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Quinta das Cabras – Goat herding in the Serra da Estrela

For those of you who already know me, a lot of my day at present is taken up with goats. Our quinta, formerly known as Quinta do Tropo (Tropo is the name of the land around), recently renamed Quinta das Cabras (Quinta of the Goats), is in Linhares da Beira, Serra da Estrela Natural Park, Central Portugal.

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I found this piece of paradise three years ago via Pure Portugal, it being only the second property I looked at in Portugal. Even in the pouring, everlasting April rain of 2012, I was totally blown away by the pristine nature which surrounded me, as i sat at the top of the waterfall on the 3 hectare land, covered in mainly sweet chestnuts and oaks.

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Whether it be milking, herding, chasing, or even for the forseeable future, bottle feeding two of the kids, which are three weeks old, there is never a dull moment when it comes to goat keeping. My 8 year old daughter and 6 year old son absolutely love to help bottle feed, in fact they both love to help with all the animals (we also keep a few birds, dogs and cats). From this eagerness to learn they were milking the goats themselves from the ages of 6 and 4!

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Unfortunately, first time Mum, Holly (all naturally have names), a very spirited goat, and up until recently resembled a ‘racehorse’ goat, had trouble after kidding a few weeks ago. One side of her udders had a problem so we’re helping her along by milking her out and collecting it in a bottle to give to her hungry two, Bigwig and Olive, and helping Holly along with lots of extra oats and buckets of cool water so she doesn’t have to venture too far. It’s a bit sad to see one of the herd sick, as goats, like most other animals, naturally separate themselves from a sick member of the herd. Like when our favourite goat, Heidi, the former head of the herd, died unexpectedly last year. She was such a friendly, sweet animal. As the children were that much smaller she would even allow them to ride her, much to the thrill of the children.

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It’s a real love/hate relationship when it comes to goat keeping. Hairs can turn white instantly when I look on in disbelief. Like the other morning when I thought the house was coming down, of course it wasn’t. Four of the kids had managed to get on to the main house roof and were running around excitedly and occasionally peering into the half open roof window to no doubt, start on their next adventure, inside the bedroom!! (Mental note – don’t leave upstairs windows, or indeed any windows, open very wide at anytime!)

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Renowned for eating anything, old wood, plastic, mountain tents, you name it they’ll eat it. Watch out volunteers and any one else who visits us! Many a pizza has been taken from a plate on our weekly bake in the outside forno. Perhaps in the future (hopefully near) we will be able to manage the goats better, by simply keeping them away from certain areas, this involves lots of fencing and very good fencing at that.

I love these animals for many reasons. Firstly their unpredictability, they’re certainly not docile like sheep, even though many people would argue, why keep goats when you can have sheep?! I would answer, because they all are such individuals. Take for example Jackie, a.k.a Wacky Jackie, she’s now a Grandma but hasn’t calmed down in her tempestuous ways. Known to drag people down a mountain side out of sheer stubborness, it’s taken me the last two years to gain her trust and companionship. She really likes a good scratch along her spine while milkng with a few oak leaves and if lucky oat groats, thrown in for good measure. Keeping goats makes me look at myself and my often predictability and certainly teaches me not to take myself so seriously!

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As for hate, it’s a strong word but when my goat friends destroy young trees or ring bark older trees even if protected, because after all, where there is a will there’s a way, I really do reconsider my choice to keep goats when I also want to plant many many trees on my land.

At least when it does get too much and it’s time for a meia de leite (half milk coffee – acceptable in Portugal to drink mid afternoon, but never order um galão (full milk coffee) after lunch, otherwise you’ll risk offending, like i tried in Figueiro da Serra the other day!) I just pop outside to save time with my half mug of coffee to top up with lovely fresh bubbly milk. The result, cappucino!

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Then of course it’s time for siesta for us and the extended animal family.

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If you’d like to volunteer on our quinta, please see workaway.com for details!

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