Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Adventures in Goat Herding
We knew we'd need two or three does in order to have enough milk for our family of nine to drink, cook with, and make cheese, so we'd planned on buying at least one more doe this year, and that's just what happened. On a Wednesday earlier this month we drove over to a nice Amish woman's farm in Maryland and bought Ella, a five year old doe who had been retired from the herd that Monday, since she's a little hard to milk, and this woman had nearly a dozen does to deal with, so she really didn't have the time that Ella needs. We, on the other hand, figured she would do fine for us. The Amish woman kindly let us milk her before making the decision to buy so we'd know what we were getting ourselves into, and she gave nearly half a gallon of milk.

Well, we brought her home that evening and thethered her inside the pen while we milked Queenie and took care of evening chores, then we tethered her inside the shed when it time to put them to bed. Ella's previous owner had told us to be very careful not to let her get loose for the first week or so, until she has time to get used to us and to her new surroundings and get settled down. Once, Ella had been lent out to a family who needed her milk for their baby, and she broke loose and came home again, so we were trying to be very careful about this.

On Thursday morning, we tethered Ella to a tree beside the garage while I milked Queenie, and then I took a handful of grain to Ella to feed her while we waited for Stephen to take Queenie out to the pasture so I could take Ella to the milkstand. Ella took the handful of grain from me, took a step away and looked back at me and then bolted, breaking her tether!

Mike and Stephen ran after her while I jumped in the van to follow them, but we never caught her. She went down our road to the highway and headed south for a quarter of a mile or so, through a couple of yards, then went into the woods where Mike lost track of her.

We spent the rest of that day looking for her, and with the help of some very nice people (neighbors, animal control people, and even the sheriff were in on the hunt!) we finally caught her late Friday morning and brought her home again. The poor thing - she was scared to death. She had diarrhea for the next week and had to be kept tethered at all times as she still tended to bolt, especially while gazing into the woods from the top of our yard.

We kept milking her, though we had to give her milk to the cat since it wouldn't be wise to drink milk from an unwell animal, and took especial care with her feeding and water, and finally on Monday of this week she was well and we began keeping her milk.

Ella gives about three cups of milk morning and evening, and Queenie gives about two in the morning and one in the evening, which totals a little more than half a gallon a day, just a little more than we normally use in a day. Now, real dairy people refer to the amount of milk in terms of weight - a pint (2 cups) weighs about one pound - but we don't have a dairy scale yet, so we make do with measuring cups.

Queenie's kid isn't weaned yet, so that's why we get so little from her right now. Blue is about six weeks old now and will be weaned in another couple of weeks, just as Queenie should be reaching her peak production, so I'm thinking we'll be getting close to a gallon of milk a day this summer.

Time to order rennet for cheesemaking!

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