Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | May 6, 2013 | 5 Comments

There’s no better classroom than real life.  My kids started learning genetics in middle school.  But they really already knew the basics.  They figured out as young as 4 or 5 years old that Snowman the Delaware rooster was a docile, nonthreatening guardian of our mixed breed flock.

And any roosters that the hens hatched that shared his solid white plummage and upright red comb were also calm and orderly.  But add in some swaths of brown or black feathers, or change to a rose comb, and we often got a spurring machine ready to chase them across the pasture or thump them from behind as soon as they turned their backs.   Although some of our mixed roosters were reliable, the good roosters always wore white.  And the kids didn’t need a lesson in Mendel’s principle of segregation or a Punnett square to figure that out.

Once we added a polled buck to our horned herd, though, we did have to break out a pad and pencil.  For the first time, we discussed recessive and dominant traits (polled is dominant) and we watched Merlin’s first few offspring carefully.  When he produced a mixed batch of polled and horned kids, we knew he must be heterozygous.  Which meant fewer disbuddings, overall, but no reason to sell the disbudding iron on craiglist.

And we never kept or added any polled does to the herd.  So the whole hermaphrodite issue (which can occur when breeding polled goats to polled goats) was a moot point for us.  Because, really, isn’t inspecting for ejaculate during breeding season and discharge during kidding season enough?  Looking for a nodule penis within a vulva seems a bit like invasion of privacy to me.  Not to mention one more reason for my friends to never ask, “So, what have you been up to lately?”

Adding a blue-eyed buck and a blue-eyed doe to the herd was the next test of our genetic understanding.  Blue eyes are also dominant so when blue-eyed Vixen was bred to a brown-eyed buck and produced a brown-eyed kid, we knew she was heterozygous.  But our blue-eyed buck, TS, is another matter.  So far this season he’s produced 2 kids, both with blue eyes, so there’s a possibility that he is homozygous.  Unless he sired Angel’s little brown-eyed buck.  Which we’ll never know.  Because Angel has no respect for the concept of a control group in science.  Way to go, Angel.

So far, our experience with genetics was interesting and enlightening.  Polled kids, blue eyes, easy going temperament, broodiness, milk production, aggression—there were a million ways in which we watched the dance of genetics play out on the farm stage.  It was exciting and intriguing and then….it wasn’t.

Because last night I went in to check on Tina after dinner and found her calmly eating out of her trough.  So calmly that I almost missed the dried and cleaned kid asleep in the hay.

My heart leaped!  Not only did Tina successfully kid on her own, she had taken perfect care of her kid, she was already up and eating as if nothing had happened, and she had done it all in the 45 minutes since I checked her last!  Ease of kidding is a highly desirable trait in a dairy goat and combined with her full-to-bursting udder that had already been in evidence for weeks, Tina was on her way to earning her spot in the herd.

Pretty rushed out to see the newest arrival and our hearts melted when we saw his beautiful blue eyes.

It was a trimuph.  A victory.  Until it wasn’t.

Because when the kid was finally roused enough by our ooohing and aaahing to rise and seek a sip of milk, he ”knuckled down” on both front pasterns as he walked.  We gasped.  It wasn’t exactly the same deformity that Tina had as a kid.  Her front legs were characterized by extreme rigidity, a fierce C curve, and an inability to straighten them.

If anything, this kid had weakness from the last joint down to the hoof.  And that joint itself seemed enlarged or swollen.

Unlike Tina when she was a kid, he could walk upright, but it was undoubtedly a defect.  And there was no more claiming that Tina had been merely positioned wrong en utero.  That her leg problems were the result of cramped space causing contracted tendons.

It’s true that leg weakness is one of the most common problems in newborn kids.  Joint ill ( or navel ill) can occur if bacteria travels through a wet umbilical cord and affects joints in the legs.  White muscle disease from a selenium deficiency can cause leg weakness, too.  But this baby was born with weak legs, it didn’t occur after a few days of exposure to bacteria.  And Tina (like all our pregnant does) was well-dosed with selenium before she kidded to prevent white muscle disease.  The truth is that we’ve never had a kid born with leg problems until Tina arrived.

So there was no denying that this was a genetic defect.  One that Tina was born with and that had now passed to her kid.

That’s when genetics is no longer interesting or exciting.  That’s when genetics makes you sigh, and give your goat a good chin scratch, and know she’ll never kid again.  And her baby will be banded and sold as a pet goat or sold to the local flea market as a meat goat.  But he won’t be allowed to breed and he won’t stay here.

That’s when you look at Tina’s mother, Vanilla, and hope the bad genes aren’t carried by her.

That perhaps her next kid will have perfect legs and the cycle of weak legs was all started by a random buck, that lives somewhere else and will never be bred to your does again.  Since Vanilla arrived at her first owner’s place already bred, we don’t have any info on the buck that bred her.  But we’re hoping he’s the one with gimpy genes.  We won’t know anything until Vanilla kids again, sometime at the end of July.  Which means she stays at least until then.

And don’t worry, Tina fans!  Tina recovered perfectly from kidding and has a lovely udder.  She’s made a home for herself here, at the very least until she dries off.  Since one of our goats is on her second year of milking through, we expect to do the same thing with Tina and it will be a long time before we have to make any decisions about her.  But I doubt she’ll be going anywhere.  Lap goats are hard to find, you know.

Almost as hard to find as goat sheep.

Good genes aren’t everything.  Sometimes good hearts are enough.

Devil Spawn.

Posted on | April 29, 2013 | 8 Comments

We’ve all been very worried about Tina.

She is due to kid the first week of May.  And as that date approaches, she spends more time down on her knees.

I assume it’s the extra weight of her kids and her udder.  Also, the production of relaxin loosening her intrauterine ligaments, stimulating mammary development, and causing her wobbly front legs to be even more wobbly.

We’re also worried because it’s her first pregnancy.  We don’t know how she’ll handle kidding.  And we’re wondering if her kids may have leg deformities or defects, too, that make it difficult to deliver on her own. Read more

Spring Garden Primer.

Posted on | April 25, 2013 | 6 Comments

1. Soil is everything.

Well, soil is everything until the squash bugs arrive.  Then killing squash bugs is everything.

Regardless, your plants need some decent soil in order to get established during the dry spells, flooding, heat waves, and cold snaps of spring.  For us that means a trip to the chicken pasture where the chickens have been making compost out of the scraps, bedding straw, manure, and egg shells tossed in there all year long.  Don’t worry about leaving holes in the pasture where you scooped out soil.  As soon as you leave, the chickens will rush in to excavate for bugs and scratch everything back to normal.  Or as soon as you take 2 steps back and put the shovel down.

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Just Rewards.

Posted on | April 23, 2013 | No Comments

Got the barn chores done and the milk strained,

the eggs into cartons,

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Look Quick!

Posted on | April 15, 2013 | 3 Comments

As of right now.  This very minute.  All the hoses and automatic waterers are fixed.

No leaks at the hydrant.

Or in the hose.

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Completely Compatible.

Posted on | April 14, 2013 | 5 Comments

I’m used to wearing a lot of hats around here.  On any given day I’m the mom, the cook, the landscaper, the farmer, the construction worker, the plumber, the veterinarian, the housekeeper, the seamstress, and the accounts payable office.  I have barn clothes, business suits, work uniforms, and church dresses in my closet.  But this weekend, for the first time, I got to be something entirely new.

A groomsmen.

That’s right, I stood up in my work partner’s wedding.  On his side.  With all the other guys.  Which The Other Half enjoyed greatly.  Because even though I spend as much time with my work partner as I do with The Other Half, now The Other Half knows he really doesn’t have to worry.

“Hah!” said The Other Half when I told him.  “All that time you spend together and he doesn’t even know you’re a woman!!  Awesome!”


I like to think my femininity shines through the 5.11 tactical pants and combat boots.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh. Read more

Too Late.

Posted on | April 9, 2013 | 4 Comments

With spring cleaning in full swing, I decided it was time to gather up loose ends.  Literally, loose ends.

We have leashes and lead lines….

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It’s Coming.

Posted on | April 8, 2013 | 1 Comment

Since we live in the woods, spring takes a little longer to arrive.  Our daffodils and tulips are a bit behind everyone else’s.  Our azaleas are just starting to bloom long after other people’s bushes are overcome with blossoms.  And although the grass flourishes in the full sun of the garden,

by the house we have to rely on the leyland cypresses to provide green until the deciduous trees finally fill in.  Everything else is still the brown leaf mulch of winter.

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That’s What Friends Are For.

Posted on | April 5, 2013 | 13 Comments

Well, it was an insufferable beginning to the week.

There were broken gates to fix.  The hose in the barn had progressed from having a leak to having a waterspout that sprayed you as you went about the chores.

Julia developed a massive blocked salivary gland.  Which scared the crap out of me, thinking it was CL (even though she had always tested negative) , until the vet assured me otherwise.  Salivary glands.  Who knew?

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A 40th Birthday.

Posted on | March 21, 2013 | 16 Comments

I was looking forward to my birthday.  Was.

Oh, the 40 years old didn’t bother me.  I’ve seen other people turn 40.  Despite all the hoopla, it didn’t seem all that earth-shattering.  As a matter of fact, they looked and seemed the same way they did when they were 39.



But when I woke up on the day of my annual birthday beach trip, 2 of my friends had dropped out due to illness.  It was hard to decide if I was sad that they weren’t going.  Or glad that they didn’t show up ailing and spread norovirus to the rest of us.  By the time I was walking on the beach, I wasn’t worried about it anymore.   Ah, the birthday beach trip.

But then one of my friends started talking about her bucket list.  Bucket list?  Was I supposed to have one of those?  At 40????  And no matter how many walks I took on the beach or the hours spent soaking in the hot tub or even the Wild Turkey American Honey, I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted to do before I died.


It would be nice to travel more in the U.S. but if I never did, I’d be OK with that.  I always wanted to write a book, but if I never write more than this blog, that’s OK, too.  I’d like to retire at the beach, but if I am still just taking birthday beach trips with a pack of friends, a cooler of booze, and 2 bags of pretzel M&Ms when I’m older, I’m still OK.

Bucket list.

Eh. Read more

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