I'll be honest. Until about four years ago, I didn't like goats.
Maybe it started in my younger Catholic school days with that Biblical passage about the shepherd separating the “good” sheep from the “wicked” goats Or maybe it was their weird eyes. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t like them. I always dreamed that once I had my farm, I would raise a few sheep, sheer them, spin the wool, and make a blanket or two. So raising goats never even crossed my mind.
But our new farm came with a couple of goats, which we renamed Laverne and Shirley, so I was going to have to be OK with them. Laverne was a brown and white Boer/Toggenburg mix and Shirley was a brown and white Boer with floppy ears. I was a little nervous the first time I walked into the barn to meet them, what with all of my goat preconceptions floating around in my head. I thought they would be standoffish and creepy and maybe even mean. But instead they were curious and friendly...and funny. Especially Laverne, who boldly walked up and looked me straight in the eye, with her big beautiful weird eyes, as if she were trying to figure out if we would be friends or not. After a few minutes, she got so excited that she literally bounced off of the walls of her stall a few times. So I took that as a “yes, we will be friends.” Shirley, on the other hand, stood quietly behind Laverne and nervously looked at us, not sure what to make of these new humans who had suddenly appeared. After just a few minutes with those two, I was more than OK with them -- I was smitten! And I was ready to embrace my new role as goat owner.
Our first goal as goat-owners was to get Laverne and Shirley out into the field to enjoy the sunshine, eat some fresh grass, and do a little clean-up (goats like to eat blackberry bushes, which we have an abundance of). So after getting some pointers from my brother John and doing a little research online, I put together my shopping list and headed off to the local feed store to get my goat supplies. A box of goat treats, two red collars, and a long lead later, and I was ready. That afternoon, we put the red collars on them, leashed them up, and took them for their first “walk” out into the field. But a few minutes in, Shirley got spooked and bolted, almost choking herself, so we nervously took the leads off, thinking it would be safer without them. We were ready to tackle one or both of the goats should they make a break for it -- but they didn’t. Instead they followed us wherever we went, nibbling on dandelions and blackberry bushes and wagging their little tails along the way. If we walked over to the trees, they followed us. If we walked to the road, they followed us. And sweet little Shirley, and her cute floppy ears, was bouncing around with pure happiness. At that point, I was too.
So I got two more. Little Alpine babies this time named Opal and Emmylou. We got to bottle feed them for a short time, so I became “mama” to them and they became my babies. Watching their little tails wag at warp speed when they were sucking down that bottle of milk was one of the most wonderful things I’d ever seen. Even now that they’re older, they greet me with nose nuzzles and wagging tails and if I dare to sit down, they try to sit in my lap.
Now I was told that goats don’t like to eat lavender, but Emmylou and Opal anyway have proven that to be a lie. They like the taste of lavender very much. I tried to tempt them with Douglas Fir branches or dandelions, but they kept going back to the lavender. So we built a nice big “goat run” right off of the barn so that our poor little plants had a chance. In the winter though, when the lavender isn’t blooming, I let them out to run around in the big field and let them take a few nibbles.
There is still so much to learn about these wonderful creatures, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Because goats are awesome! How can anyone not love them?!
One of the little joys of living on this farm (besides growing lavender of course!) is going out to the chicken coop in the morning to retrieve our breakfast. The happy clucking of our chickens as they scratch around their fenced enclosure, or the proud announcement that they have just laid an egg help to make our farm the wonderful place it is. Not only that, (and this might surprise you) but those chickens have quite distinct personalities. For example, the youngest chickens I have right now remind me of a bunch of rebellious teenage girls -- they all stick together, they’re always pushing boundaries (they lay their eggs all over the barn!), and they love to annoy their goat siblings. One of them even keeps trying to lay her eggs in the goat’s hay feeder, which the goats are not happy about at all!
Over my years as a “chicken mama,” one chicken in particular, a little Rhode Island Red named Lucy, was particularly memorable -- because this chicken thought she was a dog. Early on, I knew she was different. Though she had a nice large garden area to wander around in, that wasn’t enough for her, and she would fly up on top of the garden fence, hop over, and wander around the rest of the property.
Now one of the reasons I had put that chicken fence up was because we had a dog named Jake who didn’t understand that the chickens were not his dinner. I can’t fault him of course -- his natural instincts were just kicking in. But he had already killed a few of our chickens and although he had been scolded, I knew that he would kill more if given the opportunity. So up went the fence.
Lucy didn’t understand that of course. She was a very friendly chicken and just wanted to be with everyone else, especially me. In fact whenever I came outside, she would run up to me and squat down so that I could pet her. So to try to keep her safe, whenever I saw her out, I would go outside and pick her up, tell her in no uncertain terms that the fence was for her own protection and put her back in her enclosure -- also talking to Jake to try to communicate that this chicken was off limits.
This went on for a while -- I’d see Lucy outside of the fence, go outside and pick her up and put her back in the garden enclosure. And Jake would look up at me, distressed, confused, and fighting so hard with his natural instincts, trying to leave that chicken alone. And then one day when I went outside, Lucy came out from under the deck (which was Jake’s special place), and at that point I knew we were in trouble, because Jake definitely did not appreciate the intrusion into his special spot, especially by a chicken that he wasn’t supposed to eat.
So I picked her up and put her back and knew her days were numbered. As you might guess, one day it was just too much for him, and we lost that funny little hen. But I never faulted Jakey. And I never forgot that hen.
This is something I’ve had to get used to -- losing animals. I don’t like that part. But I cherish every little life that has been entrusted to me, love their unique personalities, and am grateful for their gifts and the joy they bring to us all.
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .