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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 115............Spring 2003  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Kidding, Gathering, Weaving


It's not been an easy time of it -- this kidding season that began for us on March 1st. First of all there were the setbacks. We still had not completed the barn as we would have liked, the weather was throwing a tantrum, goats needed shearing and very pregnant does needed to be monitored closely.splash dot!


The stalls were ready enough, though. A couple of stalls stood open to receive does whose kidding dates were imminent. Three were suddenly all due at once and we had run out of space. So, of course, those three does were sequestered together in one nice, dry "jug" and asked to cooperate as roommates for a short season. They instead found themselves squabbling and that over the smallest details in life – such as who pigged out on the most alfalfa or who slept nearest the light. One morning I found them arguing over whom of the three had inconsiderately left berries in the water bucket. Well, perhaps it's best to just take entries from my Goat Shepherd's Journal and place them here for you to read.splash dot!


"Goat Shepherd's Journal, 2003":

Last week of February: The weather took a turn for the worst. A wind whipped itself up from the north and stirred up a cold front that felt as though it would penetrate to the very marrow. We know it is high time to shear the goats, but who could have foreseen such a cold snap? I'm glad that we calendared all the breedings last Fall; I know which doe is due to kid and which does are still gestating. Do they ever follow my calendar? For the most part, yes.splash dot!


We have put three of our does in a warm birthing "jug." There is a heat lamp above them. I'll be checking them all during the night hours, perhaps in two or three hour intervals, trekking up that long hill to the barn to make sure all is fine. I can't wait for Stan to get that intercom going!splash dot!


I'm looking forward to Coppertone giving birth. She remains my favorite brown doe and holds such a rich, dark brown fleece. I love working with mohair, but colored mohair - especially the dark colors, is a real treat. There is no doubt in my mind that Coppertone will give us a dark brown kid. Maybe kids?splash dot!


We were going to start shearing this week. Great plans dashed again. The weather rode in as though it was a vanquishing marauder wielding an icy sword. So, we decided to wait before shearing. If we do shear, it will be only the does that are due to kid. It will be our famous "mushroom haircuts" – where we shear the back half of the goat so that new kids can find the teat easily, but the doe still feels covered and warm with mohair. The less "shock" to these very pregnant does, the better, in my book. As the weather gradually warms, we can complete the shearing of these strange looking half-naked goats.splash dot!


Snow never made its way here (not even when winter was at its rooster crowing crest) – unusual for these high southern Cascade mountain tops that always gather white powder in winter. We've certainly seen a lot of bluster, though in increments. One day will be balmy, sunny and warm enough to be called T-shirt weather. The next day will suddenly ride in with a chill in the air that makes us zip up our warmest jackets. All winter long I continued to look up at the high mountain just behind us – hoping to see it looking like a giant vanilla ice cream cone in its usual postcard picture fashion. Each time the fog cleared itself there was that naked mountain, standing starkly brown and green.splash dot!


Last day of February: It's still been cold. Puckering its lips, each day seems to arrive blowing, and its wind is never a warm one. It would be kite flying weather if it were not such a biting wind. It swirls around the place, but still I put on my coat and trudge with the goats into the wide open pasture. The grasses have been coming on but are in their earliest growth stage. Always we have to watch that we are not over-grazing these early grasses. It may be that I'll move them to the adjacent pasture soon. There's been a lot of sun, but always there is a crispness in the air. After all, spring is not really here yet.splash dot!


I'm glad, by the way, that my calendar of who will kid when seems to be holding firm. I'm excited about Iyce, the copper red doe due soon, as well as B-2. Will B-2, white as she is, throw color this year? I have a strange premonition she will, though I can't be sure, of course…splash dot!


March 1: We had our first kid born out of the light red doe, Bryce. He's a beautiful dark brown strapper!** NOTE: With all the various names for goat patterns and coloration (i.e., "badger" ,"reverse badger", "solid", "pinto", etc.,) the reader may think that "strapper" is another colored angora goat term. Nay, but rather strapper in this instance means that the buckling was long legged, strong as an ox, nearly had horns growing from those infant hornbuds, and hungry to boot!splash dot!


Bryce had been bred to Willow, of course. Willow is one of the nicest bucks Stan or I have ever seen. He is a light red color now that he is a big adult buck, but just the same looks to me as though he hailed from a registered herd. What a great addition to this fledgling enterprise he has been.splash dot!


March 4: Coppertone gave us a little doeling late this afternoon! I'm so glad about this intercom system. We heard her in labor and I immediately left dinner preparation along with a hungry husband and went up the hillside to check on things. What a pretty brown doe she kidded! But mama did not want to nurse. I went out for at least three hours and finally had to ask Stan to assist me so that we could persuade the doe to nurse her young one. Finally we succeeded. Dinner was late because it was not easy getting her to bond to her little one. Sometimes kidding takes precedence over anything around here, including our meals. We are just now eating dinner, and it's a late one.splash dot!


The Oregon rains have begun to fall again – warming things up a bit, though all of Oregon clay turns into a boot sucking mud when the rains come as heavily as they have been.splash dot!


The doe and her little one are snug as a bug in their jug, my poetry is as wanting as ever, and I finally am relaxing in front of the Russian fireplace, the brick front radiating nicely. It's been a long day, but it's apparent that mother has accepted the little brown doe. I'll check her again at about 3 a.m.splash dot!


3:00 am March 5: I just made a check of the little doeling and don't think anything is wrong, and yet something just "feels" amiss. I keep looking to see if she passed that first tar-like plug, but it looks that her rear end is very clean. Well, maybe soon enough I'll be relieved of my worry in that respect. I'm going back to bed. Her mouth was warm when I put my finger in it. All she wanted was to sleep – so I left her curled up. She will be a nice doe when she grows up.splash dot!


March 6, early morning: Just brought Coppertone's little one inside and am afraid that she is bloated. Could she have taken in too much milk? Is she constipated? I vote for the latter. I am thinking of giving her a small enema. I'm at a loss as to what to do.splash dot!


She was limp as a dishrag when I picked her up this morning. I was not expecting that. It looked as though she had been accepted by her mother and that she was suckling just fine when I left her there in the jug last night. I can't understand what has happened in so short a space of time. Her belly looks so distended. I don't want to lose this pretty kid.splash dot!


March 6, late afternoon: We lost her. I am pretty distraught about that right now and won't be entering much in my journal tonight. I tried everything I knew to do to save this doeling with the dark brown fleece. I have always known that the angora goats are fragile animals, but losing one has never been easy for me.splash dot!


March 7, early: Seemingly and so often nature has a way of replacing shepherding sorrows with shepherding joys – and that is a fact. The intercom system works great – Stan did a fantastic job putting it together. It is stationed on his side of the bed, and my light sleeper husband was kept awake all night as he listened to grunting and burping goats. The sound that most caused him to blink in the dark, however, was the grating of horns against the metal gate, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard. We know it is Lena and we suspect that she knows all about the intercom system and that she is chuckling to herself as she rubs her horns against the struts of the gate.splash dot!


Meanwhile, I slept soundly because I know Stan's wide awake ears will hear any squalls from newborns and he awaken me if he does.splash dot!


I had already been up for a couple of hours and was preparing breakfast when both of us heard the speaker in the bedroom broadcasting that a doe was very much in labor. Morning having broken with sun on the landscape, I was thankful that at least one doe in the group decided that twilight or nightfall was not the time to give birth. By the time I began my fast paced trek up the hill to the barn the sun had already begun to paint the land a golden hue. According to my calendar, it was B-2's day to give birth.splash dot!


There she was, the calendar right on once more - and she wasgrunting and groaning there in the yard. The big white doe looked around and saw me and then pushed once more – stretching her neck and pointing her nose to the sky.splash dot!


Stan was behind me. A few curious does stood around her watching the proceeding, as though nursemaids who wanted to be there just in case she needed their help. There it was: a small head in its birth sac was now protruding from behind her. Just in time…I thought to myself. Then I saw that the head was a dark head. Could that be a tiny black newborn? My heart skipped a beat. The same doe had given us a black doeling about three years previously.splash dot!


As the sun buttered the landscape with its warmth, I entered the pen. Stan, meanwhile, crept up to me with excitement edging his voice.splash dot!


"A black one…" he whispered. We both love color surprises and this surely was one. We sat down on a decaying log inside the enclosure and grunted with the doe until finally the big headed kid had tumbled forth upon the grass, wet and wiggling, spitting and sputtering, drawing its first breaths in a new and fascinating world.splash dot!


"I'm afraid to look!" I said to my spouse (this was in regard to sexing the shiny black haired kid.) We both wanted it to be a doeling – but this jet black kid looked big and its head looked, well, rather blocky and square -- "bucky." Not to worry – buckies have their place, I thought to myself, trying not to be so adamant about choosing what gender my goats must be.splash dot!


"It's got to be a buck. Look at the size of it!" Stan voiced my thought aloud. I was not so sure yet. Walking over to the wet kid (already being cleaned by the doting doe) I suddenly swooped up the little newborn and pointed its "belly" at my husband, shutting my eyes tight. The doe stood by me and asked me to put her kid down.splash dot!


"OK, give me the bad news. It's a buck, right??"splash dot!


He was quiet for a moment – and then I heard his response. "We've got a nice little black doeling I do believe…"splash dot!


B2 and her muschroom cut

B2 with a famous Singing Falls mushroom haircut

The rains have come again and everything is a velvet carpet ‘neath our feet. Losing Coppertone's kid was hard, but still we are seeing tiny kids romping at the heels of their mothers, weaving in and out of those long doe legs as quickly as my shuttle flies through the loom's open shed. It's kidding season – the kids so far that have dropped all seem so healthy, and for me, it's just a happy time to be alive.splash dot!


That was my journal's last entry, and I sent this column on to Peggy, our fine editor in chief. Then, on the evening of March 17 another kidding occurred on the place. I asked Peggy's permission to include this entry herewith and she cordially granted it. All of this occurred last night, so the memory is fresh.splash dot!


We had just finished our wonderful spaghetti dinner. I had created the sauce from scratch, with fresh garlic and dried basils, taste-inspiring thymes and canned tomatoes, all of it readily laced with a homemade wine. The sauce was fit for a king (or Polish prince, whom I oft accuse my spouse of secretly being) and I scooped it generously over pasta. I was only a bit distracted, for I knew that the big blue eyed doe was due soon. The calendar, in fact, said March 17 - Blue Eyes. But, we had the intercom system going – did not hear anything astir in the barn - so felt safe. Anyway, she had not looked quite ready when I last had seen her after grazing with the goats all day.splash dot!


Of course, had I suspected that she would drop a kid while I delicately wound long strands of soy spaghetti around a shiny fork inside my warm cottage (while a cold wind swirled itself outside) I would have immediately quit the Italian cuisine."Time to check the goats, hon," I said to Stan on my way out the door and after patting my lips with a napkin.splash dot!


A stiff wind greeted me the moment I stepped outside, circling around me in a fury while the light of a large gold-gilt moon lit the hillside path. I had forgotten that it would be a full moon and its stark presence was strangely awesome, disconcerting, compelling. I watched it as a poet would, thinking of sublime ways to describe the scene in the sky when suddenly it capriciously hid itself behind a pillar of dark night cloud, completely vanished except for the starkly luminescent outline behind the cloud. Eerie but beautiful, the thought held true within me. Well, time to quit my ruminating on full moons and such like and check those goats…splash dot!


I pulled my coat tight against me as another bluster of wind whistled through the trees, swung the barn gate open, and entered the barn's inner sanctum. Goats greeted me with soft mutterings. Then I heard the tiny squalls of a newborn.splash dot!


Oh no. A newborn. Blue Eyes. Where is she? All my thoughts cascaded. There was no time to lose from the moment the sound was in my hearing. I ran to where the cries were emanating. Yes, she had given birth, Blue Eyes had, and there he was in a cold puddle of birthing fluids there by the feeder. The ground was gold and the stars lit up a clear sky above him, his only real welcome, it seemed, to a cold new world. I found myself scooping up a limp kid, my heart thumping in my chest. It was apparent to me that this one would die soon if I did not intervene.splash dot!


There are times that shepherding these very fragile creatures takes instant decision making – and this was one of those times. At other times you can allow nature to take her course and let the kid take its time getting up and finding sustenance. In this instance, however, I knew I had no other choice. That kid had to get warm immediately.splash dot!


It seemed as though he had been born recently. That was in my favor. As I held him in my arms I could see that he was what the books call "a flat kid", cold as death itself, and as I held my pinky finger in his mouth I felt the coldness there. He had no instinct to suckle.splash dot!


So, in the house again - I placed the big blue pan in the bathtub, filling the pan with very warm water. Then I placed the tiny red body, so cold, wet and limp in my hands, into the pan of water. He let out a cry once or twice. That was the only sign of life I had for a while there. I kept him in there and refilled his "bath water" twice. After fifteen minutes of that, I took him out and toweled him off. The blow dryer (on a warm setting) was next. Finally he was dry.splash dot!


I placed my little finger in his mouth. Cold. Will he suckle? There was no sucking reflex. Thankfully, though, he began to shiver in earnest. A good sign. He was responding to the warmth.splash dot!


I read one time the wise words of one of the Newsletter's columnists (and if memory serves me correctly, it was Joan Wooten who said it) - that one should "not be too hasty to tube feed." I believe she was speaking of lambs at the time, but this can be useful to those of us who raise goats. I waited at least an hour for his body to warm up, though I was so tempted to "rush things along." We had placed him near the Russian masonry furnace and he was sleeping peacefully, still shivering.splash dot!


Noting he was still cold in his mouth but that he decidedly wanted to eat, his sucking reflex suddenly having kicked in, I decided to head back to the barn. Blue Eyes was crying for her kid and I entered the jug with my milk pail and took ahold of one teat. Wonderful warm life giving colostrum finally zipped in a steady stream into my pail. I told her before leaving her – "I'll bring him back to you soon…"splash dot!


Coming back to the house, I placed that warm milk in a small bottle and he drank it down – all of it.splash dot!


March 18: It took a few hours (and I received but little sleep because of it) but finally this morning it was apparent. They had bonded solidly. That was after so long a time of her rejecting the poor little guy. Truly, Blue Eyes has accepted her tiny red buckling and he is now the apple of her eye. He cannot stop eating. His appetite is voracious, though he is the smallest angora goat I think I have ever seen. If I use a big enough teacup, he probably would fit well inside one. She loves him now, and does not mind a him a bit as he dances from one teat to the other under her legs. No longer was she attempting to avoid his hungry mouth as she had all night long. Don't you love happy endings? I do, and this was one for me.splash dot!


The moral of this saga (which seemed to be a tug-of-war between life and death for a long time) was – DON'T EVER GIVE UP HOPE. If there is life, there is hope. My husband took one look at the little red kid suckling with a vengeance this morning and turned to me, his blue eyes shining (my husband's, not the kid's, for the kid's eyes seem to be a pale gold color) and he paid me one of the nicest of compliments, or at least the kind of compliment I like to hear:

"Job well done, shepherdess!"splash dot!


Little Squeak

Little kid buck and his lean momma

Many more kids to come before it's all over. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more color as the kids keep arriving. It's a thrilling season for me, personally, and even when we do suffer loss, the overwhelming sense of blessing that seems to come with kidding season always topples the gloom.splash dot!


Mohair, the Diamond Fiber

An order for a huge mohair rug just came in today. Our customer asked that we weave one 5 feet x 7 feet. That will take a lot of mohair. I like to pack that wonderful fiber into my rugs (all on a linen warp) so that the rugs are sturdy and thick. Mohair, naturally fire resistant, makes a perfect hearth rug.splash dot!


Over the years as we sheared the goats and put away the mohair, marking each bag with the goat's name and number, separating the silvers and the browns and reds from the purely white fleeces, we began to accumulate a lot of adult mohair. There was a place for all the wonderful soft and fine handspun kid hair that I skeined up, as well as the softer than a cloud yearling hair, for my weaving projects utilized the softest mohair always. It dismayed me that much of our adult mohair would accumulate until it wanted to rot from Oregon moisture or be consumed by the moth that doth corrupt.splash dot!


"What to do with this stuff?" I puzzled over and again, in regard to the adult fiber. Then I began the task (because of an order that came in one day) of putting together a lovely rug on the loom. There was no doubt in my mind after that. Adult mohair was the fiber of choice for rugs, any coarseness inherent in the fiber not really that noticeable under foot. Indeed, in a rug, the mohair glistened as though diamonds under light. Each rug is filled to the brim with tendrils that stand themselves high and curled as though a fleece newly shorn from a goat.splash dot!


She wants a purely white mohair rug like the one pictured on our rug page. (See if you are interested in viewing the process I utilize to weave these rugs.) This way of weaving rugs would work fine with wool also.splash dot!


Now that the order has come in, I will find myself busy at loom and wheel for the next couple of weeks. As my hands sort out the mohair that I'll be using to spin the cordage, I'll know the name of the doe or buck who owns the fleece and thank them for it.splash dot!


Just Kidding (Once More)

I'll be getting up again tonight, though none of the does are calendared to give birth for another two or three days. I like to make at least one "check" in the night.splash dot!


So, up the slick muddy path trod heavily by human feet and dog paws, I will make my way. Dog paws? I have one Australian shepherd who believes it is his duty to accompany me on every visit to the goat barn. He enters the barn alongside me, his blue merled coat soft as silk against my legs as he stays close by. Then I watch him slowly veer from me as he makes his careful rounds through the barn. A muffled cry wends its way back to me. A doe has butted him, just to keep him in his place.splash dot!


He leaves her quickly and checks out the recently born goat infants who sleep in dark corners, sometimes with their mothers and sometimes by themselves. He seems to be counting heads, assuring himself that all is well. The aussie always makes me smile, his clownish face so serious as he goes about his duties. He'll stand around and wait for me to hay the goats or he'll pace nervously if the sheep suddenly come on the scene and try to ravage the hay that is in my arms. He keeps the sheep at bay when the goats draw close to the barn. He likes order, and like a drill sergeant, keeps it so.splash dot!


The light inside the barn glows from the stall in the far corner. Behemoth yew wood posts cast their gray shadows all around us. Forty or more pairs of goat eyes are on us as we, the dog and I, make our rounds. The shearing table (or what we call a "shearing table") is in the midst of the barn. It makes a convenient "seat" for me at times like this, and I seat myself, the dirty green "barn coat" snugly wrapping me. The rains continue to come down, but all is warm and dry inside. Suddenly a goat has jumped up onto the table and is next to me. I feel my hair being tugged gently from behind, goat breath warm on my neck.splash dot!


"Zebulite, no!" I push her away, but not impatiently. Who can be angry with a friendly and curious goat? Certainly not I. Can you be?splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484