Strong winds & squally showers battered at the window as I reluctantly hauled myself out of an all-too-warm bed.
I was certainly right to bring the sheep in, yesterday afternoon, even though it had ended up being a real battle. The majority of the flock followed me all-too-happily back to their snug shed; with only new mums Jelly & Camilla proving a little reluctant. Jelly was carefully protective of lambs who were by now, far more sure-footed than she gave them credit for; whilst Camilla obstinately refused to budge from the typically highest & most-exposed point of the field – despite the fact that her poor little newborn was up on his feet & anxious to join his two tiny chums; not to mention, shivering like mad.
Although it was only a normally short trip it took me the best part of an hour to even begin to persuade Camilla to follow her lamb. It is extremely frustrating but you need endless patience: in their anxiety at losing a little one, the ewe doesn’t seem to be able to ‘see’ her lamb, & repeatedly returns to the place the lamb was born in spite of the fact the little creature is no longer there – but is bellowing at the tremulous top of his/her lungs – to persuade Mum that she needs to move on.
However, in the end, we eventually got there….& the whole flock are now contentedly cuddled up in the Lambing Shed until there’s a significant improvement in the weather.
Meanwhile, with neither our ‘Carlos-Fandango’ multi-£1000 milking parlour up-&-running owing to lack of a compressor, lack of a jetter & lack of a computer programmer; & our faithful stalwart twin-armed galvanised Bucket Milker (the envy of many a small dairy herd, I can tell you) is sporting the World’s Most Errratic Vacuum Pressure, I’ve had to resort to the good old tradition of handmilking our Milkforce.
Thankfully, as I’m holding off until the Senior Ladies have kidded, much of the milk (including the otherwise punishing four-times-per-day bottle-feeding regime) is being carried out by my trusty caprine staff. And whilst this initially means less milk for us in the long run we should benefit overall as the girls are being constantly tapped for their supply. And this year’s kids are very big, & very greedy – & drinking a helluva a lot of the “white stuff”.
Every morning & evening I do milk the majority of the goats; albeit I’m sure you can appreciate that handmilking (apart from being an art) does take time & energy, especially when there are so many other things to tackle when running a fledgeling business.
And different goats have decidely different ideas, when it comes to milking – especially, handmilking. There’s the likes of Thistle, who cuds benignly whilst I squeeze away; albeit at the moment with her uncomfortable masititis even she is becoming a consumate expert at the most painfully well-aimed kick.
Armeria is the Perfect Goat: capacious udders, coupled with an amiable, unphased temperament; & she’ll stand contentedly in the middle of the pen whilst I help myself to however much milk I need – even though she’s already feeding triplets & needs to produce a phenomenal amount, just to cater for her offspring. Mind you, we’re particularly attached to Armeria, as she is a Goat with History. Shortly after she arrived here as one of our first-ever goats, she fell dramatically ill with a fever. We’d been celebrating Tony’s new airline job after his retirement from the RAF- having just popped the cork on a bottle of goodly champagne – when we discovered her rapidly-deteriorating predicament. In a panic, the vet was summoned. Or so we thought….
“A feverish goat kid, you say? Meet me at the surgery in ten minutes.” Up until that point we hadn’t encountered Angus’ abrupt efficiency. “Oooerr”, I slurred to Tony. “We’ve got to takesh her to the shurgeree…..” Fortunately Tony’s ability to ‘sober up’ extraordinarily rapidly, has improved over his RAF career; & the modest glass he’d supped didn’t leave a trace in his now anxiously-determined demeanour.
But then there was the next problem: whilst we’d described Armeria – technically correctly – as a ‘kid’ she was by no means, a newborn; at seven months old she was decidedly sturdy & certainly no lightweight. Having heaved her into his arms Tony unceremoniously plonked her onto my lap as I sat in the passenger seat of the truck. Even with some careful manouevring we could only fasten the seatbelt, with difficulty; & then Tony found that he could only get second & fourth gears as her behind was in the way!
We somehow lurched to the surgery at around 10pm, arriving successfully with the feverish little goat.
“I thought you said she is a kid?” Angus asked in bewilderment when we arrived.
“We think she is”, we replied. “I assumed you meant she was only a few days old….” Ah.
Having received her medication we were instructed to take her home & keep her warm. We sheepishly returned through the darkened streets of the little market town, hoping we wouldn’t be spotted by the local Police for such highly unethical behavior (although we’ve since discovered our noctural antics were by no means unusual – & even pretty ‘tame’ compared to other agricultural goings-on!).
On arrival back at the Ffarm the ailing Armeria was tucked up in front of the Rayburn with a warm bottle of milk – & quickly enjoyed the routine of being a House Goat. She made a swift recoverey & ever afterwards has proved an easy-going, faithful companion…albeit she is now far too big to come in the house any more!
Dark chocolate Ninny-Goat is an eternal, & extremely vocal, worrier; she actually insists I squeeze her udders at least a couple of times a day so that she can fuss over me & ‘nurse’ me, as if I was one of her very own kids. Vine is suffocatingly loving, demanding Beeg Hugs from the moment I appear in the Dairy Complex; & delicate, deer-like Thummy is similarly helpful & inherently trusting in spite of her flightly demeanour. Whereas – at the other end of the scale – big bruiser Wolfie’s massive-but-uneven udder will only take so much (which is not much), before she beats the absolute living daylights out of me.
Apricot demands to be milked, hovering anxiously at the milking parlour doorway; however once in there, kicks up such a panicky fuss that I feel like keeping a shot of sedative on hand to make either her – or me – sufficiently drowsy to leave the scene without causing an accident. Pudding, too, has literally proved to live up to her name: the slightest out-of-the-ordinary incident & she literally blobs, legs akimbo to the four points of the compass with udders squashed beneath. It takes almost superhuman strength & persuasion, to gently raise her back onto her feet & coax her up into the parlour; interestingly her month-old daughter Celynen displays the identical trait. And whilst by no means myotonic, it is nevertheless a worryingly novel panic reflex.
Morganna is touchy, & tetchy; & furthermore can sport the most disapproving face you’ve ever seen if Things Aren’t Going Her Way. Tango goes out-&-out to be awakward, it seems; however when the chips are truly down she does seem to sense it & can be remarkably (& relievedly) tractable. Eek & Koo are great pals & hate to be separated for even a moment; Breezy has a disposition perfectly suited to her name, although Chums Wattie & Tippy are somewhat more reserved. Oh yes; but Agro seldom gives me any; whilst Angry Aggie is a loud, brash & amusing character. And that’s just a few of the girls….
People often ask me how on earth I can tell one chocolate-coloured goat, apart from another? To the unitiated, they all look the same. However they are all such highly individual personalities, & such fascinating characters, that it’s surprisingly easy to get to know them, their likes, dislikes & curious little foibles.
And despite the odd bruising & battering I receive when sitting on my little milking stool & hearing the rhythmic music of the milk squirting in to the pail, I wouldn’t change it for the world.