Up on the hill we are still waiting on the pregnant goat to kid. (Dandelion), Nettles was too shy to get pregnant, that attitude would serve a woman well if she was not ready for the commitment, but her being a goat, it is a little wearisome, especially as it means that she won’t be milking this year and I’ll still have to feed her. She does provide companionship to Dandelion though, typical siblings, they seem to love and hate each other in equal measure. Anyway, we built a new goat enclosure into the barn, complete with hay rack, goat ingress and egress point and a pallet for sleeping on. This structure is still waiting on a roof as the rain blows in. So they have not yet been moved into their enclosure, and they still have the run of the barn. I have also mostly finished a milking station and have been reading a lot of goat books lately, and I worryingly find that I am becoming a hypochondriac for my goats; I read about the benefits of extra vitamin C in their diets, especially to boost immune function, important now that the ticks are around, so now I am on the lookout for cheap vitamin C. Seemingly apple cider vinegar provides them with phosphorous in a healthy, buffered way, now I am trying to figure out how to feed that to them. Apparently copper seems to keep away all sorts of maladies, such as worms and stuff and impossible to overdose on if they get enough dolomite. I can’t find dolomite, and I suspect the info I am reading pertains more strongly to Australia where the soil has significant mineral deficiencies. I guess my best bet will be to get a soil and/or blood test and see whether there are indeed any deficiencies in goat or soil. For now they look happy, well as happy as a pregnant goat and her scrawny sister can look. One hears stories to the effect that it is impossible to tell if a goat is pregnant or not. I guess this may be true especially in the case of older more experienced goats, not first time mamas, but it became evident early on in this pregnancy that she was indeed pregnant, her teats descended, her udder is starting to fill out and she looks as though she is pregnant with two huge watermelons. I am preparing myself for a very steep learning curve once the kids arrive. Castration, disbudding (horn removal), milking, herd management, cheesemaking…. Here are a couple of fun facts about goats. Goats don’t eat everything, they are fussy, Dandelion has been removing the apple butts from her bowl of scraps. Also they like ivy and all the plants you are particularly attached to. Goats are fussy, they will not eat hay once it has fallen on the ground, but they are happy to raid the bird seed from the feeder and eat birdseed from the ground. Goats have double standards when it comes to food.
Enough about the goats, we managed to plant over 600 bare root trees on the slope in early February, (a big thank you to all who came over to help us that day). I have been systematically trying to mulch these so that the grass does not swamp them out. I have perhaps 15% of them done. We have also planted a number of willow truncheons in to a sally bed and as a screen, I am also in the process of mulching these. It is likely that these days you will find me down the field mulching trees.
The best news I have reserved for last. WE HAVE OWLS! Long eared owls, Asio otus. Anyone who has chatted with me about animals for 10 minutes will know that I am nuts about owls, I could have perhaps been described as obsessed with seeing one. Anyway, on the 20th of April, I was sitting in the yard during twilight after getting a bit of tree mulching done, when I looked up and saw a bird flying, it had a blunt face. We followed it’s trajectory and were rewarded with an owl show that included wing claps, flight, weird noises like a mostly empty bagpipes being squeezed out at 8 second intervals; whwhwr whwhwhr whwhwhr. The one that was wing-clapping was also hooting/cooing very gently. Hoo hoo hoo, this sound gets drowned out or camouflaged by the cattle lowing so it is difficult to hear, but not impossible. We have deduced that the female is the whingy gas-bag and the male is the clapping cooer. I am pretty sure they have just moved in and and have appropriated an old rooks nest in one of the pine trees close by to our field. I have been heading out each evening around 9pm this week to watch the owl show, I have not been disappointed, they have shown up, made noises and done some flying each evening this week. I feel as though all my Christmases have come at once. I had not realised that one of my ambitions was to become intimately familiar with a pair of owls, I guess I never imagined it would happen to me, but, we have owls and I can watch them, hear them and get to know them and their behaviours somewhat. I feel like this is what has been absent in my life all along. Tonight’s owl show was cancelled thanks to Storm Hannah. Please God the owls stay safe and continue to hang about.
Ok, till next time, keep doing the things that make you feel like you are honoring yourself, for me that is Pilates, walks in woods and eating seaweed.
The goat girls
Our plan here on the hill for 2018 was to get chickens and plant trees. Our plan for 2019 was to get livestock and bees. So true to form, we got a hive of bees in August 2018, and then a swarm from a cutout in September. In November we acquired goats. Three trees were planted, and chickens have not yet been acquired, nor a house built for them. Though we are hopefully on track to start being the hill of milk and honey come Spring 2019. The goats came from a friend of mine who developed an allergy to the milk protein casein, that cut short her goat keeping days. She offered me between two and five goats. After a discussion with the housemates here on the hill and much against my husband’s wishes, we took on two goats. Preparation for goats included buying and setting up of an electric fence, and a trailer to transport and house the goaties in, a trip to the garage to repair the trailer’s wheelbarings. We had a bale of hay from the field for feeding and a dampish one for bedding. A trip to the feed store for oats, barley and a salt lick completed my preparations for the goat girls.
About halfway through November I collected them from Wicklow, two gorgeous maiden female Toggenburg goats. The blonde one is Dandelion and the brunette is Nettles. What follows is a tale of learning, giving up on fences and other preconceived ideas of goat keeping and a huge opportunity for the goat keepers out there to tell me how wrong my style of goat keeping is.
For the first week or so, we had the girls mostly successfully enclosed in an area with brambles, a fallen down tree to climb and loads of ivy. They were happy, I was happy, they were using their trailer as a house, all was good. They were being fed a mix of oats and barley.
During the third week, they somehow escaped their fence and strayed into the general area where we started a Japanese garden type thing. (The girls promptly browsed from the and denuded the camellias) . So I spent a couple of days fencing them into the area of the Japanese garden where we had not done any planting. An area with plenty of ivy and brambles, and some pine trees to debark. We trimmed their hooves and they enjoyed their new feeding ground for a few days.
In the meantime, I had been looking for a billy goat for the girls, unfortunately, they need to give birth in order to give milk. Unfortunately, in order to give birth, they have to get pregnant and unfortunately, this involves a billy goat. After a week of ringing goat sanctuaries, petting farms and studs, I found a guy with a billy an hour and a bit south of here, he said to bring the girls in when they come into season. Being new at this goat keeping thing and completely unsure as to when that would happen, I rang the fellow again a few weeks later, this time asking him to send me a rag that had been rubbed on the male goat, seemingly this gets them all excited. He said, “Ah sure, come take the goat away and bring him back when he is done”. I really did not want to be responsible for a billy goat, but I resigned myself to my fate, and one afternoon at the start of December I plucked up the courage and drove down and collected a big white, longish haired, big horned, very smelly goat predictably called “Billy”. He took up half the trailer! It was well dark by the time I got back, so we replaced the trailer in the paddock, tied a rope around Billy’s neck and took him to meet the girls. He did not make a great first impression, chasing them around the place, breaking through my fence and all sorts of misery all in the dark. So we tied him to the trailer with loads of rope and I went in for my dinner. Halfway through the night, while safely tucked up in bed I had a miserable thought: What if I tied a slip knot around his neck and he strangled himself? So torch in hand I went to check on the beast, the girls were sleeping in the trailer with him and his knot did not appear to be a slip knot and all was fine.
In the morning, I went out to feed them and realised that the beast was struggling, it had been a slip knot and he was being strangled. The house had been moved off of its chocks and the girls were scared. He seemed to make a speedy recovery after the throttling incident, and seeing as though he was getting on ok with the girls, I decided he did not need to be restrained anymore. There was goat harmony for all of a day or two before they started escaping from the fence and trying to get at our plants in the courtyard. Our precious plants that are waiting for us to plant them in their forever home. Our apple trees, my beautiful Eleagnus, the horse chestnut and chestnut seedlings and the bay tree. It was around this time that I realised the jerks did not care that the fence was electrified, they did not care that I had precious plants, and they did not care that roads are perhaps not the safest places to be hanging around. So for a few days, I was driven demented trying to keep them out of the courtyard, keep them behind their fence and keep them safe.
One evening, I went into the barn to collect hay for the goats, and lo and behold, three pairs of eyes shone back at me from the hay pile. It occurred to me that the billy goat had probably lead them astray and into the barn. In that moment, I gave up trying to control where the goats ate, slelpt or existed. I gave up my dreams for the barn and just allowed it to turn into the world’s biggest goat house, so I set about rescuing whatever hay I could and removing it to the shed, I put up a temporary wall so there was only one way in, thus cutting down on some of the draughts. Now they live in the barn, they spend most of their time there, time when they should be out browsing or shagging. Instead, they spend their time staring at me through the fence, relaxing in the barn or finding other plants and things to destroy. The other day they were browsing ivy close to the house and chewed through the string of fairy lights that lights our path to our dwelling.
Billy looks like an old goat – arthritic knees, bad hooves and long horns. He is at least 5 years old – he has all his teeth. I am not sure he is as old as he looks. My friend reckons he is part Saanen and Golden Guernsey. I don’t really know, all I know is that he smells pungent and is gently aggressive with me. Thankfully he has horns and I can wrangle him using the horns. Though those things smell terrible too and impart Billy goat-scent to your hands. Thankfully my nose has been quite blocked of late that I am not constantly smelling goat. I have a pair of trousers and a jumper that I put on when feeding or handling the goats. Anyway, after doing a bit of reading around the topic of how to look after arthritic livestock, I decided to boil up some linseed with turmeric and black pepper, the linseed needs to be boiled apparently because it releases prussic acid if served raw. It is also high in omega 3 which is an anti-inflammatory, as is the turmeric, the black pepper being there to make the turmeric bioavailable. We trimmed his hooves. So of late, Billy boy has been looking somewhat better and not as frail as when we first got him, unfortunately, he does not seem to be as interested in the girls as he was when we got him.
Today’s goat news
I know for a fact Dandelion is in heat. She has been rubbing up to Billy and twitching her tail and totally giving all the “come on” signs. Billy boy does not seem interested. Hopefully, while I was not watching them, he did the job, but I am not too hopeful.
Dandelion is a great eater, more adventurous with food than her sister, also more aggressive when it comes to food, Nettles is more skittish, she goes off her food quicker, but she is more adventurous when it comes to escaping from fences and finding fresh grazing. She is also somewhat scrawnier than her sister.
I enjoy preparing snacks for the goats for the evening feed. Chopping up a few Brussels sprouts, or saving carrot peels or chopping up apples. After feeding them their ration, I pop these bits of food into their mouths. The girls are at a disadvantage because they do not have all their teeth, and cannot eat as fast as the billy. Therefore he eats his ration quickly and then tries to eat the girls’ ration. So I feed him at one end of the barn and the girls at the other. When he is finished, I delay him by either wrestling or popping snacks into his face. so that the girls can at least eat most of their ration.
So what I have learned about goat keeping in two months:
- Don’t spend €150 on an electric fence system, buy good hay or a really good bottle of whiskey instead. Goats don’t respect a double strand electric fence, and they don’t give a crap if it cost you a pile of money and a whole load of days spent installing it. Thankfully we live on a really quiet road, and the goats can now roam as they wish (our property is on both sides of the road) and they always come back because the barn is kind of cosy and safe and they get fed here. If you have to fence them in, use sheep fencing.
- Get reflective collars for them so they are not mistaken for deer by hunters
- Avoid bringing a billy goat to your property, they smell bad, they lead the others into mischief and if he can’t do the job, you will have fed a freeloader for 3 or 4 weeks. Next year I hope to leave the girls somewhere with a nice, billy from a line of milkers for a sexytime holiday, instead of providing sanatorium services to an aged, creaky, smelly goat.
- Female goats smell really nice (have smelt really nice, not sure Dandelion does anymore after rubbing herself against Billy)
- It is really useful to raise these things as part of a community as help is needed for hoof trimming, and feeding, especially when you don’t feel well orneed to head away.
- Goats are really fussy eaters, they won’t eat anything that has fallen on the ground, they want the best, green, spring hay (impossible to find)
- Their favourite forage is ivy, possibly followed by fairy lights
- They are really road savvy
- It is easier to fence your precious plants in (chicken wire) as opposed to fencing goats out. They are sneaky
- Billy goats are not as scary as they look, especially if you are a bit stronger than him and don’t mind manhandling the brute a bit.
So today, instead of writing loads about a topic that I want to share with you, but have not the expertise on, I will link to the blog post that was written by an expert in such matters. So this year I learned from Monica Wilde that eating nettle seeds is a thing, a thing that increases neurotransmitters and can help boost mood. This is especially useful information now as we head into the shorter days here in Northern Europe. Soon enough we will be into Winter and Seasonal Affective Disorder. I realised that I struggle with SADs, but mostly in the years in which I have not been outside for extended periods of time during the winter. This Winter I am armed with knowledge and solutions. Loads of outdoor time and a couple of teaspoons of nettle seeds with breakfast. So without further ado, I am going to link to Monica Wilde’s blog post about nettle seeds. There you can learn about the science behind why they help to boost mood and energy levels and how to use them properly.
How I harvest and process them.
- Gather nettles with loads of seeds on by cutting or breaking the stem, put them loosely into a cotton bag and hang this in a sunny window to air dry, or I use the dehydrator.
- Once the seeds are dry, mush them around in the bag to dislodge them from the stems
- Sieve seeds out using first a colander, then a coarse sieve then a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the irritating hairs
- Bottle up and enjoy, a friend of mine covers hers in honey and adds it to porridge, I sprinkle it on my breakfast egg.
There are still plenty of seeds to be harvested in the hedgerows, so get them while the getting is still good.
This post does not match previous posts; I was considering writing it and finding some more appropriate place to publish it. Upon further thought I realised that this was the perfect place for it, because it is a call to be better and to do better by the future women of this world. A call to reroot the future by changing the present.
I am blessed at the moment to have my sister and her two young ones (boy 10 and girl 8.5) around for the summer. Being a moderately alright aunt, I figured that we should avail of the cheap Tuesday cinema screenings in our local cinema. The choice of kid’s films showing today was: Captain Underpants, a tale of two mischievous boys who turn their grumpy teacher in to a superhero of sorts; another iteration of Spiderman; Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3. I was immediately struck by with the realisation that there was something wrong with this list? Every one of these films is lead by a male lead or two. There are no female leads here at all! No representation of girls or women as main characters. Despicable Me comes the closest in the female representation stakes, as the main character now has a wife and the three orphan girls, but it is still his story and his character development that we see portrayed.
This got me thinking, when was the last time I watched a children’s film that was about a normal girl becoming extraordinary through sheer hard work and perseverance alone. Zootropolis (Zootopia) is the only one recently that I can think of. Had the makers of Big Hero 6 the guts to have the main lead as a little girl who was interested in robotics, it too would have failed to made it on to that list, because the protagonist is an orphan and the media seems to be in love with representing orphans. Wonder Woman does not qualify; she is the daughter of a queen and a deity and thus comes from privilege, Moana, Brave and Mulan fail to qualify because they too come from privilege (fathers are chiefs or something) and therefore it is expected that they will succeed. Beauty and the Beast fails because Belle is beautiful and beautiful on the inside too (gag), and for that reason she is held up as an example of the best of womanhood and so she becomes a princess or something. It appears as though film is telling our future women that in order to get on in the world or make a difference to the world they have to be beautiful or they have to come from an influential family. Our girls are learning from the way their gender is represented in film that they cannot succeed or be the protagonist in their own lives if they are ordinary looking and/or are from an ordinary family (whatever that is) where boys are shown that they can be protagonists and succeed if they are ordinary and from ordinary families.
I am not saying that the film industry should stop making films that have make leads, but that they should start asking themselves if the gender of the character matters to the story. If not, should they maybe think about making that character a female character or an other character? I want to see a kid’s film about two normal mischievous girls who turn their grumpy teacher into Mrs. Captain Overcoat or something like that. More representation for regular girls, less pushing the idea that beauty or privilege are needed in order to make a story about girls work. Down with princesses, up with ordinary girls getting bitten by radioactive spiders and becoming Spiderwomen! Seriously, let us stop failing to provide strong, ordinary girl representation in an age where media has become so important and influential.
If you can think of films (kid’s films in particular) that qualify to be on this list, please share your thoughts in the comments section. To qualify: Female or other (but being other is not important to the story) protagonist/ lead from a kind of ordinary (not orphan or privileged) background, who is either ordinary (whatever that is, we are all beautiful) or not using her pretty or femininity to get ahead. Tall ask, I know, but there has to be more than just Zootropolis out there. Don’t even get me started on talking about better representation for mixed race, Asian and dark kids. Films with such representation would score highly on this list. (I watched Big Hero 6 with my niece and nephew, they are half Nigerian and half European hybrid like myself. Due to the larger number of male characters in that film, my nephew was able to identify with the black teen, but there was no one in that (or any other kid’s film that I am aware of) for my niece to properly identify with, I think she chose the blonde one because her mom is blonde, but I could see that she was irked by it. Unfortunately representation matters, us telling a kid they are awesome and capable is not enough any more, kids seem to need that recognition that people like them are story worthy too)