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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 98............Winter 1999  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Change of Plans,The Sultans,Winter Shepherding


The Angora is among the most delicate of our domesticated animals. They are more susceptible to damage from internal parasites than are sheep. They are extremely delicate at birth, and the young need some protection during their first few days if the weather is cold or damp. Although the mature goat is fairly hardy animal when in full hair, it cannot withstand cold wet rains immediately after shearing. Storms cause excessive losses in Angora flocks at kidding time or at shearing time. North Dakota State University Extension Service.splash dot!


Health problems are the major risk associated with Angora goat production. Angoras are known to have more health problems than other domesticated livestock Department of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University.splash dot!


Change of Plans

Things can go real right on the farm for a long space of time. Nothing but silken fleece growing rapidly about an inch a month, healthy goats romping and butting for a higher position in the pecking order, and total calm in the goat yard. The goat rancher can then wander through the herd unfettered by worry.splash dot!


Then, of course, things can go really wrong quite suddenly. Usually indications that things are going wrong come with a sudden change in weather. A kid goat will get a case of diarrhea. Another goat will be off feed, standing there hunched and shivering.splash dot!


Our most recent change of plans came when an up and coming six month old buck, "Midnight" died. We pinned high hopes on him, thinking he would become our next (colored angora) herd sire. He was well covered with a very fine fleece, purely black, descendant of good breeding stock.splash dot!


But the month of December proved itself to be a bitter taskmaster. Cold rains lashed the homestead and somehow the little buck took the brunt of that weather. His health began to stagger, faster than we, the shepherds, could cope with. We struggled through pneumonia, but lost the battle. At 3:00 a.m. that fretful night, I exhaustedly fell into bed. I'll put the thermometer, drenching tool, and syringes away, and wash loads of soiled towels tomorrow.splash dot!


Yes, plans for the herd were altered again. When he was born to our silky almond colored doe we hardly could believe our eyes. We'd never seen any kid as black or so full of sheen. It hurt to lose him not only because as shepherds who tend a small herd, we become especially attached to each animal, but because it hurt financially, too. A buck like him is hard to come by and he had the potential to sire a lot of colored goats. But we have hope because even now there are quite a few pregnant does in their pens, strong and healthy. Their fleeces gleam. I keep hoping for another coal black buck....splash dot!


The Sultans

As I look out the window in the back room I see the goats all separated by category in their individual pens. The yard nearest our cottage houses all the kids and wethers. Then there is the pen above, to the left. That's where Scion, the registered white buck with the corded fleece as fine as any yearling's resides with his small group of white does. We placed a red doe with a heavy topline of kemp with him, knowing full well that together they'll only produce white. But it will be white with a color gene capable of producing color and hopefully superb fleece. Scion passed on his fleece traits to all of his progeny last year and is an asset to the enterprise. Last, but not least, across the way is another pen, with black Zeb and the color gene does.splash dot!


They seem to be calming down a bit after two or three weeks of frenzy in their pens. I tried to write down the date of the individual breedings, but missed noting the day that the black doe with the ice blue eyes was bred (Isha). I marked the day I thought Bubba was bred, but did not actually witness her breeding. Isha is black and Zeb is black, and yet they produced a white buck kid last year. Faded red bubba and black Zeb produced two incredible red doelings. Color genetics is something I'm focusing on more these days, but still don't understand all of its underlying secrets.splash dot!


The lazy bucks now lay in their pens like sultans, surrounded by their harems. During the heat periods of the does, both bucks were snorting and attempting to uproot fence posts, those promiscuous upper lips quivering, aimed high at the sky. Goat people would understand.splash dot!


Actually, with pitch black Zeb being the oldest and largest buck on the place, Scion had a difficult time convincing his harem that he was their man. They kept batting their lashes at Zeb through the fence....splash dot!


Hay and Burrs in Mohair

In the last issue of the BSN there was an article from someone who was attempting to deal with chaff in the neck fleece of a sheep. The mohair on my goats has often been less than perfectly chaste -- that is, there were hay particles throughout the fleece and even the occasional burr. Vegetation in fleece is the bane of fiber enthusiasts, both to those who raise the animals and market the fleece as well as the handspinners who utilize the fiber.splash dot!


Canvas sheep coats cannot be placed on angora goats. Coats tend to mat the mohair. The outside locks of the goat look fine to the eye. But when you reach in and finger the inner fleece, you find it is "cotty" or matted. I watched a judge place a goat last in a line up one year. Microphone in hand, the judge stated (after inquiring of the exhibitor if the goat had been wearing a coat while pasturing and receiving an affirmative reply): "This goat would have no doubt placed first or second if it weren't for the bad matting of the fiber. Goats should never wear coats like sheep." Up until that show I was thinking of purchasing coats for our goats.splash dot!


Believe me, I have fought with the pastures in Southern Oregon. In June we're still OK. But by approximately mid-July, the "stick tights" come on. I don't even know the proper horticultural name for those beasties -- they are the most horrid weed on planet earth and my husband calls them "stick tights." I have never asked him where he learned to call them that, nor do I care. All I know is that when the July sun is blazing on the pastures, the goats come home every night with more and more of these horrid sticky burrs surrounding their beautiful neck fleece and embedded on them everywhere. By August their fleeces (especially around the neck) are so laden down with tiny burrs that the fleece is unusable.splash dot!


Therefore, the plan on this homestead is to shear the goats before the clinging burrs get a chance to adhere themselves to the fleeces of our goats. It's all in the timing. We perform a juggling act between summer's drought - which unleashes a relentless barrage of burrs, and winter's rains - which can take a deadly toll if the shorn goats are exposed to the elements. If for some reason we have not been able to clip when the fleeces are prime, we wait it out.splash dot!


Oregon is blessed with a rainy season - long, hard winter rains that commence sometime in October every year (and six months later.) We have learned that there is a benefit to those rains when it comes to our angora goats: the fleeces get washed clean in the rains. Warm rains start sporadically in September. The tar weed stains and the stick tights lose their hold. Miraculously, it seems, the fleece begins its slow journey back to normalcy, gloss and final redemptive glory. Nothing is prettier than a mohair kid fleece, gleaming in the sunshine, with tendrils 7 or 8 inches long. By contrast, a mohair kid fleece ruined by tar weed and miniscule burrs laced throughout is the antithesis. Our preference is to have the goats shorn by mid-July to simply avoid the hassle.splash dot!


Sales and Advertising

The mohair I weave from our own flock at times has flecks of hay or alfalfa in it. Not enough to cause my spinning hands to want to toss it away, but enough to make me wonder about the lovely throw, when it has dried in the sunshine after its final washing having the occasional fleck of hay in it.splash dot!


Well, I began to ponder this a bit one day while a'sittin' on the fence, straw in mouth, watching the goats butt heads and caper. Seems that in New York, L.A. and Chicago, even Japan, people clamor for denim jeans that have real barbed wire rips in them. Cowboy jeans, with cowboy rips. I knew I was onto something.splash dot!


It wasn't long before I had formulated my "advertising" gimmick (some would call it that and I don't want to disappoint them.) "Real mohair throws, from our own farm. You might find an occasional hay seed or stem amidst the woven hand-spun threads of your heirloom throw. If you do, you have only discovered a little piece of what your goat was eating the day we sheared her of her lovely kid fleece. Do not fret, it will no doubt fall out with continued use of your warm throw. That's why the tag reads: 101% natural fiber. The 100% part is the pure mohair your throw was woven with...the 1% is the organic alfalfa or hay stems that just might be occasionally seen in your finished product off the loom. Enjoy - and know that we have not used any chemicals to dissolve any of those hay stems like big producers do. Your throw is hand spun, then hand woven like great grandma would have done it...if she had angora goats!!".splash dot!


If the cottage fiber business doesn't do a whole lot this year, Stan does have a few pairs of denim jeans quite torn by barbed wire. If a person digs deep into the pockets, I'm sure there will be hay stems. I'll just have to locate that New York buyer. Glad I saved all those pairs of jeans....splash dot!


Winter Shepherding

December drizzles intermittently - sun here and there, and days of rain. I still shepherd the kid goats with Uzi, the white guardian dog, at my side. A calico barn cat only known as Mama has of late become a "guardian cat" and follows both the dog and me. The goats, dog, cat and I walk through the pastureland and up into the forested areas where the kids prefer to browse. There is a carpet of leaves on the ground, golden brown. Winter is well on its way. The chill is penetrating in spite of the sunshine.splash dot!


I take careful note of December's colors while I trek through the wet woods, yew wood shepherd staff in hand. That time of year is upon us and yuletide colors surround me as I walk through the goat pasture. Interestingly, all seems to be green boughs and red berries. Yuletide color had to be the influence of shepherds who followed their flocks through meadows and forests like these. Majestic firs, pines and cedars tower overhead, their fragrance a subtle winter perfume. The wizened oaks stand naked, stark and gray, cloaked in an iridescent green moss, like flocking. Hues of verdant green greet the upward glance, and downward there are splashes of red, dozens of hips from the wild rose. Cedars are speckled with tiny white berries.splash dot!


No time to muse on the colors of the season. The goats are frantically plunging through the pungent forest foraging for winter feed like famished wayfarers on a long journey. No sooner do I find a stump from a felled tree that makes a perfect chair and begin to relax, when the crew moves on. The derelict wild honeysuckle growing haphazardly in shady spots is a favorite delicacy. Young fir and cedar boughs and tiny oak trees barely sprouting at the bases of their overgrown ancestors rate high on the list of browse. Clover and grasses do not interest them nearly as much as the wild rose or hidden blackberry bramble. My copy of Juliette de Bairacli Levy's "Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable" in hand, I scan the medicinal properties of the plants I am able to identify.splash dot!


The goats will receive a large portion of sweet leafy alfalfa when we get back, for they will still be hungry. Winter pasture never satisfies their appetites even when they are out for hours, winter fare being much less nutritive than summer pasture.splash dot!


An exerpt from a letter to a friend written in early December reflects my anxiety:

"The kids are all alive this morning and there are no more scours. I must get out to do my chores. I love those little tendriled tykes, but certainly am often enough tempted to invest in something inanimate, like antiques. Such delicate creatures, these goats...".splash dot!


With spring around the corner by the time this article is in print my mood should be on an upswing, bolstered by daffodils and the squalls of newborn goats. Winter hit our homestead with a rounded fist this year, but spring, gentle spring, has a peculiar way of heralding new life and renewed hope. I look for its signs on this farm with great anticipation. The sun is shining - I've gotta' go. Have some goats to shepherd.splash dot!


goats butting heads


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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


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