Sunday, April 3, 2011

"What do you do with the baby goats?" and the start of milking chores

One of the FAQ at the markets:  "What do you do with the baby goats?"

Well, we raise most of the females as replacement milkers.  This is David's pet project.  He's so watchful of them and so proud of how nice they look as they grow and mature.  He spends time inventing and perfecting feeders, mineral stations, accessible clean water containers.  When they are all thriving he takes so much pleasure in it.  Hes the source of their grain too so it's so funny to look out the window at skinny, 6'4" David, decked out in his Carharts and boots, getting their grain pans ready and walking out with them raised over his head, swiftly dropping them in multiple locations so that they don't mob the first pan and trample the smaller, weaker kids.  In David's universe, they ALL get grain, even the little ones.  In THEIR world, he's the source of their bliss and they stand in a group at the fence, all intently watching his every move.  Often, when they are eating grain, he'll sit close by on an upturned bucket and rub them, scratch them, stroke their necks and backs, getting them used to touch.  A little goat massage and they LOVE it. 

Starting out with 20 doe kids, we might lose a few at various stages, we might decide to reduce the numbers (cull) at various stages, selling the least thrifty, one or two might not breed or might have temperaments not suited to milking, and even the ones that breed don't give much the first season... so starting out with 20 doe kids, we might end up with three or four really good 2nd fresheners that are great producers by the time they are two, and a few more by the time they are three.  That's a lot of time to put into them before we know how good they are...

If we have an abundance of doe kids, we sell a few of them in the spring, mostly because at that point we REALLY need the cash.  This year we had mostly buck kids so we are keeping every girl.  We always sell the boys..... neutered.... within a few weeks of birth.  People buy them and bottle raise them.  They become pets, or pack goats, or grazers for hire, or meat animals.  We could keep them for several months and raise them to be meat goats but that's not our prime focus.  Besides, by the time they were big enough to eat, they'd have drunk enough milk to make a thousand dollars worth of cheese.  We do keep the doe kids on the Moms until they are weaned and don't get much milk from any but the biggest producers during that time.  All the work of milking and feeding but not much reward except for beautiful kids.

Even though we raise healthy kids for sale, and even though buyers are screened to make sure they possess the knowledge, facilities and temperaments to raise them with care... the day we sell the goats is one of the worst on the farm.  I feel like Cruella DeVille..... the moms walk around for about a day, looking for their kids, bleating, looking at us with this "Where are they?" look.  That's what's happening this week.  We sold 20 little fixed males to one buyer and gave another eight to families with children wanting to raise pets and learn about goats.  All the buyers are thrilled with the quality and health of the kids and we always include a bottle, a little milk, lots of advice and a phone number to call if they have any questions.  I know we're a dairy/cheese business, not a boy goat business.... still.... my heart breaks for the mamas.  Goats love routines and within two days the routine of twice daily milking and the intake of grain that goes with that, and the chance to graze all day on the best pasture of the year takes over and they seem to be perfectly happy again.

The exodus of the kids means we have lots of new moms with very full udders.  We fired up the milking equipment today and did our first full on milking of thirty six does.  Our milking crew is three great women who divvy up 14 shifts a week and who have all worked here for years and who all LOVE the goats.  Michelle worked for hours the other day scrubbing the mud out of the open sided milk area, knowing that for the next few weeks we will all continue to trudge in MORE mud until things dry out.  Linda, Michelle and I all cleaned and organized, cleaning the winter crud and cobwebs out of the milk room and the cheese kitchen while we got the goats milked on the pipeline for the first time this year.  Rose has been cleaning and scrubbing dormant coolers in prep for starting cheese production and rejuvenating market coolers, tables and plastic trays that have been stored all winter in advance of the start of the markets.  During market season, Rose, Linda and Michelle all work in the kitchen too, getting cheese flavored, packed and labeled for the markets.  Rose is learning to sell cheese at markets too and really likes the interaction.  Linda and Michelle prefer to stay in the Valley, closer to home so they focus on the farm.  I make the cheese and develop the flavors.  I sell at markets, manage all the markets, manage sales to chefs and retail accounts and make sure everyone else has all the supplies they need to do their jobs.  I also do the banking, pay the bills and arrange for repairs.

I'm so tired but it feels so good to get it all going again and so fun to work with these women again.  This morning we were all cooing to the mamas as they came in to be milked.  Thankfully the milking system ran great after the winter repairs.  Another reason there were three of us there instead of the usual one person is that if the milking system HADN'T worked, we would have had to milk all those does by hand.  I was supposed to help Rose with the evening milking but she had it all handled and I fell asleep instead... I had been up and going since 5 am so I guess that's allowed...

No comments:

Post a Comment