for people who love the littlest dairy goats
In the spring of 2014, my daughter Willow asked me for the hundred and twenty-third time if we could get dairy goats. Like always, I said something to the effect of "that would be fun. Maybe someday." This time, though, instead of moving on, she followed up with the line we all know and love: "I'll buy them with my own money. I'll do all the work." And just like that, now we have goats.
Now, the actual full story is longer and boringer.
We spent three months just reading books and talking about it before saying yes. We talked about the twice-daily chores that many a 13-year-old would consider drudgery. We discussed the torturous sounding jobs of disbudding, castration, and separating mothers from babies. And we stressed most importantly that we wouldn't be keeping babies--we'd sell the ones we could, as goats, but some of them would inevitably be "harvested" (what a euphemism!) as meat. My husband and I satisfied ourselves that, on an intellectual level anyway, Willow understood and agreed to all the worst parts of goat ownership. (Some people will say whatever they think you wanna hear in order to get what they want).
In the summer we picked a spot for a little goat yard and house. We live on a large wooded lot that is heavily overgrown with honeysuckle and wild rose (good news for our future charges), so Willow and I began cutting down age-0ld shrubs and digging up stumps. To start, we measured out a 12 x 20 area for the two little ones, promising ourselves to expand their fencing as time and money allowed.
In the fall we set posts in the ground and picked up some salvaged chain link to staple on. Then we spent the winter reading, looking at online ads for goats, and getting Willow all the babysitting jobs she could find. She had a goal of raising $1200 for start-up costs and purchase prices, with a little left over for veterinary care. Fortunately for her, her bank account was already padded with old gift money she'd just never spent. After Christmas she sent a deposit check to her chosen breeder, in hopes that she'd have two doelings for sale in the spring of 2015.
As soon as the weather warmed up a bit, we started building the goat house. Willow and I built it from scratch, with no plan, just our own drawings, some salvaged materials that came with our house, and several trips to the local Home Depot and Habitat ReStore. It's a bit of a Frankenhouse, but it's kind of cute, and most importantly, we can stand up inside it. My husband lifted the plywood roofing onto our frame for us and built a beautiful sliding door. The rest was mostly a circus of two skinny girls playing with power tools.
In the meantime, the kids were born, several visits were made, the purchase plan was revised a couple of times, and decisions were finalized.
We spent the whole spring working on the building and fence. We put on the final coat of paint two days before picking up the babies, Luke and Mira, on July 20th.
So now, five months after bringing them home, does Willow do all the work? Well, she does feed them every day. She does sweep the poop off their observation ledge. In the growing season, she foraged for limbs of honeysuckle to stuff into their salad bar twice a day. She's keeping a log of Mira's heats and any other health information she observes about them. And she spends at least an hour a week reading new materials (this forum's archives included) and planning her next moves.
But does she do all the work? Come on, she's 13. Sorry, 14 now. I don't think I could entrust a living creature to a 14 year old without at least doing some observation of my own. I read everything Willow reads, and more; I do the chores about once a week and visit them occasionally so I can watch them myself; I help Willow with ongoing construction, using the drawing phase as math projects during school hours (advantages of homeschooling); and I do have to crack the whip once in a while as well to get her off the iPad and out with the pitchfork. I am seriously considering buying a baby or two from her down the road, now that a lot of the infrastructure is in place.
So no, thankfully, she doesn't do all the work. This is a project that's brought us all together with hard labor, fun, and plans for the future. It may or may not prove to be an investment with cash flow down the road. But no matter what, in the end, it's another example of shared work being the best kind.