Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
By Cam Mather
Babysitting animals has not always gone well for me. When I was a kid I used to babysit for a family who owned a dog that had particularly bad flatulence. Unfortunately for me the dog insisted on hanging around me the whole time that I was babysitting. A few years ago we offered to look after our neighbour Agnes’ horse and donkey. Our paddock was empty but we weren’t ready to purchase our own “big pets” yet. The horse was elderly and suffering from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) when she got here and she died suddenly about a month after she arrived. I’m still traumatized by the memory of Agnes’ son dragging the horse out of the barn with a tractor and loading it on a trailer. But really, what else can you do with a 2,000 pound animal? Agnes was very gracious though and took it all in stride.
So when our neighbor Alyce recently asked us to look after her baby goat “Parker” while she was away, I was kind of torn. My record to date hadn’t been great. But I try to be a good neighbour and I have successfully looked after Alyce’s horses in the past. My tasks then included turning the horses out into the paddock for the day, and then getting them back into the barn at night. But Alyce is never one to do anything the easy way and her paddock is across a driveway from the barn, which means herding the horses through an open area before you get them into the confines of a fence. And if a horse were to bolt it could disappear into the woods and never been seen again. No pressure there at all.
Here’s what I know about horses. Horses will respect you if they know you’re not afraid of them. They’ll still pound you and kick you and try and throw you, but at least they’ll usually do what they’re told. But if horses know you’re afraid of them, they’ll treat you like crap. They will abuse you and not do anything that you ask them to do. And I am terrified of horses. I have never been thrown or kicked by a horse, but my selective memory reinforces my fear every time I meet someone who has. Plus at my weight of 150 pounds I figure a 1500 pound horse has a weight advantage of 10 times over me. My odds would be better as the 98-pound weakling on the beach versus a “UFC” (mixed martial arts fight to the death) fighter.
Eventually the only way I could get the horses back into the barn, across the very open and free range driveway, was to bribe them with grain. Alyce doesn’t believe in this method of parenting or horse management. Funny, it was only that once she asked me to look after the horses.
But since she knew Michelle would probably be the go to person with goat sitting, she decided to give us another shot.
Parker is about 6 weeks old and is a “dairy” goat. But since Parker is a male, he’s not much use to anyone in a goat milk operation. Alyce bought him at an auction for about $6, and then spent $40 on goat formula to feed him.
Parker is incredibly cute. All babies are cute, but Parker is particularly adorable. When you walk Parker follows you around and he doesn’t walk, he prances, and bucks and jumps. Sooo cute. Such boundless enthusiasm and joy.
He arrived Friday night along with hurried instructions about feeding him which involved getting him to suck on your knuckle first, and then moving the nipple of the bottle into place, blah blah blah which well, really didn’t register with me until we had to do it. I decided to try and get him to have a bottle before bed and he wanted nothing to do with it. I coaxed and cajoled and pleaded and bargained and threatened and he would have none of it. Eventually we let him into the house and I had him basically pinned so he couldn’t move and there was no way he was drinking from that thing. It was like those prisoner movies where they try and get the spy to talk. He was immovable. I assumed he’d be dead by the morning without eating.
We got up early the next morning assuming he’d be desperate to eat by then. But I still didn’t have any luck convincing him to drink from the bottle. I figured he’d be lucky to make it until noon. Then of course Michelle stepped in and reminded me that it’s not often you hear of infants starving themselves to death. Sooner or later, when they’re hungry, they’ll eat.
Eventually Parker began butting Michelle and she was able to get him to gnaw on her finger and managed to slip the nipple in and he was off to the races.
Goats love to climb. And jump on things. I had discovered this a week earlier at Ken and Alyce’s place. I was putting the blades back on Ken’s lawnmower with his impact drill after he had sharpened them. I’m not used to using tools which are air driven. You’ve probably heard this kind of tool at the shop when they take your tires off that make the high-speed “bizzztttt” whining noise. So Ken had the lawn mover pulled up in the air, I was on my back with the nut hand tightened on the bolt and just as I pulled the trigger on the drill, expecting it to rip my arm off, from out of nowhere some “THING” jumped on my head, and straddled my face completely covering it. As I tell this story, I was unaffected by this terrifying incident and said nothing and didn’t even flinch but Ken insists that I swore and screamed like a girl. Either way, Ken had to drop the lawnmower and visit the chiropractor because he threw his back out laughing at me. Thank you Parker the Wonder Goat. Another story for Ken to mock me with in front of his hunting buddies.
During the weekend that we were “goat-sitting” I was reminded of his love of climbing as he jumped from one wicker chair on the porch to the other. I decided to provide him with some things to climb. He particularly liked the wooden plank that I placed between two big round bales. He scampered up on to the hay bales and across the plank with death defying ease.
While Parker was here, a friend of mine arrived with his children. The kids loved Parker and he seemed pretty fond of them. They quickly learned to fall down in front of him so that he would jump on them and lick their face. I haven’t heard such squeals of joy in years. While we were in the house with our guests having juice and cookies, Parker lay down for a nap. All of that activity had worn the poor little guy out!
Parker had major attitude though. Once he discovered Michelle’s flower gardens it became necessary to distract him any time he got that glint in his eye that said “marigold lunchtime.”
But the gardens survived, as did Parker and he probably gained a few pounds judging by how well he was polishing off bottles for Michelle. So in our new “Anything for a Buck” business mode, if you know anyone with goats looking for a great “goat care” facility, we are experienced here at Sunflower Farm and have a whole series of stimulating and engaging activities to keep your goats entertained. Baby goats preferred. Bad attitude expected.