The family O'Brien has been smallholding now for over a decade, but until this past week we've avoided the tie of keeping a dairy animal. However the draw of a more complete self-sufficiency has overruled our desire for flexibility and freedom (which was very partial in any case what with pigs, sheep, poultry and bees as well as the dogs, cat and seedlings in the greenhouse). So into the fold we welcome Sepia and Sophie, two Golden Guernsey goats aged two and five years.
Sophie, the big girl, is in milk, if producing just a pint or so a day, but it's the third year since she last kidded, the end of a lengthy lactation. In a couple of months, as the leaves start to colour, both goats will be sent away for a holiday romance (we don't want a billy here thanks, to stink and spray us with pee), but with luck they'll return home contented with a sparkle in each eye, to result in two pairs of twins born next spring, and gallons of milk for cheese and yoghurt.
Goats are friendly, lively creatures, much more curious and intelligent than sheep or cattle. They make ideal playmates for children, always up for a game of hide-and-seek in the field by day, or a quiet cuddle whilst they meditatively chew the cud in their shed of an evening. I've milked Jersey cows by hand in the past, a herculean task since they produce such vast quantities, but with only two teats and a much smaller udder, a goat is a pleasure to milk out, not a chore. And much to the surprise of all our sceptical visitors, Sophie's milk, fresh today, chilled in the fridge, has proved indistinguishable from the bottle of cow's milk usually delivered to our doorstep.