Sunday, May 18, 2014

My year of goats

  I sold my goats. Yes, I loved my goats, but the fact was that the husband really didn’t. At all. And they were noisy, and destructive, and not really the animal to have in rental with cattle fencing that they can get through in a second. Practicality won out, but I miss them and their antics. Cows are OK, but goats are my thing.


  So, a year in a nutshells? We bought two does, Nettle and Guava, as mentioned here. Both were in kid.

  Nettle produced twin kids, a doe and a buck, with a riveted audience of the whole family. Anglo-Nubian kids would have to be one of the cutest baby animals, even if their bleats do sound like someone’s torturing a human child.

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  The doe (on the left above) became A’s, and she called her Blackberry. We called the buck Grub (because that’s what he was going to be) but decided after a week or so that we’d rather have the milk, and gave him away.

  Now we were at three goats, with Guava due to kid. She did, again with an audience (and a little assistance from me), and produced a single doe. She was half Toggenberg, and a very strange looking goat. We called her Donkey, because that’s what she looked like at birth, and again gave her away very young-we were interested in Anglos and milk, not raising half-breeds.


  So we had lots of milk to drink, we were making cheese and soap, all was going well………then Guava started sending us mental. Never a fantastic forager, she decided she wasn’t going to go looking for food on the couple of hundred acres she had access to, but would stand at the house yard fence and bleat for hours, expecting us to go out and feed her. Every day. We tried a few things to fix this, but after a few incidents involving the husband, Guava, and hurtling shovels and such, I rang up the woman i’d bought her from and asked to swap. Yes, that was fine, but the only other Anglo-Nubians she had weren’t in milk. We accepted the drop in milk for the peace it would bring, and Bracken came home with us.


  She worked out beautifully. Her and Nettle were excellent together, and foraged well. Blackberry adored her as she was still a bit young and fun. But the damage was done, and the husband had no tolerance for any bleating from them. He found them irritating and infuriating, and made that quite clear on a regular basis. In the end I had to shrug my shoulders, admit that they weren’t the best dairy animal for us right now, and family harmony would be better. A agreed, so they were sold to a local family.

  I miss them more than I thought I would. I had a purpose in caring for them and milking them, and . I spent a lot of time outside with them, and I really enjoyed their personalities-I didn’t fully realise how much until they were gone. A also seems a bit lost without her pet-she used to get up at 6am with us every single morning and come out for the milking, but now she mostly stays in bed and reads.


  So I will get goats again-I may have to spend a bit more money and care on the setup to ensure they don’t bother anyone else, but I think they’re worth it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Welcome Xanthorrhoea, with your abundant milk.

  Life really sucked there for a while, when i’d sold the goats, Melaleuca was dry, and no farmer would sell me a decent Jersey cow. Shop milk is absolutely awful when you’ve had the real thing. But I persisted, and harassed one poor man enough that he sold us a cow, probably to shut me up. And what a lovely example she is.


Following the Australian plant names theme, she was renamed Xanthorrhoea. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but the grass tree was the only thing we could think of that really suited her black markings. She gets Xanthe or Zan for short. She’s so quiet she makes Melaleuca look troublesome.


    She did give us a stressful initial 10 days-she wouldn’t eat anything we offered her, except grass. A fresh Jersey making 16 litres a day needs more than grass to keep that sort of production up. She’d nibble a little lucerne, but no grain. The home butcher, who was out here at the time, diagnosed depression (he called it sulking) at her change in lifestyle. We bought a couple of different feeds to try-she snubbed her nose at them. Her milk was dropping alarmingly, and we were starting to entertain the horrible notion that the cow we bought for abundance might end up dropping to six litres a day, six weeks from calving. I systematically went through our pantry until I found she liked barley. Back we went to the stockfeed, bought two types of barley, and she finally began to eat! Only small amounts, but barley with a little copra and some lucerne at least gave her some extra protein.

Then we decided that stripping her out was inefficient and rather stressful, and we’d rather go back to the calf system we had with Melaleuca, where a calf finishes her off at the end of milking. You need to give the calf a fair bit of milk, but in exchange they empty the cow very well and keep the stimulation up so she’ll keep producing more for longer. And you get beef, so really they’re just a delicious long-term milk storage option. Friends with a dairy were happy to send a Friesian bull calf our way, and Xanthe liked him. A lot. So much that she perked up, fostered him without any hesitation, and began to eat ravenously. Her milk supply rose again, so now we take six to seven litres in the morning, then the calf spends the day with her and takes the rest.

  Three weeks in she’s very interested in food-she’s not quite the walking garbage disposal that Melaleuca is, but she’s getting there. It’s been a very good lesson in cow management-and I will never again forget to ask to buy some of the feed the animal’s used to when buying something new!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Leaving Unschooling Behind

  Ah, unschooling. You seemed adequate for many years, but then the flaws started to become apparent. Most of the skills that are supposedly picked up automatically just weren’t-and not through lack of resources or exposure. The girls wanted to write stories and letters, but their handwriting and spelling was below their needed level, so they would get frustrated and give up. They were reading many good books, but had no internal filing system to sort out and categorise what they were learning. Oods wanted to learn Latin and violin, but you can’t really unschool either. The clones were becoming feral children, spending all day on the trampoline or in the sandpit playing pretend. Shorty needed more structure, more repetition, to allow him to master his basic skills. And I was looking at all of that time essentially wasted, thinking, ‘They could be learning so much more’. Which apparently is me projecting unfair expectations onto them based on my insecurities, and not at all based on me thinking that my eight year old really should be able to spell ‘because’ and write it without a reversed b. Because she wants to.

  So I did my usual reading blitz, and we’ve now totally shaken up our home education. The kids get a say in what they learn about, but generally they have an insatiable desire to learn about everything. In the last year they have learnt an incredible amount, and they’re incredibly proud of themselves. They’re challenging themselves and meeting the challenges. Their pretend play has always been varied and complex, but now it’s so educated-seeing Frosty, at 4, re-enact the Iliad is very impressive.

  I’ve noticed that they’re much more content. Arguments are rare when they have their minds challenged and hands busy. This goes for me too-I always felt kind of useless wandering around, giving a bit of assistance here and there, but generally feeling like they didn’t need me. And i’m having the most fantastic time. Not many adults get to fill in the gaps in their learning, and i’m finding it all insanely interesting.  I can see how incredibly useful the chronological history, the formal grammar, and the phonics has been to me already. This sort of stuff may not be on most school curriculums, but it’s the sort of thing I find myself using regularly (and feeling cheated that I was never taught it). And the more I give them, the more they want. Two weeks into this year’s work, I was feeling frazzled with our new workload-and they were asking me if I had anything else they could do. Like Chinese, and poetry, and can I please find some more maths puzzle books for them to do? They want more of everything (except dictation, which they believe is evil torture even as they acknowledge how useful it is to them).

  I have come to the conclusion that unschooling just isn’t for us. Looking critically at my experience, I can’t see how it works effectively for anyone over toddler age, if your goal is to have a well-educated child. I have also come to the conclusion that childhood is by far the best time to learn as much as you can, while you’re young and hungry and have no other commitments, and it is my job to make it easier for them. Unschooling seemed a bit like requiring your children to reinvent the wheel-sure, you can saturate them with words, and lots of kids will pick up reading all by themselves. But it seems a cumbersome, difficult process to require them to puzzle it out when you could sit an eager child down and do some phonics instruction, explain how English works, and have them reading in a tenth of the time. (And so that’s why that’s exactly what I did, and i’ve had three five year old readers so far. Frosty is working on it, and Shorty runs to his own timescale, incomprehensible to the rest of us). I never understood why unschooling seems to require your child stumble around in the dark, until they have their lightbulb moment and can finally puzzle out exactly how Latin verb endings work after much frustration-why not explain it and have them memorise them, and that’s that? Or, to paraphrase Ruth Beechick (because I can’t find the quote), why expect them to be creative when they have nothing to be creative with?

  Unschoolers tend to portray any curriculum work as a violation of freedom, but when it’s by choice, it can be wonderful. Seeing the unbridled excitement and pride of my girls when they finished FLL 3 was wonderful-they had worked hard and achieved something because of that. What a valuable lesson. They have in no way lost any freedom. They have hours every day of total freedom, and now they appreciate it because they feel they’ve earnt it. They have a balance between time they’ve scheduled for learning and free time, so they appreciate and value both much more than ever before.

  So, unschooling? Been there, done that-not impressed. We’re too motivated and eager for that. Bring on the bookwork!