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. 



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.