I have suddenly plunged into Goat World. I drink goat's milk, eat goat's cheese, and spend a significant portion of my day caring for them. I can no longer remember what my pre-conceived notions of them were; I'll just have to tell you what my notions of them are now.
The first thing I was taught here was how to feed them, which is done in the morning while they are being milked. My naive self thought that this might involve pouring some pellets into a bucket and filling up their water dish. Wrong, obviously. The whole process takes about an hour and involves a lot of hay, to which I now know I'm allergic!
In total there are about fifty adult goats (almost entirely female) and fifteen baby goats, who are actually more like pre-teens and as tall as me when they stand on their hind legs. Each morning they stop, tilt their heads, and stare at me so expectantly that it makes me laugh.
I like this morning work, now that I have a routine down; it's mindless and gives me wickedly strong arms. It's the part that comes after the feeding that can be a bit stressful. Herding.
The person who taught me to herd is a young guy named Yakapo (I'm getting the spelling wrong I'm sure). Yakapo speaks a total of about ten English words, although curiously three of these are 'syringe,' 'frenetic,' and 'electrical-current.' Since I speak even less Italian, our teacher/student relationship is based almost entirely on sign language, although I was mainly educated just by watching. I learned quickly that the herd will eventually move as one into the same area, but one cannot panic (however much you'd like to) when they begin to spread out in multiple directions. I also learned that if you're going to have trouble with any of them, it'll be Biando, the sole adult male and unfaithful husband to 49 wives. He's the size of a small moose and has horns that, pardon my French, could f$#k you UP.
After two short days of un-intensive and non-verbal training, I was apparently ready to take the herd out alone. Didn't eat much for breakfast that morning, let me tell you. I was supposed to take them to the 'easy' field near the stables, but of course they took off in the opposite direction towards a forest that could camouflage Lady Gaga.
And this is where my relationship with Biando began. To prove his point that I was new, and a girl, and that he is old and a big big man, he wouldn't allow me to go ahead of him yet wouldn't keep up with the herd. We faced off, and quite frankly it was boring. I'd take a step, and he'd take a step. I'd take two steps, and he'd take two steps. He'd come towards me, I'd hold out my herding stick, and he'd sniff it. After about ten minutes of this he'd finally head off, I'd curse him, and we'd do it all again in another ten minutes. Eventually, we ended up in an open field and he finally decided I was competent (the fool!) and let me pass him. At that point Gabriele's cousin Tomazzo showed up, and with a new male around we were back to square one. Biando actually head-butted him though, so for this reason I'm glad to possess more estrogen than testosterone.
The next few days went relatively smoothly, until yesterday when they got into someone's garden. Ohhh Madonna, as Yakapo said, this is about the worst thing that could happen, second only to accidentally running them off a cliff or losing them completely.
One minute we were happily eating along the creek, and the next they were all over this leafy green vegetable haven which we hadn't even noticed. It didn't take long until we had a row of men screaming at us in Italian from across the creek. This was less offensive for me, I'm sure, since I didn't know what they were saying. Although I could guess. We got them out relatively quickly, though it felt like a lifetime, and the silence between Yakapo and I became suddenly more noticeable as we led them back to the stables. I spent the rest of the day terrified of being reprimanded, but so far so good. Let's just hope farmer John from down the way doesn't decide to pay a visit in the next few days.