Saturday, March 7, 2009

Missing da goaties

It's funny how ten years ago can seem a different lifetime. What happens to us each decade? What skin do we shed, how do we re-grow ourselves, and into what? We are unfolding mysteries, always.

From 1998-2001 we raised goats on Partington Ridge. A funny story from the beginning, when our back-to-the-earth friend showed up one afternoon with about a dozen goats crammed into the back of his pickup, under the camper shell. Three Mamas and lots of babies.

When this same friend taught me how to milk the nanny goats, I felt I was crossing back into another time, another world. Yes, I’m going to firmly grasp this animal’s teats and pull down hard, squeezing out streams of warm animal-smelling milk. It was delicious.

My hands got really strong, as an old friend commented when we held hands several months after I became a milkmaid. Milking the goats made me feel connected to people around the world who live close to nature, and gave me a wonderful sense of calm each morning. I was even able to feed my puppy directly from the source, shooting a stream of milk into his open mouth.

We made goat cheese too, cooking it slowly over our stove or leaving it to turn in large jars set in the sun. We’d flavor it with herbs and sell it to the fancy-pants restaurants in the valley. People loved it!

But milking the goats entailed breeding the goats, since milk production is ostensibly for goat kids, not humans. The babies came and then the milk came. So, we'd invite the billy goat over, avert our eyes, and a few months later watch (if we caught them at the right moment) the nanny goats give birth. They delivered their kids calmly, lying down in the straw and bleating occasionally, with a resounding bleat at the moment of truth.

Once I left two nannies with an enormous billy, big as a large pony, for a few weeks. As I was leaving the paddock, both of them ran towards the fence after me, bleating in distress, as if they were saying “doooooon’t leeeeeeeeave us here with this beeeeeeeeast!” But we did, and they both came home pregnant, producing a bumper crop of kids.

Mostly, I miss the babies, spindly legged little damp guys with horizontal pupils. We’d help the fresh arrivals to stand up and nurse, made sure everyone was comfortable and well fed, and would depart the manger, leaving the nanny madonna to rest with her new family. The hard part was selling the billy (boy) babies for stew meat several months later.

There was a reason for this sale, other than the purely mercenary one: billy goats mature sexually really fast, in less than 6 months or so, and, well, they’re randy little buggers that will mate with their own mothers, aunts and sisters. Not to sit in judgement of course, they were simply full of themselves and their sexual mojo, in some very amusing ways.

I remember when Captain Fuzzy (yes, we named all of them) began to grow into his adult billy goat-hood: As I was milking his mom, Felicia, I looked over to see him in a wide stance, head dropped between his forelegs, peeing on his tummy and face. And relishing it. He lifted his little head and wrinkled his nose, taking a deep, blissful whiff. Ahhhh. Yeah! A grown up billy, as you might imagine, stinks to high heaven. The urine is their pheremonal cologne, and like a slightly oily Casanova, they love the way they smell.

But still, I was always unable to eat cooked goat even though my husband encouraged me to think of it as if I was munching on a carrot from our garden. It just didn’t’ work; I couldn’t enjoy eating Captain Fuzzy, or Bebop, or Sigh Happy, or any of our capricious friends. They weren’t particularly disciplined at clearing our thistles either, though I do have a sweet memory of chasing them out of our elderly neighbor’s garden, with his help.

So, our lives changed again. As we became more occupied with the world beyond the property, we dispersed our tribe of goats to local chefs and neighbors. The era of the goaties comes back to me each Spring, though, when I imagine them nibbling on all the lovely new green growth, and I wake up to cold mornings dreaming of fresh warm milk, and the peace that only a happy goat can provide.

Cappuccino, Curious and Bebop
Me and Sigh Happy
Green Acres Christmas, 1998 (photo by Jeff Prather)

1 comment:

Lisa G. said...

This makes me want to have a whole little gaggle of baby goats. But goat stew! Oh, I wish you hadn't mentioned that.

Can't wait to catch up with you, sweet woman.