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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 116............Summer 2003  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Herbs for Herd Health, Dogs on the Run, Good-bye to Olivette


It's the time of the budding of the wild rose, always a beauty in spite of her plainness. The vetches wear their purple spires proudly, dangling through and entwining themselves in wire fences, nature's June necklaces. The creek is a ribbon of blue that slices the land sideways, its water crystalline, its babbling sounds a comfort.splash dot!


It is mid-June's perfect season. Oregon is never prettier than in June, at least to me it isn't, and sometimes it feels to me that I languish for the month all year long. This is not only because it holds the promise of another Black Sheep Gathering, an annual event for us, but because it is a time of year when our fields are lush, the whole landscape verdant. Tall grasses hold at their apex the seed heads that make my goats fat and sleek, for it seems they eat hundreds and hundreds of these seed heads in the space of a day. The kids are robust, lively and growing. It never feels too hot outside nor too cold in June. It's always just right, and it's even nicer if it's pouring down rain, for when the rains come all of the farmers say in unison, "Yep, we needed this rain. Don't want another drought…"splash dot!


Wild rose of Oregon

Wild Oregon Rose

We've been in the garden planting our yearly crops while Stan has been already pulling up a ripe crop of garlic that he'd planted last autumn. It seems he has varieties from all over the world - gourmet garlic grower that he is. He's been patiently washing the newly pulled plants, bunching them, labeling them and then hanging them in the top story of the still unfinished barn.splash dot!


I've used garlic to treat various ailments belonging to our fine herd of angora goats, a natural means of treating them with sulfa antibiotic. Sometimes we load feed pans with garlic. To them it's a treat, but I believe it is remedial for all that ails them.splash dot!


It is the same with the large fern-like wormwood plant. I have come to lean upon it as a natural febrifuge that works well for us.splash dot!


Early last winter when Willow (a four year old red buck) suddenly came down with a case of diarrhea - I picked a handful of long, fresh wormwood fronds and placed them in a feed trough for him. He ate his fill and left the rest. I watched him closely that day. By the next morning all scouring had stopped.splash dot!


The garlic crop 2003

2003 garlic crop

A young kid this spring suddenly began to scour (and I don't like to worm goats as young as him) so I gave him (free choice) some sprigs of wormwood. He only ate a few nibbles (screwing up his lips after he'd tasted it.) He seemed satisfied to leave the rest. By that evening he no longer was scouring.splash dot!


Comfrey is another herb I utilize plenty of, and it, too, seems to alleviate scouring in our animals. They don't like fresh comfrey much (they'll eat a few leaves, but not an abundant amount) but they'll eat a lot of the plant if the leaves are left to dry a bit.splash dot!


From Healing Animals with Herbs by John Heinerman:

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): There is perhaps not a finer herb in the entire plant kingdom, which seems to do so well with all manner of livestock and fowl. Both as a food and a medicine it remains unexcelled to anything else which the author has ever found useful in man or beast.


As an animal and poultry feed, it stands high on the list for adaptability to both kinds of created life. In fact, scientific tests have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that comfrey is the leader in calcium, a very important mineral for both cow and chicken alike. Alfalfa hay is the only other feed which came anywhere near this herb for a comparable stock supply.


Several chinchilla breeders found that by adding a little of this natural herb to the mash of their fur bearing investments, it cured the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency which they seemed to be suffering from…


Perhaps the best success which the author has had with this plant has been in use of it as a medicine and feed for his dairy goats. Rows of comfrey have been cut repeatedly during the summer and fed to his animals with surprising results. The milk yield of nannies increased remarkably and a more general liveliness was demonstrated in them than had been before. The younger kids seemed more playful and frisky, indicating a source of much energy obtained from this valuable feed crop.



Perrenial Comfrey

The list is almost endless, but I would be remiss if I did not mention cleavers. Rich in minerals and silica, this plant gives good strong texture to the hair of animals and the shell of eggs. It's a blood purifier also. See if you don't have some of these long, clinging tentacle-like plants growing around your place. Unwind them from your flower gardens and feed them to your fiber animals!splash dot!


I certainly don't consider myself an expert on these matters. I've oft avoided, in fact, writing about my experiences treating animals with herbs because I don't like to say "I don't know how it works - all I know is that it does work!"splash dot!


However, in the case of scouring goats and feeding them wormwood leaves, as mentioned above, I truly don't know how it works. All I know is that it does work.splash dot!


As Stan harvests his garlic, I, meanwhile, have been getting excited about attending the Black Sheep Gathering which will take place (even as I write) next weekend. We "harvested" our fleeces last autumn from the goats. I'll be entering our best in the wool show, that task being easy this year, for they were so clean that I really did not have much debris to purge from their midst.splash dot!


When we sheared the bucks in late autumn there was nary a louse upon them and their fleeces were all color and luster. Of course the bane of mohair fleece can often be those dreadful dry skin flakes found at the base of the hair shaft. We saw none of these, either, not even on nine year old Zebulun!splash dot!


We puzzled over that, but finally I drew the conclusion that the rich alfalfa hay I had been giving them, and in abundance, was responsible for their gleaming mohair fleeces. That and loads of pulped carrot (that I had been giving solely to the bucks) since we had been drinking plenty of carrot juice all winter long.splash dot!


Starter Flock Anyone?

During the past few weeks we had an ongoing correspondence with some folks who showed interest in obtaining some goats from our herd. What is known as a "starter flock" - just a couple of does and a buck - is what they wanted.splash dot!


So, after we took a long walk through the fields and eyed the goats, we hand selected their starter flock that will be leaving soon for their new home in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. We never intended to sell Bryce, the red doe and her red buckling. The sale just sort of fell into place the day that Jim and Peggy arrived "to look."splash dot!


The goats were on their best behavior that day, as was my husband who regaled them with his well-known "goat call" from a vast distance, a melodic call all my neighbors love to hear as they sit on their porches at dusk.splash dot!


"Stan's calling his goats in again," one neighbor says to her husband. "Isn't that a nice sound?splash dot!


I'm now used to that song that both mesmerizes and enchants our flock and most importantly, calls them in.splash dot!


"Call them in, dear" I asked my husband that day that Jim and Peggy stood there with us by the barn. I wanted to point to the goats that I thought would be perfect for them. So, my husband complied. He cupped his hands around his mouth and gave his musical "goat call."splash dot!


The goats heard his voice. Simultaneously and as though expertly choreographed, fifty or more goats looked up when the melody reached their hearing. Not one head shifted up a moment too late. Then together, the whole band, was on an instant run homeward.splash dot!


Soon we will pack up four of the crew and send them off to their new home. I know already they are going to be treated like kings and queens. Not only that, but they'll live in the Sierra Nevada mountains, a place not much different from here. They'll feel right at home.splash dot!


More Trials and Tribulations

Another day and it dawned full of bluster and wind. More visitors were with us, but this time they were not here for goats. And though they were not here to purchase goats, one can hardly come to this farm without at least viewing them, so sometime in the late morning we found ourselves, all six of us, at the barn. The animals were fed a barley ration and we talked "goat talk" for a few minutes. I never tire of talking about mohair and the goats that produce it, and these folks had a lot of questionssplash dot!


The bucks, four big stalwart boys, were out on the other side of the fence. We could see them in the distance as they browsed. Suddenly I saw my husband leave us, running fast from the barn, through the gate opening and to that distant field where the bucks were. The livestock guardian dog clipped ahead of him, taking large strides. I shuddered, already perceiving what the problem was and what they were chasing.splash dot!


"The bucks are on that side," I told our guests. "I see three coming back - where is the fourth? Ben! Where is Ben?" We all stood there at attention. There were dark shadows speeding along through the trees, zigzagging and I was sure I saw two black dogssplash dot!


One of our visitors, a man, said "I saw three black dogs running."splash dot!


Long minutes passed. Finally we saw the black buck. He was on a fast clip back to the gate opening. I could almost hear him calling his cohorts, "hey guys - why'd you leave me behind?" I sighed with relief and waited for my husband to return.splash dot!


Finally Stan was back and he told us what he'd seen. By the time he had arrived at the scene of the crime the black buck was down on the grass. Three black dogs were surrounding him. Stan shouted; the dogs turned and ran. He got a good look at two of them. The third still remains a mystery.splash dot!


Over the years we have talked to many people who shepherd both sheep and goats and always the complaint seems to be the same. They have told us over and again that the predators they deal with are neighboring dogs that run in packs. Having experienced more mountain lion losses than anything, we felt almost immune to dog attacks. Not so anymore.splash dot!


Ben, the beautiful angora goat of color, survived that day, thankfully. Olivette, however, one of our finest colored does, was not so lucky. We found her partly eaten remains the following day (after noticing she was missing from the herd in the morning.)splash dot!


I recall hearing one fellow goatherd speak of her own losses a few years back. She had lost seven colored angora goat does in one day while she was at work. She came home to a massacre in her pasture, quite literally, all due to a neighbor's dog.splash dot!


Though we lost a very nice doe, one of our best, we will go forward. The herd is bigger now and better. I am trying to make sure the buckling she left (I named him Oliver) is properly nourished, for after all he has been suddenly and a bit prematurely weaned. He's receiving high protein pelleted feed which strangely enough he seems to want no part of. Each one of these goats is precious to us and any loss is felt considerably, and, after all, I think of losing seven in one fell swoop and I realize that it could have been worse.splash dot!


And Always the Silver Lining

I had to laugh at myself just the other day. I was milling around the goat pen and feeding barley and kelp to a quite healthy lot of goats. I looked over at some of the new kids. What a nice kid crop, I thought to myself, starting at once to select my breeders from the current crew. Indeed, I began to pair bucklings with doelings, though they were only 3 or 4 months of age and nowhere near breeding age. I think I'll breed him to Zeba, my mind spoke to itself about a red buckling who was coming on strong in every way we like to see.splash dot!


Reality then hit, for I realized that a lot could happen with these fledgling goats in the space of a couple of years. Then I sadly remembered Olivette and recalled all the plans I had held for her.splash dot!


I sat down then on the grass in the midst of the goat yard while three kids romped around me. One of the scampering kids was Benita, daughter to Ben. She's a wild one born black as coal but now shimmering silver. She wanted to bolt from my arms, but I held her firmly and gently reached into that silvery baby fleece with my fingers.splash dot!


"Nice fleece, Benita!" I whispered to no one in particular. Of course it's nice. She's an Aztec granddaughter. She squirmed again, this time more violently. I let her go and she ran to the big white doe that gave birth to her and found her consolation in warm milk and a full udder, banging that thing around like it was a tetherball.splash dot!


The herd bleated fitfully, agitated, making it known to me that it was time for them to leave the barn. The sun was fully aflame in a blue sky. After all, it was the month of June when the grasses were up, the wild rose was in bloom and purple vetches stretched over the landscape like amethyst garlands...splash dot!


The goats were right, of course. It was high time I let them out to pasture. I stood up then, took a deep breath and swung wide the gate. The goats swept around me like a whirlwind, all fifty of them, nearly toppling me. I held my ground, though, and kept standing. Sometimes that's all a person can do.splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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