Monday, March 30, 2009

Goat bread

So we had a boarder who contributed cash, and we had all our own milk for free because we sold enough to pay all the goat-related bills. 

We also had the veggies growing taller and more robust in the garden, with the promise of an excellent harvest and food available without cost well into the winter, and maybe through till Spring.

The only costs were the time and energy it took to weed and keep an eye out for bugs, and to continue to remove the rocks that seemed to grow right along with the veggies. Fortunately there were not many bugs.

To round out the early mid-summer menu, while we were waiting for the bulk of the produce to be ready, we ate a lot of goat bread.

It seems that the major bakeries, such as Pepperidge Farm, had outlet stores where anyone could go and pick up day-old bread. And then when some of it hadn't sold, after about a week, goat people (and others with animals) could go and get it. What was left was the really old bread, stale, often in ripped bags, sometimes moldy - 100 pounds for $5. Five cents a pound.

That was considerably less than the cost of goat feed, and in some cases approximated their feed in quality. Of course we never fed them the moldy bread, so there was some waste. But for the most part, the ability to buy goat bread really helped the feed bills.

We'd go to the back door of the store, off the alley, and back up with the station wagon, then go in and take from the shelves in the store's back room whatever looked good to us, 100# at a time. We all helped pitch it into the car. Then we'd drive home and back up to the bulkhead and carry it down to the freezer, to be thawed several loaves at a time for each feeding.

The goats loved it. They'd grab a slice or two as we held it out to them, gobble it down, and come back for more. Their favorite was cinnamon raisin...

And if they refused a slice, we knew it wasn't wholesome, even if it looked ok to us.

Of course it didn't take us long to start eating the bread ourselves, and that meant we could save several dollars a week, with bread $1 a loaf.

So we made it through the early Summer while we watched the garden grow.

a little the help from our friends...

The financial pressure hadn't abated. And then one night a win-win solution popped into our awareness, something that had been there all along...

We had gone as a family to the TM center for a pot-luck supper and a video. At the back of the room was a man we had met a few times. He was looking for a place to live.

And we had the downstairs bedroom, with its own half-bath.

And he could pay a few hundred dollars a month. In short order we had made our arrangement, and he moved in the next day.

The money was welcome. And he added to it by bringing fruits and lebneh and other foods from his native Palestine. He taught us to enjoy many Middle Eastern dishes as well. 

Our big house was capable of housing one more. And so we backed away from the precipice of financial disaster and began to breathe again.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


We were pretty overwhelmed with the goats, but we knew chickens, ducks, horses, any farm animal with the exception of pigs (John had had to drive by a pig farm as a kid), would be in our future. 

One solution was to start with some broilers, and just raise them in the good old garage, the garage that had already housed goats. Then we could put them in the freezer and be done with them, without having to have a hen house.

So I poured over chicken catalogs. I didn't know there were such things, but a goat friend shared one with me...

Of course cost was a big issue, and it was tempting to buy LOTS of chicks so the cost each would be less. 

I tried to interest friends in sharing the load. But in the end we were on our own. So we ordered 30 chicks. 

I couldn't imagine how they'd come mail order, but the day arrived and a mailman drove up the driveway with a single low box of peeps, tiny beaks sticking out of the airholes.

I had made a small pen in the garage, coverd the floor under it with shavings, and set up a heat lamp in a box, plus a watering bucket and a feed dish. I had bought the right kind of feed for baby chicks and it was waiting in their dish.

So all I had to do was pour in the chicks and watch.

They were yellow fluff, and the tips of their wings were beginning at this age of one day, to turn white and stiff - real feathers. 

They went right to work drinking water. Every one was healthy. They pecked at food, ran in to the box, out again, plunked down and slept, and repeated it all. I was caught up in watching them and could hardly draw myself away. The kids loved them when they got off the bus...

So they grew. Every day they were whiter and less fluffy. They began to look like adolescents, gawky and squawky instead of peepy. 

I could see how they would be ready to eat in 6 or 8 weeks. They were bred to be eating machines. They ate enormous amounts of feed, going from one sack of grain in the first week to several sacks a week toward the end...

We 'harvested' them in late June, when they were fat, by catching them by the necks and tossing them into the burlap feed sacks our goat feed came in. We cut slots in the bags and placed them in the back of the station wagon. By the time we got all 30 handfuls into the bags, most of the holes had heads sticking out. 

Then I drove them down to the packing house and returned that night to pick up 30 naked broilers in plastic bags. I don't know where those little yellow balls of fluff went...

And the plastic bags went into the freezer and we cooked them two at a time all Summer and early Fall.


Our fancy colonial-style house had 4 bedrooms, one down and three up. We couldn't imagine sleeping on different floors, so we all slept upstairs. 

But VJ was definitely the sort of fellow who should have a room of his own. It's where he read his huge collection of books about dogs, gleaned from our little local library and anywhere else he could find one. Plus his room was somewhat long and narrow, with only one good spot for a bed. 

So that left one bedroom for mom and dad, and one for Fritz and Margo.

These two, 7 and 9, were good friends, and both liked to lie on their beds and read. But they also liked their privacy, and their special things, and time apart.

One fine day, Fritz solved the problem for us. He dragged his sleeping bag into a large - long, and narrow - closet that had been built off the main upstairs hall.

And he took his reading lamp and his pillow and several dozen of his favorite books, and made himself not only a bedroom but his own house.

We didn't think he'd actually sleep in there, but he insisted. It was his own space, and he loved it.

So now we had 4 bedrooms upstairs. 

Later we remembered an old daybed that was tucked away in our unused family room, and measured to see if it would fit. It did. Exactly. Its 3-foot width and the 3-foot width of the closet matched perfectly, like two puzzle pieces. 

The sleeping bag would have to go on top of it instead of sheets and blankets because there was no tucking room down the sides. 

But there was space at the head for him to put a box to hold his books. And he lay in there and read by the hour.

But sometimes, when all was quiet outside and the sun had set, we all piled onto our big bed in our bedroom and read together, sometimes 5 separate books, sometimes one that one of us read alone from. Growing legs hung off edges while we all shared great books. 

Sad sad sad...

The garden was perking along. We were fascinated by the potatoes, which were growing vigorously, white blossoms breaking out on the ones that would grow white spuds, and purply ones on the reds. We couldn't wait to dig them, though it would be months before the new potatoes would be big enough.

The eggplants and tomatoes were racing each other to produce the first fruit.

The peas were so good we stood in the garden eating them off the vine, even though they were still quite small.

The beans were making bean blossoms, and those were turning into baby beans...

And amidst all this joy in the garden, and the fulfillment of much planning and waiting, and despite all the sweet little buds growing into real little beans and peas, 

And right there where the baby goats entertained us, and tried to reach the tiny crabapples starting to form beneath the beautiful and abundant pink flowers...

I woke up one morning with an all too familiar feeling, and before the day was out I had had another miscarriage.

Two in a row was bad news.

My doctor generously proclaimed that I would never have another child.

The object of my every thought was no more.

And without children - an infinite string of children - what was the point of the farm? All this work was for the long-term, for EVER. And suddenly the end of the road loomed up and stifled the very purpose of all our hard work.

Well, not all. We had a 7 year old son. A 9 year old daughter. Another son who had just turned 11. We were very blessed.

But my arms felt empty, and my heart more so. I could enjoy what I had, but my whole vision of eternity - endless increase - was stifled.

It was a sad sad sad day. .  .   .     .       .

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Disbudding and other removals

Goats are born without horns - good thing for the moms - but little bumps begin to appear soon after birth. Especially in little bucks, who may show points breaking through when they are only a day old. 

It's really quite stirring to realize how well equipped baby goats are to survive in the wild. They can run at their mother's side by the time they are a couple of hours old, and within days can and do turn their little heads toward an attacking foe (farmer's son for example) and lower their heads. Those little horns would not do much damage during the first few days after they appear, but by the time the kid is only a month or two old, he is capable of presenting a formidable shield - albeit on his head - to his enemy.

On the other hand, it is devastating how well equipped baby goats are to get tangled in fences, beat down doors, and poke innocent visitors. 

So it is considered good practice to remove the horns before they get fairly started. 

Before the little horns erupt through the skin, they can be felt in the form of little buds. If these buds are removed when they are small and unerupted, the goat will be hornless and safe.

To disbud a kid, the procedure must be undertaken for little bucks within the first week or less after birth. However, since little bucks may in actuality be little burgers, it may not be necessary to go through the disbudding procedure on them. It depends on how long they are to be kept.

For does who are destined to be milkers, it is possible in some cases to wait a little longer than a week. But once the little horns erupt, the whole process becomes more challenging.

For one thing, the bud is bigger, and for another, the disbudding tool will not fit neatly over the horn and be able to remove the base of it. And if the base, or bud, is not gone, the horn will grow.

Even a small piece of bud left on the skull of the goat will result in horn growth, certainly not into elegant horns but instead into lumpy pieces that may break off and bleed.

So it's best to get right to the disbudding.

Disbudding irons are like soldering irons: there is a handle at one end, and a hot steel rod at the other. In the case of the disbudding irons, the end of the rod is designed to fit around the unerupted horn bud: it has a recessed center, with a ring around the outside.

When the iron has been plugged in and becomes hot - very hot - it is time to capture the kid. Holding his head firmly - this may be a multi-person job - the brave farmer ascertains the exact location of the horn bud by feeling for it, then presses the rod over it.

How long to hold the iron in place is a matter of practice, so the first time the new farmer disbuds the new goat may be a nerve-wracking experience. For both. If the iron is not held down in place long enough, the bud will not be encircled and killed, and the whole process will have to be repeated or the goat will end up with ugly horn-bits. If the iron is held in place for too long, it will burn through into the....

Well, new farmers usually don't cause dire damage, they just usually end up not doing enough. 

The ideal result is that the horn bud has its blood supply cut off by the encircling rim of iron, and can be plucked off bloodlessly. 

There is a lot of smell of hair and screaming of goat, but it's over with in a minute or two. Per horn. Then the baby's head is dusted with antiseptic powder, and he is let back into the kid pen to tell his little brothers and sisters what is in store for them.

We don't love doing it. But it is far better than horns.

And it is also far better than converting little bucks to the genderless sweethearts they must become if they are to escape the butcher knife. This conversion process involves tiny robust rubber bands the inside diameter of which is the size of cheerio holes and rubber band stretchers and once positioned the rubber bands cut off circulation and end the process by which bucklings become big smelly bucks. 

So the early life of little goats is not all play. But then they forget about these things, and go on with their bouncy little lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A flood of milk, a wheel of cheese

And so the very warm days of May saw us committed to staying home and enjoying the life we were putting together on the farm.

The baby goats had been nibbling hay from the beginning but now they were really enjoying it. The result was that we had more milk for ourselves. Lots more milk. Streams and rivers of milk.

So it was time to start in earnest preserving it for the winter ahead, and that meant making cheese.

Each day, we would put what was left of the the morning milking, after the babies were fed, into half gallon bottles for us or those who were buying from us. And we would put what was left of the evening milking into a pot to make cheese.

The coagulant for the cheese was rennet that we bought at the drugstore. The bacteria to ripen the cheese and give it flavor would come from the air. 

We brought the milk back on the stove to a good temperature for the coagulant to work, about 110 degrees, then added the rennet dissolved in a small amount of water. Within a half hour or so the milk would begin to separate into curds and whey. By morning the separation was complete, and we'd cut the curd into inch cubes so even more whey could escape.

Meanwhile the bacteria were beginning to grow in the milk, changing its character in a way peculiar to each type of bacterium.

As long as we worked with meticulously clean pots and stirrers, and with fresh milk, we found only wholesome bacteria growing. But under less ideal conditions, the milk could produce yeasty or foul cheese. And sometimes if conditions were just right, we produced just curds with little bacteria and hence little good goat-cheese flavor.

After the curd was cut, it was time to put it in the collander. We used several layers of cheese cloth to retain even more of the curd while it was straining.

The mass of curds needed to sit for a while in the collander, usually several hours into the new day. Then we transferred it to a cheese press and cranked down on it. 

The press was a tube about 6 inches in diameter, with a disk that fit into it. A heavy wood screw could be cranked and made to press on the curds. Whey could leak out the bottom.

The harder we pressed it, the better it would keep and the harder texture it would have.

We made an effort to get most of the whey out of the curd. When we decided it was done, usually by the next morning - 36 hours after the process had begun - we took the wheel out of the cheese press, salted the outside to help preserve it, and put it in a plastic bag in the fridge. For many months we were able to produce a wheel a day.

Some went into the freezer. The texture was a bit crumbly after freezing, but perfectly good for a topping for spaghetti sauce or hot veggies.

At times we also left wheels out on the counter, and watched them closely for spoilage, rubbing salt on them each day as a preservative. If the cheese ripened at room temperature, or the warm temperatures of summer, they could ripen to a delicious flavor and smooth, firm texture. But the spoilage rate was high, and mostly kept it in the fridge to ripen.

We had plenty to eat, and plenty more to freeze for the winter ahead.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

First camping trip, part 2.

The morning after Bobby Kennedy was shot, we packed up our things again and headed toward Yosemite, which was still a very long day away, if not two. It all depended on how well the babies did with traveling, and of course how the car held up and so on.

The car actually turned out to be a problem. We pulled into a service station to get gas, the attendant checked under the hood, and then reported the dire news that we had developed a leak in the transmission line and we had no transmission fluid left. And no mechanic was on duty. But we could come back tomorrow and get it fixed.

We were worried about burning out the transmission, so we found a campground right there in Bakersfield California, and set up our tent. It wasn't the setting we had envisioned when we had set out: our ears were glued to the radio to see if Bobby Kennedy had died; we were camped on a bed of dust at the base of a major highway; and we were hardly in a place where we could go for a hike or see wildlife.

Actually, we did end up seeing a bit of wildlife: wild-colored jays kept stealing our food. The little ones took delight in it. Until one bird came out of nowhere and stole a graham cracker out of VJ's hand.

We spent a long day there, dreaming of Yosemite, still so far away.

The next morning I got up early. The ground was hard, the light bright, the temperatures warming rapidly. The babies were still asleep. Bobby Kennedy was dead...

I made oatmeal and sat in the car waiting for the others to start the day. Finally everyone was up, fed, wiped clean; the car was repacked, then the children added. Off we went to the service station.

The day crew checked the transmission fluid and the line was full. It had been an error.

So we drove to Yosemite. We made it that same day. We put up our tent and got out our stove and lantern and put the sleeping bags in the tent and blew up the air mattresses. Then we walked around just breathing the sweet air. The skies were blue, only a few clouds to the west. We gaped in awe at El Capitan and washed clothes and ate a meal in the village. And I eyed the horses that were for hire, thinking how much I had enjoyed riding one horse one time when I was about 14. Maybe, just maybe we could afford a trail ride.

John had no interest, so I volunteered for him to stay with the babies at the tent. We made the reservation for my ride for the next afternoon and I looked forward to it eagerly. Meanwhile we cooked on our little stove, took walks, and generally felt free and easy in the pleasant openness.

The next day dawned gray and threatening. When the time came for my ride, I decided to go even if it rained - I might not get another chance, since our time at Yosemite was about to end. So we drove to the corral. I was surprised to find I was the only trail-rider. I climbed on my assigned horse eager to be off, and fell in line behind the leader.

I waved goodbye to my amazed two year old and long-suffering husband, and as we rode off it started to rain. The leader put on his raincoat. I didn't have one.

We rode down a long one-horse-wide trail into the woods. The rain was getting heavier by the moment, but in the woods it was a little lighter. Except for the drips from the pines.

The ride was to last for an hour. I was getting cold and the adventure was quite different from what I had anticipated. He and I tried talking but the noise didn't carry well, so we just rode on in silence.

I was cold and chattering and wondering at my unique folly - no one else had ventured out! And I began to wonder how much longer the ride would last, at the same time feeling guilty for the thought because we had spent good money on the ride...

As we walked along, I was lulled into a peaceful state despite the wet and cold.

It was then that I saw movement up ahead and the leader pulled his horse back abruptly. A mother moose stepped out of the woods and crossed his path, followed by her baby.

The leader pulled his horse back to mine, and exclaimed in such a way that I was amazed at his obvious fear. He explained that a mother moose with a baby is dangerous even to a man on a horse, and he had never seen one before, nevermind one crossing his path a few feet from him. He felt we had been very lucky to avoid a conflict. I had just seen a lovely wild beast and she had hardly seemed dangerous. But then I was new at riding a horse in the woods.

Eventually we got back to the corral. The horse was in as much a hurry as I was. The family was waiting in the car, and John had my jacket for me. I put it on but couldn't get warm. We went back to the campsite. It was heavy gray, dark and rainy outside, but probably not much past four p.m. I crawled into my sleeping bag and shivered, while John got supper under the protection of the tent flap. I couldn't get warm. Finally it was bedtime. I fed Margo, then fell asleep. In the morning I had a horrendous cold.

It was time to head home, and then once we got there, time to pack up all our belongings and move to Massachusetts. As we drove through central California, I realized how I would miss it. I had lived there for three years, John for four. It had taken me nearly all those three years to come to grips with this strange land we had been living in: it was not the least bit New-Englandy. But I had grown to love it after all, and now we were leaving.

So it was a bit of a sad trip, but we vowed to go back. Back to Yosemite, Bridal Veil, ruggedness, woods, mooses, and camping with our kids. We had camped, we had fulfilled our dream at last, and we were ready for more.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A trip... part 1. Error and shock...

The basement was huge, and the kids had enough room to roller-skate down there when the weather was rainy. We also had a washer and dryer, a freezer, and lots of left over space. In one corner we had built shelves to store things on. 

And on those shelves, just within sight, was our camping equipment. 

One hot summer day after I had gathered up the laundry and was carrying it to the washer, I noticed it sitting there idle, and memories came back of our very first real camping trip. 

The red sleeping bags, the blue tent, the green camp stove and lantern... BIG SIGH! We could not figure out how to get away with everything that needed taking care of. 

So the memories came flooding back with great poignancy.

John had finished his dissertation, and soon we would be driving East so he could take his first job at MIT. In between we had a couple of precious weeks and we knew just what to do with them.

That is, we knew we wanted to go on a real camping trip. The question was, which of the many great sites in California would we visit?

We picked Yosemite. It was a name from our childhoods and the name alone flooded our minds with magic and mystery.

It was a long two days' drive with a 2 year old and an infant, so we decided to spend the first night with friends in Pasadena. We drove up the 'back way' from San Diego after a difficult day of packing clothes, disposable diapers that we had just heard of and were trying out, food, and all the camping equipment in our old Pontiac Catalina sedan, and leaving room for a car seat and a car bed. 

(In those days there were no car seat laws, and we always traveled with the baby of the moment lying loose in a car bed that was made from the pull-out body of an old baby carriage. A baby carriage is - never mind. The image makes me cringe.)

We left late, and arrived after dark in Pasadena and fondly greeted the friends we didn't see very often. We would be sleeping in their house that first night, and John carried things in from the car while I fed the babies, nursing Margo and getting VJ some supper they'd saved for us.

John came in from the car after carrying in most of our needs for the night with a puzzled look on his face. After looking around and going back to the car several times, he said that the clothes box was missing.

I could just picture it where I'd been adding small shirts and shorts, on the far side of our bed. I could just see how it could have gotten overlooked...

We couldn't go on without it. The thought never entered our minds to buy new clothes for us all. Instead, John suggested that he go back to La Jolla, pick up the box, and return in one big round trip. It would take him till past midnight...

I thought hard about alternatives but came up with nothing. 

This dumb little mistake was to put him in time and space at almost the exact point of an historical event that will forever be part of the history of our nation and perhaps humanity....

While he was gone, we watched TV with the family. Bobby Kennedy was speaking in LA. The speech was inspiring! It fired our young spirits with hope for justice and peace.

Then, when it was over, and he left the podium, and the news crews were tying up the broadcast, suddenly the cameras switched to the kitchen, where on the floor lay...

This was June 4-5, 1968. Bobby Kennedy lay dying, and we sat in shock. John was still gone and I wondered if he'd have the radio on and would have heard about it. Finally he arrived, an hour or so after the shooting. He had come up the coast instead of the back way, and had gone through LA. He reported that he had heard and scene much commotion, sirens and police lights...

No such thing as a free goat...

As we went to goat shows and saw the truly beautiful animals being shown there, I began to appreciate the elements that made up that beauty, and I began to see what 'dogs' our goats were.

Of course we just wanted goats for milk, so what did it matter?

What we had failed to appreciate in the beginning was the small issue of the need to breed milkers every year so they would continue to produce milk.

The normal cycle was annual: Starting at a year, a young doe had her first kid. That meant she was bred at 7 months. She would produce milk for the next 10 months, the last three of which were when she was pregnant with her next batch of kids. After that her supply diminished to almost nothing, and her owner would dry her up and give her a rest for the last two months before the next batch of babies was born a year after the first. 

Let's say she has her first kid or kids on March 1. She is then in milk until the following Jan 1, and gets a rest until the next March 1 when she has a new batch of kids. She would have been bred on Oct 1.

Some few goats can produce for more than 10 months, but the rule of thumb is that they need to be 'freshened' every year. 

The by-product of this freshening is baby goats. One the first year, two or three or four or five thereafter. 

In a dairy with 5 milkers, that would mean something like 15 babies, half doelings.

Newborn does can be raised to make more milkers, sold to someone else for that purpose, or eaten. Newborn bucks generally must be eaten, though some are sold as pets.

Leaving aside the unfortunate young males, there are usually still more little does than a dairy needs to replace the mature milkers, who produce well for at least 5 years.

So they need to be sold. And if the dairy is a business, they need to be sold at a profit, or at least at break-even.

So this is the situation we faced: we had many small does, and it would have been great to pay some of our bills by selling them. 

And of course our goat-people friends were trying to do the same thing.

And that's where shows came in. It was a place to show off one's gorgeous goats, and it was a place to get ribbons that proved the goat was gorgeous.

And after a few shows I realized we did not have gorgeous goats. Nice ones, milky ones, but not good-lookers. 

It could be argued that the looks of a goat have nothing to do with the ability to produce milk. But it's not so: each aspect of a great-looking goat has to do with the ability to produce. These traits define dairy-goat beauty.

So when we didn't win ribbons, we didn't sell goats.

A lot of our first goats were very low cost, or FREE. They made good milk. They didn't win ribbons. They made as many babies as other goats, and they ate as much as other goats. We just couldn't sell their babies.

And that's when I realized there's no such thing as a free goat.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Interlude: John gets a job

John had a big decision to make and then we could go on our first camping trip.

We had owned the equipment for 8 months or so, and had yet to get away and really camp.

Meanwhile Margo had been born. Then it was winter. Then the final typing (with a typewriter!) of the dissertation, all the while waiting for word about jobs and our future.

The offers trickled in over the Spring of 1968. The first was from JPL, Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, NASA's lead center for planetary exploration. A great job! We decided to go to Pasadena and see if we would thrive there as a family.

Then came an offer from two departments at MIT, back in home turf since we had both grown up in the Northeast. The Chemistry department and Geology and Geophysics put together a joint offer that would cover all his areas of expertise.

And then an offer came from the University of Oregon to found a new planetary sciences department with colleagues already established in space sciences. The offer involved the geology and chemistry departments and the Center for Vulcanology, and some involvement with the astronomy department. 

Our trip to Pasadena helped us eliminate JPL right away. The smog was intense and we found ourselves lying on the floor with no energy. JPL's offer included the most money, but we rejected it for reasons having to do with our ability to stay alive in that environment.

(Smog in those days was a much bigger problem than it is now. A pall of chemicals rested over most of the major cities in those days, especially LA.)

So it came down to MIT and the University of Oregon. One established, the other growing. One with a huge reputation, the other striving for one. One with an urban/suburban flavor, the other in a big small town. One home, the other away. One without a touch of wilderness, the other right in it.

We could go camping as soon as he decided. Everything that happened in our lives after that would depend on the decision. It was a decision that would affect John's profession and who we all became over the next 60 years....

We put our heads together. And in the end, he chose MIT, and then we went on our first big camping trip. 

Interlude: Vacations - preparation

Just as a garden is a big solution to the inevitable and expensive need for food, camping is a great solution to the need to take a vacation.

John and I had both had favorable camping experiences at Girl Scout or YMCA camp as kids, so the thought of camping trips hit us very well. Even before we were married we were planning where we would go. Someday. When we had a car. And gas money. And camping equipment. And kids to share it all with.

The first opportunity to put the concept into practice happened when he was nearing the end of his student days. His dissertation would be done soon, and he could reasonably expect good employment. So we went shopping.

We bought: an 11x11 blue canvas tent; a Coleman camp stove; 2 sleeping bags that could be zipped together; 2 air mattresses; a Coleman lantern; a Rubbermaid wash tub; a clothesline and pins.

It came to about $90 at a time when John was earning a stipend of $250 a month. We had a long-term view of the use of all of it, though, and it seemed a worthwhile purchase.

We went to Mt Palomar, a couple of hours from our home in La Jolla CA, and tested everything out. At that time we had baby VJ, who was a little over a year old. It was a bit warm at Palomar, but otherwise it was a great way to check out that we knew how to put up the tent, take it down again (causing us to add a whisk broom before our next trip), start the stove, and use the lantern. At the end of the weekend, we were all set to go on a real trip.


When the first hints of uncomfortable heat came every Spring, we began to think of vacation.

Vacations had been an important part of every Summer. We'd always headed North to get out of the heat...

The Spring of 1977, our first one the farm, was no different. 

But then we looked at each other. 

There was no money.
Gas prices were at an all-time high.
There was no time.
There was no one who could take care of the goats and the garden.

There would be no vacation. Not as long as we ran a farm.


Before we moved to the farm, I had been leading a sedentary life for nearly a year. 

And there was no building up the muscles period with the farm. One day we didn't own it, the next day we did. One day we had no goats to move from place to place, no goats to milk, no barn to build, no garden to cultivate and plant, no hay to move...

We did all these things. John did the big heavy stuff, but I was determined to do my share (despite morning sickness that was worse at night than the morning). 

I learned that 40 lb bales of hay can be picked up and thrown up into a pickup IF you wear gloves so the wires don't eat into your hands. Forty pounds was less than the weight of my youngest child. Shouldn't be a probem!  (Though truth be known I had never thrown him...)

And I managed stubborn 150 pound goats, though they did stand on their own four feet. But even the kids - children - could do that.

What I needed to be able to work up to was to carry the 100 lb sacks of dairy feed from the garage to the barn, a distance of about 200, maybe 250 feet.

After we had been at the farm about 6 active months, I gave it a try.

I figured I would need to get it over my center of gravity, so I hoisted it to my shoulder. The grain toward the front slumped down, and so did the grain toward the back, and altogether the bag took on the shape of shoulder with only a little adjusting.

And I walked with it to the barn, and managed to slide it into the grain barrel, open up the top, and begin the day's milking.

I was very proud.

Feeling the heat and humidity...

On the first warm day, the morning was just delightful. And then the afternoon seemed a little too warm. 

I was really annoyed with myself. I had been cold for months, and now that the sun was shining I was complaining of the heat? It was only 80 degrees!

I was weeding the garden. My back was turned to the sun. In short order I was drenched with sweat.

After an hour of misery I realized it wasn't the heat, it was the combination of 80 degrees with about 80% humidity. 

The goats had moved into the shade, and Dusty was lying on the porch. I took a hint.

The problem with quitting weeding at that point was that the weeds were loving the heat and humidity as much as the rest of the garden. They were neck and neck. Head to head. Indistinguishable! And I wasn't going to the rescue.

I was actually quite disappointed in myself. As a kid I had turned red-faced at the slightest increase in temperature, when other kids were playing happily along. So maybe I had less tolerance for it. 

But such fussiness did not fit into my vision of self-sufficiency. I couldn't picture the farmers of old whining because they were hot, or stopping the planting and hoeing and the hope of their families making it through the next winter because the humidity was uncomfortable.

But no matter what my attitude about it, no matter how many little chats I had with myself about enduring and suffering through for the greater good, I still got heat cramps if I was out in the sun for too long.

Not that the indoors was much better. We had no air-conditioning, and so often these warm and humid days were accompanied by little breeze.

And on top of this dysfunction in the heat, my disappointment with my ability to perform, I realized there was no solution. Either we lived the dream and suffered through bitter winters (which never overthrew my ability to function) and hot humid summers, or we gave it up.

It probably didn't help that whatever winds there were were from the south-southwest, straight up from New York City. You could taste the foulness of the air, and maybe some of the wooziness was due to the pollution.

Whatever the case, my inability to function in even late-spring heat was threatening to our whole homestead concept.

Feeling the heat

In late April we had a balmy day, 80 degrees, and only a few days after we were still feeling the chill of a typical Spring.

The skies were mostly clear, and the bright sunshine was welcomed by us and the plants in the garden. Dusty and Kiki and the kittens lay out in it, and the goat moms took naps in it, while the babies bounced along on all the high points of their flat little corral and rejoiced in it.

It was goooooooood!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Interlude: M Obama plants a garden...

Michelle Obama says she is doing this so that children will learn about eating better.

I hope another message develops as her garden begins to grow, though: growing our own solves lots of problems (overweight, high costs of foods, hidden additives, and many more). And eating local is ultimately going to be the only way to eat.

Here's the article: Michelle Obama Plants A Garden

The Oatmeal Wars

Oatmeal is a great wholesome inexpensive food, and we had it often. We also had other hot cereals, but mostly oatmeal.

We all liked oatmeal, and I liked the idea that it would last till lunch  in small tummies.

As I sat up in my bed each morning with morning sickness, and supervised the getting-ready-for school of various of the three children, John supervised the milking and other outdoor chores and made the oatmeal for breakfast.

John grew up in New Jersey where there was an abundance of fruit, and loved to add fresh berries from our blackberry bushes, where they could be found in abundance in the late summer. His morning routine included covering his oatmeal with them before he flooded his bowl with goat milk from the fridge.

But in the Spring there were no berries. Instead, he dug into our supply of dried apricots to add flavor to his oatmeal.

And to get them soft, he cooked them right in the pot with the oatmeal flakes and water. 

The three grade-schoolers did not like their oatmeal with soft dried apricots in it!

So they didn't eat it.

Each morning I'd come down after John and the offspring had left in their different directions, and I would find one empty bowl and three bowls filled with fruity oatmeal.

They weren't eating any breakfast at all.

So various ones of us suggested to Dear Old Dad that he not put the apricots in.

And he said, "But it's better that way!" And kept putting them in.

And each morning the children said they wouldn't eat it because of the apricots.

And that was a war that lasted for a very very long time. Until berry season. Each year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Back in the Fall when we first moved in, an older boy from around the corner became friends with VJ. His passion? Gladioluses.

He shared with VJ what he had learned about them and gave him some of the bulbs he'd just dug from his own flower bed, and together they looked for a spot in our large front lawn to plant them in.

VJ was in charge of mowing the 2 acres, and it had needed several trimmings in the Fall before the cold weather set in. This was 2 acres with the kind of lawn mower that a boy, walking behind, pushes.

He got to know the lawn well, so when the time came, he and Tom were able to pick out a choice spot for the glads. 

Tom knew all about varieties and both boys were eager for Spring and then Summer to come so they could see what colors had resulted from Tom's experimentation the season before.

Back in the Fall they had dug a small garden, maybe 4 x 9 feet, toward the front of the property, out by the road. It was exclusively for glads. We watched them from the house as they dug hour after hour.

Whatever magic they put into the preparation, by mid Spring they were able to show us dozens of gladiolus spikes poking from the soil. 

But we still had to wait for the flowers. The 10 year old and the 12 year old kept an eye on them...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fritz shows a goat...

When we went to our first goat show, the children decided to show some of the older kids.

Each kid got a collar for easier handling - read: catching and restraining.

And in the show, each kid is led by a leash hooked to the collar.

Some people who know what they are doing train their young kids to walk calmly at their sides. It is against the nature of kids as well as their human cousins to walk calmly, or even to walk, but with enough hours on the leash with a mature handler, they do get the message.

Our children practiced with their goats at a small 4-H meeting, and discovered their chosen Grand Champions would not be led.

They were instructed to go home and practice practice practice.

They went home and put away the leashes and waited with some small excitement for the show. 

It was small show of 4-Hers from the Greater Boston area. Given that the Greater Boston area is essentially urban, there were not many 4-Hers to draw from. 

The show was held in someone's big backyard. The show ring was defined by bales of straw. A real judge had been hired, and the usual strict show rules were adhered to. So it was a good setting in which to learn how to show. 

Some of the 4-Hers had kids, but most had full-grown goats. Good choice!

When we first got to the show, we had to leave the goats in the car. They hollered when we got out and didn't take them with us. 

Our children were in two classes each. They got to watch a while before it was their turn. The kids were still hollering in the station wagon, which was backed toward the show ring, so they went and got them, put them on their leashes, and tried to hold onto them.

I suggested they walk them back and forth. While they were just standing in one place, the kids had wanted nothing so much as to leap about and run, but now that the children were trying to lead them, they wanted to stand still. It did not look good.

Other children walked by us confidently with their goats aligned perfectly at their sides, calmly walking.

It was time to go into the ring for the first time. 

VJ led the way, then Margo, then Fritz. With a lot of tugging, the kids adopted a position that on average was next to the children. On average. A lot behind, a lot above, a lot ahead - that's an average position next to the children. 

It was chaos plus popcorn. Four goats walked calmly by their owners, three goats did not. 

One child got frustrated and tried to control his goat. One child let go of the leash. And Fritz walked steadily around the circle seemingly oblivious of both the judge and the kid. 

Around and around went he, steady and serene. Above and below went she, and right and left but mostly above.

The judge suggested that they should have practiced.

Fritz plodded on. Then when the time came to stand with the goats and show their best attributes, Fritz stood. Four children stood looking at the judge, 4 goats stood beside them. One child chased after the goat that was loose as it leapt over the bales of straw and headed back to the car. Two goats did back flips and cartwheels, and one child stood stolidly looking straight at the judge. The other shot daggers from his eyes into his acrobatic charge, but the kid didn't notice. 

The ribbons were awarded. A blue to one of the children whose goat stood still. A red to another of the same. A yellow to the third. And a white Honorable Mention to Fritz, who really showed himself very well.

Fritz loses a shoe

The children went to school, of course. It was a new school, and one with parents who knew their kids were the smartest ever. I knew that about mine too, and that meant there was no need to tell their teachers: I looked forward to their teachers telling me how great they were.

They were the new kids, and I was the new mom, and I had no time to hang out in the school parking lot and make friends. I had met the teachers about once apiece...

It was a year of budget strains at home, and when we got the news in November of that first winter that our taxes were to double, we stopped spending any money we didn't absolutely need to spend. It wasn't a tough decision, there just wasn't any to spend beyond the mortage, taxes, utilities - the basics.

Clothing was not a necessity, even for school. The children's bodies were covered decently, they had coats, and though each of them was beginning to look a bit ragged by Spring, soon they would be in a whole change of wardrobe of warm-weather clothes that had been stored away in the Fall. 

So even while we had challenges in many areas, school was going along smoothly and was a place where we as a family could count on success.

I did get one call from a teacher who wanted to discuss Fritz's reading with me. I was surprised, but expected the best. During the conference, though, she told me he was in the lowest reading group and hadn't really begun to get the idea of reading.

Given that he had been read to from birth, that was surprising, but this was only a half or so of the way through first grade when she had me come in, and I thought there'd be time...

Then I thought, well, he has just spent a half year of kindergarten doing what he pleased in a hotel in Switzerland, so he's probably behind on his pre-reading skills.

We discussed his lack of interest in sounding out and she suggested that he might be one of those children who is a better sight learner, and he could just learn words and soon he would be a reader. 

It seemed to me that the underlying idea was that he really wasn't mentally capable of learning to read.

I thought she was wrong, of course. I knew my boy. He was smart. Even though a good while before that, a person who did IQ testing professionally asked if she could experiment on him. I got the impression at the time that she thought he was a bit dim, but that was well after I agreed to do it. He sat on my lap and answered questions and answered and answered, and we never heard more from her. I was confident he would prevail again.

I agreed to let the teacher do what she thought best, and over the next many weeks asked him how school was and how reading was and got the usual answer, 'fine'. 

So when the teacher called me back in, I was again surprised.

Already doubting his intelligence, she was now a bit upset. She was ... controlled. She told me she had a little problem with Fritz and wondered if I had any idea what to do. 

Naturally I asked what happened. She told me Fritz had put his torn up old sneaker, one that had been in at least mud, on her desk. She wondered what I thought she ought to do.

That didn't sound like Fritz to me! He might have been oblivious of his schoolwork, but he wasn't the least bit interested in creating problems.

I apologized and went home eager to see if I could find out what had happened. 

Fritz explained. When he got to his class in the morning, he did what he always did, kick his shoes off. One got kicked too high and landed on the teacher's desk. He didn't know what to do. The teacher didn't see it fly up there. The class was laughing. She turned around and saw the disreputable remnant of canvas on her desk and asked the class who's it was and how it got there. No one said anything. But every student turned and looked at Fritz...

We went and bought new sneakers the next afternoon. I don't think it changed her mind about his intelligence, of course....

A scary call...

Right there while we were struggling in the Spring of our freshman year as homesteaders, we got a call from my mother. My father hadn't been doing well since January, she said. 

That was news, the very first news that he might be in a decline.

She said he was having treatments - unspecified - every few weeks and they weren't working as well as they had been. 

She'd keep us posted.

And how were the grandchildren?

Footsteps in the night...

If you live in a suburb and it's daytime and you hear soft and small and rapid footfalls, you know the children are playing happily outside, and right in the yard where you want them to be.  As long as there are no shreiks, in which case it could be the neighbor dog chasing them. You get up from your reading and peek out the window in case you are needed. The chance it's not a bear is great.

If you live in the city and it's nighttime and you hear hard and heavy and rapid footfalls, you hide in your closet. It's definitely not a bear, but there are worse things than bears.

If you live in the country and it's daytime and you hear heavy and lopsided footfalls, it's the cat. Cats can make themselves sound ten times as heavy as they are. You smile and go back to your reading. She only thinks she's a bear.

If you live in the country and it's nighttime and you hear any kind of footfall at all that is coming from outside, the animals are out and running around the house and in and out of the garden. Herd animals do not do this alone. You get everyone up right away and grab the flashlights and go capture the wild beasts and put them away and fix the hole in the fence or close the unlatched door, and do it now before they get into the neighbor's peas in the garden or hay in the barn. This is worse than being chased by a bear, and if one happens to emerge from the woods tomorrow, you will feed the entire herd to him.

These are important applications of universal rules and every homesteader should learn them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

So why not sell some goats!??!!!

As the feed bills piled up, and as I got to know my fellow goat people, I realized that a big part of the goat game was selling goats.

That is different from having goats for milk only, but it is a real necessity if you don't want to end up with 10,000 goats. They have to be 'freshened' every year, and that always entailed babies.

Sure, it was possible to sell the doelings as well as the bucklings for meat, but it was also the difference of about $75 in the income from them if they were sold as lovely little milkers-to-be. 

But with everyone having an abundance of kids in the spring, how would I be able to get them to choose mine?

This question had already been answered many times over: have the best doelings.

And since there was nothing much but pure cuteness to see in a baby, that meant going by the breeding. Like mother - like daughter. Or like sister - like sister. If the mother produced a lot of milk, or if she had characteristics associated with producing a lot of milk, her kids would have an advantage in the marketplace. And likewise if the father had produced a lot of great kids who went on to be good dairy animals, his other daughters would have a leg up. So to speak. 

And how would anyone know these things? Through milk testing and shows.

So that's what we faced that busy busy Spring of 1977: goat testing and showing.

Goat testing consists of a once-a-month visit from someone in your test group, made up a other people in the area who signed up for cooperative testing. She came one evening and the next morning, and watched you milk, weighed the milk, and took a sample of it for fat content. Then you did the same for someone else, on a rotation basis within your group.

The sample was then sent to a Department of Agriculture lab for analysis.

A good dairy animal consistently produced a large volume of milk with a high fat content. So good results on the tests meant a good reputation when it came to selling kids. Like mother - like daughter.

I jumped right in to testing. Our group consisted of about 7 or 8 family farms around the southwestern part of the outskirts of suburban Boston. The closest farm was about 7 miles away, the farthest more like 15 or 18. We'd drive down in the evening, be there while they milked all their goats, drive home, and drive down again the next morning and watch again. In the winding, twisting roads of rural Massachusetts, the drive could take 45 minutes each way for the longer distances.

I always took one or more children with me in the evening, but couldn't in the morning because of school. 

Some people milked at 6 pm, which was still light, but then at 6 am it was not that great. Still, it was fun to visit with the goat people. Others milked later, maybe 8 pm, which meant getting home close to 10 after driving on VERY dark rural roads!

Then a day or so later someone would come watch me milk and measure and sample.

We were the only family with young children on the milk-testing circuit, and I soon could see why: it ate up a lot of family time. And often we would still have our chores to do when we got home.

Testing is a good thing. It keeps us all honest with regard to the overall output of our operations: if the milk was not flowing in abundance, something needed to be changed. Or if the butterfat were low, same thing. And when someone came shopping for a goat, it looked impressive that we were on test.

On the other hand, if the test results were not good, testing wasn't going to sell any goats except to inexperienced shoppers.

So testing was potentially useful, once we got a track record - if the results were good. We thought our goats were great! But we didn't really know...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stacking up the challenges

In April 1977 we were done with the birth of new babies, and had the chore of feeding them all. It was fun. But it had to be done 3 times a day. (It did taper off to 2 in May...)

The food wasn't up and edible yet, and wouldn't be for a couple more months. That meant we were eating from the store. And that meant the finances were getting scary.

And looking at the total number of does we suddenly had, with all the babies, we realized we had more mouths to feed than before, and the feed bill was already high.

It is expensive to raise a doeling from newborn till she starts producing a year or so later. She eats and grows and eats and grows, then gets bred, then eats and grows...

And we had 6.

So the bills were accumulating for feed and hay, and aside from the milk we could drink and sell, and the bucklings we had sold, nothing was coming in.

And it was stressful.

The interesting thing is that at no time did we decide to call it quits. The long-term outlook was good...

That was our thinking: sell milk and goats, eat from the garden, later have chickens and maybe ducks and geese and turkeys....

And we knew that this was a wholesome way to raise a family, and learning self-sufficiency seemed very important. With double-digit inflation and high gas prices, the national economy didn't seem as thought it could be trusted.

So in our minds our little project was full speed ahead.

But in our guts we experienced a fair amount of stress.

There was no question we were living a dream, but it verged on a nightmare every so often.

And I was having stress headaches, or possibly migraines, every 3 days, and that definitely took some of the fun out. Sick headaches that meant that lights and sounds were intolerable...

Still, I was happily pregnant with the baby due in November, and I felt really competent being able to carry 100 pound sacks of grain and do other heavy labor when I didn't have the headaches.

I was able to earn a little teaching TM residence courses, and every penny helped.

John was away at scientific conferences fairly often, and I found it stressful to have the three children, the six kids, and the five mother goats all to myself to care for. 

That's not actually fair to the children: they milked every morning and night, and did a fair share of chores. I was just feeling a lot of ultimate responsibility on my shoulders, and they didn't seem as much up to that task as they were to carrying the feed sacks.

But the days were warming up, bringing cheery thoughts with them as well as green shoots in the garden. We were ever optimistic. We never once questioned...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interlude: Early gardens we had known

John and I had both had some experience with veggie gardens, and we remembered them fondly. These small plots on land our families had owned 30 years before may have been part of the reason we were so keen on growing our own food.

My first garden was created by my mother during World War II at the back of our yard. At first we had a lawn than ran down to the edge of the lawn of the boy who lived behind us. Then my mother protected our property by building a post and rail fence across the back. Later came the garden, across much of the width of the yard, and up against the fence.

It was a Victory Garden. Americans were encouraged during the war to do their duty by helping raise food, whether they lived in the country or the city. I remember my mother digging and harvesting when I was about 2. 

Later after the war my mother turned the garden back into sod. Maybe it had been such hard work that she didn't want to continue, or maybe there was just a sense that the war was over and it was time to return to normal life.

My Uncle Ed, already in his 60s by the time I came on the scene, also gardened. He lived in Hartford, and kept a garden that fed the family consisting of him, my grandparents, and his sister. Their parents before them had certainly had a garden at their home in Hartford, and my grandfather's family even had a cow right there in the city. The generation before them had lived in Ireland, and there they had a garden or succumbed. I looked at that garden with curiosity and was told to stay out of it.

We moved next to Darien CT where my father taught school. We had a flat backyard and my mother immediately set about scratching away the grass and planting. I was 6 or 7 and was not only able to give her a hand, she allowed me to do much of the planting and harvesting. I don't know whether she wanted to grow veggies then to help balance the budget, or just because a garden had been part of her childhood. I remember harvesting kohlrabi and green beans.

We moved four more times in quick succession, partly because my father was called up again due to the outbreak of fighting in Korea. It wasn't until I was nearly 11 that we moved into our final family home. 

It seemed natural to me to start a garden. I couldn't interest my mother in the project, but I got our old shovel and rake and started to work. 

I had a hard time of it because of roots and rocks. And the yard was fairly shady out there in the back. So in the end I just had a small garden and not much produce.

Meanwhile John's family had worked together in the yard every sunny weekend and a flower garden plus some vegetables was the standard for the family. I don't think there was a time when they didn't have a garden, even when they lived in New Hampshire with its short summers or in Massachusetts where they had a tiny yard. His father did the manual labor, and his mother, who had grown up on a farm, supported the project as the best way to feed the family.

When we had our first home, we set about putting in some plants, such as peas next to the back door we had in Lexington. It was in one of the few sunny spots. When we got to Wellesley the yard was on a slope and again quite shady, and I built up the downhill end with boards and carried some dirt in from the woods to build up the soil. I struggled to grow beets and spinach there without much success. 

And then we moved to the farm. We had all this behind us, and were ready to get our hands dirty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Goat ice cream?

Given our total dependency on ice cream, we had at first assumed we'd be making our own with our goat cream. While we were still living in Wellesley, we had gotten 2 gallon buckets of something called Honey Goat Ice Cream from our coop, and had fallen in love with it. So why not make some from our own goat milk?

We even found an antique cream separator so we could collect the cream to be the featured ingredient.

(Goat milk does not separate spontaneously and create a cream line as cow milk does. Goat milk is naturally homogenized.)

To separate the milk from the cream, you just pour it in the top of the separator and crank the handle a lot, and out of one faucet comes cream while out of the second comes the skimmed milk.

So on our first try, we got the apparatus set up right, and poured in the whole milk. Out came the skimmed milk, but just heavy plops of cream came out of the other faucet.

Eventually we had to take the separator apart, and what we found was cream stuck to everything, but cream the consistency of putty or semi-hard butter.

There was nothing really wrong with it. All it was was supremely heavy cream, so heavy that it couldn't flow out of the machine.

So we scraped it off as much as we could (licked the rest off - it was delicious!), collected it, and prepared to make ice cream.

Usually ice cream is made with liquid cream, but we figured this had to work in a similar fashion. So we put all the ingredients (cream, sugar, fruit) in the ice cream maker, added the ice and salt to the outside chamber, and started cranking.

In maybe 45 seconds we heard a strange slapping or thumping sound, and the crank no longer turned easily. Soooo, we disassembled the whole ice cream maker, and there stuck to the paddles was...


You'd never know it by looking at whole goat milk, but the cream is so heavy that you can almost never make it into ice cream, because it turns to butter first.

This butter we had just made was sweet and fruity, and actually quite wonderful spread on bagels. But it was not ice cream!

We gave up making ice cream at that point. We had a hideous amount of clean-up to do with all the parts of the cream separator and all the parts of the ice cream maker, and it just wasn't worth it.

Later we did make ice milk, and we used eggs to make a custard based rich ice milk as another way of using our own produce. But mostly we just bought ice cream at the store.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Out of the nursery...

Throughout April kids continued to be born, and each time we took them to the pen in the basement to join their older cousins, we were amazed at how fast the older ones were growing.

A brand-new kid is the size of a small cat, if you don't count the long legs. Or the size of a man's shoe, plus legs. They stand within an hour of birth, and start to bounce and kick an hour after that, if they're still awake.

But a week later, they are noticeably bigger, and their skills are equally more impressive.

The baby goats were all 'on the ground' and well. We moved them from the pen in the basement as soon as they were big enough to step over the fencing. We were amazed at how fast they'd grown. They went out to the 'kid yard', where they continued to 'popcorn', as we called it.

They still needed to be fed by a bottle, but that was no problem now that the weather was nice. We'd fill up the pop bottles to the top, cap them, and send them out two by two in the arms of the human kids. They'd prop the bottles under their elbows and the babies sucked them dry in about 2 minutes.

We let them have as much as they wanted. There was plenty.

But the milking routine now took longer: gather equipment, put the goats on the stand, milk out the half gallon or so they gave per milking, run it into the kitchen for filtering and pouring into bottles through a funnel, run back out with the bottles and feed the babies, who knew the routine and were crying lustily.

You could tell when a baby was full because his sides stood out and he'd begin to stagger. Soon he'd crawl into the pile of already sleeping babies and doze off.

By the end of April only the tiniest babies remained in the basement, but we decided not to keep them there. We moved them out with the other babies and they learned the routine quickly.

It remained only to dismantle the nursery and haul the used bedding to the garden. The plastic tarp that we had put down under the bedding, before the first baby was born, made the clean-up fairly easy. We dragged the sheet up the stairs and out the bulk head and around to the garden, where it helped nourish the roots of our future meals.

Our first kidding season was over. Our older bucklings were leaving for their new homes, mostly in suburbia. We were working from dawn till sunset and beyond. And we had a new habit called 'goat TV', which was the pastime of standing and watching the babies cavort to express their joy of being alive.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Saving (or earning) money with goats?

At this point we had spent a lot of money on the goats, their barn, their feed, their straw, and various pieces of equipment. But we had not seen a lot of income from them.

By early April 1977 we were having all our dairy needs fulfilled. As a family we were drinking a gallon or more of this good fresh unpasteurized unhomogenized frothy pure-white goat milk per day, and we had lots left over, even after the babies finished with their share.

It was time to make that goat milk pay.

The first idea was to store it in the tried and true traditional method, which is to make it into cheese. That gave us cheese to eat and meant we didn't have to buy it at the store, and we were heavy cheese eaters. One gallon of extra milk meant one wheel of cheese, or about the amount we could eat in a day. Recipes for what to do with it are on GrammyPeg's Kitchen.

But cheese could not be an income making venture at that time. Goat cheese had yet to be discovered as something an intelligent person would pay good money for.

So I decided to look into selling milk. In Massachusetts at that time, it could be sold only from the door, so I would need to lean on word of mouth advertising or the milk would not be going anywhere.

But that turned out not to be a problem. The word did spread. Some people wanted it for sick babies, others for sick animals, others just because they liked it. We sold all we could produce, and we knew we could have sold more. We bottled it in half gallon juice bottles and our customers needed to bring the bottles back clean. They paid us $2 per half gallon.

Since we were selling all we had to spare, the milk going down the throats of rapidly growing babies began to look like an asset going to waste. We were happy to have our doelings consume it so they could grow big and produce milk of their own, but the bucklings that were named Hamburger 1, Hamburger 2, etc. were a different story.

So I decided to see if I could sell them.

Of course all goat people have an excess of bucklings at the same time of year. I tried to get the word out by using a wonderful little weekly sales booklet that allowed us to put in ads for free and pay 10% when we sold the item.That fit my budget perfectly! It circulated all over the eastern half of the state. But no one called for our kids. And I didn't want to feed them milk I could sell. In any case, I couldn't keep them, and as vegetarians we weren't going to eat them...

So I mulled over how to change my success, and one morning I woke up with a new ad to try. Instead of saying Goat Kid For Sale, I submitted, "Bottle feed your own baby goat".

I sold all of them that weekend.

The people buying them had a choice of what to feed them. Some opted to wean them to hay, some to milk replacer (an awful concoction that purports to be like milk but everyone knows from looking at it that it bears no resemblance to anything like milk), and some to, tada! goat's milk! Which they would have to buy from me...

I castrated the young bucks before they went so they would remain small and friendly.

We sold all the goat milk we weren't drinking. And so the goats started to pay for themselves and all our milk and whatever cheese we had the milk to make.

What we ate in the meantime...

Looking back at this point, we recalled that the economy of this little farm depended on growing our own food. Otherwise it would be unaffordable because even back then with 3 children we were spending $500 at the grocery store, and that was $500 we no longer had once we got the new tax bill.

The garden couldn't be hurried, though, and wouldn't be able to feed us even simple greens until June, 9 months after we had bought the property.

So I thought long and hard about how to save money on food.

Buying ingredients instead of prepared foods was a step we had partially taken a few years before. So instead of buying prepared beans, we soaked and cooked our own, saving about 60% of the cost. Or instead of eating cold cereal, with its high cost per ounce, we had oatmeal. Gradually I came to buy most of our food in bulk, and since I had always cooked, I enjoyed converting it into wonderful, inexpensive dishes.

The bulk purchases included many varieties of beans. We loved black turtle bean soup, and its cost was less than $1 for all of us. I cooked lentil soup often, maybe once a week, and it too was a huge budget balancer. See GrammyPeg's Kitchen for recipes.

I also bought grains in bulk. We had wheat, rye, grinding corn, barley, whatever was on sale.

Of course I made bread and various whole-grain biscuits and cookies, and I also made a dinner porridge that we called Tablespoon Soup.

We had been verging on vegetarianism for a while, and that helped balance the budget. We could barter goat's milk for eggs, and so we had plenty of those. And we had the milk.

Gradually I built up a good collection of bulk foods, and we had a lot of variety. There were two foods we never skimped on, though: we always bought real butter and plenty of ice cream.

And of course before the garden produced veggies, we had to buy those.

It was still expensive for us all to eat. And so I had to figure out other ways to ameliorate some of our financial woes, and for that I turned back to the goats.

We start the garden...

March brought babies, a new pregnancy for me, financial woes, and the need to plant the garden. Two academics and their offspring were in for a reality check. It started with the garden...

Reality is never as tidy as the dream. When the Swiss woman planted her garden and inspired the dream we were trying to live, I was amazed at the fine raking and patient measuring she applied to what had been a pile of topsoil. Now we faced thawing sod that consisted of patches of greening grass mixed with mud or large expanses of rock-like still-frozen brownish turf. And who knew what underneath!

We had planned the location and size of the first garden, so on the first warm Saturday afternoon we laid it out by hammering 2x1's into the soil at the four corners, and every 10 feet or so in between. Then we ran string from one to the next, and John started up the new rototiller.

This beast of a machine made a huge noise even when it was in idle. The idea was to lift it up so the heavy tines in the rear didn't reach the sod until it was in the garden area. Then it was to be let down. In that position it would chop and lift and stir the top 8 inches of soil or so.

So John did quite a bit and I did some, and back and forth we went down the 45 feet of length and eventually from side to side. Rocks flew all over, and the kids picked them up. The garden was 3 feet inside the property line and parallel to it, so we put the thousands of rocks, most of them from ancient glaciers, right on the edge of the garden inside the property line.

It was not sufficient to till it once. It took a couple of passes to break up the loam and incorporate the dead grass into the soil and also make sure none of it took root. We were pleased to see that we actually had a large depth of topsoil, deeper than the tiller could cut.

Unfortunately at the house end of the garden John ran into ledge, a massive piece of granite that started just a few inches below the ground. When he hit this unseen piece of bedrock, the tiller leaped forward and threw him out of balance and wrenched his shoulders. It tapered gradually so that by the time it got a dozen feet or so into the length of the garden is was sufficiently below ground level that the tiller didn't hit it. (Later we found that nothing grew well in that area.)

The garden required several more passes with the tiller over days and weeks. The garden needed to dry out and then be retilled. And the weed seeds needed to sprout and then be plowed under. It took nearly a month to get the garden to the stage where it could be planted.

The boys and John had also grubbed out the winter's accumulation in the barn. John, who counts everything, reported that he had wheeled 50 loads of manure and bedding to the garden by the time the job was done. Then it had to be spread out, and tilled in. Several more passes were required to incorporate it fully.

By then April was full upon us. We needed to hurry and begin the planting.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I catch a kid...

The day finally arrived when one of our does liked having me there when she delivered.

It was Elegant, sweet girl!

Elegant had grown right along with her pregnancy, and was looking like a copper blimp. She had grown more and more affectionate. We kept an eye on the calendar and on her, and on the sunny Saturday morning when we figured she was due, she kept close to me during chores.

And when I rubbed her, she voiced her approval in a tender way.

I added some fresh hay to the milkroom and led her into it, and sat on the milkstand so I could see what was going on. Not much, unfortunately.

I left to get some chores done, but she called after me in a loud Nubian voice. The rest of the ladies lifted their heads, then went back to eating their breakfasts.

The sunshine was warmish, but the milkroom was in the shade and cold. I grabbed a warmer jacket, the washbucket, some rags, and a brush. Might as well do some goat grooming while I kept near her.

By the time I got back to the barn, she was lying down and breathing hard. Her mouth was a bit open and she was looking off into space. Hmm! It looked promising.

Then she pushed. And pushed and pushed.

I had no idea how much was a normal amount of pushing, and when I should become concerned. I hurried to let myself into the milkroom. The brush, rags and water went on the little shelf, and I knelt down at Elegant's rear to see what I could see.

Not much.

I have a great respect for natural processes and think we all must work pretty well or we wouldn't have survived this long. So I was ok with waiting and seeing. Except for my natural impatience.

I couldn't tell what might be going on inside with the baby or babies, but goat people had told me the babies had to get themselves untangled and lined up during labor so they could come out face first.

In fact, the normal position, as I reviewed for myself, was the two front legs coming first with the nose just behind the tiny hoofs. Anything else was difficult to make come out right.

After some waiting, she pushed again and I saw a bubble about the size of my fist appear. The front of the baby should be in it, and what I wanted to see as I peered more closely was what part of the baby.

More pushing on Elegant's part gave me a better view, and I quickly saw the two white hoofs. But where was the head? The murky fluid in the bubble didn't give me a good view. Why hadn't I thought to bring a flashlight?

I called to the children, who were out and about doing jobs or cavorting on this first beautiful day of the Spring. I knew they wanted to see the birth. But Elegant was pushing harder now and I went back to trying to figure out if the kid was in the right position.

I was trying to discern the contents of the bubble when suddenly it surged outward and a blackish kid plopped onto the straw, with his face still in the sack.

Elegant reached around and made tentative licks on his tail. But his head was still covered, and he was bobbing his head up and down as if he were trying to get that thing off. I couldn't wait. I pulled at the sack. It was fairly tough, but in a moment - who knows how long! - I had it open and the baby let out a tiny, infantile meh! meh!

Elegant looked startled by the sound and began to lick him more vigorously. Then she quit and began to push again. I rubbed the baby with a rag fairly vigorously and he seemed fine. Then another bubble appeared: Baby #2 was about to be born.

She slid right out. She was red like her mom, but with spots. Cute bright white spots! The sack broke right away and she shook herself.

Sad to say, I scooped them both up and ran them to the house. Elegant would have to love me instead of her babies. She was soon milked, and the babies were fed and settled down to sleep. I treated her to her 'goat tea', the bucket of hot water new mama goats so appreciate, and I brushed her and talked to her and she rubbed her head on me.

The babies were first a little buck, then a little doe. They were gorgeous, with long Nubian ears and a bouncy attitude. We didn't name the little boy because he would end up as someone's pet (and only if he were lucky), but the little girl became Anandalila Velvet and took after her mom in temperament as well as looks. It was a beautiful day!

Elegant had done well for a new mom. Next time she might do more licking and be more self-sufficient. Within a few days she would be one of the goats who leapt onto the milkstand in her turn. And when she saw her babies again, she wouldn't know them. And wouldn't miss them.

At least so we hope.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How we named the goats: An retrospective interlude

We named Monique's goats.

But the reason for the names went back several years in my personal history, so I will take a moment to catch up.

When John became a professor at MIT, we moved from San Diego to Lexington MA and lived in a rented house for two years. During this time we wanted to buy a house but never could save the 20% immutable down payment. And we didn't know how we'd ever be able to.

Then one of John's colleagues, who lived 15 miles south of us in Wellesley, got a job in Maryland and needed to sell his house, but he was having no luck. Seeing this, I offered that we would rent it for a year in lieu of the down payment, and he agreed! So that is how we moved to Wellesley. This was 3 months after Fritz was born.

We joined a church, I began to sing in the choir, and we met a few people. VJ went to nursery school. Our new life was beginning.

A year later we met the Fergusons at a church camp. John had had to go out of town at the last minute, so I took the three children, who were then 5, 3, and 1, alone. The first morning after we arrived, it was all I could do to get them up and dressed in the tent and make it to the dining room for breakfast. I was really tired from trying to settle them the night before, sleep on the hard ground, adjust to the noises of others around us...

As I dragged my cold and tired offspring to the dining room, Kay Ferguson, who was 51 at the time, and her husband Gene, were bounding up the steep hill from the waterfront with great energy. They looked half my age. I grumpily asked what they were doing down there so early in the morning, and Kay chirped, "We were meditating!"

After groaning inwardly, I asked, what's that, and she told me to talk to her son Bob - he could tell me.

It was one of those turning points that doesn't announce itself in a big way, just slips in and changes everything.

Bob was not available to talk, but Kay invited me to a TM lecture in her living room a few weeks later. In it they explained that through Transcendental Meditation (as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), a person could get a rest that was twice as deep as during the deepest stage of sleep. And that in so doing, deep stresses could be relieved. And that with the relief of deep stress, behavior and attitude became more positive...

These three points were music to my ears. If anyone ever needed more rest, less stress, and more positive behavior and attitude, it was I. So I nervously started TM. And I liked it.

The next week, Kay invited me to come over to another meeting and hear about Shaklee. Which I did. And that was life-changing, too, but that's a different story.

A year and a half after starting TM, I went to teacher training, then began to run the Wellesley TM center with Bob Ferguson. I had purpose, and I was happy. I meditated twice a day, and began to see results. I went to TM courses and meditated more so I could make rapid progress: I was really intent on improving myself. And I learned a lot about the basis of TM, which included Vedic literature in Sanskrit.

And that's where the names of Monique's kids came from, and also the name of our farm.

We named them Mataji (Little Mother) and Rani (Princess). Rani is pronounced 'Ronny'. So Mataji and Rani. They were our first babies.

And their names went well with the name of our little enterprise, which was Anandalila Farm. 'Anandalila' means 'the display of joy'. And that's certainly all about goat kids: they bound around and display joy. And we expected we would as a family, too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What you do with baby goats

After I discovered Monique with her babies, I went into full gear with the routine we had decided on.

First, I needed to get them away from Monique. If I wasn't going to leave them on her for their entire childhood, I needed to get them away from her before they got the notion that she was where milk came from. And from thinking Monique was anything special.

(This practice of taking the babies away actually bothered me a lot. But it was considered to be necessary so that the babies would not hurt the udders. It was all well and good that in nature baby goats nursed off their moms, but that only lasted for a few months before the babies would be eating on their own, and we dairy people wanted to milk those udders for 10 months. And so on. So I went along and determined to remove the babies from their moms.)

So I went into the milkroom and scooped the two babies up and ran them to the house, one under each arm. They made baby goat noises, small meh-heh-hehs, and Monique called out to them. Soon I was safely inside. I carried them to the kitchen and put them down on the floor.

The next part of the routine was to check whether we had doelings or bucklings. We of course wanted does. What good is a little boy goat at a dairy? I checked and we had two does!

The third thing was to cover their navels with iodine, so infections couldn't work their way in. Even with a sheet of newspaper on the floor, that was a messy proposition. Baby goats are not prone to standing still, or lying quietly upside down in a lap. And these two were an hour or so old and were getting ready to run and hop.

Fourth, I needed to run back to the barn and milk Monique to get the precious colostrum from her and get it into the babies asap. Chances are they had gotten a little when they were with her, but we wanted them to have all she made. It would jumpstart their immune systems and had everything to do with their future health. And I needed to take a wash bucket with me, and the milk pail, and hot water for Monique: newly delivered does really love to drink hot water, maybe to warm them up after all the work they've just done.

And there wasn't a water bucket in the milkroom, so ...

I gathered up the three buckets, one big one full of hot water, one small one with Basic H and a rag for washing her udder and any other parts that needed attention after the birth (though they do well taking care of things themselves), and the milk pail. I also grabbed some newspaper so I could wrap the placenta in it, if she hadn't eaten it.

After milking out the colostrum, I then needed to bottle it and get it into the babies. We had soda bottles and black lamb nipples waiting, but we'd never used them.

By this time I had helpers home from school. We took turns trying to hold a baby, get the bottle into the mouth, get it to realize something good would happen if it sucked, and not waste colostrum.

The problem was, the nipple collapsed because no air could get into the bottle to replace the colostrum that had come out. We devised a trick of putting a rubber band into the bottle before putting on the nipple, which created enough space to let the air in.

The sixth thing was to clean up everything.

The kid-feeding process would need to be repeated several times a day. These were fully mature young kids, so they could probably go four hours between meals...

The kids grew sleepy after they ate, and we left them lying on the kitchen floor on some clean newspaper. In the normal course of events they would pass their mecomium, and it is a sticky, blackish-green nightmare, during their first day. We wanted that to happen before we put them in their nice clean pen.

Finally all the plumbing was working well, and we carried them to the basement, where they frolicked joyously, slept, ate, and generally fascinated the row of humans who sat watching them hours on end.

One birth down, four to go...


The time was coming for those babies to start to arrive.

The nights were frigid, and we didn't want to be cozy inside while baby goats were getting chilled. Nor did we want to sit in the barn all night. So John set up an intercom in the barn. One receiver stood on the shelf in the milkroom, the other on a desk in our bedroom. Every evening we went to sleep to the munching of goats, but no new little voices.

As it happened, though, Monique's babies were born during the day. I knew she was ready. Her bag had filled, she had some discharge, she was being very affectionate with me.

So I put her in the milkroom where there was no danger of interference from the other goats. I laid down an extra layer of straw. And I sat on the milkstand and waited.

The days were now sunny and above freezing, and a few flies were waking up and flying around. Monique lay on the straw looking calm, giving an air that nothing special was going on. And she caught flies by snapping at them with her mouth, and swallowing them.

Goats are vegetarians. I didn't know if this was part of the nonchalance she was affecting...?

The hours went by. Unfortunately I had a doctor's appointment around the middle of the afternoon, and I just had to leave. I really didn't know what was taking her so long, but at the rate she was going, I'd be back before the kids were born. I just didn't want it to go until sunset when the temperature would drop again.

So I left at the last possible moment, and hurried home and ran to the barn.

There was Monique, in the milkroom, with two tiny, perfectly dried off, standing, nursing, baby goats. Kids.


I was of course delighted that all was well. But I had missed our first birth!

I did strongly suspect that Monique had waited for me to leave before she had her babies. Later I checked with my goat-people friends and they all could tell stories from their own experience of such things.

Sigh. I had to wait another week before I actually saw a birth.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


And then, just as spring was emerging with confidence, a family moved into the old farmhouse on the other 5 acres.

They had kids nearly the right ages, a hippy-like mom, and a dedicated hippy dad.

They wanted goats and chickens.

And all seemed right and good.

But it wasn't. Strange things began to happen. And I didn't know what to do.

Poised for spring...

As the New Year of 1977 came and went, several things happened.

First, we built a pen by putting up a chickenwire fence in one section of our spacious basement, under two windows that let in some sunlight. We filled it with straw and shavings and looked forward to the birth of the first babies, in early March.

Second, we planned our garden. Our property was somewhat narrow and quite deep. We wanted the garden near the house, but we also wanted to leave plenty of room to play frisbee and baseball. We needed to figure out the area we needed, and after much discussion decided to have 3 gardens. (Why would we want to start small? Had we ever started small?)

The First Garden, as we called it, was for the regular things that would be used in the kitchen every day: spinach, peas, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, all the regular vegetables. It was perhaps 12x20. It was to be dug in near the side of the property, about 3 feet in from the property line.

The Second Garden was for perennials, because we wouldn't want to have to plow there in the future and disturb them. These foods included jerusalem artichokes and asparagus, to begin with. The size was huge, maybe 16x30. It was behind the first garden with plenty of space between them for wheelbarrows and walking.

The Third Garden was for big long-season plants, like watermelon, corn, and squash. This one was about 40x40. It was down behind the goat pens, nearly out of sight.

That seemed like enough.

We had read about organic gardening techniques, but not about any intensive methods. What we knew was from childhood, and consisted of:

planting in rows
spraying with a hose

So that was the plan.

Then we thought with all that plowing to do we needed a rototiller, and after much discussion spent a great deal of money on a Troy-Built.

We bought the seeds and they arrived before the ground could be worked.

The does were all bred and growing fat and the milk supply was drastically diminished.

The snow was beginning to melt. Buds were appearing on trees and crocuses and daffodils appeared. Everything was filled with promise.

The arrow was drawn back. The days grew subtly warmer. Ready, set....

Waves of green

Generally speaking, there have been three waves of green. So it seems to me, looking back.

The first was in the early 1960s. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, scientists talked about 'nuclear winter', and Dr Forrest Shaklee realized that the explosion in his lab had yielded a perfectly safe cleaner.

The second was in the 1970s. People like Kay Ferguson began to make noise in her community about recycling, a new concept that meant that we used things over, like newspapers and bottles. And there were plenty of other forces, all geared to helping us save our planet (which we didn't know was endangered) and make us more responsible in our consumption patterns. There was also a back-t0-the-land component, of which we were unknowingly part.

The third is now. It's been going on for several years of course, with more or less success. In the town of Anacortes WA the recycling program is so all-encompassing that the regular trash barrel is less than the size of the one for the recyclables: newspapers, bottles, plastics, etc. Meanwhile, at our apartment in Salt Lake, all we can recycle is newspaper, unless we carry our trash to some unknown, unexplained, and possibly non-existent facility. And of course much else is going on in the name of the environment.

These aren't distinct waves by any means, and I've left out all the part about saving the whales and not mining in national parks, and a lot of work by really good people.

A lot of being 'green' is altruistic or involves the greater good. Some of it is just silly, such as certain measures being touted to prevent global warming.

But when we set up our little farm, it was not really to contribute to the greater good. It was because we felt an urgent need that we could be self-sufficient.

And it was tough! We didn't know how to do it, despite reading book after book. It was ok that we hardly knew what we were doing with the goats, but a garden? Everyone knows how to garden! Before stores, everyone gardened to survive. You dig up the ground, plant seeds, water, and wait. You spray bugs and wait some more. You harvest.

When all your food needs to come from the garden, that knowledge is not enough, and may not even be accurate.

We wanted to be 'green', we wanted to live off the land, and we didn't have a clue how. The question as we entered our first spring on the farm was whether we could learn in time.