One night when I was in high school (way back in the 1960’s), my dad came home late to his version of an 18‑acre “gentleman’s farm,” and when he got out of the car he pulled a pregnant Nubian goat from the back seat. If that wasn’t strange enough, he promptly walked out to the barn to tie her up and feed her some sort of bagged feed. My dad was a city boy, and it turns out he’d won her in a poker game. (who uses goats as ante in a poker game??).
On the morning of what became the coldest night of the year, this beautiful goat delivered twins, which my father promised me when I said I was worried would be fine “because the mother knows what to do.” The next morning, I was devastated to find the kids frozen to death, and that was the end of my goat career I hoped.
That scene and the mistake I made by listening to someone who knew nothing about goats has stayed with me all of my life. It made clear to me that, if I am going to take the responsibility of taking care of a goat (or any animal), I’d better know something about how to keep it healthy, and how to help it to do its job.
Several years ago, I had the good fortune to become a member of the Ohio Education Farm and Food Association (OEFFA). At their annual conference, I heard Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation speak on the value of raw milk. It was instantly clear to me that raw milk was an important, easy food that I had the ability to provide for my family.
After some research, and looking at a number of goat breeds, I settled on French Alpines. Somewhere I had learned that it is important to work with breeds you find attractive, and I was sure I’d love Alpines. They are high-volume milk producers and gentle, inquisitive animals.
Soon Eleonore Rigby, along with her two new kids, arrived at our farm. She was a white goat (part Saanan) with a little black outlining what appeared to be a mask on her face. Her kids looked more traditionally Alpine with brown bodies and a big patch of white on their sides, and black knee‑high boots. We named the kids Tuti and Mimi.
My plan was to allow Eleonore to exclusively provide milk to her kids for the first month. Then I would separate them at night, so I could keep the milk in the morning for us humans, and the kids could nurse during the day. This plan appealed to me for many reasons, especially because I felt that the kids would have the benefit of their mother’s milk, and I would only have to milk once a day. Also, I didn’t have to worry about milking Eleonore dry, because the kids were eagerly waiting for every drop their mother produced.
Eleonore turned out to be a great teacher and practically indestructible (fortunately, since my goat‑keeping abilities needed a lot of work). As of this spring, Eleonore Rigby has moved into retirement, and over the course of all of those years with her I have learned how to be a goat midwife, a cheese maker, and a goat healer (because in the country the vets “make more money from small animals then livestock”).
Those darn goats have taught me many important things about being a partner to the universe. If I get my job right, then I can step out of the way so they can do what they do so well: make babies, make milk and provide me with lots of great antics. I wouldn’t miss working with them for anything.
Note from Annie:
Since this is my first blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I want to let everybody who reads this know that I’ll be writing as regularly as farm life will allow, and I’ll be talking a lot about goats and other farm animals — how to keep them naturally healthy and showing up for their daily jobs. Since I live in an Earthship with lots of folks visiting, I’ll be sharing some of those experiences along with writing about life’s politics, because that’s what makes this life so darn good.
If you have something to share with me, I invite you to write, and if you have kind words, I’ll especially appreciate hearing them. In the meantime, expect to hear some wild tales and homespun stories. I hope getting to know each other turns out to be as much fun for you as I’m sure it is going to be for me. Stay tuned...
Annie Warmke lives and works at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living experiment that includes the first earthship east of the Mississippi. She’s a goat herder, a writer and a skilled lover of nature. For more information on her work and books, visit www.BlueRockStation.com.
Photo by Cat Harrier