Alone in the barn and awaiting her first kid, Dolly the goat bleated softly as Evelyn Gisselbeck came to check on the expectant mother.
Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 filled the air, surging from the radio dialed to Montana Public Radio.
The soothing concerto set the mood for the event, which would unfold within the hour.
“That’s a girl,” crooned Evelyn, as her hands sleuthed out the baby still in the birthing canal.
“It’s a good-sized one,” she determined. “It’s a big baby.”
Here, at the end of Butler Creek Road, Evelyn and Eugene Gisselbeck have been raising goats for 43 years.
This week, the couple celebrates their 60th wedding anniversary hand-feeding the first 11 kids of the season, which were born almost three weeks ago, and welcoming Dolly’s offspring into the world.
The secret to nurturing both a marriage and goats, Evelyn confessed, is patience.
“And you can’t expect perfection.”
Although in their 80s – Evelyn is 83, and Eugene 86 – the couple said they will continue to tend their flock of purebred Toggenburg, Alpine and Lamancha goats as long as God allows.
“Until we die,” Evelyn further explained with a mischievous smile and twinkle in her eye. “You got to do something or you just decay.”
This time of year is especially busy at the Gisselbecks’.
Fifteen nannies will give birth before summer. Each could produce one to five kids, but nannies usually have twins, Eugene said.
In order to avoid getting a troubling virus from their mother – which all goats are prone to getting and giving – the newborns are fed by hand.
For the first month, feeding for the babies begins about 4:30 a.m., then continues with 10:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. meals.
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Often, the youngsters demand a midnight snack.
“But then I have to get up at 3 a.m. to keep an eye on the pregnant nanny,” Evelyn said. “It can be a pretty sleepless time around here.”
Aside from the mothers-to-be, there’s last year’s yearlings to deal with and the “boys” – the breeding billies that demand attention.
Despite health challenges, the hilly terrain of the couple’s 14 acres, and the occasional visit from a bear or mountain lion, the Gisselbecks manage a flock of 46 goats.
“Our son, Don, helps out with a lot of the chores,” Eugene explained. “So we are able to keep doing this.”
Patches, the couple’s red heeler, also is handy to have around, especially when the kids bust loose from their pen and need to be rounded up.
The types of goats the Gisselbecks raise, particularly the Toggenburgs, are known for their nutritious milk and meat, Eugene said.
Every year, many of the young animals are sold to individuals and ranchers who are looking for breeding animals or to produce food.
And every year, public radio listeners have come to expect the Gisselbecks’ unusual premium donations during MTPR’s annual Spring Pledge Week.
Usually, the couple will give goats to people who donate a certain amount of cash to the fundraiser – this year, it will be three, Evelyn said – but they often also provide goat mulch, goat compost, goat cheese, goat jerky and goat milk.
The work is consuming, Evelyn said, but the goats are worth all the energy and time it takes to care for them.
So personal is her relationship with the flock, Evelyn knows each one by their individual markings and the names she gives them – Daffodil, Dixon, Daylily, Myrtle, Crystal, Doolittle, Dallas and Dynamite, to name a few.
“I just love them,” she said. “They give you kisses and they talk to you.
“And they give us so much.”