Diary of a Transplant: The Trouble With Goats

  |  March 29, 2012

There are two kinds of small farm goat owners: the ones that love goats and happily keep a herd, and the kind that have given up on them. Because as everyone from the cashier at Tractor Supply to the guy at the feed mill will tell you, eyes rolling, head shaking, “Too much trouble.”

Goats are indeed a whole mess of trouble.

We didn’t know this when we got our two Nubians. We just thought they’d be cute and fun. We like cute animals, and we like making food stuff from scratch. It would be a perfect match, right?  Listen, we are new at this whole country thing, and we didn’t know any better.

So last April, for our son Ernie’s birthday, we drove an hour and a half south, past New Paltz, to pick out these little goat girls at Lynn Fleming’s farm, Lynn Haven, in Pine Bush. Lynn is an award-winning goat breeder who sells her goat cheese at Union Square Market, and is also an incredibly nice person. When Ernie, still living in Brooklyn, started emailing her with questions about goat-keeping, she kindly answered every email. How could a goat breeder resist a goat-obsessed 10-year old Brooklynite? But still, she was so nice.

When we arrived at her farm to make our purchase, we found three vast white tents filled with tiny goat kids. Nearly a hundred units of pure cuteness, milling and bleating and begging for attention, more than she’d ever had. And a couple of really tired interns.

Lynn had agreed to sell us two of the non-show-quality kids at a way reduced price. After telling us how overwhelmed her farm was with this bumper crop of kids, she leisurely walked the aisle of the main tent in her flip flops, critically eyeing the stalls of heart-breakingly cute little babies, some of which would grow up to be cash-earning blue-ribbon-winners. No, no, not that one, definitely not that one… Every now and then she’d pick up a tiny little kid, kiss it, hug it, give it the once-over and then set it back down, shaking her head. In the end, out of around 90 kids, she offered us a choice of three.

“Ernie,” she said, as we considered a sweet white and brown kid, “this is the best one I’m going to offer you. She comes from my best milker, one of my biggest does, and her father cost a thousand dollars.”

That was Jeanie. Ruby came next, a shy little black and white girl-kid.

Here’s Ruby, just three months old, being carried to the car by Ernie.

This is Jeanie, on the drive home. We just set both kids on top of both… kids, and drove fast.

They came from different tents, but quickly became best friends.

They were still on milk when we brought them home. We bottle-fed them three times a day, which was so cute and fun at first, and not so much fun as the days went by.

It was a happy day when we gave them their last bottle.

We had a fun time all last year watching the goats grow up, even with — I shudder to admit this now–  no good fence in place. What were we thinking? Because this is where the trouble lies with goats, even with the best of fences. When one half-baked fence after another failed to keep the goats contained, we would just let them out of their stall –because they loved to be out! –traipsing about in the sunshine, browsing for forage, wrecking stuff. We were novices.

We’d try to ignore them as they would get into a flower bed or the vegetable garden. As they’d ravage the newly planted birch sapling, or nestled into the hay in the barn,  knocking over the saddles and creating a huge mess. They’d nibble the blueberry bushes, devastate the hostas, sample the apricot trees. They’d see us going into the house and, bleating madly, would run after us and try to get inside the door. They’d join us as we sat down for a picnic lunch and then just take over.

But they were so cute!

We finally got a decent fence in place, which, with exceptions here and there, actually contains them. Um, mostly. (Actually, as I wrote this, they got out, and I had to stop writing and go get them and put them back in and try yet again to make their fence more secure.) Now they just cry madly at us from across the pasture when they see us walking in the woods.

And still try to eat everything.

They are so cute.

And so pregnant.

Right? Can you tell? We think we can. We think they are getting bigger every day. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

We hope, anyway. Last November we made the trip down to Lynn’s again, and bred both goats to a couple of Lynn’s handsome bucks. And they are looking a little rotund. We really think so.

Stay tuned, early May, for the expected arrival of anywhere from 2 to 6 goat kids. (Please, no triplets!) And many cheese recipes. And ice cream. And kefir, yogurt, and anything else we can think of.

So much trouble, and yet so sweet, as any goat lover will tell you.


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