Goats

Our darling buds of May

Apple blossoms

For the first time since the kids were born, May gave us a true spring day (an afternoon, at any rate). Poor Darcy had been cooped up in the barn for nearly a full week. It was time to throw the doors open.

The rest of the herd was down in the pasture, so I closed the gate between the pen and pasture, just to give the new family time to adjust to one thing before the next. Then I opened the barn door.

Darcy fairly bounded out, loudly calling to her babies to follow her. It took them only a few minutes to let curiosity override fear, and then all three were out in the sunshine. In her happiness, Darcy did a twisting joy-leap off the high drive, and galloped down the hill to the back of the barn. The babies followed with their first real run down the slope, their sturdy little legs gathering and reaching beneath them as if they had always known how do to this.

After awhile, Darcy, with her gaze focused on the pasture, started calling. I’m guessing she was calling after her last-year babies (the 3Gs). Soon the rest of the herd had assembled on the other side of that gate and I let them in to the pen. Everyone huddled around the fresh kids and there was much sniffing. Darcy kept an eagle eye on the babies, nickering constantly, butting away anyone who was a little too interested. The unconcerned babies were everywhere, trying out their running and balancing skills on the rocks and ledges. I’m sure poor Darcy felt like she had toddler twins loose in a busy shopping mall.

Eventually, everyone got busy eating hay, except for Gideon, who was fixated on the little ones (whether it was interest, curiosity, or jealousy, I don’t know), so Darcy kept checking him, heading him off, butting him, pushing him away. She was gentle as these things go, but persistent. After a time, he got the hint and left to eat some hay. I hung out for quite awhile, sniffing noses with goats and snapping photos until my camera battery died. And then I went inside to leave the herd to themselves.

When I checked a little while ago, the adults were all lying in the straw and grass, sunning themselves, while the little ones explored the run-in stall and the rocks of the barn’s foundation.

Just beyond the pen, the apple trees are budding pink. Dandelions have sprung up out of nowhere and I saw honeybees sipping from them. The lawn is suddenly long enough to mow. The snowshoe hare we’ve caught glimpses of this winter has turned mostly brown again. The goldfinches are brilliant gold. There’s no stopping us now.

p.s. If you have an insatiable appetite for goatling photos, you can follow along as they grow by visiting their album on my Flickr page.

Surveying their kingdom Heels Both sides Meeting the family Mother and son, reprise
Darlings

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Goats

Here we are now

Darcy kept us waiting six days. She seemed unbothered by it all. It was just the humans who were anxious, all the way through yesterday morning when I suggested maybe we should talk to the vet to see if we should be concerned.

Of course, that’s what did it. Like taking an umbrella along to ensure it doesn’t rain, if you express your concern to the universe, the goat says, “Ok then, I guess I should oblige.”

It was around noon yesterday and I was going to give her one more check before going for my usual dog walk. No sooner had I stepped outside than I heard a bellow from the barn. I scooted out there with a confused dog by my side and found one wet baby lying in the barn bedding, with Darcy and several other members of the herd assembled around her in a protective semi circle.

I moved Darcy and baby 1 into the prepared birthing stall, then ran to call M home from work. Back out to the barn and Darcy was cleaning that first little one, a girl, whose fur was turning light as she dried.

M arrived in plenty of time to watch baby 2, a boy, arrive. He’s lovely, darker than the girl, and with funny ears that flop around and won’t stay out straight like his sister’s.

They are both doing well. Nursing, napping, being cleaned by their mother, working on learning how to use those little legs.

Outside, it’s raining. I hear it’ll rain for a week. That’s as good an excuse as any to hang out in the barn, listening to baby goats dream.

Being born is exhausting

Boy, still to take on goat appearance

Family portrait Learning to nurse

The ears Cleaning cleaning cleaning

Nap

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Goats

Hidden treasures

Little house

Milk can

Old bricks

Old foundation

Hidden 2

Out of the blue, a month or so ago, a friend forwarded me an email, “Isn’t this the type of goat you have?”

Her husband had been browsing craigslist and found for sale a purebred Guernsey buck. You might know that this is a very rare breed. There aren’t that many in this country (a handful, really), and our goats are part of the breeding program to establish an American version of the breed. Their rarity makes them very interesting to us, and it also presents breeding problems. In the past, we’ve trailered our girls on a four-hour (each way) excursion for breeding.

We hadn’t really considered getting a buck of our own because doing so entails all sorts of extra complications, like separate housing and fencing to keep the girls and boy apart until you want them to be together.

But, you know, a purebred Guernsey is a real find, especially one just a couple hours away from us.

So the wheels began to turn, creakily at first—there were some problems to solve—and then more rapidly and smoothly.

First, we have a small barn, perfectly sized for the herd we have now, but we’d need more space for kids in the spring. The obvious solution to that problem is also the difficult one: selling some goats. We’ve been through this once before, but we didn’t know if we’d find someone who wanted to buy goats this late in the year, when everyone is readying their own farms for winter.

But we got lucky and found good homes within a week for two does.

Next, we needed a place to house the buck separately, at least until the breeding was done and we relatively sure of conception dates. We’d need a shelter, and a sturdy fence.

So we called our favorite fence guy, and, whattaya know, he has a little room in his schedule in the next couple of weeks.

We called our friend Chip (you remember Chip, right? he of the fun earth-moving equipment?), and he had room in his schedule to visit us this morning. We showed him H’s old playhouse, sitting at the side of the yard, overgrown and forlorn, waiting for a new purpose (personally, my idea was to use it to house ducks, but you can’t have everything…).

It seemed sturdy enough after years of neglect. Yeah, he could move it down into the goat yard. Would Monday work for us?

We started talking about the wood-fired bread oven we want to build next spring. He started talking about his stone wall building experience. We went wandering together into the woods to the side of our house, an area we’ve barely explored in 21 years because it’s filled with all sorts of junk that the long ago owners threw there (typical of most old properties, decades before curbside trash collection and recycling centers existed). Old toilets? Check. Car parts? Check.

But Chip has an eye for hidden treasure, and within minutes we were uncovering antique bricks and perfectly shaped field stones for oven building.

Who knows what will happen with that project—spring feels ages away and, if we’re lucky, will be taken up with kidding and milking and cheesemaking—but this morning it felt like a lot of little things that were very mysterious and complicated were becoming a little clearer and a little easier.

How often does that happen?

So, in a little over a week, this lovely young man is going to come live with us. But we still have one major decison to make: what to name him.

GG

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Goats, Life

One morning in May

We’d been on kid watch for a week, with Wellesley’s due date this past Monday. I’d cleaned the kidding stall down to the bare floor, swept it clean, filled it with fresh bedding, and assembled the “kidding kit” with supplies we might need.

Saturday afternoon, we read the changes in Wellesley’s body (softened ligaments, raised tail, hollowing hips) put her in the stall, turned the baby monitor on so we could hear her from the house, and waited.

But we’re still new at reading the signs, and had never gone through a kidding with Wellesley, so we were a bit premature. She wasn’t ready for another few days.

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday in the barn with her, reading and keeping her company. She got to listen to a lot of NPR. And we talked about some things.

Wednesday morning, we knew something was afoot. She was making different, quieter sounds. And she didn’t gobble up her morning grain. We made a plan: M would take H to school, and then come back to check on things and then decide whether or not to go to work for the day.

So, naturally, Wellesley had the first kid between the time M left and returned. Minutes after M & H left, I heard a different-sounding grunt through the baby monitor. Out I flew to the barn, where Wellesley was lying down, beginning to push out those little front hooves, and the first kid was born by 7.30 am.

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Wellesley went to work cleaning her, and I helped where I could, wiping the kid clean with towels, cleaning up the stall, keeping an eye on Wellesley’s posterior to see who else might be on the way.

M returned in plenty of time to help with the second kid, who, like the first kid, came out in proper position: two front hooves, followed by a nose. This time, though, there was a little waiting period between the time the head emerged and the time the rest came out. Which was a bit odd looking. Two hooves and a face in one world, a body and two hooves in another.

And then there were two.

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And then we checked. And found they were girls. And there we were, us two humans, wearing big grins and our blue surgical gloves, high-fiving each other with happiness.

Girls!

Another step up the Guernsey breeding ladder. Future mothers of future daughters.

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We spent much of yesterday afternoon glued to them. They grow so darn quickly, we didn’t want to miss anything. Within minutes of their birth, they were trying to stand. 30 minutes later, they were walking. Another hour and they were beginning to “spring” around the stall. Look away for ten minutes and you could miss a lot of development.

We even put them in a basket to take them on their first car ride when we picked H up from school.

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Just like human babies, the gentle engine vibration made them soooooo sleeeepyyy.

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This morning, they were fluffy and clean, and full of spring. They nap a lot. Then they eat. Then they explore. If you sit low, on the floor or near the floor, they’ll come over and sniff you, and then try to climb on you. Awkwardly, with those new hooves, but persistently, because they’re goats and they’ve got so much curiosity in them they’d put a cat to shame.

Sunlight after rain

And today, they also have names: Darcy and Dory.

Welcome to the world, little ones. You have a sweet, attentive mama and good genes from your gorgeous father. And those long, airplane ears. And those darling hooves. And those sparkly eyes.

Let’s PLAY!

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Darcy

Still and motion

A new place to play

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Goats

Golden (Guernsey) Friday

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and what did we do? Drove two goats to upstate New York, of course. We’re traditionalists.

About a year ago, we dried off our milking goat, Willow, to give us all a bit of a rest. The plan was to breed a couple of our does again this Fall to start the milk flowing and to make progress on the Guernsey breeding program. Since there are no other Guernseys that we’re aware of in New England, we had to search around a bit for a suitable buck that was within driving distance.

Luckily, the breeder from whom we bought our girls told us about a couple goat farmers who have a buck in upstate New York. So we took a visit to their farm this summer and fell in love with handsome Brady.

Brady

He’s a charmer, isn’t he?

His owners, Bailey and Thomas, showed us around their huge farm. Goats, pigs, sheep, poultry of all varieties, cats. We hit it off right away with Bailey and Thomas, and loved all the work they’d done on the farm and the care they gave their animals.

Giant willow

The kids

Guernseys

After the tour, they fed us a wonderful lunch made from the bounty of their garden. We sat outside at the picnic table, watching the goats, and talking about farms and goats and cheese. You know: the important stuff.

After meeting Bailey and Thomas and their goats, we were sure we wanted to breed our goats with Brady, but their farm, though far closer than any of the alternatives, is still nearly four away from us. And here we were without truck or trailer.

Until, through the magic of the Internet, we found this tidy little trailer that would do the job.

New wheels

We prepared the trailer by painting it inside, covering sharp screw ends that the goats might bump against, adding air vents, duct taping a plastic tarp on the floor, and then laying down a layer of soft hay for bedding.

Trailer vents

We prepared the lucky girls by letting them sniff the “buck rag” that Brady mailed them earlier this Fall.

From Brady with Love

All of which led to today, when we coaxed Wellesley and Westwind into the trailer. With just the incentive of a handful of grain, Wellesely hopped right in. Westwind followed Wellesley without hesitation.

Westie stroll

Westie and Wells

We had a perfect, blue-sky day, warm and clear, and the goats tolerated the drive well. When we stopped at Bailey and Thomas’ farm, we found Wellesley lying down in the trailer, looking quite relaxed, and Westwind was up, sniffing the new scents through the air vents.

Maybe they could smell Brady?

We settled them in to their new stall and gave them reassuring head scratches and a banana snack, then went to see Brady one more time before we got back into the car for the trip home.

The girls will spend the next few weeks in New York, getting some time with Brady, before we fetch them home.

For now, we’re down to three goats around here. With any luck, next April will bring us the first buds on our new apple trees, and a few golden doelings springing in the goat yard.

Brady

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