A goating good day out

Lily (on bale) and Viola in the Dutch barn

Smallholding really is a rollercoaster – and rollercoasters go up as well as down. The weekend after our exhausting day with the sheep, Rosemary and I headed off to the Scottish Smallholders Festival in Forfar to show our two goat kids, Viola and Lily, plus three hens and a Bourbon Red turkey.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever showed a living creature, but there is a lot more to it than simply turning up on the day. Our preparations started several weeks earlier with training Lily and Viola to walk on leads so that they would walk confidently round the show ring. Goats wear collars anyway, largely because they are so often intent on doing something they shouldn’t that you need to be able to grab your goat securely and – usually – remove them from the scene of the actual or potential crime, but leads are another matter. The caprine view of leads tends to be that they are very inconvenient and prevent a goat from doing precisely as she wishes. Fortunately, Lily and Viola are very tame indeed, largely because both were bottle reared here from about 12 weeks old and there is nothing like bottle rearing a young creature to create a bond between human and animal. It only took a couple of evenings walking up and down the lane with good behaviour rewarded by browsing time on the verge for the two goats to be convinced that lead walking was ok.

When you are showing, you need to turn up with clean animals – quite a challenge in a wet October. So, a couple of days before the show, Lily and Viola had to be washed. We knew in advance that this would not be popular – goats hate getting wet. On rainy days, all four sit in the Dutch barn and bleat about Goat Melt and look anxious as they see me going back and forth in the downpour.

It was too cold to wash the goats with a bucket in the yard and then turn them loose – there was nothing for it but to bathe them in the bathroom. Fortunately, the bathroom is on the ground floor and the two goat kids are quite accustomed to the passageway leading to it as their pen was placed there when they were too little to live outside, so they went quite cheerfully into the house, past the dogs (driven to paroxysms of barking by the clicking of hooves on the wooden floor) and into the bathroom. Lily went first and proved that English goats are stoical and sensible by enduring being washed with baby shampoo and a little conditioner. After being towelled vigorously, it was time for the hair dryer – and there Lily drew the line. Hot air emerging noisily from a piece of plastic was clearly Wrong and probably Very Dangerous. She backed away hastily, pranced, bucked and objected but the drier was inexorable. Eventually, she was dry enough and we turned our attention to Viola. Anglo Nubians are large goats and it took quite an effort to heave Viola into the tub. She promptly decided that baths were a Mistake and that she should leave at once – straight through me by dint of putting her front hooves on my shoulders and pushing hard. Rosemary, the bathroom and I were all soaked. However, once we had wrestled her through the bath, Viola was delighted by the drier – at last someone was saving a poor little goat from Death by drowning or pneumonia.

Compared to the goats, washing and hair drying the hens was child’s play, though each hen took the better part of an hour to dry. As for the turkey, he had to be washed in the bathroom too, putting the final touches to the chaos. Then he too was dried and loaded into his travelling box in the van ready for the morning’s early start.

Livestock shows start unfortunately early in the morning – all creatures had to be in their pens and ready for judging by 9am – so we had to be up at 4:30 and on the road at 5:30 complete with livestock, lead ropes, show coats (livestock handlers wear white coats), feed, a haynet and dear knows what else.

We made it in reasonable time and were handed our entry numbers and pen number for the goats. Viola trotted happily along with Rosemary but Lily was scared at first and had to be carried – no easy task as I also had the hay net – but once she and Viola were penned she cheered up. The poultry were much easier. Each bird had to be slipped into their numbered pen and left for judging, though wrangling the turkey into a pen that opened on the top was no easy task.

Back we dashed to the goats and met up with the lovely family from whom we originally got Lily. Lily is an English goat, a rare breed for which there is a waiting list, and we only got her because she was the runt of quads and needed special care. When she arrived with us, she was a tiny gremlin of a goat and it was a joy, therefore, to hear the teenage girls come rushing back from our pen exclaiming:

“Mum, you’ve got to see Lily. She looks like a real goat now!”

We got to meet Lily’s sister – a larger version of her – plus an older half sister and her mum, and assorted goat relatives. I had never met any other English goats so it was a thrill to see so many of the same characteristics familiar from living with Lily replicated in her family.

All too soon it was time for the show to begin. Lily was in the second class, a general one for coloured dairy kids, with her sister and several cousins. I took her into the ring, unsure what to expect, having never seen goats shown (sheep are quite different) and having only long ago dog showing experience to draw on. The judge was brusque and a bit alarming but clearly knew her stuff. I was very proud of Lily – she did her best to stand well and trotted up and down on her lead like a pro with just one balk, unlike a couple of others in the class. She didn’t win, but the judge said that it was a very close thing and I was so proud that my little goat could be judged equally with others who had had a better start.

Viola was in the next class, a specialist one for Anglo Nubians. She stood out from the crowd, behaved impeccably, and it was no surprise when she and Rosemary were awarded first place. Such a thrill! The bath and the early start were all suddenly utterly worth it.

Rosemary and Viola win their class

After that we could enjoy looking around the show and chatting with the steady stream of visitors who came to meet the goats. Viola and Lily were delighted to talk to everyone who came up to their pen and particularly enjoyed the children. Because they are so tame and so gentle, we could take them out of the pen and my day was made by the smile of a lad in a wheelchair when he too got to stroke the goats.

One of the hens got a second place and the turkey won Best Turkey – unsurprising as there were no others – so we headed home with a nice little pile of prize cards and rosettes. Better even than that was the pleasure of a day among like-minded people and the chance to sit with our lovely (prize winning) goats and chat, to watch children’s faces light up at the chance to feed the goats – the chance to share our daily pleasure in our enchanting goats with others.

4 thoughts on “A goating good day out

    1. He is quite spectacular. I don’t have a photo from the show day but shall try to take a picture next time I see him and it isn’t raining.

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  1. I loved this post, Sophie! It really made me laugh out loud – quite the achievement for any stimulus prodding my braincell before 11 of a morning. You have a talent for comedy writing…perhaps a smallholding sitcom next…

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