The Shy Milking Goat

In all its farm life irony her milk is the tastiest we have ever had.  So creamy, the two tablespoons we manage to get back into the house, that is.

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When we brought her home last year at two days old she healed the wound that occurred when our beloved goat died while giving birth.  Her long legs and big eyes melted our hearts and those around the city as we brought her everywhere with us in the truck.  She went to schools that we spoke at, Walmart, Panera, even the bar (though she was clearly under age) and she brought light to our farm.

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Friday evening my friend, Jill, who gave us Elsa and Isabelle, came over to give Elsa “an attitude adjustment” and showed us how to halter her, let up when she calms down, reward her, milk her out, even if that means a gallon of milk across the stanchion and a very tired human and goat.  It took a long time but she got her milked out.  We are forever in debt to Jill for leading us into the life of goats and for going out of her way to always help us.

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But Elsa soon did not care about the uncomfortable harness.  Her new goal was to train to be a bucking bronco.  My, she would shine in the arena.

Yesterday my friend and current student came to school us.  She has a small dairy down the road.  She and her girls came over to milk Elsa and to show us some tricks.  Elsa won.

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My goals (and budget) did not count on our sweet goat to be a pet.  She does not respect us because we spoil her and do not have an upper hand.  Perhaps she would be like the goat we gave to Lauren last year.  That goat wouldn’t have anything to do with us, would sit in the bucket, and try to run off.  She went to her new home and lets Lauren milk her without a stanchion even!  Maybe Elsa just isn’t our goat.

What to do with Elsa Maria?

A Comical Goat Nursery

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My dear friend, Jill, has to move.  She is devastated that she had to give up her goats.  She trusts us to spoil our goats and entrusted us with her “baby”, a large registered Saanen who yesterday gave us a gallon of  milk without kicking or sitting in the bucket.  Oh happy day.  Dear Katrina is on Craigslist.  The Saanen is Elsa’s mother and the two of them will make, not only excellent milkers for our homestead, but very sweet pets as well.

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Jill sold the rest of her goats to our friends, Rob and Amy, who are still waiting to break ground on their house so we were called to babysit until they can move the goats to their property.  Out of Jill’s car jumped a one week old Alpine with the most beautiful markings, a year old Saanen/Alpine mix, and the most adorable four week old Dwarf wether.  He is cute.  He screams like a little girl and gets lost easily.  In the living room.  They also bought our Buttercup, Katrina’s doeling, so all counted, we have seven goats on the back porch, four babies total, with three of them being bottle fed on different schedules.  Their schedules written out on the new chalkboard kitchen door.  Forget Prozac, we have goat kids.  A goat nursery is the number one way to lighten one’s mood.

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Goats: Leave on Mom or Bottle Feed?

Starting out I watch my friends, read books, ask questions, then try to make my own way.  Whether to leave the baby on the mother or bottle feed was no exception.

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Friend #1 takes the baby from the mother immediately.  She gives the baby bottles of colostrum for a few days then off they go with their perspective owner or stay with her bottle feeding for ten or so weeks.  The mothers truly forget what they were doing.  They can be in the same pen with the infant and have no maternal urge to nurse or protect the youngster.  On the same note, the baby thinks that the bottle feeder is her mom and is happy as can be playing with the other goats and drinking bottles.  Her goats are super friendly (Loretta was a bottle baby, and so is Elsa) and excited to see people.  More like small dogs, they are playful and love attention.

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Friend #2 leaves the baby on the mom.  After three weeks she separates them at night, milks in the morning, then lets the baby stay with the mom all day.  She gets plenty of milk, and then doesn’t have to worry about bottle feeding, weaning, or anything but once a day milking.  The babies are nice enough, though they do prefer to stay with their mom, which seems quite natural.  Friend #2 slaughters some of them for meat.  She has a full circle farm.  Bottle babies become apart of the family, it would be difficult to eat a baby that you kept in the house and watched American Idol with.

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When Katrina had her baby, Buttercup, I opted for friend #2’s approach.  Wasn’t it mean to take away the baby from the mother?  Wouldn’t it be easier to milk in the mornings since we are just getting started?  Wouldn’t the baby be healthier if I left her on the mom?  Buttercup is adorable, and as she gets bigger, she gets faster.  The family that bought her come to visit often.  At the beginning, we could swoop the small infant up and snuggle her, but now we have to plan and coordinate her capture.  She is like a feral cat.  Her mother, who was already ornery, is now a beast with her infant by her side.  She charged Bumble, the greyhound, and pushed him into a fence.  He is a rather docile creature and easily injured.  He did not understand why he was being attacked.  He looked at me with big humane society eyes.  The second time she was charging full speed towards him, thankfully, Doug was there to grab her collar and curtail her attempts at maiming the dog.

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I discussed my issues about milking with Friend #1.  Because Katrina is nursing all day, she doesn’t let all her milk down for us.  She is also a Nigerian Dwarf so has less milk anyway.  Friend #2 has Nubians, so she gets plenty of milk.  With a baby by her side, Katrina is not friendly.  Milking time is no exception as she kicks, spills the milk bucket, and tries to get away.  She sits down and thrashes about.  She is a nightmare.  If she didn’t have a baby that would relieve her of her engorgement soon, she might be more apt to let us milk.  Maybe.

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Elsa is a bottle baby.  She doesn’t miss nor does she remember her mother who is happily getting milked twice a day.  Elsa is excited for bottles and is content playing in the yard or sitting on my lap.  She is growing steadily by the day and is more certain on her long legs.  She enjoys sleeping on my lap alongside my cat while we watch singing shows in the evening.  She doesn’t seem overly traumatized from the experience of bottle feeding and lack of caprine matriarchal care.  I seem to be a fine substitute.  Elsa went and visited 119 middle school children yesterday at the schools I was speaking at.  She was lovey and adorable, a great ambassador to the future farming world of some of these children, with any luck.  There is no way we could have taken Buttercup.

The notion of bottle feeding goat kids being a nuisance is no longer contemplative.  It is one of my greatest joys in farming.

With this small of a farm, I have to be choosy about what animals I have here.  I have to consider that I do not have a lot of animals.  I do not have a pack of goats or alpacas or sheep that sit out in a pasture all day.  We have a sixth of an acre in each pasture.  Our farm here was set up to be an example that one can farm anywhere, as a place where kids can come out and see vegetables growing, find eggs, and pet the goats.  A place that may inspire them to have farms of their own when they get older.  An aloof goat does nothing for atmosphere!  This is also a homestead, and a place where I spend much of my time.  I prefer very friendly animals.  Even my chickens enjoy being picked up!

I am sure there are many situations where leaving the baby on the mother is beneficial and necessary on many farms, but for our small piece of friendly farm, as I sit writing this with a baby goat on my lap, bottle babies will be in our future.

Goat Playing Piano

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On Sunday morning, as we cried for Loretta, a baby was being born.  One of Jill’s does gave birth to twins.  Olaf and Elsa are half Alpine, half Saanen, pure white with tiny waddles under their chin.  We brought home Elsa yesterday.

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She is not quite solid on her feet yet.  She looks like Bambi on ice trying to maneuver the floors.  She slides into the splits then promptly gets back up to play.  Ichabod the cat has adopted her and they played peek a boo with the shopping bag.  Elsa played Maryjane’s piano, watched American Idol, and drank a few bottles.  She may very well be already spoiled.

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When she grows up, she will give us roughly two gallons of milk a day.  That’s a lot of Swiss cheese!

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Goats are pack animals, they need a community.  Since Buttercup, Katrina’s baby, is already sold, Katrina would be all alone.  Pity, no one to bully.  Good thing Elsa will be a large goat!  She takes a bottle every four hours right now so is living in the house for a few days.  She will gradually start sleeping with the alpacas, peeking at the goats through the fence, then will move over to the goat yard when she is a little sturdier.  Buttercup will go to her new home and I will have Elsa and Katrina.

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Welcome, Elsa, to Pumpkin Hollow Farm!