Three of our thirteen grandchildren live close enough to regularly enjoy our farm animals. Mikaela is seven, Annabelle is five and Everlee is two. When Mikaela was about five years old I caught her chasing some little goats with a stick. “Now, don’t you go to chasing the goats like that,” I cautioned her. “I want those goats to come to me when I want them, not run away from me. If you treat them badly,” I told her, “they will not be your friends.”
At that age, it just seemed to be in Mikaela’s nature to chase things. If she wasn’t chasing goats she was chasing chickens. But she and her sisters more than make up for their little indiscretions by helping to care for the animals—especially when there are cute little baby goats to be bottle fed. Annabelle loves to help her grandpa do the chores but wants to hold his hand when it involves those big horses, the cows or the donkey; and holding hands isn’t such a bad thing when you’re that small in comparison.
More often than not, those animals aren’t very nice to each other and one can get into trouble when they get to kicking, butting or pecking their peers. More than once I have been grazed by the horns of our big billy goat as he tries to keep the nannies from what he perceives as his exclusive food rations. I don’t think he or any of our animals would ever intentionally hurt me or anyone else, but they have caused unintentional injuries. My wife was sent flying by a young bull that didn’t want to be loaded into a trailer. I was recently kicked by the donkey when he was jostling with the big thoroughbred horse. The bruise is still there. When we acquired that billy goat he was very young and so skittish that nobody could get near him. It took a long time before he finally decided that we weren’t a threat to him. Now, with those wide horns of his, he can get too close and too friendly.
Last year at the end of the International Knife and Tomahawk Throwing Festival in Blanco I was given a puppy for helping out as a volunteer. We named the little dog “Tomahawk” and as he got a little older, he decided one day to chase some little chicks that were roaming the yard under the watchful eye of the mother hen. Big mistake! That hen took after that dog and had him by the hinder parts before he knew what hit him. He hasn’t chased any chickens since; in fact he gives them a wide berth.
I find it interesting that the goats and other animals pay little attention to the “old dogs” that are fixtures on the place. But when Tomahawk arrived on the scene he had to watch himself closely because those same animals would take after him as if he were a marauding coyote.
One day I saw a weird-looking animal running up and down the road trying to get into our pasture. I had never seen such a critter before and decided that it must be a cross between a deer and a goat. It turned out to be a Barbado sheep. I opened the pasture gate and she ran in. She sought the protection of the horses and has hung out with them ever since—in fact, I have decided that she thinks she IS a horse. After several years, she is still skittish and stand-offish even after we have tried to be especially kind toward her. I suppose each animal and each person is different in some ways but very much alike in other ways.
I think my advice to Mikaela was sound. If you chase after the animals, especially with a stick, they will not be your friends. The same applies to people. If you act badly toward them, they won’t be your friends either. But sometimes, in a person’s best interest, it is necessary to discipline him or her. What should you do then? It is written:
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained…only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness,… and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy. (D&C 121:39-43)
I want those goats—and my friends—to come to me, not run away from me… Samuel Johnson said “A man, sir, must keep his friendships in constant repair.”