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There are some things that you can learn about only by doing them, and having goats was one of those things for us. We adored the kids, I loved the breed, and I appreciated how personable and intelligent the goats were. But for one and a half years, we cared for them without receiving any milk in return, and the milk-n-cheese pay-off wouldn’t come until we’d fed and cared for them for two years. That pay-off would come with a price: milking every day, which was something I couldn’t imagine fitting into a full-time job and the full-time care of my son.

I realized that, the more I took on, the more stuff I was doing half-assed. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to do everything that I wanted to do and do it well. I also realized that, as a single parent, there’s a limit to how many life-forms I can care for without neglecting some pretty important things.

The people who bought Calypso, Pandora, and Pan are profoundly knowledgeable about goats and will provide a home for them that is far better than any we could ever provide. Calypso and Pandora went to Hillary Kenworthy at Woodland Hills Farm and Pan went to Jacqui Wilcox at Daystar’s Farm. Rhea, our favorite, went to friends on the island.

The problem with all this? Guarding goats was our dog’s job, and since they left, she seems to have lost her anchor. We now have Emma outside during the day, guarding the chickens and ducks, and we have her inside at night, guarding us and the cats. We love Emma and hope that this rhythm will meet her need for meaningful work.

Meanwhile, I miss the presence and energy of the goats, but I don’t miss their demanding bleats whenever we stepped out the back door. I don’t miss paying for and hauling hay–and storing two tons of it in the basement because we don’t have a barn. And I don’t miss having to care for goats in the dark on these short winter days. Both Adrian and I are satisfied with our decision to find new homes for the goats. But it doesn’t really feel like a farm without them.

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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.