All goat owners have one thing in common. Within months, weeks, or even days, we find ourselves asking the question. “Wait a minute. Do I own this goat, or does this goat own me?”
I was reminded of this fact last weekend as a friend and I watched a football game. We had barely taken out seats when his phone rang.
“Hi honey! Wait, slow down. He is? He did what? But how did he… Oh man. Okay, okay. Where is he now? That far away?? Gosh. Alright, it’s almost the second quarter, do I need to come home?”
As a farmer who has raised several hundred goats over the years, from floppy-eared Nubians to stalwart Boers to the funky, wooden legged Tennessee Fainters, I knew right away that this conversation had nothing to do with a misbehaving child, or a missing family dog or cat. No, I told myself, only an escaped goat could generate so much surprise, alarm and resignation all within a 10 second conversation. My suspicions were quickly confirmed.
“It’s my buck, Slingshot,” my friend explained. “He was in his pen when I left, and now he’s a mile away, at another farm. Apparently, he climbed onto his shelter, stood on his hind legs, and launched himself over the fence. It’s seven feet high!”
“Do you need to go back?”
“No,” he shook his head, smiling. “Slingshot’s my buddy. He always comes home.” He glanced nervously at his phone, however, checking for text messages. “That is, at least he’s always come home in the past.”
Ten minutes later, good news arrived. Slingshot had been returned home via a pickup truck and trailer, and my friend and I were able to enjoy the game without further goat-induced distractions. But it got me thinking. Right there, contained within one phone call, were four great tips that every goat owner should understand before embarking on one’s own goat odyssey.
It’s no accident that we take the word ‘capricious’, defined as “given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior” from the root-word ‘capri’, meaning ‘goat’ in Latin. For example, turn your back on a goat that’s contentedly munching in a thicket of honeysuckle, and within five minutes it’ll be in your neighbor’s flowerbed. Then, pretend not to notice him in the flower bed (after all, goats seem to love human attention nearly as much as geraniums), and five minutes later it’ll be back in the honeysuckle patch. As far as I can tell, capriciousness is Chapter 1 the Goat Operations & Procedures Manual.
Do you own a tractor? Goats will climb on it. Do you own a car? Goats will climb on it. Do you have a child? Well, they might not climb on little Susie or Jimmy, but they’re probably thinking about it.
At first, it’s entertaining to witness how nimbly a goat can ascend an otherwise insurmountable object. One afternoon, I discovered that twenty goats had navigated my hay elevator, climbing three stories into the mow. Have a mulberry tree? They’ll scramble up that, even walking out on the limbs.
But when it comes to them climbing on top of your vehicles, it can be a real pain in the butt. As in—you guessed it—goat poop on the top of your car. For seasoned goat farmers, I can practically see you nodding straight through my computer screen. So, the ‘bottom’ line is this: If you have something you don’t want the goats to climb on, then put it away somewhere safe and secure.
Speaking of safe and secure, do you have good fences on your farm? Yeah, I thought I did, too. Turns out that a fence that’s cow-proof, sheep-proof and even pig-proof is typically little more than a trifling impediment for a goat. In fact, I honestly believe goats see fences as an intentional challenge, something needing to be crossed. It’s like leaving a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table at your grandparent’s house. Within a few hours, you can guarantee grandpa will be hard at work, finding all the edge pieces.
And that’s exactly what goats do. They find the edges, and test them. Leave your barn door open a crack? That’s an expressway for a goat. Have a small hole in your fence? It’s an open invitation for a goat to ram his head against it, making it wider. Got a corral that’ll hold the toughest, orneriest bull? Pull out your stopwatches, folks. A goat will be out of there in seconds flat.
More than anything else, however, goats are friendly and lovable. Just like my friend said, “Slingshot’s my buddy.” Despite their capricious, climbing, pooping and escaping ways, at the end of the day these creatures are so inexplicably gregarious that we always find a way to forgive them. They’re kind of like a younger brother during his college years; always making a mess, always trying some reckless stunt, and forever getting into our refrigerators when we’re not looking, eating all of our leftover pizza.
But at the end of the day, we still love him, right? And we even learn to live with his annoying habits. After all, every family—and every farm—needs a lovable, forgivable scapegoat.
Photo credit Molly Peterson and Forrest Pritchard
Want to know more about goats? Then check out my new book Growing Tomorrow, where I visit a prison in Colorado; the inmates milk 1,200 goats each day!
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