Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wwoofing in a Herd of Goats

Its hard to get past the goats on Glean Gabhra. There were over a hundred of them, a hundred and fifty if you counted the bleating kids who wanted nothing more than to be constantly fed either hay, kibbles or the sweaty end of my shirt.
Our jobs, really all jobs with animals, really only involved two basic concepts: food in, shit out.
Each morning we had to measure out portions of the equivalent of kibbles and bits for goats into planting trays (for the goats would destroy anything else less sturdy), serve the most delicious hay (the stinky silage was for the older goats) and give ‘em all fresh straw. I was amazed at how much the little creatures could eat. We’d feed them at 9:00, and by 10:00 their food all be gone.
I brought this to the attention of Dominic who told me to start ratcheting up their food intake. The sooner they get up to weight, the sooner they can get off milk, the sooner we could put them all in one big pen instead of 8 smaller ones. They were kept in smaller pins for two reasons: one, the slats in the pallets they had for walls could actually contain them, and two, if they were to all stay in the same one, it would be impossible to give them all milk.
We were also especially eager to get them all into one central pen because then we wouldn’t have to water them all by hand. There was no hose nearby, so the only way to get them all water was to fill up two buckets, one for each hand, and carry it to them. This quickly became my least favorite chore.
“Entire cities have risen and fallen because people didn’t have to carry water!” I’d rail on, while Raquel would grunt and fill another bucket for the goats. But I understood why we couldn’t mix them, they were always so voraciously hungry. One pen was so monstrously excitable one of them managed to snag her ear on the handle of the bucket and rip her tag clean off! And the little monster didn’t even mind, she just kept slurping away, her bloody ear painting half of her face like the goat version of Rambo.
My favorite of the little goats though, was one of what Dominic affectionately called the Gremlins. The Gremlins were the free range goats. There were about six of them, and they’d all come to be Gremlins for different reasons, some were born early or late so were too big or small to mix in with the others, some hadn’t been dehorned, but they were all equally adept at escaping their pens.
I spent an entire afternoon rounding up gremlins. Well, not exactly. To concentrate on catching a goat that knows you want to catch it is to concentrate on finding the end of a rainbow. Ain’t gonna happen. So instead, whenever Raquel and I were deep in conversation, or Dominic was asking me to do a new task, I’d lunge out and snag a gremlin. By the afternoon they were all penned up, until the next morning when I discovered that five of the six I’d worked so hard at catching had escaped. One even seemed to like the game. She followed us everywhere, and responded to any grabs by snuggling. We named her Peggy Sue, and we love her.
Another day I had to try my hand at wrangling adult goats. 17 of them were Dominic’s herd, and the other 80 or so were all recently purchased, so he kept them separate because  that was about the size of a milking batch. This all worked great until Tato (His finest and goatiest goat) managed to open her gate and lead her crew to mingle with the goats from Holland.
Dominic asked if I could round them up, and to my credit, I got about a dozen of them. I chased them down, cut them off, cornered them and finally corralled them away from the herd and back to their pen. I was sweating, tired and angry that a bunch of animals whose big questions about the universe can be answered by chewing on it, had managed to out-maneuver me! I simply didn’t have the emotional fortitude or the physical energy to chase the rest down.
So what did Dominic do? He all but looked at the last ones and they walked over.

“Its in the eyes, see.” He tells me.

I guess that means I fall somewhere else on the food chain, but I still think he was messing with me. He’s got those goats trained to show city-kids how to break a sweat, the only ploy I should’ve seen through was Dominic’s.

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