Goat Worship: A Halloween Exclusive!

Dance with me in the witches’ grove! Bwah ha…ha…er…. Well, okay, if you’re not so into that, I’ll take an apple instead.

This Saturday our friends Gloria Putnam and Steve Rudicel at the Mariposa Creamery in Altadena gave a free, two-hour class on the basics of goat keeping. I was there with bells on. I’ve always wanted goats.

It was a wonderful afternoon–about forty “goat curious” people like me showed up. Gloria and Steve’s goal in this, as in many of their activities, is to build community. They want more goat owning neighbors. They want everyone to be as excited about goats as they are.

Gloria also said that when she got her first goats, she didn’t know any goat keepers. She knew nothing. Everything she read on the Internet contradicted and confused her. The goat message boards were full of scary stories. She wants people to know that it’s not hard to keep goats. A lot of it is common sense. Good management goes a long way toward preventing the situations that lead to the scary stories you read on the message boards. As a beginner, what you really need is other goat keepers you can call on, and watch, and learn from. This is why she and Steve are spreading the good word–they want to build community–so local goat keepers can support and educate one another

Gloria produced a beautiful handout which she has given me in PDF form to share with you all out there in Internet Land. Download it here. It’s a great overview of the basics, with a list of resources at the end. It does focus on goat-keeping in the Los Angeles region, but it will be useful no matter where you live.

Lots of goat porn to follow, interspersed with some of my notes.

Steve and Gloria tellin’ it like it is to the goat curious. Steve is wearing his Altadena booster shirt. Altadena rocks! And Gloria is in her Backward Beekeepers sweatshirt, which is the fashion statement of choice in these parts.

Why keep goats? Why operate a home dairy?

Why should you keep goats? Well, for the milk, of course. And the cheese–which is milk’s higher purpose.  In an urban area (at least in this part of the world) it can be nigh near impossible to lay your hands on fresh, organic raw milk. If access to that kind of food is important to you, you almost have to be DIY. Did you know that a good milk goat can give a gallon of milk a day?

Then there’s the ethics. As many of you know, Erik and I stopped buying eggs at the supermarket because we couldn’t support the egg factories anymore, especially once we learned that “cage free” and “free range” are just marketing gimmicks. We started keeping hens to sidestep the insanity. If we had the room, we’d keep goats in a heartbeat, for the same reason. The industrial milk business is not something we want to support. We use very little milk, and the milk we do use is goat’s milk. 

Beyond this, there’s pure pleasure. Believe us, fresh goat’s milk from a well run creamery does not taste “goaty.” Nothing can compare with fresh, raw milk from animals well loved and fed and carefully milked.

Gloria also points out that for her, goat keeping provides an almost mystical connection to our ancestors, a reconnection to this ancient, ancient human activity of caring for milch animals. Again, like keeping chickens, keeping a few goats was once normative. Well, it is still is normal in a lot of the world–but here and now, it’s exotic, an almost forgotten art. And that’s a shame. Goats are wonderful creatures.

Enter the paddock! Goats are escape artists, so gates like these need to be secured–carabiners work well

A milking station elevates the goat and provides snacks, which are a great incentive toward cooperation.

Look at that foam! A good dairy goat can give a gallon of milk a day. Steve and Gloria milk their goats twice a day. Once a day is acceptable, too, but twice a day increases the yield by 20%.

This device is called a strip cup. The first squirt of milk from the goat goes in here. The screen lets you know if the milk texture is off–a sign of trouble.

How much does it cost? 

You don’t keep goats in the city/suburbs to save money. Just as it is with eggs, you’re always going to be able to buy milk at the store for less than it costs to raise it at home. However, if you’re committed to high quality, fresh, raw dairy and gourmet cheese, you know how hard it is to find, and if you can find it, how expensive it can be.  I think you can get good milk for more reasonable prices in other areas of the country, but around here raw goat’s milk goes for about $20 a gallon. Gloria and Steve estimate their own milk costs more than that, but they admit it is much higher than it need be because a) they are keeping several non-producing goats as pets and b) they are buying really expensive hay for logistical reasons and I’ll add 3) they’re paying SoCal prices for everything.

(I should insert here that Mariposa Creamery is not a commercial dairy. They are producing milk and cheese for their own consumption–and keeping goats because they love goats. So this isn’t at all about profitability.) 

They say they could save a lot of money on hay if they had somewhere to store it and could buy it in bulk, instead of having it delivered in small quantities. They’d save even more if they had time to forage for the goats. Goats actually prefer tree trimmings to expensive hay. All in all, they figure it costs them about $5 per day to support each goat, that include the food, supplements and medicines. But theoretically you could almost feed your goats for free, if they had access to forage or you had time to forage for them.

In planning your own costs, you will also need to factor in the cost of the infrastructure: fencing, housing, feeding and milking equipment. This can be expensive or it could cost relatively little. It depends on your circumstances and leanings. 

How much does it cost to buy a good milk goat? Around $300 locally. That’s for a goat with her kids just weaned, ready to milk. Of course it’s much less cash up front to raise up a baby.


Meet Mint. She’s thirsty after being milked.

How much food? What kind of food? Milkers eat 2 flakes of hay each per day. The non-milkers eat 1 flake. (There are 10-12 flakes per bale, roughly.) Goats eat hay, but would prefer some nice foraged tree branches. They also get a little grain, veg scraps, and access to the condiment bar. See the next pic…
This surprised me as a goat newbie: the goats get constant access to three nutritional supplements: kelp, mineral salts and baking soda. They nibble at these when the like, when they feel they need them.

Spontaneous still life: hay hook and a green egg

Goat milk does not taste “goaty” if handled properly. First, it has to be processed instantly: out of the goat, straight into the dairy, where it is filtered–which is what is going on in this picture–and then chilled down as quickly as possible. All the equipment, of course, is very clean.

If only my kitchen were so clean.
I admit I was kind of getting off on all the stainless steel.
But back to the point. Once the milk is filtered it is cooled down fast by being placed in a bucket of cold water packed with those blue ice brick thingees, and then put in the fridge. Submersion in ice water cools much more quickly than simply putting the milk in the fridge, or even into the freezer.
If you have goats, even just a couple, you’re going to have plenty of milk. What do you do with it?

Make cheese, of course! Aren’t these incredible? Gloria and Steve made these with their own hands. This is the triumph of the DIY spirit.

Source–>Product–>Paradise

Goats in the City and Suburbs

Goats, being smaller than cows and happy to live on forage rather than pasture, are ideal milch animals for smaller spaces. You need to keep two goats minimum, because a single goat in an unhappy goat. Three goats is apparently a very good number, though Gloria says the more the better. They’re busy, curious animals and having lots of companions keeps them happy and less dependent on you for company.

Exactly how much room you need to keep goats is one of those questions which is hard to answer. More room is always better. Gloria and Steve’s eleven goats are living in a yard about the size of generous suburban back yard. The kind of yard where you can play fetch with a big dog or toss a football–but by no means a pasture or huge space. Within that space is the goats’ shelter, a pile of logs for them to climb on, their feeding and watering stations and a chicken coop. The specific codes of your city or county might specify a certain size lot for livestock or a certain distance the animals must be from neighboring structures.

This is their first aid kit for the flock. It’s pretty straightforward. Stuff for wound care, charcoal paste for poisonings, an epi pen for allergic reactions, and antibiotics for serious emergencies. The most important item in here may be the thermometer, which is an important early warning device.
Sometimes life is just pretty
Did I mention these are Nubian goats. Their milk has the most butterfat for any goat this size.

This is my new best friend, Dot. The sweetest kid in the world. She followed me around like a puppy asking to be scratched and giving me the big eye treatment. I was seriously tempted to stuff her in the hatchback and make a getaway.
Hay, nice manger!

Dot is shaking her head, saying, “No, you cannot capture my cuteness with your tiny box. Put it away and pet me!”

A milking goat drinks 5 gallons a day. This system refills automatically, so Steve and Gloria know their goats will never run out of water, even if they get stuck somewhere and can’t get home to refill.
A log pile provides entertainment for busy goats. So do children.

Goats and chickens get along well, but goats will eat all of the chickens’ feed, so you have to protect those areas. It’s very bad if a goat is allowed to gorge on large amounts of grain–it can kill them. Yep, they can digest oak branches but grain is a problem. It turns septic in their stomachs.

This kid got up on the log pile and started posing. She’s Dot’s sister.

This is my wistful look.

Did you want a profile?

I pulled back to capture the nobility of her pose.

Seriously. Can we just bronze it and put it in a park?
All hail our Caprian overlords.

Happy Halloween everybody! (Photo courtesy of Gloria Putnam)

Weekend Movie Recommendation: Buck

Even if you’re not owned by a horse, there’s a lot to learn from an extraordinary movie called Buck. The subject of this documentary, “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, crisscrosses the country teaching a method of horse training (or is it people training?) that can be applied to any animal. The results are amazing–a dance between man and horse.

Brannaman’s techniques embody a stoic calm and sensitivity born out of a miserable childhood. As a survivor of abuse, he’s very in tune with the nature and effects of fear. He teaches that the relationship we have with our animals is much more about our own baggage than what’s going on with the animal. As he puts it, “Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will.”

This is a beautifully shot and edited documentary, thought provoking and very much worth watching. Good news: if you have Netflix, it’s a available for instant viewing.

Return of Recipe Friday! Carrot Soup

We had a party at our house last week and lots of people brought baby carrots. And no one took their baby carrots home with them when they left. So I took the pile of baby carrots and made a pureed carrot soup with them–one of my all-time favorite soups, in fact. Working with baby carrots was kind of fantastic. No chopping! No peeling!

Doing this reminded me that I haven’t shared this recipe on the blog, so I dug up the original recipe card. This is one of the oldest recipes I have. It sort of taught me the basics of soup making. I no longer refer to the recipe when I cook, but it was good to go back and see the original instructions. This soup is just about an ideal soup. It’s fast and flexible, doesn’t require many ingredients and seems to please everyone. At heart it’s vegan, but can be made more decadent by adding dairy. I wish I could credit it properly, but it’s something I copied from a magazine onto a card fifteen years ago or so.

It’s amazing how such a simple soup can have so much flavor. The sweet-spicy flavor and bright orange color also make it an ideal dish for this time of year. Each time I eat it I feel like I’m doing something really good for my body.

Carrot Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • About 2 pounds of carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks* (Peeling is optional but the soup tends to be sweeter/less earthy if you peel. To tell the truth. I never weigh my carrots–I use as many carrots as I have. If it looks like a whole lot, I’ll add more onion to balance it out. If I don’t have a lot of carrots, I still follow the recipe as is–it works, you just have less soup.)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves peeled
  • 3-5 whole spice cloves (not absolutely necessary but very nice)
  • A little bit of salt. It doesn’t need lots. Start with 1/2 teaspoon or less and add more later if it’s needed.
  • About 4 cups of water or vegetable broth. Broth makes it extra rich, but I usually use water.
  • Fresh lemon juice, about one tablespoon. Best just to have a lemon on hand.
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Optional: yogurt or sour cream or heavy cream for topping

Heat oil in a a large heavy bottomed pot or saucepan. It should have a lid. Add the carrots, onion, garlic and cloves and saute until the onion is translucent. Then add the water or broth and salt. It should just cover the carrots. Cover the pot and simmer until the carrots are tender–maybe 30 minutes.

Fish out the spice cloves and discard. Puree the soup until smooth, either with a stick blender or a countertop blender or a food mill. If you use a countertop blender, do it in small batches instead of filling up the blender so you don’t get the exploding volcano effect, i.e. hot carrot soup launching from your blender. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Do a final adjustment of seasoning after it’s blended (put it back in the pot if you used the blender). At this point add the lemon juice, which is the magic trick of this recipe. I don’t consider this ingredient optional. The recipe calls for one tablespoon of lemon juice but I usually add more. If it seems right, a bit of sugar. Just a pinch or two. Sugar really helps if the carrots aren’t sweet. Then polish it up with salt and pepper to taste. You can add more hot water or broth to thin it if it seems too thick.

If you wish, serve it with a swirl of yogurt or cream on top, and maybe a sprinkle of chives for fancy.

It keeps well overnight, improves, even.

Changing it up:

I often add different herbs and spices at the beginning. For instance, I think thyme and carrots like each other, so I’ll often throw some sprigs of thyme in at the beginning, to be sauteed with the onions. Same goes for sage. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of cumin. Or cinnamon. Or cayenne. Or ginger. It’s up to you if you want to push the soup toward more of an herbal/lemony flavor or more toward spicy/exotic or toward a sweet pumpkin pie profile. It’s endlessly flexible.

You can also make this same soup with sweet potatoes instead of carrots. Sometimes I mix the two.

*A reader points out that she grates her carrots when she makes carrot soup. Good point! The smaller your veggies, the faster they’ll soften up. Dinner will be on the table sooner–and she thinks it may make better tasting soup, too. But if you don’t have the energy to grate, big chunks will soften up just fine. It’s all good.

What We’re Going To Do About That Lead

White sage, yarrow, rosemary and aloe vera–the kind of plants we’ll be planting more of.

Let’s assume that we have a lead problem in our backyard. That’s a big assumption at this point because we now have two very conflicting test results. But, for the sake of an argument, let’s say the first alarming test is true, what are we going to do about it?

These are the options:
  • Radical remediation: Remove all the soil in the yard and replace with new soil.
  • Cover the contaminated soil so that it doesn’t give off dust, and so people can’t come in direct contact with it, e.g. lay sod, cover the yard with concrete or decking, or lay down a thick layer of mulch.
  • Grow ornamental plants only
  • Grow all food in raised beds
  • Attempt phytoremediation (grow plants that uptake lead, pull them and send them to the dump)
  • Move

It turns out we were already doing some of these things, so we’re just going to keep on going as we were with a few changes. Our yard has always been covered in a thick layer of mulch and we do most of our growing in raised beds. We will stop growing edibles directly in the ground. We’d already planned to redesign the yard to include lots more native and Mediterranean flowering plants. These we can’t eat, but will secure the soil and provide food and shelter for lots of beneficial insects who will aid our food crops. We’re really happy that we’ve always mulched, because it has helped keep the (potentially) contaminated soil in place and has increased bio-activity as the mulch decomposes.

This raised be would have to be raised higher.

Most plants don’t take up much lead, it turns out. Our soil phosphate levels are high and the pH is moderate, two factors that further decrease the ability of plants to access lead. The main health concern comes from directly ingesting dirt, and that can be avoided by washing and peeling vegetables and fruits. The recommended wash for lead is a splash of vinegar in water (1 tsp per 1 1/2 qts water).
I’d be more concerned if we had kids and they played in the backyard. Little kids, of course, are most at risk because they tend to ingest dirt during play. If it turns out there is a lead problem at our house, I plan on knocking on the doors of my neighbors with kids, warning them about what I’ve found and offer to help them do a lead test. In our public speaking and teaching we emphasize the importance of getting a soil test and we’ll keep doing this.
Phytoremediation, the process of growing plants that concentrate lead, pulling them up every year and disposing of them holds a lot of promise. Unfortunately I don’t see how it would be practical in a residential situation. If the contamination is widespread I’d have to remove every plant and tree and grow nothing but, let’s say, sunflowers, for perhaps several decades. (Sunflowers pull up lots of lead.) In short, phytoremdiation is an intense, long term process.
I think the most important thing we can do is spread the message that soil is a sacred resource–something that we should not foul up in the first place. More and more we’re coming to realize that soil is everything–our future and our well being is inextricably tied to its health. We know how to treat it right. We’re just not doing it. We know what toxins are, and we’ve know it for a long time. For instance, lead has been known to be a problem for thousand of years. Benjamin Franklin, in a letter dated July 31, 1786, comments on lead poisonings caused by contaminated rum, and the lack of concern about this problem: “You will observe with concern how long a useful truth may be known and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on.”  
You said it, Ben.

Gardening Tip: Senecent Seedlings

With seedlings, small is good.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Senescence is the “change of the biology in an organism as it ages after it reaches maturity” (see Wikipedia). I believe I’m experiencing it right now.

What we’re here to warn you about today is buying plants which are old before their time. Seedlings which are senescent.

What are senescent seedlings? Basically, these are seedlings whose roots have met the bottom of their container.  See, plants have their own intelligence and follow their own internal clocks.

If, for instance, a little tomato seedling spends enough time in a tiny pot or shallow flat, its roots will reach the bottom of the container. When it meets this resistance, it will start to feel confined, and it will say to itself, “Well, this is it. This is all the space I’ll ever get, so I better get going on the reproduction.” At that point its biology will change and it will flower and start to do it’s best to set fruit or seed as soon as possible. In short, it intends to reproduce before it runs out of resources.

The result of this biological shift is that this plant will never really thrive in your garden. It will stay smallish and bear just a little before closing up shop. It’s not that the plant is unhealthy, it’s just that it’s done. You won’t get much performance out of it. It’s the tomato that never gets tall. It’s the pepper plant that makes one single pepper.

Beware: Most nursery seedlings are senescent.


So keep these things in mind:

  • When you buy seedlings, look at the bottom of the container. If roots are poking out, it’s a no-go. This pertains particularly to annual vegetables. Perennials don’t like being root bound either, but the outcomes are not as extreme.
  • In addition to long roots, also look for tell-tale signs of maturity in a vegetable, like flowers or fruits. Tomato plants already bearing tiny tomatoes are not a good thing. Cukes that are flowering are not a good thing.
  • Look for the smallest, youngest seedlings you can find. Teeny tiny is good. The more leafed out they are, the longer their roots will be.
  • If you’re raising plants from seeds, don’t let the seedlings sit around too long. Get them into the ground when they open their first true leaves. If you can’t plant for some reason, transplant them to deeper containers.

Get a Soil Test!

Regular readers have probably already got this message, but right now we can’t repeat it enough. If there’s a lesson with our backyard lead scare , it’s to practice due diligence when beginning a garden –or better yet, when you buy property–and that means getting a soil test from a soil lab. They’re not that expensive, especially when you consider the high cost of remediation, and the well being of your self and your family.

Test soil for both nutrients and heavy metals when:

  • Buying a house or land
  • Starting to grow food in your yard  
  • Are growing food and have never tested
  • Starting a plot in a community garden or a school garden
  • Buying soil in bulk

Property does not have to be on the former site of gas station to be suspect. Lead contamination comes not only from lead paint on older houses, but was also deposited all over urban centers and near busy roads via a constant rain of fine particulates from auto emissions.

    It really is a shame that lead testing is not a standard part of the inspection phase of home-buying, especially as this is a pervasive problem in urban areas.

    Do companies that sell bulk soil test that soil for lead? A few phone calls Darren Butler made to local companies indicate that they don’t. So let the buyer beware here too. Wondering about bagged soils? Susan Carpenter, at the LA Times, tested a bunch and found no problems.  She did find a possible lead link to fish fertilizer, however.

    We’ve used all three of these services. UMass is the cheapest by far, but gives the least analysis. However, if you just want your lead level numbers, that’s not a problem.

    Wallace Laboratories
    UMass Soil Testing Service
    Timberleaf Soil Testing

    In our next lead post we’ll let you know what our plan is. And we know there’s interest in all this, so over the week we’ll talk about remediation, raised beds, what’s dangerous, what’s edible, and more. Fun for all, guaranteed!

    Cat Update

    Last week was fairly traumatic around here. We learned two scary things–the first was that we might be living on a Superfund clean-up site, and the second was that something was seriously wrong with our kitten, Phoebe.

    As Erik just posted, the lead issue remains up in the air, and will be for quite some time. But we did find answers regarding Phoebe, and while it is bad news, it is not as bad as our worst imaginings, and it’s good just to have answers and a course of action. We’re finding our feet again and will get back to a regular blogging schedule this week.

    Turns out little Phoebe, found on the street when she was only 4 weeks old and bottle raised by us, was born with a heart defect. The kitty cardiologist (the excellent Dr. Zimmerman at AVCC for you Angelenos) identifies it as a complete AV canal defect. This is a rare and serious heart deformity.  Dr. Zimmerman drew us a picture of a normal cat heart and then one of Phoebe’s heart, and all we could think was that it was a miracle this kitten lived a minute outside the womb.

    As I understand it (and please forgive the very loose terminology) there are four chambers to the heart, the left and right atria and the left and right ventricles, and each pair is divided by a septum, a wall. In Phoebe’s heart, the septa are breached in both pairs, so her blood is flowing around her heart all willy-nilly. (In precise terms she has atrial septal defect and a ventricular septal defect).

    We really don’t know how she’s functioning at all. It’s also a miracle that she survived her spaying. We will no longer be using the services of the vet who somehow overlooked her loud heart murmur when prepping her for anesthesia.

    There is little we can do for her. There is medication which will ease her heart action some. Dr. Zimmerman would not give us a prognosis because, as she says, “kitties always surprise us.” So Phoebe might have weeks, she might last years. She’s not in pain–she is just not as active as she used to be before the symptoms of this defect became more pronounced. Basically she’s acting like an elderly cat, happy to nap a lot and watch our other kitten, Trout, play. If she does start to roughhouse with Trout she’ll run out of air and have to stop. But it seems like she’s figured that out already, and even simple Trout seems to understand that he has to leave her alone.

    So yes, we’re sad, but we’re also relieved we don’t have to make any big decisions regarding surgery (there is none) or her quality of life. We’ll just enjoy her each day and be thankful we have that day together–which is, after all, how we should enjoy all the people and critters that we love.

    Lead Update

    This week I thought I’d do a series of posts about soil and heavy metals beginning with a few more details about the possible lead contamination situation in our backyard.

    Two weeks ago Darren Butler, who is teaching a vegetable gardening series at our house, led a class project where we took four samples from different locations in the backyard, mixed them together and sent them off to Wallace Laboratories, a local soil testing lab with an international reputation. The results came back showing plant available lead levels at 112 parts per million. Note that “plant available” is different than the total amount of lead in the soil. The total amount would be about ten times higher or 1,120 ppm. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service,

    Generally, it has been considered safe to use garden produce grown in soils with total lead levels less than 300 ppm. The risk of lead poisoning through the food chain increases as the soil lead level rises above this concentration. Even at soil levels above 300 ppm, most of the risk is from lead contaminated soil or dust deposits on the plants rather than from uptake of lead by the plant.

    If the Wallace Labs report is correct, we’ve got a serious problem. It is possible that, in sampling and averaging multiple locations, we hit a “hot” spot where someone may have dumped paint or paint chips. Clearly, we’ll have to set up a grid of tests to see if the problem is isolated.

    I re-did the first test, trying as best I could to take samples from the same locations and sent this second test off to the less expensive UMass soil testing service. The results came back with substantially lower lead levels: 220 ppm, in the “low” range according to most experts, but still higher than I would like. Except for the soil pH, all the other numbers were completely different.

    The next step will be to test the testing services. I’m going to take one sample and split it into three parts, sending one to Wallace, another to UMass and the third to Timberleaf Soil Testing. I hope that two of the testing services agree on something!

    In subsequent posts I’m going to discuss what we’re going to do, phytoremediation (spoiler alert: I don’t think it’s practical in residential situations), and my issues with the real estate industry.

    This week the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is promoting their National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Especially if you have kids, get your soil and the interior of your house tested.

    One Craptacular Week

    It’s been one hell of a week. First we find out, via a soil test, that our backyard may have high levels of lead and zinc. We’ll write a lot more about this once I confirm the results–I’ve sent in another sample to a different lab. And my doctor has agreed to give me a blood test. Whatever the results, I want to help get out the word about this serious issue–ironically, next week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

    Then yesterday we found out that one of our kittens, Phoebe, has a some sort of serious heart defect. The blogging muses can sometimes leave us at times like this so don’t be surprised if it takes us a few days to get ourselves back together.

    So please hold our dear little kitten in your thoughts and prayers as well as the worldwide need for healing our soils. After all, we all need to eat, and all food whether it be plant or animal based, has its origins in living soil systems.