I still think of her stepping daintily down the graveled drive, looking off to the West, stopping and listening and then making a small sound with the undertone of futility.
She had earned her name when she had moved away from me in the front seat of my pickup, turning her head away and putting her face in the corner between the seat-back and the door.
“Well then, be that way, your majesty,” I had said, keeping one eye on the highway. “Your highness, I dub thee Queen Noor.”
I had rescued Noor from the stewpot, at the Centennial Livestock Auction. She had been booted out of the chute by a tobacco-chewing young man with the brim of his Western hat down over his eyes, one toe of a worn boot at her bottom. She had stood in the bright lights of the arena alone, when the bidding started and many brown hands shot up– attached to the arms of Mexican ranchers.
I knew why they wanted her: she was plump, and if you liked “cabrito”, stewed or roasted goat, she would even appear delicious, standing there in a daze.
No one was willing to go up over twenty-five bucks and so I got her for thirty, and loaded her up in the front seat of my Ford Ranger, driving back along Highway 14 to pick up 287 to home, six acres with a doublewide, a horse set up, my kennel of Golden Retrievers, and a shed and pen where I housed several goats I milked twice each day.
I don’t know why I thought I needed a pygmy goat, which is what Noor was; unless you were a very tiny person, such as an aborigine, you couldn’t milk them, and she wasn’t “in the milk” anyway. She also had a pair of formidable looking curved, sharp horns, which could be a problem. It seemed to me, however, that she was pregnant, that her kids would be conversation pieces, and that she might make a sweet weed-eating pet, fitting in nicely with everyone else.
I turned her in with my milk does and she promptly went on a rampage, lowering her head, pawing the dirt like a miniature bull, charging them and scaring them to a corner of their pen. That wasn’t going to work.
I moved her into her own palatial set up– my red minibarn, its own fence wrapped around it, bedding it with shavings.
Several days after I got Noor, I noticed that she had begun to paw and nest, and get up and down. I thought it would be a good idea to stay with her at night, in case.
Down to the shed I took a comforter my good friend, then housemate Andrea had given me, that I both treasured and relied upon when the north wind sliced into my bedroom. I draped myself in the comforter and lay down next to Queen Noor, with my arm around her.
What goes through the mind of a goat when something like this happens? She lay next to me, breathing heavily, seeming not to mind my presence. The floor of the minibarn was hard, inhospitable. We dozed.
Early in the morning she jumped to her feet, and began to bleat, pawing frantically. I got up and rolled up the quilt and got it out of the way. I went into the house and got Andrea.
Noor lay down and stretched flat out and began to push. Out popped, one after the other, two small, stillborn kids.
To Andrea’s dismay, as an up and coming microbiologist well acquainted with the private lives of all kinds of bacteria and viruses, I tried to resuscitate one of the kids. This was of no use; they were gone. Noor stood over them, murmuring to them, licking them.
I took the kids away, laid them in the shade and poured chipped ice over them. I knew what I had to do, and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.
Before the renderer came, I skinned one of the kids, weighting the skin down with rocks, salting the underside to help it dry. I drove out to the feedlot on the county line and bought a lamb for five dollars from a man whose job it was to drive through the sea of sheep saving newborn lambs when he could, and selling them off to locals for five bucks a piece, who would then fatten them up or if they were wool-bearing, add them to their herd.
Then I had two problems: a bereft mother goat, and a newborn lamb. I stopped at the vet supply store for the things I needed to make sure the lamb got off to a good start; goat colostrum– first milk– penicillin, syringes and needles, and a vaccine for the early things lambs get.
I drove back home, this time with the lamb on the front seat, on a towel, a lamb as bewildered as Noor had been, its ears down, mute, hungry.
I brought my charge in and gave it a bath, dried it under a heat lamp, fed it a few ounces of warm formula, and tied the goat skin on to it with baling twine.
Very satisfied with myself and my ingenuity, feeling like a true Woman of the West, I strode back out to where Noor stood with her muzzle against the fence. I took the lamb in and set it down near her, and stepped back.
She sniffed the lamb, and backed away. The lamb bleated and tried to approach her; any mama would do. Noor lowered her head and I grabbed the lamb and picked her up in the nick of time. We went through this any number of times.
Finally, Noor permitted the lamb to lie down and doze in the sun. She had stopped crying for her kids, but she threw me baleful looks while she mouthed her hay.
Meanwhile, I went on duty to the lamb. I fed her every few hours, from a bottle with a special nipple to prevent too much intake. I began to bond with the lamb; Noor didn’t. When the lamb tried to suckle, she would kick it away or whirl with her head down.
When they had settled down for the night, albeit a few feet apart, I got some rest.
I went out in the morning and was brought up short by what I saw.
If you ever try this, don’t salt the goat skin. The skin had dried, loosened, and rolled up around my lamb’s neck like a bow tie. And, Noor was never going to nurse this lamb; it was quite apparent to her that this was not one of her babies.
Still, when I picked the lamb up to feed it, she would stop eating; her eyes would follow me. Clearly I had succeeded in providing her with a distraction.
Illustrative of my determination and perhaps that I was losing my mind, I subsequently got Noor an entire herd, including a pygmy buck I named Harley. This seemed to bring her a small measure of happiness. Harley hated everyone and everything except breeding. He would skewer the does in a thirty-second rut and fall over on his side. The rest of the time he would slam into everything that moved and many things that didn’t.
Emily the lamb and I went about our business, and when she was six months old she went to a family to be a 4-H show lamb.
The whole thing is but one short chapter in a twenty-five year saga that is the reason I have been too exhausted to write.
I have friends who raise pygmy goats and can so “see” this! What a hoot, Queen Noor and Harley! If the rest of the “chapters” of your life are as this one, I can see how you would be too exhausted to write! I hope you write anyway 🙂
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