hands not hooves

lolli nursingIt was a joke I had with a cat, once. She would ask to come in, or inquire for dinner, and I would show her my hands and say, “Look! I have hands, fingers, and thumbs! Ha ha!” At the time, I guess I was thinking that night vision and the ability to run on four legs kind of made it even.

I’ve had cause to re-think that lately, on the advent of our first bottle kid.

Our oldest goat had her kids in late February. The delivery was smooth enough, if a little exhausting, at 3 a.m. Probably she could have done it without us, but I was glad we were there to witness. Birth is always special.lolli birth pic

The twin kids are beautiful. A doeling named Lollipop, and a buckling named Buddy Booboo. Mamma goat Annie cleaned up her kids, everyone nursed and cuddled up, and we went back to bed.

Then it rained.

Lollipop wandered from her cozy shelter with her mother and brother and stood out in the rain. She got chilled, and by the time I saw what was going on and put her back under cover with her mother she was already too thin, and didn’t express an interest in nursing. Mamma Annie called to her and licked her, and tried to nudge her back towards the teats, to no avail. Thus, the great advantage of hands and arms. I could pull my babies to me. I could hold them. Annie can’t do that.

We kept Lolli in the house for a few nights. She seemed to be having seizures. I would wake at 2 or 3 a.m. for a night feeding and many times wondered if I would find her alive. She was not happy to take the bottle. We took her back outside for as much of the daytime as possible to hang out with her goat family.

There is a sensitive time in the life of goat kids on our homestead in which they are small enough to slip through the holes in the goat pen fence. Since most kids are intimately attached to their mothers, they don’t go far. They take themselves right back through the fence to get to the milk bar.

I kept trying to put Lolli back on her mom. But eventually Annie lost interest in trying. She still responded to Lolli’s cry, gave her an occasional sniff, but little more. Because Lolli is not attached to her mother, when she wiggles through the holes, she has no reason to wiggle back.

We lost her a couple times this way, not seeing which way she went, and having to track her down as she trotted out into the winter woods, where a fawn colored goat kid, looks just like the forest floor. I was amazed each time we found her. Eventually, she slipped out on a rainy dusk when I was busy putting the final touches on dinner.

Headlamps on, hoods up, we scoured the woods around the goat pen. We looked at the nooks under logs, down the steep banks of the creek, in the brambles of roses and blackberries. We exhausted our flashlight batteries. We walked under the dark, trees dripping with rain, the first songs of the tree frogs ringing in the night.

It was a somber dinner, so tired, knowing she couldn’t make it through a night alone in the rain. We reviewed the facts. We had done the best we were able. If her instincts were not developed enough to keep her coming home, this was just a way of nature taking its course. But it didn’t stop us from being sad, from wondering what we could have done better.

I awoke at 11:30 that night to the sound of Annie calling out. Again, her lack of hands foiled her – she heard a cry, but she didn’t have a flashlight and couldn’t operate the gate, so all she could do was cry out in return. I, on the other hand, scrambled for a headlamp and coat and ran out into the yard and listened. Sure enough, a little goat-kid cry came from up the hill. My heart thumped. I thought – this means something just got her and now she’s a gonner for sure. But then she cried again and I rain for the noise.

She was tangled in the remnants of an ancient woven wire fence line. We had walked it in our search without detecting her. She was sopping wet. Skinny. But strong enough to holler.

I untangled her and carried her down for Annie’s inspection. Then I took her into the house, dried her off, and lay her in a box with a hot water bottle. I waited for pneumonia to set in, but it didn’t.

In the following few days of her recovery, she pitched herself off the porch, and fell down the stairs in the middle of the night. But she also started taking the bottle willingly, and nibbling on dry leaves. Her seizures stopped. Much to my amazement – she lived.lolli 1

It’s a mighty job, a big responsibility, having hands, arms, this oversized brain, and heart. We mess up a lot.

It’s not hard for me to understand why many farmers don’t bottle feed the little ones who struggle.  Were our herd much larger, or our management system not so, um, “intensive”, I don’t know that she would have made it this far.  Lolli is still a little behind the curve. Despite our hours of investment, she does not act like the other goats. Her coat isn’t as soft, and she isn’t as strong or playful as her brother. She doesn’t stay with the herd when they graze. She follows our children like a puppy. Her future is still uncertain. But to have NOT put our hands to work would have been denying an instinct toward life. There are times when instincts conflict with reality, and there are hard choices to be made. But this was the first time for us. We had to try.

After all, we have hands, not hooves.lolli early


“Change can change back. (We can go from conservative to liberal, from disciplined to undisciplined…) Change is volatile. Transformation is completely different – though sometimes it is called change. Transformation never makes the past wrong. It transforms it. It doesn’t deny it. It honors it in a way that you can move forward without making anything wrong, and having the past somehow now become complete, rather than wrong. Transformation has a permanence to it – where once you transform, once you awaken, once you see the stations you didn’t see before, you can’t go back. Transformation has the ultimate power of time, and what the world is crying for now is transformation, not necessarily more change, though some change may be a part of it, the route to transformation. Transformation suddenly makes the past make sense, and new futures open up.” ~ Lynne Twistcomet and hickory

Our two goats birthed healthy kids in the past 10 days.  There’s nothing like birth to illustrate the power of transformation.  comet and pepper

Pepper the goat, who came to us as a sweet little kid about a year ago, is now an attentive and worried mother.  The bulge that has slowly grown in her belly over the past five months is now a perfectly beautiful little doe (Comet Wood).  Our other mama goat, Annie, had an equally beautiful, but much larger, buckling (HickoryNut White).hickory portrait

I can’t watch those births, and the growth of those kids, without thinking of our (human) processes, as well.  I remember my children as sweet little bald-headed toothless infants.  They have transformed into walking, running, bike riding, sweaty-headed children with opinions and talents all their own.  And they are far from complete.  Day by day they will grow into adolescents and adults, and if they (we) are so fortunate, they will have children of their own and even become elderly.

We have all been many people, haven’t we?  Most of us cannot remember being infants, and we cannot know exactly who we will become as we continue to age.  We are capable of great change, great transformation, one breath, one heartbeat at a time.

Is transformation ever complete, or never complete?  I suspect the latter.mother and child

The continuum is evident in the garden.  I’ve been watching the garden with different eyes this year, knowing it will be our last growing season at this little homestead.  Twelve years ago, when we landed here, the land, the soil, was rough.  It was hard growing.  With our care and effort and loving attention, the land has transformed.  We can grow a beautiful garden here now, and there’s still room for improvement.  As we come to the point of finding a new steward for this place, I will be seeking someone who will continue to apply the loving care necessary to keep the transformation moving in a positive direction.

Here’s the thing.  I won’t pretend that all transformation is positive, because it isn’t.  People neglect and abuse their land, and what was a once a pretty nice place transforms into a washed out and infertile wasteland.  When people fail to nurture, love, and provide for their children, those children have a harder time making a healthy transformation into the full bloom of adulthood. We be will all be transformed, whether we are paying attention to the process or not.  And we all take part in the transformation of ourselves and those near to us.  lulah and comet

I think it is one of the special gifts of being human, the choices we have in our own transformation.  And though we are deeply swayed by the forces of instinct and hormones, we are not completely ruled by them.  We can allow the bumps, jostles, and upheavals of life harden our hearts and minds, or not.  We can, do, and shall overcome. It is up to us to make our transformations healthy and positive.

It brings me joy to watch the new goat kids stretch in the morning light.  Their skinny newborn bellies are already fattening up with their mama’s good milk.  The garden, soft and  wet with rain is stretching upward toward the swelling moon.  Our children, bursting with the excitements of summer, berries and creek time and fireflies and all, seem to be growing taller and more full in themselves each day.  Joy is a transformative power.  Taking joy in all these growing lives, these transformations are also mine.  I share them with you, so they can be yours too.

I hope you will go find (or make) some more goodness, and share it.  comet and levon



goats in may

Goats seem prone to discontent. Maybe it’s an adaptation strategy developed over thousands of years of hanging out with humans. Sometimes their capriciousness is a little too familiar. They pull at their ropes, always focusing on something just beyond their reach. They kick their back legs, both in the joy of freedom and in the devil-may-care moments of frustration. They are not afraid to butt something or someone, out of their way. They usually avoid eye contact.

pepper and annie

That’s why it is so pleasing to us, their caretakers, when they are contented.

That’s why we, their caretakers, are so pleased to see the calendar turning to the month of May. The fields have finally grown UP big enough to please the goats. In March and April, our caprine friends were hungry, and eager each morning to go to the field, but never satisfied.


Now that it is May, they graze quietly all day, resting in turns, and rolling in a patch of bare earth when it suits them. They return to their pens in the evening with round fat bellies full of mature dock stalks, thistle leaf tips, clover flowers, and grass seed heads. They are contented to be scratched along their bumpy backs and down their long necks. When we take our first peek at them in the morning, they are still chewing.

Thanks May. We are all so glad you’re here.