Written By Barbara O'Brien
A few years back I had an assignment to photograph a small goat dairy near Winona, Minnesota. I happily documented the owner and family with the milk goats and even managed to get some nice images of their massive billy goat who was the undisputed leader of the herd.
They also had many adorable baby goats and I had fun feeding them bottles and watching them play. I noticed that three little white goat kids had escaped from their pen and mentioned this to the owner. She laughed and told me not to worry; those three are always getting out. I finished shooting and was beginning to load up my gear when a small white kid goat jumped into the back of my open minivan.
“Hey!” I shouted, and was reaching towards him to pull him out, when the other two kids goats jumped in one right after another. They were duplicates of the first goat. All white with big perky ears, and short wagglely tails. “Hey!” I said again, laughing. The owner came over and stated, “You may as well take them. They are too small for the butcher."
She explained that they were triplets, and although weaned and ready to go, they weren’t worth anything at the sales barn because they were on the small side. They were males and although she’d like to, she
can only keep the females or does for her dairy.
I remembered my husband Kevin’s prior agreement with me that sheep were ok, but no goats! Goats, from our experience, were nothing but trouble. You can’t keep them in their pen, they like to jump on cars (at least the pygmy goats do) and they eat everything in sight.
But when their three little faces peered out at me as if to say, “Well? Let’s get going,” I knew I was done. Being an animal person, I always have an empty crate in the back of my van, so I loaded the goats in it.
My four sons were thrilled when the goat kids jumped out of the crate and ran right up to them to be petted. Kevin… not so much. “Goats,” he sighed, shaking his head. “I thought we agreed."
“They were going to be butchered,” I told him. “I couldn’t let that happen.” As if on cue, the goat kids ran to Kevin, pushing on him with their heads and wagging their short tails. “Ok.” he said to them, while he scratched their heads. “You’re here. You may as well stay.”
The younger boys promptly named them Marcus, Aralias, and Tiberius. They tend to name animals after what they are reading and it happened to be about the Romans at the time.
I set the goat kids up in a horse stall with an old calf hut for even more shelter. It wasn’t long before they figured out that they could crawl under the bars of the gate to freedom.
They became our constant companions. Whether it was chore time, where they insisted on stealing corn from the chicken feeders, or haying time, where they jumped on and off the bales as I tried to move them around, or just hang out in the yard time, where they tried to nibble on the book I reading, they were always part of what we were doing. When a crew came to insulate the house, the goats managed to sneak into the back of their open truck and had to be locked up for the duration.
We have learned that we can forget about trying to keep them in their pen. There is an old saying, that if your fence can hold water it can hold a goat. We have found this to be true.
Just when I thought I had closed all the gaps large enough for a small goat to
crawl under, they learned to jump right over it. I watched in amazement as they jumped straight up and over, one right after another, like small deer. I wonder why nobody has started the sport of goat agility like they do for dogs. I think goats would be excellent at it.
And forget about having a garden; although the goats do eat weeds, they also eat all the good plants and shrubbery as well. I remember the first spring we had them, I had a lovely plot of tulips that were just about ready to bloom. The goats had escaped again, and it only took them moments to eat the tops off of every tulip.
I won’t say they’re all bad though. Now that they are full grown, topping out at 75 pounds each, they protect the sheep and will drive away dogs they don’t know. They are good company and are always curious about what we are doing. Being white, they photograph well, and are easy to find in the dark. And finally, they are always guaranteed to make me smile.