The story of our first goats.
Our sudden and somewhat impulsive move to Oklahoma in December of 2013 was tumultuous and it took several months to even begin to be in a position to start acquiring poultry and livestock. Having said that, I realize that we were not entirely ready then and had we been more reasonable people we would have given ourselves a year or more to get settled in before throwing live animals into the mix. But with experience comes such wisdom - and we lacked both.
We also lacked patience. We had gone through a lot to get here and time was passing. Back then, we still worked on suburban time -- expecting things to happen in hours and days rather than months and even years like it does out here.
I had done my research. Long before the move I had poured over every goat book I could get my hands on. I spent hours watching YouTube videos and reading the best and worst blogs that offered goat advice and information. I had decided that we wanted to raise Kinder goats. They were a newly recognized breed - a hybrid of a Pygmy and Nubian - which promised to offer all the good things you get from a meat goat and a milk goat in a moderately-sized package. There was also the advantage of these goats being a fairly rare breed which would mean that we would be forced to take our time finding exactly the right goats at exactly the right time.
Or at least until May of 2014 - which was probably not exactly the right time. There happened to be a Craigslist ad for registered Kinder goats for sale within driving distance of us. What are the chances? It was like destiny. We made arrangements with the seller and rented a horse trailer to go pick up our goats of destiny.
At this point, even in retrospect, I cannot say with certainty that we had done anything regrettable regarding the purchase of our first livestock animals. We had: 1) Done our research, 2) Decided on a breed which would be well-suited to our needs and resources, 3) Committed to that breed, and 4) Decided to buy registered stock from a registered breeder.
Don't invest too much too soon.
Our first mistake was going through so much time, trouble, and expense to find the means to bring our goats home before we had even seen the goats. That morning was hectic picking up and paying for a trailer - and we knew the whole time that we had a deadline to return it before being charged more. (Which also meant we would be reluctant to make a second costly trip if we needed more time to make up our minds.) By the time we got to the farm, we were exhausted and just ready to go home with our goats. Just put them in the trailer, I need a sandwich and a bottle of water and a nap.
Don't be intimidated.
When we arrived we were immediately given a full tour of their farm. We saw goats and chickens, pheasants, emus, turkeys, quail... We even had a long tour of their meat rabbit house and the feeding and watering system there. These people were light years ahead of us in this farming thing. Back home I had a chicken coop and six chickens. Not normally one to be intimidated, I admit I was. I had so many questions swimming around in my head that I did not want to look stupid for asking, but only a few of them had anything to do with goats... which is what we were there for.. but I had mostly forgotten about that.
After the tour, the lady was kind enough to take a very, very long time to demonstrate how to administer injections and trim hooves. She also went over feeding schedules, worming schedules, milking techniques, her husband's back problems and lack of steady work, show conformation for Kinder goats, how to build a milk stand, proper pasture rotation, how rainfall in Guatemala affects spring growth in the Yucatan peninsula, a recipe for sourdough bread, causes of death among emus, and a couple hours worth of other information. Then she handed me a thick, stapled booklet with more. It was too much and I had no idea what was going on anymore. I was wondering if maybe goats were not for me, but after a few hours at this place - I would be insane to go home empty-handed.
Do not put your faith in paperwork.
But these are registered goats. They are part of a registry. That means they are great goats even if every one of my senses are screaming that they are not great goats, right? It does not just mean that someone sent a form in with a check for the registration fee and got back a PC-printed certificate in the mail, right? At the time I had no idea that all registries are not equal and assumed that there was some sort of on-site inspection of registered animals. Silly me.
Do not bring small children along.
Obviously, your small children will try to convince you to make a purchase based on how much said small children want a particular fluffy animal. Sometimes this is pretty hard to resist - especially because small children are nothing if not persistent. Aside from the obvious, the children can be distracting. (Oh, wait... that's obvious, too.) It is hard to ask an intelligent question or make a well-informed decision while also trying to keep your child out of the manure pile. Stay for a few hours after a long drive, standing in the boiling hot sun, having skipped lunch and dying of thirst while at least two of your kids are screaming incessantly that they want to go home -- and you will buy anything anyone is selling just to get out of there.
Trust your gut.
The first red flag was when we were asked to pay for our goats. At that moment I realized that I was not even sure which of the goats we had seen were the ones we were buying. I had not seen any that actually looked like the goats in the pictures, but there were a lot of goats and a lot of distractions.. and I felt silly. I felt more than silly when the lady asked for $250 for each goat. I could have sworn that we had agreed to $250 for the pair on the phone. But she had a neatly printed receipt ready to go and attached to the registration papers and complicated vaccination records - and it was clear that she had written $500. Besides, as she was stapling the paperwork she was telling me about their difficulties in keeping everything going after her husband's accident. I understood there could be confusion. And we needed to leave with these goats. Today. Right now. I am hungry.
When they finally led out what would be our doe, I felt a mixture of disappointment and apprehension. I dismissed as much of the feeling as I could. After all, I did not know a single thing about goats other than what I had read. But she was not a very pretty goat. Her hair was rough and she looked rather skinny to me. She lumbered in with her head and tail down and stared blankly at the ground. She also had the strangest horns I had ever seen - uneven and blunt on the ends. The lady must have seen me staring because she hastily explained that they trimmed the sharp points off the horns to make milking easier. I had never heard of such a thing, but what did I know? It looked awful, but... maybe I was being a goat snob and such things were practical. I did not realize until I got home and looked again that this goat had not been pictured at all in the Craigslist ad, but even the photo attached to the registration papers left something to be desired.
It got worse when they led out our buck from a small, dark shed at the back of the property. This guy was definitely not on the farm tour. He barreled out of the little storage building, dragging the guy who held his rope with him and stood on his hind legs to eat leaves off a tree. He stood over six feet tall. This was not the goat in the picture. This was nothing like the goat in the picture in any universe. He was filthy and we all got our first taste (an actual taste) of the smell of goat buck as he lowered his head to clear us out of the way of the tree behind us. He also had a strange gait - almost a limp- and his horns, though they were long enough to start to spiral, were also blunted at the ends in haphazard fashion.
What we ended up with for our inability to say no.
And five-hundred dollars and the cost of a rented trailer.
We got terrible goats. We were told that although the buck himself was enormous, we could expect his offspring to be the perfect Kinder size. However, there never were any offspring. I was not wrong about something being 'off' about the doe. She was not an ugly goat - she was a sick goat. Her strange bulging eyes were a result of a chronic heavy wormload - as had been the strange round shape of her head. Her hoof walls were nearly completely destroyed from chronic hoof rot and bad trimming. Her rough coat never improved no matter how many supplements I threw at it. For a solid year I treated symptoms and searched for cures. She died almost exactly one year later while I was holding her. She is the only goat we have ever lost here. And now when I look back with more knowledge and experience, I am sorry that she had to suffer for so long.
As for that monstrous buck, he went on to live with us for several years as a bachelor. Despite his formidable size, he was actually rather docile and slow - easy enough to handle and willing to follow basic commands. At first. No doubt, he was also not in the best of health when we brought him home. His hooves were even worse than our new doe's and it was painful for him to walk. It took months of trimming a little at a time every day while treating with anti-microbials and keeping him on dry ground to rescue him from the brink of lameness. But when we did.... He felt well enough to go into full buck mode. He destroyed fences. He destroyed shelters. He tried to kill us a few times. Then he went to auction. I hate sending creatures off to the sale barn - but we could not, in good conscious, pass this boy's problems on to some other family.
Oh. And the registration papers were not properly signed or completed. I contacted the lady who sold them to us to straighten things out, but (not surprisingly, I guess) she never returned my calls. Fair enough. Now that I know better I can say for sure that neither of those animals should have been registered or bred.
We have raised a lot of goats since then. We know what to look for and what questions to ask. Sometimes we even know how to say 'no' - although we still find that part to be hard.
We also hope to never pressure anyone who comes out to our place to buy any animals they are not sure about. We encourage folks to come out and take a look in person (maybe even more than once!) before they decide whether or not they want to purchase. And we would never dump our problems on another family - that's not how we are wired.
So I suppose the learning experience was worth it. I did learn more about diagnosing goat illnesses first-hand in one year than most people learn in ten. I did learn what we were absolutely not ever, ever looking for in a goat. And I hope that all of it made us better with our animals and with the people who come out to purchase them.
Posted by Anita
Goat-herder. General push-over. Hands-on learner.