Monday, September 27, 2010

A Trickle of Tomatoes

The toms are finally starting to come in, but as you can see they are tiny little things, the largest being about the size of an espresso cup. A sad sight it is. Anyone know how to make tomatoes grown in containers bigger?

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gone Broody

Not only have my attempts been thwarted in gathering milk, but now the chickens have stopped laying. We're getting one egg a day if we're lucky.

Our hen Cocoa Puff is broody, huddling in the nesting box as if in a trance. If you are not familiar with flock talk, broody means a girl is hanging out in the coop trying to hatch a clutch of eggs. I didn't recognize the signs at first, since she is not preventing me from gathering eggs, or egg as is the usual case. She just sits in the box with a dazed, vacant expression. Silly bird. She can't quite connect the dots that if I take the eggs, she's not going to hatch any chicks. Well she wouldn't anyway without a rooster, but I don't expect her to understand these kinds of adult things.

I know a broody bird stops laying, but I can't figure out what's wrong with the rest of the girls. Stress from the baby goats? Lack of attention, since I am spending the majority of my time trying to milk an obstinate goat? Change in season? I would have suspected molting, but the only one losing feathers is Cocoa Puff, who is intentionally pulling them out of her breast so that she can keep her imaginary babies warm. What gives cluckers?

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goat Milk?

Medieval torture device? That's probably what Lucy would call it if she could talk. The whole milking thing is not going over so well. If you have ever tried to put lace up shoes on a tantruming two year old, then you might have some idea of what the past week has been like at milking time. Now imagine that futile attempt with a 75 pound creature who has horns. Not pretty.

I knew from the start that Lucy would probably be difficult to milk. She has never taken kindly to having her undersides touched, fluttering her legs at anyone who might try to have a go at her down there. In preparation for milking, I made her this hobble

and I was pretty darn proud of it too. Until, that is, I found out it wasn't going to work. The hobble is supposed to restrict the goat's ability to kick, which it does. However, it does nothing to prevent full fledged bucking.

Aside from fish out of water flailing, Lucy will attempt to sit like a dog when I touch her teats. Goats can't really sit like dogs so it's more of a buckling of her hind legs. Thus far the only way to milk her is by hovering over her flank and sticking the elbow of the milking hand into her belly, while holding a jar directly under the teat with the other hand. Every couple of squeezes she tries to pull her head out of the stanchion. Her legs move back and forth in her struggle and I find myself doing the two step on the back of a goat while simultaneously fending off Ethel and the babies and making one heck of an effort to keep the milk in the jar. Most folks would probably give up after a couple days of this. We're going on week two. Too bad for Lucy, I'm a Kooy, which as my birthright makes me at least twice as stubborn as a goat.

None of this is helped by Lucy's double teat that the vet screwed up when he clipped it. The doc assured me that lopping it off was the way to go if I wanted to be able to efficiently milk her. Her teat was supposed to scar up where he cut it and then she would have just one opening. Wrong! Both openings remain, but one of the holes no longer points down and now that teat squirts in two directions at a 90 degree angle. Try getting that into a container! Half the milk goes into the jar, while the other half ends up on the wall or in my face.

I'm sure part of Lucy's resistance is that everyone seems to be trying to get a little chi chi around here. The kids butt at her udder like miniature battering rams to bring the milk down. I'm giving her a good wringing once a day. And the other night, Ethel sneaked in a suck while Lucy was on the milking stand. Good Lord, no wonder the poor thing is testy!

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fred and Ginger's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Have you heard the sustainable farmer's aphorism, "My animals have a really great life and then they have one bad day."? Well goats actually have two bad days. This was Fred and Ethel's first. I think the pictures say it all. Hopefully, the second won't be for a very long time. Pobrecitos.

Kid Update, Farm Stand, and a Bit of Clarifiction

Goat Update

Sold! That's right kiddos, while you were hemming and hawing about whether or not you could really handle a couple goats, a pretty lil' lady up in Vallejo with a half acre snatched these bad boys up. I am so pleased to report that Fred and Ginger will be going to live with a friend of mine who, along with teaching sewing at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, has a hefty homesteading operation going on with chickens, bees, and a giant garden.

That video was a stroke of pure genius on my part. It takes Herculean restraint to resist prancing goats the size of a chihuahua. If I were you, I would have pined for them. It will be hard to let these little buggers go. And I know there are many of you out there breathing a sigh of relief that Fred won't end up being banged upon prematurely by an Irish drummer. I, too, am consoled by Fred's good fortune. He's the cuddliest of the pair.


Some of you may have read the article in Mission Loc@l that I was interviewed for about backyard chickens. Overall I was pleased and I loved the pictures, except for the one of me squinching up my face. However, there were a couple of statements in the piece that have been niggling at me all day and I want to clarify/correct a few of them.

1. "Her backyard, which butts up against a used car lot, houses the goats and birds in a pen no larger than two king beds stacked lengthwise." This is a real underestimation of the size of my animal area. In fact, the chicken and goat pen is exactly the equivalent of five king size beds or roughly 175 square feet. This is ample room for the cluckers to scratch and peck and collect as many bugs as their little hearts desire, as well as giving the goats space to chase each other up and down the stairs and headbutt until someone cries uncle. Usually Ethel. Yeah, I'm a little defensive, mostly because I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that I have my animals in an inadequate space.

Until a couple months ago, the goats were grazing in the neighbor's unused yard (1000 square feet), which had become choked with fennel and various weeds, but I had to put a stop to that when I found loads of lead paint chips surfacing as the goats loosened the soil with their hooves. I am currently working on getting them another 400 square feet of yard area, but this will require repairing a fence that has a 20 plus foot retaining wall underneath it. That means money, which is in short supply around here these days. For now, the goats are happy. If they weren't, they would be making one hell of a racket.

2. "Kooy exceeds that limit, but said she’s never received a complaint about how many she has." Now hold on there little doggy, you could get a gal in a might heap of trouble with talk like that. Didn't I say not to share that info? It's not that I won't cop to who lives here and who doesn't, it's just that I don't need to advertise these kinds of things. With the recent vandalism at The School Farm at the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the School of the Arts and the destruction of the bee hives at Hayes Valley Farm, I fear we urban farmers may be feeling a bit of backlash from the community. Let's just hope no public health department employees with an ax to grind are amongst the readership. That would suck.

3. “Don’t tell my husband,” Kooy joked, “but farming is really a way for me not to have to work.” I'm in some deep shit on this one. Certainly a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment. What a can of worms my smart ass mouth can open!

Of course, I DO work. I shovel shit, move earth, repair fences, grow and raise food, spend more time a week in the kitchen than some people spend in a year, clean, run errands, take care of all the finances including the books for our contracting business, and most importantly provide the majority of care for our daughter. OK, I admit I'm a shitty cleaner and have the organizational skills of a rat, but I pull my weight. Just nobody pays me to do it.

When someone says don't tell, they really mean don't tell, dude.

Itty Bitty Farm Stand

As a way to pull a little bit of the financial weight around the homestead, or at least break even rather than being a drain on the pocket book, I wanted to start selling a few things from the farm. It's been great giving away all those lovely eggs, jams, and greens to friends and neighbors, but I've got to start being more practical. Sure, I will continue to be open to bartering. I've traded eggs for herbs, sour dough starter, or loaves of Irish treacle bread. I've even paid photographers in huevos. I love that kind of exchange. However as far as "gifts", maybe I shouldn't always be giving the milk away for free so to speak. It would be nice to recoup a couple bucks here and there for my efforts. I thought I would combine the sales with a mini tour. So come see the smallest farm in the world, pick up some eggs, jam, or recycled t-shirts that say "Cluckin' Good Eggs", fondle some baby goats, and have a little chit chat about urban homesteading. The farm stand will be open Fridays from 10-2 and Saturdays 10-12. Email me at heidikooy

eggs $3 half doz./$6 doz.
blueberry jam $5 half pint (8 oz.)
strawberry-blueberry jam $5 half pint
lemon apple butter $5 half pint
strawberry syrup $5 half pint (great for pancakes or flavoring yogurt)
applesauce $5 a pint
"Cluckin' Good Eggs" t-shirt $15 (available for men and women)
Cluckin' Good Eggs cookbook $4
** $1 off canned items if you bring me a canning jar.

I also see the possibility of raw goats milk, goat milk soap, calendula cream, and kombucha being available in the not too distant future. And I'm sure there will be plenty of excess greens starting in late fall through winter. I'll keep you posted.

(Btw, if you are ever in the market for handmade gifts, you could always support my side business, Pie Dough Productions, by purchasing from my website or etsy store. Sorry to make a plug on here.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lucy's Birth Story

Dusk was beginning to fall as Ute and I had sat down to do some homework, when the Disgruntled Farmhand shouted from the bathroom,

"You know your goat's giving birth?"

"She is not!" I yelled back. "I checked her right before I started dinner and she was hanging out chewing her cud."

"Well she's screaming bloody murder now!"

Wtf? No warning? My mind raced as to what to do next. "Go outside and check her" was my first impulse, but I knew that there wasn't much time with goat screams like that. So I thought I better call the doula first. But where was the camera? Crap! Locked in the back of the car. Where were my fucking keys? Shit! I was in such a panic I could no longer prioritize. I took a deep breath and called the doula. I needed her here for support. I sent Ute to find my keys and meet me in the animal yard. I then flew down the basement stairs, whisking up the birthing kit on my way out to Lucy.

I found her in front of her dog igloo, on her side, bleating a sound that resembled more of a human cry than a goat's. The head of the first baby was already out and the amniotic sac broken (uncommon in caprine births). I tried to gather my bearings as I watched her through another contraction. I saw the head and one hoof lurch forward, but make no progress. The other hoof was possibly bent backwards. A goat needs to leap from his momma's womb with both hooves forward, otherwise the shoulders are too wide to pass. I stuck my finger in her on the side where I didn't see a foot and immediately the baby came rushing out covered in a thick slime, like a translucent version of the pink gunk that covered the lady and little girl in the movie Poltergeist when they returned from "the other side". The hoof was indeed back, but that tiny bit of added space gave free clearance for the kid to shoot out.

I placed the baby in front of Lucy's nose and she took to her motherly duty of eating off the amniotic sac like a duck to water. I was nervous that she might be one of those disinterested mothers, but she was amazing from the get go. With fumbling, nervous hands, I lifted the kid's leg to assess the sex. It was a boy!

Ute missed the birth of the boy, but made it in time to see a clear bubble pushing out Lucy's backside. Another baby was coming. (A fellow urban farmer over in Oakland, Kitty Sharkey of Havenscourt Homestead, alerted me to the fact that clear, whitish bubbles, the amniotic sac, indicated babies and red bubbles were the afterbirth.) I saw two hooves, but no nose. This one was coming into this world feet first. A perfect kidding position. Lucy heaved this one out with a couple of strong bleats, but nothing like the blood curdling cries with the first one. She was too busy licking. A girl! Fred and Ginger had arrived!

As I dried the kids off with a towel, Ute cooed to the mama, "Lucy, you did such a wonderful job! Thank you for all you've done for us." When I thought I couldn't take anymore of the sweetness of the scene, I felt Ute fling her arms around me in sheer ecstasy over the event and exclaim "I'm so happy!" And not in the way that a child is thrilled with a new toy, or a bag full of candy, but like a dad who is seeing his own child for the first time. It was the joy of witnessing new life springing forth into this world: a feeling truly beyond words for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it.

Monica, the doula, arrived before the afterbirth. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. A marine biologist who has discovered more than one new species of nudibranch, she has also been absolutely everywhere, including Antarctica. AND she has experienced birthing lambs during the lambing season in Ireland. I can't even imagine. Finding someone like that in a city is a real godsend. She spent the next four hours helping me get the babies to nurse.

Oh what an ordeal we put ourselves through trying to get the kids onto the teat.With a lot of coaxing and forcing heads towards the nipple (a completely useless and frustrating maneuver, which I don't recommend), we got Ginger to take to it within an hour or so. Fred was too out of it. He tried to nurse everything else BUT the teat, including my chin. After a while he became tuckered out by his own confusion and began to doze off. We were concerned because you want them to get the colostrum in them within the first hour after birth. Two and a half hours of trying with a sleepy goat baby was enough for me and Monica. I hauled off to the shop for a baby bottle. We were going to have to milk some out for him.

Monica was a milking champ and got out almost 6 full ounces of liquid. But the bottle went over about as well as the teat. Fred was too tired to even suck. It was time to pull out the big guns: the syringe. Though he protested with his kitten-like bleats, we got the milk in him and called it a night. Well more like half a night. I went out to check on them at 1:30am, 3:30am, and 6:30am, fearing that Lucy might roll over on one of her babies out of exhaustion or that one of the kids might get pummeled by Ethel.

Poor Ethel. She stood off to the side and witnessed everything, head cocked, with the most puzzled look on her face. Now she knows what's in store for her next year. I could tell Ethel felt very left out by the family scene. It didn't help that Lucy made a low cow-like bawling sound whenever she came near. She was warning Ethel to keep a good distance from her babies for now. Lucy has amazing motherly instincts. So Ethel slunk off to spend the night under the chicken coop, which at first I thought was rather odd. But at my 6:30am check, I noticed that one of the chickens had been left outside the coop all night. I guess Ethel was standing guard for her. What a good goat. Given the situation, I'm pleased Ethel had a job to do.

The Disgruntled Farmhand and I decided to let Ute take a "personal day" from school so that she could bond with the kids. We stayed home as a family and watched as Fred and Ginger began climbing and scampering in less than 24 hours after having been born. We took pictures, shot videos, held the babies, made sure that Fred got the hang of nursing, which he of course did once the fresh from the womb cloud wore off, and spent quality time with our animals. I can think of no better reason to miss school.
I will be selling Fred and Ginger in the next 2-4 months and I would like to sell them as a pair. Fred will be wethered. Having been raised together, they will make excellent companions. While they are here, I will train them to walk on a lead. If you or anyone else you know might be interested, please have them contact me (heidikooy (at) yahoo (dot) com) as soon as possible. Otherwise Fred might end up a Bodhran, like in the Irish song.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Just Milked a Goat

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