Anyone who raises goats will sooner or later find themselves foster parents to a newborn kid.
This might happen if a nanny, or mother goat, dies. Or, being temperamental, a nanny may decide she doesn’t want to be a mother after all and abandons her baby.
Goats seem to choose the most brutally cold, damp days of the year to bear their young. Baby goats, or kids, look like wet terry cloth wash rags with four legs and a tail. They are entirely helpless and extremely vulnerable to hypothermia.
At our small ranch outside of Blanco, we’re on constant patrol at birthing time to round up the newborns and place them with their mothers in a warm, sheltered stall.
If we find an orphan, we rush it to the house, rub it down with towels and warm it up with a hair dryer. My wife once even spent the night on the bathroom floor snuggled up with a couple of kids to keep them toasty.
Goat kids appear to have no natural instinct for nursing. As soon as they’re born, the nanny licks them dry, pushes them to their feet and nudges them to her milk. I didn’t know that they could figure out what business her milk bag performed unless the nanny showed them what to do.
This year, we are caring for two orphaned billies, which are boy goats. Like children, goat kids drink lots of milk. We buy powered goat milk replacement, mix it with water, put it in a bottle with a nipple attached and hold it to their mouths for them to eat.
Since they don’t have much sense about this at first, we may have to pry open their mouths and plunge the nipple into the opening, which at this moment is usually emitting a screeching bellow. It doesn’t take long for their hunger to get the better of their complaining and for them to eagerly take the bottle.
But feeding two bottles to two goat kids is like batting off a swarm of flies that move in from all directions. Our two little hoodlums pushed, shoved and clamored for their bottles. We did not look forward to months of a baby bottle food fight at our feet.
So we bought a white, plastic gallon-sized bucket. At the bottom of the bucket were two round quarter-size holes. Into the holes we attached big red nipples that approximated the shape of a nanny’s teat. Then we hung the bucket on a hook that draped over a fence and poured in the powdered milk mixture. The idea was that they would suck the milk out of the bucket through the nipples, without us having to get in the middle of the fracas.
But when we first put out the bucket, our goat kids just stood there and stared, wondering what to do with this contraption. We carried them to the bucket, pried open their mouths and popped the nipples in like a cork. But they had no further notion about how to make the apparatus work.
But we weren’t to be deterred. Twice daily, whenever it was time to feed them, we took them to the milk bucket. Slowly, they got the idea that the bucket provided a direct line to their food source.
Now they stand around the bucket throughout the day, just like the other kids hang around their mother. They bang the bucket with their heads and march back and forth in front of it bellowing for food, even if it’s not time to eat.
I’m certain the little orphans have no concept of what a nanny goat is. Their mother is something that hangs on a fence, has two red objects protruding from its side and dispenses the daily meals.
Their mother is a milk bucket.