This post is not timely, unfortunately. A while ago the mulberries were finished fruiting, and the season for new babies is nearly over. But the truth is this post is a difficult one for me to write – because there was trouble this season, and people who don’t live with this kind of thing – with birth and death mixed up together – don’t always understand when things don’t go well. I have never had a kidding/calving season with this much trouble and drama in all the 12 years I’ve been keeping cows and goats.
First the trouble was that my some of my goats got sick – very sick. They wouldn’t eat. They had scours and gooey eyes, and runny noses. The funny thing was that I was very sick, too. Some sort of respiratory virus. My daughters were sick. Ethan was off working for the first time in a long time, and I had a very hard time taking care of everyone and feeling bad at the same time. Two of my goats got very thin, and two of the kids died from the sickness. After everyone was feeling better, these two goats were still looking ill. They didn’t have milk, so I ended up bottle feeding one of the kids.
April, who was one of my oldest goats, finally died. It was very sad. She was never sick before in her life. Mab, the other goat, is still going, but she is still thin and is only now starting to look better
At about the same time, the second to last mama had her kids – twins. This was Cricket, my oldest goat, one of the first sets of twin goats born here. She’s had seven sets of twins before – she always has twins. With everything going on, and her experience as a mother, I didn’t check on her closely this time. She has a very large udder, and I milked her after the kids were born so she would be more comfortable, and the next day, but I didn’t of course take everything because I wanted to leave the first milk – the colostrum – mostly for the kids. The kids looked big and healthy, but two days after they were born, Clo came running crying from the goat pen. The first thing she does every morning is check on the goats. Often I wake up to hear her up there, singing and talking to them. She had found one of Cricket’s twins dead.
I looked him over – he was a very healthy looking kid. I looked at his sister, Tulsi. Her sides were sunken in with that hollow look of little goats that haven’t nursed. Cricket was there, looking for her other baby. Her udder was huge, and when I put her in the head-gate, Tulsi couldn’t latch on or nurse. I realized they probably hadn’t gotten their colostrum (little goats die without it – actually humans are some of the only animals that can still survive without getting colostrum).
So I milked Cricket out completely and started bottle-feeding TWO baby goats. On top of everything, I had two little goats that would slip out when they were hungry and run over to the kitchen. They couldn’t get in the front porch, but they quickly learned to run around to the back door, so we had little goats trotting around under foot in the kitchen!
Tulsi was too small to go out to graze with the big goats. The big goats will keep going with grazing, and the little goats will go to sleep and get lost. It’s dangerous for them to be left out at night. So I had Tulsi following me all over wherever I went, and then curling up on the porch for a nap, which incensed the cats. One day she skipped along behind me all the way up to the cows, and then down with Matilda to the milking area. We ran into the goats on the way, and she peeled off to go to her mother. I thought she would be fine for just a little while as I milked, but when I came back that way with Matilda, the goats were gone and Tulsi was gone.
Clo and I looked and looked for her (Rose was off some where with friends). We walked all over calling her. I let Cricket out, who started bleating for her, and then got distracted by eating again. We walked all over the grazing lines, back and forth, with the dogs, until it got dark. When Cricket saw us coming back, she looked at us eagerly, expecting us to be bringing Tulsi, since we were always carrying her back after she’d had her bottle. The look of disappointment she gave me hurt my heart. I had such a hard time sleeping that night, thinking of the little goat lost in the darkness, and all the things that might happen to her.
At 3:45 in the morning (by the clock in the kitchen) I woke up to rain drops. I got up to let the goats in to their shelter (especially since they had been ill), and thought of the little goat getting wet, and maybe chilled. So there I was under the cloudy stars in the dark pastures barefoot, wandering around calling, “Tulsi!” looking for her in the rain.
The next morning she appeared suddenly when the goats got to the grazing line next to the cows. Such a relief! After that, poor April died, and I started feeling better, and things got easier. Then the day before my birthday, I went up to get Matilda, and the dogs found a pile of afterbirth up by the hay bale. They immediately started fighting over who got to eat it (really gross, I know. Dogs love disgusting things. It’s just their nature.). Clo and I thought Chestnut might have had her calf finally. The cows were away in the oak trees, and as we got closer we saw a pretty, dark calf next to Chestnut. I walked towards Matilda to grab her collar and lead her down, and saw another calf on the ground, still wrapped in the caul as if it had just been dropped on the ground. But there was no mother licking him off or mooing to him.
Who’s calf is this? We went around looking at the back ends of all the cows. Clover was lurking in the corner, so she was one of the last ones we checked. It was her calf! She started mooing in the soft, low sound that mother cows make to their calves, so we shooed her over (she isn’t tame), and showed her the calf. I thought perhaps the dogs had startled her away, but when she saw the calf, and he stood up and tried to wobble over to her, she knocked him down with her horns. We tried to help them, but it became clear that Clover was not in a motherly mood towards her new calf, and was only trying to hurt him.
Not only that, but Clo noticed that Caterpillar, who is still very young, was in labor, and looked as if she was struggling. I tried to approach her to check, but she ran away very fast (she is even less tame than Clover). So I focused on the calf. First I carried him all the way down to the kitchen from the farthest line (like a quarter mile), squeezing under electric fences with him to make it a shorter trip. He was very wet and slippery and wriggly, and he was probably the largest calf born this year, so this was not easy at all, and I was very worn out and covered in calf hair, stinging caterpillar fuzz, and afterbirth when I got back. Then I called Ethan and told him he’d better come home immediately from goodness knows where ever he was working. Then I warmed up some milk from Matilda (not ideal as it’s not colostrum, but it was all I had), and fed the calf a bottle. Then we drove to awful old Tractor Supply (I changed into clean clothes for this, I swear), who always fails me when I need something, but the actually did have the gross packets of formula colostrum for calves, so I bought some, and mixed them with more milk and fed the calf.
Later that afternoon, I checked on Caterpillar and she was stretched out on the ground like she was dead. I ran over, and she was still alive, laboring with difficulty. I checked, and the calf was in a bad position and was stillborn. I got a rope and Rose helped me pull it out. Caterpillar was very tired and weak after laboring so long, so we gave her some water with apple cider vinegar, and I tried to bring her up some of the grassfed dairy ration.
Matilda, who almost won’t go in to be milked when she sees it in her dish (she scorns it – she was from a different farm originally and just ate sweet feed all the time, so she’s very fussy, like the kid who grew up on fast food and has to eat vegetables), became a monster and started attacking us and Caterpillar to eat it. We could not get rid of her. She loomed, huge and ravenous from all directions. I tried holding her off by her collar and she dragged me around and trampled Caterpillar. There was a piece of bamboo lying around from some long-lost farm project, and I had to go all Anime Ninja and fight her off while Rose encouraged Caterpillar to eat faster.
Ethan got home the next day, and was able to rope stupid Clover and tie her head to a tree so the calf could nurse, which he did with much enthusiasm. Once she was tied up, she was easy to milk, so we milked anything extra. We still fed him (and the little goats) bottles for awhile.
Now Tulsi is grafted onto her mother – she still is very friendly though. Gingerbread (the other kid) is weaned except when she gets an opportunistic nurse from an inattentive mama. After being tied to a tree every day for a few weeks, Clover finally realized who her calf was and actually cares about him a little bit – enough to let him nurse at least. So the bottles have been retired, and things feel easier and easier. We called the calf Taurus. His is still very big and friendly and growing well.
The first milk is quite different from the rest of the milk in the lactation. Colostrum is yellowish and thick and tastes nothing like milk. It’s often made into puddings in India and other places, as it thickens up when you heat it. Sweetened and flavored with vanilla, it’s very rich and tastes like French pastry cream.
New Milk Custard Pie With Mulberries
1 quart mulberries (reserve about 20 for garnishing)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon arrowroot mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 cups colostrum (new milk)
1/2 cup sucanat/Jaggary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
A pre-baked pie crust
- First, make the crust. Here are my standard proceedings:
I start with a good-sized mixing bowl. I dump what looks about 4 cups of flour into it. I add a generous pinch of salt, the kind of pinch you use the flats of three of your fingers for instead of the tips of thumb and forefinger.
Next I add a hunk of butter about the size of a good-sized egg, the size of a mature laying hen, not a pullet egg. I work the butter into the flour with my fingers, crumbling it into the flour.
I know it has enough butter worked it when it looks like bread crumbs but when I squeeze it in my fist it clings together in a dry, crumbly clod. I leave large crumbs for flaky texture, and small crumbs for tenderness.
Now I add a splash of cream cold from the fridge, or maybe milk if we are short on cream. Sometimes water of there is no milk, but you won’t get as good of a pie crust with water. I add it very careful, so the dough won’t get too wet, kneading gently with my hands as I add it just a little splash at a time.
I’ll add a little flour again if I accidentally put to big a splash in and the dough is too wet, but that isn’t ideal. It should be a rich, buttery dough that won’t stick to your hands and works easily. Form dough into a flattened ball, and roll out evenly on a floured surface, about 1/8th inch thick or less. Start from the middle and work your way out in all directions to make an even circle. To put it in the pie dish, gently fold it in half without creasing, lay it over the pie dish, and unfold. Press gently into the pie pan, trim the edges to the top of the pie dish, and crimp them for a pretty edge. To pre-bake it, prick the bottom with a fork all over and bake at about 350 F for 10 minutes.
2. Next, the custard. Whisk up the colostrum with the sugar and vanilla. Heat it gently until it thickens. Whisk very vigorously at the end so it won’t be lumpy (Clothilde insisted on stirring ours, and you can see it is rather lumpy because she “forgot” to stir it at one point).
3. Pour the thickened custard into the pie crust. Now time for the mulberries (can also be done simultaneously while cooking the custard).
4. Put most of the mulberries except the selected prettiest ones for the garnish in a little pot with the honey and water, and cook with the lid on until the berries are soft and cooked. Pull them out, and run them through a food mill to remove the stems and any fibrous bits. Then put the puree back on the stove, blend together the arrowroot and water, and stir it in, and stir until it is thickened and clear.
5. Pour the puree over the custard, and dot the top attractively with fresh mulberries. Enjoy!
Well, wishing you a less-drama filled spring than we have enjoyed!