Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

The High Price of Milk.

Posted on | September 10, 2011 | 2 Comments

Last year my haphazard breeding program led to goat kids being born in March, May, and July.  Also to having to guess by color which buck sired which kid.  Or determining if kids were old enough to be weaned or ready for their first round of CD&T by whether or not Pretty wrote about their birth date in her diary.  This year will be less arbitrary.  Less disorganized.  Less dependent upon a 10 year old farm manager.

With that thought in mind, I decided that the does would be placed with their chosen bucks for the entire month of September.  Assuming a doe goes into heat 7-10 days after exposure to a male, breeding should occur by middle of September.  Therefore, goat kids should be born in middle of February.  There.  A plan.  It’s a unique plan.  It’s not the way most goat owners do it.  I’m sure that surprises you.

Most goat owners determine when a doe has come into heat and then take her to visit with a buck.  Voila!  Breeding occurs and kids are born within 145-150 days after the conjugal visit.  Easy peasy.

Unfortunately, my goats are not French and do not do Voila! very well.  They do flag their tails and bleat  hysterically when they come into heat, signalling it is time to see the buck.  They also flag their tails and bleat hysterically when dinner is late, when another doe is crowding them at the feed trough, when it starts to rain and they are locked out of the barn, when the livestock guardian dog is sitting in their favorite spot under the cedar tree, when their babies sneak out of the fence to eat blackberries, when the chickens roost on the round bale, when the wind blows, when the sun shines, when acorns fall, etc, etc, etc.

On each of those occasions last year, I stopped what I was doing, rushed the complaining doe into the breeding pen, brought the male to her, left them fresh food and water, and hurried into the house to jot down the date.  Thereby ensuring that I didn’t miss the 6 hour to 3 day window of opportunity for conception and also that I would know a pretty close approximation of the kidding date.  Also ensuring that we would be late for the school bus or Sunday school or boy scouts or a million other activities that happened to coincide with the onset of heat in the goat herd.  Listen to me, friends.  Do not tell people you were late because your goat went into heat and needed to be placed in the breeding pen with a buck.  It is not polite conversation.  The topic of goat sex creates a very uncomfortable silence.  Just tell them the dog threw up on the rug and you had to clean it up before he started eating it.  Everybody can relate to that.

Of course, all those false heat signals meant I was running around like a chicken from the neighbor’s dog (I would say “chicken with its head cut off” but who does that anymore?  Killing cone, people, killing cone.).  I also quickly lost track of who/m was with who/m and when (Like that little grammar trick?  I created that, but feel free to use it for yourself).  Besides which, a lot of breedings didn’t take.  A goat would go into heat one month, be placed with a buck, and go into heat again the following month.  Meaning she wasn’t pregnant and had to be bred again.  Meaning kidding was spaced out all over the spring and summer months.

A fellow farmer suggested I determine if a doe was truly in heat by how she acted around the male when placed in the pen with him.  A doe that is truly in heat, she said, would stand for the male and accept his advances.  If she ran away, then she wasn’t in heat yet.

I tried that.

But the same doe who flagged her tail and cried plaintively outside the buck pen, started running away as soon as she was confined with him.  I took her out of the pen and would find her only hours later, standing right by the gate to the buck pen, begging to go back in.  Huh?  Or a doe would be placed in the pen, would stand for the male, and come out complacently when the deed was done.  But then she went into heat again the next month.  And the month after that.  What the…?

I love my ladies.  I really do.  But I was beginning to suspect they spent all night huddled together in the barn, giggling hysterically at my expense:

“You act like you’re in the mood tomorrow, Carmen.  But wait until you see her walking to the car in her good shoes and a shirt without farm stains on it.  Muwhahahahaha!”

Hence the decision to simply confine the does with the bucks for the entire month of September.  Sooner or later their hormones would take over and pregnancy should be accomplished.  I would document breedings if I saw them, but even if I didn’t have exact dates, at least I would be able to concentrate all the kidding to one month.  Which is a lot more organized than I managed to get last year.  And by confining one group of does with Calico Jack and a separate group of does with Merlin, I would be sure to know which buck sired which kids.  Well, I’d know who sired everyone’s kids except for Charlotte’s.  Since she promptly escaped from the pen with Merlin, moved into Jack’s pen, and then was found back in Merlin’s pen a couple days later.  I don’t want to malign anyone’s character, but really, what a loosey goosey!

So far, my plan is working out pretty well.  I even witnessed some breeding and documented it on my calendar.  See?

I’m sure I’ll still be able to decipher those notes by Februrary.  Probably.  Maybe.

Plus, I think this plan is better for everyone involved.

Well, except for the neighbors.  Who have been subjected to the blubbering and singing of bucks in rut for a week now.  Along with the squeals of does frantically trying to escape.  I would videotape it for you so you could hear the craziness.  But it is impossible to videotape and cover my ears at the same time.  Also, I don’t have a video camera or the technical ability to post a video online.  That’s why I’m a farmer and not working in IT.  My neighbors are probably videotaping it as we speak in order to document their complaints to animal control.  Because, really, you wouldn’t believe how loud it is unless you’ve heard it.  So it may not be better for the neighbors.  Sorry ’bout that.

It isn’t so great for tourism either.  The smell of bucks in rut is kind of horrific.  The smell comes from the bucks urinating on themselves to attract the females.  Which is not exactly a pleasant visual.  When visitors see the bucks unsheathing themselves and urinating in their own faces, they tend to turn kind of green.  The visitors, I mean, not the bucks.  The bucks are turning yellow.  There are a lot of shocked gasps, gags, and the covering of young children’s eyes.  I just hope that the children who come over to play after school don’t share what they learned here in the middle of dinner.  If they do, I’m so, so sorry.

Also, I don’t think the friend who milks for me on the days when I’m at work is enjoying the new plan.  Previously gentle and easy-going does have been known to kick milk buckets or break head stalls in the frenzy of mating season.  Removing the ones in milk from the buck pen in the morning is a stinky and complicated job.  Putting them back in after milking can involve dragging a reluctant doe halfway across the barn yard.  Again, I’m sorry.

The constant stampeding of bucks after does, does away from bucks, battles between bucks, and battles between does has been hard on the smaller ones in the barn yard, too.  Chickens, guineas, ducks, and even Little Bit, the barn cat, have been trampled in the chaos.  Whoever can fly, roost or climb out of  the way stays off the ground as much as possible.  Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Even the barn and farm equipment have not been spared from abuse.  Hooks have been ripped out of walls, gates torn off their hinges, feed barrels toppled, hay racks butted down, and waterers tipped over.  The kids spent all of Labor Day repairing and refurbishing the barn yard.  Sorry, guys.

To top it off, the poor livestock guardian dog is confused by the hormones flooding the air.  He often spends the day trailing any doe in heat and attempting to mount her.  Sorry, goats.  Knock it off, freak.

Now that I think about it, “better” might not be the proper term for my plan.  “Consolidating the chaos of breeding season to one month” might be a more apt description.  And you thought the price of raw goat milk was only $8/gallon.  Believe me, the real cost is soooooo much higher.


2 Responses to “The High Price of Milk.”

  1. Annabelle
    September 11th, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    so true, the real cost is soo much higher (than $15 out here) thanks as always for a good laugh, freak! 🙂

  2. Rich
    February 8th, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

    April and I are still dreaming of having our own little farm one day. Complete with silkies, micro pigs, fainting goats, and maybe even some animals that she’ll let me harvest for food. Anyway…we’re tourists for the time being. That said, I laughed SO HARD when I read the paragraph about your bucks “unsheathing” and peeing on their faces. I truly regret that we missed that show when we came to visit!

    Maybe next time.

    I’m still laughing!

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