With a challenging December behind us and the rest of the winter ahead, the most important thing to remember seems to be: Stick together. Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten comes to mind.
Number 13: “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” Is this what flocks and herds — bird flocks and sheep flocks and goat herds—instinctively know?
With the snow and cold and ice gripping us through most of the past month, I’ve had more time to spend watching behavior in the barn and the pasture. What goes on is nothing less than an example of sharing, cooperating, supporting, and respecting one another. Sticking together.
Farmers seem to have a natural stick-together instinct: a spirit of cooperation, a helping hand, support when you most need it.
This morning I woke up with the intention of checking a few things off my list of stuff that seems to get longer rather than shorter with each passing day. Plans. But then I walked out to the barn at daybreak. I plugged the cord for the barn light into the socket (running new wiring so the lights turn on with a switch is on my list) and took my usual walk around the stalls to give my caprine charges their morning hugs. Sea Princess greeted me with a wagging tail.
Goats wag tails for a lot of reasons. With Barnie, it’s just because he’s Barnie. He can’t seem to help it. But with the girls, a tail wag can mean — and in this instance, for Sea Princess, seemed to mean — it’s time to go for breeding. This would be fine if Sea Princess hadn’t already been to see Mr. Neptune this season, twice.
As I’m learning, you may make plans, but goats have plans of their own. I made a call to Seabreeze Farm, and after Brian and I chatted, Sea Princess and I took a ride over. She enjoys the car ride and always lies down, viewing the passing countryside as we wend our way up the peninsula 15 miles then drive down the other side of the river, where Seabreeze sits almost at the end of another 12 miles. It would be quicker by boat.
Skipper was excited about our arrival. He is Brian’s new buck, born last spring. He just happens to be my Frannie’s younger brother. We proceeded with the usual bringing of Sea Princess into the space and waited for nature to take its course. It didn’t. We waited some more. Nothing. After an hour of watching, Brian and I concluded that “it ain’t happenin’.” The only thing to do was take the wait-and-see approach and hope for the best next month. Sea Princess is my one challenging girl when it comes to getting pregnant.
Brian and I did some catching up. I visited with Millie, a bottle lamb born last spring; Mazie, a 16-year-old ewe now living in the barn since age has left her coat with too little lanolin to keep warm through the winter; Sammy, the wethered ram with the most gorgeous coat you’ve ever seen because he’s never been outside. He’s afraid of sheep.
Meanwhile, Sea Princess and Skipper were visiting on opposite sides of the stall, touching noses, rubbing heads together. Brian and I watched as we chatted. At one point, we both noticed that Sea Princess seemed to be a little more at ease. Brian opened the stall gate, and the deed was done. Pillow talk.
While us humans had decided how all of this was going to go, the goats had other plans. In the spirit of communication (theirs not ours), cooperation (theirs not ours), and respect (theirs not ours), and on their own time, we’re hoping we’ll have a tiny miracle next May as a result. Or not. That’s goats.
All I could think of was how fortunate I was to have a farming friend who took the time to chat, enjoy some moments of friendship, and let nature take its course. I’m sure Brian had other plans for the day. I know I did. But in sticking together rather than rushing off to what may have seemed to be more important, larger plans may be in the works. Or not. I’ll know in 21 days if I see more signs from Sea Princess that she’d like another ride in the Volvo.
When we returned home, Sea Princess hopped out of the car. I opened the stall gate for her, and Dollie, the herd queen, came over and greeted her. They both stood together with heads down, eyes closed. Welcome back. A simple gesture. Sticking together. Support.
I’m looking forward to another year of living with these gentle beasts. I’ll be enjoying our kindergarten in the barn and pasture, staying out of the way of things that would run me down, sticking together with and holding the hands of the ones I love. I wish the same for all.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the Earth.
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