Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
No one could ever accuse me of being a runt. I’m the oldest in my family, was always the tallest in my class, and am not exactly supermodel-thin. But when I think back to that beginning scene in Charlotte’s Web, where poor little Wilbur is trying to nurse but keeps getting shoved around by all the other piglets, I can’t help but feel that I might have something in common with him, after all: I do tend to be lacking in the confidence department sometimes. That is to say, I was, until little Buttercup came along, and taught me a valuable lesson.
If Nigerian Dwarves are the smallest breed of goats, then I have the smallest of the small. Buttercup wasn’t supposed to survive. Her mother had delivered her big brother just fine, but two hours had passed since then, and her mama was obviously in pain. Her breeder had reached in during the ordeal, trying to help, but had only managed to break the sac in the process. She finally rushed her to the vet, who broke the news to her that, more than likely, he would be delivering a stillborn kid that evening. Desperate to save at least the mother, her breeder waited breathlessly as the C-section was performed. After what seemed an eternity, a little doeling finally emerged – and against all odds, she was still alive!
From that moment on, the pampering began. The little doeling was given antibiotics, bundled up, and brought home. Far from the farmer’s ax lying in wait for Wilbur, Buttercup’s breeder set up a playpen for her in the kitchen, made soft and comfy by a thick layer of shredded newspaper. When I arrived to take her to her new home a few weeks later, the breeder was in the middle of warming her bottle in a pot, just like a baby’s – and using an actual baby bottle, to boot! She told us she’d been calling her “Miracle Baby,” and proceeded to cradle Buttercup in her arms, on her back like an infant, and feed her the bottle.
The little princess soon conquered our hearts, as well. Too tiny to be left to her own devices with Rosie, our other goat, who was only one month older than her but already much bigger, we kept her in a plastic tub filled with fuzzy fleece blankets and cedar shavings. Because we were still bottle-feeding her three times a day, on more than one occasion we ended up bringing her along with us to work. My husband and I are both teachers, so you can imagine how joyously we were greeted by our students on those days. We would let her gambol about on the playground, and even the oh-so-cool high school guys oohed and aahed over her.
Soon, however, the time came for Buttercup to join our growing backyard herd. After a few short scuffles, she accepted her role as smallest Billy Goat Gruff – Bonnie was the biggest, fully grown and one tough cookie, and Rosie was the medium-sized one, sweet but not about to be below a runt in herd status. The three of them hit it off famously, and were soon inseparable.
One afternoon, upon returning home from school, we heard a huge commotion in our backyard. Our three dogs were barking their heads off, and sounded strange – panicked. We ran straight to the gate to see what was going on. Normally, our dogs had the run of the backyard, while the goats were penned separately in their own section of the yard. Imagine our surprise, then, to see all three dogs backed into a corner, barking like mad but afraid to advance beyond the three lowered, threatening goat heads blocking their path. And who was in the lead, urging on her companions at arms through her own brave example? Buttercup! I imagine she had had enough of being low man on the totem pole, and had decided to show those dogs – and her own herd – just how tough she really was.
After rescuing the dogs and doing some major goat wrangling to get Bonnie, Rosie, and Buttercup back into their pen, we surmised that, in the darkness of the early morning, I must not have latched their gate correctly, thus allowing them to escape. The dogs must have started the tussle, since their tendency to jump around usually frightens our goats. Who knows how many hours the battle had been raging when we arrived home that day? The goats must have finally decided, in desperation, to take matters into their own hands, and fight back – Buttercup, apparently, in the lead. We memorialized the skirmish as the Great Goat Rebellion of 2010, and many a bedtime story has been spun from our imaginings of what went on that day.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but since then, Buttercup seems to hold her head up a little higher. At 6 months old, and only a bit bigger than she was when we first got her, her status as runt has not changed. If you will permit me to indulge in a little bit of silly anthropomorphizing, however, I believe she has a new-found self-confidence. In observing this runt’s journey, from miracle baby to pampered princess, then from herd scapegoat to fearless warrior and rallier of troops, I can see something of my own journey. Though far from a warrior, I am also finding my way to a more confident me. Buttercup has taught me that size and status do not matter – it is courage and heart that truly make a difference, and can make even the tiniest of runts into a shining star.