Tragoidoi (Goat Songs).

A nursery full of kids – literally a kindergarten!

One of the ancient theories about the origin of the word “tragedy” – a word whose origin remains controversial to this day – was that it came from the Greek word tragos, meaning goat, and odos, meaning song. But why would this have anything to do with the dramatic and tragic reenactment of tales with unhappy endings? Scholars will pick out, parse, and try to understand such ancient explanations, which they will generally dismiss, until the cows (or better, goats) come home.

But, after having had three goats give birth in the past six days, and having effectively doubled our herd size in the past week, I now think I understand where the term comes from: if ancient audiences were generally moved to high pitched emotional states by tragedy, as our sources indicate sometimes was the case, the term tragedos could simply refer to the intensity of the emotion such performances elicited. In short, it draws on a metaphor from the Greeks’ intimate relationship with an animal that they knew could make a noise like no other – a goat in labor, than which nothing sound more like a tragic lament!

Leah cleans her daughter Eris, fresh out of her mom and into the straw!

Janet was the worst; Marguerite evinced a stalwart stiff upper-lip; today Leah gave birth, and, while not as Stoic as Marguerite, was certainly less noisy than her sister Janet. This time, I am embarrassed to say, we were taken a bit unawares. We were planning to put Leah in her birthing stall at some point today (it was her due date), but were a bit more nonchalant than we should have been because Marguerite and Janet were both a couple of days late and we thought we had time. We did not.

At 1:30 after a rather late lunch we went out to the barn to find Leah in labor. We quickly hustled Obie and Anna onto the pasture (where they proceeded to scream though the whole proceeding to be let back into the barn), set up a makeshift shelter of straw bales around Leah, and watched her give birth to a beautiful 8.5 lb. doe named Eris, after the first principle of creation in Hesiod’s 8th century BC poem about the Greek gods and creation. If she is to have a cousin named Pandora, I thought, it is only appropriate that she have an equally ominous name! So, her name will be Eris, the Greek term for Strife, but we will hope that she will be untrue to her name.

After some time we moved Marguerite and her kids to Janet’s stall which we divided in half. We moved Leah into Marguerite’s stall and Leah’s kid started nursing with abandon on her mother. We appear to have five robust and happy kids, and Janet’s kids have now started to sport on their extremely patient mother. We are glad to be done with kidding for the moment and exhilarated as well, and look forward to milking soon and making cheese. And now, for the moment, we can focus on raising five happy and healthy kids and getting their mothers up to strength in their new roles as parents and milk producers. For the moment, there will be no more drama, no more tragoidos on our hill.


Life Emergent.

Presented with little comment, since words fail. The short narrative: I was working the annual plant sale at the extension when I got a text from Lori that Marguerite’s water broke. I rushed home and between 5:35 and 5:48 PM she delivered twins: a buck and a doe (that we will keep and name Pandora). She handled her labor better than Janet, and Janet caterwalled that entire time – perhaps she was remembering her pain earlier this week, perhaps she wanted to steal Marguerite’s kids. Who knows?

Fresh out of the oven! Pandora and her little brother quickly learn to get on their feet!

Marguerite cleans off little Pandora while her brother shows interest in drinking his first mother’s milk!

Marguerite cleans Pandora.

Kastor and Pollux, oblivious to their aunt Marguerite’s brith cries, sports on their mother, Janet.

Kastor’s first time on pasture; he is still a bit wobbly and ungainly with his long long legs!

Mmmmm, yum! The breakfast of champions! Pollux tends to be a bit greedy and pushy when extracting his mother’s milk.

Kastor feeds while his brother looks for the best approach to his mother’s udder.


The proud mother, Miss Janet, cracks a smile over her two new bucks, Kastor on the left, and Pollux on the right.

Well, life never turns out like you plan and that is why improv was invented! We had our day all planned out: Composting the tomato bed, clearing the east garden out for our cuccurbids, irrigating onions, clearing out the chard from our circle garden to make room for roses. All meticulously planned over cold cereal, almond milk and bananas. As I went outside to get our day going I made one more check on Janet, who first thing in the morning was just chewing cud and munching alfalfa quietly. Then . . . Badaboom!

She was pushing, and she was bleating. Loudly. No, LOUDLY. And she was pushing some more. She was about to give birth, at last. The day before I had fallen over some poultry netting, landing on my spine and injuring my wrists that I used to break my fall. I literally hobbled back to the house screaming and limping, and caught Nancy as she was about to go into the shower and Lori as she was about to try to reach a client by phone for a third time. The day was sent into a tailspin. We all went running out to the barn to find two hooves protruding from Janet’s vulva. She was screaming and it seemed the hills were echoing with her birth pangs. Her labor went on for quite some time, and the first birth was long and arduous since this was her first time: she cried the whole time, and it was so bad that I went to work in the garden for a spell.

I am a coward when it comes to pain, no better than the Greeks who abandoned Philoctetes on Lemnos. I thinned spinach. I made sure the greenhouse was warm and the plants vigorous. I sprayed insecticidal soap on the chard that is being besieged by leaf miners. In the midst of this, Nancy and Lori stood vigil, and it came. A nine pound baby goat named Kastor. For what seemed like hours she pushed and for what seemed like hours his hooves peaked out of her vulva and for what seemed like hours we resisted the human temptation to intervene. Nature knows, and that is why I, at least, walked away. Janet could take care of this, as her ancestors had for centuries. He finally popped out. And about a half hour later, maybe less, his twin brother emerged into the light – another beautiful buck named Pollux. The Gemini Twins. Each weighing in at 9 pounds – the Dioscuri come to light on our farm on a glorious Spring day in a heave of amniotic fluid and straw. It is a trite but wonderful observation that birth and life are messy. Such was the case today.

Neighbors came and admired. Neighbors came with experience and helped. Birth at home, human or animal, depends on community. It was wonderful. We got some very important and essential advice that we would otherwise not have had: who knew that you need to break the plug on teats by squeezing them first so that the kids can feed on mother’s milk?

Janet cleans Pollux while Nancy cleans up the stall and adds more straw. How will we tell them apart? Simple. Kastor has wattles and Pollux does not.

The mother cleaned the kids; we dipped the umbilical cords in iodine; we fed the mother oats and gave her warm water with molasses; we injected the kids with boosters of Bovi Sera and BoSe – and the mother as well; we helped the two little brothers find the teats, amidst the blood and amniotic fluid and afterbirth, to nurse on colostrum; we mucked out the stall of the foul matter that attends birth; we got covered in the thick black poops that kids emit; I buried the placenta in one of our raised beds; we will eat it in the fennel, or kale, or quinoa that we grow in the beds this summer – there is no such thing as waste; we heaped towels stained red and yellow with blood and amniotic fluid and afterbirth in plastic tubs; we stood in amazement, exhaustion, and delight, at the end of what seemed a long journey, from our first encounter with goats at a farm in Yachats that was only three and a half years ago but seems eons.

Nancy holds Pollux as she prepares to clean yellow amniotic fluid off of his white fur. Both bucks are a cross between a Toggenburg buck and their Saanen doe mother.

Lori and Nancy were wonderful as midwives: they attended both the mother and newborns with extraordinary aplomb – a good thing, since I doubt I could. We have been full of adrenaline all day as we watch this. Can you know life without goats? Yes. But then, why?

A favorite professor once told me that going through life without reading Plato’s Symposium would be like going through life without swimming in the ocean, drinking wine, or falling in love. He was right – but I would add one more thing: or without birthing and raising Pan’s most beloved animal.

Pacing the Waiting Room Floor at the Maternity Ward.

Spring here has been about as close to Eden as it gets. Despite cool wet days we are assaulted by an ocean of blossoms and waves of flowers, and have been for a good six weeks now, if not more.

Spring has been anything but dull here lately. Three of our four pregnant goats are due between now and the 28th of this month. Their bellies have grown enormous; their udders are swelling by the day and their teats are at last elongating; they are rotund, and, I suspect, miserable and ready to be done. And now we are waiting. The other day we put Janet into isolation since she is closing in on her time to deliver. We shaved her udder and put her in her pen where she has now been in blissful isolation for three days. We will need to use our newly arrived hobble before we shave either Leah or Marguerite because neither is as docile or good-natured as Janet is, but soon they will be in the maternity ward as well.

Then all hell will break loose – we will be caring for kids, milking the mothers twice a day, and feeding the kids three to four times daily. We will also start to make our own chevre, feta, ricotta, yogurt, butter, and cream right from our own animals (at last, hooray!) Our milking supplies arrived yesterday and all of the supplies we will need for kidding from a goat supply company in Georgia (yes, such things exist and thank goodness for the internet).

But in the midst of all of this it will be time to put in the vegetable garden, and that will prove as much work this year as last, in part because we are still learning: last year we did some things wrong, some things right. We are going to start to use boxes in combination with raised beds because they are so productive, but that now means building about thirty boxes, anywhere from 10’ x 3’ to 6’ x 2.5’, each anywhere from 1-2 feet in height out of cedar. I hit the number 12 mark yesterday so am a third to halfway there after only three or four days of construction. Yesterday we had 20 cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered and I intend to put wire on the bottom of each box (fine mesh) to keep the voles out of my crops (note to self: cats hunt everywhere and everything EXCEPT what you want them to hunt!) and then use the tractor’s front end loader to fill the boxes with the compost.

This is what 20 cubic yards of mushroom compost looks like, and it takes a lot of tractor trips into the garden to feed the soil!

Each section of the garden will have three rows of boxes, three rows of crops in ground, and then an extra row or three for “permanent” rotating crops (such as strawberries). We also leave space for some fruit trees and mini flower meadows to attract pollinators and beneficial insects – plus it’s just nice to have flowers with the veggies. A full quarter of the garden we’ll plant with sunflowers as feed for our chickens this fall.

Raised beds going into the garden will be neighbors this year to our Walla Walla onions, just planted today to the left of the boxes in the picture.

Lori and her sister Nancy have proven themselves master weeders; the whole garden has been taken over by weeds and turf, hence our desire to use raised beds for the sake of better control. But some things will need to stay in the ground: strawberries and our asparagus patch for starters. Both had been taken over by weeds and the situation was dire, but Lori and Nancy did a great job clearing the beds, and today we cleaned up a raised bed of turf pulling and cutting it all out, then put down some 0-20-0 fertilizer (bone meal), forked it, put 5 inches of compost on top and then planted about 200 Walla-Walla Sweets. We also used the tractor to fill up three raised beds with compost. I’ll add soil tomorrow or this weekend depending on the weather and then plant about 30 feet worth of cabbage for kraut this summer and fall.

You have never seen such succulent spinach as the stuff that grows in the raised bed, filled with compost, in front of our greenhouse!

If the greenhouse looks a bit empty it’s because by day it gets to over 100 degrees in there even on a cool day, so the cool weather crops need to be taken out to be hardened off; at night it stays – even on 34 degree nights like last night – a comfortable 60.

A few green house tomatoes, mescaline we’ve been eating all spring, and two flats of cabbages – all await transplant into their spring and summer homes.

What on Earth will you do with 100 tomato plants? Sauce my friend, sauce!

All the work in the greenhouse has already made my hands chapped, since I’ve been mixing dirt and spreading it in containers for seedlings. The greenhouse is now full of a prodigious amount of veggies and herbs: the tarragon has exploded, a big deal for me since I’ve never had success growing tarragon even in the summer let alone the cool Oregon spring; I lost my greenhouse cucumbers and most of my greenhouse tomatoes to dampening off but learned from that experience, so we now have lots of tomatoes and peppers (I’ve not yet planted the cucs); our mesculin, lettuces, and dandelion greens have long since exploded; we are desperate to get our red and green cabbages in the ground; our kale and broccoli rabe will be much happier in the ground too, and our fennel has exploded. Life got much much better for the heat lovers once I ran a wire out to the greenhouse; I plugged in a fan and a space heater that I put on at night and leave on until the sun hits it in the morning.

We also found a local supply of organic unfiltered apple cider without preservatives that we have started to buy up and brew as hard cider. It will be nice to have that as we get into the long hot days of summer, with all the work it entails. It’s easy for me to forget that in addition to all of this I will need to start to plan my courses at Linfield for next year, when I’ll start to teach Ancient Greek History in the Fall and Ancient Roman History come spring – a further incentive to get as much done as possible soon, so I can start to think about how I want to structure those courses.

On the left is the beefy Titus Pullo with his sidekick Lucius Vorenus on the right. Ave, Galle, nos ededituri salvamus te!

On the poultry front, our two young Brown Comb Leghorn roosters, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, have started to try to crow; Titus is the alpha rooster, and I think will be giving Sulyeman a real run for his money. We had no idea just how nasty roosters were however, so we are going to choose the most handsome of our Leghorns as master of both flocks and the other two will be destined for processing with our red rangers in a few weeks. Older tougher birds we reserve for stock and food for Puck! My guess is that Titus will end up the winner – and be a pretty big guy too boot.

The old flock out on pasture, destined to eventually face the tyranny of Titus Pullo.

Janet in her stall, waiting soon to become “Mama” Janet. Because she is confined at the moment she gets special attention and walks outside daily.

Apart from that we are waiting. Waiting for new life to arrive on our farm. Waiting for Eileithyia to safely deliver our girls.

The Chorus Goes Topless

A spring day with a red currant in full bloom and a cherry tree about to burst into blossom.

Okay – still waiting for the naked chorus, as per the last post. But the weather here was glorious up until a few days ago, and if it is not naked yet, the chorus has at least removed its winter garb and is starting to go topless. Temperatures were in the high sixties to low seventies with a mix of sun and clouds and the beautiful weather propelled us into full farm mode – harried with getting ready for kids, prepping for more chickens as we get ready for more broilers and layers, preparing the garden for planting, putting in lots more fruit and nut trees . . . and all the infrastructure this entails: kidding pens; corrals for the kids; more coops; more poultry netting; more t-posts and chicken wire to protect the trees. Aaaagh!

Things are busy around our little greenhouse right now which is full of tomatoes, greens, and flower starts at the moment.

Last weekend we tried to take Easter off, but to no avail. We spent it planting flowers in our circle garden (where we are putting in roses), as well as making sauerkraut, bread, and a dinner of roast duck and blueberry pie (we still have blueberries in the freezer from this past summer). We were beat at day’s end. But it was better that the previous weekend, when I planted eight cider apple trees, two peach trees, and two walnut trees (and also transplanted our pinot noir vines from our garden to the backyard). And what better way to spend Easter than planting a rose garden!

Easter morning with a view looking to our neighbors’ south from the end of our drive.

This week we started to put in a corral for our goat kids, and a door from the kidding pens to the corral as well. We pounded t-posts for the better part of the morning on Thursday and affixed cattle panel to them with metal wire before spending the rest of the day tending our plants. The warm temperatures, cool nights, and now steady rain are doing wonders for our greens, and our lettuces, spinach, dandelion greens, and chard are as lovely as any I’ve ever seen – I’m so proud of them! It’s how vegetables should look, and my guess is that, with organic chard at $3.50 a bunch and lettuce even more that that alone will repay all our investment in garden equipment over the past year. Last night we had our first batch of dandelion greens sautéed in olive oil with a drizzle of sea salt – they were some of the finest greens I’ve ever had.

We built a second milk stand based on the one we bought last summer – ours is on the left! Hopefully both are about to get frequent use!

We also planted a large number of starts including several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, basil, marigolds, and zinnias for the garden (we are great believers in companion planting). I also installed a temporary heater and fan in the green house to coax the heat loving veggies along.

We put in birthing/kid pens for our goaty girls last week – not pictured is the door I installed on the stall on the right this past Friday.

Lori had to head back east on Tuesday, so Nancy and I have had to trade off on chores, but we ticked a big one off when we got kidding and milking supplies finally ordered. Sometime in the next week Janet and Marguerite will go into their birthing stalls and hopefully we will double our herd come the end of the month.

Another big leap was getting our second flock of laying chicks out on pasture and our older flock out of the garden and onto pasture. Everyone seems happier and healthier now that they are ranging out on grass, though I’d have thought the chickens would have taken more to the weeds, oats, and grass that are all over our garden at the moment (and soon to be dug in with gobs of our own compost as well as some local mushroom compost).

Today, Sunday, is stormy – high winds and horizontal rain, so it will be a trip to the lumber yard and work in our barn for us, as we start to make some raised beds to put in our garden for sweet potatoes and other produce. Hopefully it will be less eventful than it was first thing this morning: We started our day chasing the roof of our portable egg mobile through our pasture – a gust of wind carried it 30 or 40 feet despite the weight of a concrete block on top of it, so in the midst of wind and driving rain I had to repair the roof and improvise a more stable permanent system (hooks and bungees now affix the roof to the coop!) for our birds, who are now happily safe and dry.

April is the cruelest of months not just for Eliot! And now, off for a day of construction and, maybe later, making some home cider so we have something cold and fizzy to drink as the heat of summer approaches, and as the Graces continue to doff various and sundry articles of clothing!