Over the Easter Holidays, we were sitting in the living room with some friends we hadn't seen in awhile. As we ate and chatted, we heard loud laughter coming from the gaggle of children in the next room. A few moments and a thundering of hooves later, in comes Freya Goat to say hello.
I wish I could have told my friends that this was a one off, that some random and unavoidable set of circumstances out-with our control led to there being a large hooved animal busting up our dinner party, nibbling the oat cakes and that such a thing had never happened before. In fact, I probably said as much, covering my embarrassment the best I could. The truth of the matter is that probably only 12 foot high deer/prison fencing could keep that goat in and most days are spent playing the delightful game of "where's the goat" with the "where" frequently being "in the kitchen".
When we embarked on goat keeping a year ago, I don't know what I expected. I'd read the books, scoured the blogs, posted on the forums and felt that I had enough of the basics to get us started. A year on, I've learned a few things:
- Keeping a dairy animal is a commitment. When we first got the goats, we were milking twice a day. This meant that someone always needed to be here at 7am and 7pm. While Kevin has the milking itself to about 15 minutes, our plans always had to include someone being at the house for milking. We've since cut the evening milking but still in the last year, neither of us have been able to go away at the same time. We do have a friend who will milk for us if we ever do go out, but it's a big ask.
- Using up the milk is serious business. Other than the endless task of getting her and her crazy companion into the field, the single biggest task is figuring out a way to use all the milk. Our single Saanen goat, Dascha, produces about 3 litres of milk a day. While cereal and coffee uses up a fair chunk of milk, we frequently end up with a refrigerator full of milk in ever available receptacle we have. As we are not a licensed dairy, I can't sell any of the milk or cheese and it is not uncommon that the milk goes straight to the chickens.
- Cheese making makes friends. In the last year, I have perfected goat's curd, yoghurt, halloumi and mozzarella. You have not had goat's cheese until you have had farm fresh, small batch cheese. It is simply the best cheese you will ever taste and I am 99% sure most of the time I am invited over for dinner because my host gift is usually half a kilo of goat's curd.
- Goats are trouble. Other than the constant struggle of keeping Freya in her pen, goats are wiley. They know where the corn for the chickens (aka Goat Crack) is kept and how to open the barrel if it is even slightly ajar. They know which plants they shouldn't eat and go straight for them every time. Freya knows that if she leans on me in a certain way, I will absolutely give her a scratch just the way she likes it. They are forever on the lookout for a way to get out or get food and usually both. Kevin and I often say that the goats are like large cats. But with horns.
- In our homesteading journey, goats are the biggest step in our food independence. While we raise our own food because of big and noble reasons - health, environmental, etc, there is also a level of practicality to it all, I just really hate going to the store. Having milk on tap means more of our food can come straight from here.
- Finding a Billy is a Bit of a Problem. Dascha has been in milk for about 2 years, so she will need to be put to a billy this year if we are going to keep her in milk. This is a slightly daunting task, and one we haven't decided on. All of the options come with some negatives. We would happily keep a billy, but they can be aggressive and smell bad, plus the presence of a billy on the farm can taint the milk. Transporting the goats is another option, but we don't have animal transport and would need to get help, plus a slew of medical tests to insure the health of our herd. So, watch this space.
A year on, bringing our goats home has been the best decision, not without its downsides, but overwhelmingly positive.
Though I may have put on 10lbs in goat's cheese alone.