This quiet time of year on the ranch can still involve surprises

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Nigerian dwarf goat

The kids and I just got back from spending a week in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. We camped by a mountain lake, visited family and friends, my son got to go to his first-ever summer day camp, and my daughter got a chance to find out what it feels like to be a part-time only child. She thought it felt great. 

This time of year is our quietest in regard to ranch duties. There is plenty of weeding and watering to do, but the garden has been planted; the baby animals born in the spring are big and healthy, wandering the pastures with their moms; the bum lambs are old enough to wean; harvest is still a long way off. 

Most of the vegetable plants are just flowering, and the few that are already bearing fruit are not in such an abundance that they’d require canning or other labor-intensive preservation. 

My husband stayed home from the camping trip to fence for a fellow rancher — one of his side jobs — and to do the few remaining daily chores around our place. He was able to come up and camp for one delightful night, however, then he took the kids home, while I traveled south to play a show in Hot Springs, South Dakota. 

Their return journey was uneventful. I played my show, packed my gear and started my drive home as well. About halfway there I got a call. 

“Check your text messages, and then call me back,” my husband said, but refused to say more. 

Background

And here’s where I have to insert a bit of background. Just over 150 days ago, we brought a beautiful but stinky billy goat named Boo to our ranch for a visit. Between his mellifluous odor, and his repeated escape attempts, we decided it was best to return him to his owner after just a week, and brought a mama goat and her baby home instead. 

We didn’t want to be responsible if Boo decided to take off for the open range, and I only wanted a little goat milk to supplement what we get from our milk cow, Pumpkin, so an already freshened goat seemed a better solution. Boo and my female goat, Honeybee, hadn’t shown any interest in each other, and with such a short visit, it was very unlikely she had gotten bred. 

But, stranger things have happened, so I marked the calendar, figuring I’d keep an eye on Honeybee as the window for a delivery date got closer, just in case. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, goat gestation is approximately 145-150 days, the window for which occurred just before we were supposed to leave on our trip. 

Goat kid

I checked Honeybee the morning we left and she looked neither especially plump, nor like her udders were filling with milk. I was a little disappointed, but not surprised. We headed down the road and I didn’t give it another thought. 

Fast-forward to the text message from my husband. There are maybe two days in a whole year where no one is on the ranch for longer than a few hours. Sneaky Honeybee managed to give birth, clean and nurse her baby and have him up and bouncing around during the less than 24 hours we were all gone. 

The text was, of course, a photo of a tiny black-and-white buckling, almost an identical twin to his sweet mama. All’s well that ends well, thank goodness. 

Getting home

My failure as a goat herder aside, I drove the last leg of my journey home in record time, though it was still long past dark when I arrived. 

Before even stopping at the house, I pulled up alongside the goat pen and climbed in to congratulate Honeybee. Illuminated only with the headlights, her wee baby was even tinier than I expected, but as feisty as could be, telling me in no uncertain terms he did not want snuggles from a stranger. 

So I set him down, patted his hardworking mom on the head, and then went inside to snuggle my own sweet babes.

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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.

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