Goats can be infuriating little creatures. Imagine 30 of them frolicking fancy free on six acres. Really, the destruction capabilities are quite frightening. But it was the early '80s and "goat husbandry" on small acreage was in vogue. Perhaps we obtained the bright idea to raise and milk goats from the annual Christmas subscription to The Mother Earth News gifted to our family by my Grandpa Bob. He figured we were pretty earthy people (is the term "crunchy" now?)who would appreciate a steady flow of wisdom to enhance our prowess in sustainable living. Or it was a cruel joke. Anyway, somewhere between the articles on sprouting your own seeds and making a greenhouse out of recycled tires, we discovered goat raising.
One day a rusty trailer backed up our long driveway with several tawny heads craning out between the metal slats. They were a great deal according to my dad who found a farmer nearby who was "liquidating" his stock. Along with the deal came a German shepherd mix dog named Vinnie for Vinegar. We promptly changed her name to Winnie because it turned out that she was more sweet than sour, but that is another story. The goats were unloaded and the adventure in agriculture and aggravation began. What should we feed them? How do you get the milk out? Why are they jumping on the roofs of our visitors' cars?
Because of the current popularity of goat raising at the time, it was quite easy to find books and classes held locally on the subject. My first exposure to nutrition came from a goat symposium at the University of Minnesota. As an 11 year old country bumpkin, I felt very collegiate and privileged just being in the agriculture building. I still remember my excitement of sitting in the auditorium furiously scribbling notes about the percentages of Vitamin E necessary in a goat's diet for good flavored milk and taking in a lecture about common goat diseases.
Then there was the wealth of health care knowledge from the 4H Farm Days. The presentation on Farm First Aid was pretty shocking. The facilitator told us to put our heads down if we were feeling queasy. A slide show with commentary about dismembered limbs caught in farm machinery was shown on an overhead screen. Little kids scribbled in "I Know First Aid" coloring books vividly depicting how to be prepared for cuts dripping with blood (color that red, I whispered to my 6 year old sister), burns, and someone in need of 911 after being run over by a tractor. We conveniently found a reason to go indoors while dad was mowing the lawn after that. You can't be too cautious on a farm.
Soon our milking operation was running smoothly and baby goats were being born, usually a pair at a time. The ten milking goats became trained to leave the main holding pen in proper order, run across the barn, and hop up on the milking stand one at a time. Each one would stand quietly with floppy ears twitching happily as she munched on feed while we emptied her bulging udder into a stainless steel pail. We thoughtfully named each mama goat and took pride in delivering the cute little kids. My sisters and I gained valuable birthing experience as doting goat doulas and "kidwives"! The baby names usually rhymed if the mamas had twins. Fawn begat Jilly and Tilly, Dolly begat Molly and Polly, Penny begat Benny and Denny etc.
Ella was the trouble maker of the herd and turned the farm into complete chaos when she got loose. Neatly stacked hay bales were torn up and strewn all over,water pails were overturned, and bark was peeled off of our fruit trees in the orchard. One summer my mom's raised strawberry beds were completely destroyed in a matter of hours. Cars were danced on and dented. If Ella got out, all the other goats came under her evil influence. So easily led astray. Maggie, Millie, and Muffin, the sheep trio, were innocently dumb and it was much easier to forgive them if they sneaked under the fences. For them the grass simply looked a little greener and they wanted some. The goats got tired of the predictable dairy life and wanted to party at our expense. We drank most of the milk ourselves and sold a few gallons to regular customers. But one year, when the goat herd started milking our budget dry, a trailer backed down the driveway and another goat-struck family got a great deal.