When we first came to live here in rural France, one of the delights of our immediate area was the bent old lady taking her goats out to graze. Stooped over her handlebars, her dog running beside her bike, she pedalled slowly down the lane with her herd, as they nibbled along the roadside, snatched at brambles, chomped on the wheat stubble. She was out in all weathers, in the rain with her green mac, sitting on a small folding stool and knitting, while her charges filled their bellies. At dusk she turned towards home, dog and goats obediently trotting beside her. She was a cheerful soul, always smiling and happy to pass a few words.
Now we seldom see goats grazing. Most spend their lives in barns, on thick straw, fed on pellets designed to produce the biggest milk yields, for goats’ cheese is one of the main products of this area.
Earlier this week we called the vet to our old Saanen, whose knees are swollen and legs bent. Arthritis, one of the inevitabilities of old goats, said the vet. Nothing can be done to avoid it. It’s what happens to goats as they age. He asked how old Tuppence was. Ten or eleven I said; he raised his eyebrows. “That’s quite a good age for a goat,” he said. “But then Tuppence is a pet who has been well cared for and had an easy life. Unlike commercially bred goats, who have a short life span due to the demands placed on their bodies. They never see daylight, never eat brambles or leaves.”
Yesterday I had to give Tuppence an injection. Between his resistance and my clumsy fumblings, I made a real mess. The needle went in one side of his skin and came out the other, and I pushed the plunger too quickly. Result: all the medicine went on the floor. So today I went to the vet to collect another syringe, and I am just bracing myself to try and be more effective this time.
On the way to the vet was a sight to please my heart, and one that I doubt we will see often in the future. A herd of 60 or 70 goats grazing in an orchard, naturally, the way they love and the way nature intended.