A small project with big rewards

My husband prefers large projects to small ones, but he changed his mind when our baby goats needed help.

Once when I showed my husband, John, a book with plans for building Shaker furniture, he shook his head and said, "I don't like making little things. I work best with a chain saw."

To be truthful, John has constructed a few pieces of furniture such as a small trestle table for my greenhouse and a tiny bench that I sit on while playing the harp. But he prefers creating larger projects. Several timber-framed buildings he's constructed dot our homestead. John wields a chain saw to sever beams, his skill saw slices boards, and a table saw performs finer cuts. With these tools and a few others, sheds are built, stalls and shelves are fitted into place, and our animals and garden tools occupy snug homes.

This spring, our three French Alpine milk goats each delivered sets of twin kids. We separated the mothers and babies shortly after birth and began bottle feeding the kids three times a day. By filling and holding the bottles, we could observe how much milk each kid drank and avoid situations where a domineering kid pushes a sibling away from a doe's udder. But with six babies bleating for milk and wanting to drink simultaneously, feeding time was a frenzy. We had only four hands and no nearby place where we could remove pairs of babies and feed them. As we offered the six kids four bottles, they butted one another, knocking bottles from our hands so that milk squirted about their pen. John and I could never be sure that each kid had received the correct amount of milk.

"We have to do something different," John said one morning while I wiped milk off my glasses. After breakfast, he clomped off to his shop.

When chore time arrived, we milked the does, fed them their grain and hay, and drew a bucket of fresh water. The barn cats lapped warm milk from their dish as we filled six bottles. The babies charged, a sweep of black and white. John and I dashed into their pen. They ran in circles around us, but instead of handing me two bottles, John pulled a small wooden object from a ledge. The three-sided box sported six holes that John had drilled out of the narrow shelflike bottom board. John fitted the neck of five bottles into the holes, and five kids latched on and inhaled their dinner. Thumbelina, the smallest kid, danced about the fringe of wagging kid tails.

"She's too dinky," John said. "Still can't reach."

When she was born, Thumbelina had been the size of a kitten. The little flannel coats I had sewn for the newborns dwarfed her and dragged on the ground. John and I had wondered if she would survive, but despite being the runt, she cried for milk and attention, placing her front legs on mine.

"Guess she still wants her own bottle," John said.

So while Thumbelina's siblings fed at their feeding rack, I sat on a box with the tiny goat on my lap, a habit the kid had taught John. Her tail thumped against my leg as she sipped. Once the others finished their supper, they eyed her bottle, but Thumbelina reigned as Queen of the Kids.

"Handy," he said. "Thought of it this morning."

I don't know which saw John used to build his contraption, but sometimes small projects are rewarding. And like the tiniest goat, they solve problems and bring everything under control.

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