What a week! I guess it actually hasn't even been a whole week, but the whirlwind of it all has made the past few days feel like only a split second and a month at the same time. We've been on a mission since last Thursday and I'm just now getting a chance to come up for air and bang out a blog post. And ooooh ho ho, what a mission!
It all started last Thursday around noon when I went to go take a look at a goat. The plan for this season is to find 2 does in milk for a steady cheesemaking/experimentation/yummy personal use supply and several kids to build a herd with. Ideally, I'd like to have one Nubian and one Alpine doe to have the opportunity to compare milk qualities. Nubians produce an amazing quality of milk known for its higher percentage of butterfat. Alpines, while also giving a wonderful quality of milk, are known for being heavy producers. I'd like to have the chance to try the same recipe with one milk, then the other, and then a mix of the two and learn what what will work best for the cheeses we want to make.
We've had the Alpines all lined up for a few months now, but I've been having a pretty difficult time finding a Nubian in milk in Tennessee. A day after checking with all of the local dairies and producers a 2nd time around and still coming up with nothing, out of the blue one popped up. Lo and behold, there was a Nubian in milk and she was only 15 minutes away! I called the owner immediately. The owner was out of town, but she had someone stopping by daily to feed and water the animals. She could show me the goat, Bridget. Usually the owner leaves the kids on her does and then dries off the does after natural weaning. Bridget, however, lost her doe kid just 2 weeks earlier and the owner suddenly found herself with a goat that needed to be milked and a business trip coming up in a few days! She decided the best thing she could do was try to find a good home for Bridget where she would be milked (or dried off) ASAP. Enter Sweetbreads.
I went over and met Bridget the next day. Her sweet nature came through as soon as I stepped through the gate into her pasture. She came right up to me and nuzzled my hips and hands a bit and let herself be pet and scratched. I was taken with her pretty strawberry and cream coloring and the little freckles on her frosted ears. I tried to remember everything I had read about goat conformation and do some checking. Her back, straight and pointed slightly uphill. Her chest, although not a barrel is not too narrow. Her udder, well attached... Her udder... Yikes! Her udder! Her left side was about 3 times the side of the right and hot and hard to the touch. All I could think was that she maybe had mastitis, which can cause permanent damage and scarring to the udder if not caught and treated in time. I called the owner and offered to meet the vet at her farm so he could check Bridget out. She called and the soonest they could make it out was Monday morning - 4 days later. If I would be willing to bring her in though, they could see her at their offices on Friday morning. The owner had a truck parked at her farm that I could use and the woman who had been feeding the goats could come over to help me load her. The Vet was about a 20 minute drive away, and I'd have to drive through a city to get there.
I have to admit, I was a little worried. I had just met Bridget and I know it takes a while before an animal will really trust you. What if she freaked out, hopped out of the truck and got smushed?! I have never owned a goat and wasn't sure I'd be able to wrangle her, but the reality was what it was - Bridget needed to get checked out and possibly treated ASAP. I'd just have to make it work. Then I also realized that Bridget needed to be milked, the sooner the better. If she did have a mastitis infection, there would be nothing worse for her than to be holding milk and the infection in. Now, I've "stripped" goats (milking out a few squirts) before milking them with a machine, but I'd never milked out a goat by hand, or any other animal for that matter! In an attempt to prepare for our two does I'd been watching as many youtube videos of the deed as I could and reading anything I could get my hands on, but we all know just how different actually doing something is. How was I going to milk out this poor girl with an ouchy and swollen udder that she wouldn't let me get near? Better yet, how was I going to do this without a milking stand to secure her in?
Well, a tree and a husband worked just fine! The local farm stores didn't have teat dip or udder wash, so I cleaned and dipped with a recipe by Fias Co Farm (recommended by goat dairy owners too!) before I rested my cheek against her side and started to milk. After a few minutes we fell into a rhythm and the worries of the day were melted away by her warm flank and heart beat. It was relaxing and satisfying and soon the pail was almost half way full. I couldn't help but give myself a little mental pat on the back for how well this was all going. Of course, she then started to dance and Scrapple had to hold on for dear life while she bucked around and I tried to hang in there and finish her off! I can't blame her. On top of having a tender udder, she isn't used to being milked by anyone other than one of her babies. I'm sure being tied to a tree and having her teats squeezed wasn't her idea of fun either!
The next morning we loaded Bridget into the back of the truck and visited the vet. Bridget would need an infusion in her udder once a day for 5 days, and milking twice a day would do wonders to help as well. Part of me wanted to just buy her right then, but I was torn. I really liked Bridget, but would it be smart to invest in a goat that already has problems? Having not been milked for a week, her body had slowed down on milk production. Would I have enough milk from her? What if I didn't find another Nubian in milk? Now's the season to find one and time is almost up...
Regardless, Bridget needed to be milked and treated and I was happy to do it. For the next few days Scrapple and I divided our time between frantically trying to get a stall and loafing area built and running back and forth to milk and treat Bridget. The first time I gave her the udder infusion was terrifying. I was so afraid of hurting her. Just try to imagine someone sticking something UP YOUR NIPPLE. Ek! She was fine though and now she doesn't seem notice.
During this whole ordeal I had many phone conversations with her owner. I could tell how horrible she felt about not being home to take care of Bridget. All of her goats were very well tended and she obviously cared a great deal. I kept her updated as often as I could and during our calls I found that I had someone smart and funny on the other line. By day 3 I felt like I had made new friend and when she came home on Sunday we greeted each other with hugs. She was so thankful that we were able to step in and care for Bridget that she gave her to us as a gift! She even came over and helped us finish up prepping the goat housing and leant me her truck to pick up a hay rack. We ate dinner together that evening and she schooled us in goat care and shared some of what she'd learned in her years raising them.
Now, only 5 days later, we have a new friend and a new goat. We're so grateful for both. We brought Bridget over on Sunday night and built a milking stand yesterday. She's here with a friend of hers that her previous owner let us borrow, an adorable wether (neutered male), who will keep her company until this weekend.
I don't know if I couldn't have made it through the weekend without having Talitha from Edgwick Farm on speed dial. Even though we've only spent one day together in person, I felt like I had a mentor when she answered my call on Thursday night before I headed over to try to milk Bridget for the first time. She gave me a much needed pep talk and was on the other end of the line when I needed her advice and troubleshooting tips. Thank you, Talitha! You're a superstar!
Bridget seems to be settling into her new home. She's curious and loves peeking over her stall door to see what we're up to in the barn. We're really enjoying having her here!