When we first went to visit them, they needed names, and I was pretty set on Lucy and Ethel. I thought that was hilarious, but it only brought out unenthusiastically pursed lips from people to whom I floated the idea. The only ally I had was Tracy and Mike's quick-witted son, Mason, who instantly volunteered that the male goat could be named "Little Ricky." What can I say? The boy knows funny.
We settled on Heidi and Hillary (after the climber, not the clamorer) and I could have sworn during the conversation that I heard Tracy say something about "bottle feeding" but chalked it up to some auditory error on my part.
It wasn't. Twice a day now, and for another month, we heat two bottles of milk and watch the little goats gulp them down, tails frantically wagging in lactic ecstasy. It has to be said that one of the reasons I never had real kids was for moments like this.
I have to take the bottle out of the hot water and splash it on my wrist and, sad to say, Beth had to explain to me that it was to test the temperature. I'd seen women do that before, of course, but I never knew why. I assumed it was for luck or something, like how you toss salt over your shoulder. And for the record, there will be no photos, ever, of me bottle feeding a baby goat, just in case you're getting any ideas.
But if I don't want to be the goats' mommy, there are plenty of willing stand-ins on the farm. The bouvier des Flandres named Opie was volunteer No. 1. He seems to think they are puppies with funny ears.
Copperfield, Sterling, Basilio and Nuchero, meanwhile, say no, no, no. These are baby alpacas with funny ears, and they all want to be the pappy.
And obviously, the goats Pete and Eddy know the truth, so they have staked their claim. Just as obviously, Juliet the cat couldn't care less, although she might take greater interest when they start giving milk.
But the winners in the Toggenburg sweepstakes are the donkeys Becky and Nelson, who believe them to be little donkeys with - well, no donkey is in a position to criticize another's ears.
Every morning, we awake to find them standing with their noses pressed up against the goat barn, waiting for us to open the door. For the balance of the day, the donkeys seldom leave their side.
To this, I have told the donkeys, "Fine. They're yours. Here's the bottle."
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.