Our Marvellous Menagerie

31st Mar, 2017

Written by Beverley Schellings and photography by Emma O’Brien

You know you’re in deep when your bed is covered in cats, dogs, and two goats and a sheep.

Tequila was found in the middle of a road all alone on Saturday morning, 7th September 2013, by two young ladies on their way back from cycling. They arrived at my gate with a little white-and-tan bundle, asking if I could take her. We’d had a party the previous night, during which a fair amount of Tequila had been consumed, hence the tiny day-old kid was named Tequila. She was still knuckled over from being in the womb and was totally dehydrated.  

The Bottle Baby

My vet had already closed for the day, so I resorted to my ‘emergency milk’ that I make for orphaned animals. She took to her bottle straight away and spent most of the day cuddled up with my husband, Bernard, aka Grumpy, on the couch. Although we’d fostered many animals, we’d never raised a goat before; we had no idea what we were doing. We kept giving her bottles and she kept sucking away. We made her a bed on the floor next to Bernard where she was settled for the night with a warm bag and a fluffy blanket to cover her. During the night she would wake and call for her bottle.

As luck would have it, a good friend came to stay with us the very next day… and her dad is a goat farmer. He nearly had a heart attack when he saw how much we were feeding her. He sat me down and explained the correct amount and how the stomach chambers work (goats’ stomachs are divided into four ‘chambers’). Two chambers hadn’t developed yet and the dangers of overfeeding can cause a runny tummy, from which the little one could die. Fortunately, because she’d been so dehydrated, the overfeeding hadn’t caused problems. We were now on our way to being good goat parents. But the fun was only starting…

The Tequila Party

That very afternoon, our vet called about a litter of new-born kittens found tied together with their umbilical cords. I rushed off, cleaned them up, fed them Tequila’s emergency milk, then popped them into their little bed under infra-red light. Tequila tottered over to see what I was doing; after inspecting the tiny kittens, she lay down beside them and promptly went to sleep under the lamp. 

From then on, the soft-faced baby goat became a happy little girl, very much part of our family. She followed us everywhere and interacted with the dogs, cats and chickens. Kids are the most fun, playful little creatures; Tequila would bounce up and down the stairs, leap onto rocks, and climb on pretty much anything she could find. We were besotted. 

Night feeds for her were done by Grumpy, while the kittens were my department; Grumpy always proudly confessed that his baby girl was far better behaved than ‘my’ five kittens. A week later, Grumpy arrived home from a morning motorcycle ride to find me, utterly exhausted from another kitten all-nighter, passed out in bed with Tequila curled up next to me under the blankets, fast asleep in my arms. She had discovered that she could jump onto the bed. Needless to say, she still sleeps in the bed to this day.

We walked outdoors with her any chance that we got to try to teach her to graze. Gradually she got the idea and learnt to eat grass and leaves. Due to her not receiving colostrum, she does have a few stomach issues, but we’ve learnt to manage them.

Throughout my life, I’ve hand-reared many orphaned babies, but from the time Tequila and the kittens arrived it had been non-stop for 18 months without a single full night’s sleep. I promised Grumpy a month’s break as soon as our last two foster pups were homed. 

Time for a Cuppachino  

A day after the pups went, a nearby animal welfare called for advice: they’d found a baby goat. I explained the emergency milk recipe, including which commercial milk replacer to use, and hung up the phone, ready to start our break. The following morning they called again – their budget didn’t allow purchasing the commercial milk. I offered to buy and drop it off for their little goat. As I walked in, I was met with a sea of concerned faces – and a question: could I perhaps foster until he was old enough to be homed as the vet had warned them how quickly things can go wrong with baby goats.

Back home, Grumpy met me at the car, glaring in at the little cappuccino-coloured creature on my lap. Cuppachino had arrived. Tequila was horrified – she had never seen anything so strange in all her life. Tequila is a very gentle soul and doesn’t display any ‘typical goat behaviour’; she’s a fussy eater and quite a calm girl. She spent most of the day trying to hide from this tiny terror.

Every horror story told about goats can be multiplied tenfold and would still not describe Cuppachino, aka Tiny Terrorist (shortened to Tine). He chews on everything, steals pens, reading glasses, car keys… pretty much anything he can find, and then bolts out of the door with it. He’s always stealing our toothbrushes and running away with them. We now have more toothbrushes in stock than any supermarket chain could dream of having. Tine also does beautiful ballet dances on the roof of my car. He can tap dance on my computer, shred important documents in a second, make international calls on the land line, destroy cell phones… We sterilised him at four months, before he could become a total hooligan. He is, however, such a loving, cuddly little boy and has slept in our bed from the beginning – Tequila on Grumpy’s side and Tine on mine. Goats make such wonderful pets that I feel every house should have one.

Sheepish Skeepie And The Happy Family

That’s it; we will no longer be adding to our menagerie! Oh, wait a minute… my vet calls (I should know by now not to answer): “Please help? There’s a little lamb with problems that has been surrendered...” I rush over to find a teeny black-faced lamb, paralysed, and completely flat on one side from lying down for too long. It would appear that he has a neurological condition. I bring the poor little guy home and start massaging and turning him regularly, waiting for the meds to kick in. Eventually, I manage to get him onto his feet. Grumpy comes home and does not say a word. He just kneels down, gives the lamb a big kiss and tells him not to worry because everything will be alright.

It’s been a slow process, but Skeepie is able to shuffle along and bounce. He will never recover fully, but is a very happy little Skeepie. Every so often he falls over and cannot get up, but he has an OCD Basset Hound friend called Messi who will howl until someone picks up his pal. The two of them are best friends with one of the rescued battery hens we’ve added to the madhouse, and the three spend all their time together.

Every morning we go for a walk and it involves everyone – the dogs, goats, cats, sheep, chickens, and, every so often, ducks. Everyone lives in happy harmony in our big, strange, loving family.