Saturday, January 31, 2009

Goat Confessions

I've been a bit of a hypocrite here lately, nattering on about paying attention, wanting what I have, doing more with less. The truth is, dear readers, I have been thinking about goats.

Those of you who know my history may give a shudder or a cheer, depending.

Goats and I go a long way back. Back to the heroic 70s, when Ed and I and our two toddlers moved to 1 ½ acres in the then-idyllic Maryland countryside. There was an orchard, and a huge vegetable garden, and berry bushes, and chickens. My mother visited and said “Well! All you need now is a little goat, and you'll be all set.” She said it rhetorically, but that's not how it struck me. A month later, I had two goats, which I milked every morning on my way to my tenure-track job teaching French lit, and often milked well after midnight coming back from funky parties to which I wore very short outfits made out of fringed tablecloths.

The 80s came, life changed, and we moved into various towns and cities where critters were banned. But in the 90s I managed to have goats again. And for the first time, I made cheese.

The last time I had goats was in Vermont—beautiful Nubians who drowned me in milk, a single goat producing a gallon every day. Keeping up with the output was a trial, and I learned a lot about making cheese, but in the end I had to let it go. The goats were too big, required too much hay, produced too much compost, and way too much milk--all good things with which I couldn't cope.

But I missed them, my lovely does, warm and deer-like and smelling of hay and milk and manure. Then one day recently, on the internet, I learned about Nigerian Dwarfs. Despite their name, these are perfectly-proportioned, tiny goats, 17” high at the shoulder. They have been bred for dairy use: they average 1/3 the weight of large-breed goats, eat 1/3 as much, but produce ½ as much milk. No wonder Nigerians were the breed of choice for the Biosphere Project.

Nigerian Dwarfs sound like the breed of choice for me...should I have no choice but to have goats. But what about those mornings when “milk comes frozen home in pail,” as Shakespeare said. What about the hand-fed babies who need a bottle every couple of hours. What about the need to find them good homes. (To get milk from a goat, you have to breed her, which means babies to dispose of every year.)

But then there is spring, and goats grazing on the new grass, and gorgeous high-butterfat sweet milk, and cheese spiced with home-grown rosemary or hot peppers.

I've asked my family, my friends, and the universe for guidance, but they all say “it's YOUR decision....”


  1. It sounds like you have made your decision.

  2. desire vs. reality the never ending conflict.

  3. Elizabeth, not quite. I'll have to come face to face with a Nigie (term of art), feel her fur, smell her smell--then see what my gut says.

    Dona, clearly I haven't been doing enough yoga/meditation, right?

  4. Do what MOVES you, Lali. You already know the answer.

  5. Hilary, goats definitely move me--no idea why.

  6. waiting to see what you do....though i think i know. that cheese you describe sounds so delicious. home-grown rosemary and peppers...

  7. Laurie, I'm waiting to see what I do too. I worry that I'm taking on too much. I worry that I'm crazy....

  8. I am so looking forward to my cheese.