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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 97............Fall 1998  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Keeping Calendars, Guardian Dogs & Their Habits, and Shepherding Goats


By the time you receive this issue of the Black Sheep Newsletter, your angora goat does have no doubt been bred, or are "flagging" a buck even now. Therefore, talk of the "coming kidding season" really is not inappropriate here. In the last issue I wrote of a "happy ending" birth with one of our angora does who finally gave birth, with no complications, albeit, two days late. "Shepherd stress" is what I coin the malady that beset Stan and I for the three days preceding that birth. The only cure is a birth - where both kid(s) and mother end up alive.splash dot!


A couple of weeks after the late but successful birth, dear goat raising friends of ours suffered a "sad ending" birth on their farm. Their very black first time kidder (small in size) was showing signs of giving birth. Morning after morning, and all through the day, the two shepherds of this successful farm enterprise, made their rounds to the barn stall that housed her. By the time they realized something was desperately wrong, it was too late. They rushed the small doe with her precious cargo to the local veterinarian. The case was simple: the doe was too small, the kid too large, for a successful birth. She had been attempting to give birth (unbeknown to our friends), and could not. By the time they had rushed her to their vet, her own body's efforts had been exhausted. A Cesarean section was the only alternative, but the cost was prohibitive. The family opted to put the doe down. Inside of her they found a perfectly formed, but rather large black doe kid.splash dot!


The only reason I bring up an "ouch" subject like this is to reinforce a lesson these breeders learned that day: mark the calendar. Do all in your power (if your flock is small enough and it is possible to do so) to ensure that you KNOW the day of breeding of that doe. Yes, these animals can give birth a day or two early, or a day or two late. As a rule, we have found angora goats are pretty timely - when day 150 rolls around, get out the iodine. The dress rehearsals should be long over with. The real drama is about to unfold. Nothing beats preparation, and Stan and I have found that the best preparation we have (other than hoping for the best and expecting the worst), is our CALENDAR. Mark that breeding date. If our friends would have seen by the calendar that "day 150 was yesterday..." there might have been a greater chance that this doe could have been spared, as well as her lovely kid. One or the other would have camped at that doe's side so that when the labor began in earnest they could have witnessed that.splash dot!


Since the mountain lion attacks have subsided (in a large part because of Uzi, the livestock guardian dog - a Kuvasz - who is now 10 months of age, and still growing), it's been a morning ritual for me and the goats. We take our morning "aerobic exercise walk." What that entails, largely, is that the goats take a long excursion within the 30 plus or minus acre perimeter that Stan has fenced off for them. With me in tow. I take my shepherd's "crook", a nice hand hewn yew wood cane that has been specially carved for Stan and I: it's head, instead of being a rounded "U", is rather pointed - like a duck bill sitting atop the stalwart staff at a 90 degree angle. The carver, a friend, took special notice of our losses by cougars and decided to make us a "lion" staff for our shepherding duties. With Uzi at my side weighing in now at 107 pounds (according to the vet), and the shepherd's staff, I feel especially safe.splash dot!


uzi the guardian

Uzi, the great guardian of Singing Falls

The goats (20 at this point in time, near double that by next spring) are ahead. There are mothers and their kids marching like soldiers in a solid line. Their colors are magnificent - some blacks and silvers, glimmering in the morning sun and a couple tan colored kids waving dark brown tails like banners, but more often with tails curled tight against their backs. The rest are white, a remnant of our Montana herd that we had thought was forever in our past. But, because a dear friend of mine in Montana could no longer keep her little flock, they were trailered over to us a few years ago.splash dot!


The grass has long parted and matted down where they march, for they rarely swerve from their "trail." Like deer, they form paths during the spring when the grasses are still lush and green. In summer's blistering sun, those paths are distinct and mostly dirt.splash dot!


The goats are not walking a slow, meandering pace but are rather rushed. The grasses have dried in the dry heat of southern Oregon's summer and have turned as gold as goats' eyes. Their passage is an undulating movement of tendriled fleece as they trod the trail past the sheep, who are a still life pasture scene in the wide meadow, chewing cud. I have oft marveled at my loyalty for these angora goats. How much easier, it seems, are the sheep, the regal and unified sheep who love the flat open pasture. Always in sight of my shepherd's eye, not far from the little fold in the landscape that houses their pond. All I have to do on any given day is walk out to the edge of the pasture and gaze out. Shielding my eyes from the summer sun, I spot the sheep. The goats? Who knows.splash dot!


Back to the trail. The goats enter the forested areas where tall pine trees abound, where madrones tower head and shoulders above the ancient oaks. Looking to their right and to their left, the goat march is quick with nary a nibble at the grasses or shrubs that grow in that shade. Three lion kills took place in that vicinity -- the memories of the mothers are no doubt acute. That's the only explanation I can give for their sudden departure from the shaded madrones.splash dot!


The forest behind them, they are now nearly running for the open mountainside above, steep, filled with sunlight. Fencing 30 acres is no easy feat, especially along some of the inclines of this mountainside. The fence, woven wire, metal T posts and a strand of barbed wire skirting under and two strands above, is sturdy and holds my wandering band within its confines. They can't play "goat roulette" up by the waterfall anymore.splash dot!


It's late summer and the mullein stems are still green, as are the tall thistles. Having arrived at their destination, the goat battalion unfurls, the sentry like line now out of formation. They chew the lavender flower heads of those thistles with eyes closed, as though savoring a delicacy. Little or no attention is paid to my crook and me or to the guardian dog. I consider their oblivion. Oblivious to me, oblivious to the dog. Oblivious to the danger that could always be lurking around the corner.splash dot!


I am convinced that the angora goats consider Uzi (who has lived with them since his puppyhood) just an ugly goat with peculiar habits. The dog's white coat looks fleece like. "More for me" has always been their motto, so it gladdens them that he disdains their green fare. The guard dog meanders slowly around his charges, occasionally picking at the tall green grasses with his teeth, but inevitably spits out his fodder. He is equally dissatisfied with the hay in their mangers, but must feel compelled to mimic the goats around him as they eagerly munch.splash dot!


The Kuvasz is a leader in the group, though, especially amongst the kids. Early on I began to notice that the dog had a peculiar habit that, quite frankly, scared the living tar out of me. He would arbitrarily (so it seemed) "pick out a kid" and begin to run it down. It would be bawling hard by the time he landed it to the ground - pulling with a firm grip on its tail. As head shepherd, I watched with an eye to halt any bad habit in the bud.splash dot!


I have since learned, as have each of the kids on the farm, that this was the big dog's way of "subduing" these otherwise capricious charges of his. One enormous paw carefully holds the kid down whilst that big mouth grasps the neck . Then he "nibbles" down the entire backbone of the kid. Lightly, almost like scratching an itch.splash dot!


uzi the guardian

Just checking everything out

I began to relax a bit after I witnessed this downing and subsequent "massage" of our kid goats the fifth or sixth time. Now, when I see Uzi down a kid and the bawling begins, I hardly pay attention. I know the kid has no doubt acted up, and the dog is only practicing behavioral control. I marvel. His techniques actually work.splash dot!


Case in point: I witnessed a fight between Isha, a 3 year old black Angora goat and a doe in the exact same position pecking order wise, one day this early spring. They continued to bash each other, standing upright - BASH - and again falling to all fours. Then came the reprimanding dog. (Only about 8 months old at the time.) For some reason, he blamed Isha. She was the culprit. He grabbed her tail, had her down (after much squalling, moaning and rebellious back talk. Goats will back talk.) Then he began to "massage" her back - starting from the neck.splash dot!


Her spirit did not break easily. Every chance she got (by then Uzi had relented and allowed her to get up) she went after her challenger with a vengeance. When she did, Uzi was on her again. My shouting and ranting did not detour the goats or the dog. The goats continued their fight. Uzi continued to reprimand, guardian dog style. All I turned out to be was an interference it seemed - a human being in the midst of animal life that was able to care for itself just fine without my screaming and hand flailing.splash dot!


Finally, within an hour (yes, it took nearly that long), the challenger turned away, head bowed low, when the black doe approached her. The regal black doe with the fiery blue eyes looked at her conquest squarely and walked away. That's all she was asking for - a show of submission.splash dot!


Such is the animal kingdom, and such are the discoveries I am making as I take my daily fast-paced stroll up that mountainside with the goats and the guardian dog. We promenade together, shepherdess and goats, and a quick thinking dog that I cannot imagine being without.splash dot!


goats butting heads



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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