Last week we lost Mary. Although we are not sure exactly what happened, it seems that it was a “freak” accident while playing with the other girls. Goats can be rough with each other without meaning to (and with meaning to). Goats also seem to get themselves into situations that need rescue. A while back a goat breeder said that “goats are always trying to find a way to die”.
I’ve told most everyone who asks about our goats that out of all our animals – the others being horses, chickens, and ducks – that goats are the hardest to care for. Lice, worms, copper deficiencies, lack of minerals, poisonous plants, over eating, etc, and then their lack of common sense and being straight line thinkers – straight line meaning that they cannot reason to go around something, but only go straight into it or through it - make them challenging to care for. They can come down with diseases and infections easily, and are subject to many physical problems. Goats are not these tough tin can eating machines. They are feathers in the wind.
Yet, goats are easy to love, especially the ones who have been handled as kids. I compare goats to dogs when it comes to relationships. They aren’t much different, giving unconditional devotion and companionship. Playful, loyal, and always best of friends, goats as pets will follow a trusted owner everywhere and anywhere.
And that is what makes it so much harder when one passes. They aren’t just goats.
Mary was the “runt” of our herd. We believe that as a kid she had coccidia – a parasite that damages the intestines so that nutrients from food cannot be absorbed. Goats that survive coccidia never fully recover and are usually underweight and stunted. Mary never “took off”. And because she was smaller than Irene and Frances, she was easily bullied and lowest of the pecking order. At food time, she was easily pushed aside and was lucky to get any grain.
We solved this by feeding her separately, pulling her from the pen and giving her a pan of grain that she didn’t have to compete for. Later, when Ellen joined the herd, we would feed both of them in this manner. Mary did begin to fill out and became healthier, but as an adult, she stayed small, and weighed a third less than her “big sisters”. She would always be third in the pecking order, but at least she now had a chance.
The separate feeding created a different type bond than we had with the others. She came to us as her protectors, and we always made sure she got little extras to make up for her place in the heard – bit of extra food, that second treat, walks alone with us so she could browse undisturbed, etc.
When Ellen came along, Mary remained third, and Ellen became a very close fourth. Both being small, they stayed together most of the time. We made a separate shed for them, and fed them outside the pen together. The herd of four had more balance and it seemed the hierarchy was defined and stable, and everyone was content.
I will miss Mary. I will always remember how she would fall back from the herd and side up to me for a treat or a little extra grain. Her smile – yes she had a smile, or grin, that showed off her small overbite – a bucktoothed smile. And her bounce when she walked – her feet were like little springs that gave her a dancing walk and run. The floppy ears, her right one torn from an accident when she was maybe a year old, that made me think of her as the “flying nun”. Her trusting, curious eyes.
Like all animals, she had her own way about her that can’t be replicated or replaced.