Goat (and Sheep) Horns

We finally got around to culling seven of our goats last week. Each had some kind of “issue” that made it undesirable for us: a few were very small and stunted, one had kidded before but never developed much of an udder or teats, two were males we didn’t need for breeding (and were becoming obnoxious fence-jumpers and bullies), etc.

I’ve been so swamped with work, I haven’t had the time to butcher them myself. Besides, with goat meat, we prefer to just have it all ground up — something I don’t have the equipment for. And yet, I’d been hesitant to take these things to the butcher; one mature male in particular had a huge set of horns, and I feared he’d smash the windows in my old Ford Bronco.

Finally, a thought occurred to me: could we perhaps kill the animals here, bleed them out, and have our butcher take over from there? I called the shop that usually slaughters and processes our lambs, and they agreed to take the goats already-dead.

So, last Wednesday morning, I backed the Bronco up to the barn. The two oldest Yeoman Farm Children lead each of the seven culls out to me. I dispatched each goat with a single shot to the back of the head, then pulled the head straight back and cut the throat all the way open. As it bled out, the YFCs led another cull from the goat pen. And so the process continued, until we had seven goat carcases piled up.

Before continuing, I must add a quick word about the method of dispatch. In the past, I’ve usually put sick animals down with a shot to the forehead — with mixed results. Sometimes it scores a direct hit to the brain; sometimes not. It all depends on the angle, and whether the animal moves at the last instant. The butcher suggested shooting the back of the head, and this definitely proved to be a better way to go. Because I could stand behind each goat, straddling its body between my legs, I was able to control and stabilize the animal much better. Shot placement was much more sure, and very effective. Each goat immediately crumpled, and then barely even twitched.

As a further aside, the experience gave an opportunity to test the pistol and hollow point ammunition that I regularly carry around the farm with me in a belt holster. (I carry it not only for personal protection, but because of the number of predators that have gotten away while I ran to the house for a firearm.) Although I’d obviously test-fired the pistol before, this was my first chance to see how well the ammo would work in an actual kill situation. Of course, a shot to the back of the head will always be effective — regardless of the ammo type. But I was still impressed by how smoothly the pistol cycled, and (as noted above) just how quickly and painlessly the animals went down. The Hornady 95 grain XTP rounds were extremely reliable and effective, and I won’t hesitate to rely on them in any kind of situation. The pistol itself is an old CZ-82 military handgun chambered in 9×18 Makarov; I’ll say more about it in another post.

But back to the goats. Four of them had some kind of horns. These ranged from little stubby things on one of the females, all the way up to the huge set that I’d feared going through the Bronco’s rear windows. Before loading the carcases into the truck, I used a hacksaw to remove all four sets of horns. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but I hate seeing anything potentially useful go to waste.

Before I put these things up on eBay, I wanted to offer them to my readers. Is anyone out there a knife-maker? A button-maker? Or just looking for some nice horn material for some other craft project? This is your lucky day!

I don’t have specific prices in mind; I’m mostly interested in seeing these go to someone who will appreciate them and get some good use from them. I’m thinking $10-$20 for each of the larger horns, and $5-$10 for each of the smaller ones. Plus whatever the actual shipping is. But I’m flexible. Maybe we could do a package deal for multiple horns?

I’m going to show them below, in pairs, with some commentary on each set. These are fairly high resolution pictures, so you should be able to click on any of them to open a larger view with more detail.

First, the stubby things from the smallest female. These are only a few inches long, but at least won’t cost much to ship. If you need material for a small knife handle, this could do the job nicely. Obviously, the cost for these would be minimal.

Next up are some larger horns. Note that these have a lot of interesting ridges, from the way in which the horns grew. They’re about seven inches long.

Here is the flip side of those same horns:

These horns are a little over an an inch across, at their widest point:
The third set is much smoother, and slightly longer than the previous horns:

These are about two inches across, at their widest point:

The largest set came from a yearling buck, the one I was most worried about transporting to the butcher still alive. I’m certain that he would’ve put these horns through a window, or at least taken down the headliner in the back of the truck. And then I would’ve been chasing him down a rural road, or across a field. Anyway, you can see that the horns are very long and have some interesting contours:

This is the other side, which is smoother. This horn set has a number of smooth sections, and a number of ridged sections; plenty to choose from:

These horns are about three inches across, at their widest point:

While I’m thinking about horns, we also have a nice set of ram horns that came off one of our sheep last summer. They’re much more curly than the goat horns, and have a lot of ridging. The black color also gives some variety. These have been sitting in a box in my office, as one thing after another distracted me from selling them:

If you’re interested in anything on this page, please send me an email and we can make arrangements. I’d like to see these horns go to someone who can put them to good use!

Small Town Transactions

What’s it like doing transactions in a small town? Two quick examples from my last 24 hours should give a good idea.

First off is dealing with our Township government. We have just a handfull of elected officials, and each one wears several hats; the Clerk is in charge of voter registration and election administration, among other things. In recent days, it’s occurred to me that there is a chance I may get called out of town on business next Tuesday — the day of the Michigan presidential primary. As it’s extremely important for me to vote, I thought I’d inquire about getting an absentee ballot. I wasn’t optimistic; in most larger places where we’ve lived, it’s necessary to get those requests in far in advance of the election. It’s probably too late, I told myself, but it never hurts to ask.

Forgetting that yesterday was a government holiday, I called the local township clerk shortly before their usual closing time (they’re only open for a few hours, and only a few days a week). I was kicked into voice mail, and left a message with my name and number and a question: “I was wondering if there was still time to request an absentee ballot?” I didn’t ask for one. I didn’t say I wanted one. Just wanted to know if the deadline had passed.

The rest of the afternoon passed, and Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I left the Yeoman Farm Children with their grandfather and went off to attend the Jackson County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. It was a terrific event, and the two of us had a nice evening out together. The keynote speaker was J.C. Watts, of whom Mrs. Yeoman Farmer in particular has been a big fan for many years.

We returned fairly late that evening. As the Yeoman Farm Children prepared to milk the goats, I went to my office and checked for email and voice messages. To my surprise, the township clerk had called back. In the message, she apologized for getting back to me so late, and said she’d put an absentee ballot request form in the mail to me, and that I’d probably get it Wednesday, and that I could then come right down and get my ballot and just make sure it was back by election day.

Think about that for a minute. This is a government official, hard at work even on a government holiday. She’s never met me and doesn’t know me from Joe Blow up the street, but (on a holiday), she not only took the time to return my call and answer my question — she looked up my address on the voter rolls and put a ballot request in the mail.

Can you imagine this happening in Los Angeles County?

That was last night. This morning’s transaction wasn’t quite as dramatic…but is still noteworthy. My 4×4 truck was getting low on gas, and snow was falling, and I wanted to make sure I had a full tank before taking goats to the butcher tomorrow. I ran a mile or so into town, pulled up to the pump…and did not swipe a credit card or deposit any money. I simply inserted the pump nozzle in my gas tank, selected the grade, and pumped about 18 gallons of gas. I put the nozzle back in its place, strolled into the shop, and only then paid for the fuel I’d pumped.

When was the last time you ever did that?

This particular gas station is owned by a family that’s been in the area so long, there are rural roads named after them. They also run a fuel oil and propane delivery service; when I need propane or oil, I simply walk past the front counter, go talk to one of the guys in a back office (usually the same guy who’ll be driving the truck), and tell him I need my tank filled. I don’t give my name, or my address. They just know. Heck, sometimes when the company’s owner (the guy with the road named after his family) is out driving around making oil deliveries and we haven’t gotten oil in a while…he’ll just stop his truck at our farm and ask if we need any. “We’re going to be having some nasty weather,” he might say, “and I just wanted to check.”

Has this ever happened to you, where you live?

Such is rural life in mid-Michigan.

One Less Threat

In breaking news, you’ll be pleased to learn that there’s now one less threat facing the world:

The FDA has won its two-year fight to shut down an Amish farmer who was selling fresh, raw milk to eager consumers in the Washington region, after a judge this month banned Daniel Allgyer from selling his milk across state lines, and he told his customers he’ll shut his farm down altogether.

The decision has enraged Mr. Allgyer’s supporters, some of whom have been buying from him for six years and who say the government is interfering with their parental rights to feed their children. But the Food and Drug Administration, which launched a full investigation complete with a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and a straw-purchase sting operation against Mr. Allgyer’s Rainbow Acres Farm, near Lancaster, said unpasteurized milk is unsafe and said it was exercising its due authority to stop its sale from one state to another.

You can read the full story here.

Raw milk is of course so important for our family, and so difficult to purchase, that we bought our own dairy goats. Although it was sad losing our best doe (Queen Anne’s Lace) last week, we had a very good development going into the weekend. One of our other does kidded, and she is providing a boatload of milk above and beyond what her little one is taking. What a blessing!

I’ve asked this question before, but I never tire of asking it again: how on earth did the human race survive drinking this “poison” for 5,000 years, without the FDA to protect us from it?

Saving the Queen

I have a goat kid living in my office again, wandering around with the dog (and getting bottle feedings) by day, and sleeping in a box near my desk by night. How this came about is quite a story.

Our best dairy goat ever, by far, was Queen Anne’s Lace. She was also our first goat, and our oldest. She got the name because, as a nearly-full-blooded Saanen, she was basically the same color as the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers that grew all over our Illinois property. We got her already in milk, after her first kidding, and she was a wonderful addition to our farm. Her udder was enormous, as were her teats, making her copious volume of milk easy to access. What’s more, she had a pleasant temperament, was docile and gentle, and readily came to the stanchion at milking time. She is the goat standing along behind the barn in the photo dominating this blog’s masthead.

QAL didn’t have papers, but we think she recently turned eight years old. Eight is no longer young for a goat, but not exactly over the hill. That’s why I was surprised, about a week and a half ago, when she began having a great deal of difficulty following the rest of the herd out of the barn. I helped her over the threshold, but she then promptly stumbled and went down on her stomach. I helped her back up, but she stood for only a moment before again going down. With something clearly wrong, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl help me lift and half-drag QAL back into the barn and over to the separating pen.

QAL’s udder and teats looked full, and given her girth and weight she was obviously in advanced stages of pregnancy. We brought feed and water to her, and made her comfortable in the separating pen; that was a week ago Friday night. On Saturday morning I managed to help her up, but it took great effort because of her weight. She stood for a few minutes, but then laid back down. Given how much she weighed, I chalked this up to the late pregnancy. Once she delivered, I hoped she would be able to rise more easily — like dropping ballast from a balloon. Until then, we resolved to keep her comfortable with lots of clean bedding, bring her feed and water and mineral, and not try to force her to her feet.

I had to leave for a business trip on Sunday evening, which is usually the cue for some kind of disaster to break loose on the farm. Sure enough, Monday evening, just as I was getting ready to go out to dinner with some colleagues in Atlanta, I got “the call.” Mrs. Yeoman Farmer informed me that Queen Anne’s Lace was in labor — and was having a lot of trouble. QAL was in the middle of delivering twins, and the first one had come out easily. She’d now been working on the second one for some time, and was sounding horrible. Nothing more than a hoof was coming out. MYF wanted to know how long she should wait before intervening and assisting with the delivery. We talked it over, and MYF decided to take some time to review her books about kidding; if the kid wasn’t out by the time she finished, she wouldn’t wait any longer.

It’s a good thing MYF didn’t delay long. She called me back a little while later (I was still at the restaurant) with an update: she’d gotten out her big shoulder-length plastic gloves and started reaching inside QAL to see if she could help extract the kid. From what she could tell, the kid was very large. She’d managed to guide its hooves and head into the birth canal a number of times, but it was so big its forehead kept getting stuck halfway out. QAL was exhausted and sounding like she was going into a death rattle. I felt absolutely awful, and wished there was some possible way to get home. I tried to be encouraging, but didn’t know what else to tell her other than “keep at it.”

Back at the hotel, I called again. It was now after 10pm, and things were looking really bad. The kid was still stuck. QAL was still in agony. Back in the house, Yeoman Farm Baby was nearing meltdown. No one had eaten dinner. Everyone was exhausted. Morale was as low as it could be. “I hate to just let her die,” MYF said, “But I really don’t know what else to do. I just cannot get that kid out.”

I said not to worry about the kid. It was probably already dead. Just somehow, some way, get the thing out.

Actually, ssurprisingly, MYF told me, the kid was still alive. While she’d been feeling around inside QAL, her finger accidentally went inside the kid’s mouth — and the kid had reflexively begun sucking on it!

MYF needed help, badly, but there was really no one we could call. Our local vet does not yet serve large animals (though, thankfully, that will be changing later this month). The only vet in 30 miles who looks at livestock is retired from farm calls; you have to bring the animal to him, during regular clinic hours. I suggested that MYF call a friend, to watch the Yeoman Farm Children and help with the house, while MYF finished with the goat — but it was too late to call anyone. Who’s still up at 10pm and willing to come help with this kind of chaos?

With no other options, going on pure hope, I signed onto Facebook and sent a message to a friend who lives up the road and raises horses. I explained that it was too late to call, and we didn’t want to disturb them, but that MYF was totally out of options. If she (the friend) still happened to be up and happened to be reading this message, would there be any possible way she could come over and help with the youngest YFCs while MYF and the older YFCs assisted the goat?

What unfolded over the next two hours was one for the books. The friend was indeed up, and did get the message. She wasn’t personally able to come, but called MYF and suggested some large animal vets that had seen their horses. MYF tried calling them, but they were either unavailable or said they did nothing but horses. In the meantime, the friend’s husband volunteered to help. He had zero experience with goats — but got online, watched some YouTube videos, and quickly read everything he could about the kidding process. He got to our farm a little bit later, and MYF called with this news. She’d managed to feed the YFCs, and was preparing to take the neighbor out to QAL.

With the time now well past 11pm, and it uncertain how long it would take for a resolution to the situation in the barn, we agreed that I should go to bed and wait for a call in the morning. I sent a heartfelt thank-you note back to the neighbor via Facebook, and then tried to go to bed — but the sense of guilt and helplessness gnawed at me. I only got a few hours of sleep, and kept waking up feeling bad about everything unfolding on our farm while I was so far away and unable to help like I knew I should.

I finally got up around 6am, with a heavy heart, knowing we’d probably lost our best goat in a terrible fashion. But then I turned on my phone, and discovered a voicemail notification from Mrs Yeoman Farmer that had come in at about half past midnight. As it began playing, the tone of relief in her voice was palpable. Our neighbor had, miraculously, managed to extract the goat kid. It was HUGE. Far larger than any newborn kid we’d ever seen. Monstrously large. Both kids were in the house in a box near the fire, and were hungry. She was preparing to feed them, and didn’t know how late everyone would be sleeping in the next morning, but she wanted me to get the news as soon as I woke up. Best of all: QAL was alive.

I made many acts of thanksgiving, and walked with a real spring in my step to a nearby church for Mass — where my acts of thanksgiving continued in an unbroken stream.

Once I spoke with MYF later in the day, it became clear we weren’t out of the woods. QAL still hadn’t gotten up. And there was something seriously wrong with the big goat kid — he seemed really slow. But the smaller one seemed very well, and was even learning how to drink milk from a pan.

QAL’s inability to get up was curious. Our neighbor said she’d heard of this happening to horses during pregnancy; if the foal presses on a nerve in the wrong way, it can cause paralysis. I did some research online, and learned that the same thing can happen to other livestock (including goats). I promised to get QAL to our vet as soon as I got home on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I phoned a friend who’s been trained in chiropractic techniques and described what was going on. Is it possible, I wondered, that her spine could be pinching a nerve because it was out of adjustment? This person confirmed that it was possible, and said a spine adjustment certainly couldn’t make the goat’s condition any worse. To my great surprise, this person went out of their way to drop by our farm at 9pm that night to give it a try. They did uncover a few places where she was out of adjustment, and did what they could to get her better aligned. QAL still couldn’t get to her feet, but I was grateful to this friend for giving it a shot. I figured it could only help, once I got the goat to a vet.

I called the vet’s office from the airport, and they said QAL could be seen that evening at 6pm. From my description, the vet said the pinched-nerve-paralysis (it has a more technical name, but I can’t remember or spell it), was a highly likely diagnosis. He’d seen it a lot in cattle, and said it could be treated with steroid injections.

Back home, I learned that the monstrous goat kid had unfortunately expired early Wednesday morning. But QAL was in surprisingly good spirits, despite not being able to stand. Her head was up, she was alert and eating, and would drink from a bucket when put in front of her. I washed her backside, and moved her to clean bedding. She could move her hind quarters and legs, but just couldn’t pull herself to her feet. Still, I was heartened that she was trying.

That afternoon, the YFCs helped me load QAL in the back of our old Ford Bronco, and Homeschooled Farm Boy rode with me to the vet. The vet met us in the parking lot under a street light, and indeed diagnosed the pinched nerve parylasis — but he said he was encouraged by her rumen, and that her digestive system was functioning so well. He gave the goat some steroid injections, and instructed me to call him Friday morning with an update.

Things were largely unchanged on Friday. She was still struggling to get up, and still failing, but was continuing to eat and drink well. The vet prepared an additional injection, which I drove to his office to pick up; I administered that one to the goat myself. And that one had as little effect as the first.

As the weekend progressed, but the goat’s condition did not, the question became: “How long do we let this go on?” The vet told us that animals could be down like this for some time, and that the healing process at her age could be slow. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I talked it over, and decided that as long as Queen Anne’s Lace wanted to continue fighting…we would continue doing everything we could for her.

The YFCs and I kept going out to the barn several times a day, offering QAL water and grain and good-quality hay. And she continued eating and drinking and holding her head high. And was even beginning to get good at scooting around a little to reach things.

And then came Tuesday afternoon, eight days after the delivery. She drank some water, when offered, but not much. She did poke at the hay, but wasn’t much interested in her grain. She mostly turned her head from me when I put things in front of her. I hoped it was temporary, and that perhaps she was just full. But late that night (after midnight, actually), when I made one last visit to check on her, she still wasn’t interested in anything. Even when offered the bucket of water, she cranked her head sharply away. I sighed, patted her big neck, and told her what a good goat she’d been.

Wednesday morning, to my complete unsurprise, Queen Anne’s Lace’s body was motionless in the straw. I was proud of her for putting up such a good and long fight, and I knew we’d done everything we could for her. It was tough losing her, but the end of the road comes eventually for every animal — even the best.

Are we sad? Sure. She was the greatest goat we could’ve asked for. The toughest part, by far, was removing her heavy collar before disposing of her body. The physical difficulty of loosening the buckle reminded me of just how long we’d had her; we fastened that buckle onto her over six years ago, and had never unfastened it since. It’ll be strange putting it onto another goat. It’ll certainly be a big collar to fill.

But as sad as it is to lose her, I remain deeply thankful. Thankful that we got to have such a wonderful goat for so long. But above all, we’re thankful for experiencing the blessing of friends, who dropped everything to help us at odd hours of the night — and at great personal inconvenience to themselves. We learned that even the most monstrously large goat kids can be extracted with some perseverance. We learned a lot about this new “pinched nerve” condition, and will be alert to it in our other animals.

And we have this new, healthy little kid, who’s having a grand time with me and the dog all day every day in my office.

Nostalgia Land

I returned yesterday from a three-day business trip to Atlanta; I was part of CNN’s “decision team” that determined when and how to call the outcome of the Florida Republican primary election on Tuesday night. I’ve been part of the team since 2006, mostly working on calling House races in general elections, and this was my first primary. The decision process is fascinating, and I will say more about it in a future post. Suffice it to say that for someone who grew up a political junkie from his early teens, working behind the scenes at a major network on election night is like being in the broadcast booth for the Super Bowl.

One nice thing about working election night: the morning schedule that day is usually pretty light. I took advantage of that opportunity to visit an iconic Atlanta landmark: the World of Coca-Cola. If you’ve never been (or, heck, even if you have), I highly recommend it. The best way to describe it: a high-tech interactive museum of all things Coke.

I arrived right at the 10am opening, so got to experience the place while crowds were lightest. The two dozen or so of us were led into a cavernous room called “the Loft,” decorated with all kinds of vintage Coca Cola memorabilia and advertising, and were treated to an interesting introductory talk about the company’s history and all the different things we could see later in the day. They then led us to a theater and showed a fun, upbeat animated film on an enormous screen, after which we could roam through the remainder of the rooms and exhibits — including the actual vault where they keep the secret formula locked up. (No, you don’t get to go through the locked vault door.) Another exhibit takes you inside an assembly line, where you can see bottles being prepared, filled, and capped. And so on.

My favorite part of the place was called “Milestones of Refreshment.” It’s a series of ten galleries that you can wander deeper and deeper into, at your own pace. There are video clips playing, telling the story of the company, but the rest of it is decidedly low-tech. It’s the most museum-like part of the tour, and I really enjoyed browsing the vintage memorabilia and getting lost in my own memories and feelings of nostalgia.

The most high-tech part of the tour was a 4-D theater show, which I saved for near the end. It was amazing, but the over-the-top effects (such as moving/shaking seats and occasionally hyperbolic acting) are probably more popular with kids than adults. Still, the 4-D experience of speeding down an African river in a small boat delivering Coke to an isolated village was unforgettable.

The tour ends with a tasting room, filled with soda fountains dispensing sixty some odd different beverages that the Coca-Cola company sells all over the world. I tried a few of them, and am still puzzling over why a certain bubble gum flavored drink is so popular in Latin America, but mostly just enjoyed sipping Classic Coke itself.

I emerged from the building into warm Atlanta sunshine, which was a perfect match for how I was feeling inside: cozy, nostalgic, and like everything in the world was right. In other words, pretty much exactly how you’d expect to feel after nearly two hours of immersion in a Coca-Cola commercial. (Nearly forty-eight hours later, I still have some of that happy, upbeat music in my head.)

Am I simply a sucker for corporate advertising? I like to think not, but Coca-Cola is an interesting (and in many ways unique) product. It’s one of the best-known brands around the world, and I think all of us have special memories of times we enjoyed a Coke. The company’s marketing has always been warm, upbeat, positive, and focused on the way Coca-Cola brings people together. It reminds us of the times and places and people with whom we’ve experienced Coke; as such, it’s difficult to disentangle how many of my feelings for the product come from my experiences with the product itself, and how many feelings come from the marketing which reinforces my memories of those experiences.

All I know is, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Coca Cola World. And then, as I strolled across Centennial Olympic Park toward my hotel, I remembered the conference call that I’d need to be joining in a few minutes. And a check of my phone revealed an urgent data analysis request from a client. I quickened my pace, and tried to refocus my thoughts on work. Because as much as I like Coke, and as much as I enjoyed the morning’s tour, you can’t live your whole life immersed in a Coca Cola commercial.