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While she stayed at the Writer’s Refuge, Carolyn Gale took the following pictures of our goats, for which I’m grateful. Now that they’re grown, it’s fun to be reminded of how downright adorable they were.

The goats are named after four of Saturn’s 23 moons. The does are Pandora and Rhea, and the bucks are Calypso and Pan. Moon names are inspired by the name of our farm: “13 Moons Farm.”

Calypso When they were smaller, we took all four goats for a "browse" occasionally Adrian would bolt down Foxglove Lane, and the goats would tear after him Adrian would bolt down Foxglove Lane, and the goats would tear after him Calypso was Adrian's favorite Calypso visits Adrian in the fort he made out of fire wood The girls look so much alike, that we tell them apart by their collars. Pandora = purple. Rhea = red.

When Adrian was about six months old, beginning to move around on the floor, and putting everything in his mouth, I caught him sucking on carpet tassels. Since then, we’ve had a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, and now, the very idea of wearing shoes in indoors kind of disgusts me. Ironic, in light of the fact that we’ve been living with four goats in the house for the past six weeks.

We don’t have a livestock guardian dog yet, so we can’t leave our goats outside safely at night. (Coyotes would find them tasty.) To protect them and make bottle feeding easier on us, the only logical place to put them was on our screened porch.

I covered the floor with a huge tarp and spread two bales of white shavings on top of it. This formed the very large litterbox in which they live. During the day, they go outside, which means they need to walk from their temporary home through the living room, dining room, kitchen, and mud room, to the door that is closest to their pen.

Goats in the house!

Rhea, Calypso and Pan walking
through the living room

What happens in the process is that wood chips stick to their feet and get dragged into the house. And of course, the thing that makes the wood chips stick to their feet in the first place is, well, poop.

So, for the past month and a half, I’ve had poopy little goat feet treking across the floor of our house and have had to numb a large part of myself to make that possible. At least I could control when the goats were in the house and make sure they got to the back door as efficiently as possible, right?

Wrong. Pandora, who used to stick her head through the cat door and use it as a sort of intercom, figured out how to come into the house that way.

Goats are smart. Maybe too smart. Ours are a cross between standard Nubians, which are not known for their intelligence, and Nigerian Dwarfs, which are veritable goat Einsteins. Some say that “a fence that won’t hold water won’t hold goats,” and that is especially true of smart goats. We’re going to have to keep an eye on that Pandora.

Pandora stepping through the cat door.

Pandora climbs through the cat door
Pandora enters the living room through the cat door
Pandora checks out the living room, while her
admiring herd mates look on and take notes

You know that part in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch’s heart, which is originally two sizes too small, grows three sizes, and everything changes? That happened to our hearts this weekend.

Our hearts didn’t seem small to us before–they were your normal, average-sized vessels. But now that we’ve brought home four baby goats, our hearts feel much bigger than they were and that has changed our lives. My son Adrian quickly decided that he didn’t want to go to school anymore, and although I find it challenging to write with a baby goat asleep on my lap, I’d rather type slowly and inefficiently than forgo the experience. We are virtually incapacitated by our love for these little animals.

Adrian and Pandora 

That has me thinking. Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to increase our capacity for love? Won’t the compassion my son gains from this experience enable him to engage more compassionately with all living things? Won’t his ability to intuit these babies’ unspoken needs make him more sensitive to the needs of others? Won’t his willingness to take responsibility for their physical well-being make him more willing to engage in the work that makes any relationship thrive?

Adrian with all four goats

My hunch is that the answer to all of these questions is, “Yes.” As Adrian’s mother and “childhood designer,” I sometimes imagine who I want Adrian to be when he grows up, and then reverse-engineer experiences that I think will lead to that result. Our little farm is one of those experiences.

 

When I envisioned our farm, I saw dairy goats and fiber animals. Dairy goats have to have kids regularly to produce milk, so I knew we’d have to have bucks as well as does. This meant that we’d need one pen for the bucks and another one for the does, allowing them to be together only for their annual “conjugal visits.” It also meant building a lot of fences.

Here, having ruminants such as sheep and goats, means you have to have a guardian animal. A neighbor lost 11 of her sheep to coyotes this winter, and she’s now paying someone to the shoot coyotes–which reduces Adrian to tears. We needed a different solution.

There are three kinds of animals that people use to guard their livestock: donkeys, llamas, or dogs.

The neighbor has two donkeys, which are obviously not doing the job for her and I hate the sound of their braying. Although llamas work for a few people we know, our place is too small for one. Beside, Adrian has had a dog-shaped hole in his heart ever since we had to find a new home for our last one, so deciding on a livestock guardian dog was fairly easy. But which kind? Akbash? Anatolian? Kangal? Cacasian Ovcharka? Great Pyrenees? Komondor? Kuvasz? Polish Tatra, Slovakian Cuvac? Tibetan Mastiff?

None of the above. I decided on a Maremma. I found a breeder in whom I have enormous trust, and put a deposit down on a pup long before we had livestock for her to guard. Why? Because I opted to leave her with her parents until she was five months old. This would give her an opportunity to be fully exposed to different types of livestock and to be with working adult dogs long enough to learn the basics.

Having settled on a livestock guardian, I turned my attention to the livestock, specifically to dairy goats. Nubian dairy goats are considered the “Jersey cow” of the goat world. They don’t make as much milk as other goats, but the butterfat content is higher, and that’s a good thing when you’re thinking about making cheese. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that standard Nubians are too big for us to handle on our own. The laborers here on 13 Moons farm are a 47-year-old woman and an eight year-old boy, and we needed animals that were small enough for us to handle on our own.

Lo and behold, there’s such a thing as a mini-Nubian–a cross between standard Nubian and Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. Nigerian Dwarfs have an even higher butterfat content than standard Nubians, and crossing the two leads to a smaller goat that eats half as much as standard Nubians, produces two thirds the milk, is less of a challenge on fences, and is generally easier to handle. They’re also more hardy, have a greater resistance to disease, and have fewer birthing problems. I was sold.

I found a breeder in Oregon, and we are making the 8+ hour drive there next weekend to pick up our babies. They are:

Rhea, left, a second generation doe:

Rhea (left)

Pandora, a third generation doe:

Calypso, a 4th generation buck:

Pan, a fifth generation buck:

The unexpected benefit of farming is: love. It is amazing how much we’ve grown to love these little beings before even meeting them. We think of them while building fences. We think of them when we look out at their empty pens. We think of them at night before we go to sleep. Adrian swoons when he sees their pictures, and already our hearts have increased their capacity for love.