The Goats: A Love Story

The Goats: A Love Story

A lot of people having been asking about the goat in my facebook photo.  Here’s the whole story.

I first met goats at the open air airport on Beef Island in the British Virgin Islands.  I was eleven or twelve.  I wish I had a picture sitting in front of the airport, but this artists interpretation will have to be enough to explain.  It’s titled “Beef Island International Airport”.


I sat down on a concrete median of sorts and baby pygmies climbed and hopped all around and across me while I we waited for a taxi just outside the terminal.  My mom said “No, we can’t take one home, ” despite my persistent begging.  I thought they were way cooler than puppies or kittens.  Didn’t get many more chances to hang out with goats until last autumn when I visited the Acorn Community in Louisa, VA for a week for a work exchange/WWOOF program.  I worked in the garden, helped with the business, and got to fulfill a lifelong dream of learning to milk.  Several mornings and evenings I gathered the goat grains and bean sprouts and head out to their pasture with a pot to get fresh goats milk that the other community members would use in their cereal, teas, and to make cheese.  I also got to help change the pasture for the three meat goats they had (if you’ve never tried it I don’t recommend walking your goats on a leash).   I had already thought one day I’d have some goats in my yard, but this made it a done deal.  Of course, it’s probably not the best idea right now.  As lovely of a rhyme “goat boat” is, she (I want a girl, males really stink bad) would probably eat the boat out from under me.  So I assuaged my longing for a hoofed companion by doing research instead of adoptting, and on the way to Yap I read “How to Raise Goats” cover to cover.   With a better idea of what kind of goat I wanted (Nigerian Dwarf), goat lingo, and how to take care of them I figured I should hammer out some other useful details and finished “Home Cheesemaking”.  That way I could get practicing when I got back to Guam and be ready to jump right in to delicious fresh cheese making when I (years down the road) end up with my long-awaited caprine companion.  Did I mention I’m a Capricorn ( the sea-goat)?

Now back to the trip to Pagan.  Our first morning on the island I heard crying coming from one of the village homes.  I asked Charlie if there were any babies on the island.  “No, only a bunch of local guys.  No women or children, ” she answered.  Maybe I should’ve asked if there were any kids instead.  The crying I heard was two tiny goat kids bleating for attention- twins (!) and about a week old.  When I first walked past their pen I thought they were puppies; worth a second glance, for sure, but then realized they were goats, and, oh, my goodness, I. was. SO. excited.  I went over to meet them and with our friend Daniel’s permission picked them up to say hi.  When we scooped them up, I realized they still had their umbilical cords.  These were some tiny babies.

Daniel taught us how to bottle feed the goats, one boy and one girl, that afternoon.  I was ecstatic and so were the hungry babies.  The crew had made a bottle (a bunch of men on an empty island don’t just have baby bottles lying around) from a water bottle with a whole in the cap and a section of the hollow rubber tubing from one of their spear guns. It was as good as any other bottle; the goats latched on eagerly, though we had to squeeze the bottle for the girl a bit because she wasn’t as strong and it was harder for her to suck the milk out.

feeding goat

As it turns out, the Pagan boys had gone out hunting a day or two prior and killed a nice looking female for dinner.  When they went to retrieve her body, only then did they see her swollen udders and realize she was a nursing mother (if they had seen the babies with her, they wouldn’t have shot).  The searched the area and found the orphaned kids.  Since they were so tiny with no hope of survival on their own, they brought them back to the village to raise as pets.  One guy claimed them to take home (to Alamagan, the neighboring island to the south) but feeding the babies and checking-in on them became the shared responsibility of the village.


Over the next few days we checked up on and helped feed the goats mid-day (while the guys were out and busy working for the scientists).  I was smitten, and I think Pete liked them alright too. 😉

On the third or fourth day on island we had been helping out a few days and were walking towards the pen in the afternoon  I knew something was wrong as we approached the tent their pen was under.  The girl was laying on her side, while normally they both lay on her belly with legs tucked neatly beneath them.  The boy’s bleating was a little more anxious too.  The girl did not move off her side when I came to the edge of the pen, though normally they stood up and put their forelegs on the walls of the pen anticipating release.  She didn’t blink and her left eye was milky, like she was blind.  I wasn’t sure if she was even alive.  I picked her up, and her whole body was limp, but she was still warm and breathing.  Her right eye was no better than the left; it had black sand in it from lying weak on her side.  I tried feeding her but she wouldn’t get latch on the bottle tube and the milk I squeezed into her mouth just poured out over her teeth and onto her coat and my arms.  At this point I was fighting tears and made a difficult diagnosis: she was sick and wasn’t going to get better.  She had been too young when she was separated from her mother and didn’t have the antibodies to fight off disease.  It was sad, but not unpredictable.  I felt so bad for her though, so I decided to hold her until she died.  She lay in my arms still for a long time and later she would occasionally kick her legs in what seemed like involuntarily thrashing in pain.  It got dark and I lay on a lawn chair with her on my stomach.  Some of the locals came by and made similar diagnoses.  I tried feeding her a few times, and finally I were able to force feed her some milk and that she swallowed.  A few more sips and hours later she had finished half a bottle or started stretching her limbs.  Eventually she became restless would try to stand up, but her knees would buckle beneath her.  Now she was doing a bit better.  I figured I would stay the night on the lawn chair with her but at 19oN latitude it got a little cold for me.  Pete and I were exhausted from a hike around the whole island and the locals suggested we take her to the boat if we wanted.

We have ourselves a ‘boat goat’.  We cleaned out and flushed both of her eyes with a warm salt (not ocean) water and set her up with with a clear box of fluffy dirty clothes to sleep in.

In the morning she was doing much better and was able to drink another half bottle of milk almost normally.  Within a few days she got over her shakiness and knee buckling and was a happy hopping baby goat again, running around with her brother.  The local boys told later she had probably just missed a meal or two and they had seen that before.  They also said the best cure was milk mixed with a bit of sugar if it ever happened again.

Over the next few weeks we got even closer to the goats.  We had a special love for Ellie (that’s what I named her) after helping her recover from what we thought had been the point of not return.  They liked us a bit too.  If we walked anywhere near their pen without stopping to say hello the bleating would go on for another five or ten minutes (even if they had just been fed).  We would usually take them out of the pen to run around when we were hanging out in the village, but even if there were other people around and we started walking away they would often try to follow us, wherever we might be going.  The girl’s right eye got better but the left stayed blind, so we trained her to listen for our voices so she would know where we were (sometimes she would panic if she couldn’t see one of us out of her one working eye and start a frantic bleating until she heard or saw us again).  The babies showed affection to each other by biting on one another’s ears and the boy would gently headbutt his sister.  His headbutts when we was looking for milk underneath his human friends’ thighs were not so gentle.  The boy was aggressive when it came to dinnertime and he chased the chickens and ducks too.  She inspected the puppies (running away when their puppy teeth came out to play).  He hated being held and wanted to run around following you, while she loved it and would sometimes try to climb up on your shoulders.  Our friend Kelly taught us the goat ‘jowl massage’ where you rub the sides of their muzzle which is like getting scratched behind the ears or getting a belly rub for a dog or getting your head scratched for a human; they loved it and would sit still for that without question.  They started to nibble on the grass and pine needles.  They were getting bigger and I was hooked on baby goat love.  I adored their tiny soft hoof pads, curly noses, soft fur, and hoppy happy dance.

After two weeks of healthy happy baby goats I am checking in on them in the early afternoon.  As I walk towards the pen, I hear the boy bleating anxiously again.  I come around the corner and see the girl lying on her side with the same symptoms, but worse.  I pull the black sand out of her mouth and prepare a bottle while Pete goes to find someone to help.  We made the bottle up with some milk and a little sugar, but thought this probably isn’t undernourishment, they were both recently fed.  I tried to feed her but she wouldn’t drink and she died in my arms within minutes.  When Pete got back I told him I thought she was gone, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to believe it.  When we both knew it, we had to accept it.  I was heartbroken.  Pete tried to revive her because I was terrified that I had gotten milk in her airway, but that wasn’t what had happened and he had no luck.  We tucked the little girl we had loved so much into a box with a fluffy hat and went to tell our friends, especially the one who had cared so much for her and wanted to take her home.  It was a really hard day.  I had never been around death in such a raw way, in my arms.

Ellie sleeping on the boat when we first nursed her back to health.

The only relief came that night when we figured out what had happened, since we were pretty sure it hadn’t been hunger.  One of the guys had checked on the goats that morning and said they both were fine, except that the girl was bleating and had a centipede attached to her.  He pulled the centipede off, the girl stopped bleating and he went on to work.  The pieces of the puzzle came together as we remembered both incidences followed a big rainstorm, during which the centipedes would probably seek shelter in the dry dirt underneath the tent where the goats lived.  The second bite had been worse the first because the centipede had latched on and maybe because it was a bigger, more harmful centipede.  Even the humans are spooked by the Pagan centipedes that are often 9-10 centimeters long with a 1cm wide body and sharp pincers you can see if you have the guts to get that close to one.  The bites hurt a lot for anyone (like a wasp sting but worse and lingering in your neighboring joints) and if you are allergic or sensitive to them they could put you in the hospital easily. We were sad we couldn’t do anything to protect the boy goat from the centipedes; they climb, enter houses, and are not hesitant to defend themselves.


We took to caring for the male goat who bleated more without his sister around to comfort him.  We introduced him to the puppies and made the pups headbutt him in greeting.  He didn’t like the puppy teeth but the puppies loved to play with the goat by biting and rolling in the grass.  After the contrived, but effective puppy headbutt the goat would nibble on his new companions’ ears, just as he did to show his sister affection.  The puppies didn’t love the love bites, but tolerated them if it meant their lanky friend with the easy-to-chomp legs stuck around.


And then a few days before we left, the boy got sick too.  But this time we knew what had happened.  We picked him up, checked his fur for centipedes, carried him around close to our bodies for comfort and warmth, and did some internet research to find out benadryl can be administered to goats in small quantities.  We found some of the pink stuff, sliced off the tiniest little bit and mixed it with milk.  The milk fiend guzzled it amount down.  He passed out for a while, waking up dazed once or twice, and by that night he was walking straight again.  A much faster recovery than his sister ever made.  I think there were quite a few factors that contributed to his survival but the treatment was a big help I think.  We were so relieved he was strong enough to pull through it and recovered so quickly.  We left the Benadryl with the Pagan crew and a few days later said goodbye to our ungulate friend, wishing him a centipede free life (for the next few weeks that would mean luck, but after he moved to Alamagan it would be a centipede-free paradise).  I would miss him a lot.


I got an update on him a few days ago.  He’s healthy, living in Saipan for now, and happy getting fatter by the day.  Long live Torro the goat!