Interview – Beth Donovan

Introduction and Interview

By Patricia Youker

I first leaned of Beth through her Facebook page where she chronicles a new chapter in her life. Beth had a calling to escape the career she had built her entire adult life, and to pursue a dream. Beth has a strong voice, steeped in the daily activities on a farm in Kansas, and knows how to tell a story filled with humor and interesting information.Below is a glimpse of the adventures and learning process of her new lifestyle.

  1. What is the name of your farm and is there a story behind it?

Castle Argghhh Farm is the name. Here is the story:

My husband is a retired military officer. I’m an opinionated b*tch. We both used to write (separately) letters to the editor to the Kansas City Star, and our letters were accepted more often than not. But then, the KC Star changed their editorial board. They no longer ever approved either of our letters for publication. That had served as an outlet to express our grumpiness with things, and now, we had no outlet.

So, in 2003, in the run up to the Iraq War, my husband, John, was horribly frustrated with how pundits were getting the facts wrong on questions of how the military works. He often yelled at either the computer or the TV, “Argghhh!!!”.

John had lost his outlet for his frustrations. So I insisted he start a blog, I named it Argghhh!!! And he started writing. Somehow, people started calling his blog ‘Castle Argghhh!!!’. It was only natural, then, to name our farm, “Castle Argghhh”, when we moved here.

  1. What led you to raise goats? What did you do before? How long?

Way back in college, where I majored in psychology, I happened to take a Fiber Arts class. I learned how to wash, dye, spin and weave. It was fascinating to me and I never forgot that class.

The seven years before we moved out here, I worked for a medical technology company – Cerner Corporation. I was in their Advanced Technology Group and implemented Enterprise System Management solution in hospitals all over the USA and in the UK. I traveled about 48 weeks a year. I’d leave Kansas City on Sunday night or Monday morning, fly to that week’s location, put in at least 50 hours in a chilly data center, and fly back home on Thursday night or Friday morning. I loved what I did. However, it was exhausting.

Before Cerner, I also worked for Sprint and a small telecom, Birch. I was in information technology at both of those companies. I started in IT by getting on the Sprint internal help desk way back in about ’93. It seems that I had a knack for figuring out how to fix things, and I ended up getting a lot of on the job training. I was promoted a lot and was extremely fortunate.

We had just purchased our farm when my IT job was eliminated.

I had in mind that I’d get some sheep and perhaps raise them for their wool. But then, I met some sheep, and gosh darn, they are NOT very personable. So, I did some reading, and learned about Colored Angora Goats. Goats have personality, and their mohair can be profitable, or so the line goes.

I bought 3 goats from a farm close to St. Louis. I bought another two goats from a farm in Osawatamie, Kansas. From those five goats came all my current goats. They are endlessly entertaining and each has their own peculiarities. I finally have enough goats that I’m starting to sell some to people who want fiber animals.

  1. Besides goats, what else do you raise?

We have peafowl, ducks, chickens, guineas and two very old horses. I don’t know if I would say we actually raise them so much as they are pets.

  1. Tell us what an average day is like on the farm.

The cats wake me up at 5:00 am every morning. They are relentless. They don’t bother my husband – they bother me. We have one cat, DC (stands for dumped cat – he was dumped out here some years ago), who does not fool around with breakfast time. I have central sleep apnea, and I need to sleep with a CPAP machine so I don’t quit breathing in my sleep and die. DC has learned that he can turn off my CPAP machine and that I will quickly wake up while I’m gasping for air. I’m beginning to think that DC should stand for Dick Cat, because he is kind of a dick. Feeding the cats is the first, no, second chore each day. The very first thing I do each morning is get our ancient, incredibly obese, rescue dog, Kiki, out the door before she poops. I probably manage to get her out before poop about 60 percent of the time.

Then, the Livestock Guardian Dogs, Buffy and Molly, come inside for their breakfast and for their morning nap. Their biggest job is to protect all the animals from predators during the night.

Then I get our old horses’ – Willy is 31 or 32 and Petey is only about 21, but blind in one eye – special mash ready. They eat a lot of very expensive senior horse chow mixed with beet pulp and soaked in water – so they can digest it better. I feed the horses in the pasture down the hill from the house, in hopes that the goats will not notice the yummy mash and go steal it for themselves. This means I have to check before I bring the horse feed out to the Polaris Ranger to be sure that no goats are aware of my actions.

You see, a couple of years ago, a windstorm knocked a big old tree down over the fence into the goats’ night pasture. About half of them climb over the tree and escape every morning so they can eat the best weeds before the rest of the goats are let out for the day. They are rather naughty, and have been known to ambush me when I’m trying to get the horses their breakfast.

I will be very nonchalant and walk over to the water hydrant and replace the goats’ water with very fresh water. They like that and will normally come to see what I’m doing and then drink their water. Then I rush back to the house, grab the buckets of feed that are soaking in water and run out the other door, jump into the Polaris Ranger, and drive down to where the horses get their food.

Then I drive back up the hill to the house. By then, the escapee goats have realized I tricked them and are starting to head down the hill. So, I yell at them to turn around, and surprisingly, they always turn around. Now, it’s time to let the other goats, the well-behaved goats, mostly does and kids, out of the pasture. They all mosey on over to the field to the west and graze for a couple of hours before coming back and hanging out on our driveway, under an old elm tree.

By now, it’s 11 am, and I try to get caught up on cleaning mohair and getting it ready for spinning or for selling. I am at least two years behind, I’m afraid. This time of year, I’m still shearing one or two goats a day. I usually wait until after lunch to trick and capture a goat and get it on my shearing stand. It has taken me five years, but I am finally able to shear, give immunizations, trim feet, and worm a goat in less than an hour. Usually. By the time I’m finished with shearing, it’s time to come in the house, clean a bit and figure out what to cook for dinner.

Then, at dusk, I feed the horses again, convince the goats to get into their night pasture, get the LGDs to go outside to work all night, feed the cats and other dogs again, and maybe spend some time in front of the TV with my husband. If I think about it, I work on needle felting one thing or another.

Of course, in winter, I feed the fowl -in the summer, they are free range. Also, I have a very few angora rabbits – only 6 – and I feed them and water them twice a day. At one time, I thought that rabbits would be a money maker, well, maybe for someone much younger, but not for me, so I’ve given away most of them, and the remaining are rather elderly, so I’m just making sure they are fed and healthy and I cut their hair whenever it starts to look unruly.

And once I get in after taking care of all the critters, I take a bath and fall into bed.

  1. There is a story about the FedEx driver – can you share that story with us?

Oh, there are always funny things that happen here. Two of our young kids, Bernadette and Pharaoh, are very friendly. Anytime the UPS guy or the mail lady or the FedEx guy comes to deliver something, the two little goats jump into their trucks. Some drivers are better than others about this.

  1. Other funny antics that you would like to share?

Here is a story about our free-range chickens – this just happened a couple of weeks ago – A tale about a chicken, our pickup truck, and a bale of hay.

John and I had some errands to run in town. It was about lunchtime, so John suggested we go to our favorite Mexican Restaurant in Lansing, Kansas. We went in, had a nice lunch, and then walked back outside to get in our F-150 pickup truck. Well, as we approached the truck, a little black bantam hen flew to the top of the cab, and then flew off into the parking lot. Apparently, she had hitched a ride with us from the farm and decided this was where she wanted to be. She apparently hid behind a bale of hay that had been in the truck for a couple of months.

Little bantam hens can fly, and we were not able to catch her, and we hope she has found happiness in Lansing, Kansas. When we got home, John decided to get that darn old bale of hay out of the pickup. He pulled it out with a pitchfork, and we found all kinds of chicken eggs that all of our chickens had apparently been lying in the truck behind the hay bale and under the tool chest. We figured that little bantam hen had been trying to hatch all those eggs, and must have been traveling with John to work every day in the truck and then back home. She was working on a futile project, though, because we don’t have any roosters, and none of the eggs would be fertile.

Anyway, it was a good lesson learned. Don’t leave a square bale of hay in a truck if you have chickens.

Because chickens are kinda weird.