Friday, September 25, 2009

Ancient Border Collie Secret Revealed!

Ever wondered how Border Collies are able to move masses of animals just by looking at them? I mean, people talk about them having a "good eye" or a "strong eye", but have you wondered how that really works? Think about it- we can stare at the goats for hours and all that happens is we find ourselves coverd in goat kids wanting attention. There has to be something more the dogs are doing than just staring at the livestock.

Last night, I discovered what it is they do! Wanna know what it is?

Apparently, they shoot laser beams from their eyes.

Don't believe me?

But I have proof! I managed to capture a picture of Stella demonstrating her technique- she's still young, which is probably why she slipped up and had her laser beams on both a)while in the house and b)not around sheep.

Amazing, right? I had no idea either.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

California State Fair

I am a huge fan of going to county fairs, possibly because I grew up going to the opening day of the Alameda County Fair every year. This is (or was) one of the best county fairs in the state, and we went despite living in a different county (which had one of the lamest county fairs and therefore will remain unnamed).

As much as I like county fairs, nothing can quite compete with going to the California State Fair at the end of the summer. My first memories of the place are from showing dogs there when I was in 4-H, and the "pet-friendly" motels we stayed in the night before the show (the cigarette burns in the mattress, the algae in the shower). I am still trying to figure out exactly where on the fair grounds we showed the year my friend Leanne's dog went jumping into one of the water features during off-leash obedience. Did I mention the dog didn't know how to swim? And you know that 4-H kids have to show in all white? Good times, good times.

My parents entered several of their miniatures and various hand crafts that my mom made, and they won a Golden Bear trophy one year. But over the years, especially since we moved to Vacaville, we have gotten to know the Cal Expo grounds as though we lived there, and I suppose when you add up the days we've spent on the grounds, we probably have spent at least a couple of months wandering the grounds.

Nigerian Dwarf goats have been showing at the State Fair for the last seven years, and unfortunately the show has been getting smaller and smaller- as has fair attendance. Part of the drop in attendance has to do with school starting earlier and earlier in the year, making it harder for families to get to the fair. But we enjoy going and even when we haven't been able to show, we have been able to drop by for a visit with our friends who are showing. After the Saturday to Saturday stay at the Cal-Expo grounds required by the ADGA national show, we looked forward to a relatively short four day stay for the State Fair.

So, the first day we get to drive onto the grounds with our animals, the UCD vet students check the animals for obvious disease, then we unload gear, animals, check in with the fair staff, they check tattoos on the animals, and then we get our credentials (so we can get back onto the grounds if we leave), then park, then return to actually set up our pens and get the animals settled in.

When we get to the livestock barn, the pens look like this:

Add one signifigant other, put up a few decorations, win a few ribbons, and the place starts looking like this:

There, much better.

One of the interesting things about being at the fair is getting to see the other livestock, and talking with the people who have other types of livestock. The cattle people don't really talk to non-cattle people...and they're too busy constantly washing off and blowing out their cattle to talk. The angora goat people were pretty friendly, the pygmy people are starting to recognize faces and warming up to us a little (it's only taken five years, but let's not rush into anything, m'kay), and the Boer goat people mostly stayed outside.

We met some new faces

Oh Hai! Have we met?

Colored Angora

White Angora-

Pygmy Buck

This is the time of year when all of the bucks start to get a little oderific, but with the pygmy bucks keeping all of their hair on, man howdy! Do they ever stink!

Just for a little size comparison, here's a 2 1/2 year old Boer buck (Boers are a meat breed) and our Mr. Lincoln (1 1/2 years) checking each other out. Mr. Lincoln's back barely comes up to the Boer's belly.

The third and fourth day of the fair (the show days), we picked up some ribbons. Raven did well:

Once Ina Blue Moon did even better:

Full results, first day:

Grand Champion Doe in Milk and Best Udder: Castle Rock Once Ina Blue Moon

Reserve Grand Champion Doe in Milk: Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven

Reserve Grand Champion Dry Doe: CRF Castle Rock Rella

Grand Champion Doe of the day: Castle Rock Once Ina Blue Moon

Reserve Grand Champion Doe of the day: Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven

Mr. Lincoln got second in his class, which was fine with me considering I only entered him in the fair because I knew that was the only way we would get an updated, shaved picture of him on the web site. I don't usually show bucks these days, but figured what the heck. He started getting really stressed after the first show, which was completely my fault. I realized at the fair that I had never taken Mr. Lincoln off the farm, and making his first experience a four-day, away from home show, was not a very good move on my part. Probiotics, electrolites, fresh hay, and a sign explaining to visitors that he didn't feel like visiting helped a little, and I pulled him from the next day's show.

Second Day's results:

Grand Champion Doe in Milk: Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven

Best Udder: Castle Rock Once Ina Blue Moon

Grand Champion Doe of the Day: Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven

All in all, pretty good considering we only took two does in milk, two dry does, and one buck. One of the things we were much more watchful about than in years past was making sure that the general public generally did not touch our goats. This sounds awful, I know, but we really did not want to bring home any exotic diseases, and people who go along touching various animals are unknowingly passing around all sorts of bugs. We were surprised that quite a few groups of animal science students came through the barns and every one of the students were touching every one of the animals. I would hope that the teachers would have explained at least some basic bio-security information to the students, but we were not so lucky.

Oh, and I finally tried a deep fried Twinkie. I've been saying I would do it for years, and then kept backing out, because really- $4!! for a Twinkie!! seemed a little expensive, even by fair-food standards. This year, curiosity finally got the better of me. It was good- probably the best way to eat a Twinkie if you have to, but not something I will be seaking out again.

We had plenty of time to check out "The Farm", the displays of beneficial and harmful insects (I tried to memorize them ALL), and the Nursery- where little baby farm animals are born and on display, and spent lots of time in the County Building to cool off since end of August + Sacramento = HOT.

There are rumors that the fair will be moving to July to accomodate school schedules next year, but there are all sorts of other activities that have to be taken into account- horse racing, vendor schedules, other big fairs, etc. Whenever it is, I'm looking forward to the next one!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Finally- an update!

I saw a rainbow in July. A real one. From the farm. In this part of California, that is super rare. I'm sure part of the reason we had enough sprinkles to make a rainbow is that I had two stacks of hay delivered the previous day. Actually, I hadn't picked the day for the hay to be delivered. The way our local hay barn works is that you go in, pay for your hay, and they tell you an approximate date that the hay will arrive. In fact, this is not at all when the hay will arrive. It may be sooner than you planned, it may be weeks after you were expecting it. There is no way to really plan around the hay arriving because the Hay Farie will bless you with your hay stacks when she darn well feels like it, and not a moment sooner. And for this, you will be thankful.

July rainbows are about as rare as updates to this blog recently. It doesn't help that in February I had written a very long post, only to have my computer crash and eat it. I re-wrote the entry, complete with lots of pictures, and my computer froze up, forcing me to turn it off and again lose everything.

This was discouraging.

Then, the kids starting arriving, life went a bit haywire, general craziness ensued, and updating the blog went to the back of the line to hang out with the goat paperwork I owe people and intended to get done before show season started.

The February post with pictures was about our little trip up to Oregon. We went for a week, got to see some friends, sampled cheese, saw new places. I would tell you more, but it appears that talking about Oregon makes my computer very angry and I'd rather not lose a post again. I may try to upload pictures later, but I am not promising anything.

February also brought us our first kids of the year, and our very first kid was a gold, polled, blue-eyed doe! I only bred 17 does this year in hopes of bringing down the total number of kids from the high of 76 last year. I still ended up with 51 kids this year: no singles, mostly triplets, two sets of quads, and one set of quintuplets. The last kids were born June 2, and even though I keep trying to compress my kidding season, it lasted too long this year, with the last bottle babies being weaned in early August.

I did get a third lesson on herding in with Stella before she started going through her equivalent of teenagehood, and for a few months put her brain in storage. More training was done on a long line, and having a small herd of wethers to work her on really helped. But, I figured that she needed to get her brain back before I would get any benefit out of taking her to classes again. And, now that she has calmed down a bit and is listening better, I am too busy to go to class regularly.

Stella has managed to train the milkers quite well now- as soon as we go out to the barn to bring them in for milking, the girls get themselves into their stall before they even see Stella. This is good and bad-- good in that it makes that part of chores go quickly, bad in that Stella doesn't have as much to do work-wise, but still plenty of drive and energy.

Show season started in April, and I am hoping to do a seperate post on how the shows have gone for us. In general, we haven't been able to get to as many shows because of either Market committments, or due to conflicts between shows.

In May, I finally got to do the Whole Earth Festival with my English Hills Soap Co. booth. The festival is held for two and a half days in May at UC Davis, and they are pretty picky about who they let in (I had to write an essay!), so I was pretty excited about being there. Walking around and seeing the level of crafts from the other vendors was pretty amazing, and I came home with some unexpected purchases. The booth did well- definitely worth the effort, and I am hoping to be there again next year.

The garden has been doing alright this summer, although the beans were hit so hard by the local deer that we didn't even get enough for one dinner's side dish. The garden is mostly fenced, but determined deer can jump quite high. The tomato plants are huge, and our garlic, onions and basil all did quite well. We are mystified as to why cucumbers do not do well here. My plans to expand the garden area were put off until next spring due to the limiting factor of only having a 24 hour day and general there's-always-something-else-more-urgent-needing-my-attention-right-now-ness. In the mean time, we are making good use of the "goat tractor" to keep the weeds somewhat down in the area that used to be lawn, which also keeps me from resenting the wethers that are still hanging around these parts.

September looks like it will be a very busy month, but I really hope to get some posts up in the near future regarding: show wins, backpacking, state fair, and maybe even baby farm animal pictures.