Growing up, my aunt and uncle had the best lives in the world, because they lived on a farm. They had a creek, they had a barn full of stuff, they even had a pear tree, but exceeding all else, they had goats. Every time we visited I said to myself “when I grow up, I’m going to have goats, lots of goats.”
The goats loved my aunt, but looking back on it now I see it may have been more of mild tolerance and familiarity. I’d sit out in their field certain that if they just came to see me as part of the pasture they would start to love me too. They never loved me, I’m not sure I ever even got to touch one.
When my husband and I started dating my uncle told me to marry a man who would let me do, and have what I wanted in life. Not necessarily that he would give me free reign to do whatever I wanted, but that I could fulfill my ambitions. Of course I considered many matters in regards to my future life as I reflected on that advice, but one of my first thoughts was “I want goats.”
Now I have a husband, a farm of my own, and goats. I’m not complaining, but they really were more romantic in memory. When I imagined life with goats it looked like a Bouguereau painting. I would look beautiful and serene, baby goats would lay like sleeping babies in my arms while their mothers stood by like faithful old dogs, all in a sunny, green pasture. In reality it’s not, it’s just not.
We started with Margaret, a Lamacha we got at a really good price. There was a reason for that. My husband has ideas about what farm work is for women. Goat milking is definitely for women, as is gathering eggs apparently. I didn’t mind, I was going to love milking goats. I was going to look like a classic French painting.
We didn’t have a goat barn yet so we led Margaret up on our big log trailer, tied her to the front, and I started to milk her. She kicked the pot over, kicked me, and then laid down. We ended up putting a ratchet strap under her middle and winching her up until she couldn’t lay down. Then I tied her legs together with an NRS strap. In this way she mostly didn’t kick the milk over.
I made progress with Margaret, my husband built me a milk stand, we turned the carport into a barn. She got to where I could milk her with just the NRS strap, most of the time. I tried talking to her, reassuring her, giving her treats, perseverance, scolding, and finally just beat her. She didn’t really care so I hit her with the lead rope. Unfortunately then she stood well for milking. I hate having an animal that has to be beaten to behave, but if that’s all that will work then so be it. Goats have free will too. Nonetheless it doesn’t make me feel good, it doesn’t make me enjoy being goatress.
I went on bedrest with my second child and couldn’t do the milking anymore. My husband came in one day from milking and said he was either going to kill her or sell her, but either way he was drying her up. He meant it, so I didn’t argue. As poorly behaved as she was for me, she hated everyone else more. Much more.
We tried to sell her for a few weeks. I got one phone call about her. It was a foreign man. He asked if I thought he could breed his sheep to her. I told him I didn’t really think that would work well.
After he didn’t have to milk her everyday my husband came back around and decided we could keep her. So in the summer we got Eugene, a Nubian buckling, in hopes that he could breed her and we could have babies. Eugene screamed “Mom” for so long he went hoarse and finally shut up. I took eggs to all the neighbors to apologize. Eugene was great. He sat in my lap when I went to feed him, he followed us around without leash, he let my daughter pet him and feed him. Then the other day he peed on his face. Peed on his face, licked it off, and I swear he smiled. I still haven’t really recovered.
Later that summer we bought Maggie, a black Nubian, also at too good price. Why we would buy a discount goat again, I don’t know, clearly there’s something wrong with us. Now that Maggie has settled in she does well with milking. She’s a nice goat, not a wicked monster like Margaret. She however does not care at all about the electric fence, and Margaret will try to kill her if she is in the field, so she has to stay locked up in the stall, which she hates. The tourists at the campground a quarter mile down the road routinely report that they hear a woman screaming for help. It’s Maggie.
There is something beautiful about being out at sunrise doing the chores. This time of year the forest is nearly lost in fog, the color just begins to appear in the sky when I start, and by the time everything is done the sun is up and day has begun. It’s less beautiful when I have to shove my way through the pallet door, push Margaret and Pee Face out of the way, and get Maggie out for milking. Margaret knows to go in the stall for her feed, but she always tried to head butt Maggie first, so sometimes I grab her by the horns and drag her away. Maggie knows this is coming so she runs out of the stall as fast as she can to where Pee Face is waiting to breed her (never mind that she’s been out of heat for weeks). After I wrestle him off her I can lead Maggie to the milk stand.
She doesn’t really need to be led, she knows food is there. As I fasten her collar to the stand I reach out in the dark to pat her and lay my hand straight in a streak of dark brown chicken poop (the worst variety of chicken poop). I wipe it off on some hay, which possibly just makes it worse. The chickens roost in the rafters of the barn, and like to eat dog food off the porch which makes their poop runny and extra horrible.
Ultimately it’s just poop. It’ll wash. Once Maggie is eating I sit down beside her to start milking. In chicken poop. They pooped on the milk stand. There’s no point in getting up to wipe it away so I just sit in it and start milking.
It’s still early. I can barely see to the forest surrounding us. Maggie is still a black hole in the grey tones of the barn. Not yet halfway finished hot wet stuff from the rafters lands all down my skirt, and then again. I’m going to kill the chickens.
It just keeps coming, a never emptying chicken. It’s too dark out to scare them by yelling at them (they’re still turned off for the night), and I have nothing to throw. By the time Maggie is empty I just unfasten my skirt and walk back to the house without it.
Yes, goats are great. My coat smells like Eugene pee. My daughter thinks goat poops are squishy marbles (I think she ate one). Maggie wakes me up at night more often than my newborn. Hay is $5.00 a bale right. They won’t eat any of it they’ve laid on, and they’ve laid on pretty much all of it. Margaret will only let me touch her if she thinks there’s a treat in it for her. Eugene has more pee on the outside of him than the inside, and doesn’t understand why I’ve stopped hugging him.
But sometimes when the world has become too much I go out to Maggie’s stall, sit down in the hay by her and tell her all my secrets, and she presses her head against mine and says “I don’t know why you’re talking to me, but I’m sorry you’re sad.” Margaret lets me sit next to her and scratch behind her pitiful excuse for ears. It’s my redeeming quality in her eyes. Eugene and Della still have a special relationship. She feeds him grain, and afterwards he rears up on his back legs in all his buckish goat glory and then drops back down for a head scratch without headbutting her into oblivion.
They’re gross, and tiring at times, but when children come to visit our little farm they say “this is the best place ever, let’s go pet the goats!”