Well, actually right now we’re lambing, but there is a “new kid on the block” at our farm this spring. And no, I’m not kidding—he’s a goat!
The story really begins with a sheep—Sweet Pea—who was one of a set of triplets born last spring. While her brothers grew to average size, Sweet Pea stubbornly stayed petite. This wasn’t because she had little to eat (our Mayterm interns delighted in bottle feeding her after Sweet Pea was rejected by her mother in favor of the boys) or any fault of her own; she just happened to have the genetics to be a “miniature” sheep.
Some breeds of sheep like Babydoll Southdowns are all miniatures. Proportioned like a standard sheep, they stop growing at about 40 pounds (a size you can still pick up and carry across the barnyard…or at least Kara can). Many of our mature ewes, on the other hand, top off at 180 pounds.
Sweet Pea is as healthy and perky as ever, but all her sheep friends were so much bigger and bossier than she, so Kara went looking for a suitable companion. We milk our sheep (instead of cows or goats) to make gelato in the summertime, which can be confusing for some folks who are not intimately acquainted with farm animals. Goats, sheep—what’s the difference?
In the summertime, we bring a few “celebrity” animals down to Farmstead Creamery & Café for folks to enjoy. Last year, we featured Wooster the Silver-laced Wyandotte and Clementine the Buff Orpington (whose images are on a myriad of smart phones now). Sweet Pea would make a wonderful celebrity sheep that could help keep the Café lawn mowed. But sheep can’t live alone. That’s how Kara decided to search for a miniature (dwarf) goat.
It was high winter and cold when the little week-old black-and-brown Nigerian Dwarf kid came home in the dog kennel. Cold and worried, he was one of a litter of four, and his nanny was not going to be able to feed the whole brood. Met by the sniffs of curious dog noses, the little fellow found a home in a stock tank in our heated basement—a safe and warm place to make a new start. And he was a talkative fellow, nickering incessantly when he was lonely or hungry! Even the cat Pumpkin found the newcomer most interesting, perching on a nearby box to have the best view.
With blotchy patches of black, brown, and light tan (called “moon spotting” in goat coloration lingo), his fur reminded us of the bark of the Linden Tree, for which he was named. With little Linden as the first goat on our farm, we had a few things to learn—and he had quite a few things to explore.
“Let me out!” he would bleat, prancing at the edge of the stock tank. Kara would pick up his now chunky little body and let him go on the tile floor. Boing! His legs shot out in all directions as if struck by electricity. Linden would bounce off, slightly sideways, across the floor, dancing and prancing with excitement. Lena the sheep dog would look bewildered, following behind while trying to stay out of the way.
Then Linden discovered the staircase! Up, up, up, stop, turn around, then down, down, down again. It made a wonderful game. Sometimes the back end would get ahead of the front end or Linden would leap right over our little dog Sophie as she snoozed on the doggy pillow. It was all so much fun, when you’re a goat!
Ah, but then he learned that there was a second staircase leading up to the loft. Once out of the stock tank, off he’d go up the carpeted stairs, tear around the corner past my instruments, then up the more challenging wooden staircase—with me right after him.
“Linden, no, not up here! Come back you little rascal!” Linden had already lived up to his goatly distinctiveness—climbing on the fax machine, consuming a paper bag, and shredding a cardboard box. He didn’t need to get into my art supplies!
Then after shearing, the temperatures plummeted. Little Sweet Pea shivered, too small to stay warm. So Kara thought it was a good time for the two miniatures to get to know each other. She carried Sweet Pea into our house and plopped her into the stock tank full of loose hay to warm up. Linden was ecstatic to have a friend. But Sweet Pea had a different opinion. She stamped her foot impertinently and lightly butted the little goat.
Linden cowered and bawled his head off, like the little kid that’s been picked on at the playground. It wasn’t until some days later that Sweet Pea realized Linden was the only other ruminant in the whole house, so she might as well get used to him. Now they make quite the comic pair as little Linden still has a bit of growing to do. But Aunt Sweet Pea was good for him—teaching him to eat grain and hay “like big folks do.”
The weather continued to stay cold. Prospective summer interns came to visit the farm, some even returning for repeat tours. We trudged through the snow, visiting all the animals. “I want to see Linden again!” Missy nearly bounced with eagerness. “Wouldn’t they let me have a little goat in the dorm room? He’d be nice and quiet.”
“Yeah, until you went to class, then he’d cry,” Sanora laughed. “Then what.”
“Then I’d just say it was you in there making all the noise! Besides, they have their goat in their house.”
We turned the corner down to the walkout basement. “Not that this is the permanent location,” I smiled. “It’s just until things warm up enough that the two can live in the barn together until summer.”
“Well, you weren’t kidding, the goat is in the house!” Andrew, a senior, chuckles as we walk inside. I pick up pudgy little Linden and Missy is the first to want to hold him. The little stinker doesn’t mind a bit, eagerly sucking on an offered finger. Spoiled little thing—don’t have to worry much about him being well socialized!
Stowed away in our garage is a little shelter Kara has built for the pair, so they can greet visitors at Farmstead Creamery & Café this summer. So if you’re wondering about the difference between a sheep and a goat, this quirky pair will be happy to illustrate with their unique character traits. Watch out, though, that Linden doesn’t eat your hat. See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com