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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 117............Autumn 2003  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Off to Pasture, Earth-the New Buck on the Block



The field is lush and green on the other side of the fence. The Queen Anne's lace is tall and her white flower heads, lacy umbrels, bend and sway in the breezes like cattails on a lakeshore. Entwining them and standing all around like gallant lords bowing low are hundreds and hundreds of chicory blooms, each daisy like flower the color of a summer sky.splash dot!


In the early part of the summer month my neighbor called and asked us if we'd bring the goats to browse her irrigated land. Years ago she kept a milk cow there and it's still fenced and grows a lot of rich pasture grass.splash dot!


All that green I thought to myself. Heaven for goats.splash dot!


All the goats had here was sparse vegetation, most of it long dried up in July. They were now mostly on a hay/grain regime. Our land was a wide swathe of brown. The only green to be found was seen on either spikes of sticky tarweed or in the field of pennyroyal that grew in a low lying field. How I hated the tarweed, a plant whose residue coats mohair like a slick of black shoeshine when the goat fleeces skirt it.splash dot!


We didn't have to think twice about my neighbor's kind offer and took her up on it in a moment. It was doubly nice, though, because she said that we were doing her a large favor in return. They always do a great job as pasture mowers, and she was looking forward to that.splash dot!


Her place hasn't been tilled for years, which is why the wild carrot and the chicory make such a showing there. The field was irrigated, nonetheless, making green and lush the entire six and one-half acres. I eagerly readied myself for that first long trek with a long line of goats to their new stomping grounds and trembled a bit with anxiety wondering if we could, all 70 of us, make the journey without mishap.splash dot!


off to pasture

Walking to and From Pasture

Walking to and From Pasture

The walk to her field is a rather distant one, taking about eight minutes from the moment I open the barn door and shoo them out the big gate on our place, cross the wide Sahara, scurry over the creek and enter the Promised Land. It's a good thing that goats, much like other creatures, like routine, for the walk would be pure pandemonium if all 70 animals decided to go in different directions.splash dot!


Once they know that good pasture awaits them on the other side and that there is where all the goodies grow, and once you've established a routine (i.e., keep a schedule and follow it exactly) goats or sheep will follow their shepherds to the ends of the earth. I always read those old stories about traveling shepherds who took their flocks from pasture to summer pasture in high mountains. I always wondered how they went about this task, though from reading carefully it seemed that it was simple enough - a good sheep dog or two, a shepherd with his staff, and some good luck thrown in for good measure. Good green pasture was a key ingredient, of course, untrodden and fresh. A shepherd could keep sheep on that pasture for a long time. And then it would be time to move them out again.splash dot!


Indeed, I've had my neighbors often enough ask me with incredulity (after driving by and seeing 70 angora goats in the far away neighboring field, all browsing serenely) "how do you get all those goats to follow you all the way there?" I am stymied for an answer, for to me it seems almost too easy. I tell them that I use a can of grain for a ruse and that the goats know my voice and follow, but usually these folks are still shaking their heads puzzled when I have ended my sentence. Some tell me that they'd never be able to get their animals to follow them like that and most say they don't have near the number of animals that I do.splash dot!


Pasturing Goats

That first week in our new pasture I watched the goats' eating habits and jotted them down:splash dot!


"First it's the candy. Dessert always comes first for these creatures. Though I can barely see them (except for their heads - that's how tall the pasture grasses are) I see they have gone again to the far edges of this field to browse on the blackberry plants. The whole place is lined with blackberry hedges and that's where I see the goats head when they first enter the pasture. On a run - they head straight to the blackberries."splash dot!


Indeed, at first, it was the blackberry hedges that gave me the most problems. It seemed I had to always be there, pruning shears close at hand, ready to extricate another stuck goat from clinging blackberry brambles. The hapless animal would be caught by its long mohair, thorned branches like fish barbs holding it firmly. There it would be - bawling for me. Their mohair is not at its longest during August, but it is long enough to be snared well by these reaching and clawing Oregon vines.splash dot!


"Finally, mid-afternoon, and they have left the blackberries behind. They are picking off the heads of flowers, the blue chicory being their favorite. One by one the blue flowers dissappear and the eager mouths don't let up as they go from one chicory plant to another..."splash dot!


I hate to admit it, but August was a month of laziness and leisure for me. I spent a long time with the goats, sitting in the shade of the trees and reading Tolkien fantasies. It was such a pleasant time I had as I watched the goats and examined their individual fleeces from close distance.splash dot!


The garden flourished and grew well without much assistance and it was not yet time to do anything with the harvest, so I decided that my days would be filled with goatherding and not much else. Savoring each bright day as though it were a rare treat, I spent most of each one sitting in the shade of my neighbor's oaks watching pretty caprines browse.splash dot!


In mid-August I noted:splash dot!


"They come home each night after taking their fill and it makes me happy to see them sleek and fat again. We have prepared creep feeders, two of them, in the barn. One has been specially built to house the smallest kids. Any goat larger than them cannot enter because of the "space" between the bars. The other houses small yearlings. When these younger goats come home they still get large flakes of alfalfa in their creeps along with barley. It seems their mouths are never done with chewing, though they have been in green grass all day long. I like that and I see them growing."splash dot!



September came quickly enough on the heels of a torpid and humid August and the weather remained suffocating for a few days. We continued to make our jaunt to pasture each morning, for the goats would have it no other way. The weather began to cool and it was welcome respite.splash dot!


Two long days of rain suddenly arrived on the scene, a gentle Pruners' Rain. [For those not acquainted with the terminology, I will explain: in times past (in our neck of the woods, prime prune growing country) the prune growers would pull children out of school at the first September rain, which coincided with the prune harvest. That first September rain, usually a long and languid one, became known as the Pruners' Rain.]splash dot!


With the Pruners' Rain, the parched land began to heal. Green grass began sprouting again ever so quickly - almost over night it seems - even on our acreage. All this new green grass on our place made it more difficult to entice the goats to follow me so willingly to my neighbor's pasture. What to do? Well, I learned that if I carried a full grain bucket at my side I could soon enough coerce the most recalcitrant of them, so that is what I did. They were all again under my spell, this new routine established as readily as the first.splash dot!


September wore on and by the second week of the month the gangly Queen Anne's lace and her cohort, the blue flowered chicory, were all but eaten to a nub. The pasture grasses now took all of the goats' attention and they relished them as though they had purposely saved the "best for last." Blackberry leaves were long ago eaten by the hungry horde and now the blackberry bushes' long skinny branches arch down, remnants of once luxuriant branches that wanted to take over the pasture. They have been severely "cut back" and my neighbor is thrilled about that, having not suffered a single thorny scratch in the process.splash dot!


When the lovely month arrived I myself began another routine. It was time to spend more time at home with weaving projects at hand and garden harvesting, not to mention tending a thousand untended items on the farm. I still took the goats to pasture but no longer remained with them throughout the long day. They learned to spend long days in their pasture unsupervised and I learned to trust that there would be no need for me to be there continually.splash dot!


"There is a Season (Turn, Turn, Turn)"

September's drifting clouds move aimlessly through a clear blue sky as I walk homeward bound with the white dog at my side. The sun shines upon us but not with the same ferocious austerity. Since the mornings now dawn colder, the now pleasant scent of wood smoke fills the air.splash dot!


My neighbor across the street has called. She wants me to pick up all the windfall apples that have dropped from her trees. I'll feed them to the goats, of course. As I walk around her apple trees on green mown lawn I view fat gold apples that hang heavy on their branches, and the Jonathan bears round red ones. All of them need a few more weeks, but their season is nearly here.splash dot!


A lazy bee from one of my husband's hives circles me as I pick up apples from the wet grass and load my wheeled barrow. Golden honey has been gathered all summer by the industrious insects. Stan keeps saying he's got to harvest that honey. September is moving onward. The season of summer has ended and Fall is on its way.splash dot!


The bucks have starting to act "bucky" (colder mornings always bring that on.) Just yesterday Rocky sprayed himself full in the face. That gross ritual that begins the mating season is here. Now I know that the does will flag any day and I can pull out the calendar that marks breeding dates. Count 150 days from that circled day and I can expect kids on the ground. Always the cycle of life flows and always it ebbs.splash dot!


September seems always to be a month of change for the farm. It's the month that we decide to separate the bucks from the rest of the herd. They're staying in their own pen now and only have each other for company. So far none of them seems disgruntled by that fact, but as soon as the first doe comes into estrus we'll see some battles, I'm sure.splash dot!


How One is Captivated by a Goat.and Ends Up Buying One

Then there is the "new buck on the block" - Earth. Named for his deep mocha brown coloration (and also because he is a grandson of Eartha,) we look forward to seeing what he'll produce with some of our dark brown does. Eartha? We'd heard of her in times past from Ferncrest Farm's Stan and Judy Sours.splash dot!


Stan told us one day all about bringing her home from a midwest farm. She heralded, he said, from a purebred herd. Eartha was born dark copper in coloration. He told laughingly how her owners tried to wash the red colored "clay" from her after her birth mohair dried and could not. In the back of my thoughts was the far fetched notion that I would want one of her progeny one day.splash dot!


Indeed, that day occurred at the Black Sheep Gathering this June. There was a pen at the Gathering and in that pen were three exceptionally nice young brown bucks, all Ferncrest Farm boys.splash dot!


You must first understand, readers, what it is like to be the wife of a very pragmatic goatherder. My dear spouse (also a "Stan") told me a week before taking off for the Gathering this year, "Just understand that this year we won't be buying any goats." Oh dear. He sounded like his mind was made up. I toyed with the idea of saying something that began with the word, "Honey," but decided against it.splash dot!


It was time for me to bake a pie.splash dot!


As he finished the lavish pumpkin pie wedge (too early for blackberry) and patted his lips. The next day, I broached the subject.splash dot!


"Honey, we might just see the perfect goat there and realize that he or she belongs in this herd." I began with that. I saw no harm in appealing to his good sensibilities.splash dot!


"We have 60 doe goats. We have four breeding bucks. We don't need any more goats. I don't care if someone offers us the Grand Champion on a silver platter."splash dot!


He said the word "silver." Immediately my mind floated to thoughts of silvery fleeces on goats of spectacular lineage, their mohair bangs fully hiding their eyes. Ah yes, then I could picture it - blue eyes under those mohair bangs. I fretted. I frowned. I tried again.splash dot!


"Dear one," I began, "we know we have a lot of culls here. We need to take some of these goats to auction. We'll cut the herd down. We need to keep only our best. We DO need a dark brown buck."splash dot!


He looked at me and his eyebrows said what words could not express - both of them leaning precariously downward over stern blue orbs. I knew the look only too well. He meant business.splash dot!


The day dawned early and we packed up to go to the Gathering. It was Saturday. On Friday I'd gone (without him) with a dear friend. It was on Friday that I'd already seen Ferncrest Farm's chocolate colored goats. Scrumptious. On Saturday morning I began to prepare my husband for the inevitable.splash dot!


"You cannot imagine what Stan and Judy have done with their breeding program this year, Stan." He looked at me stolidly from his side of the car and said the hated phrase once more. "No more goats."splash dot!


King buck Aretz

King Buck Aretz

I smiled and settled down into my seat as we sped northward along the freeway. How nice to be married to a goat person, I thought to myself. How very very nice.splash dot!


Well, I shall not belabor this further. We brought Earth home on Sunday after all the shows were over. He shows nothing but promise for us. After shearing his first clip (a dark brown with some gold highlights throughout) as soft as down, we saw that his new mohair was even darker. I would describe it as the color of a Hershey chocolate bar. There are soft mohair curls all over the top of his head, and they run themselves all down both sides of his velvety nose.splash dot!


He's a nice buck for sure and I eagerly await seeing those dark brown does of ours begin earnest flagging out there in the yard. I do believe this disease I have is called "Angoraphobia" and I have heard it is an incurable one. At least that seems to be the case when the season changes and Fall approaches, for it is then that the male goats become "bucky", their does begin to show interest in them, apples hang heavy on their branches, golden honey needs harvesting and wood smoke fills the air.splash dot!


Happy autumn to all of you from Singing Falls.splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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