A Blind Calf and Her Guide Goat

Owning a Goat Helps a Farmer Bring Light into a Blind Calf’s Life

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Rosie looked like a normal, healthy calf. But owner Rick Friday soon learned she was blind and needed a friend to show her the way. This is the story of Rosie and Rodney, her guide goat and friend.

A Scared, Lonely Little Calf

On March 30th 2017, the day she was born, Rosie looked like a normal, healthy calf. She showed no signs she would someday need a guide goat. Two days later, her owner, Rick Friday, noticed she was not nursing correctly. Both eyes were grayed over and she tried to suckle between her mother’s front legs. Rick took her home and called a couple veterinarians. Both thought she probably had a genetic disorder. They said the eyes are the first to go and she likely wouldn’t live past thirty days. Rick refused to give up. He tube fed the critically weak calf for five days and on the sixth day, she managed a bottle.

Rosie graduated from the kitchen to a little 12-by-12 pen near the house. She loved her bottle feeding time, but as soon as Rick left she cried and ran around in circles. All day long she went in circles as fast as she could around the inside of the pen until she wore a moat in the straw.

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“She would stop just long enough for me to feed her and as soon as I got quiet and she didn’t hear me any more she would start running in circles and you could hear the milk sloshing in her tummy,” said Rick.

Hoping that company would ease her anxiety, Rick put her in a pen with two older calves. Rosie pawed the ground and put her head down in a clear challenge. She couldn’t see them coming. Beat up and afraid, she returned to the little pen where she continued to go in clockwise circles all day.

“I put her next to some cows and she tried to lick them through the fence. And it just wasn’t working. She was just really really lonely.”

Don’t Bell the Goat

Rick realized she needed a gentler companion closer to her age. He found a little buckling goat about a week younger than Rosie. As soon as the goat was weaned, Rick brought him home for his new life as Rosie’s guide goat, and named him Rodney. Rick’s son decided they should put a bell on Rodney so Rosie could hear him. That turned out to be a bad idea. The bell scared the goat. The running goat with the bell scared the calf. The calf, running blindly around the pen they were in, scared Rick’s son.

 

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“We had like a little rodeo until we got that little goat caught and got that bell off his neck,” Rick said. “We thought it was a good idea but we didn’t need a bell. She could hear him just fine.” Rosie was still terrified of Rodney, so Rick put them in a really tight pen together overnight. The next morning, they were lying beside each other. Rick put some oats with molasses in a pan and they ate side by side. Rosie and Rodney have been inseparable ever since. Rosie stopped going around in circles.

“I just didn’t know what to do to help her. And then when I brought this little goat home, it just stopped. It just stopped. Right that day. Instantly it stopped. She never did that again.”

The Best of Friends

Rick calls this unusual duo “rumen mates.” They sleep cuddled up next to each other every night. They play together every day. Rodney will hop up on their salt lick so he is closer to Rosie’s height and they stand with their foreheads together. They’ll take turns licking each other from toes to nose. They romp. They frolic. They roughhouse. Sometimes they annoy each other like any other friends.

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Rosie can be protective of her little guide goat. Rick turned about a dozen cows into the small pasture adjoining Rodney’s and Rosie’s enclosure. The cows crowded the fence line to investigate their new neighbors. Rodney trotted over to sniff at them through the fence. Rosie pushed her way between him and these large, dangerous newcomers. Rodney darted around her and back to the fence to continue his investigation. Rosie valiantly shielded her friend with her body again. They continued this dance until the adult cows got bored and wandered away.

A Mischievous Guide Goat

One day, Rosie wanted to lie peacefully in the shade. Rodney wanted to play. No matter how he frolicked or ran or nudged at her, she ignored him. He resorted to the last-ditch tactic of attention-seeking young males everywhere. He gave her a “wet willie” with his nose. She shook her head and continued to ignore him. He did it again and again and again. Finally she got up and consented to play — rough enough that he decided leaving her alone was a grand idea.

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When Rosie loses her guide goat, Rodney runs up and nudges her so she can continue on. Rodney got his head stuck in the fence several times. Rosie would sniff him, give him a few head butts, and lick him. She would stay with him trying to find ways to help him until Rick came to free him. During the summer, Rick kept finding Rosie without her halter. He bought her a new one, thinking maybe the buckle was wearing out. The next morning he found it on the ground again. It turned out that Rodney used his teeth to free his friend from the harness. If you ever ask, “Are goats smart, this all the proof you need.

Not All is Rosy with Rodney

Four days after Rosie’s first birthday, Rodney went to the vet for sore feet. Rick has been on a ranch his entire life but has no experience with raising goats. Getting a vet appointment for a goat is no small feat during calving season in an agricultural community. While waiting, Rodney’s feet got so bad he was walking on his knees. Rick tried to clean the hooves out a bit with his fingers but that bothered Rodney even more. He lay down in the shed and stayed put. Rosie couldn’t find him. For the first time since his arrival, her guide goat wasn’t by her side. She bawled and wouldn’t calm down until Rick showed her where Rodney rested.

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The veterinarian assistant showed Rick how to trim Rodney’s hooves. Everything seemed good, but Rodney did not get better. Time for another appointment. This time the vet found a large crack on the inside of Rodney’s left hoof. They assumed it was from a month earlier when Rosie stepped on him. (Rosie is getting pretty big; 700-750 pounds is a lot for one little goat hoof.) He prescribed a daily iodine soak.

“After returning home from the vet, Rosie showed significant signs of concern for her companion by following him and licking his injured hoof.”

Rodney still didn’t improve. Rick found a veterinarian that specializes in caring for goats. This one spotted the problem right away. Rodney’s hooves had grown unevenly so all his weight was on the left half, causing it to crack and split.

A Blind Calf, a Lame Goat, and a Stray Cat Walk into the Future

The vet is confident he can fix the problem, but it will take time and multiple corrective trimmings. Rosie did not cause the problem after all. According to the vet, “That’s just the way Rodney is made; his genetic blueprint is a little screwed up.

Rosie is a healthy, happy yearling. Her vet found no evidence of any congenital disorder. He detected pupillary activity in her left eye, which means there is a message getting from that eye to her brain. They just don’t know how much. This explains why she always circled to the left.

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A year of friendship and encouragement has made Rosie brave enough to leave her friend’s side to seek out the greenest grass. Don’t feel too bad for Rodney, though. A stray cat has chosen the rumen mates as his family. Roger the cat stays close to Rodney and keeps him company while his hoof heals.

Rick continues to care for 100 head of cattle and draw farm-related cartoons. You can see his cartoons in issues of Countryside & Small Stock Journal. He posts updates on Rosie and Rodney on his Facebook page. Rosie and Rodney t-shirts and totes are available on his webpage, fridaycartoons.com; the shirts are made by Rick’s daughter at Outback Embroidery in Winterset Iowa.

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Cartoon by Rick Friday

Originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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