Tag Archives: Pygora goats

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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Fresh Apple Bark

The Bearded One has been troubled this week by the prospect of pruning the top off of our Spartan Apple tree, which is full of little green and pink buds.

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I’ve watched from the window as he’s studied it, taking pictures from every angle with plans to send them to tree specialists on-line.

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“All I want is to walk around the tree and pick the apples,” he says.  He is very serious.  “I could really mess it up, stunt its growth.”

I can’t believe the big deal he’s making over this.  There are two 6-8 foot branches sticking straight up beyond the reach of Goliath, and every intuitive cell in my body says to just cut them off, the tree will be fine.  “Just cut ’em off,” I say.

He then explains the octopus shape he envisions, that it’s just a 4-year-old tree, that he’s not ready to cut yet.  It doesn’t get enough sun here to be super hardy.

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I am a natural cutter and trimmer.  When I head into the yard, I grab the hand pruners to cut some huckleberry or salal for the goats.  I am the one who usually mows.  I trim my fingernails regularly and I use my kitchen scissors almost as much as my knives.

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The Bearded One is a digger, and goes for a shovel or pick every time.  He likes to dig and plant and build and is a whiz with the hose, lassoing it down calmly into the grass.  He doesn’t like to cut anything, though.  He wants it all wild.  He needs lots of reassurance.

If I even mention the possibility of cutting my long hair, he says he will cry in the night.  Likewise for perms.

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He himself hasn’t had a haircut since we got together in 1996, and he hadn’t cut his dark brown hair for a couple of years before that, when he left the law practice for good.  The kids, who were ages 6, 10, and 13 when we married have known him only as a long-haired hippy.

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And now he’s a goat-whisperer, gray-haired hippy, the only person on the planet who can actually pet and brush the wild goat Pearl.

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All three of the goats’ fleece is as long and thick as it will get, but it’s still freezing some nights and they need those coats for another couple of months.

The Bearded One patiently brushes each goat every day with hopes that we never have to sheer them, that we can just pull the fleece out with a brush as it sheds.  I like that idea, too, but mainly because I don’t want to restrain them.  I’ve read that it’s possible to pluck Angora cashmere and mohair fleece.  We’ll see.

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If we do nothing, they’ll just rub it completely off by endless scratching and shoving against the fence.

Before I have a chance to download the apple tree photos, I look out the window again and see two long apple tree branches displayed on the grass.  The Bearded One waves happily for me to come and see.

“What happened?” I ask, and step out on the deck.

The Bearded One is so pleased he doesn’t seem to even remember the tree consultant idea.  “I saw Lou on the road and he said to just cut ’em off.”  Lou has a nice orchard.  He knows stuff.

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“Yay!” I say, relieved that he is relieved.  And then I notice all three goats peering down the chute to the lower pasture, watching the Bearded One carrying around fresh-cut apple tree trimmings.

He holds them up and waves them at the goats.

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They have superb eyesight, and it’s the Kentucky Derby in an instant.  Down the chute they race for all they’re worth.  Anything for fresh apple bark.

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I stroke Sage lightly across his long top hairs.  The brush is an old one of our younger daughter’s, black and square and with plastic quills.  He freezes like a chicken suddenly on guard.  I’m talking easy to him.  His back skin ripples.  A million years of evolution tell him to run like hell, but this semi-wild animal silently begs for more.  Four-inch fleece can itch.  But it’s not about the itch.  It’s the interaction.  He is riveted with the newness of it.

Down his spine and then across the wide sides, shivers of pleasure shoot up and out the curled horns.  Sage is skittish, but he allows touch, even encourages it now, thanks to the Bearded One’s patient training.  But I’m here to tell you, he is not tame.  Sage, I mean.  Come to think of it, neither is the Bearded One.

This farmlet is the very lap of domestication.  We hardly ever leave home.  In a recent visit from my California brother and his daughter, we ate homemade jam from homegrown berries on cornbread made from home-grown corn which we dried and ground, and fried chicken that we raised from chicks and harvested, and washed it all down with our mountain spring well water.

And how’s this for domestication?  The Bearded One installed a string of dim but brightly-colored Christmas lights in the barn rafters to help watch over the goats on these long dark winter nights when it’s dark at 4:30pm.  They’re on a 4pm-10pm timer, the same as the chicken coop light telling the hens’ tiny pituitary glands to keep on making eggs.

Sometimes we reek of domestication.  I just cleaned out the urine-soaked hay from the barn floor as the goats looked on.  They’re always scratching.  I can’t let their bedding get yucky at all or I’m just inviting lice.  And now I’m brushing Sage, but taking very little for granted.  He can whip those horns around so fast you see the bruise for weeks.

Still, right here in my hands is the genetic leap of domesticity.  The taming of a goat.  This need to scratch, Sage’s recent discovery of the Bearded One’s ability to deliver, and it’s like some DNA woke up.  You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  Domestication is evolution — change at the genetic level through the selection process — but I believe there’s some kind of love in the mix, too.  Trust-flavored love.  Domestication just works better with love.

Love and nesting instincts are busting out all over the farmlet, and it’s not even spring.  This month, our elder daughter became engaged, her stepsister also became engaged, our younger daughter the Nurse (and the former owner of the goat brush) and her boyfriend declared their love for each other, and our son has met someone he really likes.  It’s not a coincidence that he sported a new “modern haircut” — his own tongue-in-cheek — when he was home for Thanksgiving.

I brush through Sage’s fleece while LaLa looks on.  He can’t interrupt Sage’s grooming session, but he stands ready for his own.  Pearl is the only holdout, and neither the Bearded One nor I can get closer than a hasty nose kiss on a fingertip.

We hear the gate click behind us and Sage runs for his life.  “It’s a good day to be a goat,” says the Bearded One.  He’s just pruned the apple tree, and between the autumn supply of apples and cabbages and pumpkins, the goats are happy.  They thunder down the chute, enjoying the sound of their own wild hooves.

Something To Crow About

A black shadow crosses over me.  It’s early, I’m sitting in my rocker sipping coffee, and I look out the window into the cloudy Midsummer morning.  What are those crows up to now?

Ah, I see it, between the hoop house and the former strawberry garden, plucking the guts out of a mouse I saw Garfield kill.

The actual word for a group of crows is a murder of crows, and a small murder swooped onto the farmlet this month and has stuck around.  According to myth and lore, crows are all about seeing the magic in life.  They stir things up, and insist that you notice the coincidences, the serendipities, the mischief.

The crow sees me stand up and flys away with half of the mouse carcass.  It lands on the lower pasture gate, between the two fake Great Horned Owls we installed earlier this spring after an eagle might or might not have killed Blackie the Chicken.  Owls are a crow’s biggest predator, but these smart, magical crows know plastic when they see it.

The crow launches and flaps up the hill to the corner of the goat barn roof, drops the mouse and leaves.  This makes me laugh out loud.

I date the crows’ arrival from the cooked wishbone I discovered 3 weeks ago in the goat’s water trough — surely a magical sign heralding the arrival of the 32 Cornish Broiler meat chicks we are raising to eat.  Crows are omnivorous, too.  The crows are watching us raise these chicks, and all is going remarkably well.

Two week old Cornish Broiler chicks.

No deaths and the chicks now, at two weeks old, a quarter of the way through their lives, are huge and resemble ostriches with their large legs and feet.  The Bearded One likes to say they’re bred for their drumsticks.

They run and semi-fly around the new, bigger brooder when I come into the hut to fill their feed tray.  They are voracious eaters.  We refill their food tray a half-dozen times a day.

The crows hang around the goats a lot.  At first I thought the crows were here to glean the goat’s fleece for their nests.  It was a big surprise to us that the goats shed at all.  I thought they had to be sheared, or the fleece just stayed on the goat forever.  But no.  They shed it and rub it off on the fence where I have gleaned a bag full, which I’m going to try to sell.

The likelihood of a buyer seemed remote at first — it’s such a messy, dirty tangle — but all of a sudden I’ve heard of several people, including a woman who owns a knitting store up in Port Gamble, who might like to buy it.  Or at least will know what to do with it.  I feed the goats their dry cob ration and hay and head back to the house for a morning of inside work.

Later in the afternoon, I’m weeding and the Bearded One is up in the just-finished meat bird pen putting tools away, when the crows start screaming at each other.  “E — E — E— E —E!”  Short, staccato bursts of noise.

New meat bird coops. No roosts.

I read that crows are in the songbird family because of their voice box structure, but they don’t actually sing.  That’s an understatement.  They caw loudly.  Up and down the scale, all the while focused on that “E” sound.

The Bearded One and I both stop our work and listen.  “E — E—E—E —E!”  Back and forth it goes, on and on.  Urgent.  The Bearded One says, “ChimpanZEES in the TREES!” and I laugh hard.  He’s right.  It sounds just like an excited Cheetah in the old Tarzan movies.  We return to our tasks.

It’s been cloudy all week, the weeds are thick, and I’m starting to inhale the evening bugs.

“Do you want to see a sight?”  It’s the Bearded One calling to me from the barn.  I don’t hesitate.  What have they done now?

The Bearded One is pointing at something on the ground next to the goat’s water.  The goats stand nearby.  They don’t want it.  I open the gate and try to absorb what I see.  It’s whitish and about an inch wide and six inches long.

“Fresh bacon,” he says, and I realize he is right.  Clean, raw, right out of the package.  I couldn’t make this up.  I am enchanted.

“We’re saved!” the Bearded One says.  “Manna from heaven.  There’s something to crow about.”

What Does Chirp Mean?

“There’s a dead one right there.”  The Bearded One jokes as he points to a sprawled-out, week-old Cornish Broiler chick, its head beak-down in the pine litter.  Another chick plows into the dead chick, who wakes instantly and staggers to the waterer.

“Nope, I say.  “Still 32.”  In these past six days we’ve seen countless resurrections.  We’ve also been warned that we’d lose some.  So far all are still happily alive.

Our nurse twenty-something daughter giggles as she cuddles a fluffy yellow chick in her palms, letting the long legs hang down. “This is so relaxing,” she says. The three of us have just finished dinner and are now out in the hut huddled around the brooder.

One week old chicks

“Just another 10 second nap,” says the Bearded One.  The chicks have probably tripled in size since they arrived last Thursday morning.

They were two days old, and the biggest were the size of tennis balls.  Identical fluffy yellow balls. One had been pecked a bit, but was totally viable. They’d been shipped, and they felt it.  They drank and ate and napped as fast as their little essences could cycle through their life’s activities.  Alive!  So much to do.

Over the weekend, we filled their feed tray several times a day and changed the small quart waterers to a single big one.  A couple of chicks had wet poop stuck to their butts, which they were pecking at, so I wiped them with a warm paper towel and rubbed on a little Neosporin where it was pink and sore.  Which Momma Goose told me to do.

“Your sister asked me a good question,” I say.  “If all the chicks were born on June 12, was there a different mother for each egg?”

The nurse coos at the fluff ball in her hands as I jabber egg facts:  a hen can have just one egg a day; fertilized eggs incubate for 21 days, but the start date need not be the laying date if the egg is kept cool but not refrigerated for up to 10 days.  It takes a few days to fill your incubator, or for a hen to collect a clutch before she starts sitting. “Probably since these chicks came from a hatchery, they have different mothers,” I conclude.

“Hansel and Gretel have got to see this,” she says, referring to our neighbor kids.

“I already invited them over,” I say.  “Batman is still recovering from his tonsillectomy, but they’ll come over as soon as possible.”

“Do they know they’re meat birds?” she asks.

“Yes, I told them we would top them in a couple of months when they were fully grown adult chickens.  I told them that these are not pets.  They seemed to understand completely, although I think their mom is right to protect them from the actual killing.  Hansel just turned 8.  He’s very tall for his age, so it’s easy to think he’s older than he actually is.”

The Bearded One is in and out of the hut, now, setting up the raccoon trap again, loading it with vanilla wafers and almonds.

Word is out in the forest that fryers are on the premises.  We already caught one raccoon prowling around the hut.  We released it 3 miles away in the forest.

Our friendly crow — dropper of the chicken wishbone in the goats’ water — has been pacing the backyard like a chicken and flying in low over the farmlet several times a day to deliver sinews and cartilage and worms into the water troughs.  I’ve watched it.  We also found the smallest egg ever in one of the nests.

Lettuce and strawberries from the hoop house, and the day’s eggs, including the mystery teeney tiny egg.

I think it’s a crow’s egg, but the Bearded One says no way.  He’s probably right, but I still wonder.

As our daughter leaves the next morning, she marvels at how all the animals are used to her now.  Ruby the dog; the 42 combined fryers and layers; and the three goats, who she says look positively groomed since shedding nearly all their fleece naturally.

Three little goats who have lost their fleece…

That is — by rubbing it off on the horse fencing.

“All except Garfield,” she says.  The cat peers at her from the deck.

“He’s holding his breath until you leave,” says the Bearded One.  We laugh and wave good-bye.

Two hours later, Hansel, Gretel and Batman, along with their mom, knock on the door.  Batman’s voice is scratchy, but he says he’s feeling better and wants to see the chicks.

The Bearded One hands a chick to Gretel and she freezes, holding it so carefully.  He teaches Hansel to pretend that he’s after one chick, then to switch at the last second and snatch an unsuspecting one nearby.

“Ha!” says Hansel, but then the chick poops in his hand.  He handles it maturely and sets the chick back down carefully.  His siblings are wide-eyed.

“What does chirp mean?” asks Gretel, smiling at me.  “Like, what are they saying?”

“Life is good,” I say.  Then I run inside and get the tiny egg for Batman.  It fits perfectly in the palm of his 4-year-old hand.  “Is this the kind of egg you can eat?” he asks his mom, his voice soft and scratchy.

“Oh, yes.  You can have that one for lunch if you want.”

“YUM.  YUM.”  Batman exalts.  “Let’s go home.”

A Goat’s Job

“We’re losing ground,” the Bearded One says when he comes in for supper.  “Can you google ‘Goat Barbeque’?”

He is still limping from his ladder work in the meat bird pen, and has been putting in long hours in the dusty barn making the meat bird coops.  Thirty Cornish broiler chicks will be here in less than 3 weeks.  But this is not what’s bugging him.

The goats have stripped off large patches of bark on three beloved, towering, hundred-year-old cedar trees in the pasture.

We’d been warned, but for the 4 and half months we’ve had them, our goats have seemed content browsing on a pile of small cut trees.  Big trees seemed safe.  For decades we’ve seen big oaks in Texas goat pastures stay unscathed.  But these aren’t hardwoods.

“It’s not their fault,” I say.  I’m as heart-broken as he is about the problem, but not as bothered by the solution.

“Yes, it is,” says the Bearded One.  “They must take goat responsibility.”  He smiles, but I can see that he is conflicted.

Goat experts say there is really no solution but to fence each vulnerable tree — which for us includes at least a dozen big cedars and Douglas firs.  The Bearded One doesn’t like that idea.  Fencing and/or hardware cloth or plastic screening is ugly, unnatural, expensive and a lot of work.  It’s no wonder he’s balking.  The Bearded One sees the givens, is irritated, and like any good goat, is exploring all the options in his arsenal.

He tried thinking like an animal and peed on the trees that were already being devoured.  I was there when he faced off to a cedar.  Leah the Rhode Island Red hen, who always wishes to be involved in any human activity, strutted between his legs.  The pee didn’t work, and neither did diluted bleach.  He’s still curious about vinegar and maybe dog poop.  Goats are surprisingly finicky eaters.

“No matter how much I pee,” he says when we go to bed,  “there’s no way I can put out enough to do this job.”

I say that we can surely give the goats away if this is just too much.

The next morning at 9am, our twenty-something nurse daughter arrives after her night shift.  She’s here for 24 hours, to recover and sleep so she can stay awake and have a normal day with her sweetie pie tomorrow, before she has to work the night shift tomorrow night.  Sort of an impossible task.  “I should stay nocturnal,” she says.  She sheds her blue nurse uniform and we do things that help her stay awake.  We walk the road.  We check on the unfinished coops in the meat bird pen.

15 Cornish broilers will sleep safely in this coop. They don’t use roosts, but hunker together on the ground.

The Bearded One says hi and limps around the coop showing us the ventilation windows.  He is feeling a bit better, I can tell, when he suddenly becomes Barry Gibb and sings out, “Oh, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a chicken man, no time to squawk.”

It’s 10 o’clock now, and the nurse is still awake.  She laughs, but then she sees Sage and gasps.  She is appalled.  Disgraceful matted clops of fleece hang from his neck and haunches and tush.  Entire sections of his body are fleece-free, but they are coarse and dark, unlike LaLa’s wavy, shiny black underhair.  In some ways, the condition of the fleece left on LaLa’s rear-end is even more pathetic.

“You could be reported for animal neglect,” she observes and we laugh.  HaHa.  “That’s REALLY hard to see and not do something.”

We both want desperately to brush them, to pluck off all the unsightly wads, but, alas, it is not possible.  One of the 3 goats will let us scratch his head and neck.  Gently.  No sudden moves or he’ll bolt like lightning.  The other 2 will barely let us scratch their noses while being fed treats.

Like the tree bark, it’s a goat thing.  Sometimes I think it’s the goats’ job in life to push us into new discomfort zones.

“A lesson in self-restraint,” our nurse says, her eyelids growing heavier.

“Let it be,” I say.

“Acceptance,” she says.  “As in, I can’t possibly stay awake ’til 5.”

We head back to the house — me to the kitchen, her to her bed.  Maybe not losing ground after all.

Sage and me

Wild Thing

Fortunately, the Bearded One is downstairs and hears the knock.  He calls my name several times, and I stop Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy, which is cranked on my computer speakers.

I peek over the railing and the Bearded Rocker smiles and whisper screams “turn that sh*t down!”  I hoot with laughter, and he answers the door.  I am not a rocker.  I don’t listen to much music — I like quiet — but I need to get wild sometimes, especially after lunch when my tummy is full.

When I find out that it’s our 8-year-old neighbor Hansel and his father come over to borrow a ladder, I’m a bit mortified and hope Hansel isn’t scared of us now.  The Bearded One assures me that our neighbor was amused and that Hansel just wanted to help carry the ladder.

Several hours later, we are up feeding the goats when the whole neighbor family returns the ladder.  The 3 kids — Hansel, Gretel, and Batman — farmsat for us last month when we went to Texas, so they are familiar with everything and, after their parents release them, they come racing up the trail toward the aviary.

“There are 6 eggs in the nests,” I shout to them, “two for each of you!”  They veer onto the aviary path and Hansel, who is tall for his age and plays first base on his baseball team, opens the gates.  They rush to the nest boxes and shriek.  Batman, age 4, manages to get the two green eggs, which he quickly deposits with his mother, before he is off to the next attraction.  Root cellars!

Batman stands beside the root cellar lid.  He wants desperately to see inside it.  Again.  It is the very essence of darkness and mystery, this 4-foot-deep hole in the hillside with a plywood lid and a rope-pull handle.  Its spell draws in Hansel and Gretel as well, and the three request a viewing.  The parents roll their eyes, but of course they want to see, too.

I pull back the lid and Batman clasps his hands to his chest in awe.  Everyone leans in to see the earthen hole, empty as Jesus’s tomb, except for some old seed potatoes that I should compost.  I bought new seed potatoes this year, and I just covered the 4-5 inch sprouts this week — to build up the soil around the plant as it grows to prevent sunlight on the growing potatoes.  Which need dark.  A hole is a sacred mystery, I think, truly awe-inspiring.

Just then, our three 4-year-old Pygora goats stampede out of the barn, bellies full of grain.  Clops of matted, butter-soft light brown fleece hang from Sage’s neck and chest.

He has rubbed off great patches of the cashmere from his shoulders so you see the shorter, coarser dark brown guard hairs.  LaLa looks just as shaggy and wild and unkempt.  They deposit the fleece on the fence and trees, about 2-3 feet up.  The fleece-line, we call it, from their endless habit of leaning heavily, forcefully, into a fence or tree as they pass by.

The crows love it.  These goats have never been sheared and aren’t “tame”; I’ve read that taming wild goats is a dubious prospect.

The Bearded One, it turns out, though, speaks goat.  He is incredibly patient and now Sage, after being here 4 months, lets him scratch his whole head and chest.  LaLa and Pearl watch closely.  We’re thinking that this year instead of tying them to a post and hiring a shearer, we might just comb the fleece out as it is shed.  If we can.  That’s actually the preferred way for cashmere since the cashmere sheds first and very little guard hair comes off in the comb.  We’re in no hurry.

“Yee-haw!” I sing out.  The goats kick up dust as they begin a Wild West show for our neighbors.  Sage rears up and then Pearl rears up and then they come down and clack horns.  LaLa jumps onto Goat Mountain, and Sage butts him off.  It’s incredibly exciting.

The kids can’t just stand and watch forever.  They are propelled by their own wild excitement to the grand finale of every visit — the trampoline.  They jump and run widdershins (counterclockwise) and hoot and holler until their parents rein them in.  Wild is good, I think.  Probably it’s necessary in order to be fully human, to feel deeply.

“Christi!” six-year-old Gretel calls to me as she steps down from the trampoline, “Look!  I lost my first tooth!”

Sure enough.  Her cheeks glow and her bottom front tooth is missing.  She is dazzled as she tells me the Tooth Fairy came, and guess what?  She left glitter on Gretel’s pillow!

I am enchanted.  They leave and the Bearded One and I walk back into the quiet house in a daze of…there’s no other word for it…love.  The wildest thing of all.

Ways To Amuse Your Goat

It’s a front page story — “If You Liked Friday’s Weather, Just Wait Until Saturday” — forecasting glorious blue skies and a high of 57 degrees.  The first sunny days after spring officially begins, and we’re all manic to spend the day outside.  The Bearded One takes an early walk and I start cleaning out the barn.

I do this once a month to keep it from getting parasites.  I open up both sides of the goat end of the barn and start raking straw into a pile.  It’s peed-on damp in places and full of tiny goat pellet poops, but it really doesn’t smell bad.  It’s goaty, which is barn pungent, animal.  I breathe it all in deep.  It smells like the inside of the truck when we haul hay home.  The sun shines through the clear roofing like a cathedral.

Goats like to watch humans work.  They stand by, bahhing and mahhhing quietly.  They chew their cud like popcorn, hacking up fresh clops periodically, and lying serenely under the cedars in the filtered sunrays.

The Bearded One opens the human end of the barn and begins assembling his tools.  He is going to make the goat ramp today, he says.

Goats are very curious and smart and, if not amused, will get into trouble.  They will get into trouble even if adequately amused, but the chances of actual escape go down if they live at Goat Disneyland.  There’s a basketball in the lower pasture should any goat get the urge to butt it around.  There’s Goat Mountain in the center of the upper pasture — a 3 foot hill with a cap of cement.  There’s two piles of logs, also in the upper pasture, great for nibbling the bark off and hopping over.

All three goats follow the Bearded One over to the upper pasture area where they watch him chainsaw traction grooves into thick rough cedar planks.  They stand back because of the noise, but are still attentive.

I can hear the chainsaw as I dump the trailer full of goat straw into the compost bin down by the hoop house.  The sun is angling to the west now, just about as full-on as we get this time of year.

I squint into it, feel the lusciousness warm my entire body, then remember the rain will be back tomorrow and pull the mower out from under the house.  It’s an antique push mower you don’t have to hurt yourself starting, and that I can use.  It’s good exercise.

The goats take a break from watching the Bearded One and watch me mow.  They don’t really love grass, though, which was news to me.  They’re browsers like deer, not grazers.  Still, they’d eventually scour our lawn like an SOS pad if no real food was around.

The sun is behind the trees as I transplant the 5 week old broccoli and cabbage seedlings taken from the kids’ room closet and its fluorescent lights and out to the hoop house.  Some of the starts are a little leggy — but not the kite strings of previous years without the lights.  It’s time to move them out, though.  I put fish fertilizer on them and they smell, and it’s light out for 13 hours now, even if it isn’t warm.  It gets warm a lot inside the hoop house.  Any direct sun will do it.

Finally, the Bearded One calls me up to see the finished ramp structure.  I see a 2-3 foot stump and a neighboring 1 foot tall stump connected with cedar planks.  A pole in the middle extends up with a plastic tray full of cracked corn attached at the top, maybe 5 feet high.

Pearl, Sage and LaLa posing by the new goat fort.

The Bearded One emerges from the barn shaking the cracked corn can and the goats stampede over to him.  He sprinkles corn on the planks, clearly showing the path the goats should follow.

But they don’t climb it at all.  They nibble the corn off.  Pearl walks underneath the longer ramp and scratches her back.  Sage gets up on his hind legs and simply knocks the tray over.  The Bearded One is clearly not amused just yet.

Goat mountain is on the far right.

“They love it!” I say, but the Bearded One wants them to climb on it.

Back at the house, I’m putting our sandwich dinner on the table when I see out the window what appears to be elevated goats.  “I can see their feet,” I say and the Bearded One rushes in from the TV in the den to the front windows.  Sure enough, they’ve figured it out.

“Sage is standing on the plank!” says the Bearded One.  “And now LaLa!  Look at that!”

I laugh, too, as I make out the movements in the distance and dimming light.  There is furious activity, a goat rodeo.  We are all fully amused.

“Do you know where our binoculars are?” asks the Bearded One.  “I’m gonna go turn off the TV.”

Seedling Rivalry

Our younger Twenty-Something daughter arrives after a particularly stressful work week.  She is also fresh from a brunch attended by many young children and babies.  “Work is a disaster,” she says, referring to her brand-new nursing job.  “And I don’t feel like EVER having babies, either.”

She is on the deck now and looks out at the farmlet and animals.  She breaths deeply.  “I love the air here.”  She turns to me.  “I need to talk just a little bit, but mainly hot tub and sleep.”  I hear tears way in the back of her throat.  Should I tell her about the baby vegetable seedlings incubating under fluorescent lights in her room yet?  Maybe not yet.

We walk up the cleared hillside to visit the goats and chickens.  The Bearded One burned a big pile of cedar and alder branches in the upper pasture, and to our surprise, the goats love to lie in the ashes.  They dig a pit right in the middle of it all.  Ash must have some cleansing quality, like a dust bath, or maybe the ash pit is still warm on their bellies.

The goats rise up from the ashes when we appear and our daughter giggles as they shove in close for some cracked corn.

They kept their distance last time she was here, but this time she gets to feel their soft lips nibble her palm.  I point out the built -in knee pads on Pearl’s front legs, how I was astonished to see the way a goat lies down by kneeling first on those thick front pads.

Our exhausted nurse wants to brush Sage’s severe neck-area dreadlocks, but I say he would never allow it.  And we can’t shear them until May, when it’s warmer.  In the meantime, we’re putting Diatomaceous Earth — a wonderful fossil flour that, like ash, is an organic pesticide — on their bedding areas and on their backs.  Our daughter approves.

LaLa then demonstrates how male goats pee, which is exactly like female goats, squatting, no leg lifting.  Which I find interesting.  “Just be grateful you can pee and poop,” says the nurse.  We all say our thanks.

Next the Bearded One heads to the area of the future meat chicken pen.  He’s got it roped off and we have 3 months to build it.  Our neighbor Momma Goose ordered us 30 Cornish Broiler chicks — $1.80 each including shipping.  We aren’t doing this to save money, but to learn the food skills involved.  The 2-day-old chicks will arrive on June 16.

“The sweet little chicks will be in a brooder in the hut for the first couple of weeks,” I say.  “That’s great,” our daughter says.  “You are so lucky to have a neighbor to ask.  Can I hot tub now?”  There is a bit of a whine in her voice.

We head back to the house.  “I didn’t even have time to eat lunch on Thursday,” she says, and then continues with the horrid story.  The working world is so wounded, I think as I listen.  She needs me to listen, and I hear the words fault and blame and responsibility and failure over and over.  I want to shine some light on her emotional state, offer some mild fertilizer to my wounded seedling.  I tell her I’ll get the hot tub ready.

She goes upstairs to change, and I imagine her noticing her closet.  It was the best out-of-the-way spot in the house for the seedling operation, which I started last week in old aluminum fruitcake pans and plastic food containers with holes punched in the bottoms and sides.

I added an inch of clean potting soil, seeds, and set the containers in four long plastic trays under four 18″ fluorescent lights.  The lights are on 12-14 hours per day, an amount of light even the hoop house won’t offer for many weeks.

I’ll turn the lights off when our daughter goes to bed, and then on again after 8 a.m., when it’s light in the room anyway.  She must sleep well, but I honestly don’t think the seedlings present a problem to that.  Still, she’s fragile at the moment.

I stick my head in the doorway.  “Did you see them?”

“You mean my roommates, my new siblings — Lettuce, Broccoli, Cabbage and Spinach?  Yes, I see them.  And it’s okay.  You can turn their lights on whenever you need to.  I’m not jealous.”

She reaches for a hug, and I hug her hard.  “My sweet baby,” I murmur.  “Not even a hint of seedling rivalry.”

Our Little Butt Heads

“Gather round,” the Goat Owner says, and from different angles in the muddy pasture the Bearded One and I and our Twenty-Something son and five of the Goat Owner’s family members — 8 of us wranglers in all — close in on the 3 fluffy little goats.  “They know something is up.”

The plan is to herd the freaked goats into a smaller pen, then tackle them individually and haul them back across the pasture to the trailer, two men on the horns and me pushing the rear, each goat braking the entire way, hooves digging in.  It works, but not before I lay out gracefully in the mud.

Pearl, LaLa and Sage — our gorgeous new Pygora (Pygmy/Angora mix) goats — were not hand-raised.  They have never been sheared.  They’ve lived their entire 4 year lives brush-clearing this beautiful 5 acre farm on Vashon Island, a short but complicated ferry ride from the Farmlet  (the Bearded One had to BACK the truck and rental trailer onto the ferry both ways.  He is my hero).

It's a complicated square dance on the ferry, some going to Vashon Island, some to Seattle, and those who can't turn around on the boat deck must back on down a narrow lane and then across a ramp.

“They’ll come right up to you,” the Goat Owner had told me over the phone.  “They’re easy to grab or wrestle, but they aren’t petting goats.”

“Like chickens?” I asked.  I have experience with not picking up chickens, then eventually picking them up, mainly when they are asleep.  I rarely grab them anymore, however, somehow content with vicinity.

“Yes!” she said.  “They’re farm animals.  They really don’t want to be caught.  They’re not cuddly.”  I’m learning this.  Farm animals aren’t pets in the sense that Ruby and Garfield are.  They’re bonded to each other in their chicken and goat ways, not to me.  No hugs, no walking the road together, no brushing their thick coats.  Not yet, anyway.

And they come and go.  Steve and Tux, our 21-week-old roosters, will be moving on to auction this month.

Pearl, LaLa and Sage were welcome to return to the neighboring alpaca and sheep farm on Vashon Island where they were born if we didn’t want them.  My role it seems is to provide food and shelter and health care as needed.  And be here.  Theirs is to be goats and chickens and provide goat and chicken type insights, and hopefully, eventually, fiber and eggs.

I want to touch these goats, though.  At least have them eat from my hand.  They did this for the Goat Owner.  Everyone says to offer carrots, which I’ve done and they haven’t approached yet.  I’m a bit sad about this.

The Bearded One reassures me.  “They’re making friendly gestures, semi-approaching,” he says, “and it hasn’t even been a week.”  That’s all true, I think.  Sage, especially, is clearly dying to get a carrot from me but he gets in trouble for it from his sister and the indisputable boss and brains, Pearl.

Our three beloved butt heads in the first snow of the year. Left to right -- Sage, LaLa and Pearl. They are constantly, literally butting heads with each other.

Sage and I have a connection because I am the wrangler who first tackled him in the muddy pen on Vashon Island last Friday.  I had him, too, my fingers deep in the gorgeous, inches-thick cashmere fleece.  And then he bolted away and I hung on long enough to flop flat in the muck.  “I looked so good when I arrived,” I said, closing the 5×8 rental trailer with all three goats successfully loaded.  The Goat Owner agreed and apologized for not having mentioned it.

That first night the goats were here, the Bearded One dreamed he set up a huge tent and the Occupy Wall Street movement came and took it over.  Then last night, just three nights later, he worked in the barn for a couple of hours, playing the radio and talking to the goats.  They hung around and watched him the entire time, each species enjoying the other.

LaLa, Sage and Pearl in their barn.

Then Pearl butted the gate.  Hard.  Like a car.  Like a car wreck.  Then she did it to the inside planking on the barn.  Wham!

I knew something traumatic had happened when the Bearded One came in.  He was diplomatic, though, and didn’t come right out with it.  Instead, he talked about the goats sticking around in the barn and Pearl finally nibbling some hay.  He called them damn-near friendly.

When he started talking about reinforcing the barn walls and making stops for the sturdy gates I knew we were getting close to what was on his mind.  “If Ruby weighs 60 pounds, them sheeps weigh 180,” he said, and then told me about the blow to the gate, which hadn’t hurt it one speck, but impressed the Bearded One nonetheless.

“The goats are going to knock the farm down,” he says.

And then we both are laughing so hard we slap the kitchen counter and have to wipe tears from our eyes.  What on earth have we done?