When Christopher was 14, he asked me for a goat for Christmas. So I bought him one. Or more precisely, I handed over the cash and Tadaaki drove him 7 hours round trip to the goat farm. Christopher picked out a sweet girl, led her onto the back of our little pickup truck and she happily made the trip back here to her new home.
When Christopher decided he wanted a goat, this was not just a spur of the moment thing. He started by raising chickens, quickly moved on to rabbits and by then had given up the idea of an ostrich (not enough room) in favor of pheasants. Some might say that getting a goat was the logical next step. Some. Each new animal or fowl he acquired was carefully researched on the Internet. He studied how to care for them and researched where to buy them. Christopher was entirely focused on his task and at 13 was already able to do the work of a man as he built rabbit hutches and refurbished the old chicken coops next to Sunny-Side Up!. But then he’s a farm boy.
Goats are kept for their milk and ultimately for making cheese. Ours was no different. Though first she had to have a kid to stimulate milk production. Tadaaki and Christopher took our goat back to the goat farm for her liaison with a male goat. More education. Back she climbed into the truck and once home, her tummy began to expand. Success. We calculated her kid would be born in the early summer, but she surprised us. At the end of our annual February trip to California, Tadaaki announced that the Mommy Goat had had two kids and that it had snowed that day. He wasn’t sure they’d make it, but they did. Obviously she had already been pregnant when Christopher first picked her out of the herd.
The Mommy Goat had two spindly-legged girl kids and we were excited about the prospect of having milk once they were strong enough to share. In the early spring, Christopher started tethering her in the orchard next to Tadaaki’s chicken coops to graze. He left the kids free to roam underfoot while the Mommy Goat chewed weeds. One day he came home in a panic. One of the girl kids was missing. Christopher found a small hole in the fence and set out searching the neighborhood behind the coops. But reason quickly brought him home. The kid really wouldn’t stray far from mom. After an exhaustive search of the four long rows of divided chicken enclosures housing a total of 3000 chickens, on a whim he flipped the egg catching area flap to find the kid curled up in that improbably small space taking a little snooze. Of course she wouldn’t leave her mom. Of course.
The Mommy Goat is very popular with the preschoolers. She sticks her head out of the chicken fencing, craning for a treat. The children bring leaves and chestnuts that they’ve coaxed from the burrs. We teach them to hold out their hands flat with the food, but often they just pinch the leaves between their fingers and poke them out towards her mouth. But she’s gentle and only one child has ever been nipped. The students like to pat her and she loves it when I scratch between her horns. And while the majority of the children treat her very kindly, a few have hit her. This warrants a serious talk and usually doesn’t happen again. It’s a learning experience.
We do Goat Day at SSU! and Tadaaki squirts her milk into the waiting mouths. Great fun. We also make cheese with the children and eat it on our lunches. You may wonder why we don’t let the kids milk the goat. Handling her gently and respectfully is more important than giving a fleeting touch of her udders. The person that milks a goat should be caring and sensitive…and consistent. When Christopher left for high school in California, Andrew was slotted to take over the milking, but dragged his feet a bit. So, despite having more than enough on his plate caring for the 3000 chickens and other sundry birds, Tadaaki added this “chore” to his daily rounds. And although he didn’t want to, through her care, he grew to love her.
Riku and Shuto, Goat Day 2008
The Mommy Goat died in February. And it was Tadaaki who had to bury her. She was carrying two kids and the placenta pushing on her intestines created a blockage. She became weaker and weaker and died before the vet could save her. The boys and I were gone in California at the time, so Tadaaki had to dig the hole, cart her to the grave and include the SSU! kids in the burial. This too was a learning experience, though one Tadaaki could have done without.
I’d like a new goat, but it won’t be so easy the next time around. Christopher has moved on and so has Tadaaki. They say it’s up to me to clean the goat enclosure (think nasty creatures in the dung and the occasional scurrying rat). Also, next time it will be me milking and feeding the goat. Maybe I’ll wait a little longer.Fall 2006
I don't really have a recipe to go with this post, though one time at Harigaya-san’s place in the mountains he served a goat milk chowder with prawns and spinach leaves. He heated it over the irori open fire and it was heavenly. I’m not a big fan of prawns or shrimp (knowing their dubious provenance), but you could substitute some other delicate fish. Though heating the chowder over the burning embers was inspired.