‘We’re going to the Goat Show!’ was all I could talk about excitedly to anyone who would listen. Riding high on Marigold’s success as the one and only Golden Guernsey at Notts County Show, I decided to enter a few of my GGGs in the Newark Breed Show, which is local to us.
The big day arrived. Dragging six of my goats out of the field, we tied them up in a row and started bathing them. I confess up to this moment my goats had not seen much soap and water. The girls had a melt down. The boys stood blissfully happy as we rubbed in shampoo and voluminising conditioner for red heads; sprayed on de- tangler for ultra silky locks; combed in sea salt serum for hold, finishing with a brush and blow dry. We loaded up the van with a vast amount of what I imagined to be Vital Goat Show Equipment, then in with the goats, by now in a state of shock, and set off. Arriving at the Breed Show, being warmly greeted by organisers and exhibitors, we unloaded our goats, walking them into the tent with their eyes on stalks. This really was a new experience for them and me.
“We don’t have any goat coats!" I whispered in horror to my daughter.
But with no time to lose, it was straight to business. We stripped out the two milkers, a few people gathering round to watch as I coaxed a trickle of milk out of Rose, a first kidder.
“I’ve only just taken her kid off her this afternoon,”
I explained, trying to justify the cupful of milk. I leave the kids on their mothers and milk out just once a day to even out their udders, so really had no idea how much milk Rose would produce. We fed and watered the goats and left them for the night.
The following morning it was full udder inspection at what seemed like dawn. Donning our shiny, white show coats, pristine from their packaging, we clipped our two milkers onto long, red horse lead ropes and entered the ring for the first time. Rose was apprehensive but Poppy stepped out gamely, towing my daughter Isabel enthusiastically around the ring.
“This goat has no manners,” she muttered at me, infinitely more at ease with a horse.
Fellow exhibitors showed us the magic spot to press on a goat’s back end, which encourages them to step back into an attractive shape for the judge. We presented out goats, standing on the wrong side more often than not, getting tangled up in the long lead ropes. Stewards kindly stepped in to guide us through the process. As we walked our goats back and forth, we all began to relax, until lining up, we were asked to ‘Part the Curtains’ – my vet student daughter looking blankly as the judge waited to view Poppy’s udder. Next it was teeth, feet, udder and overall body inspection. Isabel, more comfortable with this examination phase, struck up a conversation with the judge about goat anatomy while we all waited patiently for our turn.
The judge was so helpful and encouraging, showing us how to present our goats and telling me
‘Your job is to get all your goat’s faults past me’.
It’s true, there is no such thing as the perfect goat, so learning how to present your goat in the best way for the judge is advantageous.
First mistake, I had only brought one milking bucket for two milkers. Each milker needs her own labelled milking bucket. We were kindly leant a bucket by our neighbour, panic over.
For those, like me, who have never been to a milking class, it is quite daunting first time around.
I marvelled at huge dairy goats balanced on impossibly narrow milking stands, chewing their cud peacefully, their owners intent on rhythmically squirting a seemingly endless flow of milk into their buckets. I had never seen milk produced in such vast quantities! It seemed to me that only the goats themselves were pretty chilled out by the whole process. That is every goat except mine. Saintly Rose, who trots on to the milking table at home, standing beautifully while I milk her, became a Wild Thing at the Goat Show. I can only think she was missing her table or feeling the intense vibe.
“Pin her against the partition and keep feeding her digestives!” I hissed at my daughter.
Rose jigged, leaped, reared, lay down, refusing to eat. Between us we somehow got some milk into the bucket via a jug, but it was a harrowing experience made worse by being surrounded by all these beautifully behaved dairy goats.
Once the milking was over we started to enjoy the show. Feeling quite relaxed by the afternoon, we lined up my three young boys for the judge. Edmond was positioned first; he clearly had this class in the bag, when the judge, lifting up his feet, recoiled in horror at a 2mm rim of excess hoof. I had forgotten to trim his feet!
“This goat has not been prepared for the show ring!” he barked, “So I am now placing him in second position as a lesson to you”
Mortified, I shuffled down the line, swapping places with my daughter. Feeling less buoyant we left the ring and were consoled and shown how to trim hooves by another kind exhibitor.
It’s wonderful how even in the alien environment of the show ring your goat’s character will shine out. Sometimes this can work against you. It did with us at the Cambridge Breed Show. It was funny watching my three young Billy kids lining up for the judge. Peregrine, tactile, super affectionate, collapsing with delight as the judge examined him; Edmond, a true gentlemen, stood poised and perfect like a choir boy; Orache, on the other hand is a pocket rocket, pumped with testosterone, on the cusp of puberty, going through the self-discovery phase… Giggles erupted down the line. I looked around to see him blissfully happy, spraying himself and anyone near by enthusiastically. Knowing something far more explicit was to follow, I started mouthing at Megan his handler, who thankfully acted swiftly and distracted him from further inappropriate behaviour in front of the young families watching at the ringside.
Marigold, a quirky goatling, who can make her feelings known at home, also showed her true colours that day. On her solo walk around the ring, she spotted me outside and decided on no account was she heading back towards the judge… Digging in her toes like a stubborn donkey, she refused, point blank, to move. Poor Megan was in a social situation here. What exactly is the ring protocol for a non-walking goat? Should you smile sweetly and cajole your goat while cursing it secretly under your breath? Or do you just tug it along behind you like a dead weight? Are you allowed to use little treats to bribe your goat? Marigold was placed firmly at the bottom of the class for her poor behaviour.
Fortunately Juniper’s first outing at Cambridge was just lovely. She’s a high energy little kid who uses me as a trampoline and practices parkour on any surface. I think she was so in awe of her surroundings she managed to keep all four feet on the ground for once. In fact the only thing moving was her bottom jaw, chewing cud frantically, something I have noticed little kids of all breeds often do in the ring.
Ashbourne Show seemed a good idea. I decided to take our milking table so Rose would feel more comfortable. Only one thing bothered me.
‘What about washing?” I asked a seasoned horse-show-goer friend.
“Take a bucket,” She advised, “Feet, Face and Fanny”
“In what order?” I wondered, but daren’t ask.
Off we set, the van bursting with the Vital Equipment, the bucket, three goats, a Border Terrier and a young orphan Wood pigeon in a cardboard box, which my family had flatly refused to feed over the weekend. We arrived, greeted again by friendly faces, settled in the goats, and I attempted to discreetly drag in our huge milking table, failing miserably because it is just so heavy and substantial and frankly you could fit three goats on it. A call for help went up around the tent and a kind man puffed in with the table, placing it like a great throne at the head of the marquee.
Leading Rose out of her pen for stripping out I saw, with a sinking feeling, a small crowd gathering, curious to observe the milk yield of the mythical creature requiring such a magnificent milking table, fit for a Jersey Cow. Elfin Rose was not happy. She refused to jump on the table. Eventually I lifted her on, sweating profusely, and started to milk. She baulked in horror at all the strangers around her. A kind lady stepped forward, drip-feeding her digestive biscuits and somehow I milked her out. Next morning the same lady helped again and we were making pretty good progress when on the FINAL squeeze Rose just had enough and leaping right through the head yolk, sent the milk bucket flying.
“Spilt Milk’ someone cried out.
With a sinking heart I put Rose back in her pen, grabbed a bucket of water and sloshed it over the milking table, thinking to wash it down.
‘No carrying of water allowed during the Milking Competition’ hollered a steward.
Breaking one of the many strict rules of a milking competition, Oh God, this was going from bad to worse! With extreme embarrassment I handed over a pitiful bucket with a dribble of yellow milk in the bottom, laced with straw.
‘No 23, Spilt Milk’ called out the stewards at weigh in, rather too loudly I thought.
Word must have got out because all day kindly exhibitors consoled me with their own Spilt Milk tales from shows around the country. It seems to be an occurrence no one forgets. But we had a good laugh, met some lovely people again, survived a first night camping in the van, albeit a stinky one, as I’d made the amateur mistake of putting the bed head at the same end as the horse’s backsides. To stay it stank of horse wee all night would be an understatement.
Not to be put off by our little set back at Ashbourne, I realised we needed better equipment, so commissioned a brand new, slim line, light weight, portable milking table, with restrictive side bar, tight fitting head-lock and just stopping short of leg shackles, I felt ready for next up, Epworth Show.
Marigold loves a good Goat Show- she spends all day happily eating and head butting her neighbour. Juniper enjoys the crowds. The boys are just content anywhere. Rose, however, hates it. Her doe like eyes lock onto me all day long, begging me to take her home. She, who wolfs a huge bowl of cereal and an entire hayrack over night at home, goes on hunger strike at Goat Shows, refusing even to drink. I have discovered, however, that she will nibble on hedgerow browsings. So filling the van with enough tasty prunings to power a dairy farm, I wove these branches around her pen at Epworth, creating a green and leafy bower. Other goats in neighbouring pens craned their necks in envy as Rose started to munch. Exhibitors marvelled at the size of my goat in comparison with the volume of green stuff, but I had a plan. Rose ate her way happily through greenery all show, stood nicely on her new milking table and best of all let me milk her, two handed, into the bucket.
When I come back from Goat Shows on a high, my family believes I have finally cracked. They have quickly wised up to the fact that sometimes mine are the only Golden Guernseys at the show. When I proudly show them a rosette, the first thing they ask, rather cynically, is
“How many were in the class?”
“We are being judged against the Breed Standard” I reply haughtily.
My daughter accuses me of Rosette chasing and my business minded son thinks I’m mad not to enter every goat in my herd
“Because then you would win 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize cash Mum and actually make a profit.”
He has a point, but I wish there were more Guernseys in the classes because it does feel a bit funny walking around the ring all by yourself! We have come a long way in a few shows, and I feel so proud of my beautiful Golden Goats, but best of all it has been so much fun meeting such a warm, friendly community of fellow goat owners.
People have been kind and encouraging, offering fantastic advice. Going to shows has been an amazing opportunity to see other Golden Guernseys and different goat breeds, putting faces to the herd names I have read so much about. I have learnt about confirmation, milk yields, feed regimes, health and breed lines and it has been lovely just to chat with like minded people who’s faces do not glaze over after 5 minutes of goat talk.
We have had our feet trimmed, beards trimmed and udders scrutinised. We finally own short lead ropes and a set of hand sewn, vintage goat coats bought from a 92 year old, retired goat keeper. We have increased our shelf of lotions and potions, feed and supplements and come away with a few tricks of the trade.
I’m already looking forward to getting out with my goats again in 2019 and catching up with new friends.
So if anyone out there with a goat who has never been to a goat show is reading this, do give it a try, you won't be disappointed!
I raised the wood pigeon and released him into our garden. He has an affinity with the goats and sometimes joins me at milking time where we sit together peacefully on the huge milking table quietly milking a well behaved Golden Goat.