Bella the star and being ok with the ordinary
Normal is just fine
Why goats? I wrote almost TWO THOUSAND words last week about a single baby goat, Lemony Moon Pie. In retrospect, it might have been a bit excessive. Before posting anything, I've got the tic that I must read it aloud, usually several times. My brother, Gregory, staying with us for a month, sat in the kitchen listening to me read the whole piece. Finishing, I asked his unvarnished thoughts.
"I mean, it's well written, but it's so boring," he explained to me. "How is it even possible to say that much about a single goat?" he asked, motioning out the kitchen window to the pasture full of goats, each with a story. "If it were about the rise of Tiger Woods, that would be fascinating."
Gregory and I both share the experience of picking up a new passion in our 30s. For me, it's urban farming; for him, it's golf. They say there's no zealot like a convert, and unlike our peers who grew up on a farm or driving a golf cart around the links, he and I are both using our zealotry to make up for the lost time.
For me, my 20s felt like a sprint to be the best in what I believed was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD, politics. As a junior staffer, I would get up early and work late, a star in my own personal version of "Scandal" or "House of Cards," except with a lot less murder. I was missing a whole beautiful and exciting world in my self-important myopathy.
It took a long time to accept that I couldn't save the world. At some point, after having children, it became clear that my attention needed to narrow to the things I could control. I can take my boys to go milk the goats. I can foster a place where they dig in the dirt and know where their food comes from. I can help shape them into kind and capable men, full of empathy and grit. I can’t do that and singlehandedly shape the republic, too.
In politics, I was lucky to change anything on the margins. When I'm in the pasture, what I do in terms of nutrition, schedule, minerals, water, breeding, and training changes the entire game. I don't wonder anymore why millions of people have little farming games on their phones. There's something so satisfying about it. However, I get to make the real cheese.
Stories about goats are relaxing and gratifying for me to write, and because I have the zealotry of my conversion, I hope the excitement I feel is worth the read - even if you don't entirely "get it" like my brother.
What I pull from my goats expands into the "real world" and advises how I handle my day-to-day. Little challenges in the pasture often translate into the big lessons of my life.
When you talk to goat people, there's always "the goat" that was their gateway drug. We refer to them as "heart goats." They show up with the je ne sais quoi that perfectly fits whatever goat-shaped hole is in your life. For me, her name is Bella.
Bella was the first Miniature Lamancha (the kind of goat I breed) I had ever met. She's the catalyst that set me on the breeding path we're on today. We're up to 14 right now; it's a bit over-the-top, and I'll get some for sale soon, or soon-ish. Bella is in the never-to-be-sold category. She's still my favorite.
The day we went to pick her up, we pulled up to her breeder's house and were pretty surprised not to see a farm. Although the listing had the address in a Denver suburb, I assumed it would be an acreage property like ours. It wasn't. Bella was born in a normal-looking suburban backyard.
There are several neighborhoods without HOAs hugging the city that are great for goat ownership. Usually, families will have two does and will either rent a buck or do a "driveway breeding" (which is just what it sounds like) and then will sell kids off almost immediately after being weaned to stay within their zoning rules.
Backyard goats are a great way to allow people to produce food in their yards. They're gaining popularity along with backyard bees and chickens. Done correctly, they can add a lot to a family and their community. Miniature Lamanchas are the perfect backyard dairy goat.
The minute we brought her home, I was instantly in love. Although we had several goats of different breeds, Bella had the best attributes of all of them. She had the smaller size of the miniature Nigerian Dwarf and the increased milk volume, more relaxed personality, and tiny ears of the larger dairy breed, the American Lamancha. It was perfect.
The only drawback of Bella was that she was unregistered. I didn't know that was an issue when I bought her. I wanted a Miniature Lamancha goat, and the lovely lady in the suburban neighborhood had one to sell. I found her on Craigslist, no joke, but as it's a relatively rare breed and I didn't know what I was doing at the time, it seemed like no problem.
As an unregistered goat, that doesn't mean Bella is of lower quality. Her dam and grand dam (mom and grandmother) were on site when I got her. Unlike many of the animals you can pick up at auction, her origin isn't some mystery. The only reason she doesn't have papers, and the rest of my other goats do, is because someone in her past decided not to keep track.
Over the years of having and loving Bella, I started to feel indignant at her lack of legitimacy. It became something that gnawed at me. All the other pretty goats had certificates that I proudly organized in cellophane covers in a fancy notebook, but the BEST goat of them all had nothing.
Her kids are called "Grade" by the registry, like castoff meat in the bargain bin. However, one of her Grade daughters won a Grand Champion award at the show this summer. It was so gratifying to watch the underdog prevail, and it further speaks to Bella's quality.
I began to research ways to get Bella some status. She deserves it. There is a program at The Miniature Goat Registry called "Native on Production" that allows goats to be registered if they meet all the breed standard characteristics and the milking standards of their Advanced Registry. A year-long testing regimen is required, and Bella has to meet their stringent standards. In the end, if she meets their requirements for volume or butterfat production (preferably both), she will receive a "star" and will be accepted as a registered goat.
Bella kidded in February, and we started testing in March. Although starting off strong, she has been slowly petering out. Every packet we get from the dairy lab with the latest numbers sends me to my calculator in a panic to figure out exactly how much more we need to drag her across the line. If she does, it will be by the tip of her hoof. It's a high standard, and it should be, but at this point, she might not make it.
For a certificate for a goat, this seems like an excessive amount of work and worry. Bella's just a goat, after all.
A milking year is 305 days (goats take the last two months of their pregnancy off to allow their body to put all their calories into their kids.) In her latest report, we were at day 189, and she had milked 800 pounds of the 1030 necessary for her star. Goats mostly start the season with high numbers and slowly decline until they're dried off. It's going to be tight, friends.
I've turned into a weird goat stage Mom to try to get this damn thing done - we'll know by December if she meets the standard. I know Bella is exceptional, but for some reason, I want everyone else to know it too.
Although I have worked now for several years for a star, it occurs to me; you know who doesn't care? Bella.
If she doesn't get a star and her kids are just grades, they will still be great and win awards. Bella will still lay in the middle of the field taking "death naps." She'll still do her little goat laugh watching me run across the pasture screaming when I think she's keeled over, but really, she's just THAT relaxed. She'll still lay in the bottom of the feeder, allowing gravity to feed her her hay in the laziest way physically possible. She will still be the creamiest goat, running at over 6% butterfat, making the best fromage blanc, possibly in the whole world.
A star won't change any of that.
It's me who wants her to have this recognition. I can't figure out what about it makes me care so much. If it doesn't work, I might have to let it go. The standards will go up next year (with the goat's age) and would be even harder to complete. It's entirely possible that no matter how hard she and I try, she might never reach it. We'll keep trying. But, maybe instead of a star goat, she's an ordinary goat.
Through Bella, I'm working out my aversion to the ordinary. No matter what the outcome, I will love her the same. I will walk out in the morning and delight in her antics. Her milk will still be my favorite. No matter what, I will use animal cookies to bribe her to take selfies with me.
It's the same in life and politics, as in goats - it's great to strive for the exceptional, but those wins are rare and fleeting. Finding lasting joy means seeing the magic in the ordinary.