And now, for something a little different (besides one post every wow-has-it-really-been-that-many months)...introductions of a few farm residents.
We'll start with Katie- she's the person on the right in the picture. She's staying with us at the farm for several months after spending the last couple of years in Japan teaching English, and has an interest in international agriculture. She'll also be putting up some blog posts about the farm and a topic I have long planned to write more about- California native plants. So, when you see her name on the blog, that's who it is, and I'm excited that the blog will be a bit more up to date. I know, I know, more than two posts isn't that high of a bar- our goal is for at least one post a week.
As for the four legged beings in the picture, you may have noticed that they look different than the goats you usually see on the web site. Much longer legs, and much shorter ears. These guys are La Mancha-Saanen cross wethers I obtained when they were a mere one week old and bottle raised with the goal of making them into pack goats. I love backpacking, but I also know that my knees most likely aren't going to last forever. I considered donkeys, llamas, mules, and goats when deciding on a pack animal.
Llamas have the advantage of being relatively low maintenance, quiet, and efficient eaters who are light on the land. However, I have owned three llamas (we currently have just one) and they are too aloof for me- if I'm going to get another animal or two to take into the back country, I want a species that does more than just tolerates me, I want them to like me. Growing the llama collection didn't really excite me all that much.
Donkeys seemed like a good option- they appear to be awfully strong for their size, smart, and my friends who have them seem to really enjoy them. When you have a donkey, you still have to do all of the shots and ferrier work that a mule requires, only a mule could carry you out of the back country while still having enough smarts to take care of themselves. If I'm going to feed a mule, I might as well feed a horse, which I've wanted since I can remember. But, I don't really have enough time for a horse right now, which meant I was back to looking at pack goats.
So, back to goats. Their advantages: I already know how to take care of them, they can carry 20 to 25 percent of their body weight, and I don't have to put them in a trailer to transport them. Bert (the lighter one) and Ernie are about three and a half now and I'm starting their packing training by getting them out and about just with the saddles on. I will add paniers soon with a little weight at first and then slowly build up from there. I have to say, it is a good thing that most backpacking happens at elevations where it doesn't get as hot as it does here cause these boys are a bit more heat sensitive than I expected them to be.
I hadn't realized just how much bigger Ernie is than Bert until we took these pictures! These guys are littermate brothers, but obviously Ernie is going to be the one who will end up with the heavier packs. Ernie is a bit of a momma's boy when we're out and about- he gets pretty worried if I am more than 30 feet from him and will call to me in a clearly worried voice. Bert is quite attached to his brother, and gets worried if Ernie is more than about 30 feet from him. This should work out fairly well on the trail- I'll lead, Ernie will go where ever I go, and Bert will go wherever Ernie goes. At least, I hope it works that way out on the trail. So far, we've just gone for walks on the roads where we live, which is not all that much like being on a trail, especially with all of the cars going by.
Handling goats that are much bigger than I'm used to can be challenging, and makes me appreciate that the majority of our goats are small. I suppose that if we had more of the bigger goats, we'd be better set up for handling them and taking care of routine maintenance, but the way we are currently set up, hoof trimming turns into a two person-one-goat wrestling match. I am pretty fond of these big guys though- they are pretty affectionate, and with the bucks being in the midst of breeding season (which means lots of wether molesting by the bucks), they are pretty eager to go out for hikes these days.