Saturday, April 9, 2016

Things that go "BOOORK" in the Night

Livestock Guardian - in training (Ned)
Besides being “kidding season” again it’s also MOUNTAIN LION season again. God dammit. In the past two years, we have lost three baby goats to mountain lions that roam the open space behind my house. It’s more than open space, actually, it’s the frickin’ “Mountain Lion Highway." 

My house backs up to a creek that is the lucky recipient of $700,000+ to fix it up so that the fishies can swim once again. Over the decades, a few barriers have impeded water flow. But, I gotta tell you, even after spending all that money, there is still not a single drop of water in this creek from May – November. I guess the fish are … somewhere else?

Anyway, a local land trust has been gobbling up land around this creek to make it a wildlife corridor as well as a fish habitat. And what a corridor it is. My little goat farm is just like a fast food drive-through for the felines.

I refer you back to my TWO posts ("Predator and Prey Part I" and "Livestock Dogs") about my personal run in with the mountain lion eating my goat 50’ away from my house – on the far bank of this "wildlife corridor" creek.

Mhysa and Ned
But why should I personally worry about it? I’m not a menu item in the goat-drive-through restaurant. Or am I? In the last twenty years, there have been 13 or 14 mountain lion attacks on humans in California (the reports are consistent). Only three were fatal. Phew. I feel better, don’t you? “Sure, kids, go play in the creek. (Just take the dog with you....)"

As a result of that mountain lion sighting, I raised my fences another 3', added an electric fence at the top, and purchased livestock guardian dogs. I like the following approach better, though… Maybe next.

Armed and Dangerous
Recently (March 2016) there has been a lot of talk about Mountain Lions in my neck of the woods. A researcher has started placing cameras around the woods (and creek) and putting GPS collars on the cats to learn more about them. Specifically, he wants to “shed light on how these cats are moving through the local landscape, and coexisting alongside humans and development.” 

Nom Nom Nom
In fact, one of those cameras captured this image  (left) of a mountain lion eating a deer near my house. REALLY NEAR my house. I annotated the following map to show my house, where I saw the mountain lion eat my goat last year (the paw on the left), where the recent (March 2016) picture was taken (paw on the right), and where the creek is…

Last November, about 6 months after the mountain lion ate my goat “Cookie,” another camera captured this photo of a mama cougar and her two babies (right). Hmmm. When the tracker came out to “depredate” the animal, he found evidence that it was a mother and two babies. I bet this is a photo of the goat-eaters!! Grrr.

Ultimately, the researcher hopes to “inspire some of us [emphasis added] to be better neighbors rather than adversaries.” Ahem. He admits he has never actually seen a mountain lion in person. Well, buddy, come to my house then we can talk about being neighborly.

OK, enough, AG. Stop being so bitter. 

As you can tell, mountain lions really get my goat (hahaha punny). But really. Just thinking about them sends me into a full-fledged PTSD moment reliving my encounter with the mountain lion last April: flashlight in hand, muscles tensed and ready to leap over the creek in a single bound with my magical clogs… or not.

But wait, one more point and then I’ll get on with this post. I love wildlife and nature as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong. But, I am fully within my legal rights to obtain a depredation permit if a mountain lion kills my goats:
California Fish & Game Code 4802: Any person, or the employee or agent of a person, whose livestock or other property is being or has been injured, damaged, or destroyed by a mountain lion may report that fact to the department and request a permit to take the mountain lion.
OK, I’ll move on now. Really.

So, back to my story: I was sound asleep in bed a few nights ago when my cell phone RANG. Not texted. But the PHONE part of it rang. Who uses the phone anymore?! I picked it up pronto, and it was Katherine. Her bedroom is just downstairs… why is she calling me?? IS IT A MOUNTAIN LION???!

“MOM! There are people at the front gate!!”

What the hell? Not a mountain lion?

The dog had been barking ferociously at the front gate for some time (an hour Katherine says, but that seems long), so Katherine had gone out to check on the baby goats and the mega-pregnant goats that were in a pen right next to the gate.

OK, not so ferocious here
She saw car headlights, which quickly flicked off, and then she saw people coming towards the gate with a lantern. At that point, she locked herself in the barn and called me frantically on her cell phone. Meanwhile, the dog was going ballistic.

Super Mom to the rescue! After last year’s mountain lion episode, one would think I would have had the sense to grab a rifle on my way out the door. Or at least wake up David, who was sound asleep next to me. Or perhaps call the police? Hmm.

I LOVE THIS PHOTO (Rustyroof25, imgur)

Nope. Just me and my trusty flashlight marching up the driveway (in my clogs and bathrobe again, too). Ready for battle.
I live in a relatively remote area. Not totally the sticks, mind you, but we do not get evening visitors. Especially not at midnight.

The dog saw me coming and came “borking” up to me in a fury. She backed down when she realized it was me, and turned back to the gate. At first I didn’t see anyone, and Katherine peeked her head out the barn door. 

Then I saw jeans and work boots. “Crap. It really is a person,” I thought.

I followed the legs up to the top of the person, and saw a long scruffy beard (think ZZ Top) and a white man in his 40s. He started explaining that “they” had a flat tire, and could I lend “them” a star tire iron.

“Who is WE?” I wondered. Then I saw a woman standing behind him, looking wary of my crazed dog. The dog did not let up for a minute. Good girl.

“We were walking into town to the Lodge and we saw your lights,” he explained.

My gut screamed “NOOO!” at me. He didn’t seem drunk or high, but something was … not right. 

Who doesn’t have a cell phone these days? What TWO people don’t have a cell phone between them? Where was the car? If you know the area well enough to know that there’s a motel half a mile down the road, then wouldn’t you know that there’s a fire station a quarter of a mile down the road? Why would you turn the headlights AND lantern off when you saw a person?

The dog was still barking and pressing herself up against the gate. Her gut said, “NOOO”, too. (Ned was barking, too – guard dog in training).

I have been known to give people the benefit of the doubt in similarly freaky situations. Like that time Katherine and I got lost with the trailer in Plumas National Forest, and I let a total stranger drive my Suburban with my KIDS IN IT to turn my trailer around… (see "Looking Back")

Not this time. “Move along,” I snarled. Grr. Beware of my flashlight…I know how to use it (not).

What's in the barn...
Somewhere in this interaction, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the children had not replaced the lock on the person gate after the last time they took the trashcans out to the street. The bearded menace could’ve pushed open the unlocked gate very, very easily. But he didn’t know that. Good thing.

He and his lady friend turned around and walked back to the road, at which point Katherine leapt out of the barn and locked the gate quick as you please. 

I marched back up to the house, and the dog barked at the gate for another hour or so. She has great stamina.

I crawled back in bed, and David mumbled from his sleep that I should have offered to call the police to come help them with their flat tire. Brilliant! I should’ve taken him with me down the driveway!!! 

Let’s talk about that for a moment. I have been called both stubborn and pigheaded before--many times. I usually (always?) take matters into my own hands without asking for anyone’s help. It’s easier that way. I don’t do well with “group projects” either.

For example, a month after I split up from my now-ex-husband, I awoke one early morning to the sound of a bat flying circles around my bed. I screeched and dove under the covers. While I was stewing under the covers and feeling very sorry for myself, I wished that my (ex) husband had been there to exterminate the stupid bat. It was at that precise moment that I had a stunning epiphany: if my ex had been there, he would have made ME get out of bed to go take care of the bat. Shazam! 

NOT MY HOUSE, but it looked like this - with ONE bat, though
Just do it.

Back to our bearded menace story. I crawled back in bed, adrenaline pumping. Thoughts racing.

Fortunately, I was not on hold
After David’s comment, it finally dawned on me, “Police! Yes, yes, call the police!” Duh. I dialed 9-1-1 from my landline (yup, I still have a land line), and the dispatcher sent a cruiser to drive by my property. My tax dollars at work.

I see that my story has taken a weird turn from mountain lion attacks to dangerous people at my front gate. I take great comfort in knowing that my goofy, white, fluffy dog protects me from both of these evils. 

Guard Dog Extraordinaire
Five years ago, even after I had been living in this area for a while, I could not have predicted this situation of single-handedly confronting a stranger at my gate at midnight. (Or watching a mountain lion eat my goat for that matter.) I was oblivious to the dangers of the world, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever since I have lived in major urban centers most of my life (until now).

Or, possibly, in my former life I would’ve just called the police in the FIRST PLACE!?

By necessity, I have taken full responsibility for keeping my family (and goats) safe. Electric fences, guard dogs, guns, flashlights. I now chase bats AND MICE all by myself, too. 

I’ve always had a hard time asking people for help. I suppose I believe it is my duty as a mother-of-many to "Hold Down The Fort," because other people can’t be trusted to do it (right?). 

This is clearly not a good lesson to teach my children. They need to know and accept their own limits (which are many, believe me), and they need to know HOW to ask someone for help. I need to model that behavior for them.

So now, maybe now, I will ease up a little and trust someone else to help me. Next time, David – NEXT time -- the next time the dog barks at 1:30 am, you’re coming outside with me! Keep your PJs, flashlight and shoes at the ready. We are more effective as a team. And the dog will help us, too.

I'm gonna try...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Put Your Best Foot Forward

It's that time of the year again: kidding season. Even though it happens multiple times a year, it’s always exciting. Right now we have eleven babies on the ground and the dinner table talk is monopolized by discussions of which goats we are keeping and which ones we are selling -- and to whom.

Katherine has a waiting list of people wanting all sorts of combinations of goats, some very specific, some flexible. Then there are our breeder-friends that Katherine barters with for new goats to add genetic diversity to the herd. Sometimes it’s a condition of sale (“I’ll sell you that goat, but I want a baby doe out of her to keep her blood lines in my herd.”) Sometimes it’s to balance out colors (“I have too many gray agoutis right now, and you have a mess of carmels. Wanna trade?”).

Cali & DeeDee (daughter and mother)
But which ones to keep? Even though I seem to do things on a grand scale (like 7 children), I do have my limits, and I have been trying to keep Katherine limited to 40 goats on the property at a time. That seems to be the magic number for having a variety of brood does, adolescents, babies, and bucks.

As we have learned from our goat mentors, the general rule for brood does is that once you have the daughter (or maybe two to be safe – “a spare”), then you can sell the mother. Sometimes you keep the mom around longer if she’s an “easy kidder” (= gives birth with little assistance – God bless that rare goat) or if she usually throws triplets (more goats = more $). Or, of course, if she is a beloved pet. 

Anyway, we always want to have at least one “daughter” around, which means that if the goat's a “first time kidder” we are going to keep any baby girl that comes out (alive). Generally, of course.
If it’s a badly mismarked boy goat, it will (eventually) be neutered and sold as a wether. Lots and lots of people on the waiting list want wethers, so that’s a good thing. Of course, if that little wether “speaks to you”, then you may just have to keep it after all…ahem

Here are our FIVE wethers
If it’s a perfectly marked, big headed, beefy, fantabulous boy then maybe you will keep it around as a buck. But, come on, how many bucks do you really need to keep around to breed your does? You need a few so you can stir up the gene pool and avoid too much inbreeding. But really, “a few” is just fine… sell the rest.
That’s the basic idea.

So, what are we going to do with our 11 babies?
  1. Bagel: mismarked boy --> wether --> sell
  2. Cream Cheese: cute boy, not fantabulous --> wether --> sell
  3. Meatloaf: mismarked boy --> wether --> sell
  4. Ketchup: only boy from quintuplets, we are selling his mom… --> keep? Wait and see how he turns out? Breed a few times then sell?
  5. Action Packer: FANTABULOUS boy out of a new bloodline --> keep
  6. Babybel: only daughter that we have out of her mom --> keep
  7. Allie: beautiful girl, already have her half sister --> keep (she’s the “spare”)
  8. Lucille: mismarked girl out of quintuplets --> sell
  9. Fluffernutter: boy with cleft lip (palate OK) --> wether --> keep??
  10. Bloomers: mismarked girl, tiniest of quintuplets --> keep
  11. Bertha: biggest girl out of quintuplets, lovely --> sell

We have two conundrums. First, Fluffernutter may have other health problems that might possibly manifest as he ages, so maybe we should just keep him around…and, OK, he speaks to me. I love that little bugger. But come on, AG, how many wethers do we need around the place? But what’s one more? And that’s how the herd size grows…It’s not even Katherine’s fault!

Fluffernutter's lip
Second, one of Katherine’s goat mentors (a breeder from the next state over) expressed an interest in acquiring one of the quintuplet girls. Within hours of Katherine announcing the quintuplets, our pal contacted Katherine and offered to trade one of her baby does for our one our baby does. Why, you may ask? Or at least, I asked.
Well, two reasons: 1) pedigree. These babies come out of a genetic line that our pal wants and doesn’t have. 2) Chances are good that the baby girls out of the quintuplet “litter” will also have multiple babies when they start down that garden path. Maybe more quintuplets?!
But what about letting our pal “cut the line” of other people waiting for our goats? That’s not fair.
Life is not fair! And she is one of Katherine’s mentors…and she is a highly regarded breeder (and judge) in our area. It’s always nice to make deposits into the “favor bank.”
More than that, though, it’s a great show of confidence in Katherine’s “brand” if this other breeder wants one of Katherine’s goats.
That’s decided. Now which goat?? Katherine had already sold the mom of the quintuplets, deliverable to her new home after weaning her babies. Little did we know there were five babies in there! We were crossing out fingers that one of the babies would be a daughter because we didn’t have any other daughters out of this mom. I think Katherine had given up on her, which is why she sold her.
Anyway, then there were four baby girls to choose from. Thank you, Universe. A gorgeous big one (Bertha). A wee bitty little one that didn’t survive (Monkeyface). A mismarked one (white on her rear leg). And a wee bitty little one that did survive and who has a gigantic mismark on her back legs and butt (Bloomers).
OK, three to choose from now.
Another goat mentor has an applicable strategy here: sell only the best ones and keep the mismarked ones at home.

Still yummy...
As much as we’d like to hoard all the most beautiful ones for ourselves, the “sell” strategy totally makes sense. You want your best product in the marketplace representing what you are creating. If it were cupcakes, would you sell the ones with the messed up frosting?? No way!

So, our pal will get the pick of the litter: Bertha. We will sell the slightly mismarked one to someone on the wait list, and we will keep the runty, mismarked one (Bloomers).

Bloomers (left) & Bertha (right) - EXACT same age
I call it “putting your best foot forward.” And, like so many other lessons from the goat pen, this strategy applies to all aspects of our lives.
I, like every other mom on the planet, accosts my children with the “do-your-best” mantra every day.
I want them to put forth their very best self, their own personal “brand,” at all times. Show the world their best soccer kick, their most artful “Frozen” rendition, their silliest joke, their biggest smile.
They can keep the “mismarked” parts—insecurity, fatigue, anxiety, crankiness, weird OCDs—at home. I will still love all those funky parts anyway. Just like I will love little Bloomers.