Goats on a Chair at Anita Acres

Preparing for the big one (part 1)

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Ok El Nino, so far I’m not all that impressed.

Sometime back in October, I remember sitting in my chair out by the pond thinking of the upcoming storms. An El Nino for the ages, disaster and catastrophe was just a series of black clouds away. As I sat there wringing my hands, thinking of all the things we needed to do on the farm to prepare, anxiety rose up in me like water boiling over.

Something you should know about Anicca House – the overwhelming majority of our daily life takes places outside with our house reflecting that ideal. We being located southern California, I understand this isn’t unusual but we take it a step beyond even what most SoCal denizens would consider normal. So as I sat there on that warm October morning the thought that kept repeating itself – we are not prepared.

Having already built a rain structure for the goats in early November, the first storm of the year exposed all of the holes in our plan. The rain structure needed an enclosed side to prevent the wind-driven, sideways rain from defeating the building’s intended purpose and there still wasn’t enough dry space for the goats. On one of the many to be work-days, using some reclaimed pallets, Doc and John fashioned a wall and laid down some pallets inside to keep things dry. Goats despise getting wet or walking through water so this was immediately well received by the herd. Looking around the ranch, there was a 12×20 carport structure out back whose given purpose had long since passed. Being a fairly old structure, we were extremely careful to mark each pole before tearing it apart, schlepping the pieces to the front only to realize we had a biohazard problem on our hands.

At some point in this house’s history, a pencil cactus was planted in the front. Fast forward to today and that pencil plant is a monstrous, sprawling mess that abuts right up to the goat pen meaning before we could erect the structure, we were going to have to do some landscaping. If you are unfamiliar with this particular spawn of Satan plant, let me help clue you in a bit. When the limbs are cut or the finger-like shoots of the plant are torn off, the plant bleeds a gooey, toxic white sap capable of inflicting serious burns to the skin if it should come in contact. Doc and I both have accidentally got the sap in our eyes during other work days and it easily knocked us flat on our asses for several hours. Nothing seemed to mitigate the effects of the sap. We tired flushing with cold water, soaking in milk and applying gentle pressure to the afflicted eye…you just had to wait it out. For hours, you just sat there writhing in pain, waiting for the fire to subside. Truly, we’re both lucky we didn’t suffer more serious, permanent, damage to our sight. With significant more care than previous assaults on the plant, we removed the problem limbs — now not only do the goats have additional dry square footage, but we were able to maneuver the car port so our milking area is now safe and we’re dry when we milk.

An interesting side note and a nod to the amazing power of a goat’s ruminant – they’re able to eat to the pencil plant. Its not their favorite thing in the world but we went ahead and tossed the removed limbs into the pen and let them have at it. They picked and sniffed around it with Muirnay and Cordelia finally picking off a few shoots and nibbling them down.  Our goats are finicky and spoiled, they know if they wait long enough, they’ll most likely get their favorite tree limbs – the California Pepper growing inside the pen. They’ve chewed any edible portion of the tree beyond their reach so when we’re out their working, they hover around waiting for one of us to remove and limb and toss it down to them.

All and all, the rain thus far has mostly resulted in small standing puddles near the box we keep the goat’s grass/alfalfa in. Nothing of the order I was expecting. We’re not in the clear yet, but so far here in southern California I’m not impressed with this record breaking El Nino.  The most challenging facet of the rain is keeping the pen clean. The combination of two livestock guard dogs and six goats

Another side note, its amusing to me to walk out to the goat pen on a rainy day, whistle the “feeding-time” call to then witness all of the goats pop their heads around the corner of the shelter. I swear, they look at you like “We’re hungry, but we’re not leaving-the-warmth-and-dry-of-our-space hungry.”

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