Raising Goats Can Lead to Four-Legged Best Friends
Keeping Goats? How These Lovable Creatures Leave Hoof Prints on Your Heart
By Miriah Reynolds, Belgrade, Montana – Raising goats throughout your life can result in having hundreds of goats leaving hoof prints on your heart and memories that go deeper than the pages of a scrapbook. Out of all them, there is one doe in particular that changed my life, and is truly a legend that should never be forgotten.
I started writing for Dairy Goat Journal a long time ago, and since starting I’ve written many times about Ariel. It will be two years on April 1, 2013 that Ariel passed away. As with any family member’s death, it takes time to heal, sort out the memories and grasp the unfortunate. Accepting her death has been extremely hard for me to move past. Whenever I hear the country song “I Get a Little Bit Stronger,” by Sara Evans, I am immediately reminded of how much the scar of her death has not healed, flooding tears to my eyes. If I catch a picture of her standing on her favorite rock pile on the wall, I realize the empty unhealed hole she left in my heart. I am finally ready to share the story of Ariel from start to finish. Grab a blanket and a box of tissues, snuggle up on the couch and let the legend of Ariel melt your heart.
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Raising goats was nothing new for my family; my mother raised them when she was a child. When I was four years old, she took me to pick out my first goat. Mom told me that I could have whichever kid I wanted as long as it was a girl. At four years old that was a huge decision to make. I vaguely remember walking around the dusty pen and petting all the kids. Some were jumping on me, others chewing on my shirt, but one of them walked near me and seemed smarter than the rest. She had black and white markings and was rather intrigued by the stranger in her pen. When I went up to her she did not flee away, but instead stood still as I approached her. Picking her up, I practically dragged her back to my parents and said, “I want this one.” My parents handed the farmer $40 and we were on our way home.
Sitting in the backseat of my family’s tan minivan, I tried to think of a name. My mom and dad were throwing out names of Disney Princesses, but none of their recommendations fit her. I looked down at my fluorescent pink muck boots with Sebastian, Flounder, and the underwater kingdom of the Little Mermaid. Ariel: the perfect name! That was the day I began raising goats, and from there Ariel and I spent every waking moment together. Before school, after, and I even brought her into class for show and tell!
Ariel brought so many great memories to our family, just like her first kidding. We bred her to an Alpine goat buck named, Billy. I remember checking on her dozens of times a day throughout her pregnancy, hoping that I would get to see her give birth. One afternoon, right around her due date my dad and I left the farm to go to the feed store. When I came back there was an adorable kid all cleaned off and nursing. After all that waiting I missed the birth. I named him Sebastian.
A few years later I was old enough to participate in my first 4-H fair, a crucial moment when you are raising goats. Since my mom had shown goats before, she taught me the basics, but insisted that I do all the work. I burned out six pairs of my dad’s cheap hair trimmers while fitting her and Ariel had more clipper lines, and nicks than any fitting job I’ve ever seen! There were only four kids including myself in the show, and it was held in a small dirt circle outside of the livestock barn. It was a learning experience for sure. I learned not to wear hot pink jeans, a 4-H tie-dye shirt, and walk Ariel on a leash. Even though it was a small show, Ariel and I won our first of many championships. After sleeping in the stall with Ariel all night, morning came so fast and we were both hungry. I gave her grain and milked her, then headed up to the Pomona Grange for breakfast. I tied her to a tree, not far from the picnic table filled with hungry 4-Hers. Sitting down on the rough benches, parents and children gorged on practically everything on the menu. Not long after I sat down, Ariel jumped up on to the table — eating everyone’s breakfast. Glasses of orange juice, coffee, sausage, pancakes, and home fries were not recognizable after my so-called “herbivore” devoured and trampled them. When I finally reached her show chain collar, I had to yank bacon out of her mouth. Who would have thought a goat would enjoy bacon so much? The kitchen staff was laughing hysterically behind the counter, but felt bad and cooked us all a new breakfast.
Ariel did exceptionally well in every show since our first. As she matured, so did I. We truly had a sister bond. Wherever I was, Ariel would be somewhere near. Throughout the years raising goats because a family priority and our herd size increased. When I was seven I saved up every penny I had and purchased a purebred Saanen goat from Paul Sabin in Exeter, Rhode Island. The three of us were joined at the hip, Ariel and Angel (the Saanen) got along fantastic.
When I was about 14, I would spend a week or so in Maine at the Pirri family’s goat farm. They raised Nubian goats, so Ariel always felt a little outnumbered. Ariel and I would participate in the Maine Days 4-H event, and present showmanship and goat hoof trimming demonstrations. During one hoof trimming demonstration, I let a novice try to trim her hooves for practice. Recently sharpened hoof trimmers in hand, he was ready to make a cut. Before I could stop him, blood was everywhere, pooling up on the floor and coating the milking stand. He cut Ariel’s toe past the quick. She stood there looking at me like—help! No amount of blood-stop powder or vet-wrap could contain the profuse bleeding. Ariel, being the trooper she was, limped through a showmanship demonstration the next day despite her injury.
With a few years of showing under our belt we finally got the hang of what needed to be done. I would spend dozens of hours fitting her while she patiently waited in the milking stand for the occasional treat. Popsicles, ice tea, Hershey chocolate bars, and even a turkey sandwich were a few of the goodies my mom would bring us. Between the radio cranked way up, clippers running, and all the lights on in the barn, I’d normally blow a fuse and Ariel would wait while I figured out how to fix it. We would spend a few hours each week all year round practicing show maneuvers in the backyard. By the time show season came around, we were more than prepared. I’d sit in the barn curled up in the hay with my goats and study the scorecard, sticking Post-It notes to their fur with the amount of points it was worth.
In the show ring Ariel was a showstopper. She would set up her feet whenever we stopped, walk gracefully slow, and hold her head up high. I never even had to loin her! Before almost every show, 4-Hers would bicker about who would get Ariel if the judge asked us to switch goats. I always got a kick out of that because as soon as Ariel was put into another person’s hand, she would not cooperate. I remember leading a LaMancha through the arena, watching Ariel’s antics with the other showman. When asked to walk, Ariel would drag her feet and back up. Whenever the 4-Her would go to set up her feet, Ariel would keep moving. The funniest part was Ariel would talk to me in a low distressed voice the whole time she was with the other person. As soon as she was back in my hands, Ariel was flawless. I never taught her that; I guess she just picked it up over time. Exhibitors dreaded getting her after that!
We used to do goat milking demonstrations at fairs, schools, and farm tours. Ariel would patiently wait in the milking stand while 40 or so children would pull, twist, and dig their small fingernails into her teats. She never kicked over the bucket or complained.
Even after all my years raising goats, Ariel remains one of the most exceptional herding queens. She was generally accepting of a new herd member, and gave discipline when needed. Ariel remained in charge of the herd for her whole fifteen years. Even when she was getting weaker towards the end, she still had the respect of all the animals.
Ariel was a little hussy. Yes, everyone who knew anything about raising goats knew that Ariel knew loved her bucks. Even in the middle of summer Ariel would come into a flaming standing heat, taking everything in our power to keep her away from the buck pen. In the spring of 2002 Ariel kidded to a beautiful pair of twins. One morning I went out to milk and could not find Ariel anywhere. I searched the garden, barn, even the chicken coop (for some reason she enjoyed layer pellets). She was nowhere to be found. My brother Holden and I would argue about who should feed the buck each day, and today (according to me) was his turn. “Miriah!” I heard a blood curdling scream from Holden across the farm. “Come over here! I found your goat!” Whenever he did not approve of one of my goats, instead of using their name, he referred to them as “your” goat. Sure enough, Ariel was standing in the middle of the buck pen covered in mud and kissing the buck. This was early March, just after her twins were weaned. Come late July, we were blessed with Prancer and Coolotta. Two Saanen Alpine does who will be 12 years old this summer.
As the years went by, I taught Ariel to pull a cart, go swimming, and goat pack. There was nothing that she could not do, and these years made raising goats easy. We tried to retire her for many years, but it was difficult to do; she was often caught red-hoofed in the buck pen. One year we had her ultra-sounded to ensure that she was not bred, but less than a week later she escaped and got pregnant. The delivery of that kid was extremely taxing on Ariel’s health. She had a sciatic nerve pinch, which she survived thanks to our veterinarian Dr. Balmforth.
The months strolled on with relative ease, but Ariel was slowly getting older and weaker. After her sciatic nerve problem was healed, it appeared as though she had a stroke and lost all coordination. Even after raising goats for so long it killed my family and I to see her like this. Accepting old age was incredibly hard. Soon after her stroke, Ariel could barley chew her feed and would make hay balls with her roughage. We bought her special, fine cut hay and would soak it in warm water with molasses to help her chew it. Her face was always happy even though her body was leaving her.
In October of 2010, Ariel was too weak to live outside in the barn, so we moved her into our living room. This phase of her life made raising goats tough, but my mom and dad were so fantastic about taking her outside to go to the bathroom, change her bedding, and give her baths in our shower. Curled up in a corner of the house, Ariel would intently watch movies with us or listen to the radio during the colder days. She could stand for only short periods of time, but could hardly get up on her own. During warmer days, we would bring her outside to wander around the farm as she wanted. Occasionally she would lose her balance and tip over. My family and I always had an eye on her so that we could help her up when she fell. It broke my heart to see her like that and the memory of such an amazing creature struggling to stay alive still makes me sad.
Ariel stayed in the house for six months, enjoying the warmth of the woodstove along with treats and scratches every time someone walked by. No matter the ailment that Ariel presented each day, my amazing mother knew how to fix it or make Ariel comfortable. I remember walking into the house seeing my mom doing physical therapy with Ariel propped up on a milk crate, trying to get her legs to loosen up. Our family called it goat yoga!
Even though Ariel was getting worse as each day went by, she remained in happy spirits. Her face was perky and those beautiful amber eyes still looked the same as they did the first time I saw her in the paddock 15 years earlier.
On April 1, 2011, I was at my boyfriend’s house when my brother called and said I had to come home now. Ty and I broke every speed limit as we drove to my house. When I walked into the house my mom, dad, and brothers were all circled around Ariel crying. I went right over and held her beautiful face in my hands. I put my forehead to hers just like we always did. (I used to joke that we were exchanging thoughts.) Her brown eyes looked at me with more love than I can explain. I did not say anything out loud because I knew she could understand what I was thinking: “I love you. Thank you for everything. Your time here is done; you are incredible. I’ll miss you. It’s alright, you can go now.”
And just like that she was gone. Tears and memories flooded throughout my body. I wanted her back, I wanted to talk to her one more time. We buried Ariel underneath the crab apple tree in the backyard. She loved nothing more than ripping the bark off of it and standing on her hind legs eating the branches. It was the perfect place. Every night until I moved away, I would kiss all my goats goodnight and then walk over to her grave. With the starry night sky lighting up the freshly turned soil, I’d talk to her as if she were standing right there. I know she was, and I know that it was her time to go that night, but I still miss her so much.
I cried for weeks, and am crying right now even after so many years raising goats; the recollection of her death is still so fresh in my mind. All the memories, all the laughs and joy this remarkable goat brought to my life will never be forgotten. I want everyone to remember Ariel for the life she lived and the lives that she touched in her 15 years. From eating bacon to being a show champion, Ariel was truly a life changer and my best friend.
Originally published in the Dairy Goat Journal, May/June 2013 issue and regularly vetted for accuracy.