Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Dogs of Castle Rock Farm

So, the last couple of posts have been pretty text heavy. Mainly because I stink at taking pictures of events, like Linear Appraisal, or of shows-- heck, there are still goats that have been hanging out in my barn yard for years(!) that I haven't managed to get a single picture of.

But, I digress. Here, to mix it up a little, are a few pictures of the current canines living at the farm.

First, a picture of Minion from the day I picked her up. She's on the right, drinking, and the dog on the left that looks like a Border Collie on steroids, is her grandfather. I am hoping that she does not get nearly as big as he is.

Second, a picture of Stella, with her backpacking packs. She has not yet gone backpacking- she's just two and a half and not really ready to start carrying much weight. Plus, I haven't been backpacking since August of 2009. But, I want to start getting her used to the packs in hopes that we will get to go packing, plus she carried a couple of light weight items that I ended up using a bit and it was easier to grab them from her packs than from my pack. I think she looks quite fetching.

This is the first time she's seemed alright with the packs and not under the impression that they are going to suck out her life force. This is also the first time I've been able to take her out on a trail as opposed to the country roads around our house, so I think she was less concerned with the pack and more focused on ADVENTURE!

And finally, a picture of Stella with her new BFF, Bear. Bear is a handsome, blue-eyed husky-shepherd-golden mix who is staying on the farm for a few months along with his person.

I forgot to ask his person's permission to talk about them on the blog before I started writing, so will stick to talking about Bear for now. It took a little while for the two to warm up to each other, but now they do enjoy going on walks together and playing. Playing mainly involves wrestling and Stella leaping up and grabbing Bear's neck with her mouth, in an effort to get him to chase her. His nature is quite dignified, while Stella is very playful and energetic- they do make a very cute couple.  Stella does like to keep an eye on him and while she had warmed up to playing with Minion before Bear's arrival, she's pretty much dropped Minion like yesterday's fashion and exclusively plays with Bear.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Linear Appraisal 2010

So, before I got distracted with telling y'all about the PUPPY, I had given a summary of how show season was going up to the first weekend in June. The weekend after that, I had Linear Appraisal, which is sort of a big deal, as it is a really good source of information.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Linear Appraisal, a short explanation:

When we go to a show, our goats are judged against the other goats who are also at that show. If lots of really good goats show up and we win, then that's great. If not so nice goats show up and we win, well, that doesn't tell you all that much about the quality of our goats- but the win counts just as much as it did over the goats that were really good. During Linear Appraisal, goats are measured against a score card by a very experienced judge who has also gone through extensive appraiser training. There are several linear traits that are scored on a scale of 1 to 50 with 1 generally being way too little of the trait and 50 being way too much. Depending on what your breeding goals are, generally scores in the 25 to 35 range are the the target you are aiming for.

In theory, Linear Appraisal (LA) is an objective measurement which can give you an accurate picture of how a given animal looks based on the scores. In theory, all appraisers are the same in their scoring. We've noticed that there is more of a difference between appraisers than we thought there would be, and unfortunately, some appraisers consider themselves to be "tougher" than others, which sort of goes against that whole "objective evaluation" that is supposed to be the point of LA. In spite of this, during the two appraisal sessions I've participated in, I've learned a tremendous amount. Both times, appraisers have pointed out some trait I had not really been paying attention to. It's very nice to have a fresh set of eyes look over the herd since I can get a bit of tunnel vision- I either get so fixated on one great trait that a doe has that I ignore some other issue that she has, or I have a soft squishy spot for a doe and am more forgiving than perhaps I should be about her structure. It doesn't happen all that often, but it is good to have another evaluation of the herd from someone who is not emotionally attached.

An Appraisal session is somewhat different from a show. We still wash and clip all of the does so they will be looking their best, and we try to time things so that the does will have 12 hours to bag up. The appraiser comes to our farm instead of us going to them, and unlike a show, where we set the does up, the does are just supposed to walk naturally on a lead. The appraiser is able to spend several minutes with each goat that is being appraised, which is more time than judges get at most shows.

All does who have freshened are to be presented for appraisal and it is up to the appraiser whether they will excuse any given animal if they are not feeling well, or if the doe is dry. A couple of our does were excused- Mouzza had come down with a high fever just a few days before appraisal and was still recovering. Raven took all of 2010 off, having not freshened this year, Honey Child had just freshened, and Tuscan Sun was still two weeks from freshening, so those does were not appraised.

So, how did we do?

Overall, I was fairly pleased.


I should amend that. After letting everything percolate for a few days, I was pleased.

At first, the two scores of 82, earned by SkyRocketGilia (Lia) and Penny Wise stood out since 82 was lower than I was expecting from those two. I think in the back of my mind I had thought, going into the session, that I would be getting rid of any animals that had scored that low. But then I also realized that no one was going to force me to sell those girls if I didn't want to, and I believe that another freshening will do them some good. In Lia's case, the appraiser said that her udder held a lot of promise and would only get better with subsequent freshenings.

Once i got over being hung up on those two, I was able to focus on some of the brighter spots. Our second freshener, CH Algedi Farm H Purple Rain, had our high score of VVEE 90. CH-MCH Castle Rock Alum Root once again scored an 89- VVEV, and the appraiser said that she missed getting an E for mammary because her medial suspensory ligament was too strong and starting to affect capacity. I was surprised by this since our last appraiser indicated that he thought Nigerians as a breed really needed stronger MSLs and had said Alum Root was almost perfect in that category. CH CRF Castle Rock Blizzard scored a VVEV 88 and CRF Castle Rock Bay Berry earned our second E for mammary with a VVEE 88.

To get an overview of does in the herd, I made a few lists of the traits that I want to continue to focus on, and the does who had the strongest scores in those areas. A second list was made of the does who were weakest in those areas to help focus on who needs help and where. Traits where the herd is fairly strong, such as foreudder and MSL were not included since we're doing just fine there and don't need to focus much on improvement. I did include rump angle, rump width, rear udder arch, teat placement, and general appearance. Three does consistently floated to the top of these lists- Purple Rain, ARMCH Lost Valley TB Infinity 4*D, and Blizzard. The two bucks that I retained from my herd this year are out of Infinity (Bentley), and Purple Rain (Tanzanite), so I was happy to see that. I've also decided to retain a buck out of Blizzard next year- something I might have done this year if that had been an option, but we got twin does instead.

Our appraiser kindly allowed us to milk out most of our does before giving a score for udder texture. Just about all of the does we milked out earned 'E's for udder texture. It's nice to see the work we've done on udders show up in the scores.

We were very lucky to have several helping hands on deck who were able to help with bringing does out of the barn for me to handle and then to put them back when they were done. Rebecca, Jenn, Justin, and Sarah (who milked the girls by hand for me!) were so very helpful- I do recommend participating in LA, but I do not recommend doing it alone!

To sum up: if you can- participate in LA- I see something new in my herd every time I do. If you really listen to your appraiser, and ask good questions, you'll definitely learn something. I am already looking forward to next year and seeing how the herd does-- especially when so many of my first fresheners from this year will have another freshening on them!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dog Update: New Addition

I have two blog posts drafted- one about the rest of show season, and one about Linear Appraisal. They are fabulous! But, they will be typed up later because:
1) They are in the other room. It is late and I don't feel like looking for them now, and

2) NEW PUPPY!!!!!!

I know, you want pictures. But first, I must do an update on Stella since I haven't done one in *forever*. I meant to do one after the first year of having her here, but I realize that it has been almost two years since she joined us. It must feel a bit like an anniversary of some sort though, because lately my mother-in-law has been commenting on how much Stella has changed since we first got her.

And she is right!

To meet her today, you would really never know that she had any sort of issues, much less with fear aggression, much less with women. She is still not quite sure what to do with children- they are the size of the livestock she works, and yet, they look like people for whom she works. Dog is confused! But, she is much more comfortable meeting new people, and is generally a much more confident dog.

After three herding lessons, Stella reached her equivalent of adolescence, and going to class was not all that helpful since she mostly didn't think that she needed to listen to me. Besides, I did not want to take the chance of overwhelming her at such a young age, as is easy and tempting with so many Border Collies so I backed off on her herding training. She still has the basics down, and I'm letting her have time to mature more before trying to do anything more advanced. Some days she shows me glimmers of brilliance- a gorgeous outrun, just enough pressure to get the goats to move to where I need them, and a perfect response to "that'll do".

Other days, she is a bowling ball, my goats are the pins, some chaos ensues. Also, the neighbors are probably aware that Stella is not doing as asked.

But! Even on the days she doesn't listen as well as I would like, she is quite helpful. A couple of weeks ago, five of us could not catch one of the bucks, but with Stella's help, the buck was captured. She brings in the milkers, helps move the dry does, and keeps the goats from even thinking of doing some of the things they used to try.

She is a delightful companion, with an incredibly expressive face, and has learned enough "parlor tricks" that we sometimes forget a few when showing off. She listens in the morning for my alarm to go off and then comes in the bedroom to make sure I am awake by licking my nose. If I tell her to get, she'll go sit by the window for about ten minutes, then come back to see if I want to get up now. Who knew a dog could have a snooze button?

So, there was mention of a PUPPY, right?


Just under two weeks ago, I picked up a five and a half month old Armenian Gampr.

I know- you've never heard of the breed. I had not either until friends of ours got one, and she seems to be working well for them. The Gampr is one of the lesser known livestock guardian dog (LGD) breeds used in this country. They don't bark unless there is a good reason to, they don't like being away from home (so not a lot of wandering off the property), and our friends were so happy with their Gampr that I thought the breed would be worth a try.

Introducing Minion!

With Stella- who is clearly trying to pretend that puppy doesn't exist.

I now have two very purpose-bred dogs, though bred for very different purposes. Stella is very biddable- she reads my face and will react to changes in my expression. Minion, on the other hand, is happy to see either Andy or me, happy to say hi, and then will move on to what she would like to be doing. She has very little recall, and for that reason, she is not yet roaming with the goats. I've been getting the goats used to seeing her on the other side of the fence for the last week and a half, as I figure it will take a while for them to get used to her and not automatically figure dog = move somewhere now. Minion has spent time with sheep and goats, and has not shown much interest in chasing the goats in enclosed spaces, but I don't want to take a chance until I have more of a relationship with her and trust that she will listen to me should she start showing more interest in the goats than I think is healthy for all parties involved.

She's already about 20% larger than Stella, and if she stands on her back legs, can put her paws almost on my shoulders. Her front legs are about the size of my arms.

Did I mention that she is not yet six months old?

Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Show Season

The 2010 show season started off with a trip up to Plymouth, in gold country. And, just like 2009, we did not bring home any ribbons for our herd. It probably did not help that the night before the show, I milked pretty late, so the does did not even have 12 hours of milk before we walked in the ring. It's a nice show though for some reason the Nubians were exceptionally loud this year and both Andy and I ended up with headaches, though on the plus side we got to see lots of our goat-owning friends.

The next show we had planned on attending was in Red Bluff, and it was a new-to-us show with a bonus of getting to see the new place our friends Sierra and Shane had purchased just about half an hour from the show grounds. However, due to the exceptionally long, wet spring we'd had, several of our does came down with a skin infection that I was pretty sure had been picked up at a show. We went to UC Davis for a diagnosis and about $550 and a couple of skin cultures later had treatment in hand. However, the treatment wasn't available until after the show, so we decided not to take our goats and expose others to whatever we had been exposed to. Turns out that the skin condition was a staph infection, and is commonly seen in dairy goats during wet springs and is easy to treat. So, no big deal, just not very attractive. I still wanted to get a break from the farm though, so we ended up going to the show, which was well attended, with more Nigerians there than any other breed. We also got to see our friend Shelley Young dual finish her gorgeous doe Sly Farms GN Catalina, a daughter of our buck Guy Noir. His other daughter there, Little Dipper GN Flash Dance was consistently second to her half sister Catalina, in their large two year old class.

That's Catalina in front, with Flashdance close behind.

The weekend was surprisingly tiring for going up without any goats!

Finally, Memorial Day weekend brought us to one of our favorite shows, which is the Redwood Empire Dairy Goat Association show (REDGA). Four rings of senior does, four rings of junior does, a costume contest, goat calling contest, the fantastic buffet with goat cheeses, fantastic food, doeling auction, delicious desserts, and lots of strong competition. This year it also hosted a Nigerian Dwarf Specialty, which is only the second one I've been able to get to since we started showing with ADGA.

We did well at REDGA, with CRF Castle Rock Irish Cream winning GCH in two rings (including the Specialty), CRF Castle Rock Blizzard winning GCH in one ring and RGCH in another, CRF Castle Rock Alum Root winning GCH in one ring and RGCH in another, and CRF Castle Rock Roxanne going RGCH in one ring and winning Best Udder in the specialty show. In the specialty show, we also won best dam and daughter with Roxanne and her dam, Castle Rock Annabelle, Senior get of Sire with three Guy Noir daughters, and best three does with Blizzard, Roxanne, and Irish Cream. Three of our junior does, Siren Song, Moon River, and Sun Sapphire went RGCH.

Because several of the shows that we have gone to in the past have had to move for various reasons, and because we skipped the Red Bluff show, I decided to try heading up to a show the weekend between REDGA and Linear Appraisal. Due to various factors, I also had to go alone, leaving Andy at home to hold down the fort, but that also meant a good deal more work for me, doing most of the loading and unloading myself. Andy is also the one who makes sure that I remember to eat and get enough to drink, since show weekends find me hovering over the girls, doing way more hand milking than at home, talking with people who come by to see the goats or ask questions, and taking care of paper work. It is not uncommon for me to see that it is almost dinner time and I may have only finished half of breakfast by then. Oh, and did I mention that I can be really absent minded? I think about 25% of my time at shows is spent looking for something I know I just had a minute ago.

So, even though it was kind of crazy, I packed up five milkers and six junior does and drove the 5+ hours up to Ferndale. What a gorgeous drive! Route 20 takes you through beautiful oak-studded hills, around Clear Lake, ending at 101, where you then head up to redwood country. The does weren't overly happy with the winding roads-- Moon River spent most of the drive facing backwards in her crate with her head literally buried in straw-- but I enjoyed it. The Humbolt Dairy Goat Club is made up of some of the nicest people! I don't know if I've ever gotten a warmer welcome at a show than these people gave me. The show and pens are all in one very large enclosed building at the fairgrounds and the facility was pretty nice.

The weather was consistent the whole weekend, whether the sun was up or not- mid-50s and cloudy. I didn't see the sun for 48 hours! But, the girls didn't seem to mind too much, and settled in very well. The first day, I finished Algedi Farm H Purple Rain, with Blizzard going Best Udder and RGCH in the first ring, and GCH & Best Udder in the second. Irish Cream went reserve to Blizzard in the second ring of the day. Junior does Moon River and Sugar Bush earned their junior champion legs, and because I was so busy trying to wrangle people into showing my juniors, I forgot to write down which of my juniors went reserve (but two of them did!). I also got a surprise visit from my friend Melanie who lives a few hours away but showed up at the show anyway! What a great day!

I camped at the fairgrounds, and would you believe, the people in a tent about 40 feet from mine snored SO loudly that it woke me up. Three times!

Sunday brought another two senior doe rings, and in the first one, Blizzard went GCH and Best Udder, giving her that third leg she needed to finish. Alum Root went reserve to Blizzard, and in the next ring went GCH and Best Udder, while Irish Cream went reserve. When the judge was looking at all of the Best Udder of Breed does to give Best Udder in Show, she noted that she was surprised to see that the doe who milked out the best was the Nigerian- Alum Root. :) Sun Sapphire and Moon River won GCH junior doe, and then it was finally time to go home.

Finishing two does in one weekend was definitely worth the long drive!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kidding Season

So many blog posts rolling around in my head, so little time to actually write them down...

And that would be due to kidding season! Last year, we had 51 kids born between February and the first week of June. Because kidding went late, I was still bottle feeding in August (not terribly happy with that). So, I decided to try something different- for 2010, I wanted to have the majority of my kids in February and March. I figured that I could just sacrifice the month of February to kidding, then catch the rest of the does who didn't settle for March kids, and hopefully be done with bottle feeding by the time show season rolls around. Instead of having most of the does kid in February, it was more of a 50-50 split between the two months. I will have to see how I feel once everyone is weaned before I will really know if I like this system better than spreading it out more. For one thing, we only have so much room, and having all our kids so close together means that we're a bit tight for space. It also means that I am talking with more goat customers in a shorter amount of time, which limits how much time I have for other things (i.e. making products for my business, sleep, blog updates, dog training, etc.). But, that is for another post- on to the results of kidding season!

Between February 4 and March 30th, 65 baby goats have made their way into the world here at Castle Rock Farm. We've had 33 doe kids and 32 buck kids, with lots and lots of broken buckskins. I'm very happy with the structure of many of the kids, especially the improvement in rump width, flatness, and height of thurls I've been aiming for since our 2008 Linear Appraisal. So far, I think we're retaining about a dozen doe kids and at least one buck kid- good thing I got the herd down to just over 40 members before kidding season started!

I've heard from several other breeders that the 2010 kidding season has been a difficult one, and we've not escaped that. Just a few days before she was due to kid, we lost our dear MCH-PGCH Castle Rock Once Ina Blue Moon 2*D to pregnancy toxemia, which was ultimately caused by undetected tooth problems. Two weeks later, I was devastated by the loss of ARMCH-PGCH-CH Esperanza WS Sara *D due to complications from kidding. Both does were not only exceptional show animals, but had wonderful (in very different ways) personalities. I still notice their absence in the barnyard and in the milk room every day. I am fortunate to have five Sara daughters, and many more granddaughters in my herd, but I always have felt incredibly lucky to have Sara and it will take an exceptional doe to fill the hole she has left.

Last year, I only freshened one 2008 doe kid, so it has been a while since I've seen first freshening udders on the farm. I have to remind myself not to judge capacity or teat size for the first few weeks on these girls! It's been interesting to see all these little first fresheners and to finally get to see what Barnaby, Guy Noir, and Sky Walker put on the ground. I have to say, I'm happy with all three guys so far! Barnaby seems to have put some nice rear udder height and MSL on his daughters, Guy Noir has improved MSL, lateral attachments, teat placement, and overall structure on his daughters, and Sky Walker has improved udder height and placement on his daughters.

My milking string is currently 21 does strong, which means I really need to get a new stanchon so I can milk more than one doe at a time. I also need to start milk test again now that I have a milk tester on hand. If I'm going to be milking these girls through till Christmas, I should get some milking stars too!

This June, we'll also be participating in Linear Appraisal, a great program we did in 2008 where goats are judged against the score card on many different traits. I found this to be a great source of information when we did it previously, and I am looking forward to seeing how it goes this year.

This morning, I disbudded the last sets of kids born...for now at least. It looks like we'll have at least a couple more sets of kids born in May and possibly a couple of 2009 kids freshening then as well. Those 2009 kids I didn't really mean to breed- mainly because I didn't want to milk more than 20 or so does, but if they did settle (I think I can see little udders forming on them), I'll be totally okay with the resulting babies.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Can you all do me a favor?

Hum to yourself your favorite muzak tune while reading the following:

Your readership of our blog and web site are very important to us. Please stand by while we work to improve our level of service. We will be with you shortly.

You can stop humming now. Unless you are my mom, in which case you will continue to hum for the rest of the day, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Anyway, my point in this little exercise is to say to the two or three of you who are still checking on our blog and/or web site that we have been experiencing some significant technical difficulties over the past several months. For example: the hard drive of the computer that I used for the majority of record keeping, web site maintenance, etc fried a few months ago. I thought it was a virus, and if it had been, well I could have retrieved most of the data. Since the hard drive fried, there was nothing to retrieve. And this was the year I had actually been keeping records of everything as I went along. To make it all worse, I thought I had done a major data back up in August (turns out it was April), and I had missed backing up most of the new product labels I had made. This may not sound like a big deal, but it did represent hours and hours of work. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Add in some major problems with one of my web host companies, and a health issue that rendered me useless for the first half of November, plus the passing of my grandma just a week and a half before I was supposed to visit her, and the last quarter of 2009 was a bit complicated.

Now that the end of year craziness is over, I am hoping to tackle several of the technical difficulties that have popped up lately one by one. So please, bear with us. I have six weeks or so until kidding season starts, and I am planning on spending most of that time in front of the computer, getting the web site back up to date, and hopefully getting a few posts up as well.

Happy New Year!