My Astute Observations on Goats

Well, we are now the owners of three goats, ticking off another species on our bucket list of livestock. Frankly, I was worried. The reputation of goats preceded their arrival on our farm as I scrambled to repair and erect a barrier that would be “goat-tight.” I’m quite pleased with my efforts since it took six long days for a goat to escape my enclosure. That shows you how far I’ve progressed as a farmer. Years ago, when we first got pigs, it took one pig about 60 seconds to escape and become an infamous ham on the lam, bounding into and out of briar thickets with such haste that even rabbits were impressed. All I can say is, rule number one of pig chasing is “Never follow a pig into a briar thicket.”

Also, rule number two is “Never follow a pig into a graveyard.” A graveyard is a bigger trap than a briar thicket. Yep, after luring a farmer into a graveyard, a pig always plays a seemingly innocent game of peekaboo behind headstones (which is why modern graveyards use flush grave markers—to limit defensive cover for escaped livestock). Eventually, after many rounds of chasing a pig around a headstone, a pursuing farmer will grow impatient and attempt to hurdle a headstone, which leaves the farmer writhing on the ground clutching a body part. Depending on the severity of the injury, some farmers may request burial on the spot.

Needless to say, I won’t bore you with the details of that pig’s recapture–it certainly didn’t involve a very long chase through a graveyard. To be honest, the account of the pig’s recapture is mostly quite boring and hardly worth telling. In fact, it just nonchalantly wandered back into my fence and surrendered itself after several days of terrorizing the countryside. 

But I digress. The point of this post is to detail my experiences hitherto with Capra hircus, that is, the domesticated goat. I’ve learned that goats say “maah” instead of “baah”–who knew? Also, their poop looks a lot like chocolate candy to a toddler, which I suppose, in hindsight, is why most other parents don’t feed their toddlers Milk Duds. That’s about all I’ve learned about goats so far in one week of ownership, but, rest assured, I’ll keep you posted if I make anymore astute observations. 

Window Alert: Fugitive Livestock

The guv’mint agriculture office where I work happens to be a rock’s throw from our local sale barn. This is quite convenient for farmers. After they pick up their check at the sale barn, they can stop by our office to receive treatment for shell shock. Last week, I nearly had to call the paramedics when one dairy farmer about fell-out in the hallway. He realized he actually owed the sale barn money. His little day-old jersey bulls sold for five dollars each, which didn’t cover the minimum sale fee, so he netted a loss for each bull calf sold–talk about giving your calves away. After I helped him compose himself, I gave him some apt advice for his next bull calves: spray-paint them black and pass them off as Angus on Craigslist.

Being so close to the sale barn has perks besides increasing my ability to quickly help dairy farmers in need. During lunch, I like to walk down to the sale barn grill for the purposes of exercise. Dodging trucks with rumbling livestock trailers in tow provides strenuous cardio, and I’m a big proponent of being heart healthy. It’s just happenstance that the destination at the end of my walking route has the best cheeseburger around (insert freshest beef joke here), plus they make a mean batch of onion rings. Also, their fried chicken is quite tasty, especially the skin.  

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Another perk to working so close to the sale barn is I never know what I’m going to see run by my office window. Usually, it’s goats. Apparently, they’re the best escape artists, followed closely in rank by young piglets. Approximately thirty-seven seconds after a fugitive piglet speeds by my window, a posse of sale barn workers will follow in pursuit. If I’m not too bloated from my exertion at lunch, I’ll gladly join in with the posse to help wrangle where needed. Chasing a piglet is even better exercise than dodging livestock trailers.

Usually, I see escaped domesticated livestock out the window, but occasionally I’ll see native wildlife, too. Last week, for instance, I saw the strangest creature. At first glance, I thought it was a skunk and dove under my desk to take cover. I’m a little jumpy when it comes to skunks (read Polecat Prone-Areas). But upon peeking out from under my desk for a second glance, I determined it was no polecat. The creature was too brown and streamline, plus there was no odor involved. And that’s when it hit me–by George, I knew this critter. At church, one frequently stared at me from an old rich lady’s scarf. 

To my knowledge, I had never seen a live mink before in my life–not even in the zoo. But at our yearly conservation field day, our local game warden had a mink pelt and skull he used for show-and-tell with third-graders. Having seen that presentation many times over the years, I felt pretty confident I was observing the rare woodland creature. I even called my coworkers over to the window to observe the mink. It scurried all over the place, giddy with excitement. Then it looked up alertly and made a beeline into the woods. 

“Wow” I thought to myself, “it’s not everyday a person gets to see a mink.”

But no sooner than I thought that, a posse passed by. Apparently, it was no mink at all–just an escaped brown ferret that someone tried offloading at the small animal sale.

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Book Review: Flat Broke with Two Goats

At the library, I stumbled upon Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer Mcgaha. I thought the title indicated something in the agrarian humor genre. I thought wrong. This book is a bluntly honest memoir, recipes included–think Ron Rash’s Appalachian grittiness sprinkled into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The setting is rural western North Carolina. At times, the subject matter, which includes a vivid description of domestic abuse, is intense and heart-rending. But once chickens and goats arrive on the premises, the story takes an uplifting turn. The writing is top-notch, with a poetic rhythm; here’s a passage:  

“My grandmother grew up on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina, and in her recollections, farm life was never idyllic. The work was backbreaking and constant, food hard to come by. On frigid winter mornings, she woke covered with snow that had drifted through the slats  in the bedroom walls. Still, her stories made me dream of the three-room log cabin in which she was raised, of her nine brothers and sisters, of the mother who cooked dinner for twelve on a woodstove, of the father who spent his days plowing fields and hoeing potatoes, tending cows and hogs and chickens.”