Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The Do Over.

Posted on | August 31, 2014 | 6 Comments

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t get a do over in life.  Because you do.  Happens all the time.  Especially around here.  Around here we rarely get anything right on the first try.  So we have a lot of empathy for anyone or anything that needs a second chance.

Orphans and strays are our specialty. Making use of others’ scraps and discards is our forte.  If it can be rehabbed or recycled, then we’re up for the job.

Oh, I know what people say.  A penny wise and a pound foolish.  Save now, pay later.  But cheap or free isn’t just too tempting for us to resist.  This farm was built on things that other people just didn’t need any more.

The picnic table that we got from a neighbor that became the center of the barnyard.

The livestock guardian dog that needed to be rehomed and sits on that table, whether snow or rain or heat or gloom of night.

The chain link fence surrounding the garden that came from a contractor who used it once on a construction site and then needed it hauled away.

The greenhouse that we use to fill that garden that a friend begged us to take when they were moving and the new owners of their home didn’t want it.

The farm fridge that we use to store the food from the garden and was given to us when a co-worker upgraded his kitchen.

Our first chickens from a man with a full coop whose wife was making him cut back.  (Marital discord is a common way to acquire free livestock.)

The ducks that started this farm and came off of freecycle.

A turkey house that a husband’s friend gave us when they were done raising turkeys and that made an excellent piglet house.

Free pallets from the local nursery that made the ugliest coop in the world, which is still standing and still used as a coop, a breeding pen for goats, or a shelter for hen, guineas, or ducks with young broods.  Whatever the occasion demands.

All of the sheep that have ever lived here.

The couch, the wall art, and the dog in this photo.

And despite the fact that our efforts sometimes failed, we tried to give every critter that arrived here, one more chance to make it.

Even if you hatched after the mother duck left the nest with the rest of the ducklings and you needed a few extra days to dry off and warm up.

When you couldn’t get out of the egg on your own.

If your mother was so stupid she kept walking you out into the rain and leaving you there.

If your owner left town without you.

When you didn’t make the breed standard.

When you’re injured…

or deformed.

If your mom dies….

or when she rejects you.

If you’re blind….

or simply somebody’s extra.

And, obviously, if you’re lucky enough to cross Pretty’s path, then we can probably give you a Do Over.  But before you start thinking we’re a bunch of desperate hoarders turning other peoples’ trash into kind-of-treasure-if-you-tilt-your-head-and-squint-your-eyes-a-bit, you should know that mistakes, cast-offs, and hand-me-downs often pay off in wonderful, unexpected, and lasting ways.

This year as I enter the barnyard every morning I ponder our latest Do Over.  And it makes me smile.

Two years ago when I took in Vanilla, I only knew that she was a Toggenburg doe that had been inbred and given birth to a deformed kid.  My friend told me that Vanilla had very sweet milk but she also had “weeping teats,” a condition in which the goat has some milk-secreting tissue in the wall of the teat.  Under the pressure during milking, this can cause milk to be secreted from the pores in the skin of the teat.  This could allow bacteria in the milk or increase the likelihood of mastitis and it made your hands wet during milking.   Other than deformed kid and bad teats, though, she was a great goat.  And she was free.

I stood with my friend and thought about it for a minute.

“OK,” I said.  “Sounds good.”  Because she hadn’t given birth to a deformed kid at my place.  And she hadn’t had leaky teats at my place.  And for me, if it hadn’t happened here, it wasn’t necessarily going to happen again.  She just needed a Do Over.

Perfectly reasonable reasoning.




Vanilla came over the very next day.

Vanilla was a quiet goat and a bit distant for her first year here.  She never sought out ear scratches but tolerated them if you approached her calmly.  Or with food.  And if some people would have given pause over her history and her nature, it was her name that bothered me.

What kind of name was “Vanilla” for a goat?  She was a grey goat, not a white one.

Sure, she had those little white stripes on her face, but so did every other Toggenburg in the world.

I figured she could be called Vanilla for the sweetness of her milk, but since she was named before she was milk-producing, I knew that wasn’t it.

She was a large sturdy doe, placid and tolerant.  Except for the fact that she  towered over the Nigerians (vanilla orchid vines can grow to 300 feet long), she didn’t at all evoke the dainty qualities or particular nature of the orchid that produces vanilla pods.

I later learned that the farm she came from favored spice names for the does.  There was a Nutmeg and Clove in her herd.  Probably a Rosemary and, certainly, a Cinnamon.  I sighed over this.  Oh, I had no problem with naming themes.  On our farm, we also had a theme.  I preferred the does to have female names like the Brianna and Carmen that were our first arrivals.  We’ve had Josie and Charlotte, Molly and Cassie, Rita and Lucille.  Along with Carmen, we still have Julia and the latest newcomer, Allie.

It just seems more dignified.  A sisterhood of milk providers.  A sorority of sorts.  We also have one blue eyed doe in our herd named Vixen.  I didn’t give her that name, she came with it, but I never changed it.  Because let’s face it, ladies.  There’s always one of those in the group, isn’t there?

So I didn’t change Vanilla’s name either.  Because I didn’t really know who she was or what other name might suit her.  It wasn’t until her first kids were born here in February that she even seemed a part of the herd.  It was only after that long freezing night we spent waiting for her kids to arrive that she seemed like my goat at all.  And her twins were healthy, vigorous, and not a bit deformed.

Although it might be said that all Toggenburg kids look a little bit like aliens from a certain standpoint.

From the minute she left the kidding barn with her twins in tow, Vanilla was a force to be reckoned with.  She was first on the milkstand and she filled the bucket to the brim.  After leaving a pail overflowing with milk she still rushed off to find her kids and let them nurse.

This was something I had never seen before.  Usually after the morning milking, the does would tolerate just the tiniest of sips from their kids before kicking them off.  The does were milked out anyway so the kids wouldn’t get much sustenance until their milk supply recovered.  But Vanessa had enough for the bucket ad still leftovers for her kids.

Oh, it was true.  She lad leaky pores on her teats.  The bumps were slightly visible when her udder was full.

And much more obvious when she was milked out.

They did sometimes make my hands moist when I milked, but it tapered off over the season and she never got an infection or had trouble with bacteria.  And her milk was just as sweet as my friend had promised.  The truth is she was a powerhouse in the barnyard and on the milkstand.  Plus, morning after morning, milking after milking, she became my friend.  She didn’t just stand for ear scratches, she sought them out.  She didn’t hover on the edge of my presence, but strolled up to see what I was up to.  She wasn’t just part of the herd.  She was in the center of it all.

Some time this summer she even taught all the ladies a new trick.  She started putting her head through the fence into the buck pen to drink from the bucks’ water pails.

She does this despite the fact that the bucks only have three 5 gallon buckets of water for the day and the does have a large trough that automatically refills itself with fresh water as they drink it in their barn.

Her influence is so great that now all the does go for a drink from the buck pen each morning after their breakfast.  She’s so powerful that guess who else does it now, too?

It wasn’t long after that development, that I was in the barn and I looked at her, waiting for a chin rub by the milking gate.

“Oh, ” I said.  “I know who you are.”  I took in her sturdy body and her gentle face.  I thought of her generous milk supply.  I smiled, gave her a chin rub, and thought her original owner hadn’t been so far off from the right name.  She just needed a Do Over to bring it out.

“Hello, Vanessa,”  I said.  “Good to finally meet you.”

And for the past few months she has been Vanessa.  She still milks first.  She still fills the milking bowl to the brim, milking just once a day, 8 months after she freshened.

But she’s more than just a good milker.  She’s an example of the Do Over done just right.  There’s no better start to the day than a sign that this is a new beginning for each of us.  That today’s the perfect opportunity for a second chance.  That no matter how many setbacks we face on this farm, no matter how times we fail, no matter what baggage we carry with us, we can still have a Do Over.

So I canned the tomato sauce yesterday without adding the lemon juice.  When I realized my mistake, I checked the recipe to see how much lemon juice I needed, and discovered I left out the tomato paste, too.  So I poured all the sauce out, fixed it up, and sealed it back.  Do Over.

So the chickens needed a little more help clearing the garden than I anticipated.  I picked up 3 T-posts to support the fence and added some of the Nigerian dwarf goats to browse down the bigger weeds.  Now we might get the brussels sprouts in the ground in time for Thanksgiving harvest and the little goats get to gorge themselves on greens.  Do Over.

So I’ve been eating junk food all weekend.  It’s never too late to start eating healthy.  Diet and exercise starting on Monday.   Do……, wait a minute.  Do Later, people  It’s a holiday weekend.  There’s still one more day to pig out.  🙂


6 Responses to “The Do Over.”

  1. Andrew
    September 1st, 2014 @ 4:53 am

    So, I didn’t realize that’s how you acquired your daughter?

  2. Jill
    September 1st, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    Your “do overs” exhaust me. Although I love cast off books… 🙂

  3. Ferne K
    September 1st, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    Thanks for sharing your “Do Over” stories. I have a few of those to take care of myself and today would be a good day to start. I hope you and your family have a Happy Labor Day!

  4. Cheryl
    September 1st, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    Love this post. Very thought provoking. What a legacy to teach and show your children.

  5. Lin
    September 1st, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    I love a “do-over”…for myself as well as those around me. Tina is still my favorite do-over. I miss that girl.

    I have to tell you, I actually referred to something as a “chicken necklace” the other day. 🙂

  6. annabelle
    September 1st, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

    I once bought a fancy show Oberhasli named.. Banana split. she seemed embarrassed when you said it.. we got to know her when she came to our farm and finally found a dignified name for her. She was Hannah… hannah banana affectionately but once Hannah got her new name, she was Proud of it!

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