For three or four years we were privileged to own these goats. They lost no time in impressing on us that we were all one big family. They taught us about making the most of the moment; about unbridled enthusiasm, uninhibited joy, and freedom. They had a large enclosure and if we walked around the outside they would fixedly watch our progress, then all of a sudden they’d all take off at once, leaping down the hill in a bucking, kicking, jumping mass of energy and meet us down the bottom, poking their noses through to say hello. They are unforgettable!
In the photo above meet Zac a rather quaint little fellow who would gaze deep into my eyes apparently trying to plumb the depths of my soul (it was almost un-nerving!)
Here Zac (left) is relaxing on the cable reel with his twin brother Neo. Zac had longer hair and a white fringe down the ridge of his back. See how alert his ears are. Neo is fully focused on my husband taking the photo. The boys are wethers i.e. they are not real boys.
Zac and Neo were best friends. After a good feed on a nice morning they would duel. This involved them taking turns at rearing up on their hind legs, balancing for as long as possible in the upright position, and then sweeping down with their hard head to forcefully bunt the other on his hard head. The other would carefully assess the performance and then was obliged to face up manfully to the blow! Other times they would rear up at eachother like two fighting stallions. Either way, their heads would meet with an resounding clonk. This was serious business and they’d both end up with bloodied heads. Eventually they’d retire to lie down in the grass and cud in blissful companionship.
Meet Katie. We had her for 5 or 6 months before we bought the kids. We dubbed her “The Princess”. She was a bit regal. If I wanted to brush her coat she would look at me with a “Please don’t touch me” look on her face and then a resigned “MUST you?”. She has long elegant ears that are extraordinary. I’ve seen her impressing the boys by lifting her ears so that the tips meet high above her head in a very elegant arch – a princess indeed!
Katie established her authority early on. She was a very mild-mannered goat but Neo had barely met her when he gobbled up his breakfast and then decided he wanted hers. He launched himself at her (he was WAY smaller at that time) and hit her fair and square. Katie was absolutely enraged. She came from a dairy herd where she’d been taught to treat her elders with respect. Just a young teenager herself she knew this wasn’t on and dealt to him in one forceful and efficient blow. We thought she’d killed him and he was certainly dazed but he slowly picked himself up, shook his head, and was a reformed character thereafter.
The Princess on her cable reel, a favourite resting place and a respite from the kids.
Katie watching us while the twins eat. You can see Zac is the closest kid by his fluffy coat. His tail is in “happy” position. The goats tail tells a tale. In my experience if the tail is down its because a. there’s sand-flies around or b. cold, frosty weather or c. momentarily unhappy or d. sick (quick action needed if this is the reason). The goat has a lot of control of its tail and can clamp it down very tight or can wag it like a dog.
An early photo taken when the twins were still very young. Neo in the middle, Zac on the right. Katie took her leadership responsibilities very seriously. Naturally a shy, reticent goat we’ve seen her take protective action on behalf of the twins. Threats can be things like a neighbouring farmer using dogs to herd sheep or a helicopter hanging around. I’ve seen Katie put the twins behind her, in the corner behind the gate to their enclosure, while she herself stood firm at the gate, visibly trembling, but determined to face off the danger. She was a very brave Princess.
Look at those ears! There was probably a farmer with dogs working sheep next door.
The goats enjoying their hay. These goats are Toggenburg goats, a Swiss dairy breed. Katie actually came into milk without ever having been with a buck or kidded. We didn’t want to be milking a goat so we eventually found a home for her up near Auckland with a Vet Nurse who has a herd of dairy goats. We were confident Katie would be well looked after there.
Our goats and sheep sharing the same paddock. The sheep were Wiltshire sheep (sometimes referred to as Wilties). They cope well in long-grass paddocks and they shed their wool in early summer so they were perfect for us. It didn’t take long for the goats to realise that if they reared up on their hind legs the sheep would get a fright and run away. So the goats would rear up to frighten the sheep and then chase after them, running, bucking and jumping in delight and having a great time!
Zac chewing on a dried thistle. Goats are browsers (not grazers) and they need a good varied diet with plenty of minerals. They love thistles from early flowering stage onwards and they love plenty of other weeds. We gave them branches of things like pine, willow and various native species that we knew they like (when available). I also made up a “breakfast” for much of the year with supplementary minerals, and whenever possible we’d have hay and seaweed meal available for them.
Warning about goats and food…
Please be aware that rhododendrons and azaleas are palatable but fatally poisonous to goats and many pet goats have been lost to these. Also, if you’re going to include grain in your goats diet it has to be introduced very gradually so that the goat doesn’t die from acidosis. (This means grain must be stored very securely because if a goat gets access to the grain bin it’ll gorge on the grain and most likely end up dead.)
Words by Exploring Colour and photos by SO (2017)