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Next Summer’s Chevre

January 12, 2010

January 4, 2010

Raising livestock requires a lot of letting go. There are meat chicken butchering days, the unfortunate slaughter of good laying hens by a variety of predators, trips to the butcher with feeder pigs, bee hives lost to cold winters, rabbits passing from old age or malady and, finally, the inevitable culling of the dairy goat herd. Putting the garden to bed and planning a crop rotation pales in comparison to the emotional peaks and valleys of our other farming pursuits. Gardening turns out to be a poor teacher of the lessons needed for managing flocks, but traditional meat and milk and honey does not a garden give.

This year we let go of the lion’s share of our goats. The young buck Pluto succumbed to some mean-goat inflicted injury, and the two older bucks had to find another use – first as lawnmowers or brush hogs and later as goat curry. Those decisions did not entirely weigh on my conscience, as I called in the experts and gave them away to folks who tread those waters regularly. Yes, I butcher on site. No, I do not butcher animals I have named – yet. I love goat meat and have entertained the idea of raising some Boer goats for meat, but the dairy ladies are quasi-pets and will never grace my dinner plate. My thought was that they would end up good food for appreciative people quickly and I wouldn’t have to worry about their care.

As much as I needed to lighten the farmyard load to the tune of two hungry bucks, I also had a couple of nubian/alpine dairy does who had failed miserably in their roles as milk producers. I had the aggressive long-horned doe that failed to freshen for three seasons and the almost-as-aggressive doe who freshened in the second season, only to prove nearly unmilkable. This was the doe who sat down when her teats were touched. I had to eat some crow with these goats. I didn’t know how old they were when I bought them, their home-of-origin care involved browsing pasture and little else other than a daily ration of old bread and they had never been disbudded (de-horned as kids.) I learned my lesson and had to let them go.

Imagine my surprise when the does showed up on page three of the Cape Cod Times, enjoying their 15-minutes of fame as photo-op-ready novelties of the landfill area. I guess they never reached the curry part of my plan. So be it. One buck was eaten, one hung around, and the does are still munching browse in various parts of town.

Meanwhile, I kept a doe born on our land and finally connected with Jennifer Abdelnour from Janbouree Toggenburgs of New Hampshire. I had been calling and inquiring about the goats she might be willing to sell since last summer, when Jen Holloman of Ocean Song Farm suggested calling her. Thanks to both Jens, as I happened to catch Janbouree as they were preparing to travel to Kingston to their partner farm Center Stage Farms. All the goats I met there in Beth’s barn were sweet and stocky and gorgeous, and I was caught by surprise when Jen offered a couple other bred does for sale in addition to the doe I wanted. If I had the extra dough, I would have had a couple extra does. After the formalities of American Dairy Goat Association paperwork (all new to me), I picked up the purebred and purebred-bred doe I had been inquiring about for a song and carried her home in the back of the Suburban. She stood up the whole way home and looked out the windows at the land rushing by and the cars behind us.

I am hoping for stronger goat milk. I’ve yet to taste locally produced goat cheese that has any character apart from the herbs, nuts, and pepper it’s rolled in. I hoped freeing the goats to feast on browse would help punch the milk’s flavor up a bit, but I am still working on creating a sustainable farmstead and haven’t planted pasture specifically for the goats. There seem to be roughly 100 deciduous trees standing between me and that goal. So, after the ladies fill up on ivy, honeysuckle, grass, meadow garlic and all the other invasive plants they can find, they return to the barn and eat grain and hay and give mellow, mild milk. Does anyone really eat ‘American cheese’? What is that flavor, anyway? Even my children delight in bleu cheese, gorgonzola, goat feta, and, at the very least, extra-sharp cheddar. We are looking for goat milk that can stand on its own beside smoked bluefish, garden-fresh red onions and arugula and all the other bold flavors our life here provides. When I heard someone complain that the Toggenburg she had as a child offered ‘nasty’ milk, I was sold.

If everything goes according to plan, knowing that in farming pursuits it rarely does, we should have enough mellow Saanen/Nubian/Alpine milk for drinking, yogurt and those incredible goat milk milkshakes. The stronger milk, if we get it, will be destined for chevre, which also freezes well.

The girls are getting along after a touchy introduction period. Homegrown Luna Dunes was initially aggressive and even “bucky,” raising her hackles and jumping around when we showered Ms. Fancy Pants, aka Rya, with affection. We had to forgive her uncouth performance, as she was in heat when the newbie came in, and does in heat can behave pretty wild when they’re not acting bizarre. Rya the Tog is friendly to a fault and raised no outward objections to Luna’s behavior. She identifies with the human herd and wants to follow us in the house, and she is amenable to basking in human praise and cuddles. In recent days, as the toddler and young guests bonded with her, I considered the idea that if she were around in Biblical times, I would find her a warm and welcoming stable mate for the Big Manger Birth.

Hellos are usually more exciting and novel than goodbyes, but I felt our winnowing of the flock to be a prudent and positive experience. I’ve not graduated to seasoned, pragmatic farm-hand yet and still find myself sentimental about the various creatures we tend for and get food from, but I didn’t dwell on the closeness and bonding moments I shared with those goats that left the homestead with an incredibly dark and tall stranger this past summer. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped for a more sensible future. Rya is due on March 25 and Luna should follow one month later, give or take a week. Here’s to more good hellos than sorry goodbyes in 2010.

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