The Lesson of the Goats

I come from Kansas. Even though I lived and often worked on Kansas farms and have been around lots of livestock, I had never, not once, eaten, fed, smelled, thought about or even really looked at a goat. Having too much time on your hands in retirement can cause you to think strange thoughts and travel through unusual portals.

One beautiful spring day, standing on the porch of my cabin, I turned to my dear friend, Nancy, and said, “I’ve been thinking,” (she knew this was not always a good thing)  “I’d like to clear that little fenced off two acres over there, and I think we need some goats to do it.” Nancy just shook her head.

I had been reading and watching videos about a strange breed of goats called Tennessee Fainting Goats.” All I knew about them is that they are actually a recognized breed because of a carnival barker from Tennessee.

It seems that in the early part of the last century this sideshow guy had a goat that would faint every time it was startled. Some genetic quirk caused the goat, upon hearing a noise or being threatened, to put its front legs straight out and the fall stiffly over on its side, rolling its eyes back in its head. It was a big hit with the carnival crowd and the Tennessean was seeing visions of dollar signs, so he travelled from town to town he went seeking out goats with this genetic anomaly.Before long, he had a small herd and began to breed the goats specifically for the amusement of folks who would pay money to see a goat faint. Soon, a Texan heard about this small herd of goats that fainted, and had to have one to impress his neighbors, and well, you know Texans.

Once I read about these goats I had to have one. I figured they’d be great entertainment, but on top of amazing my friends and frequent visitors to the cabin, I could get them to clean up my small pasture. It has a clearwater spring running right through the pen that never freezes, so I would never have to water them and there was plenty of grown up, horrible looking, and very prickly brush for them to eat. So I immediately enlisted Nancy’s help to embellish the yards of barb wire fencing with stronger livestock caging. Four days, a stuck brush hog, a couple of broken fence stretchers, a borrowed come-along, a dented rental trailer and a case of lyme’s disease later, we had a goat-proof fence.

Then we (or maybe I should say “I”) designed the worst looking pole shelter on the planet, roofed it with tin, put some cheap siding on it that immediately warped, threw some Tractor Supply Company compressed straw on the ground, and we were ready. After days of Craigslist searching, I found a Fainting Goat breeder. (Did I say “breeder?”) She was three hours away in a godforsaken region of the North Carolina Piedmont. Not only did we have to come down off the mountain to get these goats we had to drive three hours in the unbearable heat and humidity of the Piedmont. Piedmont, in French, means “foot of the mountain.” However in my way of thinking, it means “hot dirt farmers drenched in sweat.”

The goat lady of the Piedmont told me on the phone that she had two young males, brothers, that would be perfect lawn mowers, and they fainted on command! I thought about getting a male and a female so we could have goat’s milk, until I read that in order to have goat’s milk, you have to keep the female pregnant. I quickly decided brush eating boy goats would be just fine.

I couldn’t wait! Nancy and I hopped in my Toyota FJ Cruiser and headed for goat land, never bothering to think that you usually haul goats in a livestock trailer. Three hours later, we pulled into a small piece of North Carolina, at least 30 miles from anywhere. Nancy picked this time in the car to have a deep discussion about relationships, of course, and had required a quick prerequisite reading of the book Love Languages before the goat trip. Well, as you can imagine, that whole conversation ended badly because my male brain was focused on goat love and her feminine multi ganglia brain was focused on improving our relationship….

Then, suddenly, we were at the end of a rutted dirt road. Thank God! At the end there was a small farmhouse, a very large recreational camping vehicle and a barn. Surrounding the barn was a herd of the smelliest, strangest looking four legged beings I’ve ever seen. They were everywhere: In the woods, in a field, in the barn, on the barn, and oh yea, coming out of the door of the RV!

We got crawled out of the Toyota into the “melt your face heat” and stood there gawking, in awe of these strange creatures, afraid that one of them might touch us. Suddenly an older woman with a stern look and goat-like face appeared before us. She just materialized out of the proximity of the barn. “Hi there,” I timidly spoke, half wondering if she understood human speech.

“You must be Mr. Smith,” she spoke in a cigarette smoked voice.

“I think so,” I mumbled not sure what I was doing here in this very strange place.

“Well, Come with me,” she rasped. And so we opened the gate and headed towards the barn. Inside were two small creatures in a bed of straw in a small holding bin. One was black and white and one was brown. The stared at us and then cowered in the corner of the pen. The brown one immediately stuck his front legs straight over and fell over on his side. His eyes looked like he was either having a seizure or was dead.

“I’ll take them,” I said.

“Where’s your trailer,” the goat lady asked.

“Oh, I don’t have one,” I suddenly realized.

“Well, it’s your car,” she shrugged. “You’re lucky that I neutered them.  The big males like to urinate on their beards to attract females,” she declared.  I winced, then I followed her through the gate and began to fold down the back seats in the Cruiser, looking feverishly for something to cover the back with and luckily found an old picnic blanket.

“Come on up to the house,” she commanded. So we did. The whole time Nancy was following us, a half smile on her face, eyes wide open, and a disbelieving sort of gaze. We walked into a small back door and stood in a strange little kitchen, mostly counter space with a burnt out looking toaster. There was a coffee can next to a big stack of papers. I wrote her a check. She handed me about 30 pages of hand written notes.

“This here is their feeding instructions,” she said. “I start with goat feed in the morning, not Purina, mind you, but the better stuff at Tractor Supply. Then I give them two scoops of real oats at around noon, then a lot of alfalfa in the evening. I just wormed them, but you’ll need to do that. It’s all in there.”

I looked at this overwhelming stack of barely legible pages and felt like crying. She then grilled me about having an adequate shelter for them. “Oh we just built a nice pole barn,” I lied. She had me sign a bunch of papers that would allow some goat organization to send me their pedigree (that, four years later, I’m still waiting for), shoved the instructions and a Folgers can full of oats in my hand and we headed back to the barn. We went inside, and the goat lady barked, “I’ll grab the black one, you grab the brown one.”

She jumped in the pen and goat legs went every which way. In what I can only describe as a goat rodeo hold, she hoisted the black spotted goat up to her chest half ran to the Toyota and threw it in the back. By that time I had been kicked, horn, bit and gouged. Nancy was laughing so hard she was no use. Somehow, the small goat and I stumbled to the SUV and I threw it in the back. Then the bleating began. I brushed hundreds of perfectly round little goat turds off of my arms, pants and shoes.

In a daze, I ordered Nancy into the FJ and tried to drive away. As we were leaving, the goat lady yelled, “Look out, those Arabs will want to steal them and eat them. They come down here all the time!” First of all, I doubted that anyone of Middle Eastern descent in their right mind would drive down her road, and second of all, I hadn’t seen too many bands of goat seeking raiders in the Blue Ridge so I waved and we got the hell out of there.

We both looked at our precious cargo in the back of the SUV and giggled. The goats were crying and complaining, but they fit, and we might just make it home with them. After about 10 minutes of incessant bleating I had an idea. One thing about FJ Cruisers is they have great rear speakers. I turned on the voice of the Blue Ridge, WPAQ AM and cranked up the old time and blue grass music they were playing. The goat boys quieted immediately! Especially to old time fiddle tunes. A revelation!

After three hours of radio, a stop at a convenient Tractor Supply Store off of Interstate 77 to buy a list of goat supplies and absolutely no “Love Language” talk, we made it home. Not wanting to hold these animals any more than I had to, I opened the gate to the two acre enclosure, backed in and wrangled each goat out the back and on to the ground. Brownie fainted again. Blackie stared at me like he might eat me. Then they wandered away.

I took the expensive feeding pan I had bought, filled it with some sugary smelling goat crack of some sort and watched them devour it like addicts. That was it. I was a bonafide goat farmer. I spent an hour cleaning goat turds out of the Toyota. That evening I read and reread the goat lady’s 30 pages of notes. About every two hours the next day I was running down to their pen. Oats, the goat crack (the expensive kind), then alfalfa, then more goat crack. A goat block in the pole shelter to lick on, and so on.

For the next three weeks I sat back and waited for the horrible brush in the goat area to disappear. Nothing happened.

“They’re crack goats,” I told Nancy in frustration. “I thought they were going to clear my land for me, make a nice area in there!” I complained, “They just sit around and wait for me to give them goat crack. I’ve become a pusher man!

Nancy had that look she gets when she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. “Well,” she said, “What I’ve noticed is that they seem to be eating better than we do. If you’re down there feeding them on that ridiculous schedule, they don’t have time to eat brush.”

Damn, I hate it when I’m caught being so stupid. The next day, I stopped feeding them all together. Oh, they complained, yelling and bleating every time I even looked towards their lair. But slowly, gradually, I noticed that all of the Poison Ivy was disappearing from around the edges of the fence. Then the gawdawful briar bushes were gone. Then it happened, I saw Blackie tearing down an entire blackberry bush and ingesting it! Bowels of steel and all of it coming back to the land as a perfectly round, compact little turd ball.

I found one other real benefit to becoming a goat farmer. We suddenly had two live-in entertainment units for our resident rescue Corgi, Riley. Once he discovered the panels in the goat fence were just right for him to climb through he would head down in the morning and bark at the new residents. Then he would try to engage them in his favorite chase game that he plays with every other dog who visits, crocodile chase. Immediately Brownie fainted and Riley yelped, thinking he had killed him. Bigger brother Blackie walked over and applied both horns to the little brown dog’s stomach and I watched him fly through the air for about three feet. Entertainment at its best. Goat farming.


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