Making Friends with Francis
As with so many things here on Hard Hill Farm, we study the Googleverse every time we think it a good idea to add x or do y. Then we delude ourselves into believing we are ready to do x, and jump in. Gaining goats has been no different. We found some goats that met our needs fairly easily, updated a living space for them, and picked them up. We knew what to feed them, and how often, and where to serve the hay. What we didn’t know was how to make them like us.
We were told by the breeder, someone we deal with in processing our alpaca fleece who has been homesteading for more than two decades, that the mommy goat, Borealis, was very friendly. She certainly appeared approachable enough, but when she came over to meet me and I reached out to her, she bit my arm. Hard. It left a mouth shaped bruise on my upper arm for two weeks. I was suddenly unthrilled with my goat-getting decision, but I was also undaunted, so I joined her and her herdmates in their pen. She continued to chew me — clothing and hair alike — but she did allow me to pet her and her kid, whom we planned to name Francis.
When pick up day came, we loaded Borealis and Francis into our small SUV to make the hour drive back to Hard Hill. Alis (Borealis was going to be too many syllables to call around the farm) slid through the divided seats, and came up front to chew the gear shift. This behavior is not listed in any goat book I read! For a fortnight after moving to Hard Hill, she head butted me and stomped her feet whenever I approached. This is a friendly goat???? And her son was no better. Getting them into halters to take out to graze was not my favorite farm chore.
Suddenly one evening while I was seated on a straw bale in her pen, Alis walked up to me. She tried to chew my glove, and I politely asked her to stop. She stopped. She head butted my thigh, but gently. So I petted her head. She tossed her head in the air, and I scratched under chin. She wagged her stubby tail. I seemed to have passed some sort of caprine initiation rite. And just like that, we were friends
Little Francis was a goat of a different color. When I went into the pen, he ran away from me. He hid behind straw bales, he hid behind his wooden toy spools, he hid behind his mother. Where Alis would gleefully eat grain from my hand, Francis … ran and hid. I wondered what I had done wrong this time.
Then, on a random afternoon, the hungry gray kid could not wait for the grain to be in his bowl. He ate out of my hand. Several days later, out of the blue, while I was perched on that same straw bale during goat meal time, I felt some goat breath on my arm and shoulder. I addressed Alis, expecting it was her, but then realized she was standing across the pen. It was Franny!
He nuzzled me that day, and for several more, as long as I sat on that straw bale. Eventually he permitted me to pet and scratch him. This continued until the day he was so excited about being attended by his human, he wound up sitting in my lap. Now he comes when he’s called … mostly, stands still to be haltered … generally, walks politely on lead … usually. He’s still a baby, after all, even if he did weigh in at 58 pounds yesterday.
In retrospect, the moral appears to be this: you don’t make friends with Francis, or Alis, and probably no other goat. They decide when they are ready to be friendly with you. Looking at Franny’s ever-lengthening horns, I’d rather be his friend than his enemy, to be sure. It was all just one more exercise in patience to be learned here on Hard Hill Farm.
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