Dark, sticky, concoctions.

Dark, sticky, concoctions.

When I was an inexperienced junior doctor, and clearly more uncouth than I am today, I and my colleagues would often call for Gerifix® when treating the elderly patients admitted to the emergency medical wards during the winter months. These patients were often severely ill with a varied combination of heart failure, chronic obstructive lung disease and an intercurrent infection. Our poorly developed diagnostic skills made if difficult to tease out the primary disorder and thus we called for our panacea – a bit of everything – a combination of an antibiotics, a diuretic (water tablet), digitalis (to strengthen the heartbeat) and a bronchodilator (to open the airways). In really severe cases we’d use Gerifix Forte®, which was the same combination with the addition of a steroid. Although we believed that the Geri in the name related to the age of our patients (over 65 and hence geriatric), I think with hindsight the name was actually Jerryfix and derived from the rough and ready work that we junior doctors did,  and an allusion to the term Jerry-builder.  In any event I was taken back to these late nights in the emergency department yesterday when two of our kid goats managed to be poisoned.

Goats have the reputation of being able to eat anything, and this is deserved in that they will manage to eat a wider range of things than horses or sheep and are also much more curious and adventurous in exploring what is edible – stand beside a goat and it will check every part of your apparel and anatomy to make sure it does not miss any tasty morsels. However, there are also many common plants that are extremely dangerous to them. Indeed, I sometimes think that the prior owners of my house had a deep seated unconscious animosity towards goats as they planted a drive with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Pieris, Acer, and Laurel – each one potentially deadly for goats if they nibble at their leaves. I have done little gardening over the last years, and the little I have done has been to steadily remove these plants from our land. (A useful list of dangerous plants for goats can be found here.)

Usually the goats will keep clear of dangerous plants only being tempted by them in winter if they are starving and these are the only green leaves left visible through the snow. Also it appears that the mother goats will teach her kids to avoid these plants while they are too young to know better. One of the complications we have had, after loosing one nanny to a nasal cancer, is that her two kids are being bottle fed and don’t have their mother’s wisdom when they are out in the field. In any even yesterday afternoon it quickly became apparent  that two of the kids (the orphaned boy and girl) had eaten something they should not have and had been poisoned.

If you have never seen a poisoned goat here is a handy tip for you – Keep it that way!. A poisoned goat is a terrible sight. There is profuse and projectile vomiting, gallons of frothy green vomit spread everywhere in a four foot radius of the goat. On the walls, on the floor. on the goat, the mother goat and on you. They make Linda Blair’s vomiting in “The Exorcist” look tame.  There is also the colic which causes the goat to be distressed. They will grind their teeth when in pain and I fully understand why “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is mentioned seven times in the Bible as one of the torments of hell. It really is pitiful to hear them grind their teeth, only punctuated by ear-splitting screams when waves of colic overtake them. Faced with this it is your duty to fix the situation and, I assure you, you are going to try and do anything to try and stop this nightmare.

Fortunately, on the web there are many accounts of people dealing with this and reports of various mixtures which are reported to work. I noticed that there were some components which were common to all concoctions and decided to use them. This was a mixture comprised of :-

  • 1/2 cup strong tepid breakfast tea. Not any fancy herbal teas, this component needs the tannins which bind the toxins, so strong builder’s tea – tea in which a spoon would stand up.
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil. This seems to line the gut to prevent more toxins entering the system.
  • 2 tablespoons activated charcoal. This is to neutralize toxins.
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger. This acts as a painkiller.
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder. The Bicarbonate of Soda acts as an effective antacid. Some people use Milk of Magnesia in place of this.
  • 1 teaspoon of brandy. Brandy or sherry act as analgesics. My kids were lucky. We only had one bottle of very expensive cognac, a present I received in my previous working life, so this had to substitute for ‘cooking’ brandy. I hope they savoured its fine balanced flavours.

When mixed you have a dark, 20180519_165954.jpgsticky concoction that no self-respecting goat is going to want to take. Especially no colicky and panicking  goat is going to be happy with the idea of drinking this mixture. Therefore it is your job to try and get this into the goat between screams with a syringe. This process will at least mean that instead of being covered with green vomit you will now be covered with black goo.  After having got the first quarter of the volume drenched into the goat in the first sitting then  repeat with small amounts of the mixture every hour until the goat is settled and normal.

In our case this was in the early hours of the morning; they started to settle with the first dose but weren’t comfortable much before midnight. However, I am glad to report that by today they were their usual selves, fighting for food and climbing on the walls and gates. Most of these items are in the average kitchen cabinet so the only thing that might be necessary to make sure you keep in stock is activated charcoal, though some mixtures do not call for this. In any event it is worth keeping the ingredients in stock, for whatever recipe you are going to use, as you won’t want to waste a minute collecting the materials together if you are faced with this emergency. It might also be worthwhile pinning the recipe near the phone just in case someone else is looking after your goats and the worst happens. Fingers crossed you will not need it.

 

DSC_3110.JPG
Everyone oblivious to last night’s horrors

 

 

 

On the horns of a dilemma.

On the horns of a dilemma.

I have been faced with a difficult decision and dilemma this week. I needed to decide whether to disbud our first two goat kids. This was a difficult decision as the issue of disbudding is quite evenly balanced with near equal weight on the sides of ‘pro’ and ‘con’. 

My first thoughts when these two were born was not to do anything but after two days the horn buds were noticeable and we had to make a decision. Unfortunately this decision has to be made against the clock. Any attempt to dehorn a goat after the horns have started to grow is a major procedure. It involves significant surgery and the opening of the skull into the sinus. This needs a lot of post-operative care and carries a reasonable degree of risk to the goat as well as potentially being a painful procedure. So, if you are going to deal with the horns, you need to stop them before they grow – this is the process of disbudding.

As I said my instincts were to allow the horns to grow but after research and conversations with other goat keepers I changed my mind. The pros for leaving the horns to grow include many aspects. It is obviously the way that nature intended that goat to be and one would also have to say that a horned goat can be a very handsome beast. The horns have a heavy blood supply (one of the reasons for the danger of surgery) and this blood supply allows the goat to use its horns as a way of temperature regulation in hot climates. The horns are useful appendages for the goat, they help them reach areas to scratch that otherwise might not be possible, and are also their weapon when fighting. In this regard they are a way to defend themselves against predators (including people). However, they also can act as “handles” to lead an obstreperous goat. I recall using them to steer our billy goat when he was insistent that he’d stay with the nanny goats although they felt that he had outstayed his welcome.

On the con side the horns are dangerous. In a herd with horned and un-horned animals there is an obvious danger that the horned animals may injure their unarmed fellows. We had experience of this last year when our billy ripped open the nose of a nanny when they were both trying to get their heads into a feed bucket. There are also reports of torn udders in dairy flocks. They are also dangerous to their handlers and family. Our previous billy goat was a British Alpine with a fine pair of horns and I do recall that it gave him the edge in our infrequent fights. During his teenage years he decided that I needed to be ousted from my top position in the hierarchy as he was clearly, in his mind, destined for that position. A surprise attack from behind certainly brings tears to the eye and even by accident there is a risk to handlers and family (especially children). The horns also risk the goat themselves as they can lead to them getting entangled in fences or feeding apparatus. Less important in the equation is the regulation that many shows will now allow you to enter horned goats (for safety reasons) and that it is much harder to sell a horned goat than one without horns – and a goat that can’t be sold may be a goat that is dispatched earlier than it should have been. We obviously bought a horned goat but you may have to wait a long time to get a buyer as foolish and inexperienced as we were.

As we have un-horned adult goats, as we plan to continue milking, as we have grandchildren on the farm, because we never live in anything approaching a hot climate, because I spend enough time disentangling stock from fences and because I only just won all my fights with the last billy, we decided to disbud our goats. We managed to make the decision just in time and the vet was happy to do this.

As the horns of a goat often have two nerve branches which supply sensation it is best to undertake this procedure under general anaesthesia. Our vet used propofol which gives about 5minutes of anaesthesia and a quick recovery,  via a painless injection. (As an aside this was the drug which was responsible for Michael Jackson’s death and its creamy white appearance has lead to its nickname “milk of amnesia“). While the kid is unconscious, the horn bud is removed by burning it out with a hot iron which also cauterises the area. This takes about two minutes but should not be rushed, despite the temptation, to ensure all the bud is removed. After removal the area is sprayed with an antiseptic compound to keep the area clean. The kids came round very promptly and, although they were groggy and subdued on the journey home, by lunchtime they appeared as it nothing untoward had happened to them. The only visible sign being the blue antiseptic and circular scars on their foreheads.

Disbudded
Back home, none the worse

This was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I hope I have chosen correctly and made life safer both for the goats and for us. In any event it seems that the kids don’t hold it against me.

A day of blood and guts.

A day of blood and guts.

Today has gone to plan and has been, as hoped, a day of blood and guts. We dealt with the lungs, heart and livers yesterday and the big shock of the day was eating the billy goat’s liver. I had anticipated that this would be very strong tasting and was slightly worried that it might be malodourous, as I had heard that the smell of billy goats can carry through into the meat. I am glad to say there was no odour whatsoever and, more importantly the liver tasted lovely. We had it pan fried with some onions and only a minimum of seasoning with salt and pepper. It was mild in flavour, rather like lambs liver, and not at all as strong as beef or pig liver.

Today continued with the management of the offal. In the morning we coated the skins again with salt. We have about 10kg of salt over the skins and it is drawing all the fluid out of the skins as brine. They are lying on inclined hurdles so that the brine drips off onto the gulley in the middle of the barn’s floor. At the moment the skins only need a little work each day to top up the salt but after_20180118_200316.JPG the weekend they will start to demand a lot more of our attention and work. The major tasks for the day were the finish off the lungs, make the blood tofu an deal with the tripes.

The lungs had been in the dehydrator overnight and now were well complexly dry and ready to be packed. We vacuum seal these and they last well in the refrigerator. We have found that, doing this, they will keep for at least a year. Our dogs are still enjoying the treats that we prepared last year.

The next task was to clean the stomachs. DSC_2679 (2)To do this it is necessary to cut away the spleen and intestines from the sheeps’ stomachs. Sheep have four stomachs and these will be full of grass in various stages of digestion. This needs to be washed out. We have found that standing in the stream with a sharp knife or scissors if the easiest way to do this. Mind you, however you do this job it is not glamourous.

We have found that sheep tripe is not as good as that DSC07289from cows but we know two who think it is the greatest thing in the world – our dogs. They are very enthusiastic for tripe as can be seen in their rapt attention as I cut it into strips. We then add this to the scrap (old and bendy) carrots we have left over at the end of the year. We boil the carrots and mince them with the tripe to make dog food. (We mince them so the dogs can’t eat around the carrots like children – eating the tripe and leaving the vegetables).

The last job for the day was to make the blood_20180118_200549.JPG “tofu” or “curds”. The blood which we collected had clotted and we cut the clot into lumps with a sharp knife.  These lumps are then put in salted boiled water and they harden. We don’t add anything to make the equivalent of black pudding or blood sausage. This was partly due to lack of planning as we didn’t have oatmeal or seasoning to hand. Next year we hope to do this. The way we have prepared them this time, they are rather bland tasting.  I can see why they are  often used in broths which themselves have a lot of  flavour. In a broth like this the curds bring protein and vitamins to the meal rather than any particular taste.

We had visitors while we were busy this afternoon. The kitchen unfortunately looked a little like a charnel house with tripes on the table and blood being boiled on the stove. I had the feeling as they sat there that they felt that it might be easier just to go to the supermarket. However, as we talked and remembered the meals of our youth they remembered that meat is a precious thing. It is best seen as a special part of the meal a treat not something commonplace.  We remembered meals, like neck of lamb, pork belly or cheeks, which were eaten when we were young because they were the cheaper. They were the bits of meat that people didn’t want to buy and our mothers used these cheaper cuts, or offal,  in recipes to eke out their budget. Unfortunately the methods of cooking using these cuts has been gradually forgotten and this amnesia causes us to miss many excellent dishes. Try and buy mutton now, you will have difficulty. However, it is true to say that most farmers will tell you mutton is superior in taste to lamb but it has fallen out of fashion. If you get the opportunity to try it you should take it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

An offal day.

An offal day.

Life, as a small-holder,  is obviously seasonal. Tasks come around with an inevitable regularity and we have busy and quiet spells. We seem to live between peaks and troughs; periods when things are going well and life seems good,  and times when everything seems to be wrong. The latter is usually related to problems with the animals and their health. It is rarely due to anything else.

Sometimes it is just busy and it is difficult to squeeze everything into the available daylight. Haymaking, especially by hand, is one such task -we are bound by the weather and the sunlight and I don’t recall ever working as hard (physically or mentally) as when we try to get the hay into the barn before the rains come and we lose it. Another such period started today with the dispatching of our lambs and our billy goat (He had done his allotted task as we think our nannies are now both pregnant, though we don’t have the certainty or luxury of scanning).

Each year we meet this busy week, where the fruits of the labours of the past year have to be gathered in. The tasks have to be done in a set order and within a set timescale and there is little room for error or we risk spoiling our harvest.  The work starts the day before we dispatch the lambs. We need to create a holding pen and  bring them in for the night. This allows us to dry their fleeces so they will be easier to work with and ensures they fast overnight which makes the following mornings job much easier.

I used to fear this part of the life, and even considered vegetarianism, but now I am quite happy with the process we have. The lambs never leave our farm, they move into the barn on their last night and this is not a strange place for them and they have experience of being fed and sheltered there. In the morning they move into the holding pen and are brought in, one by one, for slaughter. Thankfully, they seem blissfully unaware of what is about to happen and they have only a few seconds of worry before it is all over. Had they lived, they would have had more distress during the year when I would have to go through the same process to shear them, give them their antibiotics or trim their hooves, so I am certain they have had a good life and a reasonable good death (Probably a better death that I will experience I am sorry to say).

The morning that we dispatch them we startDSC07277 early and work quickly to minimise the time this all takes. But this is only the start of a very busy day. As we are trying to be self-sufficient, and out of respect to the animals, we do not want to waste any part of the animal if it can be avoided some things that would be considered waste in a commercial abattoir are important to us. Even the blood that occurs at death we collect; after this has clotted, this can be made into blood meal and blood curds which helps feed our vegetable garden and our dogs. But all the while the clock is ticking and time is against us.

The carcasses we have to hang for a few days. Therefore DSC_2670 (2)after dressing the carcass we have relatively little to do to it for the next two days. It is the offal that needs our attention. However, before we even start the work on the offal we need to protect the skins. Once the skins have dried we cover these with salt. This is the start of a four day preserving process for the hides. Later we will tan the hides and hopefully turn these into throws and rugs. But for now we must salt inspect the hides daily.

Salting the hides is a pretty ‘hands on’ job as you need to work the salt into all areas of the skin. However, at this stage the hide is not that unpleasant to work with. The same can not be said fo the next task. We need to separate out the various forms of offal, the liver, the tripes, the hearts, and the lungs.  Parting the offal into its component parts, DSC07272and discarding the gallbladders (we have not found a use for bile yet) is not a task for the squeamish or delicate but it needs to be done to keep the tripes away from the other components. The tripes we will wash and prepare tomorrow as there would not be enough time today

The next part of the offal to work with is easy – the hearts. These are just  washed then vacuumDSC07280 sealed in bags and put in the freezer. We find that the dogs are very partial to heart meat but we too enjoy it.  However, we find that they need to be cooked very well – even though these are very young animals – slow braised stuffed hearts is a good recipe to try with this meat.

Next we deal with the lungs. We cut theseDSC07281 and the windpipes into very small pieces and then dehydrate them.  This produces a treat for the dogs which can be vacuum packed and which lasts for ages. We were still using some a year after we make the batch. The dogs go wild for these treats which are nearly all protein with very little fat at all. All our friends’ dogs, who visit the house, know where we keep these treats and also vote them a great favourite.

Lastly, for today, we prepare the liver. DSC07279This means little more than removing any membranes, washing and packing. However, it also gives rise to the best part of the day and also one of the highlights of the year. Fresh liver, lightly fried on the day it was collected, is one of the best meals you can imagine. While I think our lamb, chicken and duck all taste fine I know that I have tasted equally as good meat from the butcher or supermarket. However, fresh liver like this is way superior to any liver we might buy and at the end of a busy day, and the start of a busy fortnight, an ample reward for all the work.


P.S. This was the first time I had tasted goat’s liver. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very like lamb’s liver though, if anything, a little milder in taste.