You know it’s cold when your breath freezes instantly into icicles!
The animals handle the cold really well – much better than me! During bad spells of weather I am happy that humans discovered how to make fire and then invented central heating. You have to be impressed by the humbleness of animals and their ability to take what comes their way.
Goats and sheep are very similar but their personalities are very different. Goats are much more interactive than sheep. My goats walk in front of me in a blocking move to stop me from leaving. My sheep will follow me for a treat but would never try to trip me. One of my sheep, Bella, is more aggressive than the others and at nearly 300 pounds can be a handful. She will push me with her nose for treats if she smells them and follows within inches behind me with her head down, looking like a missile. An amusing sight! Mostly the sheep watch my activities with attentive paranoia but will come forward to take a treat if one is offered.
Goats really appreciate personal attention if they are feeling bad and will nuzzle you with their thanks. Sheep are generally so much more nervous about being handled that it doesn’t noticeably help them. They do love to be scratched, between the front legs and on the checks are favorites of my sheep, but they have to be in a happy, relaxed mood to allow such behavior. Generally if they are sick, they are fearful as they know they are more susceptible to predators.
Prey species don’t show they are hurting until it is very bad indeed so farmers have to keep a sharp eye on their charges. Even very minor behavior changes can indicate that an animal is in trouble. I can sometimes tell almost as a feeling, not because they are doing anything specific to indicate they are hurting. They all have their own personalities and knowing each of them well is the key to keeping them in good health. Large farms can’t possibly do this. I had over 50 goats and I reduced my flock size after realizing that I could not give them the care they deserved. Since animals “handle” what they are given I feel a greater responsibility to ensure they have healthy, happy lives.
As an animal lover I struggle constantly with the continuum of offering an animal an existence vs providing them a ‘quality’ life. I believe that it is better to put an animal down humanely than to keep them alive under bad conditions but where to draw the line? There is no single correct answer, but for myself I have become more conservative over time, feeling that the animals in my care deserve a good life and if I’m stretched too thin it is best that I don’t take on additional animals. Currently I have 10 goats and 3 sheep and this feels like a good number. All the same, it is always hard to pass on sheep or goats needing homes as their options are slim vs companion animals such as dogs.
Ingrid is in the mood and letting the entire county know with her loud calls. Goats are very vocal about such things which is handy if you are breeding them; you know exactly when to introduce the buck and will have a pretty accurate due date. Sadly I came home last March to find my buck dead in the front pasture. No idea what happened, but I suspect his pasture mates broke his neck. Sienna was such a dear goat, never aggressive and did not fit into the goat world very well. He was a bottle baby as his mother wouldn’t accept him, living in the house for about 6 weeks with 2 cats. I suspect he always thought he was either a cat or a person.
Sienna with Sandy
His pasture mates broke his back hip when he was about 4 years old so it is easy to imagine one of the big wethers hitting him with more deadly consequences. Anyway…..sheep are much more subtle in expressing their interests. Sheep instead use a maneuver I call “kaschnoodling” instead of crying incessantly as goats do. Kaschnoodling involves rubbing heads and noses together, at times head on, staring into each other’s eyes for quite some time. It is also curious that ruminant voice volume is inversely proportional to physical size. Thus Ingrid is the smallest goat and has the loudest voice. Luckily the impulse only lasts several days (although repeating ever 3 weeks or so) and Angora goats are seasonal breeders which means they only breed ~late October through January.
Ingrid (right) with her twin brother Roberto.
Changes in weather always makes the goats frisky and Boo (aka Black Magic) never needs a reason to give me the “Sister Bertrille” move (look at her ears). She was also a bottle baby but was such an exuberant kid that she only lasted 2 days in the house. Unable to contain her in the laundry room, she was put out with her mother Megan and twin sister Starlight. Although Megan did not like Boo, she tolerated her (vs Sienna’s mother Ginger who made it a point to beat him to a pulp if he was left with her). This allowed Boo to play with her twin sister and grow up in a more normal environment. So Boo knows she is a goat, but thinks that people are also goats and thus can be a handful when she is in a frisky mood. Frisky goats like to challenge each other to some good old fashioned head butting but unfortunately this is not a good sport for humans.
When you have a kid which has been rejected by it’s mother you have to bottle raise them or lose them, and yet being raised by a human will totally change the goat they might have been. A bit like playing God. Although I always felt it was the right thing to do, and could not have left a kid to die without trying to save it, I always wonder about the long term impact of that decision.