It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you and the girls. As you know we said goodbye to our beautiful Vanny last week and it has taken me some time to put into words what I will remember most about her and I wondered if you could share it with your fans?
Vanny aka Van Goat 2004 – 2009
Vanny was my first goat and it never occurred to me that she and I would not be together until Tuilerie had graduated from school and goat milk ice cream could be found in every household freezer in America. But, last week we lost our funny loving Vanny the goat to a surprise complication with her pregnancy.
Vanny was nearly 5 and for goats that is considered an “older” age for a goat to get pregnant for the first time. The vet had not remarked that it was dangerous albeit unusual as most dairy does have value only in so far as they are bred in order to milk and give offspring only to repeat again and again. But, Vanny was an accidental dairy goat, in actual fact she never really enjoyed life as a dairy goat. I never think of Vanny as a goat at all. Vanny was my catalyst.
When I moved to Petaluma I brought with me only the bare essentials from my old life; my shoes, kitchen supplies, ipod, my great grandfather’s jelly cupboard, the promise of a new husband, a Hollywood Hills cat and a trustworthy Arabian horse. The future husband lagged behind in Italy for nearly 10 months but the cat and I fared well on 5 weedy but promising rented rural-edge-of-town-acres in anticipation of his pending arrival, it seemed a small window of time to wait for someone I’d been searching for my entire life. It was Joaquin, my 24 year old Arab, however who had a bumpy start to this new life/style. Joaquin was freaked out to be suddenly living in the wide-open expanse of dry brown field with only a canopy of black night overhead and no ever-present lullaby of a freeway to comfort him. As I unpacked boxes Joaquin worried about his sudden ‘freedom’. He was not prepared for country life and he paced the fenceline lathered in sweat whinnying unrequited into our small valley searching for a friend. After a few days when he didn’t settle down I began to worry with him. After 4 days of constant prancing he had worn a groove 50 yards long and a foot deep. I feared his voice would reach Sebastopol and I know his echoes were keeping up our half if not all of farms in the hollow. I tried herbal remedies, I stayed up all night with him in the barn and at my wits end even tried tranquilizers but I could not ease his anxiety. On the 7th day I enlisted an old Kentucky gambit and brought home my first goat. Joaquin instantly relaxed. He had a comrade to stand guard by the redwood trees and that night our little copse was quiet ( but not for long! )
She had been someone else’s pet goat that had been given up for auction. Somewhere a little girl had raised her by hand on a bottle and when she got too big and was no longer that ‘cute baby goatie’ the parents folded her away to invisible fates at the Petaluma auction yard. (I have a long history of ‘rescue’ pets, Joaquin and Meadow were both LA rescues but Vanny soon took her rightful position as top foster pet!) She was a yearling when she came to me – a beautiful nut-brown Nubian doe with a white tuft of hair that looked like a mini tupé (but she wore like a crown) and she had been part of a group of animals that my local dairy farm had recently purchased from the auction yard. I had come to Petaluma to work with the Pacheco dairy farm and to learn and slowly, slowly get into raising goats myself. Jim knew of my horse troubles and when I asked him how to go about finding a goat he said “Hell Laura, I’ve got the perfect goat for you! She was someone’s pet and sweet as rhubarb pie- I’ll bring her over today.” Jim shuttled Vanny the 3 miles from his farm to mine in the back of a pick up truck that afternoon.
When she arrived there was blood dripping from her left ear and a sizeable gash was evident yet neither Jim nor his son made mention of it as they described the goat’s many qualities. Concerned, but not wanting to be accusatory or ungrateful for Jim’s generosity I delicately commented about the bloody ear. Jim replied that her “tag” (something the auction staples to the ears of up for bid livestock) got stuck on the hitch of the truck while unloading her and must’ve pulled the tag clean through – no biggie. Mortified, I excused myself to dash inside for a clean cloth and some hydrogen peroxide but by the time I returned Jim had already taken a knife from his belt and cut the offending flap of skin off with one clean swipe. I remember going weak in the knees and wondering what the #%(* just happened. But, Jim was experienced and William was proud of his Dad for having quickly taken matters in hand and fixed the problem swiftly. They had work to do back at the ‘real’ goat farm and I thanked them and waved them off as my motherly instinct kicked in. I took to caring for this poor unwanted creature with a deep love instantly as I stood over her trying to find words and ways to comfort her. She had the sad look of an orphan that I tried to explain on my intercontinental phone call that evening to Douglas … he quickly turned her ‘accident’ it into a tribute and aptly named her “Van Goat”. That night Vanny found her home.
Over the next few weeks Vanny and Joaquin found things to do and ways to create mischief. I truly think they had a good time together. I knew that the ultimate solution for Joaquin though was to have another horse and so I set out looking for a boarder (I offered free room and board for a split of hay expense and the occasional farm sitter for when I traveled. My neighbor turned out to be a trainer with 24 horses and so an equine rotation for the perfect companion began. We hosted Nesbit, Matewan, and Magnus who were all alpha to Joaquin ( all situations that caused J. eating disorders ) in other words they were mean. Vanny would yell, bellow and scream until a human came outside to settle the conflicts. She was a born nark. Finally, we settled on Moe another Arab and one who Joaquin could boss around. But, Joaquin’s true BFF was found in this funny talkative little goat. And Vanny had found in herself a calling.
And, she practiced it. Around week 5 Vanny began to “sing”. It sounded like WehhMaaahHa! WehhMaaahHa! WehhMaaahHa! And, it went on. She was in heat. I didn’t of course realize this until round two 45 days later when the exact same thing started to happen around the clock for days and nights on end. I look back at that time, when I knew virtually nothing except that I loved this little goat. I didn’t look at her as livestock, or something out of a textbook. I treated her like a child, which is what makes me miss her so much now. She was just as confused by her “heat” as I was by constant braying. Together we talked and soothed and tried to figure out her “moods”. When I finally was schooled about it by my mentor Patty Karlin* and realized it was her cycle causing the commotion, I called upon my very best Judy Bloom knowledge to talk to her about her changing body. I think my naiveté was actually a gift. I found her to be funny. I found my relationship to her funny. She gave me an excuse to revel in newfound mindfulness of the cycles of all things, the moon, the grass, the birdsong, the insects, the wind, and the change that was all around me. I think I talked to her so much because I needed to process this expansion of time that was happening to me and I was all alone in it and in this new place…and she was most attentive. Nobody had ever been so attentive to my ramblings. She was sweet. And, I loved being in the field. I loved the smell of the hay in the barn and how hard it made me laugh to watch Vanny climb the bales of hay only to do a half nelson twisting leap with a side kick and head shake jumping down off the stack. She was playful. And she was goofy, uncoordinated but unabashedly frolicky. She was a fuddy duddy, totally bemused (I think) by the fact that she was a four-legged goat. And, she was fat. She had the fat gene. I monitored her diet but no matter how crafty I got with the stalls, Vanny found a way to squeeze, jump or push through the door and nudge her way into Joaquin’s grain. And he let her! Even Mo could not stop the persistent Vanny away from licking every last fleck of oat from his feed bin. I spent a lot of time in the presence of her frustoni energy in those first days of Laloo’s thinking, creating, thinking some more.
Vanny found a mirror in our barn and I caught her gazing into it. I built a frame and hung it on the wall outside near her salon where she could lounge on a soft pile of hay and talk to herself, which she did regularly. So much so in fact that I decided that it was now time for more goats. I had finished perfecting my recipe in the kitchen and it was time to get serious about goat milk ice cream.
So like any good entrepreneur I bit off wheeeeey more than I could chew and brought home 7 baby goats (at once!) to raise. This time the goats were only hours old and I learned fast and the fracas at Magnolia Road began.
Vanny was not just my first goat. She was the start of something. She was my gateway to a new life, the poster child of Laloo’s and the Mother Hen to this crop of orphaned baby goats that I brought home on a whim. The how and why of the mass adoption is a story in itself but Vanny took to the tribe as the self-appointed chief. She was bossy. And, she showed the kids the ropes – starting with head butts. By now Douglas had made camp with me and after building the famed ‘conosco mei polli’ chicken coop he took to the field and constructed a jousting table for the goats to play on. Vanny was always king of the hill taking her reputation for being headstrong to a literal level. But the boys, Jethro, Bunny and Clyde grew quickly and their sparring gave us a nightly show from our living room window.
Vanny had a lopsided gait. She lilted from left to right and her head bobbed in synchronization with every step. She left a Gilda Radner type impression on the people who met her. She was mesmerizing in a meek, goofy sort of way. She held simultaneously an audacity and a wimpy-ness. She was proud and yet she never totally shed the sadness of a soul who had been once abandoned that I met on our very first encounter. People always commented in some way about Vanny’s personality, she always left a mark.
Vanny was the first animal on our farm to express interest and even show love toward my baby when she arrived. I remember her being fascinated with my pregnant tummy while the other younger goats who were now past the yearling stage and big (Bunny was REALLY big ), carelessly bumped into me per the usual chaos, nibbling on my clothes and frolicking about oblivious of the change happening to me. When Tuilerie was born it was Vanny and Joaquin who I trusted to sniff the baby. They were the gentle ones who were genuinely interested in the ring of light that encircled Douglas, Tuilerie and me. I would walk Tuilerie around the patch of tall redwoods and Vanny and Joaquin would hover near the gate watching intently like a proud grandparents or even older siblings might. When Tuilerie was only 3 days old the goats went on a bold escapade out the front gate and down the road to the main throughway before getting discovered by a talented Mexican worker from the Petaluma Mushroom farm ( you ain’t smelled nothin’ until you’ve lived 200 yards from a mushroom farm in August! ) who single handedly wrangled them all back home again. Joaquin had accompanied them and to our best guess fell down on the road in some sort of panic situation because his knee was destroyed. It was the mother of all scrapes and on a knee on a horse that is bad news. My parents had arrived to help new mom and baby and Douglas was indoctrinated into veterinary medicine overnight having to dress and re-dress the wound several times a day and night. It was serious. Because I was still recovering from a long labor and birth I couldn’t really be there for him like I wanted. I prayed that Vanny would stay close since Joaquin was quarantined. She did. Vanny did not leave his side. She was his nurse Nightengale.
We moved a few months after that to our very own farm. A chicken ranch in need of a facelift, with 4 barns and the prerequisite small gathering of redwoods on the property, we made our permanent home ‘Rumplefarm’ on the West Side of Petaluma and I decided it was time to breed the goats and have some more babies!
We brought over “General Vallejo” a Nubian buck from Ellen Ocha’s farm a bit further down Bodega Hwy. The General lives in Valley Ford now but felt quite at home here in Petaluma for the 3 months he spent here. It would be an understatement to say that Vanny and General Vallejo were a match.com success story.
I’m happy that Vanny had love in her life. I’m sad that it was finished too soon. My heart swells with a bittersweet feeling whenever I look out my office window to the field. The other girls and their new babies are a joy and oh so full of life and curiosity. Visitors to Rumplefarm are overcome with the cuteness factor and we remain a closely knit tribe. But life on a farm is, as Douglas says ‘a reality sandwich’ and nothing reminds me of that more than looking to the far northwest corner of our field where Vanny is now and forever.
Vanny, you will live in my heart always.
* Patty Karlin is the Proprietor of Bodega goat cheese and all around goat maven as well as inventor of the Silk Parasol female condom for the African Aids epidemic and veteran baby nurse – a good lady to have around!