With the goats bred only last December, we are running a little late in the goat world. May 10th was our first due date, and it was only May 8th we got the last of everything set up and cleaned out. It gets exponentially easier every year now that we have a little barn and we know what to expect.
Yesterday morning we spent shoveling in new wood chips and congratulating ourselves on our exceptional preparedness. Calypso's ligaments were gone, and Button's nearly so, but as I explained to my son, that just means they're ready to have babies- and we knew that already, didn't we? The rest of the day was spent gardening and languishing in the heat. I heard a little noise from the goat area and assumed I needed to ask my son to refill the hay, but thought no more of it and went in for dinner.
The goat area is right behind the bedrooms and bathrooms, so after dinner I went in to the restroom and heard, TO MY HORROR, the sounds of little goat voices announcing their arrival to the world. I hollered, "Babies!" as I barreled through the house on my way outside. And there, in a little patch of dirt wedged in between the trampoline and the barn, lay Calypso surrounded by three babies. I've had five months to prepare for this moment, so I don't know why this came as such a shock, but I was shocked all right! And there was a sac popping out of Calypso, number 4 making its way into the world.
My family says I yelled a little bit, no sentences, just words like "towel" and "snot sucker". I don't remember. Unfortunately, Baby #4 didn't make it. She was the skinniest little thing I've ever seen and she wasn't breathing. My husband buried her while I saw to the others.
So, three beautiful, healthy babies. Great job, Calypso! It's a good thing she didn't need me, because I certainly was no help to her. If goats wrote Yelp reviews I would be out of business.
Goat babies are probably one of the cutest things you will ever see. They are so fluffy and little and cheerful. When you pick them up they smell like those sweet erasers as a kid that you always wanted to nibble on to see if they would taste as good as they smelled. It seems improbable that something birthed in goo and bathed in spit would be soft and sweet and clean, but it's true.
My daughter and I camped out last night because Buttons looked suspiciously like she was ready to deliver too. I didn't get much sleep, but it was beautiful lying down in the dark hearing all the little goat noises and Calypso calming them all down and putting them to sleep. There is a little stand of birch trees that overlook the barn, and the lamp we brought outside lit up the leaves and branches without dimming the stars beyond. The mosquito bites were slightly less romantic.
Kidding season was upon us two months ago. It was intense. Intensely fun. My good friend bred four goats and they were all ready to kid through March. I thought it would make a great refresher course for me, and she kindly allowed me to show up for all the action. The setup was along the side of her house, and each goat got her own pen for the kidding.
Goat number one kidded so quickly I barely made it there in time. Everything went smoothly. This will be the story of the second goat, Saffron, and how tuna onigiri became the official snack of goat kidding season.
Saffron seemed to take a lot longer, but mostly because there had been no waiting at all for the first one. So we all hung out. My kids (I realize I should refer to them as children now) were so excited to see the goat babies (kids!) that they asked if they could come along too. My sweet sweet friend thought it would be ok to have them there, and the party was about to get started.
It was a rainy, wet week, and the pens along the side of the house felt like all the wind and rain had begun to tunnel in, but we tacked up blankets and tarps until things felt warmer, if not quite cozy.
That evening my husband dropped the CHILDREN off to see the KIDS. They came spilling out of the car with a few extras. A few extras, you ask?
Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, cup of ramen, boiling water in a thermos, tuna fish, a jar of mayonnaise, rice, bowls, green onions, juice, tea for me, graham crackers, cookies, a can opener, and a stuffed animal...
The children set up shop in the adjoining pen with the doe who had kidded the week before. Let the games begin! Come what may, we were ready.
So we just hung out and waited. Most of us, anyway. My son had other plans. Out came the tuna, the green onion, and the mayonnaise. What was the plan, I wondered. Tuna onigiri. No joke, he was preparing to make tuna onigiri in a kidding stall. But if Mary could have a baby in a manger, maybe it wasn't reaching too far. Still, I apologized to my friend as he popped open the canned fish. She graciously allowed the cooking to continue as long as he promised not to attract any predators by leaving garbage or tuna juice lying around. We turned back to watching the goats.
Minutes went by, and then, "Is he trying to cut the green onions with a can opener?!?"
I shrugged feebly and looked over. "Son, is there a problem?"
"Yeah, I forgot a cutting board..."
So this is how tuna onigiri became the official snack of goat kidding season.
A drained can of tuna fish
chopped green onion
cooked rice, preferably sushi rice
Please note that you will also need a knife and a cutting board, bowls, spoons, that kind of thing. You will already have those in your kitchen, but if you're in a kidding pen, be sure to think ahead!
Add the drained tuna to a bowl. Mix in a dollop of mayonnaise, chopped green onion, and pepper to taste. I don't like too much mayo or it's goopy, but dry is bad too, so it's your call.
With wet hands, stick a finger in some salt and rub it over the palms of your hands. Pick up a scoop of rice and begin shaping it into either a triangle or a ball. Once you're mostly there, poke a hole in the center and put maybe a teaspoon of the tuna mixture in. Cover it with more rice. Continue until your rice is gone.
Now you can either wrap the rice balls in nori and eat them immediately, or you can wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them out until you're ready to eat them.
I'm borrowing goats. A mama goat, her sister, and one of her babies. This is week one, and quite a week it has been. Auntie Goat is the cute one above. Just look at that face! Mama goat is called Winnie.
They arrived last Tuesday and I got a crash course in Milking 101. Grab high, trap the milk, and express it. Little goats, little teats, so just two fingers. Winnie, the mama goat, isn't crazy about the process. I spent two hours awake that night worrying that somehow my borrowed goats weren't safe. Checked on them once.
Wednesday morning I got a whole quarter cup. That is four tablespoons. I had to hold one leg in one hand and milk with the other, shoulders BURNING, sweating from the sheer stress of it all, scared Winnie was going to jump right off the stand and hang herself. Auntie and baby kept trying to get in on the action and the kids tried to fend them off. Hair, dirt and pollen all dropped in, and though I filtered it, 24 hours later it was gross. Even before it went yucky on me it had a strange, bean-y flavor like thick creamy soy milk, but not horrible. Wednesday night I separated mama and baby goats.
Thursday morning Winnie's udder was engorged like the first time your baby sleeps through the night. SO MUCH MILK, but she kicked so badly I had to give up. I was a little worried she'd have mastitis or something horrible by the end of the day, but figured baby would take care of it. Thursday afternoon was Milking 102. Cleanliness. No more holding a dirty goat foot in one hand and milking with the other. Goat not allowed to lie down on the dirty stand. Clean white rag after clean white rag until the udder is perfectly clean, then another clean rag to dry. It reminded me of beauty school: lots of hand washing and a sanitary maintenance area. We set a towel down under Winnie in case she decided to lie down, and a footstool under her belly to keep her up. Such a stubborn goat! I admit I felt faint afterwards.
Friday morning my milking skills were improving, but Winnie was putting up even more of a fight. I got the milk out, I just couldn't keep it in the pail. My sister helped me a ton, but kept uttering helpful things like, "Faster, Megan, I can't do this much longer! What's taking you so long? Get a grip, it's just a goat!"
"That goat really hates you."
Saturday morning milking was better, way better. My husband held a foot and the pail, Winnie kicked less, I got faster, and we probably got a little over a cup and a half of milk. Whew! Still, it seemed like buying a crane to just airlift the goat would be the best way to go.
Sunday morning, oh dear. Sunday morning. I was armed with two adults, extra milking pails in case Winnie managed to kick them over or got another foot in there, a towel for the milk stand, snacks and treats, more snacks and treats, two size stepping stools, a borrowed scarf from a chihuahua to use as a gentle tether, and all the wipes in the world to clean everybody off... but I guess what I really needed was a tranquilizer gun, or maybe an exorcist.
"Well that's what you get for trying to milk the devil's mascot."
Sunday morning Winnie transformed into a bucking bronco. My husband held her legs, my sister held her, my daughter sang to her, my son stripped my garden bare in search of quality treats, and Winnie wasn't having any of it. She kicked. She jumped. She lay down. She actually refused to eat, put her head in the food bucket, looked back at me and shouted, "MAAAAAAH!" One cup of milk in the bucket and she managed to get a foot in. She pooped. She peed. She hates me.
"Wow, that's an angry goat. I really don't like this. I think you're hurting her."
For the record, I am way, way gentler than the baby. Baby goats ram their mother's udder to bring the milk down. But I understand, I'm stealing milk from Winnie that was intended for her baby. It does seem a trifle unethical when you stop to consider it.
But this morning wasn't too bad. It took only three of us. I switched out pails halfway through before a foot could get in there and got two cups. This can only get better.
"Don't you still have a breast pump somewhere?"
Love, sweet love. That's what comes with the breeding season. This is our first time breeding goats, and we're all pretty excited over here.
I am a beginner, not an expert, so I'm sure my account of the whole process is riddles with inaccuracies, but if you are as clueless as I was, this will still be interesting.
Step 1: Your doe must be in heat.
This is not rocket science, but it is a little complicated for a first timer like myself. You look for flagging, which is just some serious tail wagging. Some does bleat themselves hoarse. There may be some swelling and moisture, er, down there. Other goats, even other does, will start mounting the doe in heat. But if you've never seen it for yourself it can be a trifle mystifying. Does go into heat every 21 days, but if you're on a schedule, you can try to hurry things up by exposing them to a male. That will put them into heat.
If you have a lot of land it might make sense to keep a buck, but they have some quirks that make them undesirable for your backyard. First, they have a goat-y aroma that appeals only to other goats. Second, they urinate all over themselves to enhance their appeal. If you are milking, they make the milk taste weird. All bad. So we had to bring our ladies for an introductory meeting at a farm that keeps bucks.
The transportation, at least for my tiny little adorable goats, wasn't too bad. Both girls fit into a big dog kennel with no problem, the only issue being that we had to pick them up and put them in there. (Fortunately, I had help from a very kind backyard farmer since that is not my forte.)
We got to the farm and introduced the girls to the buck. Goats are friendly and it went pretty well. The first trip was to put them in heat, so mostly there was a lot of running around. Roughly five days later the girls are expected to go into heat. It isn't an exact science. I kept checking, and it was really hard to say. There was inconsistent flagging. There was some discharge, but I had to ask myself if I'd ever looked closely enough at a goat butt before to know what it looks like normally. I tried grabbing their tail from on top (the clean, hairy side) and if they stand still for you that is another indication that they are in heat. Neither goat moved, but I don't ever do that anyway, so no way to compare.
Step 2: The doe stands for the buck.
So off we went to the farm again with high hopes of milk in our future. Our first trip out I'd been so excited to meet all the animals I didn't pay much attention to what was happening with my girls, but this time around I stayed to watch because I needed to know if they were bred or not.
At first the buck struck me as really gross. I can see where all the jokes come from about a dirty old goat. He did some weird stuff with his tongue, and his intact portions hung down like engorged udders. Bucks also sample the urine from a doe's urine stream multiple times, and this one was no exception. Not in good taste perhaps, but the girls didn't seem to mind.
In the buck's defense I will say that he, unlike a rooster, was quite a gentleman. If the doe isn't in heat, if she doesn't smell right, if she doesn't want to stand for him to do his business, he leaves her alone. Buttons wasn't in heat. Calypso clearly was, and they followed each other around flirtatiously while he nuzzled her and she wagged her little tail suggestively. There was quite a bit of courtship, but the breeding itself is brief. Blink and you'll miss it.
Step 3: Wait and prepare.
There's a possibility Calypso was bred on her first visit, so I recorded both dates and expect her to kid in 145-155 days. We will supplement her orchard grass with peas for extra protein, and she has minerals available to her. (The minerals are just a bucket of loose sand which almost smells appetizing.)
We will watch Buttons for signs of going into heat and bring her back. We're going away next week and we could possibly miss it, but some time in the next month we hope to get it done.
Incidentally, I finally got over my fear of picking up goats. It turns out that if you hold them from the side their back legs fold up into a neat little goat package and your arms don't come into contact with anything unsavory. I almost like it! Almost.
The goats found a loose board in the fence and made a break for it.
I was running out to my car when I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and thought, "Oh, somebody has lost their goats."
Goats? Goats? I have goats too, but mine are locked up.
I had a tough time wrapping my brain around it. Fortunately, my dad, also my next door neighbor, happened to see the shadow of a fleeing goat running down the driveway and he came to my rescue. The problem for me is not catching the goats. I am a natural born sheep dog.
I chase the goat down the driveway and round her up from the neighbors ivy-filled front yard. Buttons and I make eye contact.
The problem is picking her up!!!! How do you grab a goat? My dad did it. My sister, my son, my husband have all done it. It seems I'm missing the goat pick-up gene. There is something slippery about goats. They have horns and hooves. I don't want to make contact with anything on the back end. I don't really want to hug the front end either. So I'm stuck. It's that awkward moment when you wish you hadn't gone in for a hug and suddenly you feel like you have extra limbs and you know before it happens that your heads will collide. So I pause, and the goat gets away.
"Pick up the goat," hollers my dad, who is under no small amount of duress and holding Calypso in a firm embrace.
So I try again, but I can't get past the geometry problem in front of me. My two arms, the goat's big squishy belly, the back end, the front end, the hooves. I'll never fit the pieces together. My son rushes over with a length of rope, and suddenly it all feels even more futile. More impossible geometry. A length of rope we had set aside for such emergencies. I start fiddling with it, because I'm pretty sure that if I can remember how to tie a slip knot this could be the first step toward success. Buttons bolts for the ivy.
"Pick up the goat," dad yells again, not sure why I'm just standing there idiotically while his arms are full of goat.
The rest is a bit of a blur, perhaps because my amazing sheep dogging skills all kicked in and I did some amazing goat herding right back up that driveway and into the yard, but more likely I stood there and waved my arms around (still like an idiot) while my dad rescued not just one, but two escaped goats. I really don't remember anything else until it was all over and dad looks over at me and says in the authoritative voice reserved for your grown children, "You have to pick up the goats! Just pick up the goats!"
Not gonna happen, I guess. It's a good thing my dad is also my next door neighbor, because I didn't get the goat pick-up gene.
I think of Clarice Starling and her need for the silence of the lambs on mornings like this, mornings when Buttons won't shut up.
The decision to add goats to my backyard came with a few sleepless nights. It sounds crazy, even to me. Goats sound like a heavy commitment, and when I got them the first comment that dropped from the majority of my astounded friends and family was, "Wow, now you can never go on vacation again!"
The verdict is not in yet. There are still many mistakes for me to make, and so I can't claim to be able to answer the question of whether or not this was a smart move- not yet. But if you're wondering how the adventure feels to me so far, I can answer that.
I'm assuming that like different breeds of dogs, different breeds of goats have their own personality. I have Nigerian Dwarf goats. They are cute, sweet, and little. Their milk tastes like the best, richest cow's milk you have ever tasted. It was not at all goat-y or grassy, although I'm sure it matters what you feed them. For me, the milk is the whole point. I greedily dream of fresh milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter, and feta. Mine are four and a half months old, and at nine months they can be bred. If all goes well, five months later you have kids and milk. Many of the details are still a little fuzzy for me, but I know a super nice lady who has been explaining it all to me step by step thus far. They are little itty bitty goats, but when they give milk I should get from one to two quarts per day. It is entirely possible that this time next year I will get a gallon of milk a day. I am already researching yogurt makers. I can't wait! The adorable goat babies will start out about the size of a shoe, and at eight weeks they can be weaned and sold. Again, I haven't done this part yet, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed.
The goats are very quiet. You have to have two or they cry, but once they made the adjustment they have been nearly silent except for the occasional little "Maah." They do like to climb, which I should have known but never paid enough attention. They are little acrobats. They are also escape artists, so fencing is a must, and my husband went so far as to learn to pour concrete before the goats arrived. A worthy investment of his time! Their droppings look like little black beans, and they're too small and disappear too quickly to collect and compost. I was a little disappointed by this at first, but the good news is that they don't stink! The side of my house doesn't smell at all.
They don't require much in the way of housing but what amounts to a dog house. They HATE to get wet, and they do need shelter from the wind. Since our goats are in a very sheltered spot on the side of the house, we just used a tarp to cover an old play structure, and so far this had been enough... Until this morning.
I came out to lots of heartfelt bleating and a miserable, wet little Buttons. I toweled her down, brushed her, pet her, whispered to her, and loved on her. She was quiet the whole time, right until I walked away.
I sent the kids back to her and the quiet Calypso with apples, carrots, and celery. They were quiet for a few minutes, presumably because they can't bleat and chew at the same time.
Maah, maah, maah.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!