Photos by Clancy Benedict
News bulletin from Rockspring Farm: We have adopted some kids! Eleven—to be exact. That is, we’ve become the caretakers of eleven young goats.
The longer I live here on our twenty acres, the more convinced I become that animals are necessary. In an effort to keep predators at a distance and tick populations under control, we are forever clearing brush, mowing grass, and even using the weed-eater to keep the overgrowth at bay. But it’s too much: too much fuel, too much wear-n-tear on equipment, and way too much labor.
It was time for a change. With the help of Elizabeth and Spencer Kohl, who run a goat dairy called Kohl Family Farm, we added goats to one hillside here at Rockspring Farm. Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. With rock ledge throughout our property, installing fencing is near impossible. But Spencer Kohl and crew persevered and the fence was erected.
Spencer Kohl unloading the kids
Next came the kids. It was a Friday afternoon earlier this month when Spencer unloaded 15 young goats off his truck. Saturday morning, we awoke to panicked voicemail and text messages from Elizabeth Kohl. Apparently the Kohls’ goats—including some of the kids now at my farm—had eaten from the cyanide producing yew plant. Indeed, several kids were clearly sick. Elizabeth rushed over and started force-feeding the goats water mixed with vitamins. But still we watched helplessly as two goats succumbed to the poison. Two more of the smallest goats went back to the Kohl’s farm for additional care. While those two goats survived, one became blind. One other sick goat remained with us and recovered completely. Altogether, the Kohl’s lost 15 goats: 13 from their herd and two from the group at our farm. We learned a lot in those first 24 hours.
Since then, the kids are adjusting well. When they’re not grazing or napping, they’re chewing their cud or head butting each other. And they follow people around like little puppies. We erected a small covered area for the kids to get out of the rain or sun. But on one of their first nights on our farm, they weren’t bedding down under the tarp. So I called them to their shelter and they came running and braying. I sat down on the other side of their fence and hummed a lullaby. Soon the kids quieted down and started bedding down. While unnecessary, the lullaby clearly had a calming effect. I quickly gained an appreciation for a cowboy’s lullaby.
We’re also learning that goats are like Houdini. In the first week at our farm, we found the goats grazing peacefully outside their fence at least a half dozen times.
As the Kohls pointed out, it is because of goats that we have the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Each time the goats escaped, we got them back in and investigated the fence-line. And each time, we found another escape route, some more obvious than others. Sometimes the kids even demonstrated their escape techniques for us. Meanwhile, my oldest son, Tennyson, has become my fence-patcher extraordinaire. He has run to Tractor Supply multiple times (sometimes in the same day) for everything from cattle panels to wire and has patched all of the holes or gaps himself.
Tennyson patching the fence
My daughters, Maggie and Clara Belle, spend hours feeding the goats handfuls of grass and chives, petting the goats, or running around with the goats tagging along beside them.
They help herd the goats back in when they get out, and keep them content while we patch up any gaps in the fence. And the kids have such personalities. One goat is particularly curious and likes to climb everything—including people. Another likes to chew on your clothes. And another is perfectly happy grazing and never tries to escape. Who needs a dog for a pet when you have goats? Indeed, the new kids on our farm are a welcome addition.