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Goat Haute Adventures

Fall Weather, Farm Projects, Country Homes

Tracy HouptIt’s just about perfect weather today, here at our place. No need for the A/C, a nice breeze, sunshine … perfect conditions for drying clothes on the line. When sheets and blankets come off the line, they smell so fresh. Makes me smile to go to sleep with my head on a sun-dried pillow case. These are the days that drive out the thoughts of cold winter hardships and strength-sapping summer heat. We all seem to feel new energy as we take on fall projects.

My new farm friend Diana has just finished a project at her place. She has a nice new goat barn and a beautiful new doeling in her herd of Nubians. Diana retired recently from a long career in social work, so she doesn’t have to get up at 5 a.m. anymore to get the milking done. It makes me happy to think about her enjoying her morning coffee at a somewhat leisurely pace now. She’s a person I am so happy to have met. She is patient with my many goat questions, and like me, she enjoys bartering goods and services. It helps that we live fairly close to one another. She and her husband have lived at their country place for about 40 years, and it’s been well tended. There’s a nice pasture bordered by woods, and of course the new barn is set up to make things easier for the goats and the humans. At the house, there’s a cozy deck that overlooks the yard. Bird feeders abound. Dogs and cats co-exist happily (at least the day I was there).



I love to see other people’s country places, and by “country place” I mean a comfortable home that someone has lived in, altered to suit them and their animals, and made useable without trying to attain some idea of perfection that popular magazines like to set before us. I like to look at those magazines, and I get ideas from them sometimes, but here’s my partial list of what makes a house a home — regardless of its location, size, or décor:

1. The house keeps weather out and comfort in.
2. There are pictures of loved ones throughout.
3. The kitchen stove has been used to cook real food.
4. Handmade goods reflect the talents and tastes of the people who live there.
5. There’s at least one place where you can take a really good nap.
6. Books and magazines are plentiful.
7. Music is available. Lots of it, and different kinds.
8. Quilts and comforters are in good supply.
9. Candles are at hand for gloomy days.
10. A sleeping cat in a rocking chair is always a winner in my book.


Wood pile

While I was thinking of my favorite things in a home, I started thinking of other things I love. There were so many, I set the words to a well-known song:

Fresh eggs in baskets and crisp backyard apples,
Clean quilts on clotheslines in sunlight that dapples,
Mischievous doggies that steal all my socks,
My guy who likes moving all of those rocks!

Starlight and frog songs and bright autumn weather,
Dark Brahmas, Australorps, birds of a feather,
Cute little goat kids that waste lots of hay,
How many times do I sigh every day?

When the gate sticks, when the eggs break,
When I’m feeling mad … I simply remember how much I love fall,
And then I don’t feel … so bad!

Goat milk soap, knitting wools, Grandmother’s crumb cake,
Sweet fall squash, dried bouquets, pumpkins and corn cake,
Woodpiles that grow as the frost nips the air,
Wisdom that comes with the gray in my hair.

When my boots leak, when the wind howls,
When the bills are due … I think of the good things in this country life,
And then I don’t feel … so blue!

How to Dry and Store Cooking Beans

Tracy HouptOne of my favorite meals to prepare in the winter is a big pot of soup or ham and beans, cooked slowly on the wood stove as I go about other tasks. My “go to” cooking bean these days is a little gem called Ireland Creek Annie. The seed package says they make their own creamy sauce as they cook, and I found that to be true when I first tried them last year. Delicious. I harvested just about a quart of them this year from my garden, so that will probably be about two stove-top batches before winter ends. Not as much as I’d like, but better than none at all! Here’s how I prepare the beans for storage:

When the plants are turning yellow and most of the pods are brown and feeling dry, I pull up the plants and put them in the garden shed to dry further. It’s important to have a place that is safe from marauding critters and rain or high humidity. A damp basement, like mine, would not be a good place, whereas my garden shed stays warm and dry. Ideally you can hang the plants upside down, but this year I simply piled the plants loosely, pods still attached, on top of a shelf in the shed and left them alone for a couple of weeks.

When the mood struck me one hot day, I took the pile of bean plants to a shady spot under the old apple tree and separated the pods from the plants. The goats were a little bit interested in the dried and discarded plants, so I let them have those. The pods went with me into the house, where I shelled them while watching Cincinnati Reds baseball on TV. With just a quart or so of finished product, this was not a huge chore (and baseball games last a long time). You can also put the intact pods in an old pillow case and whomp, stomp or smush them to get the beans out. I have a feeling that’s a great way to get rid of some frustration, so I might try that next year. It’s probably also more efficient if you’re dealing with a lot of beans.

When all of the beans were out of the pods, I spread them on a big cookie sheet to dry yet a little more. In my house, that happens on top of a big shelf in my north porch/mudroom. I have stirred them around a little bit once a day, or whenever I think of it. When I can locate a hammer, I will test them by smashing a couple of beans. If they shatter and scatter, they are dry enough. If they just sort of “smush,” they need a few more days in the pan.

drying beans 

Bean weevils are insidious little creatures that can wreck your harvest, and you can’t get inside the beans to check for them, but you can take a preemptive approach. Put the fully dried beans into mason jars and stash them in the freezer for five days. This is supposed to kill any weevils that have taken up residence, who would otherwise eat their way through from the inside out. It doesn’t cost me anything to do this step, so it’s just part of my “bean routine.” After five days, the jars are set on the counter to come to room temperature. Leave the lids on the jars during this time to prevent moisture from accumulating on the inside as the temperature changes. Once the jars and beans are at room temp, they’re ready to store in the pantry until a cold, blustery day when you decide that nothing will warm and nourish you better than beans and cornbread. You can bake an apple crisp along with the cornbread, and your tummy will be SO happy.

Here’s my favorite bean recipe:

Ham and Beans

2 carrots, diced
1 small onion, chopped
2 large stalks celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound cooking beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 ham bone or ham hock
2 quarts water or vegetable stock
1 large bay leaf

In large Dutch oven, sauté carrots, onion, celery and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until veggies are softened. Add pre-soaked and rinsed beans, ham bone, and about 2 quarts water (amount depends on how many beans you’re using). Add bay leaf.

Heat to simmer and cook for about 3 hours, with lid on but tipped to allow steam to escape.

We didn’t need salt because of the ham left on the bone, but you can add it if you want. We added pepper and hot sauce to individual bowls, as desired. Give thanks, eat, talk to each other, and enjoy!

Making Goat Milk Soap

Tracy HouptI thoroughly enjoy making goat milk soap. There’s something satisfying about being involved in the process from start to finish; I milk the goat, freeze the milk, make the soap, package it, and sell it to people who discover, as I have, that goat milk soap (GMS) is one of life’s little-known pleasures. When fully cured, GMS is moisturizing and leaves skin feeling soft and smooth. It’s nice to hear that many people who try it, like it. It’s also gratifying when people who have trouble with other soaps report that it is kind to their skin.

I made my first batch of GMS because I needed to find uses for the daily gift of milk from our dairy goat. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do! Goat milk contains several vitamins, proteins and beneficial acids, and its pH is close to that of human skin. When added to soap, those elements nourish and moisturize.

I’ve tried a few GMS recipes the past few months, and I got lucky with the first one I found. It uses lard, coconut oil and olive oil. For people who are vegetarian, palm oil can be substituted ounce for ounce for lard. I’ve also used a vegetable shortening recipe with success, and it produces a very creamy lather.

This post is not intended to teach anyone how to make soap. There are many books and Internet resources for that, and it’s a great idea to take a class from an experienced soaper, if you can. I took a three-hour class from a local man before I tried my first batch. He didn’t use milk, but watching the basic process first-hand was an invaluable boost to my confidence.

Cold process (CP) soap is made by combining oils with a solution of lye dissolved in liquid, and any desired fragrances, colorants or other ingredients are added. It’s a magical thing to bring together the two mixtures and get such a gentle and useful result. The lye saponifies the oils, thus yielding soap. (That word has been known to impress people.) Properly made, no free-floating lye remains.

In the old days, people made lye by mixing wood ashes with water, and I imagine results were less than consistent. Today, commercial lye and careful weighing of ingredients can yield reliable results. It’s also important to use fresh oils. I used old olive oil from the cupboard in my first batch, and the bars developed “DOS,” which stands for “dreaded orange spots.” Not dangerous, but also not very pretty.

The last step in making CP soap is to let it rest, or cure, for four to six weeks. This allows excess moisture to evaporate. This makes a harder and longer-lasting bar, and it also ensures that the pH has moderated to an appropriate level. It’s tempting to cut that process short, but don’t. (One reason to wait is that your soap curing area will smell heavenly while you wait for the finished product.) It’s also a good idea to use a small piece yourself before giving or selling it to others, to make sure it feels right. Uncured soap can be drying at best, and caustic in the worst case.

Goat Haute Soap 

For fragrances, the options are essential oils (EOs) and fragrance oils (FOs). EOs are natural, because they are distilled from plant parts. FOs are synthetic, so there are many available at reasonable prices. I prefer EOs, although I couldn’t resist trying a vanilla FO and one that smells like oatmeal and honey. The scents are very nice. The downside I’ve found to FOs is that some of them make the soap thicken quickly. That makes it challenging to get the soap batter into the molds easily. EOs are much more predictable, in my experience, and allow me plenty of time to pour the batter easily into the molds.

A family-owned grocery store in our town, Baeslers, likes to carry local products. They recently began stocking Goat Haute Soap. We had a table there one Saturday to promote it. Much of it is cream-colored, and Mr. Baesler kept stopping by to say that it looked like delicious fudge! Hmmm, a fudge and soap business ... but I digress. So far it’s selling well. I also take direct orders, and have set some modest production and sales goals for the holiday season.

It’s gratifying to use a resource from our little farm and turn it into something beautiful, useful and profitable. And, it’s just good clean fun! (I couldn’t resist ... )

For more information about Goat Haute Soap, contact Tracy at

White Snakeroot and Goats

Tracy HouptDuring my years of wishing for a simpler life, I romanticized some aspects of country living. This was probably because I had a great childhood growing up on a hobby farm. I had chores, but not to the extent that other “real” farm kids had. I had plenty of time for fishing, reading, and exploring the woods with my dog. No wonder I wanted to get back to that!

As an adult responsible for livestock, it sometimes seems that the simple life can be complicated. Case in point: We have about eight acres of woods beyond the barn, and from everything we had read about goats, this seemed like the perfect place for them. They could eat briars and weeds, cutting down on our hay expenses. That hasn’t quite panned out, in part because of a poisonous weed known as white snakeroot (WSR). It grows well here, because it likes woodlands and undisturbed areas. Our property has hills and hollers thick with trees and brush; maybe someday we’ll let some feeder pigs tame a portion of it, but until then we harvest firewood and otherwise let it be. Thus the snakeroot flourishes.

White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) | Wikimedia Commons/Fritzflohrreynolds

Photo: White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) | Wikimedia Commons/Fritzflohrreynolds

The leaves, stems and flowers of this plant contain a toxin called tremetol, and if animals eat too much of it, it’s fatal. The toxin concentrates in the meat and milk of grazers/browsers. A lactating animal actually has a little protection from it because it moves quickly into her milk; consequently, her nursing babies can be poisoned, as well as humans who drink the milk. Pasteurization does not neutralize tremetol, and neither does frost. “Milk sickness” killed many settlers in the Ohio River Valley in the 1800s. History tells us that Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of it when Abe was 11 years old. At that time, people were terrified because no one knew what was causing these deaths among animals and people. Finally, a frontier doctor named Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby documented the connection between the deaths and WSR, after a Shawnee woman (name now unknown) told her about the plant’s effects.

Goats are browsers, meaning they eat some of this, a little of that, then move on and find some other things to try. They eat weeds, brush and briars that cows and sheep don’t like. They really like tree leaves, and will stand on their hind legs to nibble on foliage at and above head level. Our goats don’t venture too far from the barn unless we go with them, but when they eat near ground level, I have seen them take an occasional bite of WSR. While I don’t worry about most of our goats ingesting too much, I don’t want to take any chances with our milker. Since July, I only let the does out of the barnyard for a bit in the evenings, while I supervise. Truth be told, they tend to stay around the wood deck, nibbling bark off of logs. They are also fascinated with Lowell’s hammock, so by the time I’m ready to put them up, they haven’t ventured out into the greenery too much, anyway! Crazy goats.

While reading online, I found a helpful article on the blog Distracted Naturalist. I discovered that we have a lot of something called clearweed here, which resembles WSR in some ways. When our milker nibbles greens, she sometimes chooses that. Good girl, Focus, but I’m still going to supervise you carefully.



In summary:

1. Don’t take chances if your goats are used for meat or milk. If you have this plant on your property, do your research and decide how you will manage it. You can hand-pull the plants if practical. Some people use herbicides; others restrict their animals from the plants’ location, from July until the next spring.

2. My reading said that toxic levels can build up from either a single large feeding, or several smaller ones ingested over time.

3. I did not find a milk withdrawal time for WSR; does anyone know the answer?

4. Most grazers and browsers tend to avoid WSR if tastier fare is available.

5. Educate yourself about look-alike plants. That has saved me some late-night fretting after a walk with the goats!

6. It’s easier to identify this plant when it starts blooming in late summer.

7. On a positive note, snakeroot’s clusters of white flowers, which bloom at the top of the plant, provide late-season food for pollinators.

Milking a goat is part of the lifestyle we enjoy here. Learning about white snakeroot resulted in some adjustments to our overall goat management plan. Yep, the simple life is rewarding, but it can also be complicated!

There’s Always Next Year!

Tracy HouptIt’s mid-August here at Adventure Farm, hot and humid, but fall is in the air. The big yellow school bus turns the S-curve every weekday morning now. The minutes of daylight are gradually decreasing, and the slant of the sun seems a little different. Pretty soon the older chickens will be going through their fall molt. The young ones won’t have to re-grow their feathers this year, so when they start laying eggs in a month or so, they should carry us through the winter with a steady supply. We need to spend some Saturdays culling the older hens and making broth for the freezer. They’ve all had happy lives here, having the run of the woods, pasture, and barn every day. I’ve enjoyed observing their routines and trying to find their hidden stashes of eggs among the hay bales.


It’s a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished so far this year. What successes have you had? What failures have taught you new things? By way of confession, my garden was almost a total bust. The relentless spring rains and a bout of illness sidetracked my good intentions. My heirloom tomatoes didn’t make it. I picked one handful of black cherry ones last week, all the more delicious because there were so few of them. The rain drowned out the beets, and my much-longed-for sweet fall squash plants died before they bloomed. I still have a bit of last year’s pulp in the freezer for some of those muffins I love so much, and I’m thankful to have several quarts of canned tomatoes and a few jars of dill pickles – all from last year – on shelves in the basement. It’s always wise to put away the bounty of good years, to hedge against the bad times. “There’s always next year” is my favorite gardening adage; come to think of it, I use it for my fave baseball team, too. (Go, Reds!)

Even my “washout” garden yielded some surprises, though. I found a few cucumbers under the weedy overgrowth last week, and froze several batches of chopped cukes in goat milk for future batches of “Lemony Cucumber” soap. We enjoyed one large and tasty batch of fresh green beans recently, and I put a few quart bags of them in the freezer. I’ll probably get enough creamy Ireland Creek Annie cooking beans for one batch with ham, cooked on the woodstove on a cold winter day (my mouth is watering already). I’m hoping for enough ground cherries to make more of that good chai jam. The apple harvest from our old tree promises to be pretty good, so I anticipate freezing applesauce, apple butter and apple crisp filling.

goat milk soap 

To satisfy our craving for the fresh organic produce we didn’t grow this year, we head into town on Saturdays to browse the Fisher family’s beautiful selections at their roadside stand. Vegetables, potatoes, melons, tomatoes, flower bouquets ... I know how hard they work to grow it all, so I gladly part with egg or soap money to buy from them. I’m glad they are there each week!

I think I’m going to scale back a bit on the gardening front next year. We hope to build some square and rectangular wooden frames to better delineate planting areas, so that as weeds come up I have more defined areas to tackle, a little at a time. The paths can be more defined that way, too, covered with cardboard and a layer of goat barn hay. My goal is to get the frames and paths finished this fall. A layer of goat barn cleanings on each bed will nourish the soil beneath, and hopefully prevent some of the thousands of weed seeds from sprouting. And there will be thousands of those!


So what can we celebrate this August? At our place, the list looks like this:

1. We have a much-needed new roof and brick chimney on the old farmhouse.

2. We successfully raised 29 chicks this summer.

3. The winter wood pile is growing.

4. The goat kids born and bottlefed here seem to be thriving.

5. Since April, I have settled into a good milking routine with my first dairy goat.

6. I’ve learned to make goat milk ricotta cheese.

7. I’ve learned to make goat milk soap, and I’m building a customer base. Hmmm, sounds like this is our “year of the goat”!

Until my next post, take a few minutes to celebrate your accomplishments. Write them down and pat yourself on the back. As for things to improve upon … there’s always next year!



Renewing a Friendship Through Country Interests

Tracy HouptMy friend Becky grew up on a beautiful 300-acre farm in Owen County, Indiana, not too far from my childhood home. She married into my Aunt Penny’s family, and as a teenager I sometimes babysat for Becky and Jerry’s three young boys. We lost touch after that, until a few years back she and I were sitting across from each other at Aunt Penny and Uncle Max’s 50th wedding anniversary party. Our conversation revealed that we have a lot of country living interests in common: gardens, bees, animals and crafts, to name a few. We have kept in touch sporadically since then, through emails and occasional visits.

Becky is a talented quilter, and I joined her a couple of years ago at a large quilt show in the town where she lives. When she can, she heads out of town to spend time at her cabin on her family’s home place. She invited me there for a visit one day, and after lunch we walked over to the farmhouse where Becky grew up. Becky’s sister and her husband live there now, and at the time they had several goats, chickens, guineas and ducks.

What I remember most about her homeplace is the gigantic barn that sits slightly downhill from the house. I’m not the best observer, but as I recall it has a foundation of massive stone blocks that were laid into the side of the hill. This is known as a “bank barn,” and it was a popular way to build a barn back in the day. The portion that nestles into the earth maintains a more constant temperature year round, which is one advantage for the animals and people that live and work there.

On the day I saw the barn, baby Boer goats were coming and going as they pleased under the large gates that opened from the lower floor onto a sloping pasture. Their mamas were out in the open, and were too big to go under the gates, but the babies could join their moms for a quick meal and then go back into the barn’s shelter as they pleased. (Boer goat kids look like cocker spaniel puppies, I think. Add all those twisty jumps and flourishes, and you have superlative cuteness on four legs.)

I have thought about that barn many times since that day. I didn’t take a tour of it, but I know there must be a hay mow at the top. With a bank barn, the tractor or baler can drive up and unload right into the hay loft. When needed, the farmer can toss hay from the top to the animal stalls below, using gravity instead of brute strength to get the feed to the critters. I think about that every time I’m lugging a hay bale from the back of our pole barn to the place where the goats can get to it!

an old bank barn | Fotolia/fallesen

An old bank barn. Photo: Fotolia/fallesen

We had a bank barn on our little hobby farm when I was growing up. It was old and somewhat run down by the time I was old enough to notice much about it, but it was home to my dad’s pigs and cows. There were several stalls on the ground floor, and a hayloft above with places in the floor to pitch hay down when needed.

I also remember a silo on one end, although I can’t remember if Dad actually stored any feed in there. I can remember sitting on top of the gates that separated the pens and watching sows nurse their hungry babies. One time a cow came charging at me as I left the barn, stopping just short of my face and bawling loudly at me, over and over again. I was terrified! Somehow she had been separated from her calf, and I guess she thought I was the reason why. I don’t remember how that got sorted out, but I made it back to the house safely.

I’m very thankful for the pole barn on our property. We’ve made some minor changes to it to better house our goats, and it shelters our animals very well. I have to admit, though, after seeing Becky’s old homeplace, I had a few days of intense barn envy to work through! What kind of barn do you have? Have you modified it to better suit you and your animals?

Tracy's pole barn

Tracy's pole barn


Making the Switch to Once-A-Day Milking

Tracy HouptMy milk goat and I have been transitioning to once-a-day (OAD) milking this past week. I was nervous about it, but we’re six days into the process, and it seems to be going well. Of course if you could get Focus’s opinion, she might disagree. She’s getting less grain and carrying a heavier load in her udder! Here’s why I decided to do this, and how I’ve approached it.

The reasons:

1. Focus is a highly productive Sable Saanen dairy doe, and with twice a day milkings, she gives a bit more than a gallon a day. We drink some, I use it for baking and cooking, I make ricotta cheese, and I have lots in the freezer for making soap. Even with that, the chickens, cats, and dogs were still sharing a half gallon every day.

2. No matter how much I enjoy my farm chores, it was starting to feel a bit restrictive to know that I had to be here every evening by 7 p.m. Even farmers need a social life!

3. A dairy goat eats quite a bit of grain while she’s on the milkstand, to support the demands of lactation. OAD milking cuts down some on that expense.


The process:

1. I consulted a friend who milks her Alpine doe once a day. I also read online about others’ experiences, and decided to start the first night by milking her out about halfway, at the usual time. She ate less grain because she wasn’t on the stand as long.

2. The next two nights, I went out to the barn about an hour later than usual and milked out about a third of the usual amount. Her grain intake was smaller, accordingly.

3. After that, I gave all the girls just a bit of grain to share at their bedtime to get them into their stall. Focus’s udder hasn’t seemed overly full or uncomfortable, so I didn’t milk out anything after the third night.

Interestingly, Focus has been giving 3.5 quarts with the new morning-only milking schedule. Before that, she gave 2 quarts each morning and 2 quarts each night. If she maintains 3.5 quarts a day, I will still be getting a considerable amount of milk for half the work. Not a bad trade-off.

goat's milk 

There are different ways to make the switch to OAD milking, so if you’re considering this, I suggest reading online and talking to other goat owners to see what has worked for them. Animals are individuals and will respond differently, so it may take some trial and error to find what works for your situation. The only drawback I’m noticing, and it’s minor, is that Focus is quite full in the mornings and it takes a little longer to get the milk flow going. I don’t mind that, but the two barn cats let me know they don’t like waiting for their share. Sorry, Sage and Stripes!

According to what I’ve read, some goats who are switched to OAD milking respond by giving half as much milk. In our situation, that would still provide enough milk for our needs. Some goats get mastitis when the change is made. Timing may be a factor; some of my reading indicated that it’s better to make the change when the doe is three to four months into her lactation, rather than switching soon after she has her kids. Focus has been in milk now since the end of March, so the timing seems good.

If all goes well and Focus kids next spring, we plan to leave her kid(s) on her for two weeks before beginning OAD milking. The idea is to leave mom and babies together during the day, then separate them at night so we can have some of the morning milk. From what I’ve read, this is a more typical way to achieve OAD milking. Focus had kidded two weeks before we bought her, but since we didn’t have the option to buy her buckling, sharing the milk with a kid wasn’t a possibility this time around.

I can’t leave this post without paying tribute to my husband’s grandfather, Les Young, who managed a small herd of dairy cows for much of his farming life. He sold the milk to the Maplehurst Co. He went one stretch of 27 years without missing a milking! My husband has many fond memories of watching (and sometimes helping) Grandpa Young take care of the daily chores. Grandpa, I tip my girly purple John Deere hat to you. I have nothing but admiration for your life’s work. All of us in the Young/Houpt extended family miss you.

Lowell just reminded me of a funny story, when Grandpa was working on a contrary hay baler and needed a tool. He was asking Lowell to get it for him, but he ran through his own sons’ names first. “Hey, Vernal, uh, Russell, uh, Lowell, hand me the Great Persuader!”

“What’s that?” Lowell asked him.

“The hammer!” Grandpa replied.

Have you ever switched to an OAD milking schedule? How did it go for you and your cow or goat? I’d be very interested to hear about it!