This past autumn, my daughter shadowed Fred DePaul, a renowned New England shearer, during a video documentary project she’d self-assigned. And that was how I met Debbie Kirby, of Kirby’s Happy Hoofers.
Debbie, with the help of her clever & willing husband Dick, raised Registered Angora Goats and has been selling, and selling out of, her heavenly hand spun, hand knit thrummed mittens for nigh on 20 years. Imagine slipping your hand into a cloud. You will want to get yourself on her waiting list for these beauties.
We spent many hours at her farm video-ing Fred & Debbie while her herd got their hooves & horns trimmed, kids’ ears tagged, gorgeous Mohair shorn, and scheduled meds applied. I had an instant bonding to these silly, poodle-y goatsies. They reminded me so much of our Shetland Sheep, but had a completely different fiber, as well as they were goats. I hardly think of them as goats, though, because my three dairy goats have such an opposite presence. Smart, boisterous, loving, large & troublesome presence.
Debbie is ready for retirement. She & Dick would like to visit their family and save their backs from the chores of raising goats in the winters of Vermont on a 13-acre hillside in their backyard. She was raised most of her life on a dairy farm in Vermont, has been working at the Vermont Fiber Mill, and at another tent-rental business in the Brandon/Middlebury area as well as processing her Mohair and other fibers(some of our Shetland fleeces!) She could use some down time.
But are any of us ever ready to send off our flock or herd?
I felt honored and exhilarated to be deemed a worthy new home for the herd. We updated our fencing in our back pasture to allow for the dancing around of the different animals here and ensure safe and strong borders for everyone. We educated ourselves on Mohair and Angora husbandry, calling and emailing every registered Angora breeder that Debbie recommended to find a buck to breed this December. We borrowed our friend Tara’s horse-trailer for fetching the girls.
Two weeks later, we picked up our 7 new girls, mamas and kids, and loaded every hoof trimmer, book and bucket that Debbie & Dick had acquired through a lifetime of raising them. Debbie went through all of their registration papers with me, showing me lineage going back and back and back. It was bittersweet saying goodbye. We brought Thelma, Louise, Thalia, Buttercup, Brigid, Sweet Alyssum & Sabrina home to our barn and unloaded them into a stall, safe and sound.
All was well. We adjourned to the house to make celebration Sunday night crepes for dinner.
We went out to the barn at around 9p.m. to have a look around, discovering the beginning of the month-long antics. Ruger Jac, our big horse/toddler, had decided to open the Angoras’ stall in the pitch black wind and rain. We opened the aisleway door to show a late night visitor the new goats, and saw their stall door gaping open to the dark paddock.
Ruger Jac and Nite Nite(the Shetland pony), were having games of tag in and out of the stalls and paddock area while one lonely Angora hugged the barn, looking for a gap to get back into her stall. But where were the other 6?
We played musical ponies and got the horses all separated and out of the paddock so we could search for the goats. One of them was on the other side of the fence, entirely, and we’re all still not sure how that had transpired. But the rest of the lot, 5 nervously nibbling curly white goats, were standing in the far, far corner of the pasture shadows. We spotted them with flashlights as we came upon them, rattling a bucket of grain, chatting to encourage and keep them from flight again.
Eventually the girls were tucked in safe and sound. We double locked the stall doors to prevent Houdini-horse from unlocking them again and gave everyone extra hay to calm their nerves. (Hay always calms their nerves.)
Since that first evening, there’ve been a few occasions for hay to calm nerves. I’m going to take up eating hay.
It was Ruger Jac’s new game to free the goats. There are not enough carabiner clips, bungee cords, hay strings or screws to keep the doors closed from his giraffe-lips. I should plant a surveillance camera and share with you some day. It’s astonishing and impressive how he can unlock a barn door.
I surveyed the New England and Mid-Atlantic Angora Goat farms to find a registered buck for my does so that we would have kids in May(along with lambs), but every breeder that found out that my 3 dairy goats are CAE-positive(another story, another day), was closed to my inquiries. Eventually I worked out with Joanne at Wind-Gait Farm in Connecticut to buy her registered buck, Milkweed, to bring home.
Milkweed is a sweet gentleman. My first experience with keeping a buck during breeding season has had mixed results. I’m sure we got what we needed out of him over the past month, and more. There were a few break-ins in which hot little does found him to be quite alluring. And as much as I had thought that we had secured the paddock to keep unnecessary pregnancies at bay, I failed. Now May will bring possibly more kids than I’d originally planned.
My goals are to keep everyone healthy and strong for whatever comes in the spring now. I’ve gotten myself into it… No use knocking myself on the head for having the best of intentions, trying hard, and then failing. Forward, march!
At some point in the past week or so, amidst holiday festivities and knock-down-cold-viruses, I hauled Mr. Milkweed on out of his wedding reception and tucked him in with the alpacas. The alpacas like him, he likes them. No worries except that occasionally Milkweed likes to take on the wooden posts in frustration and so has an abrasion at the base of his broad horns. He’s good natured and seems unscathed, has a healthy appetite and happily interacts with us.
Debbie & Dick have yet to visit the girls at their new home, but we keep up frequently. I’ve certainly shared the ups and downs of the past month and a half and Debbie has been very supportive and encouraging. She does, indeed, miss her curly crew and will come and see them as soon as the weather gives us a break for travel. There’s been a lot of ice in Vermont over the past month.
I couldn’t be more pleased with our new girls. New adventures and lessons to keep me sharp. New livestock to love and care for. New fiber to add to our offerings. New friends.
Hopeful, here, as always.