|Our girls welcome home Carolina, Tennessee Spot & Tutu|
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).
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 http://www.five-pointsfarm.com/.