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The Reluctant Goat Keeper

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.

The boyfriend

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Get reflective collars for them so they are not mistaken for deer by hunters
  3. 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.
  4. Female goats smell really nice (have smelt really nice, not sure Dandelion does anymore after rubbing herself against Billy)
  5. 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.
  6. 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)
  7. Their favourite forage is ivy, possibly followed by fairy lights
  8. They are really road savvy
  9. It is easier to fence your precious plants in (chicken wire) as opposed to fencing goats out. They are sneaky
  10. 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.

Blackberry fermented honey and run down of what we have been up to this year

The update

So it has been a while since I last wrote. Lots has happened, the bearded one and I moved onto a piece of land in the beautiful Tipperary countryside with his brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. We had a lovely winter and spring all snowed in and snuggly on the side of a hill in the Silvermine mountains. In January before the vegetation grew back and before the snow struck we put some our plants into what ended up as an extremely shaded garden, mostly fruit bushes and things that needed to get into the ground ASAP as they were bare root. The following months were spent settling in to being a full-time auntie, finishing up my postpartum exercise specialist studies and observing the land.

May saw me planing and reclaiming floorboards that used to belong to a pub. We also spent a lot of time digging into the hill to level out a piece of ground, this involved removing a huge tree stump and several large rocks from the site. Eventually, we got a 5x5m space levelled and were thus able to build a platform and floor it with those floorboards. We set a pretty bell tent up upon the platform and put a stove and bed in it. Himself and I use it as a sleeping and breakfast space – somewhere to escape from the ceaseless noise kids seem to make.

I knew that moving in with kids would be challenging, though I think I imagined that I would adapt quicker and enjoy them more naturally. Now I realise that that takes work because as I am learning, love is an action word, it is choosing to not let my frustrations dictate my tone of voice, choosing to be honest gently instead of letting my annoyance get to boiling point. I am also learning how to modify my level of presence in their company in order to preserve my sanity. I have so much to learn with regards to love, but aspiring to be more loving and growing as a person is a good place to start, even though the journey is challenging and more often than not I am finding myself wandering off the track…..

I attended the European Permaculture Convergence in Wicklow at the start of August. It was great to catch up with familiar faces and build new connections. Such a lovely warm event with lots of love and good feelings all around. I hope to do a post in the next few weeks about the Convergence and what I learned. I also had the pleasure of hanging out with a fellow forager, Joel Robinson from California, much fun was had geeking out on plant identification and learning about how other people live and think about the world.

So with the changing of the seasons and the realisation that autumn is here, my thoughts have turned to firewood. So when I am out foraging for blackberries, wild strawberries and wild gin ingredients, I am also looking out for firewood and spending energy on chopping it up into usable sized pieces. Speaking of berries, does anyone else think the blackberries are particularly fine this year? We harvested loads of them and made jelly, butter and vinegar with them.

Below is a really wonderful recipe based on the idea of honey fermented garlic, try honey fermented berries. We like to spoon some of it on to mascarpone or Greek yoghurt and call it dessert.

Honey fermented blackberries

Half fill a larger-than pint-sized sealable container with washed and dried berries, add enough runny honey to cover the berries. Stir this every day for a week, it is ok if bubbles form. It should be ready after around a week. After another week or two, it may be a good idea at this stage to remove the berries from the honey as they may have shrivelled up and gone hard. Dry them and add them to muesli or a tea mix. Alternatively, spoon the berries and liquid onto mascarpone.

 

Nettle Seeds and how to use them to boost energy and mood

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 mood boosting nettle seeds rerootingthefuture.iethem.

  1. 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.
  2. Once the seeds are dry, mush them around in the bag to dislodge them from the stems
  3. Sieve seeds out using first a colander, then a coarse sieve then a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the irritating hairs
  4. 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.

A call for better representation for girls in media

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)

Getting my brave on. High Protein Snacks.

Getting my brave on

I woke up on Wednesday this week knowing that in order to take the following day off to go canoeing with my niece and nephew, I would need to do a whole load of scary things in order to make that happen. The first scary task, take care of business: Email some people (similar to a cold call, just email, to be followed up with the even scarier task of phoning them on Monday). Once that was done, I could focus on the next task.

Second scary task: Fit brand new roof bars together and affix them to the car before the shade disappeared and I burned to a crisp. No pressure. Usually, my husband would take on such tasks, or we would do it collaboratively (kind of), but he had gone off to work and I was left with the roof rack and it’s picture-intensive manual. I started trying to make sense of the manual by getting an overview of it. This did not work, there were too many pieces to the puzzle and the manual had zero words and I could feel myself becoming negative and disheartened by it (This negativity was what I had feared the most about this task). So I sat back in the retreating shade and started at the top and followed the steps, I realised that the manual was clear, as in what the pictures were trying to convey was clear, once I allowed the process to filter into my brain through my eyes and hands.

The third task of the day was pleasant, it involved kitchen time, making high protein nut balls inspired by my pal Jenny and similar enough to the ones I took cycling all those years ago. These contain a mix of ground nuts, seeds, cocoa nibs, pitted dates and coconut oil, formed into balls and dusted with cocoa powder. See loose recipe below. I also had to feed my cultures and tidy up the kitchen as I was going to be away on Thursday.

The next scary task involved packing up and driving to a part of the city that I do not know, thankfully Google Maps is ok for navigation, otherwise I don’t know how I would have gotten there (though I am sure she took me on the scenic route for a laugh). Once there, there being my pal’s house, I had the task of putting a 16-foot canoe onto a 14-foot car, and strapping it down so that it could be taken down the country via the M8 without losing the canoe or it ripping my roof off. It took 25 mins to solo wrangle the canoe on to the roof rack, and another 35 to strap it down (Oh how my body ached the next morning). By now I was feeling rather sick of this canoe. Anyway, I finally left South Dublin at 20:20 and caught the ring road and on to the N7. I picked up a hitchhiker that was kind of going my way (another story), and that gave me the excuse to stop and check the strappings on the boat.After a pleasant, though disjointed chat, I dropped this person off in Kildare somewhere and continued on with the journey.

So here I was driving down the M7 and on to the M8 at 80kmph (50mph), being passed out by all the lorries and trucks,  I arrived exhausted at my destination at around midnight. Thankfully there was a bed waiting for me, and I was left wondering what there was there to be fearful of, everything had worked out fine, the boat, the car and I had arrived in one piece and all was well.

The following morning after a breakfast of birthday cake, eggs and coffee, I showed the kids (10 and 8 years old) the car with the canoe, they were so excited. We packed a picnic and drove to a river. Thankfully this time my sister was there to wrangle the canoe with me. We gave the kids the water safety lesson (lecture) and put buoyancy aids on all participants. We had a great trip down and up a quiet part of this river and we let the little ones paddle the canoe from the front while their mom got lunch organised on the riverbank. The birthday boy (10) thought this was the best birthday ever and he could not stop thanking me, (bless him).

After disinfecting the boat, we reloaded it onto the car and went back for more cake, coffee and a shower. I left soon afterwards, reversing the journey, up the M8, on to the M7, on to the ring road to South Dublin, dropped off the canoe, and caught the ring road and the M1 home, a much faster journey without a canoe on the roof! I got home exhausted, but happy. Happy that I had not allowed the fear I felt prior to starting to stop me, happy that my nephew had a great birthday and that I could help him celebrate. Happy also that I had faced some of my fears, and they were not so bad, and that knowledge will give me the courage to face future fears.

Fear is useful in that it creates caution. Caution helps us to carry out activities safely, like driving slowly when carrying a canoe, wearing life-jackets, being careful about the image of ourselves that we portray when looking for business. Fear is useless when we allow it to paralyse us when it stops us from doing the things we want to do. This is a lesson that I am going to have to carry with me daily in my developing role as a business person. There are going to be scary things I will have to do, and with practice (repetition), I am sure that these things are going to get easier to do. Doing the things that take us outside our comfort zones is empowering. You realise what you can achieve, you get an understanding of your limitations, and you learn that with practice, those limitations can be pushed.

Recipe time

So here is what you have all been waiting for, wondering how much more wordage there is going to be until Zaneta gets to the promised recipe for protein balls. These are useful when you need a protein kick, there is also enough carbs and sugars in them to help keep you awake and allow your body to process the protein. The nettle seeds give a good mood boosting kick of acetylcholine and serotonin.

While a food processor is not strictly needed it sure makes creating food like this a lot easier. This is a loose recipe, feel free to substitute ingredients for what you already have. Add more dates if you have a sweet tooth, reduce or add more oil to taste, if you want it less soft and more chocolaty, add cocoa powder to the mix to soak up the oil. If you come up with a mix you particularly like, please share it below in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

High protein vegan protein balls

200g ground almonds

200g mixed ground seeds

(suggested: sesame, flax, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, nettle seed (mood booster, poppy, cacao nibs)

10 or so pitted dates for sweetness and energy

2tbs melted coconut oil (adds to the nutritive value and it makes it texturally moreish as it melts in the mouth like chocolate

cocoa powder for dusting

Blitz all the dry ingredients together in food processor (not cocoa powder). Add melted coconut oil and form into balls. Coat each ball in cocoa powder and store in airtight container.

Don’t forget, on the 6th of August, I am hosting a family friendly berry forage in beautiful North Wicklow. Click here for details

 

 

 

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A foraging masterclass on beautiful Lambay island with Monica Wilde

Sea Coriander

Sea Coriander

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending some days on Lambay Island, attending what is essentially a foraging masterclass with Monica Wilde, a master forager, science-based herbalist and amazing cook. What Monica does not know about seaweeds and their varied sex lives is hardly worth knowing. I learned about harvesting and using seaweed, the uses of nettle seeds (mood booster), a grass- shaped sand- dweller that tastes like coriander (coriander grass), dock gel and so much more (my brain has had to forge new connections to contain all this!).

Caragheen

False Caragheen (works the same as the real stuff)

Monica was so generous with her knowledge. She took care to explain (in layman’s terms) the chemical/ hormonal action various plant substances have on the body. I was impressed with her scientific approach plants, the chemical analyses she does and the depth of her understanding of plant interactions with our bodies. This approach really appealed to the Biology graduate in me.

The island is so lovely, and yes, the rumours are true, there are wallabies! We even ate wallaby stew one of the nights. My new friends Rory (http://eatdrinkrunfun.com)  and Mark (https://www.facebook.com/skerriesphoto) got a few great shots of some wallabies. There are also puffins, guillemots, buzzards, and razorbills on the island, it is a perfect spot for seabird enthusiasts. If you fancy a visit to this extraordinary private island, there are tours that you can take that will get you to Lambay and take you on a walk around the island. If you want to spend time there, the accommodation is exquisite.

 

 

Tempura hogweed shoots

Tempura hogweed shoots

I left the island with so much more knowledge and so many new ways to incorporate wild food into my daily diet. If you want to learn about harvesting and eating wild plants, go on a walk with me (my next walk is a berry forage in Wicklow), but if you are already a forager or chef, and you want to extend your plant knowledge, go on a foraging walk or a course with Monica. She will be back on lovely Lambay in Autumn and then again in Winter.

 

I returned home on Monday with a pile of seaweed and nettle seeds that I dried in the dehydrator. I made a carragheen milk pudding flavoured with dried lady’s bedstraw and vanilla. We had oarweed lasagne, with the seaweed as the lasagne sheets, boiled up for 15-20 mins prior to being layered with lasagne stuff. (My niece and nephew loved it and thought that it was the best lasagne ever!) The seaweed taste disappears in the cooking. I also tempura battered and deep fried some tiny hogweed shoots that we found on the island (That also got the thumbs up from the little ones). I do believe I am all equipped for improved foraging and culinary adventures

 

Artichoke hearts with wild herb dressing and homemade bread

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