Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Last to Know

Here we go again: Johnes.  There I wrote it. I even put it in the first sentence. Hah! Take that goat world.  Katherine has been on a wild rollercoaster of emotions dealing with the latest outbreak of what I call “The Goat Plague.”  Gossip from around the country has been blowing up her phone to the point that she’s having nightmares and staying home from school.  Of course it’s not the first time we’ve dealt with this scourge.  I even drafted a post about it over a year ago (a damned good one, I might add), but my buddy talked me out of posting it for fear that young Katherine’s budding goat business would be squashed by the wrath of the goat world.
Well, to hell with it.  I’ve spent the last couple of decades teaching my kids to live transparently, take responsibility for their actions, and take on difficult topics head-on.   Even now.  So here we go.  Sorry, Julie, I know you told me not to do this… but someone has to.
First, a little background on “The Goat Plague,” or Johnes.  I’ll try not to get too technical.  The Mycobacterium avium subsp. pseudoparatuberculosis (MAP) is a bacteria that causes unstoppable diarrhea and rapid weight loss.  The devastated animal eventually wastes away.  The bacteria is a global problem, and can lie dormant in an animal for years before some environmental trigger, such as stress from kidding, can flip the switch to “on.” 
Johnes Goat
In the meantime, the goat looks and acts perfectly normal.  Once activated, though, the disease is transmitted via feces, body fluids and milk (doe to kid).   This all translates to, “Once your goat shows signs of it, a la holocaust goat, you are screwed.  Your “Grim Reaper” goat has been pooping all over your field where the other little caprines are snurfing around for grass and stuff.  There is no cure and it takes two or more years for a pasture or pen to be clear of the contagious poops.  So not only are your current goats goners, but you can’t even restart a new herd on the pasture!  You have to move … or get out of goats.
And it’s not just goats.  It’s sheep, deer, cows.  Maybe a contaminated deer bounds through your pasture and poops on the way.  Bam.  You’ve got The Plague.  
But maybe you don’t know it…. because it doesn’t necessarily manifest for weeks, months, years. 
That’s why we test for it at least once a year.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It started on a Friday afternoon when Julie called me in an utter frenzy.  “____ just called me.  You need to call her RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  I can’t say anymore because I don’t want to spread second-hand information.”  WHAT??!  First of all, Katherine is the goat herder; not me.  Why can’t she deal with this crisis?  She’s 17 and knows way more about it than me.  “NO! This requires an adult,” Julie insisted.  What the hell? Katherine is way more grown up than me, too ….but OK.
I called _____ immediately.  She couldn’t talk because she was driving to a goat show, but she’d call me when she got there.  [BTW she called me back 2 days later.]
I called Julie back: “OK. You can’t leave me hanging like this. Tell me something.”
Julie: “No way.”
Me: “What if I guessed it? Would you tell me then?”
Julie: “Yes.”
OK, “20 Questions” it is then.  But I already knew; I guessed it on the first question based strictly on Julie’s level of panic.  As I suspected, someone had an outbreak of Johnes and everyone was worried that this “Johnes Joe” (sort of like “Typhoid Mary”) had infected everyone else’s herd. 
In true Goat World fashion, everyone jumped to conclusions about WHO had the plague.  I’m going to call the target “Susan.”  She’s a major breeder in our area, as well as a goat judge and a 4H leader.  She has champion bloodlines and beautiful animals, which she sells to competitors around the entire country.  She’s also active in our national organization ( on a variety of committees.  Like so many others, she has been involved with pygmy goats for DECADES. Virtually eons! She is a fixture of the goat show world.  Moreover, she’s Katherine’s mentor (now that Bubba has moved on).

Anyway, everyone was pointing fingers at Susan: “she sold goats to so-and-so and they have Johnes. Must’ve come from her!”  “So-and-so bred her doe to Susan’s buck and now they have Johnes.  Must’ve come from her!”
Fox & The Grapes
The one text that really got under Katherine’s skin said: “ Susan wouldn’t sell me that goat that you just bought from her.  It must have Johnes.”  What? That’s fuzzy logic. I call it “sour grapes. “ And just plain mean spirited.  Why would an adult send a teenager that message?
Rather than wallow in self-pity and speculation, Katherine formulated a plan.  Pronto. Information is power.
Within 20 hours she had lined up all her supplies and herded all of her adult goats into the catch pen to draw blood.  It’s a two-person job, so I got recruited.
Most people call the vet to draw blood.  We USED to call the vet to draw blood on all of our PREVIOUS blood testing roundsIt is a veterinary procedure, right?  But not our Katherine.  She’s an industrious girl, that one is.  She Googled “how to draw blood from a goat” and turned up multiple YouTube videos on how to do just that.
Next she went to to get her supplies. Ah, technology.
She figured that  process out a couple years ago, when she got tired of the round around with trying to schedule the vet again.  She now has her own account at the lab and a box full of supplies at the ready: syringes, needs, vials, clippers.
Good thing, too. Because we needed to get results ASAP.
Saturday we spent 3 hours drawing blood from 32 goats.  Exhausting.

We’ve got it down to a system, and those vials were packed in ice on the first UPS plane out on Monday morning, on their way to Washington State University, overnight/express/gotta-have-it-RIGHT-now.
Next step: wait. WSU runs the test on Wednesday afternoon and sends out results via email Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.  That’s basically 5 days of waiting.  Five excrutiatingly long days.
We’ve been through this drill before and had not-so-good results.  I’ll post more about that disaster in my next blog.  We are all about full disclosure, baby, everything. But, anyway…
Katherine and I barely spoke those 5 days.  She woke up with black circles under her eyes every morning from being awoken by nightmares all night long.  She would dream of reading through the results: negative, negative, negative, positive, negative, negative.  Yes, this is what 17-year old girls dream about on a goat farm. Terrifying on so many levels.
Friday morning a photo popped up on my text messages:

Oh, thank God.  All negative. My next response was, “HAH! See that goat people? See, we do NOT have Johnes! Woo hoo! Bite me.”
Hugh relief all around.  Katherine relaxed for the first time in a week.
Then the insidious nature of the goat world set in: the rumor mill kicked into high gear.  She got a call from a nearby goat friend: COME QUICK! I NEED TO DRAW BLOOD! JOHNES IS GOING AROUND AGAIN!
One of the things I like most about Katherine is that she is selfless and kind and helpful in these situations – all without thinking twice.  She ditched her afternoon classes, grabbed her supply box, jumped in her truck, and drove over the hill to the next town to draw blood on our friend’s 15 goats.  Doc McStuffins to the rescue again.  
After everyone recovered from the stress the information began to flow.  
Turns out Katherine and her friend were the last to know about the epidemic.  It’s been going around for 3 months, and people have been whispering about it at all the shows – behind Katherine’s back. 
Lets put this in perspective: Susan, the target of the rotten gossip and Katherine’s mentor, sold Katherine a few goats this Fall and let Katherine breed her does to Susan’s bucks.  If the whole goat community thought that Susan’s herd was diseased, why did they not say anything to Katherine? Not a peep. No warning. No cautionary glances. No nothing.
Katherine was tormented by the thought that her mentor would intentionally set her up with The Plague and destroy her herd – knowingly.  She started hatching schemes to return the goats to Susan.  But what to say? “Um, I don’t like it anymore. Thanks anyway!”  “My Mom says I can’t have any more goats. 55 is just plenty.”
Nothing sounded right.
Finally, we had a flash of brilliance: why not just ask Susan directly what’s happening? Shazam.  What’s the worst that would happen? Susan would explode and yell at her and deny it. Or worse, confirm it.
Katherine and I role-played the various scenarios, best to worst, and she decided that she could live with the worse-case outcome. So, off went the text:
I’m hearing a lot of rumors about your herd having Johnes and I wanted to talk to you about it.
There you have it. The truth. Simple. Direct. Non-confrontational. Honest.
And scary as hell.  All the adults in the goat world chatter amongst themselves, filling in the information gaps with guesses and half-truths.  Avoiding the direct approach at all costs. Like a game of “Telephone,” it distorts at lightening speed.
The response came back:   Call me
Katherine took a deep breath and excused herself to go make the call. Fifteen minutes later she came back with a big smile and looking more relaxed than I’ve seen her in 2 weeks. NO JOHNES! Test results exchanged.  Proof.  Confirmed.  Susan’s herd is clear. So is Katherine's.
Katherine’s keeping the goats and will proudly take them to the first show of next year. (Katherine and half of the goat world are skipping this last show coming up next weekend – too much drama.)
I’m profoundly proud of Katherine for “taking the bull by the horns.”  She didn’t succumb to the gossip and rumors.  She didn’t make up excuses.  She went right to the source, risking her relationship with someone whom she deeply respects. 
And you know what? It turned out even better than she could’ve imagined.  Funny that.   
She maintained her relationship; she found out the truth; she made Susan feel better. Another life lesson from the goat pen.

Gotta remember why we are doing this goat-thing at all


Friday, September 16, 2016

All That Matters

Little One and Blaze
Last night I was scurrying around the kitchen, trying to get dinner on the table—late as usual. The intensity of the childrens’ nagging was escalating by the minute. Three children were talking at me at once, and I was only half listening to the myriad of conversations raining down on me, when I heard one comment that stopped me in my tracks.

Katherine was divulging more details about last weekend’s goat show.  She had driven all by herself with her trailer heavily loaded with 25 goats to a show five hours away (as a side note – I refer you to the 11/20/2015 blog post "Looking Back", which tells the story of how we got lost going to this show last year…but I digress…).
Until that moment, the details had been mundane. Over the weekend Katherine sent me a steady stream of text messages with the play-by-play of The Goat Show: how each of her goats placed in their classes, who was at the show, who’s goats won, how many goats each person brought, who got a new truck, who said what to whom, etc.  All normal stuff.
Her goats did well enough, with one of her favorite bottle-babies winning Reserve Junior Doe (which translates to 2nd place for female goats under the age of 2). Another group of them won their classes and generally made the top 5 goats in many classes.
Woohoo! I call that success. Statistically, lets think about this. Lets say, for example, the show has 150 goats entered: 20 bucks (males), 30 wethers (neutered males), 50 junior does (females less than 2), and 50 senior does (females over 2). You know I’m making these numbers up, right? OK.
Goats compete against their same gender, so lets look at our odds of winning with the 100 female goats (does) present at the make-believe show. First you have to win your age group (under or over 2 years old). That’s a 1 in 50 chance in our make-believe show (2%). Highly unlikely. If you do actually win that age group, it comes down to a final match-up of the Junior Doe versus Senior Doe. Mano a mano. The judge has to pick one of the two of you… so 50/50. Better… but the chance that you made it to that showdown at all is slim to none.
Anyway, I’ve oversimplified the math to make my point: it’s not easy to win The Goat Show.
After each class, even after The Judge has publicly given their reasons for choosing one goat over another ON THE MICROPHONE, The Judge still allows exhibitors to ask “off-line” about why their Goaty didn’t win. Not many people actually approach the judge after the class, which is probably why the judges still extend this courtesy. (Can you imagine how long The Goat Show would take if EVERYONE asked, “why didn’t MYYYY GOAT win??” Ugh. Makes me tired just thinking about it.)
Based on my observations, the people that do ask The Question fall into one of two categories: whiners or information-seekers.
Whiners are just that: whiny. “What could possibly be wrong with my picture-of-perfection wether?! I think you are wrong…” OK, I doubt exhibitors accuse The Judge of being wrong…too often.
The information-seekers look for specific data and earnestly want an objective critique of their animal. Answers might include, “not sufficiently muscled yet” (translation: too small), “loose stifle” (translation: gimpy), “less-than-attractive head” (translation: ugly).
Back to my story … so Katherine’s most-est favorite-est wether (who won “Best Wether” at the County Fair this year!) got 2nd place at this show. So close!
Mark, our Champeen wether at County Fair in July 2016
There was a lull in the show while the owner of the “Champeen” Wether filled out paperwork to prove “indeed, that animal raht there really and truly is da animal on this-ah here piece a’ paypah.”
So, Katherine approached the judge, goat in tow.
Her question was broader than, “Why didn’t Mark win?” It was more in line with, “Am I on the right track with my breeding program? What do you think of the style of goat I am trying to create?”
The Judge replied, 
All that really matters is that YOU like your goats.” 
That was the comment that penetrated the dinnertime chaos swirling around me last night. It is profound in so many ways – way beyond goats.
So often we look to external sources for validation that what we are doing “it” (goat breeding/writing/parenting/thinking/etc.) right -- that we are conforming to the breed standard, societal norms, popular culture.
How many times have I heard anxiety-riddled parents lament about whether their kid will get into “the right” college. Or, hell, in San Francisco the question is whether their kid is going to get into "the right” kindergarten or, yes, preschool.
Over my 20+ years of parenting I have learned in no uncertain terms that parents are intensely competitive about their kids. On one level, these school worries are about the well-being of the child’s future.
Competitive Parenting
But more often these anxieties are rooted in competitive parenting. Are my kids smarter/more athletic/more popular/kinder/calmer/cuter than yours because I am a superior parent? Or, heaven forbid, vice versa? Do you recognize that my kid is THE BEST (fill-in-the-blank) ever seen in this universe? Do my peers/relatives/frenemies approve of my parenting style? Am I doing this  (EVERYTHING) right?!

For God’s sake, let it go. You are making plenty of mistakes, probably screwing up royally. But, good news, no one is looking that closely at you and somehow we all muddle through adolescence into adulthood.
“All that really matters is that YOU love your [kids].” See how I substituted “kid” for “goats” in there? I could also substitute “yourself.”
So, to my 7 children I say: I love all of you, even if you don’t play professional soccer, don’t publish a book by the time you are 18, don’t wear a size 2, don’t get a 5 on your Chemistry AP exam, don’t get invited to the party, don’t get a modeling gig at age 2, don’t wear your retainer every night, don’t pass Econ, don’t get the lead in the play, don’t go to Harvard, or … don’t win The Goat Show.
In return, you must give yourself permission to love yourself, shortcomings and all. Know in your heart that, so long as you do your best, you are doing “it” right.

Katherine, your goats are just fine, and so are you.
Love, Ma

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The other day Katherine and I had to take yet another goat to the “pit of doom.” It was a big fat doe who got stuck on her back, couldn’t right herself, suffocated and died. Sadly, this sequence is not all that unusual. Dumb goats. This one was fat for two reasons: 1) she was being prepped for a show next weekend, and 2) she had two babies. Of course it’s always sad to lose a goat; but this was particularly sad because of the babies. We now have two orphan kids.
We bottle feed baby goats all the time. In fact, I’d venture to say that we have at least one bottle baby going for at least 8 months out of the year. Different goats, of course. So Katherine is all set up for it: nipples, bottles, milk. I won’t go into the details…again. Instead, I refer you back to "Kitchen Goats".
They are 5.5 weeks old, have been nursing well, and, in theory, could be weaned in 2.5 weeks. So what’s my problem? Being an orphan is sad. Or is it?
Goat - sort of
ANTHROPOMORPHIZE: “to attribute human form or personality to things not human.”
Do goats have emotions? Sorry to say that the answer is probably NO. At least not emotions that most of us humans have. They feel fear, but maybe not love, affection, anxiety, sadness, contentment. They get hungry – they eat. They don’t worry about it, or look for a pal to go to the hay feeder with. They “like” another goat and they try to have sex with it; no wining, dining, or texting.
When we found the dead mama goat (Kacie) in the pen, her two babies (Sock and Yogurt) were wandering around with the rest of the herd. Yogurt was looking a bit thin and was whining about milk, but other than that, nothing. They didn’t curl up with Kacie or stand vigil. Did they know? Besides having lost their food source, did they care?
On The Goat Farm, we see mama/baby relationships goat both ways. Little One is Blaze’s mom and those two are inseparable, even now that Blaze is 18 months old.
Little One  & Blaze (et al)
At some level, do they recognize each other as being “family”? Do they stay together because they look alike? (“Hey, you look like me. I think I’ll hang with you.”)

Maybe. But Blaze also has a BFF: Mark. Does she know the difference? And does Mark care?
Blaze & Mark
Some mamas and babies work as groups, a la “It-Takes-A-Village.” Mamas will babysit packs of babies. 
Sometimes The Babies go off in large packs, ditching The Mamas altogether (ok, that is like humans… just sayin’). On a side note, that baby in the front there is a bottle baby as are two others deeper in the back of the pile. They get integrated into the baby pile quite nicely. It’s all about heat from the group – like penguins I guess. 

Romantically, though, us Humans would like to believe that The Mamas and The Babies bond at birth. Imprint on each other for life. And, if they are lucky, they will live out their goaty-lives munching side-by-side at the hay feeder forever and ever. Like human families staying together. The End.
But things happen (with goats and people…). Usually, either The Babies or The Mama get sold and that’s the end of the relationship. Or, the baby/babies die. (Mortality rates in baby goats are very high – but that’s another blog post). Or The Mama dies. Like this time.
So, back to reality. Katherine made a pen for Sock and Yogurt in the garage with some straw, a bucket of water, a bowl of grain, a flake of hay, and a cozy little blanket. Every hour or so she took the bottle to the pen to teach the babies to eat off of it. The basic idea here is that goats WILL eat from a bottle when they get hungry enough.

And they did. So, now Sock and Yogurt will join our ever-growing ranks of bottle babies. (Lucky for me, it’s summertime and they can live outside instead of the kitchen – hooray!)
While Katherine has been acclimating these orphaned goats to their new existence, I have been pondering the concept of ORPHAN in general.
[I joke that my most attractive feature is that I am an orphan. Granny used to say, “When you marry the man, you marry his family.” As usual, Granny was right. In fact, she hit it out of the ballpark with that advice. Anyway…]
I was (am?) an only child of parents who separated when I was 3. My grandparents took a turn raising me for several years, so I became especially attached to them, too. (Probably more than my parents...)
When I was a mere 23-years-old—a veritable “babe in the woods”!—my father died after a six-month illness. Yikes. Life is fragile. Four years later, my grandfather died of old-age-related stuff. When I was 33 my grandmother died of more old-age-related stuff. Within the course of 10 years I was down to one parent: Mom. My least favorite parent at that. (Don’t worry, it’s not a secret. She and I came to terms with it in our own way).
Grandaddy, me, Daddy, Granny (ca 1984)
Six years later I got a phone call from Mom’s husband that she had died suddenly of some weird-ass thing. I won’t go into details.
Even, though I wasn’t particularly close to my mom, I was devastated. For about 12 hours.
For half a day, I wallowed in my laundry list of regrets:
I am sad that my father didn’t met ANY of my 7 children.
I am sad that I didn’t have an adult relationship with my father; he was a fascinating person and wickedly funny.
I am sad that I didn’t listen more closely to my grandfather’s WWII stories.
I regret not asking my granny what it was REALLY like to live on Guam in the 1950s during the Cold War while my grandfather was out doing secret Naval investigative stuff.
I regret not knowing enough to read-between-the-lines and ask Granddaddy about that secret Navy stuff in the 1950s.
I lament not asking Granny more about her life-changing bout of polio when she was 25 – when she had to abort her second child because of the virus wreaking havoc on her nervous system.
Yes, I’m even sorry that my Mom and I didn’t apologize to each other for being rotten to each other during my teen years. 
Boo hoo. Whoa is me. I cried myself to sleep.

And then the strangest thing happened. I woke from a deep sleep, sat straight up in bed, and said out loud, “I AM FREE!”
Somewhere in my subconscious, while processing my loss in my sleep, I realized that I didn’t have to live my life to please anybody else anymore.
My marriage of 18 years was in its death throes. My husband wasn’t at the house when I got the news about my mother’s death, and his response was “Ugh. Do I really have to come up there?” My response was a hearty: “NO.” I meant it. He was certainly not the person I wanted to console me and I didn’t have to pretend anymore that he was. (On a side note, he moved out of the house 31 days later. Hallelui.)
I didn’t have to be the hostess-with-the-mostest anymore. No more Opera Balls, Symphony openings, cocktail parties, client dinners.
I didn’t have to win the Mom Competition. No more over-scheduling the children. No more “Travelling Sports Teams.” No more horse shows. No more voice lessons. No more drama class. No more over-pressuring the children to beat their peers in EVERYTHING.
Done. I was so, so done. And no more parents were there to judge me about it. “Divorce, here I come!”
Seven years later, I live on a goat farm, with 7 children -- two from a man I did NOT marry -- and engaged to a man who’s religious preferences would’ve thrown my family into a hellish rage. Hah, take that!
I live my life as my most true self, and I couldn’t be happier.
Becoming an orphan was, hands down, the most liberating event in my life.
It is my most heartfelt wish that my own children (and you, too, of course) find that freedom, liberation and authenticity, too – preferably, without becoming orphans.

I'm sorry Mom.