Monday, May 21, 2012


We have goats.

I spent a frantic day last week trying to get a pen ready for them, a couple of kids raised by a woman up in northern Oregon. We were supposed to pick them up in Siletz a week later, but she offered to drive them down to Eugene, saving us four hours in the car--an offer which we could not refuse. I suppose as owners of livestock, we have to get used to the animals determining the schedule whether we are ready or not.

While I was hastily reconfiguring a decaying dog run into a goat pen, the Real Doctor drove to the all-Oregon Milchgoatstravaganza in Eugene. Things went on a bit longer than expected, which was fine since it gave me more time to wrestle with wire and staples and latches. It was nearing sundown when the Real Doctor called me from I-5 with the sound of agitated bleating of two kids in the background.

Brother E. wants to know, why goats? Why this breed? Why these particular goats? and this is a good time to address the questions. Goats are good for maintaining land that you don't want to manage as forest. They eat the two nemeses of Oregon, Himalayan Blackberry and Poison Oak, in preference to other foods. Put them together with sheep, and you have a combo that (properly managed) will keep pasture healthy and productive. You can rent goats to do the job, but they're easier to own and a lot more interesting and effective than a brush hog and mower.

But why this breed? First and foremost, Nigerian Dwarf goats are not threatening. I'm new at this whole livestock thing, and the Real Doctor knows it. There are some big, stinky, mean breeds of goat out there. These are small, friendly, and downright cute. If you want, they can be used as milch goats, and they have an excellent conversion factor (amount of brambles and poison oak in/amount of milk out)--or, you can opt not to milk them, and not be subject to the grind of twice-daily milkings. We have had some cheese made from the milk of these beasties, and it made me really, desperately want to get some goats of my own and start making cheese.

Why these particular goats? Again, the Real Doctor calls the shots here. We are (with very good reason) urged to consider all humans as having value, and we are taught to not judge a person on externalities such as appearance and earnings. However, with livestock, such niceties that make human society work are disposed of, and a harsh brand of eugenics takes control. Those that live up to certain externalities live and reproduce, those that don't are at best sterilized and may find their way to the dinner table. So, at minimum, a Nigerian Dwarf goat has to conform to certain standards of breeding, and not exceed certain dimensions. The Real Doctor, who was a 4-H'er as a youth, has always had an interest in livestock genetics, and so has spent months ruthlessly judging photos of Nigerian Dwarf goats on criteria such as squareness of build, length and depth of body, udder attachment, and so on. Like a sports buff building the ideal fantasy baseball team, she is constructing the ideal herd based on appearance, soundness, and genetic diversity (and cost and availability). So, we will have goats from Massachusetts, goats from Texas, and goats from just up the road.

Which brings us back to the goats from Siletz. They've been here now a week, and are settling in nicely. We have Joella, the smaller and more aggressively friendly one
and Painted Lady, the larger and more cautious one.
These two were born in late February, so they're about three months old and about 1/2 to 2/3 of their final size. They still get some milk daily, but we're tapering off--at this point, it's as much for psychological effect as for nutritional value. They haven't quite figured out foraging, but they'll get it soon.

Today the Real Doctor and I are both kind of groggy, and the scheduling idiosyncrasies of goats are again to blame. We had to drive up to Eugene to pick up two more goats--but they were arriving from Massachusetts by air, and their flight arrived at about 11 PM. Their accommodations were comparable to those of most air travelers--they were in a dog carrier, and had only some dry pellets to eat for the entire trip. When we got them to the kerbside, we tried to give them each a couple of cups of milk. One of them took the nipple right away and gulped it all down, while the other struggled and squirmed and fidgeted and fussed and bleated (young goats, it turns out, can make a cry exactly like a peacock). Eventually she got it, and nursed with the focus and enthusiasm characteristic of any nursing mammal.

The new kids are a bit younger, and get a bit more milk. They are still kind of hyper, and like to shove and butt and get in your face when you are trying to work with them. Names have not yet congealed around them, so we'll just call them "Goat C":
and "Goat D":

So, all of a sudden I'm a pastoralist. I'm trying to wrap my head around this. I come from a long line of horticulturalists, and I am still itching to get the garden part of this property up and running. The whole business of living with farm animals--like country life, I suppose--an immersion into a completely different culture.


  1. Oh my! So exciting! I think goats are my favorite barn animal. Aren't they awesome? We raised goats when I was a kid (ha! Pun not intended!) and I can't wait until I'm out of grad school and can live in a real house with a garden and small farm. So jealous :)

    Jenny K

    1. They are certainly's like trying to understand aliens.

  2. I love the tail wagging when sucking from the bottle.

    Once you do have the garden part going, I bet you'll have to fence it lest the goats decide to eat tender lettuce rather than brambles. How can goats eat something that spiny?

    1. I'm not sure. You know the cortical homunculus picture? I bet the cortical caprunculus picture would have enormous lips. We're feeding the kids a grain mix that has umpteen different ingredients, including peas. Within a few hours of feeding, all that's left is peas. How can such sensitive lips like eating blackberries? Dunno. Dogs are have a wonderful sense of smell, but look at the stuff they like!

      All I know is that they love brambles. I've seen a formerly-bramble-covered hillside after a month with goats. It looked like it had been hit with agent orange.

      As for the garden, goats are the least of worries. We're in deer country.

  3. Aww. soon-to-be Ash was so cute then.
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