Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Takes A Village

Like chickens, wolves, and humans, groups of goats have definite hierarchies, and how these hierarchies are established is not usually a pretty sight.

My two goats, Blossom and Alsiki, dwelt in harmony until I introduced Virginia Slim into the herd. The little angels immediately attacked the newcomer, butting her away from food, giving her no peace and even, to my horror, biting her udder.

Goat books and goat people advise the novice goatherd to leave the girls alone to work things out on their own. The only positive action one can take is to ensure that all goats in one's possession have been dehorned. Hard though it was, therefore, I adopted a laissez faire attitude towards my herd of three.

Next thing I knew, the tables had turned and the elegant and refined Virginia Slim was slamming into the scruffier but sweet-tempered Alsiki, keeping her away from the hay feeder, from the grain dish, and from me at petting time. I felt sorry for Alsiki, but she seemed none the worse for wear and I was relieved that at least pregnant Blossom was escaping Virginia Slim's wrath.

Goatherds with large facilities segregate new mothers and their babies for a couple of weeks in maternity wards, until the babies are smart and agile enough to keep out of the way of the other goats. But as I only have one space for my goats; there was no question of isolating Blossom and the twins.

During the first couple of days after the birth, I watched to see how Virginia Slim and Alsiki acted, and was glad to see that, if a kid stood between them and the hay feeder, they would merely nudge it aside with their muzzle. There was no butting, no cornering. Even Slim's aggression towards Alsiki seemed to have diminished.

Meanwhile the babies prospered. They had round, milk-filled bellies every time I checked, and by the end of their first week had started running around and leaping into the air like crickets.

At about this time, I noticed that Slim's milk production was decreasing, but I figured it had to do with the onset of cold weather, or the upheaval caused by the birth. I was right about the latter, but not in the way I had envisioned: Slim was letting the babies nurse at her udder.

I have heard of ewes trying to steal lambs from other ewes. And females of various species will sometimes adopt babies whose mothers have rejected them. But Blossom is the most attentive of mother; she has plenty of milk; and I have seen no sign of Slim trying to keep the babies away from her. No, Slim simply stands there, and if one of the kids walks up and starts nuzzling her udder she gets this soft look in her eyes and goes to work cleaning under the baby's tail while it sucks. And Blossom doesn't seem to mind a bit.

I have no idea why my goats are acting this way. But I like to think that it is because they are at peace, because Slim finds the babies irresistible (who wouldn't?) and Blossom is secure enough in her parenting to let her share in their upbringing.

While this is not exactly a case of the lion lying down with the lamb, I hope that I have played a role in this sudden goat harmony, that maybe all that singing and talking and brushing have not been in vain, and that I'm giving my goats a measure of the peace and serenity that their presence always gives me.

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