The Book of Rainbow

3 06 2010

Rainbow is a Nigerian Dwarf/Nubian Mix. Her ears are Remeniscent of Sally Field's habit in The Flying Nun.

Once we got Redwood we promised Kaherdin some male representation in our little petting zoo.  The quality of this goat didn’t matter as much — we weren’t in it for the milk — so Danae returned to Craigslist to see if there might be a young wether closer by.  We learned that a fair price for a young wether was around $25.  We were willing to spend a little bit more if it meant that we didn’t need to make a long drive.

Friday night she made contact with Jane in the Evergreen district of San Jose — about a half hour away — who had several goats of all ages and breeds for sale.  We were excited at the prospect of having so many to choose from — Kinders, Nigerian Dwarfs, Pygmys, Nubians — and were certain we would easily find Kaherdin his baby boy.  We made an appointment to meet with Jane after three o’clock on Saturday afternoon to see the goats.

We made our way down 101 to south San Jose then turned off east into the foothills.  Even thought I grew up in this area, I had only been to the Evergreen part of San Jose once, over seven years ago, for a baby shower just after my daughter was born.  It looked mostly as I remembered — development after development of large single family homes pushing farther and farther up the hillside.  I started to get nervous about what we would find at the designated address.  Jane had indicated that she had a sort of petting zoo and needed to thin out her herd.  I couldn’t imagine any sort of petting zoo in the midst of all of these stucco McMansions.  We arrived almost an hour early and, since Kaherdin had just fallen asleep, we decided to keep driving south past the developments and further into the hills to look around.  We found ourselves winding our way creekside through a valley.  The developments were thinning out and nestled in between some of them were the occasional orchard, Victorian farmhouse or barn — holdouts, I imagined from the clutches of the developer’s checkbook.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to own a farm here — so close to the trappings of upper middle class life with the strip malls, freeway access and paved jogging trails, yet still with a feel of being away from it all.  Somehow the two seemed to be working against each other.  I imagined that there would be periodic contact from developers offering to buy land and I had a sinking feeling that no matter what a farmer’s intentions, the developers would ultimately win.

The week-old kids seek shade in an old crate. Kaherdin's chosen one is in the middle.

We turned around and found our way back to the road to Jane’s house.  We entered an older suburban neighborhood — houses from the late 70’s/early 80’s — and I grew more confused.  How could Jane house so many goats in a back yard no bigger than our own?  As we went further up the street though, suddenly the road turned to gravel and we were amidst farms!  We found the address and turned up the gravel driveway — this was definitely the right place.  There were designated parking spaces out front by a large, fenced in chicken yard (which housed two ducks as well).  We went up to the door and were met by Jane who welcomed us out back to view the goats.  We were greeted by a group of five or six week-old kids and Kaherdin immediately decided which one he was bonded to.

It smelled like death and I looked around anxiously to find the location of the rotting carcass.  The air was thick with flies and I finally realized that the stench came from two or three fly traps hanging from the awning.  One of the traps was full to capacity and I wondered if the rotting fly bodies were, in fact, attracting even more flies.  They were decomposing into whatever the bait was, creating a sort of macabre soup.  Whatever was going on, I could barely stand to be there — and I am not one to be squeamish.  I have made it through two babies worth of diaper sludge that couldn’t come close to this.

Gwen plays with one of the kids as Kaherdin looks on.

Danae talked with Jane about which animals were, in fact, for sale.  As it turns out, the Nigerian Dwarf babies had already been taken home by other people.  The young male that Kaherdin had fallen in love with was an adorable Nubian destined to grow to almost twice the size of the goat that we had in mind.  We simply could not accommodate him.  We turned our attention to the goats that were set to go out to pasture — all does.  Jane’s husband appeared and began to gather the goats to take them out to the 30 acres of adjoining properties where they were free to roam — a symbiotic relationship for goat keeper and land owner as the goats get to graze and the land owners can lessen their worry over brush fire.  He let all but the goats that we were to consider out to pasture so we could more easily focus on the animals.

I’m always nervous getting used goods from anyone — I didn’t want to get the clunker car of goats, to take her home only to realize that her bearings had been packed with raw hamburger or that she had a new paint job to mask body work over a cracked frame.  Nobody ever gets rid of their best dairy goats.  Over time I have learned that Redwood’s limitation, aside from her small teats, is that she gives a slow thin stream of milk and therefore takes longer to empty out.

Danae shows Kaherdin the goats that are available for sale.

There were two does that were in milk — a one year old Nigerian Dwarf/Nubian mix and a two year old Kinder (a Pygmy/Nubian mix).  We decided that since we couldn’t take home a baby boy, we may as well bring a goat home that could produce something for the feed we give her.  Kaherdin was resistant at first, but I explained to him that once we get our bigger farm, we would be able to keep bigger goats and he could choose any male he wanted.  We allowed him to choose between the two milkers and he chose the Dwarf/Nubian and named her Rainbow.

We paid $200 for her, $50 more than we paid for Redwood, but then again, we didn’t need to spend money on a hotel room or eating out in order to go and get her.  Rainbow is almost as tall as Redwood but considerably shorter lengthwise.  Jane tried to talk us into the other goat.  Rainbow, as it turns out, was one of their lowest producers and, since Jane is in the goat milk business, this was certainly a detriment.  Jane’s farm sells a variety of goat milk products as well as goat shares — when people pay money to “own” a certain percentage of a goat or goats and, in return, receive a certain quantity of raw milk.  I assured her that this wasn’t of great concern to us.  So we paid for Rainbow, loaded her in the car and made our way home.

Jane loads Rainbow into the van.

Unlike Redwood, who is very quiet, Rainbow bleated loudly the entire way back to East Palo Alto.  Danae turned around a looked in the back of the minivan and said, “We have two goats…  Are we crazy?”  I had to shout above Rainbow’s incessant bleating to answer her, “No, we’re adventurous!” I realize that sometimes adventurous and crazy look the same.

We have come to learn that Rainbow’s vocal performance was not just a matter of being nervous, or from being sad at being separated from her herd, she is just plain noisy.  And she doesn’t just bleat, she yells to the point of cracking her voice and becoming hoarse.  I’ll be in the house in one of the bedrooms or the bathroom and I’ll hear her screaming out for attention, “Meh!!!” and I’ll call back through the open windows, “What?”  She keeps on vocalizing so I’ll call out, “Rainbow!  Raaainbow!”  It’s hilarious.

I came from a very loud Sicilian family where people were accustomed to speaking loudly, weather or not it was appropriate.  It seemed that most communication came in the form of a shouting match — even when people were getting along.  The noise and the yelling were always a bit much for me even though I grew up in the middle of it.  I was never one to shout back.  This feels both familiar and healing in that now I choose to shout back.  There is no fear of being grounded or of being at the wrong end of a wooden spoon.  And, truly, the back and forth with Rainbow really equates to a dialogue of:

I unleash Rainbow so she can meet Redwood for the first time.

Rainbow: Hey!

Me: What?

Rainbow: Hey!!!

Me: What???!!!

I love it.

Rainbow is quite easy to milk.  Her teats are decidedly smaller than Redwood’s, but the milk comes out in a wider stream and therefore empties much more quickly.  One of her teats is a little wonky (yes, a technical term) — it curves to the rear which makes things a little messy at the end of milking as the flow of milk becomes weaker and doesn’t shoot in a firm stream into the cup but dribbles down my hand instead.

Two and a half pints per milking

We’ve settled into a nice schedule.  Danae goes out to feed the animals in the morning, waking them up and starting Rainbow’s day-long monologue.  It might be fun to pretend that she’s a narcissist — instead of saying, “Meh!” she’s saying, “Me!” as in pay attention!  I drag myself out of bed to milk her because any sort of contact calms her down and quiets her for a while.  I am painfully aware of the neighbors (including my sister’s family in the bungalow), and I don’t want the noise to become an issue for anyone.  After milking Rainbow tells me about it for a half hour or so before quieting down for most of the rest of the day.  Danae then milks them after dinner and everyone settles in for the night.

Goat kisses.

There is something magical about these creatures that we’ve brought into our life.  Everything is shaping up.  The bees are busily working at their honey stores, the new chicks have graduated to their bigger interim home outside — one step away from being integrated with the rest of the hens — and the goats have settled into their new pen and routine.  All I can say is that what I’m tracking around on my shoes is nothing compared to what I am carrying in my heart or what I now see on my horizon.




One response

3 06 2010

Hey Dr. Doolittle, I love your blog. 🙂

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