Crofting – Goats on the Loose

The North Field

My friend Bernadette said that if there were problems with the stall, the goats would let me know. They did. Goats need more than two screws to hold a board in place. Okay, now we know.

The big dog was tied up and started barking like a crazy old thing. Nicholas got up, went to get him in, and found three goats at the end of the driveway, staring at the dog. They had worked their way out of their stall via a loose board and a lot of (I suspect) Tara wiggling, as she is the spryest and most adventurous of the three. The barn door was open for light and air circulation, so out they went into the grassy new world. I grabbed the bucket, dumped in a scoop of grain, and they all followed like little ducklings right back into the barn. I shut them in, although the stall wasn’t secure. There was nothing for them to get into but the hay, and they can have all of that they want.

Nicholas and I went out after supper, repaired the stall as best we could, and secured them inside a bit better. All the doors are locked or braced shut, and once it gets dark, they don’t want to wander anyway.We are headed to the lumberyard tomorrow for more stall materials and the boards for a nice chicken coop.

Although they are new to us, the goats are very trusting and friendly. The buck is now nicknamed “Uncle” after the movie, of course – which I haven’t seen. They are cooperative and easy-going. But they are incredibly curious and seem to have no fear of dogs. Ash wanted to get out and teach them a lesson today, but they haven’t been worked (herded) with dogs, so that will have to wait until we get the fence in place, and Ash has had some review lessons herself. She whined at the door after we shut her inside, and a peculiar whine it is – just for herding. It is different from her “I’m in pain” cry or her “I don’t like this dog” whine or her “where’s my supper?” whine. She is not a vocal dog, usually, but she has her own language. She and I communicate mostly by glance and body language and hand signals (well, my hand signals),and I can read her head feints. I think there really must be some ESP, too.

Nicholas stacked and split wood today, while I ran out to the landlady’s to drop off a load of her mother’s things and to pay our rent. We chatted about farm matters, health, growing lavender (can we, this far north?), fences, the Mennonite market in Centreville, and the porch sale she is planning. She pointed out the rest of our cord of wood which we will pick up during the week. I then went to the post office, mailed our tax returns and a little packet to England, stopped at the garage to check on my new rad hose (lovely) and see when the new tires will be in (Monday by dinner hour – noon.) Nicholas was napping on the couch when I returned. I made him a cup of tea and we ate the rest of the strawberry cobbler I made last night. The fruit was from our landlady. (Store bought this time of year, and she later dropped off apples, an orange and a kiwi.)

After we finished in the barn, we finally had a good chat with our next door neighbours. I have a parish connection to the family, and while the previous tenant here was the neighbour’s aunt, I think they are coming round to having good neighbours (remember the BBC comedy) who will lend a hand, drop off tomatoes from the garden and be available for a cuppa.

We had prayed for this place, the landlady had prayed for us as tenants; we had been praying for a friendly opportunity to enrich our neighborliness – prayers are answered.


Crofting – the Herding Dog

Ash, our Australian Shepherd

When I had sheep, I wanted a herding dog. My friend Helena got Ash for me, litter-mate to her own dog. (Poor Willow is now gone, lost at a too-young age to cancer.) But Shetland sheep don’t really care to be herded, and they do not have a strong flock instinct. Some breeds of sheep will not only stick together, but crowd into narrow places, and pile up on each other when herded or frightened. Shetlands are too independent; one of the survival instincts of primitive, semi-feral sheep is that the flock will split apart when chased. Herding by dog isn’t as effective. Ash did get pretty good at taking the sheep back to the fence if they got out, or moving them ahead of her to a gate, but all her circling and feinting talents were wasted. The ewes would take to their heels, one would push all the lambs into hiding, and the rams would try to face off with her. She didn’t take much nonsense from them, but I wasn’t as good a trainer as I needed to be.

She has good sheep instinct, which is beginning to show with the goats. She is concerned with them. I’ve taken her into the barn with me twice now, and she is well-mannered, but she does whine a little to them. She sniffs, approaches, sniffs some more, and she will stand her ground when the buck stamps at her. So far, she has seen them just through the gate. She tried to follow me into the pen when I fed them, but I sent her back. (She knows the command “back.”)

She has already caught the command “barn” when she is out with me. (I am now taking her out loose, so she can follow me without a lead. My dogs are never loose unsupervised.) She learned it on the first attempt – and she also now knows the word “goats.” She waits at the open barn door for me, until I say “goats” and then will go in just before me.

She is all business when she knows we are going to the barn. Normally, she is a preyty goofy dog, a real fun-lover. She is playful, loves to run as fast as she can, and will prance and weave to tease me. (Aussies have a distinctive pacing, almost like a walking horse; it’s a natural gait.) But when there are sheep and goats, she is calm, settled and on focus.

I once had to leave her with a down sheep (unable to walk) while I went to get the truck in a snowstorm. Despite my being at a distance for a while, she stood over the animal until I returned, and didn’t get in the truck until I had the sheep in. She is good with the lambs – but can’t stand to see them separate and run; she makes every effort to keep them together. She will cry and whine over a lamb that is alone until it is back with its mother.

She is back to being a working dog, and is very pleased with it. She knows this is what she was born to do.

Crofting – the Goats

Tara, and the nether half of Vanilla

Isn’t that a sweet face? (Disregard the tail, it isn’t Vanilla’s best feature.) Tara came to us as “Sara”, but in a family that is overbalanced with Sarahs/Saras, we had to quickly find a sound-alike name for the goat. So, Sarahs/Saras, no she is not named for any of you beautiful ladies. I like the name Tara, too.

Vanilla is all-white, round in the belly, with the possibility of a kidding in the next couple of weeks. She has black spotted ears and nose, and she is dishy in the hips, like a good goat-mama. She is shedding winter white goat hair on everything – spring. We both needed an immediate change of clothes upon reaching home, and our wool jackets are hanging in the shed as too goaty.

We had a good trip north, up by Mount Carleton, across the Road to Resources, the one of the connecting roads across the mountains from western to eastern New Brunswick. We filled up on petrol – $65 – before leaving, and refilled on the other end – $35. We met the seller, went back to his farm, and had a good look at the girls. Vanilla, is tall and lean and even gaunt in the shins, but she has an alert attitude, a smart look in her eye, and is curious and friendly. Tara is smaller, marked like a dark little deer, and has the sweetest curving horns. She is expressive and has a bit of her own mind, but knows how to walk along like a good goat. Her half grown buck kid was with her, but she is dry now. Vanilla has been milked until lately, and is quite good about the milking stand. We took her down the aisle of the barn, and she went right to the stand.

And then there is Randy. (Yes, Randy Buck! My friend Betsey thinks this is hilarious, and that it sounds like a Monty Python joke. Betsey used to have goats, so she finds this as funny as things get.) I didn’t intend to buy a buck, but the seller explained that this boy had been with the two girls right from when they were kids, raised together on their farm, and is very close to Tara. He is the last of their mixed breed goats. They are all about three years old; and it did seem hard on the boy to leave him. So I agreed to take all three, with just a shrug from the husband, as long as I thought I could handle the buck.

I went into the pen to get him, and all he gave me was a look over the shoulder – he was busy eating. He allowed me to pet and move him, and even walk him out to the truck without any fuss. He rode back imperturbably, a happy goat.

All three were very good about going into a strange barn and stall, and very happy to see hay and water. They settled down quickly. We will get hayricks and the second stall finished later this week, but Nicholas says he needs a bit of rest first.

We had a bit of an incident on the way back. The Road to Resources is mountainy – beautiful, wild, isolated. It is fairly well travelled, though, despite its potholes and soft shoulders. There is no garage or telephone between St. Quentin and Bathurst, about 140 kilometres, except for the sugar camp more than half way across, where in season one might find a phone. I had a cell phone and these seem to make more and more sense as we travel the wild distances, although there are lots of dead spots where there are no cell towers.

The red gauge warning light came on, and I could see that the engine temperature had risen. I pulled over, waited a bit, and started out again. Nicholas turned on the heater and opened the window, venting some of the heat through the cab. The temp dropped, but climbed again. I pulled off, and noted that we seemed to be out of coolant. Nicholas pointed out a snowbank close by (not unusual at that altitude this time of year – the roads were mostly still banked with snow) and I found a spot just beyond where there was a clear-running brook. I had an almost empty washer fluid jug in the cab, so we emptied that, I rinsed it in the mountain stream, and scooched down on the crumbly bank of ice, using a plastic soft drink tumbler as a bucket. I filled the jug and conveyed it to the radiator, which was indeed dry. (Coolant will get used up – evaporated – in winter driving here, especially when we must do much of it in four wheel drive.) A couple of trips to the stream, which was cold and still bearing minute chips of ice, and we had a full radiator. There were no burst or loose hoses, and we had an uneventful trip down to Plaster Rock and across to home. My husband was impressed with my McGyver like inventiveness. As Bernadette says, country girl practicality.

We saw dozens of deer, out feeding on tiny herbs in the fields and meadows; we saw three moose in conference, consulting across either side of the road, and it took several loud taps on the horn to move them out of the way. The journey we took today takes us from our St. John River Valley, across a ridge to another long river valley, the Tobique, and up the glens and passes of the fingers of the Appalachians. My ancestors came from country like that several generations ago, and it is like home to me. The trees are just budding, the stands of birch and maple clouded  with pink and scarlet among the black green pines and spruces. Snow lies thick on the hillsides, and on the mountain meadows. The farm we visited was till snow covered in the shaded areas, the goats all barned until fence posts can be reset in thawing ground.

It is a little farm of about fifty acres, on the outskirts of a small industrial city. The owners are a young couple, looking to provide for their family and make a little money on raising meat goats. Their barn is a a growing concern, with a new wing thrown out each year. It is sturdy, well-appointed, and seems like a palace compared to our converted garage and workshop. No matter, as goats don’t read Architectural Digest and set their standards by the quality of hay and the freshness of the water. I hope they were impressed with their shiny new pails.

The Day of Resurrection

It has been an odd Lent and Paschal season for us. We did not go to church – too ill – we did not keep the fast – too ill – we did nothing outside home during Holy Week – too ill. It seemed to take all my strength to just keep the household moving forward, or at least staying in one place; bills paid, housework done, laundry washed, dried, folded, ironed. Meals were, more or less, cooked. We survived, in our isolated valley way.

Rather than mourning the loss of the cycle of the lenten season, I was just grateful that we had a home, some savings to pay the doctor and the pharmacist, a little cushion to get us the extra petrol and groceries we needed.  I had plans – they fell through. I had goals – they weren’t met. And yet I am grateful, and peaceful, and happy.

I posted the painting above, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesco, because it is a puzzling image. It is dawn; the Roman guards are asleep outside the tomb in which Jesus of Nazareth was buried – why should they stay awake? They are guarding a dead man. He won’t cause any disturbance, will he? And the disciples who were purportedly plotting to steal the body – they are just idle fisherman from Galilee, long gone home, hiding until the heat is off. This isn’t a triumphant warrior Jesus; this isn’t a winged Messiah, vaulting into the air from his victory over death and hell. There is no flash in his eye, no lordly gestures. There are no angels. He has simply arisen. He holds his banner as if he is using it as a staff to aid his posture, stretching out the cramped muscles that have lain so long on cold stone. He is marked with the horrors of the crucifixion, and yet he is calm, and focussed.

He has passed through not only the valley of the shadow of death, but the pit of death itself. He has surpassed the Passion; He has conquered all of sin. He gazes out at us with an inscrutable gaze. There is nothing more for Him to see but Life.

In a moment He will step up fully on the broken tomb, He will blaze forth in glory that cannot be contained under earth. The heathen soldiers will run in fear, running to a charge of desertion but perhaps just deserting; Rome is not gentle or forgiving.

I expect that He blessed them as they fled, sparing them the cold justice of Pilate. I hope that they made their way home to Gaul, and Iberia and the banks of the Tiber.

I did not grieve and weep over the broken body this year. I had no Pieta in my heart. I am confident of His conquest of death.

He is risen.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

(Pascha Nostrum)

Let there Be Peace

For He cometh the judge the earth, and the peoples with equity

The first piece of business I met with today over my morning cup of coffee was that some anonymous person had made a disparaging comment about me on someone else’s website.

Very disparaging, actionably libellous. I got trolled.

The editor of that website let me know, let me see the comment, and then removed it. I promised to do the same for him if it should come up. It was all done with discretion and good Christian sense.

This sort of thing happens, as he said, when we start to build a fan/follower base. Someone we crossed in our past, or someone who thinks they know us better than they really do – and stalkers and obsessed persons – can do us some harm, at least to our sense of peace. Because that person remains anonymous, we can’t fight back. It’s guerrilla action.

We can – and do – shrug it off. The criticism leveled at me was marginally true, but twisted and aimed to hurt, plant doubt in those who know me, make me look like a hypocrite and liar. (All of us are hypocrites if we claim to follow Jesus – because we will never do it perfectly in this world.) I’ve been slammed before; it’s not new. I am not devastated or injured. That is not what bothers me the most.

Jesus told us to reconcile with an opponent before we get to judgment. It is better to ask and give forgiveness without mediation. Judgment is a very public process; it keeps people in an adversarial position. Judgment is about rights, not about forgiveness.

But if I do not know who it is who has named me in a grudge, who hides his person behind an internet persona, who gives me no opportunity to listen and to be heard, then we can never agree in fellowship . The only judgment possible will be the Final Judgment, and He who is eternally righteous will be the judge. We cannot give and receive Christian forgiveness if one of the parties refuses to come forward, but slings mud over the fence, and then runs.

I want to be reconciled with anyone I may have offended, and if I am accused I want the opportunity to answer and apologize to the accuser. I cannot demonstrate to an anonymous accuser and critic that I am indeed attempting to walk the narrow path, with God as my helper. I do not deserve this rejection; I want to make amends and reconcile.