Monday, March 26, 2012

Loki Joe

When we first got our goats, it was with the intention of raising and showing them as a project in our local 4-H club.  It was mainly my older daughter who was interested in goats and 4-H, but I thought it would be good if both girls participated in the activity.  My youngest, Molly, was 9 at the time, and a bit on the stubborn side, so in order to encourage her to become involved, I suggested that she invite her friend, Holly, to join 4-H with us. 

Now, Holly lives in town and had no farm animals, but I assured her parents that this was not a necessity for being involved with 4-H.  Many people don’t know this, but 4-H isn’t just for farm kids.  There are numerous projects from cake decorating to sewing to shooting sports that even urban kids can participate in.  So, I suggested that Holly and Molly do a project together called, “Decorate your Duds” which would combine their love of clothing with their sense of creativity.  Molly would also do a dairy goat project with her new little Nigerian Dwarf, Springer, and of course, Holly often tagged along.

Well, much to Holly’s parents chagrin (I imagine), Holly soon discovered the joys of goat ownership and began pressuring them to buy her a goat.  I thought this would be a lot of fun and offered to help them find a suitable animal and to board it at our farm.   Not wanting the expense or responsibility of getting a doe (female goat), she decided to start with a wether (castrated male) like Molly had the year before.  It was early fall when we started looking, but it turned out to be harder than I expected.  By that late in the season, most of the kids from the previous spring had been sold and we found it challenging to track down a young, Nigerian Dwarf wether, which was what she had settled on.

After several false starts, we found a cute 4 month old wether not far away who sounded perfect.  His name was Homeless Joe and he was a sweet little tan and black Nigerian.   The only problem was that he had just been diagnosed with and was being treated for pink-eye, a common but very contagious ailment in goats.  He was on medication and was quarantined for 3-4 weeks, so we’d have to wait to bring him home until he was finished with the antibiotics he was taking.  His current owner also told us that though he had been disbudded (de-horned) he had some small scurs.  Scurs result when a small amount of the horn cell remains after disbudding, causing a little bit of horn to grow – usually not a problem.

Holly waited patiently, although it was probably hard for her as Molly, in the meantime, got her first doeling, a cute little Nigerian Dwarf she named Lily.  But eventually all that waiting and patience paid off, and it was time to make the hour drive to go pick up the little fella who Holly had decided to rename Loki Joe (Loki being the name of the Norse God of Mischief – very fitting for a young goat!).

When we arrived at the farm where Loki had been living, we found him being kept in a dog kennel all alone and away from the other goats because of his pink-eye.  Poor little guy.  We were happy that he was about to become a member of our growing herd back home.  But when we got to visit with him up close, I realized that the “little scur” they had mentioned was actually a small horn.  I hated to break the news to Holly and her mom after all that waiting, but I was pretty sure that we’d have to have it surgically removed in order for Holly to be able to show him as planned.  I couldn’t imagine coming all this way after all this waiting just to have to tell Holly that this goat wasn’t the one for her.  So, we loaded him up in my minivan and brought him back to the farm, hoping that the little horn would be easy enough to deal with.

The first week or so was hard on Loki.  He was somewhat stressed and didn’t seem to be feeling great, and he didn’t really understand what it meant to be part of a herd having lived so much of his young life in isolation.  But after an injection of vitamins A & E and lots of TLC from Holly and Molly, he perked up and started acting like the young little mischievous goat he was.  Soon he was running with the herd and acting strong and healthy enough to be ready for his dehorning surgery.

On a chilly day in December, I took him over to my vet’s house where he and his wife performed the operation on the top of a dryer in their laundry room.  It wasn’t very fancy, but they got the job done with minimal fuss and expense.  Poor little Loki was sent home with a full head wrap which he had to wear for the next 2-3 weeks.  Because it was so cold out, we let him convalesce in our heated mudroom with our friendly wether, Snickers, as his nursemaid.

I am happy to report that two years later Loki is thriving as a full-fledged member of our herd.  He is happy, healthy and best of all, horn- and scur-free!  And he has become a wonderful little show goat, helping Holly to win first place in her showmanship class at the Boulder County Fair last summer.  Not bad for a little goat that got off to such a hard start.  Way to go Holly and Loki!

Life Lesson:  Patience, perseverance and a positive attitude are the keys to success

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's the Hurry?

When we first met our mare, Belle, she was 19 years old and my daughter, Megan was 7.  We were just getting Megan started with horses and after a few successful riding lessons had decided to try to lease a horse as a next step.  Belle was a black Quarter Horse mare with a mellow, easy going temperament and a nice smooth gait, who was in semi-retirement due to an old injury.  Apparently she’d been kicked in the gaskin a few years earlier (that’s an area toward the top of the rear leg) and though the injury itself had healed, it had left tight scar tissue in that part of her leg that restricted her range of motion, causing her to move with a bit of a gimp.  The injury had ended her career as a show horse and she had been sold for $1 to a family in Boulder as a kid's pleasure horse.  Their young daughters only rode occasionally, so the family had decided to lease her out as a way to pay for her keep.

We leased Belle for about a year and eventually she was given to us by the family when they no longer had the time or interest to care for her.  Since then, Belle has gone on to have a meaningful second career as a kid’s lesson and camp horse at our family farm.  While Megan has lost much of her interest in horses (for the time being, at least) Belle has taught many other new riders how to overcome some initial fears as they begin learning how to ride.  From the littlest 6 year old to several of my adult students, Belle has been the perfect beginner’s horse, in part because of her slow, smooth gaits but also because her favorite speed of all is a stand still. 

Whenever a new student is a little uneasy or apprehensive about climbing up on the back of one of the horses (a fear I think is rooted in some pretty good common sense), the first thing I do is teach them how to make the horse stop.  Knowing that they can control the speed and movement of their large mount is the quickest way to instill confidence and with Belle, it couldn’t be easier.   She is voice trained (as all my horses are) to some basic commands such as walk, trot, canter and Belle’s personal favorite, whoa.  Once students learn that a simple, firmly spoken “whoa” is all it takes to stop her in her tracks, they immediately relax.

In the wild horse world, where horses have to fend for themselves and be prepared to flee at the first sign of danger, the older horses eventually figure out that they should move as little as possible when no danger is present to conserve energy.  You never know when a mountain lion or other threat might show up and you want to have enough energy in reserve to be able to run for all you’re worth if needed.   While Belle certainly doesn’t have to worry too much about predators in her current living arrangement, she has definitely perfected the art of conserving energy.   She never takes more steps than necessary, stays out of the fray when the younger horses are goofing off, and takes a nap every afternoon out in the back pasture.

I actually think I could learn a lot from old Belle.  I myself, tend to rush from activity to activity, eat too fast, do too much, and don’t take nearly enough naps.  I’m always running from one thing to the next and seem to have forgotten all about the word "whoa".
Belle turns 28 this month, and Megan will be 16.  It’s hard for me to believe that my little girl who was learning to ride what seems like just a few years ago, is now learning to drive.  And Belle has been a part of her world for more than half her life. 

Each spring, I wonder if this will be the year that Belle retires for good.  But when I leave her in the paddock and bring the other horses out to work in the arena, she just stands at the fence watching alertly with an expression that seems to say, “hey, what about me?”  So each year, I bring her back into the arena for light work and she continues to be a camp and lesson favorite.  Maybe conserving all that energy is the real secret to longevity.

Life Lesson:  Take it easy if you want to go the distance