back home. As soon as they finish their breakfast, they jump in the buggy ready for work-


It's not ideal to take my best picking up dogs out to chase birds, but that's the rub when you have working dogs. You have to ask them to understand the complexities of different jobs and trust them to do it. Pip and Dakota are still willing, but physically not up to the job any more.Tinker and Molly aren't mentally strong enough or matured enough to cope with the extra work. Mike uses Podge and Dulcie to do his rounds. Even with eight dogs, we haven't got enough for the work load.

Then, we had a week of dog accidents. Spud found the jar of peanut butter I use to bait rat traps (I long ago stopped using poison after too many inquisitive dogs ended up at the vets having their stomachs pumped). I must have hit it when I was mowing and the glass shattered. Broken glass isn't enough to stop Spud from eating, so she retrieved the jagged, part-consumed jar of peanut butter to me, mouth cut up and bloody but still smiling that dopey flatcoat smile. I had to find EVERY piece of the jar to be sure she hadn't swallowed any.

The next morning Dulcie came stumbling out of her kennel, head tilted to one side, unsteady on her feet. Her eyes were unfocused. I later found out it's called a vestibular incident, but it looked for all the world like a stroke. I raced down to the vets as fast as my old Land Rover would go (50 mph in case you wondered) and with medical intervention she's recovered and is about 95% back to her old self. I need her to work over winter this year, but I will have to be extra vigilant and make sure she doesn't suffer another episode. She has pills to take twice daily. I added her to my chalkboard list of "Who has What Medication When".

I'm going to need a bigger chalkboard.

I've started on Pip's hydrotherapy but she's a terrible physio patient. With the life jacket and me to support her, she half-heartedly paddles her front legs and lets her back legs stick out like a frog's. Even when she sits, she uses her bad leg like a kickstand -


Not only is she lazy, but she's now a trip hazard. The vets say she is healing fine. 

We've had some nice surprises too. I found these in Wales looking for a home, and of course I took them on -


Two female Golden Guernsey x Saanen goats. They came with one month old kids at foot: a little buck -


We called him Dai, because he's going to.

The bigger nanny has a little doe, which I've called Rhiannon -


As the goats came from Wales, I figured they should have Welsh names. I haven't got names for the nannies yet, as my Welsh is pretty limited and I've already exhausted the words I know. Unless I want to call them Heddlu (police) and Croeso (Welcome).

The goats are ready for me to milk, except they have not really been handled much. When I collected them, they were just tied to a fence, the kids playing loose in a field. I will have to earn their trust before I can have the milk. There was already a collar on the small nanny goat; when we got the goats home, I scrounged through my box of dog sundries and grabbed a nice camouflage collar that Mike found left behind by poachers he chased off the estate. It fit the big nanny goat perfectly.

I've quarantined the goats in Mike's pheasant rearing field, with a shed for protection from the elements. This is their temporary home while I get a vet to come out and health check them, and while our fencer finishes building them a suitable paddock around a disused brick shed I found in my sheep field. Kitty can see the quarantined goats from her paddock, and seems to like the new company very much. I feed them by hand twice a day and hope they will respond to that ultimate bribery: sweetened grain.

I found my second little gift this morning. As I lifted the lid on our nest boxes, I saw the determined broody hen who has been sat since forever. Even when I took away the clutches of eggs, she would just steal more and sit tighter. I lifted her up to clean out this new nest of eggs and found a surprise-


Bless you, you stubborn old hen. I guess determination pays off sometimes. I've left her current clutch of eggs alone, and will chec again tomorrow for another little gift.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Babies Day Out

Today, my old Buff Orpington hen took her brood of 6 foster turkey chicks for their first walk outside.


She looks as proud as any new mother, and is careful to keep her chicks nearby and call them in for small tidbits she scratches up in the grass.


At first the turkey chicks didn't really understand the hen's different noises for food, safety, and such. They have since worked out a turkey-hen Esperanto. Both hen and chicks seem to be flourishing. Everyone - animals included - does better with a mother's care and attention, and it doesn't matter if the mother is biological or not.

video

Tina, the turkey with one chick, wants in on the new brood of turkey chicks in the garden. The hen won't let her mother them, so she does the next best thing and protects them, in this case from a non-existent threat who has shown zero interest in the chicks: Brian the cockerel. Brian and Tina are arch enemies anyway, and Tina loosed all her rage and maternal hormones on Brian. I broke up two fights, and finally put Tina in the sin bin for a time out. Brian is beaten and bloody, but OK.


Brian is still able to patrol the garden and watch his ladies. Tina will stay in time out while I'm at work, as there will be no referee here to break up any fights. 

Enrique stays out of the situation altogether. He tells me he's a lover, not a fighter.