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I said to McCullough that I'd read that pygmy milk was of a very high quality, that its butter fat content was greater than that of milk produced by dairy goats.

"But milking a pygmy requires a lot more patience than most people have," McCullough said. She pinched together her thumbs and index fingers and made a delicate, precise milking motion. "Their teats are very small.

"A pygmy female produces about two pints a day, which is enough if you want to feed kids, but not enough for commercial purposes."

As I walked up to their pens, Mike and Poly Royal eyed me and bleated.

"They want attention," McCullough said.

Mike and Poly had dense long hair that fell below their knees. The hair on their ankles was so long that it partially obscured their tiny cloven hooves.

("When you want to show a pygmy," McCullough later explained, "you'll often want to trim their beards and the hair around their ankles. You of course will brush them and clean them. If you're very particular, you'll use a little black shoe polish on their hooves.")

Mike was black with white frosting here and there on his coat, and Poly was, according to McCullough, a "red caramel," which to me seemed a bright coppery color. The bucks' hair reminded me of a German shepherd's coat, only coarser and with more body and curl. It looked as if it would be pleasant to touch.

But upon closer inspection, Mike's and Poly Royal's beards did appear damp, and the smell radiating from the bucks was higher than when I stood farther away. The smell wasn't sulfurous, like the smell of decaying protein, or the smell of waste from meat-eating animals, nor was it sour the way that fermenting fruit, like grapes, or fermenting milk can be. The bucks' smell was pungent in the way that fresh-ground coffee is pungent. It also had a musky, mineral-like quality that came, I guessed, from the ammonia in their urine.

"For humans, it's not a very attractive smell," said McCullough. "But the does like it."

As if to prove McCullough's point, two eight-month-old does, whom McCullough released from a nearby pen, scampered over to Mike and Poly. The effect was immediate. The bucks stuck out their dark pink tongues, lowered their heads, raked the dirt with their little front hooves, and started sneezing and sputtering. While the does capered in front of Mike's and Poly's pens, the sneezing and sputtering intensified.

"It sounds like they've got bad sinus problems," I said.

"It's called 'blubbering,' " McCullough said. "It's a mating thing."

She explained that pygmies were "precocious breeders," meaning that does, if not carefully kept apart from bucks, could get pregnant when just two months old. She said that does came into season every two months, had a five-month gestation, and gave birth to between one and four kids.

Seeing the bucks and does close together, it was easier for me to gauge their size. According to McCullough, Mike and Poly were excellent examples of the standards set by the National Pygmy Goat Association for adult pygmies.

"They cannot be over 24 inches at the shoulders. The females are a little smaller. The males tend to be a little larger, a little bulkier. I would guess that Mike and Poly each weigh about 75 pounds. Their coats give the bucks a bulkier look."

Pygmy fanciers like McCullough often describe the typical pygmy-goat body as a "barrel with legs." McCullough contrasts this body type with that of Nubian goats, which are "basically a smaller, slimmer version of a dairy breed." But to my eye, the barrel description isn't quite accurate. Pygmy bodies don't have a tubular shape: they don't look as if they've swallowed a barrel. The pygmy ribcage bows abruptly outward: it looks as though the goat has swallowed a small flying saucer or a large, round cushion.

This unusual appearance often causes confusion among laypeople.

"Ninety percent of pygmies look pregnant even when they're not," said McCullough. "Even the neutered males look pregnant. When you go to fairs, people are always asking if the neutered males are pregnant."

I asked McCullough what she, as a licensed judge of pygmy goats, looked for in the animals.

"Okay, you want nice, wide shoulders. You want a short muzzle in the face. You want their nose to be short and wide. You want a good spring of rib. When looking over the top, you want the body to be wide. You want them to be cobby."

Cobby?

"Short. Short in length and height. You would like ideally for the body to be, say, as if it was in a square box. You would want the body to be two-thirds of the box and the legs to be one-third. So you want the body to be deeper than the length of the legs. You watch for the width between the chest, the width between the back legs, and you want the legs to be straight."

I asked McCullough about pygmy tails. Did they count for much? The tails of McCullough's goats stood upright, with the hair splayed outward in a fanlike fashion.

"The tail doesn't really matter that much. I mean, you don't want a broken tail, of course. But what you want is the slope to the rump, and if it's too steep of a slope they're not gonna win. You want just a medium slope to the rump.

"In half of pygmy goats, the tails don't fan out. But when we show them, we foo-foo them up. I've even curled their tails with curling irons, you know."

While McCullough busied herself, releasing a half-dozen or so eight-month-old does from their pen ("Come on out, girls! Run around! Have some fun!"), I sat on a stanchion, a platform used for grooming the goats and trimming their hooves. Several of the does started racing around, pumping their short legs as they ran, leaving cartoonish puffs of dust where their hooves dug into the soil. All of a sudden two does leapt into the air and came down fast, their heads lowered, as if they were going to butt each other. But at the very last second, they slightly altered their angle of attack so that their foreheads didn't quite meet. It was mock-butting. They were playing.

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