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The Quill
Of the
Is Art
For The Mind
And Heart




~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 104............Summer 2000  *~~


image of author ϕ


THE HOMESTEAD: By Stanley John Petrowski


**I asked my husband to write of his own shepherding experiences for this column. He balked but finally, under coercion, conceded. I offered to make him a blackberry cobbler in return. Alexandra Petrowskisplash dot!



The Shepherd's Point of View

The angora goat standards (for both registered white goats and more recently, colored angoras) are the result of years of research and experience. The written standards delineate the "ideal" angora goat. A breed standard (helping us to determine "who to keep and who to cull") is certainly necessary and advantageous. Each breeder is going to fine tune the characteristics found within his herd according to the many variables that impact his operation. Is the herd large or made up of a few hand fed individuals? What type of methods are used to maintain the health integrity of the herd? Are your winters cold and snowy, or warm and rainy? Is your terrain marginal rocky or muddy bottomland?splash dot!


Management variables are as diverse as each individual operation. These variables will influence directly what a herd will look like in the end. Thankfully, there is a broad enough scope of diversity in the standard to allow for radically different animal types, including, for instance, the extent of oil content in the fleece, individual animal size, or the type of crimp in the fleece.splash dot!


the good shepherd

Shepherding at Singing Falls

Variables will change from year to year, influencing how your herd appears. Warmer winters will bring on more worm infestation; an exceptionally cold winter will bring its own set of dilemmas for the shepherd to deal with. There will be lush springtime pasture or sometimes the unfortunate drought year. Another variable is size of pasture. How large of an area do the animals have to browse? Are your goats fed entirely on goat pellet rations or are they left by and large to fend for themselves in an open field or on a brushy mountainside?splash dot!


The Perfect Specimen – A Figment?

An animal may appear as though it is the "ideal" distilled into one specimen, garnering the ribbons in the shows and commanding the large price. Take that same animal, introduce it to an entirely different feeding regime, and the ideal once perceived seems lost. It can work the opposite way also. We have purchased less than perfect angora goats and placed them on the farm, finding ourselves later amazed by how their fleeces flourished and blossomed here. Sometimes the adaptations to our environment appear in the next generation. Always it is gratifying to see that our pastures, browse and way of shepherding achieves an ideal we are looking for. Of course there are the few animals that seem to never acclimate, and by virtue of attrition their gene pool is eliminated from the herd.splash dot!


Tragedy is another variable that can strike a low blow to a breeding program. Many a superior buck specimen or even entire gene pools of a herd have been lost due to accidents, disease, and natural disaster. We still recall with a twinge of remorse our loss of a very promising young black buck one blustery winter day. We had staked high hopes on him becoming a future herd sire. In the two succeeding breeding years following his untimely death we still have not been able to replace him. Ah, the shepherd always hopes for "next year"…splash dot!


Breeding Practices

Another powerful influence on your herd will be your breeding practices. The wise shepherd will have a grasp of the elements that make up the "goods" that he has to work with and order his breeding program accordingly. One of the biggest elements in determining the ideal for each individual will be how the fiber will be utilized. Is it a "spinners' fleece" herd catering to a specialized constituency - or is it a commercial venture that will be producing fiber for large textile industries? Perhaps you have two or three specimens that provide you with your own jealously guarded fleece, utilized by you alone. If you've found what you're looking for, you will certainly attempt to perpetuate what you have.splash dot!


We at Singing Falls shepherd with a wide range of subtle variables that are most often dictated by the seasons. We have set our own "standard" as it were - a "model" that certainly stays within the confines of the breed standard, but is sharply skewed in some areas. We do a lot of spinning and weaving in our cottage industry and desire to cater to individuals who lean toward natural colored fibers. We also dye fiber, and therefore want a fleece that is not overly oily. A unique breeding characteristic we like to see is a more "open face" in our goats. We have learned the hard way that "snow blindness" (from an overly covered face) has led to tragedy and loss. We do understand fully that face coverage is a VERY important indicator of the fleece body coverage in an angora goat, but we mandate a more open face when we have a choice in the matter.splash dot!


Why our insistence on a more open-faced goat? Over the years we have been overwhelmed with predator problems. A lock of mohair in the wrong place at the wrong time has caused a few of our most prized animals to become mountain lion fodder instead a gorgeous silky mohair throw or the progenitor of others like itself. I know what I want to see in regard to face and body coverage and have had verbal "fisticuffs" with other breeders in this regard.splash dot!


Sheep breeds are a classic example. The Merino never has done well in the Pacific Northwest because of the heavy rainfall we experience here. But, we know that fine wool is gleaned from diverse breeds of sheep, some breeds of which do wonderfully in off-shore wet environments. The angora goat will need to branch out or diversify to accommodate the various conditions in which it is kept.splash dot!


Our environment, for the most part, would never allow the angora goat to thrive on its own. We are nestled in the mountain canyon regions of Umpqua National Forest. It is quite wild and wooly country. In the pioneer days of the bounty on bears, wolves and cougars, herds of angora goats roamed and thrived here. We strive to find that creative tension between nature's sometimes ruthless judgments and the shelter provided by the shepherd, always leaning toward a not-too-synthetic regime. We are convinced that even with our best efforts, nature seems to know more and best. Our eyes are beginning to open to those things we can and cannot do. But still, even the most pampered angora goat herds seem to have their share of difficulties since this particular animal seems to be extremely delicate in make-up. They belong more in heaven than they do on earth.splash dot!


Animal Personality – Another Factor, Another Variable

If you have a beginners flock (possibly a buck and three does) and a relatively confined space, you will not want a buck that is going to terrorize you every time you go to the goat barn. A buck with a spectacular fleece who destroys fences, structures and human body parts would not do well in such "close" quarters. If your brand of livestock management is more open and spacious, or if you are physically capable of managing a more unruly goat, the same buck might work well for you.splash dot!


We had a doe added to our band of goats a few years back who had the personality of a "junk yard watch dog" - just plain mean. She arrived at our ranch with an attitude, and the "attitude" never did leave her. With time she has adapted well. She has added tremendous quality to our herd and has even moderated her excessive matriarchal dominance somewhat. None of her offspring seem to carry the same aggressive personality traits.splash dot!


One lone goat in our herd seems to be a throwback from the first domesticated goat gene pools of Ankara, Turkey. She runs from me like a wild march hare if I even turn my head her way. Others in our flock insist on being hand fed grain. Indeed, animal personality is a trait I watch closely.splash dot!


Communication Between Shepherd and Charges

There seems to be an understanding by the goats of the physical and psychological boundaries that promote safety and well being for them. I need to give an example here. During the time of year I write this (early June), my shepherding requires a mid morning jaunt to the high heavy brush areas on the back forty. On any given morning, either Alexandra or I will accompany the band.splash dot!


The herd understands the routine. As the gate that locks them in pens is swung wide, they run past me. In one long continuous line, a battalion of 32 goats of every color and size moves at a fast clip. They willingly pass up lush open pasture (leaving that to the sheep who stand motionless for a moment and watch the goats zip by), choosing verdant mountainsides in the distance. Their goal is the brushy patches of land shaded by tall evergreens. It is a task to keep up with them. When we finally stop, I see the massive volcanic rocks that make up the caverns around the waterfall which are the Eastern border of their range. The musical sounds of water can be heard as it swirls, dashes upon and circles over and around stones unfettered by corners, on its journey to the ocean. The goats have arrived at their destination, and they begin their own swirling pace fanning out and spanning the mountainside field.splash dot!


Now their capricious "dance" begins. They browse in large circles (from right to left), always around the kids who playfully romp and seriously munch on occasion.splash dot!


On many occasions I have watched the herd move away, leaving me the unwitting "baby sitter" to the kids, aided by a couple of "possessive" yearling does who assist me in watching the kids. The bucks, partners at this time of year and always seen together, seem to be content to let the does make their wide circles. They pick a singularly rich patch of browse in a shady spot and stay put, only moving to keep the herd in sight.splash dot!


The goats remain within eye or ear shot of one another and an occasional bleat for security reasons is communicated between the does and kids. The does are training the kids, reinforcing in the next generation the instinct to keep up with the flock. They watch for me and my staff on occasion and know my presence in their midst. Periodically I direct their foraging and they understand my body language, shepherding sounds and words, but ignore me for the most part. Enough noise goes on so that potential marauders know a human is near, which helps keep them at bay. Along with this is my companion guardian dog's boundary marking. This psychological shield works simultaneously: the goats sense protection and the predators sense it, too.splash dot!


When the goats have eaten their fill, I guide them back toward the main large paddock for water and salt. The unified band of goats with bellies distended, a shepherd, and a lumbering white dog are homeward bound.splash dot!


goats butting heads



Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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