Category Archives: Learning to Farm

Howling Duck Ranch Moves North, Part One

After conquering 'The Hill' and several hours of the poor Chiclcotin blacktop, it was time to stop for a much needed rest for everybody.

Here’s to good friends old and new–thank-you all:

Some would say I seem to have a knack for meeting interesting people. I would say I get terribly lucky with who shows up in my life! After many months of being alone here in Grande Prairie, Alberta, I finally have my beloved goats and horse with me. The are now safely installed and well looked after on two different farms. How did this happen?

One night around 2:30 am, one of the Nurses I was working night shift with leaned across the table and asked, “So what else do you do besides work here?” I couldn’t have asked for a better entree. Without a word I flicked on the computer and showed her my blog.

We spent the next few hours getting much work done (not) and learning a whole lot about each other. As it turns out, we are kindred spirits. She has married a farmer and despite her city background now finds herself  knee deep in cow poop, often. Cuz, life on a farm is always about poop! Hence the title of my book. But I digress.

I can’t remember if it was actually that night or soon thereafter that she offered not only a place for my goats to live but also the loan of her stock trailer to get them here.  I couldn’t believe my ears, or my luck. She then took me to her farm to meet her husband, her son, and her variety of barn animals: cows, goats, horses, and token llama. These folks lent me their stock trailer without hesitation or acceptance of payment. But they did wonder if I could perhaps look after their place when they went away later than month? “Later this month, later next month, and any other time you want to go!”

Once the idea of moving my horse and goats was transformed by my new friend from a fantasy to a real possibility, I asked my friend Rex  (who I’d met very briefly along with his wife years ago at another friend’s place and whose farm I moved up here to look after for 5 weeks last summer) if he was really serious last year when he said I was welcome to bring Nick to his farm. “Of course you can. I just can’t promise nothing will go wrong out here. It’s got older fencing and barbed wire and who knows what else in the field,” he cautioned, more I hope to console himself than to warn me. He does after all have two of his own horses on the land and it quite meticulous about keeping his place up. Moreover, he is a Vet. I decided I would risk  it and bring Nick here!

It was a whirlwind trip and I barely had time for two nights at Howling Duck Ranch. I did manage to get a visit in with a couple of  good friends from the valley, Clarence being one of them. We had a pancake breakfast reunion. Something a few of us used to get together to do when I lived there. It was too short a visit but better than no visit at all. The next day I was up early, loading the goats, and heading to the barn where Nick was kept.  I was looking forward to seeing my friend’s husband. I was not looking forward to not seeing her. Clare had developed Rolling Pigeon Ranch over many years in the valley and I met her when I decided to take up horse back riding lessons. Clare died far too young last December and I’d not been able to get to her funeral. She is the first friend that was part of my day to day life (up until leaving the valley) that I have lost. Coming to the valley and visiting with her husband was an emotional reunion for both of us. I finally got a chance to grieve her with someone who knew her and loved her too. It was a bittersweet, but much needed, visit for me.

How l like to remember Clare. She was at her best while instructing riding on her own hand made trails.

The only time I’ve ever trailered Nick, Clare was there to do the work for me. I could rely on her know-how and just be the heavy lifter! Today however I would be doing it for the first time alone and I was nervous about it. We had a long, long trip ahead of us and, to date, I’d only done a 5 hr journey with Nick when Clare was at the helm. Before I tried to get him in the trailer, I looked up at the sky and said quietly, “Clare, I’m going to need your help with this.” Then I opened the doors and walked Nick into the trailer. It was that easy. “Thank-you,” I whispered skywards as I closed the doors and latched them closed. And just like that we were on our way.

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Developing Community, Horses, Learning to Farm

My book is finally complete!

Well it’s taken a long time for me to get this book finished but it’s finally done and out in the stores for sale! This is thanks to the hard work of the Caitlin Press Publishing crew. I am very happy with how it turned out. Vici (the owner of Caitlin Press) said she wanted to try to get it in color but was not sure it would be possible. But she managed the impossible and it looks great. There are many color photos inside that illustrate what I was up to. Some you will have seen on this blog and some are new.

It was a nice surprise to wake up to a box of my very own book on my front porch last week. Even funnier surprise to hear that my mum bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day!

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Filed under Books, Educational, Food preservation, Food Sovereignty, Hunting, Learning to Farm, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Recipes, Uncategorized

Cattle branding 2010

I’ve just been to my first cattle branding party ever and now that I’m ready to write the post I notice there is no category for me to place this post under! Cattle it is, and calves they were. A few weeks ago I had my first farm stay guest–a cowboy from Alberta. After coming all the way to Howling Duck Ranch for a much needed holiday (and to help butcher my goats!), he kindly invited me to come to a cattle branding party.

I have always loved the idea of cowboy ranching and here was an opportunity to see it live and in person. I’ve loved western movies all my life and can practically recite the dialogue from Lonesome Dove with little encouragement. Since that first trip out to the farm of my dad’s friend when I was 5 years old, I have wanted to farm and own cows. The more recent addition to the fantasy was to work them from a horse. Having  not been born into a ranching family nor even known one, I never thought I would ever get the opportunity–and now here it was being offered on my blog!

“It’s in a place called Pine Lake, Alberta,” Jeff told me when I called to ask him if the offer was serious. “We’ll be rounding them up, branding, tagging, vaccinating, and castrating… I think you’ll really enjoy it.”

I laughed. “Well, that’s some first date,” but I was secretly thrilled.

Some of the calves waiting to be branded.

For the first while I hung back, took photos, and observed all the goings on. The people were rounding the calves up and cutting them to get them into the chute. Others were keeping the fires going for the branding tools. Some were on ear tagging duty. Jeff was in charge of vaccinations and yet another fellow was doing the castrating.

“Kristeva wants to do the cutting” Jeff announced matter-of-factly while the men were delegating tasks. Much to my horror, they nearly took him seriously. Flattered, but not quite that game, I quietly declined. The look on one man’s face told me he would have loved to be relieved of the task–maybe it hurts internally to do that job when you are a man!

Lots of folks involved in the different aspects of the job. This view from the calf pen on through to the chute.

With all that was going on around me, it was a bit overwhelming to say the least. To make matters more confusing for an inexperienced greenhorn like me there were three different men’s cattle to brand, which made the job of cutting more exciting. I was determined to get in on the action and learn how to do something. When I finally felt brave enough I asked if I could learn to cut and run the calves up the chute. The man who would be my mentor looked me up and down, “I don’t know” he said, reluctance oozing out of his every pour. “Even with my 25+ years of experience one of them little buggers nearly got me in the chops just this morning.” He looked at my clean jeans and pink trimmed jean shirt and was busy summing me up, “Are you sure you want to do this?” When I nodded, and without waiting for him to formulate the wrong conclusion, clambered over the fence into the pen.

Step one: cutting calves.

Learning to cut calves from the herd. Step two: into the chute.

Jack watches over what I’m doing and gives me guidance and pointers along the way. In the above photo I’m reaching for a calf’s tail but without much confidence. Once I get him up the chute, Jack tells me that I hesitated and the little calf had considered kicking me. “When you make your decision as to which one you’re cutting, you don’t hesitate. Get right in there behind him so he can’t get you,” he said, moving in close to the calf’s behind with his legs. “You get behind with one leg and move him against the fence with the other, like so.”

Receiving more calf handling pointers.

“Once you have them here you maintain control by keeping their heads from turning around. You do that by putting your hand in front of their eye as it come around and direct their head back.” He told me they can sometimes climb up and over the chute fencing, which I thought would make for some lively debate. “If that happens you pull back on their tails and that straightens them right out.”

Once you have them in front of the chute, you check what sex they are and if they have horn buds. When you move them into the chute you call out their gender and whether they have horns. That way the men know which procedures each calf needs. “We’re breeding most of them to be naturally dehorned, but because some of the mothers have horns or are from horned cows, they still show up every now and then.”

Step three: drugs, sex, and horny bulls (aka, branding, tagging, vaccinating, and cutting).

The little heifer hesitates so I encourage her into the chute.

“Heifer” I call out as I encourage her into the chute. The little calf moves on in and the process begins. The fact I only say ‘heifer’ means she is tagged, branded, and vaccinated only. The little bulls don’t have it so easy.

Note the branding iron just moving into the frame, top rhs.

The indignity of it all is expressed in this little guy's face.

“Horny bull,” I call out as I push on the calf’s behind. The men laugh. They are an easily entertained crew and a lot of fun to work with which made for a lot of laughs and light work of a fairly demanding job. Because of number 13’s gender status, the chute is tipped on its side so the men can rope up his hind leg to access his soon-to-be-removed testicles.

The branding irons working their magic.

Fetching the next part of the brand from the fire.

This brand is a three part brand which takes three different irons to make and Dennis’s brand is also his initials. There is a distinctive smell in the air, “Branding smoke,” Jack says as it wafts up around us in the calf pen, “I always loved the smell of branding smoke… that’s why I like to work back here.”

Castrating: Probably the least attractive aspect of today’s job is the ‘cutting’. The calf’s back leg is roped so the men doing the job don’t get kicked and can access the testicles without cutting the calf where he shouldn’t be cut. The testicles are saved in a bucket of cold water: I don’t think to ask why.

Opening the scrotum to access the testicles for removal.

Vaccinating: Amidst all the chaos, Jeff recharges the needles before administering the requisite injections.

Time to recharge the needle. Note the stainless steel bucket in the background. It contains the freshly cut testicles.

Dis-budding: The final step in the process. After everything else is complete, the calf has a basic formula placed on the areas of the skull where his horns would otherwise grow. This is a much gentler process than the traditional form of dis-budding which was akin to a large set of nail clippers that got placed over the little buds and crimped off, taking part of the skull with it. “Some calves would die of shock when we did it that way,” said one of the men, “So we prefer to do it this way if we can.”

A very basic solution (as opposed to acidic) that works on dissolving the horn buds.

With so many experienced hands on deck, by late afternoon the jobs are all done and it’s time to begin preparing for the dinner party. I’ll write about that in my next post!

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Filed under Cattle, Learning to Farm

Consumers Rights On Raw Milk Debate Go Unchallenged!

Home pasteurized milk

Home pasteurization is easily done on a stove top. Why then is it illegal to buy?

Ontario made pasteurization of milk mandatory in 1938, but Health Canada did not make it mandatory until 1991. Canada bans the sale of raw milk but not its consumption. Although it is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, consumers can own a share in the ‘source’ cow, which is what dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s customers do. On Thursday, January 21st, 2010, Justice of the Peace Paul Kowarsky acquitted Michael Schmidt on 19 charges relating to the distribution of his raw milk. Because Schmidt had made diligent efforts to keep his cow-share program operating “within the confines and the spirit of the legislation”, JP Kowarsky concluded that the alleged offence fell into the category of ‘strict liability’; that is, criminal intent (‘mens rea’) could not be proved.

Schmidt had been prepared to do battle on a human rights level, and challenge the statutes on the ground that they violated his basic human right to ‘life, liberty and security of person’. In November of 2009, the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF)—an independent, non-partisan, registered charity—announced its support for Schmidt on the grounds that consumers have the rights to choose what they put in their bodies, freedom of contract, and freedom from government regulation that is ‘arbitrary, unreasonable, unnecessary and unfair’. Even the existing cow-share system is an unnecessarily complex response to overly restrictive legislation. However, with Schmidt’s full acquittal, these complex legal issues may go unchallenged.

The Ontario government may choose to let the ruling stand, and live with the reality of cow-share arrangements. However, this is not satisfying the general public, because many people who would like to be able to access raw milk are unable to access a cow-share program; consequently, they have approached the CCF to see if they could pressure the government to change the law. According to Karen Selick (litigation director the CCF), if the government of Ontario wants to take the matter further, it has three options:

1. The government could appeal this decision. This would be a risky move because there is nothing to ensure it would be successful; moreover, it could backfire and escalate the confrontation of citizens and legislators. Schmidt and his long struggle have gained wide public support: the more people learn about his plight and educate themselves on the scientific and potential health benefits of consuming raw milk, the more people will want free access to it.

2. The government could create new legislation that specifically outlaws cow-sharing and/or the consumption of raw milk. However, there is strong opinion that, should the government choose this option, it would be met by public outrage, particularly from the burgeoning ‘food freedom’ movement. Furthermore, this would seem to constitute a breach of human rights at a most basic level, so the government would likely find themselves facing the CCF in court. In addition, policing the personal consumption of raw milk would be costly, if not impossible. Is someone going to be assigned to spy on farmers to ensure they are not sneaking a contraband tipple in the privacy of their own milking parlours?

3. The government could develop a regulatory procedure that would facilitate the sale of certified, safe, raw milk for interested consumers without requiring a cow-sharing arrangement. Schmidt and others—like Ontario raw milk advocate James McLaren—have offered to work with government officials to help develop the certification process. As Selick said in her article ‘Got Milk Justice’ (National Post, January 26, 2010), “Michigan is doing it right now. Why shouldn’t Ontario?”

Option 3 would be not only the most satisfactory solution for consumers, but also the most democratic.

Link to The Bovine: is a blog about rights around access to raw milk ,and chronicles the saga of Michael Schmidt, of Glencolton Farms, and his cow share holders with the authorities over the issue of access to raw milk.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Milk preservation techniques, personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food

Bears and fruit trees, part 4

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent, pervasive false beliefs about the human-bear relationship. Some of these beliefs are even enacted into public policies and laws, and contradictory policies at that. For example, there is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet, re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, and so on. There has even been some B.C. Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. However, the Conservation Service (Ministry of Environment) seems to be at odds with this food security agenda by advising people to cut down their fruit trees whenever there is a bear-human conflict. This issue is the fuel that sparked this series of posts—when I found myself in conversation with some folks from the B.C. Food System Network who were alarmed by their Conservation Officer threatening them with fines if they did NOT cut down their fruit trees.

It’s a question of food security

While it may sound as if I would have all bears and wildlife destroyed, it is not the case. My position with respect to the human-wildlife conflict is rooted in terms of food security and community/rural survival: we cannot have food security when there are oppositional philosophies being enforced by different Ministries.

What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The other post of this series are:

1.How to make bears and fruit trees get along

2. Bears and fruit trees, part two

3. Bears and fruit trees, part three

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #4: After all, you are in ‘their territory’

Some readers’ responses to one of my posts about the human-wildlife conflict provide a departure point for discussion of this false belief: “Any thoughts about the fact that you are placing tasty food morsels in the bear’s territory? Why are you keeping fruit trees in bear territory?” … “If you have animals and fruit trees then you are just asking for predators to come”… “Well, you are in their territory so you just have to accept this” (my personal favourite). The very concept of ‘territory’ is the essential problem. It is a neat fiction which presumes a boundary between the bears’ ‘territory’ and ‘ours’, and a contractual agreement as to where that boundary-line is. If so, where is it? At the edge of cities? around all rural areas? or should we all move out of the countryside and back into cities… again, where is the edge of the city? At this field, or that fence-line? As with so many issues, this debate is over boundaries, borders, and margins, and yet there is no demarcated boundary to any natural creature’s territory—only constantly changing niches or ill-defined ranges, constantly fought for with tooth and claw. The idea of identifiable borders is a human invention (viz. Hadrian’s, China’s, Berlin’s, Peach Arch Park and the 49th parallel) and we have difficulty maintaining even those (look at Gaza, or the Mexico/US border, or China and Tibet, or the Northwest Territory now Nunavut, to name a fraction of the infractions). Animals like bears do understand territory and mark theirs distinctively, but that territory is a living, changing thing, depending on each bear’s niche, condition, and the state of the food supply. That food supply is intimately linked to the general bear population; if the food supply or population changes, the bear’s fight for territory becomes more competitive; the delineation and extent of that territory shift and morph under these pressures. With respect to our current bear problem, a poor summer with few fish or berries coupled with an increase in bear population means their food source is too scarce in their own food shed, so the fight for territory between bears has become more vicious. Consequently, the weaker and younger bears that are denied access to prime habitat are pushed out of what we think of as ‘their territory’ and into ‘ours.’ Easy pickings are chicken houses, fruit trees, gardens and garbage; combined with a policy of ‘non-attractants’ it’s not long before bears consider ‘our territory’ theirs. When we add the fact that people are no longer ‘fighting’ back as we once did against these carnivores, their assumption is understandable. Unlike the bears along the river fishing for salmon, who drive us and each other away in order to protect their food source, we humans didn’t even put up a fight when they came and ate all our chickens, turkeys and ducks; nor did we complain when they harvested all our carrots, parsley, plums and pears.

So how do I establish and maintain my border? A border, however loosely defined, only has existence if both sides acknowledge and maintain it. In contrast to predators’ shifting borders, humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and raised domesticated animals in this valley. While the bears’ boundary is shifting, our human boundary has always been clearly delineated (mown lawns, driveways, and often a fence, etc.), and we have throughout history educated the animals by trapping and shooting. Everywhere in the world, people have marked their ‘territory’ by shooting and trapping offenders in this way, and thus they have trained predators not to intrude across the humans’ clearly delineated, and relatively unshifting borders. Like dogs, bears and cougars can be trained, and that is why we have a residual idea that those animals have a natural fear of humans. But there is nothing innate about it; it is a learned behaviour and a direct result of an ancient human-wildlife conflict in which we have always been engaged.

I have come to understand that the remaining predators need constantly to be ‘trained’ not to come where humans are. One of the reasons that the large predators are coming back into cities in broad daylight, and generally to where humans are, is that we are no longer shooting at them. Consequently, they no longer see us as an equal predator, or even as a threat. Contrary to the misconception that these animals are innately nocturnal, they have figured out that they can even get away with being out in the day time, so every year there are more reports of their daytime marauding on farms, and through garage bins in cities. The assertion of my blog respondent, that I am in their territory, creates the misconstrued dichotomy of ‘their territory’ versus ‘our territory’, as if humans only ‘belong’ in cities, and that those cities have always existed. However, all North America’s great cities (the same goes for Europe, India, China and so on, though with different predators) were once the bears’ ‘territory’ before ‘we’ decided to stop being hunter gatherers and develop human settlements, based on cultivating crops.

The ‘our territory/their territory’ theory arises from a flawed preservationist philosophy, which mistakenly presumes that bears have a ‘territory’ which we humans have encroached upon, and now drives policy and legislative decisions in British Columbia (and North American in general, as shown in their responses to my blog). Am I really ‘in the bears’ territory’ when I am in the confines of my property’? If so, isn’t all of the North American population? And most of the European (or Chinese, or Indian, or African, etc.) population too, for that matter? The reason we have the few agricultural areas we do, is that we’ve shot almost everything that once moved there (hence the European eradication of wolves and bears and the dearth of them in large parts of the USA that they formally occupied), and continue to let the survivors know they don’t belong there any more. Our food security depends on our making more enlightened land use policies based on historical and biological realities, not these neat, fantastical conspiracies of cartographers.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Bears and fruit trees, part three

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. The first two post of this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along’ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part two.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife

This belief is held by people who are insulated from the essential biological condition of all animals, including the human one. The commonalities are: people refuse to hear facts from local people who know, preferring instead to will their own believed reality into existence; people get their information from television, where reality is at one remove and often distorted by Disney-fied commentary; despite the close encounters and reports of deaths, people insist that those incidents are the exception, that the responsibility for such attacks is the humans, who were too close, too unkind, to…, or that Nature has somehow let them down, backsliding from Her normal benign ‘co-existence’ model.

In his new book The War in the Country (Vancouver: Greystone, 2009), Thomas F. Pawlick recounts an incident in Algonquin Park, Ontario, when he advised a European couple not to have their photograph taken close to some nearby black bears with its cubs. “Oh no,” said the woman, “we’ve seen bears on television lots of times, and people pet them and everything else.” Pawlick explained that not only were these wild bears, but also that one of them had cubs, which meant the mother would kill the couple on the spot. Ignoring his advice, the couple approached the bears until the mother stood up and growled, which prompted them to retreat, the woman complaining indignantly, “Well, that didn’t sound friendly.” (Pages 266-7) I have had the same experience here where I ranch.

The second commonality is deeply entrenched in our western urban psyche. From Disney to National Geographic, well-intentioned nature films, with their telescopic lenses and generally uplifting environmental commentaries, give the comfortable couch-sitter the impression that all nature, including the big animals, is there as a backdrop to uplifting or cute human encounters. Even ‘educational’ films about bear safety often feature individuals in close proximity to bears, safe only (I presume) in the knowledge that there is an array of sharpshooters just out of camera range. Whatever the unseen ‘big picture’ of these movies may be, they are irresponsible in not telling us the whole truth of their construction. Even the experts in these movies can be ill-informed, as the  sad example of Tim Treadwell (the “Grizzly Man” of the movie) and Amie Huguenard demonstrates. In the opinion of another bear expert, Kevin Sanders:

Anyone that spends as much time in the field as Tim and I have, will no doubt have had similar experiences. I remember once out at my bear viewing area sitting alone one day, and feeling a bit sleepy in the warm sun I decided to lay back and close my eyes for a moment, when I remember feeling that something was watching me. I slowly raised up and looked around, only to discover that a family of six coyotes had moved in behind me, the adult alpha’s sitting within feet of me while the pups played nearby. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and walk across the meadow, only to have the whole family follow along beside me. The only difference between Tim and I is, Tim felt that the fox were kindred spirits, whereas I knew that the coyotes were looking at me as they would any other large carnivore in the wild, and that hopefully I would lead them to food much as a bear or wolf would do. Or maybe, I was the food! …

Tim’s foolish disregard for his own safety, and over confidence dealing with bears in the past, luck really, not to mention his mistake of placing anthropomorphic values on bears, and disregarding established federal guidelines when photographing and camping with brown bears contributed to both Tim and Amie’s death. Grizzly bears are wild animals and should always be treated as such, wild and unpredictable. Not a pet, or lovable cuddly bear…. (Kevin Sanders, 2008)

The third commonality is related to the other two, in that it, too, places humans at the centre. I have often seen people going into bear areas without any defense system (knife, gun, bow), or carrying their pepper spray and clicking their rocks, every so often shouting “Yo Bear!” and secure in their belief that by intruding into bear territory openly yet adhering to the ’10 commandments’ of ‘being bear aware’ (making noise, clicking rocks, sticking to the trail, and so on) they will not really be intruding into their territory and thus will not have any deleterious encounters. “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us,” they are told, and so they believe. Jim West, who survived a bear attack in 70 Mile House British Columbia in 2008, by killing the bear and requiring sixty stitches on his head and body, was harassed for his actions. Gary Shelton documents several similar cases where bear attack victims were vilified by the (largely urban) public. He argues that so deeply held are people’s beliefs in our ability to intrude safely into the wild, that contrary evidence can cause psychic trauma:

Most modern young people who have careers that require working in the field have university degrees. In many universities, like the ones in British Columbia, these people often obtain a view pint about mankind and nature that is incorporated into their beliefs about life. One principle in that viewpoint is that animals attack only when people have wrongly intruded on their space, and if you obey the rules of retreat, animals will back off as they don’t really intend you any harm. In some types of bear attacks on a person with such beliefs, where the bear exhibits behavior contrary to that belief system and the person is severely injured, their psychology of belief is also injured. This may sound minor in significance, but considering that this type of person is often someone who has embraced nature pantheism, the resulting trauma can be deep, lingering, and hard to diagnose. (Bear Attacks II: Myth & Reality, Hagensborg: Pallister, 2001,  p.147)

To sum up, all three commonalities which lead to what I call ‘False belief #3: We can live in harmony with wildlife’ exhibit the human ability to deny reality in favour of a deeply held, prior belief. As Francis Bacon so wisely stated, “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Fruit Trees, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

Bears and fruit trees, part two

Because of what I do and where I live, I am often talking with people about the human-wildlife conflict, and am continually surprised by what I hear. There are many misconceptions about our relationship with nature in general and with wildlife in particular. During these discussions, I notice there are several persistent themes (false beliefs) that are pervasive about the human-bear relationship. What I hope to do over the course of several posts is to examine these key themes and shed light on these common false beliefs. Other posts in this series are, ‘How to make bears and fruit trees get along‘ and ‘Bears and fruit trees, part three.’

As ever, I welcome your feedback and comments as they can add to the discussion and help me develop my position.

False belief #2: We are not in competition with bears

Many people don’t understand that, despite trappings of modern civilization that buffer us from this reality, we are in direct competition with wildlife for our existence. Not only have we lost sight of this fact, but we have also begun to believe that there is a way to ‘live in harmony’ with nature and we work hard to convince ourselves this is achievable.

If you are one of these people, then you are wrong to think this way and here’s why.

Everything out there is trying to make a living just as we are, from the bears, to the fish, to the squirrels, to insects, and bacteria. Since humans have walked on this earth we have been in direct competition with nature for resources and thus have fought to protect these resources. If we weren’t successful, we starved.

Historically, humans hunted for our food and thus we understood our direct relationship with the natural world. We understood that if the wolf population was too high the deer numbers would be low and this would threaten our chance of survival. Consequently, humans understood we needed to kill some wolves in order to protect the deer numbers and, in this way, indirectly protect our own species‘ survival. We understood we were, and must be, part of that equation.

Today, every time we spray our lawns with insecticide, every time we build a new home, each time we pave a road, each time we build a shopping mall or a university, each time we fell trees to make lumber, every time we fill our gas tank, every time we buy some product that has been shipped half way around the world, every time we buy packaged food from the grocery store, and so on, we displace and destroy (or already have replaced and destroyed) the native plants, insects, birds and animals — and the resources they depend upon for their survival — that previously existed in the are area in question for our benefit.

Today however, few people would recognize the environmental cost to changing a track of forest into agricultural land and the inputs necessary to raise a cow, or a pig, or even an acre of soybeans to grow food for humans. Few would understand that it is environmentally more sound to keep the forest in tact and harvest a moose who is perfectly suited to that forest and requires no artificial inputs, let alone be willing or able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage that resource.

Only those who can afford food can ‘afford’ to entertain this false belief system.

Few people in North America today rely on hunting or raising food on their own land for their direct economic survival. Instead, we have accepted that large swaths of nature should be severely altered (if not completely destroyed) in order that we can live in city suburbs, and that agricultural (and other) products can be made cheaply and can be transported long distances to us. So it is not that we are no longer directly in competition with nature, rather that the competition is out of sight and out of mind. We are no longer aware of it because we don’t see direct evidence of it on a daily basis.

California’s bears and other flora and fauna have been displaced and/or all but been destroyed, its landscape severely altered to make way for suburbs, highways, orchards and market gardening, and its waterways re-routed for irrigation, as have the Okanagan and Frazer Valleys in British Columbia, great swaths of the prairie provinces across Canada and the USA, and the Niagara region of Southern Ontario. These areas are some of the major agricultural production areas on which we North Americans depend most for our food production and, therefore, survival. That these areas were once wild, and remain domesticated only by force and vigilance, is an idea forgotten or ignored only by those who can afford to buy food instead of growing it themselves (provisioning). It is only those whose economic livelihood is not threatened, those who live an indirect economic lifestyle by selling their time for a wage so they can buy food, clothing, housing, etc., for their (indirect) survival, who can afford to uphold the misconception that we are not in direct competition with wildlife for our existence.

We all are in competition with nature, even urban dwellers. Ironically, it is urban dwellers who are, not only the most food insecure because they are more dependent upon an agricultural production and distribution system that is completely out of their control, but also often the most unaware of how much competition they are in with nature for their survival. How many urbanites consider the tons of pesticides that are sprayed annually on wheat alone to keep the average crop from succumbing to weevils? While weevils are not bears, they too compete directly with us for our wheat!

Which brings me to two other important points about direct competition.

The privilege of living close to nature

We have developed strategies for competing with all aspects of nature, from traps (mice and rodents), to fungicides, herbicides, insecticides (molds, weeds, bugs), to windbreaks and rip-raps (erosion by wind and water). We have become so conditioned to these agricultural weapons that we no longer see them as such. We certainly don’t see weevils on par with squirrels, or squirrels on par with grizzly bears.  Many bear enthusiasts would not object to a farmer spraying crops to prevent weevils from destroying it but would be horrified if the same farmer shot a bear to protect his apples. However, if you were dependent upon the apple crop for your livelihood, or to keep you from starving, you wouldn’t. The privilege of a full stomach affords us the luxury of seeing these two actions as vastly different.  Today, most North Americans would tell me to go buy the apples from the store and save the bear because they are no longer engaged in direct economics and can afford to be blindly unaware of the cold hard realities of what it takes to put food on their tables.

If you have a stomach full of food bought from the grocery store, then you can afford to see squirrels, deer, hawks, and bears as part of the wonders of nature and feel ‘privileged’ that they are traipsing through your yard and let them eat your berries, apples, and carrots. But even then, there is a big difference between tolerating squirrels, deer, and hawks, and tolerating bears and other large predators. Squirrels can’t kill you but large predators can. In order to keep our yards and communities safe, we cannot tolerate large predators in our human settlements, period.

However, if you are dependent upon the food you raise for your economic survival (directly or indirectly) you cannot even afford to let the squirrels eat your strawberries or the deer eat your apples. Imagine that every time a deer came in to your yard you lost 1/3 of your annual wage. How long would it take before the joy of seeing a deer to wear off? How long could you ‘afford’ to feel privileged at losing 1/3 (or more) of your annual salary? In order to have food security, you must have the right to defend the food.

In Defense of Food

In short, humans have a right to livelihood. By that I mean the right to grow food instead of selling our time, collecting a wage, and then spending it at ‘the store’ (where cheap food magically appears). We therefore have the right to defend our food sources just as we did in the past. Salaried employees don’t lose wages when a bear comes through their yards, why should a provisioner or farmer? Some will argue that that should be part of the cost of ‘doing business’ as a farmer. Many will argue that I (and other farmers) should buy electric fencing, install bear proof feed bins, build bigger, stronger, bear proof chicken houses and so on in order to prevent the bear conflict. I am against this line of thinking for three reasons: this argument is based on false belief #1 (that humans can control bear behaviour by removing all attractants); there is little enough (if any) profit to be made in farming these days and the additional cost would make their products out of reach for many consumers; and finally, fencing out large predators and leaving them to roam the neighbourhoods around fence lines does not promote human safety.

If we want sustainable farming to be something that younger people choose as a career, if we want food security for our communities, if we want to have agricultural animals raised ethically and humanely, if we want good clean safe food, if we want the right to livelihood, then we have to support those who are willing to do the work and make it worth their while. Otherwise, we will have to accept that those farmers who could get well paying, secure jobs elsewhere, should get them; that we will have food insecurity; that we will give up our right to livelihood; and that we will have to rely upon the corporate agricultural production and distribution system.

Finally, because we all need to eat and that act displaces large tracks of wilderness in order to ensure our survival, then the cost of maintaining wilderness with its full compliment of flora and fauna, in parallel with local food security, should be borne by all society, not just those who choose to live close to the wild and raise our food.

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Making bears and fruit trees get along

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with the BC Food Systems Network about the relationship between bears and food security. In terms of food security, this issue is an extremely important one for anyone living where large predators exist. I plan to write about it over several posts in order to dispel some common misconceptions about the human-predator relationship in terms of food security, and to propose some practical solutions.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I welcome the input, as it gives us all a chance to talk about this important issue. Your comments also provide me with food for thought, and the chance to develop my ideas.

How to make bears and fruit trees get along

A member of the BC Food Systems Network recently wrote about their community’s experience with the Conservation Service. According to this source, the COs in their area, instead of dealing effectively with any nuisance bears, are threatening people with fines if they don’t cut down their fruit and nut trees. While outraged with this Ministry’s attitude, I’m not surprised by it. Here in the Bella Coola Valley, too, people are being advised to cut down their fruit trees by the Conservation Service, instead of being offered support, protection (part of their motto!), and–oh, yes–conservation.

False belief #1: The ‘remove the attractant’ theory

In terms of food security, the idea that we must ‘remove all attractants’ to prevent bears from entering our communities is a dangerous line of thinking (particularly in light of our economic times). The logic may sound reasonable when you are living in the city and dealing with a bear in your garbage can. However, it is not consistent with the goals of food security, because in rural BC there is no limit to the list of attractants. Therefore, we cannot have food security in our communities and be consistent with these Ministry guidelines.

Most specifically, and to put it simply:  if we ascribe to the notion that humans can control bear behaviour by ‘removing the attractants’, then we cannot raise food. Fruit trees, berry bushes, carrots, and parsley all attract grizzly bears. Chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits, all attract grizzly bears. The duck feed, the goat feed, and the chickens’ corn all attract grizzly bears. Fields of corn and oats attract bears. Beehives attract bears. (Many of the above also attract a host of other predators that threaten our food security, such as eagles, foxes, wolves, cougars, mice, owls, hawks, martin, weevils, and so on.)

If we are to be consistent with the ‘remove the attractant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass public policy laws that forbid people from raising their own food. In order to ‘remove all the attractants’ we will have to cut down all the fruit trees, plant no vegetable or herb gardens, and get rid of all the feed and grain for our agricultural animals–chickens (see Needless Suffering), ducks, geese, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, and so on–lest we be seen to be ‘baiting’ the bears. Instead, maybe we could free range our agricultural animals? No.  To be consistent with the ‘non-attractant theory’ we must leave it to the corporate agricultural producers who can afford (both ethically and financially) to keep animals indoors, behind Fort Knox type fenced areas, or on feedlots.

New Jersey Example

The idea of removing the attractants simply doesn’t work. This line of thinking got the state of New Jersey into its conundrum with their bears. They have gone a long way down this path, having made city wide efforts of removing the ‘attractants’ from their city streets and neighbourhoods. They have made huge efforts to limit the times in which garbage could be out on the street for collection, and even made centralized collection stations. Nevertheless, despite the fact they have removed all the so called ‘attractants’, bears have NOT stopped coming into people’s yards. Now accustomed to viewing human settlements as good food sources, bears are now entering houses. We should learn from their experience instead of continuing down the same path.

If we are going to have, and support, real food security in our province, we have to change the way we look at this problem. If not, then we will eventually lose the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food. The evidence of this is revealed in the current attitude of British Columbia’s Conservation Service Officers.

Living under siege

The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in places where large predators roamed. Since humans have been on earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood) and, by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements. Until very recently, we have known and understood our relationship with the natural world; part of our role was teaching wildlife what is appropriate behaviour. We have lost that understanding now that most of us buy food from the grocery store, agricultural production is out of sight and out of mind, and the closest we get to a grizzly bear is by watching the Discovery Channel,

It is time to re-educate ourselves to re-educate the bears. Even the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that humans  can ‘teach bears bad habits’, so why not teach them some good ones?

To view the series of posts on this topic, see:

Part two

Part three

Part four

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Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

Bloodless castration: an atypical birthday celebration

On October 11th, my birthday, my goat kids turned 12 weeks old. This was as old as I could safely let them get with in-tact testicles and not run the risk of them impregnating their mothers or sister; or at least that’s what my research tells me! So, happy birthday to me, I spent the morning castrating my goats.

Some advise separating the bucks from the does at 3 months old, emasculate at 4 months old, and then butcher at 5 months of age. However, I do not have the facility to separate the bucks from the does so I decided to play it safe and castrate them at 12 weeks old. This way, I know for certain that they will not breed with my does.

It was a miserable process, likely worse for me than the kids. Yes, they cried out when the clamp was on–and as they did I nearly cried myself–but relief seemed immediate the second the clamp was released. The look on their faces frightened me because I thought they were going into shock. If the pitiful wails weren’t enough to tear my heartstrings, looking into their eyes when they stopped crying and withdrew deeply into their minds–mentally checking out–nearly did me in. However, I’m happy to report that within a minute or two of letting them go, each kid was back at the feeder and frolicking around the paddock in search of fodder. They did ‘walk like cowboys’ for a few hours that first day but by the evening they looked as good as new and had even forgiven me for doing it, running over and snuggling with me when I went to check on them that night.

Note: I have read a lot of different articles on this subject and bought the “Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners” by C. E. Spaulding, DVM and Jackie Clay, before attempting this procedure.

Step 1: Some advise to wash the testicles since the emasculator, in my case the Ritchey Nipper (or Side Crusher as they are called at Premier One where I bought mine) can break the skin. In my case, I did not wash the testicles beforehand and I did not have any broken skin.

Step 2: Have someone hold the goat by the hind feet with the goat laying back into their lap.

The easiest method of holding the goat kid in preparation for castration.

The easiest method of holding the goat kid in preparation for castration.

Step 3: Take the scrotum in one hand and find the spermatic cord with your other hand. Be sure the testicles are down into the scrotum and hold them in place with your hand. Move your fingers above the testicle and find the spermatic cord (you may need to use two hands for this). Once you have the cord identified, place it in between the fingers of the hand that is holding the scrotum.

Finding spermatic cord. Note the tiny teat that is above the testicle and my left thumb in photo.

Finding spermatic cord. Note the tiny teat that is above the testicle and my left thumb in photo.

Step 4: Place the Ritchey Nippers over the cord and clamp it down firmly.  Check to be certain that you have the spermatic cord between the nippers and that it hasn’t slipped off to one side and avoided being crushed. Hold the nippers clamped in place for 20-30 seconds. Be sure not to clamp the tiny teat with the nippers; clamp below the teat and above the testicle. Then repeat on other side.

Holding the nippers in clamped position making sure the spermatic cord is under them.

Holding the nippers in clamped position making sure the spermatic cord is under them.

The Ritchey Nippers work by crushing the spermatic cord thereby cutting off the blood supply to the testes. The testicles will eventually atrophy due to the lack of blood supply. The scrotum however will be visible for the rest of the animal’s lifetime. Although this is supposed to be a bloodless method, my research reveals that you can break the skin. Be sure to check each animal for broken skin and apply antiseptic and give the kid an injection of tetanus antitoxin if broken skin is found.





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Filed under Animal issues, Castrating goats, Ethical farming, Goats, How to..., Learning to Farm

Motherhood-it’s not for everyone

Last week we were lucky enough to find reliable farm-sitters and sneak away to my brother’s wedding near Vancouver. This was not an easy task thanks to the fires in our area. We had planned on driving out but when we got to the bottom of ‘The Hill’ the officials were there just closing the road and bringing the pilot car off the mountain. “I could feel the heat from the fire right through the truck!” exclaimed one of the men, looking thrilled to be out of harm’s way.

Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem. If I lived near a city where there were lots of flights to choose from, and normal sized planes that hold a decent number of people, I would not have begun to panic during the hour long return drive home down the valley. But in Bella Coola getting a last minute seat on a flight is not always guaranteed! Here, when they use the ‘big’ plane it holds 19 passengers. Furthermore, although we have a scheduled flight every day, there is no guarantee the plane will get in. Often it is canceled due to heavy clouds, and in this case, I was worried that the smoke beginning to billow off the mountainsides might make it impossible to land. Nevertheless, I refused to believe that I might not make it to my brother’s wedding.

Thankfully, the stars were aligned, we got seats on the flight to Vancouver and managed to arrive in the nick of time (I was part of the wedding party!). That was the good news. The bad news was I didn’t get to stay long and visit anyone after the wedding: a check-in call to our farm-minders  brought news of evacuation alerts, so we had to get on the plane and come back home right away, thanks to the threat of the fires.

During our three days away our farm-sitters noticed that Shiraz was no longer feeding one of her kids. They were observant enough not only to notice this new behaviour from her but also to take control and hold her while the little one fed–the mark of dependability in a babysitter! Now that we are back, things have gotten worse and she is barely feeding any of them.

Goat breeding: If only I’d read the fine print

While researching the reasons why a doe might reject her kids, I came across this site which describes my experience with Shiraz to a T!

Many new producers do not know what to expect from their stock, and some are very unhappy when they discover that goats are not always the easiest animals to manage.

In light of my experience with her thus far (see Oh what a night), I would say that Shiraz qualifies as having achieved ‘not the easiest to manage’ status. The difference between Shiraz and my other mother Fatty-Fat is extreme, and this is the kind of experience the above article describes. My experience is particularly marked in that I only have the two goats, so I don’t have the 10-15% of my herd with this dysfunctional behaviour as the article suggests may be the case, and what producers should allow for. Instead, I have a 50% problem! Thankfully, this translates to only one goat and three kids to care for–I don’t know what I’d do if it were several goats and a full nursery! Perhaps I should have done some more research before launching into goat breeding! The next paragraph in the article unfolds as if reading my thoughts:

The majority of new producers receive a big reality check when their first kidding season arrives if they have not done their research and adjusted their expectations accordingly.

You don’t say. I’m not really sure what I expected, so I don’t really have many expectation adjustments to work through. I do, however, have to figure out how to get these kids fed! I thought it would be easiest if I could trundle down to the local veterinarian’s office (if I had one, that is!) and get milk replacement and a milker/feeder type thing and take over the job myself. This article doesn’t support my wishful thinking:

Some people bottle feed, but I don’t recommend this… I have also had big problems with the milk replacer actually killing the kids. It causes a high percentage of the kids (over 50% in my experience) to develop ulcers which eventually rupture killing the kid.

As luck would have it the vet was going to come the 458 kilometers into town this weekend and I was considering asking her to bring some milk replacer, but thanks to the fires she’s had to cancel her trip! Now out of options, I’ve taken to holding Shiraz between three and four times per day in order to let the little fellows feed: basically whenever I hear them crying.

The key to maintaining some control over her is to hold her tail, this way she is less likely to sit down to evade her kids.

The key to maintaining some control over her is to hold her tail, this way she is less likely to sit down to evade her kids.

This is not an easy task; as you can see, Shiraz is a strong goat! She is also a smart goat and has all sorts of tricks she pulls in order to evade her milking duties. One of the most effective is to sit down while I’m holding her. This is very effective and difficult for me to oppose. I have found that by grabbing hold of her tail she is far less likely to try this one on. Keeping ahead of her is a monumental task. Not only that; it is taking a huge amount of my time. I hold her for about a 1/2 hour each session in order to let all three feed to their tummies’ contentment.

One satisfied, full bellied kid.

One satisfied, full bellied kid.

I’m hoping she will once again accept her kids, though I’m alarmed at how long the article suggests this may take:

Does that are intent on killing the rejected kid(s) require more drastic measures. I generally put a halter on them a couple of times a day and tie them to the fence so their kids can eat. Usually they will eventually accept the kids, but it may take a month or more before they do. You will have to decide whether the time involved is worth it.

Of course the one kid she is rejecting outright is my favourite, Sinbad. So it’s worth it! Oddly, he is the biggest and was her first born. I have checked her bag to make sure it is soft and pliable and giving milk, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with any of the kids which can be a reason the doe will reject one or more. When I do hold her and they feed, they do so willingly and with gusto complete with satisfying sound effects, and until satiated. I thought perhaps she feels she doesn’t have enough milk for three. At first I was alarmed with both her and Fatty as they began to lose weight during the first few days after kidding. Again, I checked with my doctor friend who said that this is certainly normal with nursing women. I upped their feed rations and within days brought their weight loss to a halt. Shiraz seems to be holding condition nicely and has a full, heavy bag.

Performing acu-pressure on Shiraz helps her calm down.

Performing acu-pressure on Shiraz helps her calm down.

One of the many things I’ve learned through working with my horse is about horses stress and how to relieve it through acu-pressure points. While I’m holding Shiraz, I use the acu-pressure point just below her nose in order to help calm her down. In horses, this point is the locus of an endorphin release. I have used it on myself and know that it works for humans, therefore, I presume that it will also work for Shiraz. Much to my relief it seems to have some effect.

After some light acu-pressure Shiraz relaxes enough for me to stand up and take only a light grip on her while her kids continue to feed.

After some light acu-pressure Shiraz relaxes enough for me to stand up and take only a light grip on her while her kids continue to feed.

While contemplating my predicament, I have been considering my next year’s breeding program and my diminutive scale farm, and wondering who I should cull. Sundown didn’t get pregnant at all this year so she is on the list of possibles because she may be sterile, though of course this is not for certain. Thanks to Shiraz’s insistence on maintaining the ‘not the easiest to manage’ status, she too has made the list. There is no way I can do all this again with Shiraz if this is the way she’s going to behave each pregnancy, although, much to my chagrin, according to the article this is not usually the case:

In my own operation 10-15% of the does that kid in a year decide to reject at least one of their kids, and the does that did so this year are not the same does that pulled that stunt last year.

My doctor friend and her doctor husband dropped in yesterday to see the farm and I relayed the story to them. He said that he’d had a dog that ate all her pups many years ago and they found out later that it was due to a vitamin deficiency; he suggested this may be the problem with Shiraz. I too had wondered about this but had dismissed the idea because of the conditions in which I’m raising them: she has sweet feed two or three times per day, access to good hay, a mineral lick, free access to a free-form mineral powder suggested to me by the vet, and all the good clean native forest browse she could ever possibly dream of having. These goats are in fact actually quite spoiled.

Upon hearing this, my other doctor friend said that it may be an absorption problem and/or simply a lack of calcium due to the heavy demand that bringing up three kids has on her body, so she suggested that I get some calcium supplements and see what happens. When I asked if I should get liquid calcium she turned to me and laughed: “Just get Tums and crush it in her morning grain.” This doctor friend really should have been a vet! This morning, following my Goat-Doctor’s advice, I got the peppermint flavoured Tums out. Before I had a chance to crush the tablet into her food dish Shiraz snarfed it out of my hand, scoffed it down in seconds flat and immediately snuffled around for more. Either she really likes peppermint flavour or she realizes this is what she is missing. In light of the fact that none of my goats will touch the mint in my garden, I’m suspecting it is the latter!

My guess is that my doctor friend is correct, that having three kids makes her more susceptible to this deficiency than Fatty-Fat who is happy in her new role as mama-goat to twins. I’ll keep up with the calcium tablets, reinstate the morning molasses tea and see if this makes a difference. If anyone has other suggestions, I would welcome them!

…As I write this I reflect that in this whole process I am measuring my own situation. I sympathise with Shiraz. I never wanted children and chose not to have them. When we husband animals we take away their right to choose. After going through this with her I wonder if she too would have chosen not to have kids if she had her druthers!

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Goats, How to..., Learning to Farm, milking goats