Friday, June 15, 2012

Life in a Zoo the Fictional Version: Pygmy Goats

Baby pygmy goats

My very first goats were a pair of newborn orphan pygmy goats. These two little orphans came from the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine. One of our boarding kennel clients was a student there and telephoned us. She felt that we might give them a good home.

We jump at the chance for a pair of goats!  They were so funny and cute when we got them.  The little female was three days old and the little boy only a day old. He still had his little umbilical cord attached to his tummy. We were instantly charmed.  They needed to be bottle-fed every two hours, so we often took them with us whenever we had to leave home.

They traveled in a large dog crate in the back of the station wagon. I kept a diaper bag with their bottles, powdered formula, and baby wipes to keep them clean. Wherever we were, when it time to feed them, we just found a grassy place to sit. I would put formula in their two bottles and fill it with warm water. 

Usually, within minutes, we attracted a crowd. They charmed everyone who met them.

We did not understand the nature of goats, so we spoiled them rotten. By the time they grew up, Peter became quite a problem.  He was good-sized for a pygmy goat and became very aggressive.  Sometimes he would threaten visitors.  He was an excellent climber. No pen would hold him. Either he climbed or leaped over it, or he bashed his way through it. 

I tried chaining him to the side of his barn, but he caused even more trouble. He alternately bawled and butted the side of the barn. In less than a week, he had literally managed to bash a large hole into the side of the barn.  Goats can be very stubborn.

Eventually, we found a new home for him on a farm where they needed a strong goat bush goat to keep the weeds down.  He had five fenced acres in which to roam and be king of a herd of does.

Shortly after we found a home for him, we lost our little Heidi, too.  We had not realized she had gone into heat. Apparently they had bred and she was pregnant.  I found her dead in her stall one morning. She had been in the process of giving birth.  It was then I learned that pygmy goats often have difficulty giving birth and need assistance.  In fact, both Heidi and Peter were orphans for that very reason.

It was a very hard time for us, and we both grieved deeply over her loss. Our little farm (pre-zoo days) felt empty and lonely without our charming little Heidi. 

Nearly a year later we heard about someone who had pygmy goats for sale. We ended up buying an entire flock of a dozen goats!  There were eleven does and one buck.  These goats were not tame like our two bottle-babies. They were very shy.

It took me a week to tame them.  What was my secret?  Goats absolutely love sweet feed. Sweet feed is a mixture of grains coated in molasses.  If they can get it, they will literally eat themselves to death with it.  We had to measure it out carefully.

I tamed them by withholding grain. In the beginning, we only fed them a partial ration of hay.  I wanted them good and hungry. I would slowly enter the pen, talking quietly. They would gallop to the far side of the pen.

All animals have a personal body space. It varies from species to species, and individual to individual.  It is an invisible line around the animal.  When you step across that line, the animal will retreat.  Once the animals get to know and trust you, that line gets closer and closer to their own body.

When I was just close enough to not invade their body space, I would lay down in their pen. I stretched out my arm held out my open hand, in which there was sweet feed. I would look away, continuing to talk to them.

Eventually, one brave little tan goat crept up and snatched a mouthful of grain from my hand and bolted away.  Over the next few days, she came readily and the others began to come.  Within the week, most of them would mob me as soon as I entered their pen!

By springtime, most of our little does were bulging with pregnant bellies.  We never actually saw them breed, but you can be sure we watched them like a hawk!  Finally, the day came when one of our does was clearly in labor. It was the little tan one who had first eaten from my hand.

I scooped her up and hollered for Joe to get the car!  We jumped in the station wagon and headed to the vet. I was determined not to lose another goat.  We were one mile from the nearest paved road and eleven miles from town. White-knuckled, Joe was jouncing down the road while I held a squirming bawling goat.  I could feel her labor contractions under my hands. She shrieked with every contraction.  I was terrified that she would die before we got to town.

Before long, the shrieking stopped. A flood of water drenched my blue jeans, and out wriggled a wet, squirming kid!

“Never mind, Joe. Let’s go home.” 

Joe screeched the car to a halt.  “Why? What’s wrong?”  He thought the goat had died.

I was grinning from ear to ear as I held up the limp little newborn.  We gushed and baby-talked, and praised Mamma goat all the way back home while she licked and cleaned her baby.

We used several bales of hay to cordon off an area for mother and child and made sure they were fine. I guess we spent hours in there admiring the white little charmer as she nuzzled and nursed her mamma. 

I dubbed this little goat, Heidi. Her personality became the little pygmy goat, Heidi, in The Thwarting of Mr. Dingsnapple.

Youtube of pygmy goats

Here is a short video with baby pygmy goats playing.  I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures of my own goats, but this will give you the idea of what they do!  The little white one is exactly like Heidi in The Thwarting of Mr. Dingsnapple.

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