New Kids on The Block (or in our case The Farm)

(15 minute read)

Our herd and our hearts just grew larger. A few days ago we brought home four Nigerian Dwarf goats. Before I begin to tell the story of their homecoming, I must first admit that I am already smitten with these tiny kids. If I thought our chickens were friendly, I had no idea how affectionate and affection-seeking baby goats would be. It is amazing to me how fast they have bonded with me and my husband. The biggest lover, Ada, is the smallest, at nine pounds. She will hop right into my lap and nudge her pointy nose into the crook of my elbow, nuzzling with her nozzle. They all love to be pet, scratched and snuggled. It had been less than one week here, and they are all already part of the family!

Whenever I told people we were getting goats, the questions we got were, “Why? Is there a purpose? Are you going to milk them? Is it for brush and weed control? Are you going to make cheese and soap? What made you want to get goats?” The decision to add goats into our lives would make sense if we were planning on milking, making cheese and soap. That would be purposeful. But that is not why we jumped into the caprine arena. It all started last summer when we sadly had to put down Smoke. He was our old rescue horse we brought onto the farm to be a pasture-mate for Kip (the other old rescue horse who lived here with the previous owners). Kip and Smoke were fast friends. Kip got a skip in his step when we brought him a companion. It was only a couple years later that Smoke’s rodeo career caught up with him and his leg problems took a turn for the worse. It was a very sad time on the farm for our family and for Kip. He missed his buddy. Horses are herd animals. Kip was alone again. The action of the chickens nearby helped but was not quite enough.

We needed to catch our breath before adding to the herd and time to discuss options. How about a donkey? Another horse? Llama? Alpaca? Then my father reminded me of Sea Biscuit, the racehorse in Unbroken, who was calmed by a goat in the barn. That made me think. I started googling goat videos, then laughing at fainting goats. I dismissed the idea as far-fetched. Then, as it so often happens in life, goats kept cropping up in areas of my life. At a county fair I passed by the most adorable little goats in a stall and snapped a couple pictures. I went to get my teeth cleaned at the dentist and the hygienist told me how fun and funny (and easy) her goats were. With her hands in my mouth I answered her questions about our farm life as best I could, telling her how much we loved the chickens. She chit chatted away about life with her Nigerian Dwarf goats. I left there with clean teeth and goats on my brain. I came home and started searching online. Then every social media ad and content came my way about goats. I saw pictures of some friends taking a Goat Yoga class. I looked closer into the Goat Yoga place and saw they offered “Painting With the Goats” and “Wine Tasting With the Goats.” More Youtube videos and TikToks of silly goat antics. I became intrigued by what went into actually taking care of goats. We could do this.

During the fall, I watched Kip return to his sweet easy self. The agitation of change and missing his buddy had dissipated. But we’d see him alone in the pasture and he just looked lonely. So the decision was made that, at the very least, bringing home goats would entertain him and restore the herd in the barn. Our research for the best place to get our goats turned up several options. We picked a wonderful goat whispering breeding outfit three hours from here. They have certified goats with strong family lines and good milking history. Like a dating website, you can see pictures of the dams and the sires and their information. Swipe right, swipe left. The offspring of the different pairings holds different values. For people interested in breeding and milking, this information is quite important. For folks like us who just want cute (and healthy) goats we are not so picky. We knew we wanted does and some wethers.

This is when I admit that everything in the caprine world is new information for me. (Caprine means all things goat related). You can read a lot of books and watch tutorials and hear stories from your dental hygienist, but until you hold your goat on your lap at home for the first time you just do not know. That is when you learn and figure things out. I was at a baby shower the other day, and the expectant new mom was talking about the class she and the father-to-be were taking. I told her she would be fine; all the preparation you can do will help, but when that tiny baby is placed in your arms and goes home with you, that is when the real on-the-job learning takes place. With four kids in my barn (and four human kids in the world) I felt confident passing along this advice. The first few days with our oldest child at home were both lovely and nerve-racking. Does he seem hungry? Is he warm enough? Is the room drafty? Does he feel safe and comfortable? Swaddle him up tighter? What does that cry mean? Is that a normal poop? These are all questions that surfaced as new parents for us thirty years ago, as well as three days ago with our four tiny goats.

We contacted the breeder, got on the list and placed a deposit to hold our spot. Then it was the waiting game. The kids were due to drop any time in late January or early February. Our job was to get prepared: Watch many more online videos to entertain and educate ourselves, read goat books, shop for goat t-shirts, and then wait. It was winter and a perfect time to daydream about goats frolicking in a grassy pasture on a sunny spring afternoon. The work to reinforce our fences and build a goat bed in one of the stalls could wait. We had plenty of time. Then we got the call, “The kids have dropped!” We asked for three girls and a boy, but the boy needed to be fixed. This is what is referred to as a whether. While the babies grew bigger nursing from their mamas, we worked to prep the farm. We had a couple months to wait. Then it was time. Our goats were ready to come home.

We drove three hours into the western part of Virginia. The breeders’ property was in a beautiful rural area. We pulled up and she was waiting for us next to her barn. Behind her I could hear goats. Goats make a kind of Baa, Maa, and Meh-like tone. The sound they make is referred to as bleating. Braying is the noise that donkeys or mules make. Horses neigh, whinny, and nicker. Cattle moo, low, bellow, and bawl. Goats bleat. I laughed and exchanged a glance with my husband questioning what we were getting ourselves into. Then the breeder called to the goats and clapped her hands, and they came running up a bushy hill. Ours had already been separated and were awaiting our arrival. She placed a little white one right in my arms, followed by a little brown one. Then she grabbed two others and we walked to our truck. We made a little bed in the back seat and covered the floor with old sheets. They were bewildered and a little scared, bleating and snuggling together. After some paperwork and a last minute bottle to top them off before our departure, we waved goodbye and headed for home. The ride was fairly quiet with an occasional bleat. We decided their sound was like when you step on a rubber toy with a squeaker in it. They pooped nanny berries (the size of peppercorns) and peed, but surprisingly it did not smell inside the car. This was completely different than when we picked up our puppies from the breeder a few years ago; they cried the whole way home and one of them pooped before we were even on the highway. That was a smelly and loud 3 hour car ride. 

We got home and brought them directly into their stall. My husband built a raised bed and placed three stumps inside. All four hid underneath the bed. In a short amount of time they crept out and started eating hay from the feeder in the corner. They began exploring the stall and kept looking at me. We left them safely inside to adjust to their new home. When I returned a few minutes later they had jumped up onto the stumps and onto the raised beds. They bleated when they saw me, especially when they saw the bottles in my hands. Even though they have been weaned, the bottle feeding is a bonding comfort suggested by the breeder. It took me right back to the early years of parenting. They filled up and then settled down, satiated and relaxed for the first time since leaving the only home they knew. I observed their physical differences. Personalities would emerge in the coming days. 

Thomas Shelby is the boy. He is the biggest one at 14 pounds. He has a dark chocolate coat with some white markings. Then there are the two sisters: the brown one with the white mohawk is Polly and her sister Lizzie is smaller and all white. Then we have little Ada. At first glance it looks like Ada and Lizzie are sisters with their similar white coats. We tend to name our animals by current pop culture. One of our Aussiedoodles is named Summer after the direwolf from Game of Thrones. Sansa, our tabby cat was also named from the HBO hit series. It was the foster family that chose to call her Sansa (her sister Aria was adopted by a different family). Back in the 80’s we had two Shit Tzu’s named Paula and Janet (Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson were leading the charts at the time). So in case the goats’ Shelby names are unfamiliar to you, they come from The Peaky Blinders on Netflix. Naturally the Irish gangster names fit these sweet tiny goats perfectly. When speaking of or to Thomas Shelby, there will be no shortening it to Tommy. Thomas Shelby, Polly, Lizzie, and Ada come from some interestingly named Sires and Dams. There’s Whiskey Flip, Candy Porter, Flower’s Rose, Calypso Pepper and my favorite, Justalilbit. 

Over the past five days their personalities are beginning to show. Little Ada is the most outgoing, eager to be held or be near me. She loves her bottle. Ada will see me walking from the house and come skipping my direction. Baby goats skip-run in a way that looks like they are hopping along from front feet to back feet, but kind of with a sideways twist. Lizzie is almost as cuddly as Ada, but she is also drawn toward her sister Polly. They lay side by side on the raised bed. Polly was the shy one who took the longest to warm up to us. If I reached my hand out she would flit away. Today she started coming in closer to stand nearby and let me pet her. She is beautiful, and reminds me of Bambi (with a mohawk). Thomas Shelby is a character. He remained standing almost the whole car trip home. Then he never seemed interested in the bottle. Just when I was starting to think that Thomas Shelby was a tough guy, he crawled up into my lap. It turns out he is a big softie after all. All four are playful, curious, and cautious. 

Kip is keeping a close eye on them from his stall. We are introducing them very slowly. The chickens hardly noticed the goats, except that they may be wondering why I have not been sitting out with them. The dogs are puzzled by the bleating and the rambunctious tiny creatures over at the barn. We put them on leash to let them smell the goats, but are taking this introduction very slowly as well. Baby goats can get very sick from stress (and fear). Keeping this in mind, we are taking all precautions to keep their environment calm and pleasant. I would be lying if I did not share that I am a bit nervous about a large horse not trampling the tiny goats. For now, Kip seems curious and entertained. Time will tell. The safety and the health of our herd is our primary concern. 

Sunday was a glorious day of yard work, and looking over at the goats climbing on the stump playground we built and browsing in the small pasture for weeds. There are still hurdles to get over and so much to learn. But for now, we feel grateful that our herd now includes these goats. I can see why people pay for Goat Yoga. It is calming to hold a kid and run my hand across her back. I can also see how much the goats like to jump up onto a person sitting down; so it does not surprise me that goats hop aboard someone doing downward dog. Namaste from the Shelbys at Liberty Hill.

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