Goats, rabbits and twin surprises

Just what is it about goats? Some of the most powerful experiences of our time in France came when we interacted with our little caprine herd. Initially, we adopted two goats from a friend in order to manage part of our land. We also kept rabbits, just as pets rather than for the table, who lived at liberty in a large area put aside for our animals, putting themselves to bed at night. Little did we know that one of our rabbits, Ella, and Darcey the goat had formed a cooperation pact with the exclusive aim or psychologically tormenting me. We were also unaware of the fact that Darcey was pregnant. The passage below from Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen tells of the Ella/Darcey pact and the day when, without warning, we became the proud owners of twin kids.

Beautiful memories… very happy times.

excerpt from extracting goats from jean-claude’s kitchen (kellan publishing, 2019)

Animals are truly extraordinary and I find it difficult to accept the cold and impersonal explanations for much of their fascinating yet logically-impossible behaviour.For example, one of our rabbits, Ella, and Darcey the goat indulged in sophisticated teamwork. Having several hundred square metres of grass was obviously insufficient for Ella and she clearly believed it was greener on the other side of the fence. I watched, transfixed, as the two species made a highly-successful cooperation pact which reaped rewards for both parties. Ella would gnaw away at one strand of the fence as Darcey stood behind her, waiting patiently. Once there was the slightest bit of damage, Ella would step back and Darcey would ‘work’ the same hole with a horn. Then the procedure would recommence with another adjacent strand of fencing. By the end of the day, the hole would be big enough for both to escape. They would pass the evening eating exactly the same things as they would have done had they stayed within their area. Then at nightfall, they’d re-enter their compound through the same hole when they were good and ready…

One cold, drizzly January evening, I was sitting on my backside in the wet mud, mending a fence which had been damaged by the Ella/Darcey pact. I was trying to find my dropped pliers in a puddle, while simultaneously musing over at what point pneumonia or even frostbite might set in when I became aware of a presence over my left shoulder. Darcey had trotted out to see what was going on and, as I had positioned myself lower than her, felt it appropriate to challenge me for dominance. She delivered a head-butt to my forehead which would have made a Glaswegian pub-crawler on a Saturday night proud. Dazed and angry, I dragged her, bleating madly (her, not me) into the little wood cabin that was their shelter, and closed the door. I then staggered back to finish the job in peace.Eventually, shivering, damp and with hands as red as beetroots, I headed back eagerly for the sanctuary of the house and the warmth of the wood burner. Unfortunately for me, as Mrs Jones will freely attest, I am an inherently untidy person.Earlier in the day I had been raking some leaves and had, predictably, left the rake lying prongs-up on the floor. Inevitably, I trod on it in the darkness. I remember a huge whack to my already bruised face and then lying on my back in the sodden grass, staring at the clouds above. I was seeing double for three days afterwards and probably should have gone to A&E, but I just couldn’t face the moment of explanation to the doctor.

Kirsty with Bussell

“Well,injury number one came about because I was sitting in a pool of muck doing some nocturnal fence reparation at 10.30pm on a winter’s night when my goat butted me. The second is where I trod on a rake hiding in the thicket ten minutes later.”

Any self-respecting medécin would never have believed me and may well have had me sectioned.

[Neighbour] André had warned us.

“Si vouz voulez etre embetté, prenez des chevres.”[If you want to be annoyed, get goats]

One should always listen to the advice of elders.

Darcey and Bussell saved their most startling surprise for a cold January evening in 2016. The Sunday before that fateful day, we were invited en famille to go ice-skating in Angoulême. We were passing an agreeable afternoon when Kirsty slipped, landing smartly on her backside. I snorted loudly and reached for my phone to photograph her in this undignified position, but immediately chastened myself when I spotted a glare in her eyes which suggested there was a serious problem.Twenty-four hours later, we were in A&E in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande where a fractured ankle was confirmed. Kirsty was ordered to remain immobile for several weeks, leaving me with the duties of running the household, maintaining a smallholding, tending to the guests in the cattery and coping with two highly-active children; all-the-while holding down full-time employment as a guitarist and teacher. The Friday evening following these events, I rolled up outside the house, drained and exhausted. I sat back in the driver’s seat,closed my eyes and took a deep breath to meditate upon the tasks which needed to be completed over the weekend. Suddenly, I became aware of Flo, Sam and a friend tearing up the garden in a state of extreme excitement.

“Darcey’s had babies!” they cried, bouncing on the spot and clawing at the windows of mycar.

I couldn’t quite believe my ears. It appeared I now had to add ‘learn goat midwifery’ to my to-do list, just after ‘clear week’s backlog of washing up’.

, Flo and Sugar, at 2 days old.

Moments before, Flo and a friend from school had ambled down to the goat paddock and stumbled upon a new-born kid, barely minutes old. Having heard a commotion, Kirsty broke doctor’s orders and limped down the garden to investigate. There she discovered a second kid, concealed in the goat house. In a dazed state, I staggered to the paddock to meet the new arrivals who were already venturing into the outside world. There, [neighbour] Eliane and Kirsty stood with hands clasped, cooing over the utterly adorable bundles of fluff who’d just gatecrashed our lives. It seemed that I was the only person in the company who felt any reason to be anxious, or even mildly concerned. From over the garden fence, André simply shook his head and chuckled to himself in an ‘I told you so’ manner.Desperate to do something at least a little bit responsible, I telephoned Christophe the goat man (he of the psychotic caprine new-borns) for advice. He asked if the new arrivals were feeding and, once I’d confirmed this was the case, advised we just left them alone and allow nature to take its course. To put a halt to my fretting, we decided to go out for a meal at a local bar where I displayed photos of the new-borns to bemused strangers enjoying their entrecôte et frites.

I should say at this point we had wished to avoid such a circumstance, having deliberately chosen a female and a castrated male – I do possess some foresight. It seems Darcey must have mated within the herd almost on the day we had picked her up nearly five months before. Now I come to think of it, I do recall seeing a billy stretched out on a chaise longue smoking a cigarette. The next day, I phoned a retired vet who had been taking guitar lessons with me. This wonderful gentleman came straight over to Chez Jones and confirmed we were the proud owners of boy and girl kids.

Extracting Goats From Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is available from: http:// https://kellan-publishing.selz.com/item/extracting-goats-from-jean-claudes-kitchen