Scribbles from the Field: Taking on Orphan Kids not Child’s Play
The yard seems to be set up for children, with playhouses, toys, tables, chairs, and secure fencing. But the youngsters here are a different kind of kid—the kind with four feet, beards, and horns.
With a quick call to announce feeding time, the two women are all questions and work, instantly surrounded by the bodies and cries of more than a dozen tiny, hungry goats.
“Where’s Ringo? Betty, Bangles, Speck and Curly Joe are all here.”
“I’ve got the Nubian Brothers and Frankie Blue Eyes.”
“Has Stormy been fed? Where’s Ringo?”
“I’ve got Roger, Wendy, and Dobie. Lambchop is trying to eat twice.”
“Did we ever find Ringo? Oh, there he is!”
The scene is repeated nearly every two hours for the first week the babies are at Nerat’s house. The goats are orphans, she explains, as she valiantly rounds them up for their individual baby bottle meals. The goats wrestle each other for attention, each trying to be the first at a fresh bottle. They wolf down their meals in minutes, but continue to climb on Nerat and Hill for petting and in the hopes of seconds. They jump on and off the tables, head-butt each other with poor aim and send unattended baby bottles flying across the yard.
Just as quickly as the chaos begins, it is over. In the few minutes it takes to feed each goat, the kids, now with full tummies, obediently follow their human “moms” back into their garage-turned “goat romper room” for contented naps. As the goats snooze on hay bales, doggie beds, benches, and each other, Nerat says she’s never had so many orphans at one time.
The baby goats have come from their owners, from friends, and from total strangers who each end up with Nerat’s number. Since she has been raising goats and poultry for more than 17 years, she knows a lot about animal care and taking care of unwanted animal babies.
However, even she admits, “This is the first year it’s ever been this bad for orphans. I’ve never had this many, and they have never been this sick. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.“
Her grandson, Chris Fezzey, 11, and granddaughter, Samantha Fezzey, 14, help her after school with the numerous feedings and other chores. This year, she’s enlisted even more help, as she says several people helped her care for the orphans, and brought supplies such as bedding, feed, houses, and labor.
“And my poor husband, Terry—well, let’s just say his garage is never going to be the same again,” she says, glancing at the mess left by the rambunctious babies.
Nearly every one of Nerat’s current babies has arrived unhealthy. The orphans—some as young as an hour old when she receives them—suffer from scours (diarrhea), runny noses and weakness, and eye infections from the wind. Most of the kids are wearing tiny dog sweaters to protect them from the cold.
Cuddling a diminutive Angora kid that a few minutes earlier was happily playing with her goat pals, Nerat says, “Lambchop here was the worst I’d ever seen. Her eyes, ears, nose—every single body opening on her—was completely infected. Her long coat—a characteristic of the breed—was matted to the skin. She couldn’t walk for the first three weeks I had her.”
Nerat believes part of the problem of the unwanted babies is the economy.
“Many people are not feeding their goats properly right now because of the cost of feed. So, of course, when the babies are born, they are malnourished and sickly,” she says.
“Powdered goats milk for orphans costs about $24 for a five-pound bag at local feed stores. Since I have my own goats, I don’t have to buy milk to feed them; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to afford to do this. And even though I have the milk for them, I’m still out a considerable amount of money for their health care and other needs.”
While continuing to clean the sleepy kids’ faces and other body parts, Nerat also believes that irresponsible breeding is a huge part of the problem. “In order to get goat milk, the goat has to be pregnant. But many people don’t want the babies, so they dump them somewhere as soon as they are born.”
But the orphans no longer have to worry about being unwanted or unloved. After putting hours of hard work, medical care, and emotion into each kid, Nerat then puts the goats up for adoption.
“I specialize in friendly babies. When you call them, they come running. Thanks to my grandchildren, these kids love human kids. Most of these orphans already have good homes waiting for them,” she says. “But there are still a few here that need homes.”
With a final look around to make sure all the little ones are OK and Ringo, the straggler of the bunch, is accounted for, Nerat finally heads back into another barn, where more animal chores await her. The adult goats must be fed and milked, and the poultry and assorted other farm animals must be tended.
“I’m almost at the two-month mark, and that is when the babies begin to eat on their own,” she says. “At that point, I finally get to take a break and adopt them out. And then their new owners get to have all the fun.”
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- One man’s unique way of supporting the kids
- Kids get their turn to play cowpoke
- When goats need a shave, 4-H’ers go to work
- Animal Talk: The Zebra Whisperer
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