A Jewel Among Goats

By

I BROUGHT Jewel, our black, white, brown, and tan Saanen-Nubian cross goat into the milking shed toward evening. Laura, my wife, was the usual milker, but a town trip had put her behind schedule, and I filled in. Jewel jumped up on the milking stand, but she wouldn't put her head into the stanchion, to be locked in, until I filled her feed box with grain. That was part of our agreement about milking.

It was also our agreement that I would try to finish milking as soon as she finished eating her grain, so she wouldn't have to stand with nothing to do. I never did finish that quickly, but she was patient as long as I made the effort. We had our agreements about how things were done, and we got along together very well, which meant that our relationship had improved since we first met.

We bought her from people who were moving and couldn't keep her. The man delivered her to us on his way by with a truckload of possessions. As he unloaded her, she reared into the air and struck at him with her front hooves. By the rope attached to her collar, he pulled her down, and she butted at him. She didn't have horns, but a hornless goat can still deliver a powerful blow. He got her out of the truck and down the ramp without getting hit. He panted and puffed with the exertion and said, "This goat doesn't like men."

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That seemed true at first. Laura handled her without problems. But Jewel didn't want me close to her. She would rear up on her hind feet and strike at me with her front feet, but more than a foot short of hitting me.

I didn't know much about goats, but I knew enough about beings in general to know that, if she intended to hit me, she wouldn't be striking short. I'd go on with the work I was doing. "You know you want this good hay and clean water, and you like your area here to be clean, so you'll have to quit trying to run me out of here." If she seemed particularly aggressive, I stood still and talked to her until she settled down.

Her dislike of men continued, even after she and I began to make our agreements and get along well. I thought she had met a man or some men who believed force was efficient in dealing with animals, and humans must rule. Jewel was an intelligent, cooperative goat, but she would not tolerate force. If we showed her what we wanted her to do, and if it was a goatly sensible thing to do, she would do it. But if there was even a suggestion of force in an attempt to bend goat's will to human will, all cooperati on disappeared, and about 150 pounds of ready-to-fight goat appeared in its place.

Hoof-trimming time was the only time I violated our agreements, and then I got Laura and our daughters, Juniper and Amanda, to help me reassure Jewel that I meant no harm, and that this process must be done and was for her good. Then I pulled her feet from under her, put her down on her side, and trimmed hooves, a painless process if it's done right. Laura, Juniper, and Amanda held Jewel down, petted, talked, brushed, and sang to her through the process. When we let her up, she threatened me with hooves and ducked head, but the use of force had been so mixed up with kindness and reassurance that she soon believed in my gentleness again.

She was strong. We tethered her in the yard to eat fresh, green grass. Each day, when we took her from where she had been tethered back to the goat house and pen, she was willing to go for the alfalfa hay and the grain that waited there.

But she had to lead, even if it meant that she strained so hard she pulled me off my feet, and the sudden release of my resistance on the leash meant she also fell flat. She understood that was not any contest of wills but just part of the fun and scrambled up to begin the process again.

She couldn't be free in the yard, because the garden was susceptible to a goat's appetite and the fence around the yard was not goat-tight. One of her early escapes resulted in newly bloomed lilies, grape hyacinth, and strawberry plants eaten to the ground quicker than eye could follow or imagination comprehend.

We learned that, if she escaped, trying to catch her was exhausting and pointless. She was much faster than any of us, and she enjoyed the game immensely.

Laura came up with the solution, and it always worked. "Get her brush," she said, "and hold it up where she can see it." That always brought Jewel to immediate surrender. She liked the quiet and peaceful process of being brushed even more than she liked the wild game of chase.

I stripped the last drops of milk, set the milk pan aside, released Jewel from her stanchion, and talked to her and petted her. Then I took the milk into the house and put it through a strainer. Amanda hummed tunes and read, and Juniper drew pictures as dusk and dinnertime moved into the valley.

Laura heated the milk on the wood-burning cookstove as she put the finishing touches on dinner. She let the milk cool partway, stirred in yogurt, and put the mix in a jar in an insulated container. Eight hours later, the finished yogurt went onto ice.

When I went to work in the morning, a quart of yogurt went into my lunch sack, wrapped in many layers of crumpled newspaper to keep it cold. A quart of yogurt and some fruit made up many of my lunches for two years.

Goat's milk yogurt also served the rest of the family, and all of us appreciated it. Laura made cheese once, and it was good, but milk to drink and milk for yogurt usually used all that we had.

Jewel's milk had no trace of the goaty flavor we found in other goat's milk we tried. We had no idea why that was true. She ate clean alfalfa hay and grain and green grass in season, but so did other goats we knew. It is, incidentally, untrue that goats will eat anything. All the goats we have known want high-quality hay, grain, grass, and whatever fresh vegetables and fruit are available. They will have nothing to do with less than first-quality foods, though goats will sometimes chew on nonfood items o ut of boredom.

After Jewel was with us for about two years, we needed freedom from the every morning and every evening commitment to milk. We heard of a woman who owned goats and understood the need for gentleness. We made the arrangement and delivered Jewel to her.

Our concern about whether we had done the right thing for Jewel was soon relieved when her new owner stopped by to tell us that Jewel had quickly taken the position of Queen of Goats. A born leader, fair to her subjects, Jewel gloried in her new way of living.

It had been good to share our existence with the dignified, queenly goat, to be friends and to learn valuable lessons about animals from her.

It was good to know that she went on to an even better existence than she had had with us, and always now when we think of her, we think of her as Jewel, Queen of Goats.

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