Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Kids on the Farm

Our girls welcome home Carolina, Tennessee Spot & Tutu
Last Saturday my husband and I took our daughters to a small town just east of Charlotte, NC to pick up the newest members of our farm family: three four-week-old Nigerian Dwarf goats. Little did we know just how thoroughly they would fill the next few days with their needs and antics. What we did know was that we were all smitten with these adorably fuzzy little bundles of spunk. Perhaps if we'd known a little more, we would have thought twice about bringing them back home with us when we did. Our experiences the past few days have illustrated in comic proportion  the truth of Alexander Pope's assertion that "a little learning is a dangerous thing." Let me confess at this point that a good deal of the farming I "know" so far comes from . . . well, from books. As a former professor, I'm pretty comfortable with that sort of knowledge. But I imagine most any farmer you ask would doubt just how thorough such knowledge could possibly be.

As always, I had dutifully done my research. I knew that Nigerian Dwarfs are a small breed of dairy goats originally from West Africa, and that they were first brought to the United States in the early 20th century (some say on ships transporting large cats in order to serves as lion kibble--seriously).  I knew that they have a reputation for being gentle and easily trainable; that they are capable of giving a surprising quantity of milk given their size; and that the high butterfat content of that milk makes it ideal for making cheeses and soaps. I knew, in sum, that they are a perfect fit for a small farm with small children--and thus, just right for us. BUT . . .

Those of you who are parents might remember bringing your little one home from the hospital (or taking her/him from the arms of the midwife) and thinking, "This doesn't seem like it's going to be as tough as everyone's been telling me!" After all, what could possibly be so difficult about clothing and feeding a thing so tiny and lovely? That was, of course, before you tried to slip a cotton onesie over four flailing limbs and a screaming head. Or endeavored to get a stiff synthetic diaper wrapped straight and snug around a bouncing bottom. Or attempted to fill a twisting, spitting mouth with gooey glumps of rice cereal. If you know what I'm talking about, you'll believe me when I say that trying to bottle feed three baby goats who've spent four weeks growing accustomed to nursing with their mamas is not a task for the faint of heart.

We had not signed up originally for bottle feeding duty. On our first trip to visit the farm where they were born, we put down a deposit on them and agreed with the breeder** that we would return to fetch them when they were weaned (around 8 weeks of age). However, once we returned home from that trip, our well laid plans rapidly fell by the wayside. We found that now that we had seen them, held them, and downloaded photos of them to "ooh and ahh" over, it was going to be nearly unbearable to wait another 4 weeks to bring them home. My research had also indicated that kids who are bottle fed by humans are generally easier to milk and to train than those exclusively fed by their dams (that's goat language for mamas).

So off we went to get them 4 weeks early. The drive was no less full of delighted anticipation than Christmas Eve. Our daughters had each been allowed to pick a goat of her own, so they chatted away about the names they had chosen and the many ways they were going to love them and care for them. I, meanwhile, looked over the the questions I wanted the to ask the breeder and lengthened my formidable list of supplies we would need from the feed store. My husband, in an attempt to temper the plans and shorten the feed store list, gave us all another couple of his "Our goats back in Nigeria never had [fill in the blank] and they were fine" lectures.

Once we arrived, the breeder kindly offered us (along with a very helpful--if somewhat intimidating--handout of information and tips) a couple of containers of their dams' milk. She reminded us that it might be difficult to get them to take it from the bottle. Yes, yes, I know, I thought. I had read about that. But I had also read that if you just keep at it, they'll learn. I therefore was not as worried as I probably should have been when she offered to let us return them to her farm for a while "if things don't go well and you get worried about them."

The 50-minute ride back home was remarkably peaceful. I had expected them to bleat and yell and cry for the mothers from whose bosoms we had just snatched them. (Have you ever heard a goat kid cry? If not, you've missed some real drama.) But for the most part, they settled placidly into the pet cage and snuggled up with each other, only sporadically letting out little bleeps of distress or alarm. Neither did they seem particularly upset or disoriented when they were released into the freshly prepared stall that would be their new home. They looked around, hopped right up into the manger (guess it's going to be a playground instead of a manger for a while), and then called for us to come back when we left them to go grab some lunch.

I really think this is going to go just fine, I thought, as I warmed the milk for them a couple of hours later and snipped the new goat and lamb nipples just as the instructions said. Of course, you can guess the rest. For the past few days, we have dutifully walked out to the barn morning, noon, and night, armed with bottles of warmed milk, and fought tooth and nail with these little critters to take it. They have bawled, they have screamed, they have kicked, they have jumped. They have spit and pooped and peed. All while we've tried to hold them as gently as humanly possible and coax them to get a few drops down their throats. Morning, noon, and night I walk back to the house with milk all over my shirt, drool on my neck, mud on my pants, and bits of hair missing from my head (they evidently find human hair delectable--go figure). Yesterday evening, finally, we found more than a fraction of milk missing from each bottle when we finished the feeding. Today has not been as successful so far. Luckily they are eating their concentrate, drinking water, and nibbling at the hay. And they're full of energy--already chasing after the chickens, bouncing gleefully across the pasture, and climbing all over the rock pile in the barnyard. So I'm not lying in bed all night long wondering if they are okay. In fact, I have to admit that they seem just fine. But we'll keep trying to get that milk down them. After all, I learned that we're supposed to in my books.

Tennessee Spot offers a typical reaction to our efforts
My big sister lends us a much-needed hand
Tutu starts to catch on!

** We would highly recommend the breeder we worked with to others interested in raising Nigerian Dwarf Goats. You can find information about her farm and her herd at 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Ohhhhh, que lindas!!I have never seen them before and they are beautiful.I bet the girls are having an exciting experience. You all look wonderful in the pictures!
Love and Happy Thanks Giving Day from Ohio.
Ahhh, ohhhh, ahhhh..:-)