Jun 13 2010

Naughty Kids

Well, there’s been high drama in the goat shed. One of the chevres, brown and cute, hadn’t been eating that much for a few days. I was hoping she was just a selective eater (some of them pick out the sunflower seeds with their tongues) – but when Laure came with us for the evening milking and saw her condition, she immediately went to get a thermometer. A few seconds later, we had learned a. how to take the temperature of a goat (I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t go under their tongues) and b. that our little goat was quite sick. How sick? Laurent, firm believer in homeopathic remedies, gave her a shot of antibiotics in the neck. When we asked whether he’d know if it were working, he responded matter-of-factly:  “If not, tomorrow she’ll be dead.”

Good news, though: it’s now several days later, and the little lady – who has been spending her evenings in a special straw padded stall and has two red bands around her ankles – is, as they say, getting her goat back. She now wants to eat with the others, and has been bleating in protest when we sequester her at night – which would be sort of funny, except that thanks to her lung infection, she has a cough. “Meh-eh-eh-eh, me-eh-eh, [cough, cough], meh-eh-eh.” It’s one of the saddest sounds I’ve ever heard.

I'm the queen of the bucket!

Meanwhile the baby goats, otherwise known as the chevrettes (sort of like the Rockettes, except smaller, and with a closer resemblance to the creatures in Avatar), have been up to trouble. For the past few mornings, I’ve noticed that the bucket that holds their food has been empty. Nightime, full. Morning, totally empty. Since I’m the one who’s been filling it, I know that something funny’s going on.

Take us to the tree of souls!

I’d assumed that it must be some sort of animal that’d been sneaking in at night and eating all the grain — there’s a mole-like hole in the dirt next to the entrance to their pen, and having seen Fantastic Mr. Fox, I thought that someone was carrying out a secret attack on the farm (first goat feed, next, chickens!). But then Isabelle went to feed the goats, and announced that there was a small black one whose stomach was bloated – suggesting that the mysterious attacker was actually just a rogue chevrette.

Let me explain how odd this would be: the goat feed is, logically, outside the goat pen. The goats are kept in by a wooden wall and a chickenwire fence. Yes, I had noticed a few days ago that the same black goat had managed to stick her entire head under the wooden fence and was using her tongue, frog-like, to nab bits of food that had fallen on the ground. But I never saw her outside the fence – and each morning, she was safely inside, ready to stick her head under the other side of the chevrette enclosure, the one that looks into the milking station, and complain loudly to her mother every time we brought the adults in.

It reminds me of a story Peter told me about an octopus who somehow figured how to get out of its tank at night, slither across the floor, eat all the crabs out of a different tank, and then get back home before the scientists came back in the morning. I think they used a hidden camera to figure it out (the scientists, not the octopus.) We don’t have such technology available in the chevrette pen – but trust me: something naughty is going on.

Goat cam

Couples that milk together, stick together.

Jun 13 2010

Hijinks on the Farm

Here is something I learned this morning: chickens do not like it when you take their eggs. I don’t know why I ever thought otherwise – we’re essentially snatching their unborn babies and using them for a frittata. But reality had never hit home until this morning when, after we finished milking, Peter and I noticed a chicken who had made a nest in the goat shed.

I’d heard mention of this chicken before – Isabelle had spoken of how there were certain poules who had separated themselves from the flock near the pigpen and had made homes for themselves around the farm. Still, it was an odd choice for a location, directly beneath the goats’ water basin. Whatever bird it was, I decided, must be one tough chicken.

And indeed she was, a fact that should have been obvious by the look she gave us when we leaned down to see if she were sitting on anything. I believe it was chicken-eye for “Watch your fucking step.” But I’ve been brainwashed by the illustrations on cartons of organic  eggs, and figured that she’d be all too happy to share.  After all, aren’t we all just one big happy farm?

No, the chicken said, no we are not. I reached toward her to nudge her aside, but before my hand had made it halfway to her nest, she lunged toward me and snatched the skin on the back of my hand in her beak. It was an impressive attack, made more so when she refused to let go. “Peter!” I said, as she glared at me, the look in her eyes saying that she had no intention of releasing me.

I dare you.

But luckily she did, distracted by the end of a broom that Peter used to gently push her off the nest, holding her away until I could take the four (four!) eggs she’d been sitting on. I felt a little bad when we hard-boiled them for breakfast, but later on, the joke was on us: when we went to gather eggs from the main chicken coop, we picked up two fake ones, put there by Isabelle to encourage the chickens to tend their nests (and, apparently, to fool ignorant WWOOFers).

Speaking of jokes, this afternoon, Peter and I were standing by the buque (sp?) – the male goat whose job it is to impregnate the entire flock, including his daughters, each August.

“Why don’t you rub him on the head?” Peter said as we stood there. I noticed a naughty look in his eye, but I couldn’t figure out why. The buque , whose name is Titus, seemed friendly enough, and he’d come up to us as if inviting us to pet him. I squinted my eyes at Peter.

“Why?” I asked. “Does he get mad?”

“Just rub his head between his horns.”

I scanned my memory once more for any counterindication, but came up with a blank – so I reached out and rubbed Titus on the head. The goat seemed to enjoy it; Peter, on the other hand, was doubled over in laughter.


“You don’t remember what Laure told us?” he asked. “About the gland?”

A memory came rushing back: when she’d given us the tour of the farm, Laure had warned that male goats have a gland on the top of their heads, right between their horns, that produces a very strong goat odor – goat essence, if you will. If you get it on your hands, she said, it could last for days.

I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten this, especially since Laure had told it to me in French and I had personally translated it for Peter. But it was too late: my first two fingers on my left hand were covered in eau de buque.

C'mon. Rub my head.

But Peter got his comeuppance: not only is he still recovering from a 12-inch-diameter bruise he got the first night we were here when he fell off a log he was using to get a better look at the pigs, but the other night he got the rope we use to move the goats inside caught between his toe and his sandals. The problem? It was raining, and the rope – which contains metal – is connected to the electric fence. By the time he got his foot free, he said he could feel the electricity in his armpits.