I had surrendered to the wisdom of the Universe, but it gradually became apparent: these goats were still with me. I crafted a new post to the community message board, coming from my heart. Jen had been doing some thinking since my first post and was ready to have the conversation. I met with her and her husband, Kel, to explore the possibilities.
The idea of creating a partnership around raising farm animals is genius - sharing responsibility, chores, and expenses to allow both partners a lighter load and time off to travel and focus on other things, like our creative practices. I was moving into a room in town, a 9-mile drive to their land on Bone Mesa. They offered a tiny, off-grid camper for me to use when I wanted to camp close to the goats. It was a leap of faith on both sides, but we decided to move forward and commit to one year.
The three of us worked together to build a small, fenced-in enclosure to keep my kids separate at first, so they could all get used to each other before being thrown in.
It was partly for my benefit, because I admit I was intimidated by Jen’s herd at first. I wasn’t used to so many goats in a large open space, and they had a different culture of how they were accustomed to being around people. They were assertive about asking for affection and were apt to use their heads and even horns in the conversation. It was reassuring for me to have the safety of a fence between us as I was getting to know them.
Jeanne said moving the kids would be emotionally difficult. That was an understatement! We planned the move for a time when I could spend several days with them to help them adjust. We gave them Rescue Remedy and used the new collars I bought to help maneuver them into the back of Jen’s pickup. It was enough of a struggle to keep my mind off the emotional impact of the separation. Jasmine retreated to one of the shelters, refusing Jeanne’s entreaty to say goodbye to her daughters. She had been through this before. This is the hard part of the whole arrangement.
They were quiet for the ride, but once we got them out into the enclosure, they began to cry. They kept looking at me like, “We’re going back home soon, right?”
I learned from them how personalities can change under duress. Jewel, before always the loud, confident one, would only whimper pitifully and tremble. She wouldn’t eat or drink. Amanita became the louder and more outgoing one, and she wailed heartbreakingly. It turns out she is a comfort eater.
On top of the grief of leaving their mother, they were going from princesses in a small herd to orphans in a big, unfamiliar herd, not to mention being weaned cold turkey.
AND - what the heck are these three huge white predators doing milling around?!?
They had never been around dogs before. They were fairly terrified.
I put a flower essence for healing trauma and calming nerves in their water and stayed close to them as much as I could. I felt their fear and sadness as my own. I wished I could take it all for them, or at least ease it. But they had to go through it, as we all do. I once saw a tear roll down Jewel’s cheek as I gazed into their heartbroken eyes. “I’m sorry, babies. I couldn’t stop you from having to leave. At least you have each other. At least we three still get to be family.”
As the only familiar being around, I became like their mom. They would scream anytime I walked away from them and until I was with them again. The other goats responded sweetly to their cries, gathering outside their enclosure to lie down close to them. They sniffed each other through the fence. My girls were always far braver when I was with them. When the other goats would go out to pasture, the girls would cry.
I stayed with them for three days and nights. It took that long for us to figure out the sleeping situation to keep my kids safe from the mama goats and Jen’s kids safe from my slightly bigger kids. In an enclosed area they could injure each other. For the first time since the night they were born, I got to sleep with my girls. The first night was in the empty outdoor chicken enclosure where the night winds coming down from the mountains chilled us. I covered them in one of my blankets. The second night we slept in the milking parlor with Stella, the mama dog. My girls were too scared to sleep. By the third night, we were all three so exhausted we finally slept, their sweet heads nodding onto my body.
Jen built a hog panel gate across the kidding pen, so they had their own area at night, where they could see the other kids and one mama goat, but everyone felt secure. What a huge relief that first night after we got them all in their spots and everyone was calm! I went out and looked up at the Milky Way and hollered, “Thank You!!!”
At first I left them in their enclosure when I had to go to work. I didn’t trust the two younger dogs not to chase them. The pups had never been around goats who would run and thought it must be a game. Not a fun game for the goats!
It was hard for them to watch the herd go out to pasture without them, but they got to watch from a safe distance and figure out the dogs weren’t hurting anyone.
The dogs had to learn to be careful, too. These new goats were apt to use their horns if a dog got too close.
The lower-ranked goats were the ones who would chase off and try to butt my girls, to establish their superiority.
Jen’s three kids were the first to show curiosity and welcome to the two strangers, and soon they were exploring together and playing. They all have the same daddy goat, thus the spots.
I finally started leaving them out when I had to leave, and eventually if they were busy eating pasture, they sometimes wouldn’t even notice I was gone. Bit by bit I would see signs of acceptance. Goats drinking together at the trough, goats allowing my kids to lie down nearby, eventually I even saw my goats standing up to bigger goats.
They were coming to be at home in this new place.
They each had some hard times early on: one then the other had mild bloat while adjusting to their new diet, Jewel got stung on the head by wasps, and Nita got her head stuck in the perimeter fence twice in one week when no humans were around to help her. The lower electric fence is supposed to prevent that, but it wasn’t working properly. Still it was probably shocking her periodically. By the time I got there the first time, she was hoarse and exhausted from calling for help. I held her for a long time before I left that night. Now the fence is fixed, and I was actually glad to see her bump against it and jump away when it shocked her. "No more head in the fence!"
Jen once called them the two-headed goat. They were together mostly all the time back then, and seemed to find strength in each other. I was thankful for their bond; they had always been close.
Thank you, Creator Spirit in All, that these sisters could find a home together, and that I still get to be with them. This is a life-long love.
The ad I posted to our community message board:
I've been on a journey of learning and love with a family of dairy goats, and I wish to carry it forward into the next chapter of my life. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like. What I do know is two of the kids born this spring especially have my heart, and I am looking for a way to remain in relationship with them. We’re in Paonia, Colorado, and ideally we’d stay as close as possible to here. Just to be clear, I am NOT currently interested in romantic relationship.
I don’t have land. I do have a love and interest in animal-care, gardening, “sustainable living” models, and what I like to call “Village Life”. I’m looking to step forward more fully into the life I envision, connected with community and the land. Maybe you have wanted goats around but don’t want to do it alone. Maybe you have other animals and would like to set up a chore share so you can have some regular days off. Maybe you know you want a couple of goats and wouldn’t mind if I visit them and possibly help care for them. I am open to talking over ideas, mainly hoping for a place that is set up for goats (or easily done) with plenty of well-fenced pasture for them and reasonable shelter/protection from predators. (I’m particularly interested in expanding my learning about livestock guardians, like dogs.)
My idea of Village Life is an evolving conversation. Some of my influences are Martín Prechtel, Sobonfu Somé, Rudolph Steiner, Sacred Fire Community, Plant Spirit Medicine, The Continuum Concept, and the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. I’m a former Waldorf teacher, Red Tent facilitator, and collaborative experiential artist. Please pass this on to anyone who may be interested. Thanks!