It’s the fourth week with our goat kids. They were born 22nd of June, the boy and the girl. We were just starting to celebrate the traditional Finnish Midsummer with a bunch of friends at the lodge. I nipped out to say hello to our mama goat, heavily pregnant, but as I got to her, I realised immediately now is the time.
She delivered effortlessly and quickly the beautiful kids. This was the second time she gave birth with us, the previous being two years ago. She seemed to react casually, but well to the new motherhood. She cleaned the kids, and “talked” to them endlessly. She made sure they were nurtured and fed, she kept them clean, and guarded them fearlessly. Now as they are a month older, she’s showing them around, bringing them to see our dog at the lodge and taking them into the donkey pasture. They spend hours every day just hanging around the yard of the lodge, getting to know the people and the pace of life with us.
My ultimate goal is to raise at least one of the kids as a packgoat, meaning he’ll be accompanying hikers on their walk, carrying whatever small packs needed. Our guests rarely go on longer than two, three hour hikes, so a carrier companion is not a necessity, but the thought of a goat walking alongside is simply quite sweet.
For this reason I need to have the one kid being perfectly happy with people. He needs to feel safe and secure with different kinds of sounds, smells, terrains, and people behavior. He is likely to be cuddled and patted by strangers, and he has to be happy spending hours with new faces.
We acquired two donkeys, Ansa and Tauno, within days from when the kids were born. I’ve also been advising a few friends on how to domesticate homeless, a little on the wild side kittens, and trying to figure out how to help the homeless dogs in Sarajevo – so it’s really been a summer of animals!
To a friend with kittens I said it only takes some time and effort, peace and love. There are no words, there’s just a lot of being. I haven’t domesticated any animals in about 20 years, but the practice is simple, and that’s what I’m doing also with my donkeys (domesticated: yes, used to close human contact: no) and goat kids.
You need to start by spend lots of time around the animals. Not necessarily with them, or trying to make contact. Just be around them, talk while they’re close, let them get used to your sound, smell, and behavior. With cats it’s relatively easy, since you can choose to keep them in just one room and spend time in that smallish closed area. With our goats it’s more challenging in a way, because they’re grazing freely. Being breastfed they’re very attached to their mother and scared off easily. We’re good friends with the mama goat, so luckily she’s bringing the kids to me. I started by sitting and reading somewhere close, then walking and talking, doing the normal daily chores.
The donkeys on the other hand are in fenced pasture, but the area is large, so once again they need to come to me. As I am the bearer of food and treats, they are naturally interested in me. However they’re not used to being held or handled, nor are they aware that someone might want to do walking or any kind of activity with them. We have a long way to go with the donkeys, and we’re only building trust so far.
Watching the goat give birth, getting to know the kids, finding our way with the donkeys has got me thinking about the slow in the animal world. When I’m spending time with our animals, “domesticating” them, it seems I’m doing absolutely nothing. But by doing nothing – sitting, being present, waiting for them to come to me, hoping they’re getting used to the smell and sight of me – I’m doing everything. I can’t rush it, and I have to be sensitive to what the animals feel, need, and want at a specific moment. I can’t force them or the process.
And how I’ve been enjoying the wonder of nature! The animals have shown me – once again – how to back off and be quiet. Having animals, of any kind, is a great lesson at slow and simple. I couldn’t be happier about my teachers.