My first extended encounter with a goat was while I was in training at a wild animal training school. I was assigned a pygmy goat to teach behaviors to—which was a cinch because they are natural climbers and they respond to food rewards like nobody’s business.
Forty years later I bought two goats, who we named Laverne and Shirley, to help get the blackberry bushes, salal and other wild-growing flora on two sides of our property under control. (Boy howdy, did they ever! They ate so well that the neighbors said, “Turn them loose on our property: we need to be able to see the sheds again!” So I did and, like locusts, Laverne and Shirley ate their way out over the course of a single year!)
Both were adopted as young Boer goats, pictured below in reverse order… My grand nieces took some brief interest in them while they were little; only I continued to dote on them after they grew up.
Jamie and Casey McNiven with my “Christmas-Bedecked reindeer-Goats” in 2010
They were aptly-named. Shirley was as sweet as the day is long; Laverne was a comedienne, and she knew it! She would watch to be sure she got a rise out of me. She loved to do that.
Later on, a friend from Wenatchee brought two Nigerian dwarf goats to our place, Mikey and Curly. So now I had four goats, all with horns. (You shouldn’t mix horned goats with disbudded goats, or the horned goats can hurt the hornless ones.)
Laverne ruled the roost. When she started jumping the fence and getting into Jackie’s food and floral gardens, I had to re-home the goats. Since they were bonded as a herd by this time, Jackie found a couple who wanted goats and promised not to eat them, so I drove them out to their place in Graham, which was a paradise for goats. They were introduced to alpacas while I watched, and settled in well. Laverne continues to jump corral fences to this day, but the farm is well-fenced on all sides and she ends up walking into the couple’s home whenever she gets out, and is easily returned to where she’s supposed to be.
The blackberry bushes started to grow back. I suggested smaller goats. Jackie agreed to try again. So Lisa Twining Taylor and I drove to Poulsbo to pick up two female goats—a white Nigerian dwarf and a black pygmy, both of whom were believed to be pregnant by a pygmy goat who had jumped the fence and gotten in with the herd to make whoopie.
Were they ever pregnant! The woman who sold them to me said, “The Nigerian usually throws triplets; the pygmy usually throws twins.” So for $150 we were about to become the eventual owners of a ready-made herd of small-breed goats. Lisa was thrilled: goat milk at last, after years of being without it! She said after the babies were weaned, she would milk the Nigerian…
But both goats were wild as marsh hares. The Nigerian—who I renamed Maggie because she was acting entirely too much like the Princess she had been called for her entire life—and Jasmine (Jazzy) hadn’t been hand-raised—the woman who had owned them didn’t take to “goats as pets”—they were strictly livestock and a way to make extra money—so we weren’t sure they’d ever tame down enough to be pets, let alone to be milked! But we knew their babies could be hand-raised and tamed and milked, so that was our aim.
By the time their due dates arrived—somewhere between January 20th and January 31st, 2015, the former owner had estimated—I had installed a mountain of fresh straw and a baby monitor in the goat shed to make sure I would know when the first goat went into labor. Sure enough, I started hearing very different sounds coming from the shed and went out to check.
Maggie was definitely in labor. I could see that her rear end was showing the beginnings of the birth process, and she was straining.
I ran into the house to get towels and called Lisa, who lived about a mile away. (She had years of experience with goats and I wanted an expert on hand.) She came over almost immediately. But ‘almost immediately’ wasn’t soon enough.
Maggie gave birth to three kids in rapid succession. Lisa was here for two or three of them: I don’t recall now how many were already on the ground and in towels before she arrived.
Each time Maggie released one, Jasmine (her herd mate) would help clean it using her tongue. She instinctively became Maggie’s midwife while she strained and grunted to deliver the next one.
Then I would take the little guy (Maggie-the-milk-goat’s kids were all male, of course!!) and towel it completely dry.
Less than an hour after Maggie delivered her three, Jazzy lay down and delivered hers, also in rapid succession—and Maggie helped her clean them up. I was flabbergasted—triply so when Jazzy delivered triplets, too—two females and a male. In less than two hours, my herd had quadrupled from two does to four does and four bucks!
And I fell head over heels in love.
Above photos courtesy of SHARON MAE PHOTOGRAPHY
…as did everyone else who met them…
Lisa Twining Taylor with Merrill
We had to milk Maggie the first 24 hours to be sure each of the kids received colostrum in sufficient amounts to give them a robust start in life. That was a challenge! Maggie had never been milked before and I imagine she was also sore after giving birth. So I had to grab and hold her back feet off the ground while Lisa reached underneath and milked her, as she would lie down on her udder if we tried to get the milk any other way. Manhandling an already-skittish, seldom-handled eighty pound goat is no easy task, but the babies’ lives were at risk, so we had to do it.
At first we were going to raise them indoors and bottle-feed them, to make sure they tamed, but it occurred to me that as long as I handled them a lot, they would tame anyway. “Not as well as if you hand-raise them,” Lisa cautioned me.
But the moms were unhappy without their babies, and that’s what won out. I returned them to their mothers after fewer than 12 hours, who nursed and cared for them, but I stayed attached like glue for several days to make sure the babies knew I was their “other mother” so they wouldn’t be afraid.
As it turned out, this was the best plan ever conceived because when Maggie and Jazzy saw that I was loving on their babies regularly and cooing over how adorable they all were, they relaxed around me and began to come over to get their fair share of the hands-on scratching, rubbing and adoration that I was bestowing on their offspring. By the time the little ones were a month old, Maggie and Jazzy had decided that Lisa and I were A-OK and that we needed to give them as much love as we were giving their babies.
We named Jazzy’s babies Romeo, Juliet and Tillie. Maggie’s boys were named Scirocco (Rocky for short), Merrill, and Mr. Tumnus. (Casey and Jamie McNiven named Mr. Tumnus after the goat-man in The Chronicles of Narnia.) Eventually Merrill and Rocky were re-homed as our property isn’t large enough to sustain eight goats. It was a heart breaker, but their new owners offer them lots of land and lots of love, and sheep as siblings, so they perhaps got the better end of the bargain.
I love my goaties! They give me so much joy that it’s impossible to describe in mere words.