Five long months of waiting. In comparison to the 11 months that alpacas carry their babies for, or even the 9 months that humans do, I guess 5 months is not an unreasonable amount of time to sit around twiddling your thumbs while you wait for a baby goat to arrive. But it sure felt like it.
What I didn’t think about when we first decided that we wanted a dairy goat of our very own, was that we weren’t just signing up for the responsibility of that one animal’s care. The dairy industry has a cute but demanding by-product. Babies. It seems obvious when you think about it- in order for an animal to make milk, she must first become pregnant. Then she has to carry the baby successfully, deliver the baby, feed the baby and then FINALLY we can (probably) take our share of whatever milk is leftover.
Luckily I didn’t think it through too much before shelling out the cash for the first doe in milk I came across. (Who, by the way, just so happens to be a perfect fit for us. Just didn’t want you to take my sarcasm as a statement of disappointment in our choice. Violet is as sweet as they come. And so is her milk!)
Stumbling upon an available doe already in milk, without a wee one sucking her dry, seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy the goat and get the milk for free. What I didn’t realize was that that milk supply was going to need to be replenished sooner or later. Most dairy goats are only kept in milk for 10 months out of the year. They are bred in the fall, while still in milk, and then dried off about half way through their pregnancy so that their bodies can devote all of the energy needed to growing a baby (or 2 or 5). Goats like to multiply.
That meant that we had also just signed up to be breeders. Wait, what?
I was not qualified to be a breeder. Breeders are supposed to be knowledgable and experienced in the breed that they’re working with. They’re supposed to have long term goals and gut feelings about pairings that have yet to take place and kids that have yet to be born. I’m also pretty sure that it’s a requirement to be able to deliver a breech baby with your eyes closed and one hand collecting colostrum before you can officially call yourself a goat breeder. Okay, well, if nothing else, you’re supposed to be breeding with the primary purpose of making more quality animals. Aren’t you? I just wanted milk. Crap, I was in over my head.
Although we had had a couple of pet wethers before, we had never had a registered animal, and had most certainly never had plans for breeding. This whole new world of possibilities, choices and responsibility for creating life was overwhelming.
Things like the careful selection of a sire, tracking heat cycles, transporting the doe to the buck on just the right day (which for me meant calling out of “real” work on “the day”, and driving for 3 hours with a screaming goat the back of my truck), monitoring the pregnancy, making sure vaccines were given at the proper time, helping to deliver the baby (NBD), raising the kid, and then deciding what was to become of the kid after it was raised were all things that I learned about on the fly. Had I stopped to think through all of the details of what our future entailed before I jumped right in, I probably would have frozen with fear and inadequacy on the spot.
But sometimes that’s how you learn best. And it’s certainly how you find out if you want to do it again. For me it was exhilarating. The anticipation, the planning, the not knowing exactly what you would get. I got hooked.
This year I’ve put a lot more thought into a breeding plan and have sought out proper baby daddies for each of our girls ahead of time. (Is that proper goat-breeder terminology? I think so. Probably.) I don’t want to be a backyard breeder cranking out poor quality animals just because I like goat cheese. I respect the level of expertise needed to do this properly and I intend to do the best I can to add useful animals to this world while still being mindful of our ethics and purpose. I know it will be a work in progress as I gain experience and knowledge. But isn’t that what life is all about?
Wish us luck.