Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Runt of the Flock

Spring is the time of year for babies to be born…at least in the animal world. The woods and fields are bursting with new life. A trip to the barn yields its own reward in the sight of gangly new calves or lambs frisking in the yard whenever they’re not suckling, their tails twitching madly in their eagerness. There is something infinitely appealing about baby animals. Perhaps it is their very newness and vulnerability that pulls at our heartstrings. Whatever the reason, they can be irresistible.

That’s why I jumped at the chance for a visit to the farm where my husband, Bev, owned a quarter share in a flock of 100 angora goats back in the spring of 1980 when we were newly engaged. I met him at his apartment after work and we drove out to the farm together. The place would be just about exploding with new babies and I could hardly wait.

Angora goats are raised for their wool like sheep. The adult animals produce mohair but it is the first fleece of the young animals that produces the soft angora wool that we prize so much. The kids were even smaller than new lambs and covered in the finest silky white curls…adorable! I stood at the gate and watched, completely captivated.

“What’s wrong with that one?” I took hold of Bev’s coat sleeve and pointed to a tiny kid I’d spotted off to one side. “I think it’s limping,” I observed, my brow furrowing with concern.

“Yeah,” Bev replied. “She was born a couple of weeks before the rest and I think she was a bit premature. Then she got stepped on so one of her front legs got damaged. It’s not broken but you can see how she doesn’t put much weight on it. She doesn’t feed well and so she hasn’t been growing. The others are all bigger than her even though they were born later.”

“What’s going to happen to her?” I wondered.

He gave a shrug and shook his head. “We don’t expect her to survive,” he admitted.

I could feel myself going all maternal all of a sudden. It must have something to do with how God wired the female of the species. I just couldn’t let it go at that.

“Couldn’t we take her out of there?” I asked. “We could take her down to your parents’ farm in Markdale and give her to your little sisters as a pet.” It seemed reasonable enough.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Bev admitted. “She might do a lot better with all the attention they’d give her.”

It was a long drive to Bev’s family home and we decided to go the very next day. In the end we hashed out a plan that involved me taking the baby goat home to my apartment for the night so we could get an early start. I somehow convinced my part time farmer fiancĂ© that we ought to give her a bath. Warm water in a laundry tub, one bottle of baby shampoo and we were both up to our elbows in lather as we worked her over. I don’t know what she thought of the proceedings but the end result was worth it. Her curls felt unbelievably soft and she smelled like a Johnson and Johnson baby.

I bundled her into my car in a cardboard box and headed back into town with Bev’s promise to be there first thing in the morning. Till then I would be on my own. I made sure the coast was clear before I smuggled her up the stairs to my apartment. Once there I built a barricade to block off one corner of the kitchen, laid a sheet of plastic on the floor and tossed in the straw from her box. She didn’t seem too impressed. I discovered that a baby goat can make an incredible amount of noise when they’re upset. It sounded almost like a human baby crying and I began to worry about what my landlord would think was going on upstairs.
I thought she might be lonely for the other goats so I unscrewed the full length mirror from my bedroom door and leaned it against the wall in her corner. Perhaps if she saw her image in the mirror she could be fooled into thinking she wasn’t alone. It seemed to work for the first little while but it didn’t take long for her to set up her lament all over again.

Finally, in desperation, I put her back in the box and set it right next to my bed. If I slept with one arm dangling over the side so that my hand rested in the box with her she seemed to settle down. I guess she needed contact with something warm and alive and in the absence of her mother, my hand would do.

By morning I was convinced of the wisdom of not keeping farm animals in apartments and it was with considerable relief that I saw Bev’s truck pull up to the curb. The 5 hour trip went without incident and the girls were absolutely delighted with the surprise we brought them. The runt of the flock didn’t die after all. With all the TLC she got it wasn’t long before she began to thrive and grow. Eventually, Bev’s sisters were able to start a flock of their own with our little runt as the matriarch. Instead of survival of the fittest it was survival of the most loved.

1 comment:

  1. "Survival of the most loved" - I love it, Robin!