Entertaining Kids



In the past week I’ve overheard two different conversations (in two different states) by people thinking about adopting a kid – or two or three. But these “kids” have four legs and appetites for grass!   Apparently, somewhere in our cultural trending goats are becoming all the rage.goat1

And we here at are taking credit for their rise in popularity!  In June of 2010 – among our earliest publications, one of EY’s first and highly entertaining contributors, Will Kennedy, posted “Don’t Knock It” – a tale about his goat loving family, spurred by his own kid sister.

goat2Apparently, (based on what was overheard around the dinner table) one reason goats are catching on in popularity is that they are a “green” substitute for mowing the lawn.

But they also produce some delicious milk that can be substituted for cows milk and used for all sorts of recipes.  Fear not – in December 2010, Will provided all the advice you’ll need in  The Zone and the Art of Goat Milking.   The story, which included a short video, was so popular, that we asked him to produce a long version showcasing the hilarious details about How To Milk A Goat!  These kids are truly entertaining!

So now, thanks to a little digging into the EY archives, you can make an informed choice before adopting your new kids.

Milky Lookalike

 The new kid on the block

Good Maurice, The Badd Llama

Who’s Guarding The Roost?

Good Maurice, The Badd Llama

 “How many teeth does it have?” 

That’s the first thing my mother asked me after learning Jane had a surprise for her. As a messy blond kid my younger sister’s surprises included a humming bird, some snakes and several families of pill bugs, which she relocated to my bed. Steadily, these unexpected gifts grew in size. 

Thanks to Jane, now a farm-oriented business lady, we own goats, sheep and hundreds of chickens. 

“Do you really want to know?” I asked. 

“No, don’t tell me.” 

My mother likes a good shock, which must be why our home looks like Old McDonald’s petting zoo. Still, she had some initial reservations. 

“I have a feeling it will require a lot of care and will harm me,” she said. 

I wanted to ease my mom’s fears, but couldn’t since I knew nothing about llamas. Jane had mentioned getting one, but it seemed she’d considered taking in creatures ranging from Shetland ponies to hippos, so I didn’t take her seriously—until she wrote me the following. 

“… also don’t tell mom, but I am buying them a llama, b/c the coyotes have eaten too many of our chickens and I am afraid for the goats.” 

When Jane puts something in writing it’s a done deal. 

On one level it made sense. Our home is in a rural-ish suburb, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but close enough to open space for wild animals to roam comfortably. Coyotes had recently moved in, and we’d spotted them lurking around the goat pen and once my mother saw one bounding through high grass to pounce on an unlucky bird. 

A hole  in our fence was plugged with a tree branch, but that was a temporary solution. Jane wanted a more permanent fix for our wily problem, and she argued, what better than a lama?  

A dog, I guess, but my sister isn’t one for convention. Besides, she said, these South American camelids are badder and bigger than any dog. 

That’s what my mom was afraid of: a six-foot wooly beast that needs its “fighting teeth” removed to prevent ear ripping and genital biting (mostly of other llamas) according to the care manual. 

If there’s danger, Jane said, “The goats and chickens know to get behind them.” As for the coyote, she said, “it gets trampled.” 

A few days after the email, a truck pulling a large trailer drove up to the house and a woman from a dusty llama and schnauzer farm (the owners raised the llamas for pleasure, the dogs for profit) led the latest member of our menagerie to his new home. 

From a distance Maurice, or Banjo as we sometimes call him, looks terrifying and ridiculous. His ears arch like devil horns, his eyes look slanted and red.  

 He’s been shaved around his mid section, so that only his neck and legs are covered in dark brown, ocher-highlighted curls of wool—like a French poodle demon.  

On closer inspection, however, he appears much less imposing. Maurice is about my height—with maybe 100 pounds on me—but while he’s big enough to ride he’s shy. His face looks like a cute wooly camel and his deceptive eyes are actually large and black orbs. He spent the first few days in his new home whimpering.  

With lama pellets, we’ve slowly begun to gain this big softy’s trust, and he’s kept up his end of the bargain—there hasn’t been a single coyote sighting since he showed up. 

Yesterday, after my mom had finished corralling the animals and feeding them, I asked what she thought of Jane’s latest present. 

“It’s a good one,” she said. “But I’m all animaled out.  No more for a while” 

Now I’m wondering if I should tell her about the Indian runner ducks my uncle ordered her this summer, as a surprise of course. 


Milky Lookalike Portrait

The Zone and the Art of Goat Milking

It took sweat, tears and getting peed on, but this month I learned how to milk a goat. It wouldn’t have been possible without a lesson I learned at eight years old inside a dim elementary school gymnasium, when I first experienced “the zone.” I’m sure you’re familiar with it—that mindset that transports you to a state of potent, yet effortless focus.

I was toeing the free throw line to practice shooting, growing increasingly frustrated by a series of misses. Everything distracted me: the old building’s echo; dust particles in the light; my dad’s firm reassurances.  

After one particularly bad miss, he stopped me.

“Let’s take a break,” he said.

We walked outside to a tanbark playground and sat, looking at the dry hills for awhile. My dad asked if I was excited about the house we were moving into.

“Well yeah,” I said. “It’s got so much space.”

“Did you explore with your sister?”

“Around the house a little. The neighbor girl played tag with us.”

“It’s a good place for sports” he said. “Maybe we’ll build a basketball hoop there.”

“I think I want to be a baseball player.”

My dad laughed. “Come on. Let’s give it one more try.” He slapped my shoulder. I was feeling pretty good.

Inside, I stepped to the free-throw line once more, took three deep breaths, bent my knees and made my first shot. And my next one. Then I couldn’t miss. It was better than that; it was like the ball couldn’t even touch the rim. The walls reverberated with swoosh after satisfying swoosh.

 “You’re in the zone son,” my dad said.

The next shot went up, way wide. That was lesson number two about the zone—when you’ve got it, don’t think about it.

Over the next 17 years my family and an assortment of pets grew into our house, and I had plenty of opportunities to get into the zone. It helped me pull weeds in the garden; helped replant the flowers I mistakenly yanked, and helped me shoot baskets in the backyard. It also came in handy when I came home from college one summer and constructed a goat pen for some new residents.

 I can rarely recall needing it more, however, than earlier this month when my parents left for a summer weekend in Yosemite and I had to milk a goat for the first time. And not just any goat. Milky. So named by my sister for her whitish complexion, though she could have also been called “Kicky,” or “Obstinance” or “Stumpy” for a variety of her other traits.

“There’s no way that’s a goat,” my mom told my sister when she brought the scrappy looking creature home, believing for months it was a pig, and eventually a sheep.

But Milky proved her genetics when she gave birth to three very cute baby goats last month. To keep the milk flowing and our fridge stocked after the kids were weaned, my mom and dad went out every morning to milk her, until it was just me home alone.

My practice run the day before my parents departure ended very badly. I squeezed, Milky’s udder and nothing came out. I squeezed harder and she had bucked and rocked. I squeezed one more time and she peed on my hand.

“She’s never done that before,” said my Mom.

“Aaaahhhhhh,” I said.

“Oh well,” she said.

“Aaahhhahhh aahhha hahhhh,” I said.

My parents finished the job while I cleaned my hands off, thinking about the mess I would be in the next day. I returned to watch the last stages, and hopefully pick up a few tips from my mom. Milking a goat is not a difficult process. You gentle push the udder to guide the milk into one of the teets, clamp it with thumb and forefinger so the liquid doesn’t retract, and gradually squeeze down with your middle and ring fingers to push the milk out.

If you’re bad at this, it produces a meager drizzle of milk. If you are good, it’s more of a stream that hits the milking pan in a satisfying shower. For the experienced milker, it’s a 10 minute job; for the inexperienced one, it’s half-an-hour plus.

Probably the real challenge is getting the goat to cooperate, and handling the assorted goaty smells.

Before my mom left, she gave me some good advice.

“You’ve just got to get in the zone,” she said. 

The zone. Of course. But easier said than done.

The next day I should’ve done the milking at sunrise, but overslept and had to go to my sister’s house to help her build a fence. When I next looked at my watch, it was 5:35 p.m.  and I’d left Milky with a near bursting udder for an entire day.

She let me know about it when I finally got home with a bleating that started strong but faded to a whimper. I lured her onto the milk stand with some grain and fastened her in. I don’t know the exact consequences of not milking goats at the right time, but the way she wavered uncomfortably on her perch, it looked bad. As I started, the more she stomped and kicked, the more I started to feel the pressure. If I didn’t pull it together, my situation and that of the animal I was supposed to be helping, was bound to get worse.

But the goat did not seem to be in a cooperative mood. With each squeeze of her udders only a few drips of white fluid came out. My arms and wrists grew tired. A goat of her size typically yields three cups of milk; my efforts had produced a quarter teaspoon.

I stopped for a break and went to cut some rose branches.

“Alright Milky,” I said. “We can do this.”

I put her favorite food in front of her and took three deep breaths, then started again. The milk came out a little faster, the strain on my arms was less severe and then the sound of the milk hitting the pail became hypnotic.  And there I was—in the zone.

I squeezed Milky’s udder once more and nothing came out, this time because the bag was empty. Milky seemed content as she walked back to her pen and I returned to the house to strain the milk and have some with a bowl of cereal.

My mom and dad returned two days later.

“How’d it go,” they asked.

“Easy,” I said.

Really though, I’m not taking anything for granted. They’re headed out of town in a few days and I’m prepping for another visit to the milking stand and the zone.  


postscript:  Time has passed and Will is now a “semi” pro at milking Milky – look for the long video version of “How to Milk a Goat” under EntertainingYourself – Hip Hobbies. It’s sure to entertain – at least for a bit!  


Don’t Knock It If You Haven’t Tried It!

Just over a year ago one of my younger sisters did two things that surprised me. One: she got married. Two: she bought a pair of goats. At 21 I wasn’t sure Jane was ready to start her own family, much less a herd, but then, she’d surprised me before.

Still, goats? People actually raise them outside commercial farms? The answer, in Northern California where I live and indeed many other places in the US, is yes. After spending some time with these curious creatures, it’s easy to see why. For one, as my sister says, “they’re just so cute.”

When brought up on a small family or “hobby” farm, goats assume many characteristics of a family dog. They love running around (you can walk them on a leash); they enjoy human company; and they’re perfectly content just to hang out with you while you read a book. The breed Jane picked, Nigerian Dwarves, even look like larger dachshunds, only with broader muzzles and perky ears.

Of course goats don’t bark or fetch, and they have their own peculiar quirks. It’s widely rumored, for example, that goats, given the slightest opportunity, will eat anything, especially your clothing—that’s not exactly true. They certainly do like to nibble (their mouth being a primary means of gathering information about the world around them), so if you’re wearing loose garments or if you have shoelaces, they have difficulty keeping themselves from taking a nip. Don’t worry though, goats only have a bottom row of teeth, meaning they can’t really cause any damage, unless your clothes are made of leaves.

It’s also widely reported that goats are great climbers, which is something I can confirm. I’ve seen kids (baby goats) less than a week old dance over hay bales, wood piles, and rocks that even the most intrepid six-year old humans wouldn’t tackle. For goats, it’s all about flair, as they buck, turn and spin while leaping through the air.

Life with these animals is not without challenges, however, and my sister did extensive research into proper goat grooming, what makes an ideal environment and techniques for raising them. Perhaps their greatest needs are a space to roam around, and a place to turn in for the night. To build a goat pen at my parents’ house, my father conscripted Jane’s husband, Ben, into a kind of modern-day bride service. It was hard work, but after several weeks of sawing, hammering and digging, my sister’s goats had a home on par with many New York City studio apartments, albeit situated in one of the more rural parts of a San Francisco suburb.

This manger made it possible for Jane to purchase a soon-to-be mother goat, as it would now have a safe place for its young. When new kids were born, to accustom them to humans, we began bottle feeding them after a week or so. There’s not too much more adorable than a tiny goat wagging its tail as it drinks a bottle of milk from your lap, something my mother, who we’ve nicknamed the goat whisperer, does remarkably well. These days, it’s not unusual for us to be eating dinner, with a goat neatly folded in my mother’s lap, quietly observing the goings on at the family table.

My sister’s family herd has expanded to include about 20 goats and two shepherding dogs, some of whom live with her and her husband at a farm-house fixer upper they rent, some who remain at my parents’ house. In the end, the real surprise wasn’t that Jane was ready to start her own life, but rather how pleasant, and well, normal living with goats seems now, and how hard it is to imagine a day here without them.