We’re heading fast towards the end of January and I feel as though I haven’t yet caught my breath after the race that was 2019. Revising my book, “The Click That Teaches, A Step By Step Guide in Pictures”, devoured huge amounts of my time, but that wasn’t my only project. There were all the clinics and conferences, and the production of the weekly equiosity podcast.
In October I decided my plate wasn’t yet piled high enough with things to do so I added a second podcast, “Horses for Future”. Equiosity focuses on training. Horses for Future explores what horse people can do to help mitigate the climate change crisis. Please take a look. This is something we all need to become involved in.
Filling in the non-existent gaps in my day were the goats.
I haven’t written anything about the goats in a very long time so I have quite a lot of catching up to do.
To recap my goat adventure, the first of the goats arrived in 2017. These were Elyan and Pellias, two yearling wethers. They belonged to the Community of St. Mary’s. I won’t go into the details here. You can read the whole saga of these goats in the Goat Diary blogs beginning in October, 2017 (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/25/)
Elyan and Pellias came originally for two weeks in June of 2017. They are still here. I always feel as though I should quote from Edward Gorey when I write this:
“They came seventeen years ago and to this day they have shown no intention of going away.”
I certainly have no intention of sending them away. I am utterly charmed by them. My goat herd reached a peak last winter of eleven. It is now down to a much more sensible five.
These are all cashmere goats. Elyan and Pellias are very stylish silvers with long guard hairs. Over the first winter, they were joined by two does, Thanzi and Trixie.
I wanted the experience of raising baby goats, handling and training them from the very beginning to see what difference there would be between hand-reared babies and the somewhat shy behavior of Elyan and Pellius.
Trixie gave birth first. To both my surprise and delight she had triplets, three darling little girls, all black with short curly fur. For the first few weeks they looked like poodles, until they turned around and showed you their pretty goat faces. I named them Patience, Prudence and Felicity.
Thanzi gave birth a few weeks later to twins, a girl Verity and a handsome boy, Valor.
The goats stayed with me through the spring. In June just before I left for several weeks of teaching, all the goats went back to the convent. In July Elyan, Pellias, Felicity, Patience, and Verity came back for more training. Prudence had been sold to a wonderful family and Valor stayed behind.
Handsome Valor was living up to the promise of having two grand champions as parents. Sister Mary Elizabeth hoped he would become a breeding buck for her herd which meant he needed to stay behind to be integrated into the herd.
I thoroughly enjoyed the three girls, but my camera didn’t. Their features were lost in their black fur.
And I was still wanting to have kids from the mother of Elyan and Pellias. So in December 2019, just as I was starting the major project of revising the Step By Step book, I was also welcoming two more goats to the barn. Thanzi returned. She was joined by Yeni, the mother of Elyan and Pellias. They were both bred to Lancelot, Elyan and Pellias’ father. His health was failing so this was the last year he was able to breed. In fact it had looked for a while as though he wouldn’t be able to breed at all, but we got lucky.
I wanted January babies because of my travel season. Thanzi obliged. In the depths of one of the coldest January’s we’ve had in years she gave birth to twins, Thistle and her brother Thaddeus.
I spent many hours sitting in the hay watching them play or acting as a hot water bottle as they slept in my lap.
In March Yeni gave birth to Wren and her brother, Finch. These were the two I had most looked forward to, full siblings to Elyan and Pellias.
I’m not sure how I managed to get anything done, much less a book written with four baby goats in the barn. Through the winter they lived in the barn where I could keep better watch over them, and it was a little warmer than out in the goatery. Because of the age difference I kept them separate which meant I had to make time for two separate play sessions. Wren and Finch would have been completely overwhelmed by their much larger cousins.
Size comparison: The photo on the left is Thanzi with Thistle to the left and Thaddeus to the right. To the right is Yeni with Wren looking up at the camera. Two months makes a huge difference.
Thaddeus was gorgeous. The year before Valor had stood out as a potential breeding buck, and now Thaddeus was doing the same. So when he was three months old and it was time for weaning, Thanzi and Thaddeus went back to the convent, along with Felicity and Verity. I was worried about the two girls fitting into the larger herd. They hadn’t grown up within the social structure of their age cohort. They were much larger than the other goats of their age, but sadly that didn’t give them an advantage.
Sister Mary Elizabeth put them in with a small group where she thought they would fit in. The other goats were all much smaller, but they ganged up on my two girls and bullied them. That didn’t last. Thanzi was a herd leader, and her daughter took after her. When I saw her at the end of the summer at the county fair, she was very much THE ONE IN CHARGE.
All the goats moved out to the goatery in the spring. Wren and Finch were weaned in June and Yeni and Patience went home. I missed Patience. She had become a little super star through the training. Felicity and Verity had picked on her, so she was always eager to scoot through the gate ahead of them. That meant that she was easy to bring out on her own for extra training. It was striking how much of a difference that made. A few extra minutes every day added up. Her repertoire expanded. She was great in the obstacle training. I taught her weave poles in addition to the platforms and jumps. She loved racing through the course, and I loved how eager and always up for every game she was.
I also taught her to lie down on a verbal cue. When she went back to the convent, this later behavior turned her into The Favorite. Her training gave her freedom. I went up for a visit just before the county fair. Patience was out on her own, following Sister Mary Elizabeth around like a dog. While Thaddeus was up on a grooming stand getting combed out, Patience tagged along trying to be “mother’s little helper.”.
I barely recognized Thaddeus. He was huge. And as for Valor! I truly didn’t recognize him.
We waited until fall to wether Finch. Apparently there are long-term health benefits when you wait until at least six months before withering a buckling. That meant that Finch had to be separated from the girls. He spent his summer in with Elyan and Pellias. He learned very fast to stay out of their way, and for the most part they left him along. The girls got on great together even with the difference in age and size.
In November I redid the interior of the goatery so the goats could live together in one group. That’s where we now.
So let me introduce each goat properly. I’ll do it by sharing a morning training session. When I open the gate, I can be sure that little Wren will be the first to scoot through, even ahead of Elyan. She is the smallest of the goats and just darling.
Over the summer I taught her to lie down. From there I taught her to rest her chin in my hand. That part of the behavior was like super glue. Standing, kneeling, lying down, it doesn’t matter. She wants her chin in my hand. I built duration into the behavior, and I also used it as a great recall signal. She not only comes. She races to me to press her face into my hand.
Elyan is normally next through the gate. He’s always eager even though we often focus on grooming which he hates. His long guard hairs make him look like an afghan hound. I don’t know how they are to keep groomed, but Elyan is horrible. So we prep for the spring shedding season by doing a lot of work on the new grooming stand. So far he’s eager to jump up onto it and to keep his nose by the target I’ve got mounted at the front – so long as I don’t do anything that resembles combing. We have time. (I started writing this at the beginning of the month. It is now Jan. 18, and I am able to groom Elyan! Progress! And yes that was fast.)
When I finish with Elyan, I tie him. If I don’t, he drives the other goats away. What I find so very interesting is how cooperative he is with this. Tying means putting on his collar and taking him to the post where the lead is anchored. He has developed the procedure for this. I just follow his initiative. He stands front feet up on a wooden block that is half buried in the hay. I put the collar on him – no fussing from him. I then lead him over to the tie. He remains there perfectly calmly without fussing or fretting while I work the other goats.
Next through the gate most often is Pellias. Without his brother driving him off he’s an eager student. Interestingly, he was the last of the goats to jump up on the new grooming stand. It took him several days to decide that it was something to be trusted, but now he heads straight to it as soon as he is out.
Our sessions are generally much shorter than he would like simply because there are so many goats to work with. When we’re done, he also gets tied. That makes it easier to work with the little ones and get everyone back in the pen. He is as cooperative with the tying as Elyan which again surprises me.
Next through the gate is Finch. He looks as though he’s going to have long guard hairs very much like Elyan’s so I am making sure that he is introduced now to the grooming stand and combing. Unlike his older brother, so far he has no objection to being combed.
When we go out for solo walks, he glues himself to my leg. He’ll also follow a target around on a large circle. When I have had horses follow a target in this way, it puts them on the forehand – something I don’t want. But for the goats it doesn’t seem to have this negative effect on their balance.
Our work space is limited because of snow, but there’s enough room to teach the basics of moving out around a figure. I haven’t put any obstacles out. That will have to wait until after the snow melts.
When we go out for group walks, Elyan drives Finch away from my side, so these solo training sessions are precious. He’s so eager to play. When he has any competition from the others, he gets anxious and begins to vocalize. That’s unfortunate fallout from spending three months on his own with Elyan and Pellias. In the private sessions he doesn’t have to worry about being driven away by anyone else. He’s able to relax and be the superstar that he is.
Thistle comes out last. She would like to be first, or at least second. And she would like to have the longest session, instead of the last and often shortest session. She has learned that lying down gets lots of reinforcement so she offers it readily in many different locations. She is learning to rest her chin in my hand. She’s not yet as solid as little Wren, but she’s catching on to what is wanted.
She has the thickest coat of all of the goats. She is already beginning to shed, so grooming is an important part of her sessions. The fleece that is combed out will be sent back to the convent to be processed and spun into cashmere yarn.
When Thistle’s session is over, I have the challenge of getting all the goats back inside and the gate shut behind them. This is where it is very helpful to have Elyan and Pellias on their ties. On the days when I don’t do this, they will drive the little goats scurrying back through the gate.
Eventually I would like to have all five goats go to their stations both when I enter and when I leave. But that’s off in the future. Tying Elyan and Pellias now means the little ones can learn. Sometimes training involves major managing of the environment.
To further reduce the chaos, I have the three little ones go to their stations: Finch up on a wooden box, the two girls on platforms. This stresses Finch. Living under the constant threat of being rammed by either Pellias or Elyan once he was weaned was not a good thing for him. I really didn’t have a good alternative, and he did learn to dodge them and stay out of the way. But his behavior here reveals the stress. He stays on the box, but his vocalizations sound increasingly anxious. I am hoping that the time he gets working with me by himself will help him to relax so he can enjoy sharing the training time with the girls.
For now they take turns targeting and getting clicked and reinforced. After a few rounds of this, I put treats at their feet and beat a hasty retreat. Elyan and Pellias are tied to posts that I can reach from the outside. After I unhook their collars, I offer them extra treats, as well.
All that’s left is the leaving ritual of giving them each treats through the fence, and then it’s out the gate leaving cries of “surely you’re not leaving!” behind me.
I’ve left out many of the individual behaviors we work on, but hopefully this gives you a general sense of their personalities. I am focusing what we work on towards our Spring Science camp. They are going to help us in our exploration of errorless learning. My winter training goal is to build up a repertoire of useful building block behaviors to make it easier for people to work with them.
Through the winter I’ll share some updates on their training – unless I get distracted by another major project which could happen.
Happy New Year Everyone!