Goats on the Family Farm
Good Old Days
Growing up on a small family farm, I still have good memories of some of the various animals who shared that life. Quite possibly that accounts for my love and concern for animals today.
Some friends once gave my dad and mother a pair of young goats. We had never had goats before, so all of us were very proud and excited to have them. The names we gave them, Billy and Nannie, of course fell right into place. You guessed it, they soon became big pets and followed us all over when we were outside. That was definitely to our liking, and a few days of our indulging and talking to them made them think they were a pair of VIGs.
How excited we were later when Mama and Papa told us Billy and Nannie had become proud parents of a tiny kid. I do believe a baby goat is one of the sweetest and most cuddly of all little animals. We promptly named her Betty Lou.
That was just before Christmas, and we had just gotten out of school for two weeks of vacation when a big snow came. It gets much colder in southwestern Mississippi than here in Houston, but to have a solid white, thick hard-packed layer of snow cover the ground and stay there for two whole weeks is a rarity even there.
Since Betty Lou was a newborn, she had to be brought into the house to keep her from freezing. Mama made a bed for her in a cardboard box and put her against the back of the chimney in one of the bedrooms. The fire in the living room kept the back of the chimney warm. We didn't have central heat on the farm in those days, so all of us hovered near the fireplace in freezing weather.
Nannie, who was in the barn, was led around to the back porch by the bedroom and Betty Lou was taken outside for her feedings, then brought back inside to her warm bed. What a Christmas vacation we had that year! We held Betty Lou, loved and cuddled her, and pampered her as much as any three two-legged kids ever could have one four-legged kid.
Finally the snow melted. Betty Lou was put outside again, and we went back to school.
Betty Lou grew, and in time the herd of goats also grew. We still liked them, but they were not quite the novelty they had been at first, although we still gave some of them names.
One day Mama told us Papa had decided to butcher Sam, one of the young male goats. What a squawk we put up over that!
Finally Mama told us if Papa didn't butcher Sam, it would probably be Betty Lou. That was such a horrible thought that it definitely put an end to all of our fussing right then and there.
Being young then, with a hard and cold heart, I thoroughly enjoyed the nice steaks and roasts from Sam. Years later though, when visiting my sister-in-law Lorraine and her family on their farm in Missouri, I took on the job of feeding her baby lamb who had lost his mother. He was so cute and greedy, and as I would sit on the back steps and give him his bottle, milk would spatter all over. She mentioned selling him for money for a trip to Chicago.
When I protested, my mother-in-law said I would never make a farmer's wife, since I would never sell nor butcher any of the animals. She was probably right.
Billy, Nannie, Betty Lou and the rest of the goats spent a good many years on the farm. Goats are very clean animals that eat mostly the leaves from bushes. They kept the undergrowth cleaned out, and we had milk many times.
Finally Billy began to get mean, and he especially seemed to have it in for Mama. He would try to slip up behind her and butt her with his horns, which were quite long by then. Mama kept worrying and fussing about him, and we all became a little wary when we were outside around him.
One day Mama went out to the chicken house to gather the eggs. It wasn't a very strong house, but it served the chickens adequately. Billy saw her go inside and close the door behind her. He went over and started to butt the door, one time after another. He was quite large and strong, and would rear up on his hind legs and come down against the door with a bang. He would soon have broken the door, and since he knew he had her trapped inside, would either have hurt her badly or killed her. Lucky for Mama, Papa heard her screams and came on the run.
After that Billy's days on the farm were numbered. He learned too late that you should never butt the hand that feeds you. Everyone, even Mama, was a little sad, but since he could no longer be trusted, he simply had to go. He probably ended up on the butcher block, but he brought about his own undoing.
Papa eventually sold all of the goats, but I remember them as a very important part of my growing-up years.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.