It’s been almost a year since we first took “ownership” of our two goats. Of course, any interpretation that one could ever own a goat is quickly shown to be fiction. They are their own creature, and can play you as well as any animal that I’ve met. It has been a year full of learning, self-discovery, fun and tears, bruises and cuddles.
You may have read previously that we took two pregnant does from our gorgeous farmer friend Tonino back in December. One was already fairly tame, the other was used to living freely, her only master being Big Billy. Eunice settled well, but Hearty never did, probably causing her miscarriage in January. So, once Eunice was happily with her kids after their birth on March first, we took Aunty Hearty back to Tonino’s farm.
The kids. What a treat. Three beautiful bouncing healthy babies, all delivered with no need for intervention… leaving me free to take photos! One of them, to be called Lucky, was rejected by Eunice after a few minutes. We managed to milk some colostrum from her (the first time I’d milked anything!) and Lucky took it from the bottle. We then continued to feed Lucky raw cow’s milk from the dairy and naturally bonded. She was my shadow and lifelong goaty friend. Or, that’s what we thought.
The internet is a fantastic resource for times like this. Yes, we had books and knowledgeable neighbours, but it’s so useful for quickly googling “how to sex a goat” to see what the stork has brought you. However, you still need to use a modicum of intelligence to remember, from the time you leave the sofa to the time you get to the goat pen, which rules are for which sex. I failed, and we spent four happy months believing that we were blessed with two girls, Lucky and Mary, and one Boy. Lucky was affectionate, Mary had beautiful black and white markings, and Boy was white. We had already decided that any male kids would be gracing our plate – we don’t have room for a billy or goaty pets – so were careful not to bond too much.
We didn’t even realise our (my) mistake until Tonino arrived to help us dispatch our “boy”. Recognising our hesitation he had thoughtully brought his eight-year-old daughter with him, to make sure we kept our stiff upper lip. Obviously under-estimated our Englishness. Anyway, from fifty paces he explained, as gently as he could, that he would recognise Mary as “her” father’s son anywhere, and that we had made a rather fundamental mistake. Sheepishly we reviewed the rather large testicles on Mary and Lucky, and I confessed that I had thought they were little udders.
It amazes me now, months on, how practicality (or English pragmatism) kicked in, and we led our beautiful Mary off to the designated dispatching area. I was a vegetarian until five years ago, mostly due to my disgust at the majority of animal farming practises. After moving to Puglia and seeing small farms and meeting people who kept a few animals, I have introduced a little meat back into my diet. When our first laying chickens were due to retire, we spent hours researching the surest and kindest dispatch process and I play my part in any slaughter. I believe that a short, clean death is a blessing, and am comfortable that our animals have a good life and a good death. Still, I am surprised (as are many of our friends) that I managed to lead Mary out of the pen that day. Lucky was smaller, and had a couple of months grace while we grew him on a bit. And with those couple of months his hormones started flowing and the sweet baby goat that “she” was started turning boisterous and I felt the end of his horns more than once.
So, now we have two goats again; Eunice and Belle (formerly known as Boy). To be honest, apart from the brutta figura of such stupidity, and the lack of early bonding with Belle, I think that I enjoyed those first months more believing that we had two girls, than if I’d been bottle-feeding and playing in the knowledge of what was coming. We’ve had six months of milking Eunice (about half a litre every morning then she fed the kids through the day) and have a freezer full of delicious meat. Six weeks ago the girls went back to Tonino’s farm for a couple of weeks to spend some quality time with Big Billy and hopefully next spring we’ll do it all again. Although maybe with a little more knowledge.