Maternity Leave And 'Surro-goat' Moms

Published 4:46 pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

I've always found it interesting that the English language is so full of oxymorons.

“Maternity leave” is one of them. The word “maternity” implies many things, but leaving isn't one of them – unless, of course, you're a goat.

“You know,” my spouse mused as he watched a show on TV featuring baby goats romping about on a sunny spring day. “We need some baby goats.”

“Really?” I asked, but I knew it was hopeless to protest.

There's nothing as enticing as goatkeeping from an armchair, but over the years I've learned that it's the “field work” that separates the goats from the keepers.

Goats, in other words, have a way of making goatkeepers earn their keep.

Nevertheless, it wasn't long before we paid a visit to a local goat farm and came home with two baby goats.

The kid pen in the barn was ready, and the new members of the herd were soon settled. How the older goats would react to the goat youngsters, however, was not.

I had hoped that the goat babies might renew a spark of maternal instinct in the herd matron Paulette. Predictably Paulette stuck her head through the fence and sniffed each baby. The babies sniffed back.

All went well, in fact, until the twin twosome began eyeing Paulette's udder. With a familiar gleam in her eye (common to almost every mother goat I've had on the farm) Paulette looked in my direction, shook her beard, and walked out the door.

Paulette had officially declared “maternity leave” – hers, not mine.

I was the one left holding the kids.

“Food, food!” the baby goats bleated with surprising volume for animals so small (imagine one squalling human infant and multiply by two).

The noise was enough to get anyone's goat.

Unfortunately, mine was gone.

At least this time around I didn't have to milk Paulette. When we acquired ten-day-old Heather and Heathcliff three years ago after Paulette's baby died during a difficult delivery, I had to milk her first before those little mouths were filled (and quiet).

Milking a goat is an interesting process – when there's a commotion going on it's even more so. Theoretically the milking process involves a goat hopping up on a milk stand where it puts its head in a stanchion and eats grain as it is milked. What often happens is a bit different – and another oxymoron. Once on the milk stand goats like to sit – right in the bucket of milk.

Somewhere along the line female goats acquired the name “nannies.” I've never figured out why. Most of the mother goats I've known over the years haven't been that anxious to take care of their own kids, much less anyone else's. I wasn't really surprised that Paulette wasn't interested in mothering the two new arrivals. She'd been there and done that and was only to happy to head out the door for greener pastures.

Like it or not, I'd been “nannied” for the duration.”

I headed back to the house to fix two bottles of milk (fortunately I brought a supply of goat milk home along with the babies).

Returning a short time later with bottles of warm milk I found Paulette, Heather, and Heathcliff lounging on the grass (it did, in fact, look much greener on their side of the fence).

Heathcliff raised his hoof as I passed by. “We could use some drinks over here, too,” he nodded.

“Something with those little umbrellas would be nice,” Heather added.

“In your dreams!” I huffed as I hurried to the barn to take care of “my kids.”

As I opened the gate I'm almost sure I heard Paulette snicker -“na-aa-nny!

Nanny it was – au pair to a pair of baby goats.

As the weeks went by and I continued to wash baby bottles and clean pens Paulette and the rest of the goats enjoyed their “maternity leave.” I knew, of course, what they were waiting for – the day when the dirty work was done.

I've seen it happen many times. Mama goat will saunter over to the gate, give the babies a nudge, and off they all go into the “big pasture” – without so much as a backward glance for their poor bedraggled “nanny.”

There's no doubt about it, being a “surro-goat” mom is a thankless job. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Baby goats bring new life and a new direction to the farm. It's turning a new leaf – a “maternity leave,” of course.

Don't tell the goats, but I wouldn't leave if I could – no kidding!