A Day in the Life Of Katie the Goat
Although Katie has cancer and the cancer is growing, for Katie life is still good. Katie’s day starts with a long, slow stretch of her limbs. Self-disciplined like a trained dancer, she gets to her feet in measured fits and starts, avoiding pressure on her left foreleg. Slowly she lumbers out of her barn to check out the weather and the scene in the pretty field beyond that she used to rule. She will sniff the air currents, her head moving almost imperceptibly up and down to catch the drift.
From her vantage point, Katie can forecast the day’s weather and ascertain whether there are predators lurking in the woods. Some mornings, a family of early-rising wild turkeys may be scouring the feeding bowls from last night’s dinner, looking for leftovers. They spend the night roosting in the tall hemlocks surrounding the field and they and the goats are oblivious to each other.
If the day is cool and sunny, you can sense Katie’s optimism. If it looks or feels like rain, you can share her sense of disappointment.
In times past, Katie would venture down at first sun to graze the grasses glistening with morning due and situate herself at “Daffodil Hill,” the rocky spot where wild daffodils proliferate in early spring. That’s where feeding of the nanny goats and their kids occurs. (The billy goats are segregated because of their persistently annoying behavior.)
These days, when Katie has finished her wistful survey of the landscape, she returns to the barn to await bouquets of grasses freshly hand-picked just for her from the meadow and lots of fresh cold water.
Kiddo, her latest grandson who’s still on a milk diet, will hop aboard her back and position himself behind her ears to keep her company. Other grown goats will jockey for position to spirit Katie’s green grub away from her, even though the grass is theirs free for the picking just yards away.
Katie arrived in Redding one day in October 2004 with her daughter, Cindy-Lu. Katie is white-colored, has prominent ears and is a rather large goat, weighing close to 180 pounds. We don’t know much about her caprine heritage, but her features are Saanen-like, suggesting a descent from the Swiss breed valued for its copious milk production. Katie had mated with Nubie, a proud Nubian with signature big floppy ears, black and brown markings and a sweet disposition. During Cindy-Lu’s gestation, Katie and Nubie were inseparable lovebirds, rubbing each other’s necks with their heads and staying side-by-side, day and night. You could tell that Nubie knew about their procreative success. Cindy-Lu was born with Nubie’s best features and features of her unknown heritage as well. She has his drooping Nubian ears and sweet disposition, but her coat is a rich copper bronze and with distinctive white markings on her face and forehead like ribbons and bows and her polka-dot ears she looks like a party girl dolled up for perpetual fun.
Nubie was only on loan when he got together with Katie and so he did not get to come to Redding with Katie and Cindy-Lu.
When Katie and Cindy-Lu arrived in Redding, they had the place to themselves and liked it like that. They are best friends. But not long afterward, Cindy-Lu delivered herself of blue-eyed Henry and brown-eyed Hannah and the surge in the goat population began.
Through it all, Katie remained the unchallenged dominatrix of the herd. Where Katie went, all followed, eventually drilling paths in the grass to favored locations, such as stands of apple trees, lilac bushes and wild berry bushes spiked with prickers. Though goats are renowned for being indiscriminate eaters, in truth they are very discriminating. They will not eat daffodils or asparagus. They favor thorny bushes and poison ivy and they exercise their superior sense of smell to avoid what they think is not good for them, including any food that falls to the ground. They are meticulous about this. They know pathogens spoil the ground cover and they cannot be persuaded to eat anything loose on the ground. (This punctilious practice may yield in poor and drought-stricken pastures in large swaths of Africa, for instance, where a domestic goat is as good as a cleaning service.)
Katie took excellent care of Cindy-Lu as an infant and has often stepped in to wetnurse others’ progeny as well as train them in the ways of a goat. Now that Katie rarely ventures far beyond her barn, she’s relied upon by younger nannies in the herd to kid-sit their babies while they go off in search of edible vegetation and a break.
While Katie is chewing down her breakfast first-course of green grass, feeding bowls of grain and hay cubs are set out for the others on Daffodil Hill (for the nannies and their progeny) and the red corral (for the rambunctious billy goats).
Katie gets special rations in addition to the basics – the organic broccoli, beets, apples, carrots and banana peels – and feeding her requires a full-time sentry to fend off interloping goats that would just as soon steal the special goodies from her dish as gallop down the hillside sideways (their custom as joyous babes).
So despite Katie’s longterm invaluable contribution to the herd, the others, in a heartbeat, would disrespect her and her special needs and clean her plate out from under her nozzle. In the wild, an aging, debilitated goat could not survive this competition for food, but Katie’s devoted caretaker stands guard while she slowly selects her bitefuls and masticates. The goat interlopers have a sixth sense developed to anticipate when the sentry will leave her post and they are expert opportunists.
Katie will get up and down and walk around multiple times through the course of a day. If it’s a hot day, she’ll sit inches away from a hard-blowing fan and assume the mien of a coddled spa patron.She lunches on vegetation: kale, collards, dandelion greens, spinach, lettuce and mustard greens from the garden and grape vines, wildflowers and leaves plucked from the wild. If the wind blows down a hemlock branch, that’s a treat.
Goats always seem to be in a rush when they eat whether or not there’s a competitor nearby, and there’s a good reason for that. The food goes down the esophagus without hardly being chewed because there are four “stomachs” put to work to process the nutrients and roughage with incredible efficiency. This enables them to fill up quickly, then disappear from the range of predators. Shortly after eating, Katie will upchuck a mouthful of food and chew and chew and chew, releasing digestive enzymes in the process. She will contentedly chew on her cud throughout the day.
By late afternoon, Katie’s ready for more fresh-picked grass and fresh cold water. And a gentle brushdown with a soft-bristle brush, especially savored behind the ears and atop the head. Vigorous neck scratching is also appreciated. Cindy-Lu has a sixth sense that tells her when Katie is being neck-scratched. She will come from afar to grab the attention for herself, Cindy-Lu has never once walked away because she’s had enough neck scratching. She could be neck-scratched around the clock and still want more. Sometimes, not always, Katie’s in the mood to be sung to. Cindy-Lu’s always in the mood to be sung to, especially if she’s the subject of the song and she’s being neck-scratched.
Soon it’s dinnertime for the herd, a repetition of the breakfast protocol. Hay is brought to the hay bins and big bowls and trays of grain and hay cubes taken to Daffodil Hill and the red corral. Katie’s fed last so her caretaker can keep sentry while the others are feeding.
Post-dinner is settling down time for the goats. They’ve had enough head-butting, sideways jumping and antics related to perpetuation of the species for one day. (Katie’s seen it all and takes it in stride. When Cindy-Lu went into hard labor with Kiddo in early July, Katie vacated her special space and gave it over to the agitated Cindy-Lu. Once Kiddo emerged, Katie joined in the clean-up of his little face and even offered him milk. Now Kiddo is devoted to Katie, who kid-sits him while Cindy-Lu is away foraging wild vegetation.
Nighttime comes to the goat barn and all the goats huddle together, whatever the weather. Katie’s in her favored spot and everyone else is piled on top of her or around her. She is their rock, their matriarch whose steady presence casts reassurance that they will have a safe night.