Friday, March 1, 2013

Three Grandmas, Four Stray Goats, and a Sheep Dog

My darling daughter has found a church-based youth group through a couple of her friends at school.  She's been going once a week after school for a couple months now.  They are going to start a band, this small group of 14.  So they are having a sleepover at the church tonight to learn some songs.  They'll cook dinner together, play music and video games, try to get some sleep, eat a good breakfast in the morning, and then I'll pick Bex up.  The three adult coordinators who will be present for the night are kind-hearted, firm, hip enough for the kids, and make it fun.  It will be interesting to see where this goes.  Sometimes there are way too many flashbacks to about 30 years ago.  It is fun tho'.

So ...  I get off work at 5pm, exhausted, my wrists and hands aching from an overly stressful and busy day.  I pick up the kid and we head to the grocery store to grab some ice cream for the overnighter.  I've already stashed cajeta (caramel sauce) in the car as a special treat for the kids.  We are headed down the freeway toward the church when I get a call from the "next door" neighbor at the retreat center.  (We are city blocks apart from most of our neighbors.)  Now, Carolyn doesn't usually call.  We aren't sharing care for a baby goat and exchanging milk for empty bottles.  So ... I'm worried something is wrong at the ranch, so Bex answers the phone for me and holds it to my ear while I drive (gotta be hands free!).

She tells me that her son went for a walk and reported that he saw four black and white goats near the road on our driveway.  She wondered if they were mine.  Well, that's a fine thing to wonder as I'm trucking down the freeway about a half hour away from home, headed in the opposite direction!  I don't know if they are mine or Bette's.  We agree I'll call her when I get home and let her know if anyone's missing or if we need help goat wrangling.

I decide to call Bette to see if she can check and count goat heads.  She's in Santa Rosa, too, she tells me, as Becca holds the phone to my ear still.  She'll call Nancy, who's at her house, and ask her to check.  I get the call after I drop Bex off that all our goats are accounted for.  So who are the mystery goats?

I call Carolyn to let her know they're not ours and to ask more questions.  Does "black and white" mean black goats and white goats or multicolor?  That would narrow down potential escapees.  They were multicolored.  Big or small?  Big.  That rules out ALL of our goats.

I get home about 6:45 pm.  There are no goats or any animals in sight as I drive up the road to the house.  I get the milking equipment out, turn the burners on low to start heating dinner, preheat the oven, and head out to take care of the chickens.  I figure whoever lost their goats has found them.  It's getting dark when I head over to my goats to get them out and to the milk stand and barn.  Bette drives up about then and stops her car on the drive directly opposite of me.  I don't understand why ...  If she wanted to chat, she usually drives to the house.  Then she backs her car up slightly and her headlights shine directly on ... four goats in the pasture across the drive.  I'm shocked.

I walk around and down gravel and dirt in the dark to take a look, seeing four mostly white critters with brown (black?) necks and heads (Boer), but small elf ears (possibly a LaMancha cross) and long horns.  They are slender, some young looking, but not kids.  They shy away, but don't run.  They come closer to the fence when I squat down and put my hand through.  They won't come too close, they won't let me touch them.  Bette and I discuss options, and then decide she will go get Nancy, I will get grain and leashes, and we'll see if we can get them into the pen I use for goats who are about to deliver their kids, the "kid pen."

She leaves, and I trudge in the dark to grab two large scoops of grain and sling four leashes around my neck.  I go back to the fence and call to the goats, rattling the grain around to draw their attention.  When I hold a small container out through the fencing, they sniff the container.  Not the grain.  I put some in my hand and stick it through the fence, so they sniff my hand.  Not the grain.  It's pretty clear they have no idea what the stuff is, so seeing them munching on grass, I go back to the house and grab a flake of alfalfa.

That works.  They eat a little bit from my hand, and then slowly follow me down the fence line.  We are inching our way toward the gate when Bette's car arrives, drives past me, and goes to the gate.  I hear the gate open, but am focused on moving the goats that direction.  Then I hear a voice gently calling and see a flashlight in the pasture.  It's Nancy, and she is speaking softly and gently, but I can't understand what she's saying at first.  Then, in the light of my headlamp I see a dog approach the goats.  They see him, too.  I understand then that my alfalfa trick will not work nearly as quickly as a seasoned, well trained, sheep dog.  I step back softly and slowly to observe.

I've seen dogs work sheep before, but only in an arena or a large field on a bright afternoon with a man's big voice.  It's pitch dark now except for the light of the waning full moon, flashlights and car headlights down the driveway.  The white coats of the goats gleam as they bunch together, horns occasionally throwing a dull spark of light.  Nancy's soothing voice quietly directs her dog as the dance begins.  He moves swiftly, then slows or drops to the ground.  The goats watch him.  They move toward the gate.  It's amazing to see the movement in the direction we want them to go.  They are not panicked or frightened, simply very aware.  I have the alfalfa in hand, and think they may follow me while moving away from the pressure of the dog behind them, so start slowly walking toward the gate.  Nancy calls out to see if someone is there, and I tell her.  She asks me to walk behind the animals, which makes sense - to keep the gentle pressure up, rather than stop their flow with my presence in front of them.  When they get near the gate, I quickly move past it to guide them back up the driveway when they come out.  They begin to walk up the drive and then get distracted by my goats, which are still out in their pen.  They leap across the ditch and get to know each other, walking around the fence line as Nancy and her dog follow.  I hurry to the "kid pen," where I want them to go, and put the alfalfa in the bin and open the gate.

The goats move up onto my driveway, but won't budge toward the shed and the kid pen.  They keep dodging through the trees back to my goats.  The three of us are grandmothers.  Bette's children are grown and a little older than my oldest children; Nancy's grandson is my Becca's age, and I'll be an official grandma in six months.  The three of us are trudging through leaves and trees and rough terrain in the dark, trying to get these critters to obey and get into the kid pen for safe keeping.

After quite a while of this, getting them closer, only to have them take off back another 10-15 feet to meet up with my yelling and running goats, we decide that I'll bring one of mine out to see if they'll follow her to the kid pen.  I get inside the fence and clip a leash onto the first one I see, who is making the most noise, which happens to be Salsa.  She's also white and the herd queen, aka boss.  I walk her out and toward the kid pen after securing the gate and putting the board back up to keep the other goats in.

Then, the three smallest of my goats escape.  Running pell mell, they head toward the milk stand and - I think - the barn.  That would be good.  Lily is still inside the pen, but she can stay for now.  I can't turn Salsa over to Bette, because she is much smaller than I am, and Salsa has hauled me onto my keister before.  With Salsa in hand, I get the goats to run to the barn, but then mom Imbri turns around and runs back toward the strays.  Her kids follow.  I get Salsa onto the milk stand to free my hands, and grab the collar of Moonshine, the wether.  Usually they'll follow each other, and the other two start to come to me, but Imbri, his mom, is being difficult.  I'm able to grab her collar and head to the barn with my hands full, calling Luna to follow, which she does.  She won't go into the barn until the other two are closed in, tho', so I have to herd her to the barn and skootch her inside.

As I'm walking back to the front of the house, I smell my dinner.  Uh-oh.

By the time I get to the milk stand, Salsa is yelling because she's run out of grain already, and I hear from Bette and Nancy that the stray goats are getting INSIDE the pen that my goats just vacated.  I see one of them push down the soft wire fencing and step through and over it.  Lily is still in there, and starts to challenge one of the strays, but it has horns and she isn't quite sure what to do.  I get inside and grab her.  Bette and Nancy secure the gate while I put Lily into the barn and get Salsa more grain.

We decide to let the strays stay in the pen overnight. 

They're close enough to the house that they'll be safer from coyotes than where they were (the reason we decided to catch them). I throw them some alfalfa and fill the water bucket, thanking Nancy and Bette profusely.  Bette will call the owner of the dairy next door to see if he knows who the goats might belong to.  We wonder if they might have been "dumped" at the end of the driveway since the gate was open.  I still need to finish feeding the chickens and milk Salsa.  The chores are done as if through water - I'm out of breath and tired.  It only takes 10 minutes to finish milking, and then I sit down and look at the time and just breathe.  It's been about an hour and a half since we started all of this.  I'm beat.

With all the goats running around, plus the dog doing his job, and the three grannies trying to herd goats, it was another night that needed a web cam.  It's a night I'll always remember, and laugh.  A funny, if exhausting, adventure, and we did it. 

Now to get some rest and figure out how in the world I'm going to move them across the driveway to the kid pen, where I really do want them to be.  I have to get my goats out of the barn tomorrow, and these guys are kinda in the way of that.

But I'll figure that all out in the morning.

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