My husband wants to buy another billy goat. I am reluctant to agree to this. We have only had five female Nigerian Dwarf goats on our farm for the past year, and there have definitely been fewer hassles. Once we bring in another buck, I know my frustrations with the goats (and my husband) will greatly increase. When it is breeding season (which it is right now,) we have never been successful at keeping these goats under control. All bets are off as the male does everything in his power to get to the does, and sometimes the girls do the same. Then there are these extremely cute babies born in late winter when we have freezing temperatures, and my entire family wants to bring them inside and raise them like house cats. It does not make me happy. But I have to admit that I do love seeing little goat kids jump and twist and play in the pasture, and I miss the fresh goat's milk that I turn into pudding, yogurt, ice cream, and butter. So today I sort through the positive and negative aspects of raising goats, and maybe by the end of this post, I'll come to a decision to either concede or remain stubbornly opposed to a new addition to our farm.
Goats have personality---way more so than our sheep. Some are shy and stand back to watch what you and the rest of the herd will do before they come near. Some are bullies as they are always trying to keep someone else below them in the pecking order. There is always a Queen Bee who gets to be first at everything, even if it's something she won't enjoy, such as vaccinations or hoof trimming. Some are more athletic than others and go to great lengths to get out of the luscious green pasture you have put them in to get to the other side of the fence just to eat the same grass that they were already eating. Some are the most wonderful, attentive mothers to their kids and never let them out of their sight. Others want nothing to do with them and we have to hold them still just to let their babies nurse from them. Most of our goats are extremely friendly and absolutely love to be scratched and talked to. The queen of our herd is especially fond of my husband and acts like he belongs to her. Once we got goats, they quickly became my favorite animal to own. They feel more like our pets than our livestock, which makes it hard to sell the surplus to others, but once they start having babies, there are just too many goats to keep.
I forgot to mention that there is a clown of the herd too with lots of quirky habits, such as jumping into open vehicles and hoping for a ride. This leads me to my biggest frustration with owning miniature goats: their ability to escape and their total lack of respect for boundaries. We thought we were being so smart to use metal stock panels for fencing. My husband moves them around our land to practice rotational grazing. They are supposed to be escape-proof, but obviously, the designers never owned this breed of goat. Not only can the kids squeeze right through the openings when they're little, but the adults find all kinds of ingenious ways to get out. Sometimes they put all their weight against the middle of a panel until it bows out enough and sags down, and they either jump over it or push their way under it. Even though we disbud our goats as kids, the bucks sometimes keep a remnant of a horn, and we have witnessed them use that horn to pull a fence panel hard enough to pop the staples right out of the wooden fence posts. Several of our goats have been able to jump straight up and over six feet high fences. Sometimes the younger ones get on the backs of our larger sheep and jump over the fence that way. One of our goats can actually climb the stock panels like a ladder, as could her twin brother, who was the infamous billy goat who could always find a way to get to the girls when it was time for breeding.
In addition to the escape methods I already mentioned, we have a few very agile goats who can climb trees. Okay, they can't actually climb straight up a tree (at least, I don't think so) but if a tree is growing at an angle or has partially fallen, they climb it and walk on it like a tightrope until they are on the other side of the fence, and then they leap down. When the wind uprooted this willow tree, it was like a jungle gym for some of our goats. My husband didn't think they would do this because it was quite high off the ground, but they did. Of course, our garden was directly underneath the end of this tree. When one goat would do this, the rest would watch, and then one by one, they would all give it a try. The heavier ones weren't successful, fortunately, but the ones who were did it over and over again until our son cut the tree into pieces.
One of the best things about having goats is that they do help with keeping a couple of acres "mowed" for us, and they also eat up all of the fruit and vegetable scraps and peels that we have. This comes in especially handy now when we are saucing and drying apples and have the cores and peels remaining. They gobble this kind of stuff up like candy. They are our living garbage disposals. The flip side of this is that they also eat things you don't want them to have. Since they are escape artists, they run to berry bushes, grape vines, strawberry patches, and young fruit and nut trees. In the four years we have had goats, they have destroyed a rare chestnut tree, all of our newly planted pear trees and blueberry bushes, our entire strawberry patch, numerous wild raspberry bushes, and the entire row of grape vines. Not to mention crop after crop of just about everything in our gardens. I told my husband that he can either have goats or he can have produce, but he can't have both at the same time. He, however, believes he will outsmart them and will successfully keep them contained. We shall see.
Last Halloween is a perfect example of how their culinary tastes can be a good thing and a bad thing. While we were carving our jack-o-lanterns, the herd escaped and came straight to where we were on the front porch. While it was great that they wanted to eat the pumpkin pulp and some of the seeds, it was not good that they also tried to eat our pumpkins. It was impossible to get any carving done with them loose because we couldn't keep their heads out of the insides of our jack-o-lanterns. There were also no seeds left for roasting. This is also a huge problem in the winter time when we keep 50 pound bags of sweet feed stored in the garage. Every time we would bring in a goat to milk, the whole herd would ambush us and devour the bag of feed in minutes. Moderation is not their strong point.
What is one of their strong points is winning blue ribbons for our children at the local county fair. This summer was the first one in five years that none of our children showed goats, and it was rather sad. Because we sold our last remaining buck last fall, we had no breedings, and therefore, no kids this year at all. Since Nigerian Dwarfs are considered dairy goats, they don't place well in a show without an udder full of milk. With none of the nannies in milk and no kids to show, there was no goat show for us this year. The miniature goats steal the hearts of people walking through, especially the children.
If we purchase a new billy goat now, we will probably have kids in March or April. Our goats typically have twins, but singletons and triplets are not uncommon, and we have even had quadruplets once, so it is possible to have as many as twenty goat kids here next summer. That would be a lot of fun for the children, as well as give them a chance to be in the 4-H Youth Fair again. It will mean I'll have to find homes for most, if not all, of the kids after the fair, but that's also extra income, and our children get to keep some of that. It will mean lots of milk for us, but also the extra work of milking that someone has to do every day. It means no vacation because it's so difficult to find someone to come and not only feed and water all of our animals, but also milk five of them daily. Even though goats are small and easier to handle than cows, if they don't want to be milked, they do everything in their power to make the task nearly impossible for you. They chew on your hair or your collar, kick the milking pail, step in the milking pail, and even collapse their entire bodies on the milking stand so you can't even get your hand underneath them. We had one goat that someone had to hold upright while the other person milked as fast as they could. These are some of the frustrations I'm referring to. Do I really want to deal with all that again?
Yes, I think I am willing. In an unexplainable way, these goats bring us together as a family. When our son comes running up from the barn to announce that babies are being born, we all throw on our coats and boots and go running down, ready to assist if necessary in eager anticipation of witnessing the miracle of new life. When a smaller one looks too weak or cold to make it through the night, we take turns wrapping it up and holding it and giving it all our warmth and love and positive energy. From youngest to oldest, we all go out to the pasture to watch the kids frolic and play with one another. We can't resist holding and brushing them and taking lots of photographs. As a family, we decide what to name each one because it's our tradition to name all kids born on our farm the name of a different cheese. When we expect new births, we peruse the gourmet cheese sections of the upscale supermarkets because we've used up all the common cheese names. At the opposite end of the spectrum, when a goat gets sick, we all help take care of it, and we are praying for it as a family at the end of the day. So, for reasons that are more emotional than sensible, I think I'll suggest to my husband that we do some goat shopping this weekend.