Last spring, I made a vow.
As I wrestled several hundred-and-fifty-pound first-time milkers onto the milking stand, between my grunts and gasps and various muscle strains, I swore to myself that I would never do this again. Next year, I promised myself, I would do it right. Next year, I would train the little stinkers, while they were still little, to get up on that stand by themselves and spare us all the aggravation of learning the skill so late.
I don't know if you've ever gotten up close and personal with a hormonal hundred-and-fifty-pound mama goat who has never been milked before, but trust me -- if she doesn't wanna go somewhere or do something, you've got your work cut out for you convincing her otherwise.
So this year, with my three almost-yearling girls getting bigger and bigger, I tried something new. I waited until the weather got decent and dragged the milking stand out to their corral. In the past, I've taught my goats the rudiments of stepping onto the stand while it resided in the milk room. But this time around, I was bringing the stand to them. Let them learn it on their own, as a toy to be explored and enjoyed.
The only problem was that they were terrified of this wonderful new opportunity. They totally fled to the complete opposite end of the corral, and prepared themselves to shelter in place indefinitely. I situated the milking stand right near their hay feeder and sleeping hut, and scooted their feed tubs up on either side of it. Then I poured in the grain and left them to it.
A few hours later, the grain remained untouched. They were still cowering at the extreme west end of the corral. My goodness, new things are so super incredibly scary. After all, nobody likes change. Even if it is a brand-new toy that you can climb on and chew on and fight over. But it's new, and it looks weird, and it makes rattling noises whenever anyone touches it.
They stayed at the far end of the corral for that whole entire day. By the next day, Pepsi and Shasta, the braver two, had sidled close enough to start nervously nibbling grain beside the creepy contraption. Java still wouldn't get anywhere close. She stood ten yards away, crying and pacing because her sisters were over there and she had to stay over here.
I left them to it. So much for goats' legendary and insatiable curiosity. Like it or not, they were going to do the work this time, because I was not going to sumo wrestle with these gals once they were ready for milking. They were going to step up on that stand by themselves.
I think it was Pepsi who tried it first. Pepsi, Sherry's brown-and-white kid and a full month older than the other two, has always been the ring leader. But Shasta wasn't far behind. Once they figured out that the milking stand wasn't going to chase or eat them, it didn't take long for them to do the natural goat thing. Cautiously at first, and then with more and more typical goat bravado, they jumped on it. Then they pushed each other off of it. They even put their heads through the stanchion (which they cleverly contrived to open) and checked out the empty feed tub.
And at last, Java joined in. Why should they be the ones having all the fun?
Whether or not the knowledge will transfer to the milking stand next spring, when they've actually had kids and it's really time to start milking them, is still anyone's guess. We'll work on it in the meantime. But for now, the three girls definitely have a nice new toy.
And I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've started them out right, that I've given them some entertainment, and that my goaty wrestling matches are last year's news. Plus, it's just fun to watch them play.