Gigi and Nöelle

A friend was over the other day,

Nöelle in a box

Nöelle in a box, coming home

and he brought up a particular French cheese that he knew of, didn’t I love this one?

I told him that I hadn’t heard of it, so no, I didn’t know if I did. He looked at me, surprised, and said (only sort of kidding) what, don’t you know everything there is to know about French cheeses?

I see we need to get something clear here: I don’t have dairy goats because I love cheese. I make cheese because I love dairy goats.

As a farmer, I wasn’t always this way.

When we first bought the farm, we had some major, major weed control to do. In particular, there was a huge blackberry bramble that backed onto a neighbour’s block of native bush that was 3 meters high and could be seen in aerial photographs all the way back to the 1950s. We consulted with various people involved in landcare in the area, government officers, local landcare groups, you name it. We were told, over and over, that Brush-Off was necessary (a delight made by Du Pont, active ingredient metsulfuron methyl with a warning label as long as your arm). Blackberries were so tough, so tenacious, we were told, only the big guns would do. We smiled and nodded to these people, and then just kept on asking.

Then someone said, “Why don’t you get a goat?”

I see we need to get something clear here: I don’t have dairy goats because I love cheese. I make cheese because I love dairy goats.

First, the brewmaster, with help from a neighbour, cut breaks through the bramble (serious hard yakka.) Then, they set fire to it in small patches, carefully burning, while I watched from the house, telephone in hand to ring the CFS as the flames licked the sky.

And then, the plan went, when the blackberries and broom began to sprout again we would get a goat, tether it with a chain attached to a stake in the ground, and move it around the patch eating the blackberries as they sprouted. When the native plants started to outnumber the weeds, we’d get rid of the goat. Goats absolutely love blackberries and broom and don’t go for eucalypts much. They like wattles and a few other natives, but if we kept it moving on the stake we’d be able to control what it ate and what was protected. Easy.

I found an ad on the Trading Post website for baby goats. Call Jenny. I rang the number listed on the ad.

“Hello?” a hesitant voice said on the other end of the line.

“Hi, is this Jenny? I’m ringing about the baby goats for sale?”

“Oh yes, that is me.” Pause. “We do have goats, quite a few, actually.” Pause. “Some adults for sale too, some in milk, of you are interested.”

In milk? Uh….no thanks.

“We are looking for a goat to have tethered in a blackberry patch- we aren’t really looking for a goat to milk. I thought a young one would be good so I could train it to the tether.”

What on earth would I do with goat milk? What a waste of time!

“Oh but I do have a nice girl, very quiet, already trained, very content to be on a chain.” Pause. “If you didn’t want to milk her, you could just let her go dry. She has horns though.”

Horns? I didn’t like the sound of that. I KNEW about goats.  Horns used to send me flying, stabbed through the guts.  Before they stormed past me and ate all the laundry.

“Well, would it be okay for me to come up and have a look at what you have?” I asked.

“Yes, certainly, any time.”

A few days later I found myself driving through the pines of Kuipo Forest, pulling over periodically to check the map.   I spotted some chickens scratching along the roadside at a place that matched Jenny’s description and pulled off, up a dirt drive curving around, past a yard containing geese, stopping at a low, long house surrounded by more small yards full of white goats. One goat on a tether, quietly chewing, watching me as I got out of the car.

A little girl, about 6 years old, in a long skirt popped out from around the corner of the house and stared at me.

“Hello,” I greeted her, “I am looking for Jenny, about the goats?” She silently disappeared as abruptly as she had first appeared, returning a few long moments later accompanied by a little boy, both trailing behind a woman also in a long skirt but wearing a small headpiece.

“Hi, are you Jenny?” I asked

“Yes.” She replied.

“I am here to buy a goat, we spoke on the weekend?”

“Oh yes, we have several.”

That was apparent. I could count at least 12 in the yards that surrounded the house, many staked out a distance from each other.

“This is the one I told you about,” she said, leading me to the goat that had watched my approach, “she’s a good girl. Nice and quiet, and happy to be on a tether.”

I took in the long pointy horns, protruding hipbones and the huge sagging udder and thought, hm, probably not the one for me.

“You said you had some babies? Also for sale?”

“Certainly- they are up here.” We walked up past the house and there, in a small yard with a shelter, was a group of 5 kids.   Bright white, bouncing over each other, trotting up to the fence to meet us.

“These two are the oldest, they are twins, 3 months old. They were born on Christmas day- we have been calling them Joy and Noel. The others are maybe still a bit young to go.”

Oh yes, this was what I was after. Christmas kids.  Irresistible cuteness.

She called to the house and an older girl in a similar skirt and headpiece to her mother’s came out and grabbed first Joy, then Noel, bringing them out for my inspection. I chose Joy.  Why? I don’t know. They looked more or less the same to me. Joy had a toggle on her neck, just one. Maybe that was the appealing part. I asked Jenny about it.

“Her father had 2, her mother none- she just came out with one. It happens that way sometimes.”

I picked Joy up and popped her in the cardboard box I had brought for the occasion and settled her on the passenger seat, then paid Jenny and we set off for home. As we drove, Joy watched me, watched out the window, checked out the men working on the road as we slowly snaked through a construction zone (making the men smile as she cruised by). About halfway home we settled on her new name and called her Giselle.

Back at the farm, I found a bit of rope and tied it to the rope collar she already had on her neck, set her on the ground and led her out of the shed and over to the small paddock next to the house where I thought I’d get her started with her tether training. As we walked up the path, I realised she was following me- the rope I was holding was unnecessary, she was trotting along more or less happily behind me. Clever girl.

We went through the gate and I filled her bucket with water, gave her a few pats and headed back out toward the house, leaving her in her new home. About 5 paces away, she started bleating. Calling, calling, in anguish. I walked back to the gate and gave her a pat though the wire and she quietened.   I got up and walked away again and she started up “Maaaaa! Maaaaaaa! Maaaaaaa!” again, sounding to this mother’s ear, just like a human baby crying. Holy shit, what a terrible sound, I thought.

I went back in and sat with her for a little while, rubbing her face, patting her sides, giving her cuddles. She was nice and calm so I got up to leave again. She came after me, sticking just centimetres from my leg. I squeezed through the gate, blocking her and she immediately started calling.

“Maaaaaaaaaaa! Maaaaaa! Maaaaaaaaa! Maaaaa!   MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Oh dear.

I decided tough love was required and went on into the house. Through the open windows on the warm summer day I could hear her calling, calling, calling.   I went around and shut all the windows. But it didn’t really help- at the time, there were gaps in all of our ca. 1935 timber windows and the sound just came on through. I focussed on ignoring it, getting on with my business, sure that she’d stop soon enough.

Hour one.

Hour two.

Hour three.

Hour four.

Relentless, agonising calls. I rang the neighbours and explained what was going on. One wasn’t home, luckily, but those on the other side they pretended like they understood and were okay with it, but I could tell in their tone that they weren’t.

Finally, I simply could take no more. I went out to the paddock to collect her and brought her up to the sheep at the top of the hill. She was freaked out, meeting all these new, strange animals, but at least I couldn’t hear her any more. And as far as my grand plan for goat-on-a-chain went, this solution was totally unacceptable! I needed a goat that would be happy while tied up in the blackberries, not one that would have to be up with the sheep for company!

So the next day I rang Jenny again, and went to pick up Noel, already re-named in my mind Nöelle. Cardboard box, passenger seat, looking at everything we passed. Home, out of box (no rope this time) she trotted after me as I led her to the bottom of the hill.

She bleated, once.

I sensed a commotion at the top of the hill and when I looked up, I saw this little white shape barrelling down the slope, calling at top volume.  Nöelle joined in answer. I opened the gate and they ran toward each other and their reunion was like nothing I had ever experienced in the world of animals. They were so relieved to see each other, so thrilled to be together again, and at this point something in me shifted.

I took them back to the little paddock next to the house and they happily settled in. The brewmaster had made them a nice little A-frame out of various scavenged materials and they promptly made it home, bounding in and out joyfully.

Gigi and Noelle in coatsMonth by month my appreciation of these remarkable creatures grew.   I found a name for their beautiful white breed: Saanen. And no, they don’t eat laundry.  In fact, they are incredibly discerning browsers, preferring woody plants to grass and certainly they won’t eat garbage.  As I got to know them, things changed around here. There would be no goats on chains, over my dead body.  In my mind, this would be the same as chaining a dog.  Instead, we built a crazy stupid-expensive fence around the blackberry bramble to create their new home. I made some friends in the Dairy Goat society, which I joined, and had the girls inspected to register them in the Australian herd book. I started driving an hour and a half to buy the best hay for them I could find. Giving them mineral supplements, in free-choice buckets, including certified organic Tasmanian kelp meal. Buying them a grain mix to help keep their weight up.  Trimming their hooves, brushing their coats, buying them jackets to wear when the weather was wet and cold. Building a stall in the shed for them to sleep in on long, frigid winter nights.  Driving them in turn to the buck to get them pregnant so we could have milk and then cheese, to basically justify all the expense that had grown up around them.

And so, here I sit at the picnic table on the back veranda, watching the girls in the paddock on the hill across from the house. Not their own paddock; that one is too far away on the property for this crucial time of waiting. I have moved them closer so I can see them easily all day.   Gigi is up in the green grass, bright white against green in the evening light, finding good things to eat. But I don’t see Nöelle. She must be in the tractor shed. Perhaps it is time to check on her again.





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