Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Goat + dog + donkeys = trouble

There's been a change of plans here at Rowangarth Farm, but we're learning that's just a part of farm life. While some of you may have been expecting Billy's homecoming story, I'm here to tell you about another homecoming: this one's about Oscar, a wether Pygmy goat.

When we finally decided to buy Billy from the lady with the chickens, we thought we'd get him a goat companion -- Oscar, a three-year-old wether (another successful Kijiji find.) A wether, or castrated male, could keep Billy company while he was off-limits to our future girl goats. Being a wether, he wouldn't share any of Billy's less appealing buck-like qualities either.

Right off the bat, I knew Oscar and I would get along. When I first walked over to the gate by his pen, he jumped up on a bale of hay, bleated a goat-like 'hello', waited patiently for a treat and then bowed his head for a behind-the-ears rub. He was like a big puppy. With horns.

The dog crate that I brought to transport him home was laughably small (I didn't factor in the horns... or the round belly -- it's true that pygmy goats resemble a beer keg with legs) so Oscar had the whole back of the pick-up cab to himself. He didn't seem to mind too much: he spent the hour-long drive home alternating between lying down and watching traffic out the back window.

We got home, unloaded him off the truck and after some creative coaxing (made easier by the removal of the donkeys and the dog who crowded at the gate, resembling a farm animal receiving line) we showed him to his new pen in the barn. He was pretty shook up but as soon as he found his manger full of hay, he made himself right at home.

Day one with the goat, and all is well. Then came day two.

On Tuesday morning, we considered introducing Oscar to the donkeys. Once we saw the look of sheer terror on the goat's face (mind you, it was a fleeting look of terror -- we got a better look at his back-end as he ran away) we decided to keep the two species separate for a while longer. The donkeys went into the back paddock on Sumac Hill and the goat had the run of the barnyard.

As I did my morning farm chores, Oscar was quite happy following me around, bleating loudly and rubbing up to me for head scratching (especially around his horns.) Whenever I left his side, he'd run after me, wagging his tail and ringing his bell. (Yes, the goat wears a cow bell). Just like a puppy, indeed.

Morning of day two with the goat, and all is well. Then we introduced the dog.

Henry is a herding dog in desperate need of a flock of sheep. So desperate, that he's decided to practice on the goat.

While Henry has developed a healthy respect for the donkeys, given that they're three times his size and they can hoof him in the chest and throw him six feet, it seems that Oscar, being of similar size and colouring, is fair game.

We first let Henry into the barn to meet Oscar when he was still in his pen. We thought a good solid four-foot wall between them would facilitate their introduction. They sniffed, they inspected and then Oscar ran away. Henry proceeded to bark at him. Not a good start.

So we shooed the dog out of the barn and let Oscar out of his pen. He came happily trotting out into the barnyard -- until he saw Henry. Being more of a domesticated goat than of the livestock variety, he bolted over to my side, looking for protection. Of course this put Henry's nose out of joint: Oscar was obviously getting too cosy for Henry's liking.

But Henry's a good-natured dog, so instead of growling and getting aggressive, he decided to play a game: let's herd the goat. The more Henry chased, herded and barked, the more Oscar head-butted, reared on his back legs and hid behind me.

At one point, the two of them were chasing each other in a circle with me planted in the middle. Thankfully, I avoided being impaled with a horn or being knocked down by a misguided dog.

We sent Henry back to the house, put Oscar back in his pen and let the donkeys back into the barnyard.

End of day two with the goat, and all is well. Kind of.

Day three arrived. Oscar seemed to have settled in nicely to barnyard life. The donkeys were happily ensconced in the back paddock and Henry was forced to keep a safe distance (most often, in the house.)

While Leeroy spent a better part of the morning watching Oscar over the gate, Cinder seemed pretty blase about the prospect of another barnyard companion.

Oscar didn't shake uncontrollably anymore when he saw the donkeys (in fact, he poked his nose through the gate to see them), so we thought, maybe it was time to bring them all together.

Cinder happily inspected the new addition, in a 'let-me-sniff-you-you're-cute-stay-away-from-my-hay' kinda way.

Leeroy, on the other hand, put on a dominant male, 'I'm-the-boss-let-me-squish-you-like-a-bug' attitude.

In retrospect, we're wondering if it was a wise idea to introduce Leeroy to anybody while Cinder is in heat (that's our explanation, at least, for the two of them doing the double-decker-donkey-salsa across the back paddock all morning.)

Cinder tried to intervene in Leeroy's nonsense -- but he was on a mission: To see how far he could punt the goat off his forehead. He chased him down, bit him on the rump and sent him cartwheeling across the barnyard.

I screamed an obscenity (or two), ran to the barn door and gave Oscar his escape route back to the safety of his pen while Lucas acted as a human barricade. A quick once-over revealed no injuries, save for a bruised ego and a big scare, which was somewhat assuaged by a handful of cracked corn.

My heart raced, my stomach turned and I thought, "What the hell have I gotten us into now?" One of the donkeys that we got for predator protection is beating up the first member of our future goat herd. This can't be good.

When I went outside to berate Leeroy, he was calmly standing in the barnyard, like nothing happened. He nuzzled up for an ear and face rub, a privilege that only I have earned, so far. I draped my arm over his pudgy neck and he relaxed into me, as if to reassure me that he wasn't really nasty.

I had to remind myself that he wasn't used to small animals, particularly ones with horns, and he'd spent years being bullied by a dominant horse at his old farm. At that moment, Lee redeemed himself -- in my eyes, at least.

I'm still optimistic that one day, the donkeys will keep an eye on the other barnyard animals. It just may take a while to convince Oscar of the same.

UPDATE: Turns out that Billy's family has decided to keep him so they can breed him in the spring. That's OK. I think we've got our hands full with the chickens, donkeys, the dog and the goat. And we still have to bring home our rescue horse this weekend. But that's a whole other story.


AJ said...

Oscar is so cute, I am very jealous of your goat-owning self.

I am expecting a BIG post Wednesday night...

Chicken Mama said...

Forgot to mention that I love the shot(s) of Leeroy. Horses are beautiful to photograph, but donkeys just look like they should be wearing permanent clown hats! Especially close up!


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