Got Milk?

I don’t recall how old Q.T. Pie and H.O.B. were when they came to us. The whole family enjoyed watching them with their antics of climbing woodpiles and head butting one another. They were larger than most of the little ones that prance around on YouTube, but they were just as playful. Imagine a bigger version – like a grown dog – bouncing around and jumping off the highest object they could find.

Only a few weeks later, Dad brought home another goat. Star was their mother and as soon as they saw her they ran toward her. It was so precious and cute with Q.T. Pie’s bell ringing and both of them jumping with joy. Until they ran past her, dropped to their knees on either side of her and drank every last bit of milk.

We were just as stunned as you… the whole family was witness to this bizarre animal reunion. Dad said something colorful and we just looked at one another for an explanation.

None was forthcoming, but the obvious finally set in. The kids were clearly not fully weaned from their mother. Dad told us later that the previous owner told him he had the same problem, but he thought it would have been enough time for them to stop.

Really? No, really? Yep, and that was our first lesson about about herding goats.

We had to keep Star separate from Q.T. Pie and her brother H.O.B. for that entire milk season. Once we did, Star gave our family about a quart of fresh milk in the morning and another quart in the evening.

Of course, when I say that Star gave us milk, I mean that I learned to milk a goat. Dad learned from the previous owner and showed us how. Once you got the hang of it, the milk flowed fairly easily.  Star was clearly used to it and not nearly as offended by the job as I would have thought – you know – all things considered.

I would like to say that later, when Q.T. Pie got pregnant and gave birth to her own set of twins, she didn’t find out that she had her own milk supply even closer at hand.

But, I would be lying. We actually did have that problem and there really wasn’t a solution to it. That first milking season for Q.T. Pie we didn’t get any milk.

It was a good thing that the herd grew quickly in other ways.

Mom also had a great sense of humor when naming our animals. I’m not sure if this is “This” or if this is a picture of “That”.

What Do I Care What a Goat Herd?

It started with two kids and before we knew it we had a herd.

The first winter in the basement was an eye opener in many ways for our family of five. We learned that the Jeep couldn’t make it home every time and that we had to plan on walking part of the way. We also learned that a family of five goes through about a gallon of milk per day. In a backpack, that is around 63 pounds of whole milk per week.

Have you tried powdered milk? Me too!

That spring, Dad unexpectedly brought home the answer to our problem. Two kids recently weaned from their mother and ready to live with our menagerie of people, dogs, cats, horses and rabbits.

To me it didn’t look like much of an answer. The young nanny didn’t appear to even have a milk supply and I wasn’t sure why we would have a billy at all. Dad assured us that once they mated, the nanny would have milk. He also brought home a couple of quart jars filled with their mother’s milk for our family to try.

Have you ever tried goat’s milk? I mean really, fresh goat’s milk that has been handled properly? I have, it’s delicious and super creamy. But, then it was gone and we would have to wait for more.

The little nanny’s coat was various shades of brown with white mixed in here and there. The billy was a little larger and black with occasional white patches. Neither of them had horns because they were both pure-bred Nubian, a fact I found strange at that age, but got used to over time.

The nanny was already named when we got her, Q.T. Pie. I thought it was a dumb name, but Jennifer liked it and the girl goat was “hers”. But, I got to spell her name. Can you tell?

The billy goat didn’t have a name. Which meant, of course, that I got to name him. What to name this boy goat though? I wasn’t going to make a rash decision. My sister and I already had disagreements with my decision to name my puppy Arwen (from my favorite book series The Lord of the Rings).

After a better understanding of just how we were going to get the milk started and after watching the billy chase Q.T. Pie around the yard, I asked my dad if I could name him H.O.B. Naturally, he wanted to know why I chose that name. When I told him he said, “Yes, but do not tell your sister why. Just call him Hob and let it go.” He and my mom had a good laugh at it though.


Tent Living

In the late spring, summer and early fall of 1979 I lived in a Coleman tent with my father and our Irish Setter.  This was when we first began building our log house.  Living in the tent allowed us to get up early each day and finish the day’s work as the sun set.

This was the same tent that we used to camp with every weekend when the family lived in Great Falls, Montana.  Lovingly cleaned and put away by my father we were still able to use it 10 years later.

This photo was taken by Dad the summer before we began work. That summer we spent camping on both sides of the property. The campsite is on what we called the “backside” of the property. 

After seeing both sides during the winter though, Dad said we were going to build on the other side because of the southern exposure. Even though this was the prettiest side and was next to the water. 

When we began work, Dad pitched the tent downhill from where the house would one day stand on the other side of the mountain from this photo.  He explained as he unrolled the tent that he chose this particular location to maximize the coverage of shade as the sun moved through it’s daily route in the sky.  After the tent was up and staked, Dad got out his military issue folding shovel (one with the shovel and pick axe that could be positioned in multiple ways).  He then dug a little trench in front of the tent door (which faced uphill) and around the sides.  The trench would ensure that any rain that fell would be directed around the tent instead of flowing under it.

For the fire pit in front, Dad used a much larger shovel and I took my turn too.  We saved any rocks we came across and used them to ring the fire pit.  Dad wanted it big so that we would have plenty of space for a large fire.  Placement of the fire pit was also part of his planning for the tent placement such that the fire pit would not be under any trees.

Next it was time to make the latrine.  Dad and I headed off into the woods a short distance from the tent, but far enough away for privacy and dug out a hole.  The hole was dug behind two trees that were about 4 feet apart.  At the time I didn’t pay attention to this placement, but it became clear when the hole was completed and Dad cut down a tree and nailed it to the other two trees crossways to provide a place to rest your butt.  Got the visual now?

On weekends, Mom and Jen would bring baby Charlie out and we would all camp on the property.  Filling the tent to capacity.

Mornings we would often unzip the door of the tent only to startle deer as they grazed in the meadow. Dad pointed out the path that they had worn through the woods as they came so often over the years.

At night we would let the fire die down and as we fell asleep we heard coyotes in the distance howling their messages across the valley.

Not every day was a work day. Some days Dad had to drive to Denver to pick up building supplies. On the days that I didn’t go with him, I was left a mental list of things to work on. Sometimes these were tasks to work on for the house like skinning the logs, or gathering rocks. Other days I had basic camp chores such as gathering wood and water for the next few days.

No matter what I had to complete, I always worked hard to get the tasks done early so I had the afternoons off. Many were the hot afternoons spent in the shade of an Aspen tree, absently swatting horseflies and turning the pages of whatever Sci-Fantasy novel I was enjoying at the time.

Bath In A Bucket

A porcelain wash basin similar to what we used "back in the old days" - you know 1979-1983.

Water conservation was pretty much a way of life when “running water” meant that the winter temperatures hadn’t frozen the creek over.

One of the many chores that my sister and I shared was referred to simply as getting water.  It really wasn’t actually simple though. Most often this was achieved by carrying empty gallon milk jugs down to the creek and filling them up with fresh water.  Calculating just how much water was needed for a family of five was an art.  At 15 my hands were large enough and my fingers strong enough to actually carry three gallon jugs in each hand (provided I didn’t need mittens).  I always took time to remind my sister that I was doing more than she was – at a stretch, she could only manage a total of four – wimp!

Bath night required more water to be gathered – in fact about 4 extra gallons per person.  Yes, we pretty much bathed in as little water as necessary.  We had two porcelain covered steel pans that would be placed on the wood stove and filled with 2 gallons of water each.  One pan was for washing with soap, and the other for rinsing off afterwards.  After the water was heated we would move the pans to a bedroom area, stand in front of the pan and painstakingly wash our bodies by using a rag with soap.  Not too much soap though, because if the water became too soapy, then the rinse water in the other pan would become soapy too.

In the winter, when clean snow was on the ground for collecting right outside of the door we sometimes just spent  the day melting the snow into the pans to make enough water to bathe.  You would be surprised just how little water is actually in snow.  That’s why it took all day. No sense in hauling in extra water when Mother Nature provided for us so amply.

To be fair, we didn’t always have to bring in the water by hand.  In the summer time we often just stopped by the spring on the way home, filled up the jugs and loaded them into the back of the truck.  In fact, sometimes we filled up a 55 gallon steel drum with water and brought it home for use as non-drinking water.  These bath days were nice because that water was sometimes poured into a horse trough, left to warm (kind of) in the sun and then at the end of the day we could enjoy a real bath – well, a bath you could actually climb into and soak.

Of course the horse trough was out in the middle of the meadow in front of the house – so you had a choice between modesty and cleanliness.