The Goat Gig

He’s watching me.  I’m brushing Sage (He-Who-Reared-Up-At-Me-Again-This-Week) and the Bearded One keeps coming in and out of the barn, making sure Sage behaves.

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I’m so new to this goat gig, I know nothing.  I accept the Bearded One’s protector personality and I accept the responsibility of monitoring my own cavalier-tending attitude toward capricious wild animals and I am uber-careful and will not keep brushing Sage after he turns and looks at me.  And in exchange the Bearded One will not mention getting rid of Sage again.

Earlier this week, I was brushing our biggest Pygora goat Sage in the upper pasture when he gave me the eyeball and body language that he didn’t like where I was brushing anymore, but I didn’t quit soon enough because he carefully backed up, then stood on his hind legs and challenged me to a whacking of horns.  It was affectionate and playful, despite the situation.

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Still, among goats, that rearing up is a very short-term prelude to charging ahead and ramming something.  Other goats, barn walls, people.  They can do it way gently or way hard.  I yelled at him to get down, which he did, but the Bearded One saw the whole thing and said, “We might have to get rid of Sage.  Gotta put a stop to that.”

I agree that a solution must be found, but I also know that I was more in control of the situation than the Bearded One credits me for.  And I was untouched.  Still, in a love relationship you take care of yourself at least partly because of and for the other, and my other is concerned.  His own mother was rammed hard by her own billy-goat when she was 80.

He keeps checking on us.  At least that’s what it seems like he’s doing.  There he goes again.  Probably making a crate to transport Sage back to Vashon Island, I think.

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I’m using the new tail-and-mane brush we bought at the feed store.  Sage’s creamy fleece floats above his thick brown guard hairs like foam, and my job is to brush it out so we don’t have to shear him.

Shearing would require buying or renting equipment and restraining the goats, or hiring someone to do it, and since the goats shed their fleece anyway, and since it’s still freezing some nights, we’ve elected to just brush it out.  Then wash it and maybe stuff pillows with it.  Or learn to card and spin.

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We have a good bunch of it this year.  We started daily brushings when we saw them rubbing it off on the fencing.

I pull another inch-thick patty size chunk of Sage fleece from the brush tines and add it to the pile.  And continue brushing.  And pondering my relationship to the goats, how to embrace them without embracing them.

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Both the Bearded One and I brush all three goats now, but Pearl is partial to the Bearded One.  Sage can’t stand to see Pearl being brushed — he can’t stand to see LaLa brushed either — he charges over and butts them out of the way.

So the Bearded One carries a walking stick with him when he brushes Pearl.  He’s never struck Sage with it, he just holds this 5-foot pole in one hand and Sage doesn’t approach.  “He respects the stick,” says the Bearded One.  Which amazes me, but it works.

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Sage’s eyelashes are so lovely and long.  I think of him as my buddy and companion.

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As I brush, I want to show affection to him like to a dog or cat.  Not kissing, though.  I haven’t kissed LaLa since I promised I wouldn’t — over a month now.  Sage turns and stares at me with his square pupils.  That’s enough, he’s saying.

I follow him out of the barn, carrying the pile of feather-soft fleece in a plastic bag to take to the house and clean.

And that’s when I see what the Bearded One’s been doing when I thought he was checking on me.

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Setting up to pour concrete as a finishing cap on his latest goat toy, the four-ramped Goat Gig.  There’s not much chance of Sage leaving any time soon.

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12 responses to “The Goat Gig

  1. Awesome Goat Gig!!
    As to Sage’s behaviour, it helps to remember how animals establish a hierarchy if left alone; and they always do! Sage needs to know that you (and the Bearded One) are the Top Goats around the place. If he were mine, I would have a brushing station (likely a platform high enough so I didn’t have to stoop to brush; this is also good for milking platforms), I would lead him there, tie him (and you will need sides so he doesn’t ‘throw’ himself off the side if being resistant, which he likely will be at first. Then I would give him a small amount of grain or other goat treat in a pan. After a few days of this, I would hold the grain back for a few minutes of brushing; if he stands quietly, then give it to him. Extend the time day by day. If he rears up (or tries to), remove the pan for a minute or so. In other words, reward the behaviour you want repeated and you will have more of it. Doesn’t hurt to use a command to ‘get down!’ or the like if and when he does rear up. Lovely or not, rearing is a threatening posture and you don’t want to encourage it. Being rammed hard is NOT good! which you obviously know already. I’ve had a few aggressive animals in my time and once dominance is established, things have always gone well between us; maybe with a wee refresher course if the behaviour recurred. Well, hope that helps a bit. I think training animals to be non-agressive toward humans is doubly important when there are children in the picture, even if only occasionally.

    One thing to consider with some animals; some behaviour is not aggressive, even though it may result in serious injury; a horse that rears, for instance, may do so from fear. They can be trained differently from an aggressive animal.

    ~ Linne

    • Wow, thanks for the great help, Linne! I read this outloud to the B.O. and he thought it excellent advice, too. We’re on it. One of the things I love about farmletters, like you, is the lovely helpful offerings of experience without even a hint of “knowing it all.” Much thanks. 🙂

  2. I am wondering if Earl was a goat in a past life now! I can brush him… he loves it but suddenly he will shake himself and give me the eyeball and walk off. “Enough grooming woman!” is the unsaid message ;). I love that the B.O. protects you like that and even though he wasn’t really hiding behind a tree to jump out at sage at a moments notice (crate fully addressed at the ready 😉 ) he was giving Sage an “out” for all of that excess energy…a place to stand up above the rest to give him that elevated status that he feels he deserves without having to resort to head butting humans. I hope spring it treating you well, I think autumn has decided to give us a taste of Olalla as it’s very cold here lately. From stinking hot to very cold in a matter of a month takes a bit of getting used to! We are starting on our big veggie garden and I found an article about hugelkultur that showed me how to layer lots of branches to minimise how much soil/leaves/hay we are going to need to build said garden beds which made me “WOOT!” with joy (under my breath as the boys are all still fast asleep…it’s only 5am! 😉 ). By the way…can I borrow the B.O.’s stick? “Chicken” and “Stock” have started to crow when I get up at 3am and I think they need to “respect the stick”! 😉

    • I believe Sage has spring fever, no doubt about it. The goats want to take their coats off during the day and bundle up in them at night. It’s still near freezing here and with this full moon and clear days, I think Sage would howl if he could!

      I’ve read about that hugelkultur method and I like it, too. We did no-dig potatoes this year which isn’t exactly hugelkultur — no decaying tree trunks and and branches underneath — but we did mound and layer for minimal/no watering. The gal at the feed store where we bought the straw we needed is doing this no-dig thing, too.

      Cheers to you as you tame your roosters. 🙂

  3. Christine Widman

    I so appreciate reading about the interaction of animal and human on the farmlet that you share with us on your blog.
    As you and the Bearded One know, I am not a petter of any animal, except my own dogs (cocker spaniel as a child and my Afghan Hound as an adult), the cats I had as an adult, and some cats of friends.
    I don’t have a natural affinity for animals as you, Keith, and Dennis have. I’m leery.
    So…
    I am in wonder at the Bearded One’s astute stick stance with the goats.
    I am “wow…great idea” after reading Linne’s goat grooming suggestion.
    I am heart-touched by your awareness about and tenderness toward your whimsical, charming Lala, Sage, and Pearl.
    Thanks for the little moment in time when – while reading your blog – I can be a perceptive petter of goats and chickens and dogs. Ahhhhh.

    • You are so welcome, Christine, and thank you for the cheers. I’m shocked that we are able to pet these goats at all — they aren’t “tame” and it’s been the B.O.’s patience and consistency that has gotten us to this point. I’m learning what Goatness is, how it’s not humanness, and how we can safely connect. I’ll think of you next time I pet Sage. 🙂

  4. No, Christi, I definitely don’t ‘know it all’ . . . but I’ve done a bit and read a great deal more, plus I think all the time, about nearly everything. So I usually have an opinion to offer. Glad you know it’s just that; I like to share what I know and my friends know to take what’s useful to them and ignore the rest. Not everything is for everyone.

    I’ve had success with a few difficult animals; dogs, racehorses, riding horses, goats, etc. I like the challenge of working with them and seeing the problems go away (or at least become manageable). So thanks for letting me share my two bits worth. 😉 ~ Linne

    • You know a heck of a lot, Linne! Your help is very welcome and I hope you share it with us frequently. 🙂 You are a true farmletter, always learning and willing to share nuggets. Thank you.

  5. Thanks, Christi. I love to share information and don’t expect every bit to be of use; it’s a sort of buffet thing; look it over, take what suits and leave the rest. Makes me happy to contribute in some small way; happier still to see the culture I care about going on into the future. So I thank you, too! ~ Linne

  6. While I hesitate to tell anyone what to do with their property, I am not at all above begging. Oh please, mighty farmlet co-ruler, make full use of such a fiber! I could teach you to card, spin and dye (a little). Or, you could ship me the cashmere and I’ll MAKE you pillows out of it! (woven, knitted, what have you.)

    I seem to remember from a previous post that you had trouble getting into knitting because it didn’t feel practical? Pillows are easy and practical to knit/weave (or, at least as much so as they are to stuff ;)), and you wouldn’t have to lock away all that fleecy softness inside a case!

    Even if your goats are producing a lower level of fiber (and it certainly doesn’t sound like they are), as long as it feels good in your hand, you could make some GORGEOUS (and potentially comfortable!) things out of it.

    Whatever you decide, I can’t wait to hear about it. I know it’ll make for an entertaining story!

    • Hi Erika, and thank you so much for this comment! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. Your comment inspired me — along with an email from another commenter on this particular blog, Linne, which I received almost simutaneously! — to actually start sorting the fleece and pulling out the big hay and debris. I have learned to brush it out of the goat first, before serious fleece brushing because it is near impossible afterward.

      And I have 3 gallon ziplocks full of Sage’s tan cashmere which are relatively debris-free. It is soft as butter and smells a bit of goat, in a good way.:) And I’ve just begun! Pearl (white cashmere) and LaLa (black mohair) aren’t shedding yet, and Sage is barely half shed.

      I’m not sure why I can’t get into knitting. I’ve tried multiple times, but I do love the fleece and am inspired to create something. Even if that just means getting it off the goat and to the artisians like you! I’m going to start experimenting with washing it, AND I would LOVE to send you some bags-full! Maybe you could FB message me your snail mail? Hugs, Christi

  7. Yay! I’m so glad to hear that you’re working with it! I must say that I don’t envy you the sorting though. I’ve worked with raw sheep fleece, and that’s icky! I might go out on a limb and say that the lack of horse poop in your fleece is an advantage though….

    I wouldn’t call myself an artisan (nicer sounding than addict though) but I’d be GLAD to take some of that fleece off your hands! I’ll get in touch with you on facebook for sure! 😉

    Thanks for getting back to me! I love how friendly your blog is.

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