Saturday, June 4, 2011

These goats are in your hands (some of the time)

Photo by Caitlin Bourassa, features goats Charlotte and Corona.

I have some anecdotes to share about our goats. But first, I will share a bit of my sketchbook from Rock Bottom Ranch. These images are all drawn from life—and our animals are moving targets, a challenge for the artist.

Delilah the goat has joined Laura Jean the pig in a proud procession of Rock Bottom Ranch mothers. Delilah's birth-giving was comparatively painless. She delivered her two babies without hitch or tangle. Then she delivered the placenta, which we composted before she had a chance to eat it. (Goat mothers occasionally choke on the afterbirth.) And with the placenta gone, she could focus on her new younglings, whom she watched, licked, nursed. We named the babies Athena and Apollo. They have grown fast in three weeks. When firstborn, Athena was shaky on her feet, and spent most of her time sitting and resting. Now, she runs and jumps and frolics about the yard, alongside her twin brother. They butt heads in playful combat. (John the vet has already led us in “dis-butting” the kids once, but Apollo's horns are already growing back.) Delilah produces milk for her babies, and then some extra. I recently led children in milking her; the mother goat was amazingly patient when a sequence of small hands grabbed her teats. Soon, we can get some good cheese from Delilah's lactation.

The goats are popular among tourists and ranch hands. They are clever and curious animals. Whenever a door or gate opens, they cannot resist going to examine what lies on the other side. They are skillful in outwitting fences. If there is a hole or breach that a goat can pass through, or a gate they can open, the farmer will know in minutes. And each goat has a unique personality. Among our goats, Delilah is shy and cautious, Charlotte is inquisitive and aggressive, and Grey is an irascible old man, liable to butt his fellows with his horns at the slightest provocation. However, Grey mostly gets along with his sister Rosie and lady-love Corona. Corona is the matriarch of our goat herd. Where she goes, the others will follow. (With the possible exception of Deb, who is mostly friendly, but quite independent.)

This week, as part of staff training, we brought Corona and Charlotte for a walk up down the Rio Grande trail and up a juniper-covered hill. The aging Corona (who is Delilah's mother and Charlotte's grandmother) panted and puffed on the way up, but still used her hooves to efficiently traverse the rocky slope. On the way back, Corona determined that she wanted to reach the hill's base in the swiftest possible fashion. I remarked that Corona was “falling down the hill and taking me with her” as I strained on her leash, and scampered to keep up with her downhill trots and jumps.

This past Friday at Rock Bottom was a challenging day. We pushed to get the ranch looking slick and shiny for a special dinner event involving special guest Melissa Coleman, and many noted members of ACES and Roaring Fork Valley communities. I volunteered for lawn-mowing duties, only to discover that both lawnmower and weed-whacker were out of order. And so I reconnected with one of my favorite hand tools—the “golf club” or weed cutter, which one swings like its namesake to slice through plants. After I had hacked for a bit, a comrade suggested that mowing would be accomplished more readily by goats. Following the suggestion, we led the goats to the yard and kept them there. Through the process, only Corona needed a leash; the other goats would not venture too far from the matriarch. Typically, goats are voracious herbivores. But when we brought them over to the yard, they did little grass mowing. Instead, Deb and Corona munched on a shrub while Grey and Rosie just wandered around, particularly in the driveway where they were a hazard to the pickup truck, as it went back and forth on supply runs. We returned the goats to their pen, and I returned to my weed-smacking workout. Like cats or three-year-old children, goats have their own agenda. Luckily, most of them (but not Grey) are friendly to young humans and enjoy a good pet. In that instance, they do make our jobs easier.

As for the yard, I accomplished what was needed by hand, and then lent my hand to comrades. Collectively, we accomplished all else. The Coleman event was a success.

Flash, a goat kid who was on loan to us until recently, accepts grass from a human kid.

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