Our long-dreaded bout of July summer heat and humidity came to an abrupt halt yesterday as the very pleasant and dry weather that so characterized this spring returned. July has given us our hottest high temperature of the year thus far (96 degrees on July 20), but we are somewhat relieved that we are now past the average hottest day of the year (around July 21). I welcomed the refreshing 52-degree chill of the morning air as Calli led me out onto our front porch to begin the new day. This day, above all others, I have anticipated for nearly two years. It not only swept away three weeks of oppressively torrid air, but it also marks the return of dairy goats to our farm. Our beloved original Oberhasli goat kid—who we raised to be the foundation of our planned dairy goat herd—Essie came home to Peeper Pond Farm today!
I remember well the day we sent our dairy goats and our dairy farming aspirations away. It was August 5, 2017. After having lost our other foundation goat kid, Gertie, to meningeal worm and loading our three adults into a trailer to be taken away to their new home in Pennsylvania, we were left with our lone goat kid, Essie. As soon as the adults left the barn, she began to panic, frantically racing from one end of the goat pen to the other, braying at the top of her lungs over her fear of being left alone for the first time in her life. I spent the next hour by her side, consoling her, as we made the final arrangements with our local goat colleagues, Merrily and Dale Carroll, to deliver her to their farm at the entrance of Smoke Hole. Essie leaned and rubbed against me the entire time pleading for my constant attention, until I finally loaded her into our truck. She simply couldn’t comprehend what was happening to her. Having been removed from her mother at birth, we were the only parents she had ever known and the only familiar source of companionship she had left. She would spend the next 24 months at the Carroll’s farm, as she struggled to establish her position amongst their large herd of Dwarf Nigerians. I returned home that dreaded day to a silent and lonely goat barn, having lost all seven of our animal companions—including our nearly 15-year-old cherished housecat, Ninny—within a span of three torturous weeks. I felt Essie’s loss as intimately and overwhelmingly as she did.
The sudden silence of our farm was as disparaging to me as it was stunning, as I struggled to come to terms with the bitter, staggering loss. In fact, as Barb can attest, I would enter that somber barn no more than seven times after losing our goats—only as was necessary to close down our operation and to store and retrieve our tractor, which we sheltered there over the past two long, frigid winters. It was the only thing we had left to fill the empty void. However, throughout the past month, I have spent many rewarding hours working in that deserted barn to prepare it in anticipation of Essie’s return.
I made every effort to visit Essie at least once each month of her long exile. I only failed to see her in one month during that two-year period, although I did visit her multiple times in several other months. It always amazed and reassured me to realize that she never forgot who we were and recognized us each time we returned. All I had to do was call for her in my special way, and she would respond as loudly and enthusiastically as she always did when she lived at our farm.
At least Essie managed to adjust to the change and find comfort with her new surroundings. I never did, and I was haunted by hindsight as I struggled with unrelenting regret. I had let her and the retirement dream I determinedly built for years with my own hands simply slip through my fingers. However, the sudden loss our dairy goat operation motivated me to pursue changes to our state’s abject prohibition on sales of unpasteurized milk and milk products. That excessively oppressive law and attitude is the dagger that ultimately determined the fate of our planned dairy goat operation. All the time, I held on to the fleeting hope that I could, someday, bring our Essie home. Today is the day that elusive hope became reality!
We arrived at the Carroll’s farm shortly after 10:00 AM. Dale was just getting ready to feed their goats. Essie noticed that I was carrying a zip-lock bag of sliced McIntosh Apples (her favorite), and she approached us eagerly. Merrily also introduced us to a baby Dwarf Nigerian doe kid that they were also willing to part with so that Essie would have a companion. The kid was born on July 1 and will require bottle feeding for at least four to six more weeks. We have decided to name her Shadow because she follows in Essie’s shadow. Dale gave Essie her annual CDT vaccination (for Clostridium C and D and for tetanus) and, after waiting to make sure she did not have a reaction to it, we loaded them into our truck and brought them home.
Essie appeared comfortable with her surroundings as we led her back to the goat barn where she was raised nearly two-and-a-half years ago. I can’t believe that she could remember it, but she showed no signs of confusion or fear regarding the environment. Shadow clearly acted nervous about her new home, but soon enjoyed a playful romp around the goat pen. We tried to feed her a small bottle of milk, but she wasn’t very hungry. She did appear to learn quickly how to drink from the bottle. Still, it’s quite a big adjustment for a juvenile goat to make in a single day, so we don’t know if she’ll make the adjustment well. Essie appears to accept her presence well, but I’m not sure how happy she is to have her follow behind constantly. We will have to work on earning Shadow’s trust since she is naturally afraid of us, as all the new goat kids we’ve raised have been at first. We’ll see how it goes. At least they have brought life back to our farm and renewed hope for the future restoration of our dairy operation.
To be sure, we are entering this era of renewal slowly and carefully. We will not resume milking our goats right away. Essie has not been bred, so she won’t produce any milk for some time. Our new Dwarf Nigerian is too young to be bred. Besides, I would prefer to buy a second Oberhasli kid in the future to milk alternatively with Essie. I am most satisfied with the quality of the Oberhasli does we milked when we first established our dairy operation. We are taking our time to ramp up our operation so we can make sure we can manage the cost of keeping our does. Once we prove we can do that affordably for a year or so, we will proceed cautiously and incrementally with our milking operation. At least we won’t have to repurchase any of our milking equipment. I couldn’t bring myself to sell or dispose of any of it, as It was all I had to validate my desperate hopes that I could restore our dairy operation. In the interim, I will use my time and energy to get our West Virginia Farm Fresh Raw Milk dairy bill adopted. I have all the time my life and health will give me to achieve my long-term dairy farming objectives.
I want to express my deepest and most sincere gratitude to Dale and Merrily Carroll, who kept our Essie and gave her their love over the past two years. I could never express in words just how deeply I appreciate their help and sacrifices. They freely offered to give us a second chance to pursue our dairy goat aspirations that we would never have without their gracious assistance. I have come to understand how much they came to love and appreciate Essie, so I also know how hard it is for them to part with her now. Because of that, it was a gift I just couldn’t bring myself to ask of them but one that I will appreciate forever. I hope they will be able visit her periodically as we did during her absence from our farm. Perhaps, in the future, Essie will give us some offspring we can share with them. It is the least that Essie and I can do in appreciation for the unconditional love they gave to us both. Their generosity has given substance to our hopes and dreams—a rare and precious gift, indeed. At least we can now begin a new chapter at Peeper Pond Farm. Thank you, Dale and Merrily, for the support and sacrifice you have given us to help make that happen. I only wish there was more I could do to show how much it means to us. You have made our future as bright and promising as the refreshing change in weather that we are now experiencing.