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Posts Tagged ‘goats’

HOMEGROWN Life: Remembering Dollie

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016


HOMEGROWN LifeHave you ever known someone who just made you feel good to be around them? Like a kind old aunt who in her gentle way, had a presence that brought out the best in the people she met.

That’s what my Dollie was like. Except Dollie wasn’t a kind old aunt, she was a goat. I lost Dollie on January 7th. There’s a big hole in the barn without her.

Now, when I open the barn door, expecting to see her face light up and greet me, she’s not there.

Dollie had a way about her from the time she came to live at Bittersweet. She was a two-year-old then. She was born on a farm in Washington, Maine, part of Pixie Day’s herd. Dollie was always a little smaller than the other girls in the herd. She had a gentle nature, and the combination of the two meant she got pushed around a bit. After she delivered twin boys in her second year, Pixie decided she would be happier living on another farm, so she contacted Brian at Seabreeze Farm to ask if he knew someone who would give her a home. Brian contacted me. I had just started my herd with two goats from Seabreeze, my Frannie and Barnie. I called Pixie and went to take a look at her. It was love at first sight.

Dollie came home to Bittersweet and I gave her a stall to herself. She was pretty scared. She hadn’t been handled much and I realized she just needed space to adjust to her new home. For the next four months, I spent time letting her get familiar with her new surroundings, and me. It took time but finally she stopped running into a corner of the stall when I opened the gate. We went from her not wanting to be touched, to daily brushings and time playing with the little ones. Eventually, she assumed the position of “herd Queen”, being the oldest.

Still, she was always gentle, never pushing anyone away when treats were given, always allowing the little ones to have their way. I think she always remembered what it was like to be bullied in her original herd. As the years went by, she liked coming out of the big stall to enjoy her twice daily ration of grain and sit with new little ones in the next stall. They would gently push their foreheads together, share bits of grain and hay and sometimes, at least it seemed to me, talk to each other. She was like that gentle old Aunt you know who was always happy to share bits of candy from her apron pocket.

Dollie lived at Bittersweet for five years. During that time, she gave me two sets of twins, two boys and two girls. Shellie is her baby from two years ago. She’ll have babies of her own next spring. Shellie is very much like her Mother. She too has a gentle way about her. She plays with the babies, always waits patiently for her food. Sometimes, when Frannie decides she needs a few more pats, Shellie will look at me as if to say, it’s ok, I’ll wait.

This was the last Christmas I had with Dollie. On Christmas morning, I sat in her stall with her head in my lap and we listened to Christmas carols on the radio. Their station is always set to WBACH. It was the most peaceful Christmas I’ve ever spent, and I smiled at the irony of it. Twelve days later, I was calling my friend Duke to help me put Dollie to bed in her final place. She’s in the pasture, where each day I can visit, say good morning and then go out to the barn to greet her herd mates.

They say if you want to learn how to treat your fellow human beings, spend some time with animals. I know mine have taught me a lot. Dollie’s gentle ways and kindness towards her herd mates is an example. She had a quiet presence, but her manner and gentleness shouted a big lesson in how to make it through this life with humility, grace and compassion.

I miss you Dollie. There’s a big hole in the barn without you. I thank you for the five years we had together. You’re gone far too soon and I’m sure if we had more time, there would be so much more you could teach me. I’ll miss our talks and our giggles at Frannie’s antics, especially times when she thought she’d dethrone you from being “herd Queen”. You’ll always be my Queen of the barn. And, in the spring, if Shellie has a girl, we’ll name your granddaughter after you. I’ll be thinking about our times together when you gave birth to babes with me by our side. It will be Bittersweet. But, I’ll never really be without my Dollie.


HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.


HOMEGROWN Life: A Rough Kidding Season (or How Trouble Always Comes in Threes)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENWe knew the morning of April 12th that Kahlua was going to give us kids by the end of the day. Her ligaments were gone, her udder was filling and she was getting restless. She showed all the typical signs of imminent labor. We kept an eye on her throughout the morning while we did our usual spring chores – prepping and planting garden beds, harvesting artichokes, feeding animals.

By noon I decided to sit with her and soon noticed she had started having contractions. They weren’t close together so I knew I had a little bit of time. I called my friend, Brande, who has been present for all of our kiddings (it’s always great having another set of hands to help catch and clean kids), and Tom down to sit with me.

And then we waited. And waited some more. Her labor had stalled out. We were all getting restless. 8pm passed. 10pm passed. We were starting to get concerned. In the meantime I was texting goat breeder friends. Lynda at Foggy River Farm said that sometimes the stalled labor is due to a malpresented kid. Fantastic.


At 11pm Tom laid down on the ground to take a nap. Not 30 sec after covering his eyes with his hat Kahlua siddled up to him, laid down and started pushing. Well if that’s all we had to do we could have gotten this over a long time ago…

At first things seemed to be working until I saw a nose. Just a nose. Well that’s a slight problem. Yep, Lynda called it. A normal presentation is a kid in the dive position. Both legs out front with the head following. There were no legs. Just a head and Kahlua was pushing as hard as she could.

Progress seemed to be going very slow and there was no room to get a hand in. The best thing I could do was get the kid’s airway cleared so it could breathe in case the umbilical cord got pinched off and try to get that kid out carefully and quickly. I was finally able to get my hand in far enough to grab the kid and add some traction while Kahlua pushed. The next kid shot out with little problem. While being a pound larger the second kid was in the normal position and came out very easily.

Both kids are healthy and growing like weeds now. But that wasn’t the end, unfortunately. Kahlua started to go off feed. We were able to get her to eat using Fortified B injections, which can act as an appetite stimulant but by Wednesday she was yawning a lot which can signal pain. She didn’t have a fever yet so we held off on giving her antibiotics and just gave her some banamine. By Thursday, however, it was clear something was going on. She was grinding her teeth and now had a fever of 104.7 (normal is 102-103.5). A quick call to UC Davis and the vet was pretty sure we were dealing with metritis (uterine infection). The first antibiotic they recommended didn’t seem to be knocking back the metritis like it should have so another call the UC Davis and they had us switch. 7 days of treatment and she was back to her normal self.

We had just over 3 weeks before we were to expect the next two does to kid. We were only hoping that they would go smoothly. Unfortunately we were very wrong.

Tuesday morning, May 5th, it was clear Maggie was going into labor. She was unusually loud and obnoxious so I put her in the kidding stall and called Brande. Her labor seemed to be progressing a lot faster than Kahlua’s labor, but I noticed something concerning. Her discharge was an abnormal color – rusty brown and opaque. Not a good sign, but nothing I could do about it while waiting.


After just a few hours Maggie started pushing. The first kid came out quickly with little problem. The second kid shot out like a bullet in the dreaded breech-butt first position. This was exactly how Maggie was born. Made me glad she got her mom’s wide rump and that the kids were pretty small. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when the back feet of a dead kid emerged. Fortunately it came out easily but being the only doeling in the bunch made it even worse.

Because she had two bucklings we decided to just leave them with her for the time being. We were going to get them used to the bottle for when we took Maggie to shows or had milk test. Unfortunately we soon noticed that Maggie had a fishtail teat (looks like two teats fused together and has two working orifices), which is a disqualifying trait. I put her up for sale as a pet-only and within only a couple of hours she was reserved by the lady who bought her herdmate/paternal half sister, Trouble (now named Ranger).

Just one kidding left and they say that 90% of all kiddings go perfectly fine. The odds were in our favor. Except when they aren’t.


Friday, May 8th, Rainicorn went into labor. Like Kahlua’s it seemed to take her sweet time. Not a particularly good sign but contractions were strong. When she finally laid down around 4pm to start pushing nothing seemed to be happening. The bubble showed up and ended up drenching me in birthing fluid but nothing was in it. There was a problem. Another problem. I gloved up, and lubed up and went in. There was the issue. 4 hooves and a head. There were two kids and they seemed pretty large, trying to come out at once. Fortunately there were three of us and we got to work. After a quick call to Sarah, at Castle Rock, we had Tom pick her back end up and pushed the rear legs of one of the kids back in as far as we could. After 20 min we realized we were going to have to take her to the vet. The one kid trying to come out correctly was too large.

The question was, which vet do we go to? UC Davis or Cotati Large Animal Hospital? We were half way between the two but being that it was Friday afternoon we decided to go to Cotati due to Highway 80 being gridlocked with everyone trying to get out of town.

An hour drive got us there to find 2 vets and 2 vet techs waiting for us. They also attempted to get the kids out vaginally but found it impossible so the only next option was an emergency C-section. Anesthesia is not without its risks in general, but that goes doubly so for goats. They aren’t known for handling it very well. It was incredibly nerve-wracking watching the surgery and just hoping everything would turn out fine.


The doctor ended up pulling out a single, very large buckling. The breeder’s worst nightmare is a first freshener with a single buckling. There weren’t two kids like we had thought. He was simply trying to come out with all four feet and his head. Things weren’t looking so great for him when he was laid down in the towel lined rubber bin. He wasn’t breathing at all but the second vet worked and worked on him. She didn’t give up and it’s what saved him. By the time Rainicorn woke up he was trying to stand and had a very good suck reflex. I definitely attribute her smooth and speedy recovery on having him with her.

Our kidding season is finally over after getting progressively worse – I’m just happy everyone is fine.


Rachel-Dog-Island-Farm1Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: A Great Herdswoman’s Legacy Lives On

Friday, January 2nd, 2015


HOMEGROWN LifeWe should all have a little Pixie in our Day.

I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate this blog to the memory of a goat herdswomen I had the privilege to know. We’ve lost Pixie Day, a woman who devoted the last 50 years of her life to goats. At the age of 88, while tending her herd, Pixie lost her footing coming back from the barn in early December and didn’t recover. Some might say this is a sad ending. It is. But it’s also an amazing example of devotion to animals.


Pixie had struggled the last few years with a number of health problems. After breaking a hip, she decided to start thinning out the herd. I got a call about a doe she had chosen to sell just as I was starting to build my foundation herd.

I drove to Sleighbell Farm to take a look at the prospective doe. Pixie greeted me and took me into the house to see the doe’s registration papers. She gave me some books on raising goats, part of her collection, and some back issues of Goat World, yellow with age. I read through them all as the months went on, in between milkings and chores. A number of them contained articles about Pixie and her life with goats, a life she had begun, coincidentally, here on Maine’s St. George peninsula, where I farm today.

HOMEGROWN-life-momWe took a stroll to the pasture where 14 pure white majestic girls all came to attention when Pixie called them. The site of them, posed, acknowledging Pixie, watching her every move, took my breath away. We went to the barn, and Dollie was waiting. She was anxious to be with the other members of Pixie’s herd, but as it turned out, she came home with me that day. Pixie’s world of goats had come full circle.

Pixie had moved inland from Tenants Harbor to Sleighbell Farm in Washington, Maine, in 1978 and devoted her life to raising and breeding champion Saanen goats. She donated goats to Russia through the Heifer Project and traveled to Russia several times to help families there learn to milk the goats and make cheese. While in Russia, she befriended a little girl and helped her get adopted in the United States. Pixie was a true example of what farming is about. Connections. Connections between the animals. Connections fostered by a herdsman or woman, a shepherd or shepherdess with his or her charges. Connections to people and to fellow farmers.

HOMEGROWN-life-babyThe resurgence of small farms is testimony to our need for connections. Without them, we don’t survive. Homestead farms give us the opportunity to stay better connected with our food sources and the people who provide us with what we eat. We are nourished as much by interacting with a farmer at a market as we are by the food itself. Meeting the person who rose before dawn to milk an animal, talking with someone who describes the struggles of this year’s crop, choosing a cheese for its locale—all of these things feed more than our bodies.

My connection with Pixie Day was brief, but the legacy of her life as a herdswoman plays out every day in my barn and pastures. She and others like her have devoted their lives to the care of their animals and are my mentors and family.

The seed Pixie planted in the Saanen goat world continues to grow and live on through this wonderful breed of goat. Saanens are truly living marshmallows. Pure white, large framed, weighing in at more than 250 pounds, they are heavy milk producers, individually averaging 10 to 12 pounds a day. Gentle girls, they ask for nothing but the security of knowing they’ll be cared for.

kisspleaseI consider it an honor to have known Pixie Day and even more of an honor to be carrying on the heritage of raising goats on the St. George peninsula. Dollie and her girl, Shellie, my girl Frannie of Seabreeze Farm, and baby Buttermilk, born here at Bittersweet, are all of the Sleighbell legacy.

Every morning when Dollie comes out of the stall to enjoy her ration of grain, I kiss the top of her head twice: one from me and one from Pixie. I do the same with all of my girls, but with Dollie, it seems to have more meaning now. Thank you, Pixie Day, for being an example in caring for all creatures, great and small. I raise a tall glass of creamy, white, sweet, and wholesome goat milk to you.

HOMEGROWN-life-ireland-4Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.