Monday, April 7, 2008

finola's disastrous milking

We got our our goats Traci and Finola two years ago in February, in order to begin The Grand Experiment, and this is what we were immediately able to ascertain: Finola was going to be a problem. She full-on YELLED at us for the first two weeks we had her. Day, night, it didn't matter. She stood in the pen, glaring at the house and bawling. We began to understand why it was that the Drakes let us have such a beautiful goat with a perfect udder for so comparatively little money.

Kidding went okay, considering that neither John nor I had the foggiest idea of what we were doing. Thankfully we had both been present at the birth of our children, so we caught on quickly--baby comes out, dry baby off, get mucus out of baby's nose and mouth, take care of baby's belly button, tape cardboard flaps to baby's ears to make sure they don't dry folded--just like with our babies!

We waited two weeks for the colostrum to work its way out of their milk, then we started milking. Right away Finola confirmed our worst suspicions. Whereas Traci would stand calmly munching her grain, Finola danced, kicked and stuck her foot in the bucket. She was truly horrible. I couldn't get any decent amount of milk from her, because she put her foot in it or kicked it all over the patio. In frustration, I called the Drakes and asked what I was doing wrong. I found out that they machine milk, which takes a fraction of the time of handmilking, so maybe she was impatient. They told me to just give her a good whack when she started acting up and that should help. I needed to assert my dominance.

The next morning I wrestled Finola into the milking stand and got her head restrained in the stanchion. I put some grain in the feeder and started to milk. Right away she started misbehaving, so I slapped her haunches and said, "NO." I resumed milking, she resumed kicking and acting like a freak. Again I slapped her and said, "NO!" The escalation of hostilities continued with me slapping and Finola kicking until I was slapping her hindquarters as hard as I could, while sobbing, and she was doing a bang-on impression of the legion of demons that possessed the herd of swine.

I was beside myself, so I called my dad, explained the situation, and asked if he could give me any advice. Being a master of understatement, he said this to me: "Well, I just know that the harder and crueler you are to them, the worse they act, and the gentler you are, the better they'll be." Oh. Then he said that something my grandpa had tried with recalcitrant cows was tying one of their hind legs to a rafter while he milked, so she couldn't kick or get away.

So I decided to try it. The next milking I got a piece of twine and tied Finola's hind leg to the stanchion, so she was totally immobilized. I sat down, started to milk, and I thought, "Aha! I've finally got it!" Everything was going great, squirt, squirt, squirt went the milk into the bucket, but let me just tell you what happened then. Somehow she suddenly jumped into the air and off the milking stand, wrenched her head out of the stanchion, gave the milk bucket a terrific kick, and went careening across the patio, knocking into the roof supports, running into the car, tearing through the garden and the ditch and into the hayfield, all the while dragging the milking stand, which was still fastened to her hind leg. I laughed and laughed in the midst of my paroxysm of rage. She was fairly easy to catch, because of the dead weight she was hauling, and I decided to let her off another day.

This was the lowest point of my milking career. The next day I approached the task with a new perspective. While I milked Finola I held the bucket with one hand and milked with the other. I talked softly and sang to her while I did it. I told her she was a smart girl and a good girl. I told her thank you for her milk and for her behavior (some of these things were insincere). I was a right hippie, in other words. But that day was the beginning of a change in Finola, and in me. Her behavior was bad for a long time, but never as bad those first few days, and always better than the day before. And I realized that goats are very similar to children. They need to be told they're smart and good, and that you love them. They need to be treated with respect and kindness. And they will prove capable of the tasks you give them if you just believe in them and give them the necessary tools. I don't always act according to my knowledge, but every time I see Finola I remember that lesson, and what my dad told me, and I think it helps me get a little better every day--I hope it does. It's too important to screw up.


highdeekay said...

awesome story. I may start calling you the goat whisperer.

BTW (off topic): we looked all over (Target, KB Toys, Walmart) for a barrel of monkeys for that photo and were denied. Then we looked through our own toys and there was a barrel of monkeys that you gave Phil when he had his first surgery (7 years ago!). Thanks!

Layne said...

Awww. I remember that surgery. I have to say that the Operation-themed card we gave him was one of my finest.

All8 said...

I sang to our cows too while I milked. I think that it helped us all relax, at least a little bit. I saw a saying the other day and thought of you. "I prayed for patience and God sent me a goat." ;D Hope that it all goes beautifully this year.

Jill said...

I loved that story Layne. Thanks for sharing your grief and triumphs with us!

Also, I remember that card you made Phil...has it really been SEVEN years!?

Amy said...

Thank you for the big laugh to start my day. And, for the thoughtful insights.