6 am. I stagger out of bed, feel around in the dark for my barn pants, t-shirt, socks, undies, huge green sweater. Stagger out to the bathroom to dress so that I don’t wake Don. Turn the stove light on (too early for full light!) start the tap running – straight hot water. Dig in the pantry for the goat milk powder. Stare aimlessly into the sink for a few minutes. Remind myself that ‘commitment must be greater than emotion’: I might want to go back to bed and snuggle up to Don’s warm butt, but Rita is waiting for me.
I prepare the milk – two scoops of powder (smells oddly like instant mashed potatoes) to 4 cups of hot water. I could make this the night before but the mom in me thinks Rita, Chaos and Chuck would prefer a nice warm breakfast. Pour it into the bottles – Pink for Rita, Blue for the boys. Pour the extra into my old Curves water bottle. Line it all up on the counter. Check our weather station to see what the outside temperature is: -24. Gross. Go find my barn jacket, my two pairs of gloves (wool ones go inside the leather ones – keeps the hands dry when the goats start butting the bottles around), stuff my feet into my heavy warm barn boots. Pull on the black toque and head out the door.
There is no wind this morning. It’s pitch black and the yard is so quiet. I stop and look around despite the cold biting at my eyes and cheeks and trying desperately to get inside my coat. Not a sound, not a movement. A stray breeze wanders by and sends some snow hissing across the frozen driveway. I turn and continue on my way. when I am About 15 feet from the barn I can hear Rita (I know it’s her – I can pick her bleat out of the crowd like any mom can pick out her baby’s cry) and within seconds there are three little voices calling to me. I open the door to the barn, pass through the entryway, open the inside door. It’s pitch dark but I can hear the breathing of 25 goats and of course the bleating of the 3 bottle babies. I flip a light switch and watch as all the does blink themselves awake. I grab my little wooden stool and move through the gate, placing the stool on the ground and carefully avoiding the three little goats who are throwing themselves at my legs. Rita has stuck her head in the top of my boot so while I carefully shuffle forward, she has to equally carefully shuffle backward until she is satisfied that I have not hidden any milk in the lining of my barn boots.
I sit on the stool, feet firmly on the ground, and pull the two bottles out of my pocket. There is a scrimmage for the nipples and when the dust clears, Rita has the pink bottle and Chaos has the blue bottle and once again Chuck is waiting for his turn. He’s not patient. He slides his cheek up against Rita’s and mimics her sucking motions, slowly pushes sideways until she slips off the nipple – then Wham! He’s on it like a piranha. Rita cries in dismay and unceremoniously shoves him back. The fumble is recovered and she now has the nipple again. She turns her body at an angle so that Chuck can’t get between my knee and the bottle, but he’s clever. He circles around behind me and comes underneath the stool for a full frontal attack. In the meantime, Chaos is quickly but quietly draining the other bottle. Of the three he is the most determined and the wisest. He goes about the business of eating with quiet precision: grab the nipple and hold on for dear life. Chaos quickly finishes his bottle and then slides around my leg looking for Rita’s bottle. This is a tricky time: I have to refill the blue bottle while fending off 3 goat babies and the two barn cats that have slithered in looking for any extra goat milk that might be on offer. I hold Rita’s bottle between my knees and grab the Curves bottle from the railing beside me. Holding the bottle like this is not as easy now that all three goat kids are pushing at my knees and legs trying to figure out what they need to do to make the bottle come back. Carefully I refill the bottle and offer it to Chuck. Chaos has given up the battle – his tummy is full and he really can’t be bothered now, so he wanders off to visit with the other goats. Rita has crawled up into my lap and is making little grunty noises and nibbling at my jacket. And good old Chuck is finally able to eat his breakfast in peace.
I watch the older goats now – see them rise slowly from their warm straw beds and call to their babies. Each doe goes through the same ritual: Stand, stretch – back arched and legs extended as far backwards or forwards as they can go, deep sigh and maybe a shake to get the old fur in place. Then The Call – a sort of muted bleat – and a kid pops up and zooms over for a quick Hello then down they go for breakfast. The does seem to pull back into themselves for a few moments, pull up a cud and have a quick chew while the kids are having breakfast. It reminds me of myself when my kids were younger, standing at the sink drinking my coffee while they ate their cereal, gathering myself and thinking of what I had to do next. I wonder how goats plan their days.
When breakfast is over the goat kids start zooming around kicking up their heels and greeting each other as if this was the happiest moment of their lives so far. I look down at Rita. She’s sitting half-asleep on my lap: eyes closed, head leaned against me, legs hanging over my knee. I gently pet her and wake her all the way up, then pick her up and put her down in the pen. She gives herself a shake, stretches and bounces off to the others without a backward glance at me.
I clean up my stuff: put the bottles in my pockets, stool back in the entryway, make my way back outside. It has gotten lighter. I can see an owl on top of our yard light pole, it’s a great big horned owl and she watches me suspiciously. The cold is starting to bite a bit deeper now and through the window, I can see that Don is up and is making coffee, bless him. I hurry into the house, take off my jacket, shake my fur into place, stretch, greet my husband and reach for my mug of hot coffee. My goats and I are not so different I think.