My second book will be published and available this month! It has been a long and laborious project, but the end result gives me great pride. My animals have taught me so much about living a satisfied existence, how to extract joy out of every minute and how to accept what is out of my control. They Teach Without Words; The Animals of Moose River Farm is a collection of stories about some of my most memorable teachers. I have carried their lessons into my classroom and into my daily life. Enjoy!
My acceptance of our aging goat Liam’s inevitable demise pushed me to a nearby dairy goat farm that produces artisan goat cheese from the one hundred fifty head that they raise. After searching all spring for suitable baby goats, I returned home with twin doelings of Nubian and Boer lineage. They were only two days old.
I had enlisted friends, Vicky and Michele, to help pick out my next generation of goats. Michele volunteered to drive my car so that I could sit in the backseat and hold my new acquisitions on the way home. Vicky sat in the back with me to hold the other tiny goat. Frequently, we switched the babies back and forth. By the time we arrived home, we had christened them Audrey and Hazel.
Audrey had a tan base coat saddled with patches of black. Tan markings randomly crisscrossed her black face, an atypical pattern for goats. Hazel’s coat was the opposite. It fluctuated between light and dark caramel colored patches distributed evenly from her head to her hooves. Her exquisite brown and tan striped facial markings assured that she would be a caprine beauty.
Both doelings possessed amber eyes that promised mischief and all the fun that was about to begin in our lives. Their tiny nursing muzzles reminded me that four times every day for the next twelve weeks, I would be responsible for bottle feeding them. Nothing measures up to the advantages of bottle feeding goats on formula for ten weeks. A tight parent-child bond forms between human and kid. The goats see their people as members of the herd and crave human companionship constantly.
Bottle feeding baby goats is a pleasure I love to share, especially with children. Every bottle that I prepare for babies delivers the building blocks for our future together. There is no possibility of forgetting to feed them. I can’t put it off until tomorrow or only feed them at my convenience. The clock dictates when the babies get fed. Sticking to a schedule means the goats won’t be stressed. By keeping the temperature and the proportions of the formula consistent, I eliminate factors that could harm my babies. I had forgotten how stressful it is when one baby doesn’t finish a whole bottle or the other bolts down the liquid so quickly it causes her to cough. It is a serious game, this raising of baby goats.
Once we arrived home, I was eager to introduce the doelings to Rod. Unlike many of our animal acquisitions, Rod approved of adding these goats! He smiled at the tiny ones standing in our driveway. Their high pitched bleats sent me scurrying to the kitchen to prepare formula for our first bottle feeding. Rod kept an eye on the babies while I carefully measured and mixed.
Maa, maa meaaaa!” they screamed making it clear that they were long overdue for a feeding.
Vicky and I each secured a kid under an arm and inserted the nipples of the bottles into their infant mouths. Michele continued documenting this special day through the lens of her camera. Baby goats had arrived; and from this moment forward, they would be the focal point of life on the farm for the rest of the summer. The other animals’ routines were not interrupted. Their needs were never compromised, but the extra attention they usually received took a backseat to the constant demands of the nursling goats until they were finally weaned.
The next day was predicted to be twentyfive degrees and snowy, a far cry from what is expected in midMay. Rod and I agreed that the doelings should be kept in our laundry room for a few days until mild temperatures returned. We placed a large plastic tote on the tile floor and filled it with clean sweet hay. That first night I slept without worry, knowing that the babies were snug in our home as Mother Nature tumbled springtime progress back into winter conditions. The next day Audrey and Hazel shivered under polar fleece dog coats in which I wrapped them to go outside. They tended to business quickly and bleated at me to take them back inside, out of the blowing snow that dusted the landscape. We kept our house warm with blazing logs in our fireplace, the heat having been turned off for the season. Sitting on the floor by the hearth, I tucked each kid under an elbow and held them close to me while they drained their bottles. To be responsible for the upbringing of infants is a humbling experience. These two tiny life forms depended on me to prepare and deliver nourishment in a timely manner so that they could thrive and grow. I loved the dependency and was determined to make all the right decisions that would deliver them safely to adulthood.
The next day was Monday, a school day, and luckily I did not have to leave the babies at home. In preparation for their arrival, I had made arrangements with my school administrators to bring the kids to school every day during that first week.
“John, do you have a moment?” I asked our young principal, getting right to the point. “I am about to acquire two baby goats for my farm. They will only be a few days old and will need to be fed several times a day for a while. I suppose a maternity leave is out of the question.”
“Yes, I think that is out of the question,” he chuckled.
“I thought so, but not to worry, I have a great idea!”
I proceeded to tell him about the plan I had hatched with my elementary school colleagues. Each teacher had agreed to have the baby goats spend at least one day in her classroom during that first week. The babies would be integrated into lessons that allowed the students to handle, feed, and care for them. The teachers were excited to offer the children this opportunity. Not only was our principal in favor of this idea, but our superintendent became excited about it as well.
The next morning I woke up earlier than usual. The outdoor temperature was still in the twenties, but the forecast was for sun by midday. After feeding the dogs and the pig and making Rod’s and my lunches, I prepared formula for the doelings. When I entered the laundry room, they stirred in their tote. I wrapped them in the dog coats and escorted them to the backyard. Snow still clung to the tender grass and the air was saturated with a damp chill. They peed and pooped quickly in anticipation of returning to the warm house. Back inside, I sat on the floor with my back against the door that shielded us from the cruel cold. The warmth of the babies’ bodies on each side of my ribs penetrated my sweatshirt as if I was wearing a goat vest. The pleasure of sitting with nothing to do but hold the bottles that nourished my babies was emotionally satisfying. I leaned back and closed my eyes in gratitude for this privilege. I embraced peace.
The clock ticked away the minutes, but I sat motionless, tuned into the slurping sounds on either side of me. “Swerzzz, swerzzz, swerzzz.” They sucked so vigorously the formula rushed with every draw.
After they finished their bottles, we returned to the backyard for a few more minutes to frolic and bounce off their pent up energy. Then I secured them in the tote so that I could go out to the barn and perform chores. An hour later the little goats and I were on our way to school.
I will always remember that magical week. The babies charmed the entire school community. Young students took great pride in caring for their every need, especially feeding them with a bottle. Teacher cell phones recorded adorable moments of child/goat interactions. Many images wound up on the cover of our local newspaper, The Weekly Adirondack. As educators, we were witnessing the effect that the babies had on students, particularly those who struggle to focus. With arms wrapped around a sleeping doeling, one young person with ADD (attention deficit disorder) was not only able to track a conversation with the teacher, but was also able to process information and reply in complex sentences that exercised vocabulary and comprehension. It was as if the tiny goat sleeping in the child’s arms quieted the chatter in the child’s head, preventing the cacophony of distractions from competing with the ability to pay attention. There is promising research in the field of animal therapy that supports the theory that animals can have a positive effect on learning.
Empathy often surfaced during goat week at school. Children shared the goats, recognizing those who waited patiently for their turn to hold or feed the babies. Others, particularly middle school and high school students, were surprised by the emotions that the babies evoked. A senior girl holding tiny Hazel shared a revelation.
“Wow, I feel like I am going to cry,”
“Imagine how you will feel when it is your own child,” I replied.
We both giggled.
By the end of goat week, Audrey and Hazel were seven days old and thriving. The constant attention from the staff and students ensured that they bonded with people. They had been held, fed and played with constantly. In return they had delighted all who came in contact with them. The timing worked out perfectly because the baby goats were becoming more active. In the second week of their lives, they were not content to sit in laps for long stretches of time. They had discovered their dancing legs and were eager to practice their moves.
Audrey, Pearl and Ivy
Best part of raising baby goats.