Sunday, October 31, 2010

Walking Our Goat Dogs

After a couple nights of work and a quick trip to the Bay Area to celebrate the wedding of our friends Jayne and Drew, I was ready to blow off some steam this morning. What better thing to do than take our goats and dogs for a walk in the pasture?

As soon as Brian opened the gate to the pasture, Bea and Gret took off running. They ran as fast as they could. Straight for the hole in the neighbors fence and onto his property. He owns 20 acres of pasture right behind our house. Being the adolescent pups that they are, Bea Bea and Gretel continued to run and run with absolute no regard to our calls.

Now, this would have been a fairly simple situation had we not decided to bring the goats on the walk with us. As soon as Brian would take off running to get the dogs, the goats would follow him. We struggled for a few minutes, got really far onto our neighbors property, our voices hoarse with yelling and finally, the goats decide to stick with me and Brian ran top speed to retrieve our naughty dogs.

When Brian successfully got Bea and Grets attention, they all started running back towards me, the goats and the house. But they were not alone. Pepper! The wild neighbor dog was with them, so excited to finally have some playmates (she usually runs around with a wiener dog, much to our neighbor's dismay). And when Pepper sees the goats, she has never been happier in her life. She has dreamed about chasing them from the other side of the fence for months now.

Brian continues to run back towards the house, animals in tow, when our neighbors comes up on his ATV. We chat for a minute and he laughs, "You're goats follow you around just like dogs. They are goat dogs!" He yelled at Pepper for chasing the goats, and she jumps on the back of his quad and take off.

We all made it safely back to the house, soaking wet and exhausted. Another small successful adventure at the farm.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Windy Days

Last winter when the bank still owned our house, they put on a new, inexpensive roof. Our neighbor, who has lived in the area his entire life, told them "That roof will never last". This area is notorious for severe winds. Luckily for us, the cheap roof blew off long before we moved in and was replaced with a sturdier one.

I have been reminding myself of this since yesterday morning, as the winds have reached 35 miles per hour. The roof on the house remains intact. The roof on the goats feeding trough was not so lucky. Gretel and Bea, however, very much enjoyed playing with the shingles this morning.

Despite the winds, last night was a quiet one. No coyotes or bears (or cows for that matter) to speak of. Gretel barked for a while and led me to Rambo who was hungrily waiting outside our door. The dogs don't seem to mind the wind. The goats walk around with their tails tucked to prevent an intrusive breeze from their backside. They have plenty of new browse to eat this morning as many of the leaves have been blown from the trees.

Brian and I are headed to the Bay Area tomorrow for a wedding. It will be the first time that we have left the goats and the first time Brian has left the dogs. We are entrusting our animals to one of my coworkers. We will keep our fingers crossed that all goes well and all animals are still here when we return!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rambow, Bears and Coyotes.

The first thing our neighbor said to us when we told him we wanted to raise goats was "You better get a dog and a gun". Coyotes have been a menace in our area for decades. They ate one of our neighbors sheep last week. So we got the dogs, although they are still puppies. No gun yet although I am saving up for a 20 gauge shotgun (my neighbor's recommendation for me). Making Mom proud!

Brian and I rescued a couple of cats from the SPCA a few weeks ago with the intention of them being 'barn cats' and 'mousers'. So far, Betty White hasn't seemed very interested in going outside and Rambo has disappeared for days at a time, causing great worry that he has become coyote pizza. So, despite our intentions, it has been looking more like we have adopted an indoor cat and a soon to be feral cat.

Last night I took Arthur out in the front yard to do his business before bed. Imagine my surprise when I saw Betty White and Rambo running around together, playing and getting affectionate. Hurray! Betty is outside and Rambo is alive! Arthur ran around with them for a few minutes while I debated - do I let them stay outside for the night or do I coax them inside where they will be safe from the coyotes? Two hours later, the cats were safely inside, hopefully chasing critters that try to nest in the guts of our house.

I had been asleep for a few hours when I woke to the sound of Bea's ferocious barking. I got up numerous times, stepped out onto our balcony into the freezing night with my spotlight. As usual, I saw nothing. In the distance, I could hear the 'yip yip yipppp' of the coyotes. Probably around the fourth time I got up, I SAW something! For the first time, I could see the green reflection of four animals eyes out behind our back pasture. And they were huge!
"Brian," I yelled, "Get up! I think we have bears in our backyard!"
He jumped out of bed, still sleepy and disoriented and came outside. He doesn't see anything at first. When he finally does, he says, "Jen. I'm pretty sure those are cows." I am not convinced. Brian heads back to bed (he has to get up at 4am these days to get to the factory). The dogs stop barking. But I am determined figure out what these animals are! I run downstairs and grab my binoculars. I tell Brian I am on animal patrol and I will get to the bottom of this.
Armed with flashlight in one hand, binoculars in the other, I am standing out in the cold in the middle of the night, and I see a long tail on the animal. And it's grazing. Horses?! To be honest, I cannot say for sure what they were. But they were not bears. Or coyotes. And our animals were still happy and in one peice this morning. We survived another night!

It is a foggy and freezing morning. The animals water actually froze overnight. Winter is in the air!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Goats

Maia and Weekend are our first goats! They are Nigerian Dwarf Goats. They are much smaller than most breeds of goats. We got them about a month ago and they are now eight months old. They are brother and sister.

Maia, the black, smaller goat, is a doeling (a baby girl) who we may breed and milk in the spring. We are not sure yet if she is a good candidate for breeding and will have to wait and see how big she is when full grown. Weekend is a whether, which means he was castrated as a baby. We got him to keep Maia company. Goats are herd animals and don't like to be alone!

Our main purpose for these goats was to socialize our Great Pyrenees (and Arthur!). If the dogs are not exposed to goats when they are young, they can be aggresive towards them instead of protecting them.

Our goats have free range of part of our property and they eat blackberry bushes, apple and peach tree leaves, grass and other weeds. They love to eat and will nibble on your clothes if you're not paying attention! They can also get a little feisty with each other. It is not unusual to see them headbutting, which is normal goat nature.

The Big White Dogs

We got Gretel and Beatrice from a Great Pyrenees breeder near Astoria, Oregon when they were three months old. They are sisters, from a litter of eleven puppies. Great Pyrnees are bred to be livestock guard dogs (LGDs). We bought Gretel and Bea to protect our goats from predators. In our area, the dogs primarily fend off coyotes.

Gret is far more shy and also really enjoys being around the goats. Although she is has always been a bit bigger than Bea, she is also the first one to run at the sight of the wheelbarrow!

Bea is more mischevious and sociable. She loves to have her tummy rubbed. She is also the one who patrols the fence perimeter at night and barks at all the critters who wander our property.

Because our dogs spend all their time outside, and because they are pure white, they get pretty filthy! They enjoy playing in the mud and are occasionally seen to roll in goat poo.

Even as they get bigger and become more like working dogs, they still retain their sweet, lovable qualities. Just make sure to wash your hands after you pet them!!

Eventually they will protect our entire herd of goats. They currently weigh about 65lbs but will probably be close to 100lbs when full grown.

From the Beginning

I promised myself before we moved up here that I would start a blog to share our experiences with all the people who cheered us on in our goat dairy dream. When we would tell people we were moving to Ashland, Oregon to make goat cheese, a common response was "You're moving where to do what?!" As farfetched as our idea sounded, Brian and I have always been determined to realize our goals.

Many of you know of the roadblocks Brian and I have encountered in the infancy of our goat dairy journey. After we had debated for months about where we would move to pursue this dream (discussions included Bozeman, MT, Nashville, TN and San Luis Obispo, CA) we settled on Southern Oregon. We started searching for a home and made the five hour drive from the SF Bay Area to the Rogue Valley once a month. Our search began January 2009. After a long search and a deal that fell through, we signed a contract for a foreclosure in North Ashland. Unfortunately for us, there was a problem with the septic tank. We negotiated for two months with the bank before we were able to close on the house. For a six week period, while I was starting my new job as an RN, Brian and I were homeless, alternating between camping and the Motel 6. When we finally got our keys to our new house, we knew the wait was worth it!

The house was built in 1974 and has its share of problems. We have had some expensive adventures with the septic tank and well pump and have enjoyed power outages, yellow jackets and leaky plumbing. We continue to learn what it means to be rural first time home owners. Our key to surviving disasters is to take a deep breath, look around and laugh at the situation!