those who are privy to my personal social media sites might be under the impression that i loathe goats. this isn’t true at all; they’re actually one of my all-time favorite quadrupeds. at the moment, i’m living with a less-than-enjoyable individual of this species. his name is edward and he sometimes makes me question my inability to eat goats, as he seems to be fairly useless in every way but nutritionally. (i say this all tongue-in-cheek: i love the little rascal to pieces, but he’s just such an asshole!)
it started about ten years ago. my mother and aunt went to visit a friend for the day. i was home, doing some major house cleaning, going about normal business. the two relatives arrived back home in the evening accompanied by a tiny ball of black and white. cat? puppy? skunk? no. two whole pounds of floppy-eared baby goatling. the friends they’d gone to visit were leasing their farm to a dairy goat operation and this little guy had been rejected by his mother.
it was late winter and i had no idea what to do with a small infant goat. he needed to be bottle-fed every two hours. i had no barn or cozy outbuilding to keep him in. to compound matters, he quickly became very ill. i packed all two pounds of him into a cat carrier and brought him to a mixed practice vet. the vet was upfront about the fact that she didn’t know all that much about goats, either. she hauled out a textbook on sheep and goat medicine, we talked about symptoms, and she diagnosed him with e. coli of the gut, which he probably got because he hadn’t gotten any colostrum. because he was so little, she couldn’t give me vet meds, so she called in a prescription for a child’s antibiotic to my local pharmacy. didn’t i have fun going to the rite-aid for a prescription for “gus-the-goat [last name redacted]” and a bottle of pepto-bismal!
i was working nights, third milking shift at a big dairy farm, so my mom fed and medicated between 7 pm and midnight and then i took over when i got home at 2 am. gus was terribly sick and i almost lost him a couple of times, but he finally pulled through. then the real fun began, as he terrorized the house, scampering cloven-hoofed over the floors and furniture. this is when he developed a life-long hatred of cats, as we had a big male siamese cross who would lie in wait for the gamboling caprine and pounce on top of him, sending him sliding, spread-eagled across the hardwood floor, bleating piteously. he also started putting on weight and generally enbiggening.
during this time, between feedings, work, and child-management, i’d read everything i could about goats. this was early internet days, so there weren’t a lot of resources, but i amazoned a copy of the sheep and goat medicine text that our vet had used and devoured what i could find. it quickly became apparent to me that the main thing a goat needed in its life was another goat. we went back to the goat farm, this time with my daughters, who were about four years old at the time. they immediately latched onto half a set of quadruplets because “they’re twins like us!” we went looking for one buckling and came home with two, happily ensconced in a recycling tote for the hour-long ride home. they were saanan/nubian crosses, one white and one tan with floppy ears and pink eyelids. my daughters named them spider and oak, respectively.
of course, spider immediately became ill and the whole process began again. i brought him to the same vet, who diagnosed joint ill. she loaded me up on 28g syringes and injectable antibiotics. gus and oak went to live outdoors in a chain-link dog kennel (my logic here being that if it kept dogs in, it could keep dogs out and there are coyotes in them thar hills) with a little goat hut made out of hay bales. spider stayed in the house for another two weeks, a very sick little guy. eventually, he, too, recovered and the whole flock went to live outdoors where goats belong. it’s all fun and games until a fifteen pound goatling goes careening across your lap as you sit quietly on the couch, its little hooves leaving cheerful red marks through the legs of your jeans. it’s worse when you round the corner of the dining room and find a mischievous little goatface looking smugly back at you from the dining room table.
they soon outgrew the kennel and grew and grew and grew. gus found another home a few years later, a place with children who were goat-mad. spider passed away two years ago with CAE (caprine arthritic encephalitis, a disease kids get from infected colostrum; they usually die around the age of three or four with this disease. spider made it to seven.) oak, all 250 pounds of him, was alone and depressed, a really, really good guy, but pining as the only goat. he made a tenuous friendship with soni (a.k.a. the horse that no one wanted), but soni has small animal tolerance issues and they had to be kept separate with a fence.
enter jenny and edward.
i work at a technical college with agriculture and veterinary technology programs. the vet tech program had these two goats on loan, but the owners moved to florida and couldn’t bring the goats, so the technician for the program was scrambling to find them a home. being a fool, i volunteered to take them. the doe was so fat that she was wider than she was long. her son, the wether, didn’t have a sign of a good manner anywhere. i optimistically thought i could fix that. HA. HAHAHA.
jenny is a nigerian dwarf, about thirty pounds and shorter than knee-high. edward is a nigerian/nubian cross, slightly bigger and floppier eared. neither of them have met a fence they couldn’t weasel through. electric fence is no problem as long as you’re moving quickly enough, and they blur when they go through a fence. i finally gave up the fight with fences and tethered them. edward broke two chains before i decided that nylon rope was the thing. he knotted that and twisted it up in forty-hundred places, but couldn’t break it. he’d get it snagged on rocks, wrapped around trees, and had me out hacking down saplings that he’d bound up, ten to a bundle, with his rope. as i hack at the saplings, he pulls at my coat and pushes against my legs and steps on my feet. he fusses if i put his water too close to the edge of his radius and then promptly knocks it over and spills it if i move it closer. barbecue, right? it’s the only solution.
meanwhile, oak is happy as a clam to have other goats around. i thought last winter would be his last, but last time my uncle was up delivering hay this winter, he remarked that the old goat had never looked better. they’re in my round-pen for the winter with 1×6 lumber covering the bottom of each panel, held fast with concrete blocks because it’s the only way to keep jenny from going underneath or through the panel feet. i’ve put out feelers for a home for the two little ‘uns, but i’m too honest about edward’s substantial shortcomings and i worry about oak’s mental health if he goes back to being the only goat.
i dream of a future with goat-proof fence (is this the real life? is this just fantasy?) and hay racks and goats that have been properly disbudded so they don’t have horns that catch in everything (and taught proper manners from the beginning, so they’ll be like a flock of oaks instead of a flock of edwards). yes, there will be more goats. after goats, a life without goats is unthinkable.