On Valentine’s Day, some couples dress up and go out to a fancy dinner. Some couples exchange candy and flowers and cards and other gifts. Still others go away for a romantic weekend. This year, we went to a livestock seminar at our local feed store.
As the presenter from the county extension office discussed the general benefits and shortcomings of raising one’s own sheep, pigs, and goats, we were watching a baby goat jumping on and off a somewhat disinterested pig. It was a fascinating visual aid. It was difficult to focus on the presenter’s message with so much cuteness and plain joy in that pen, but Mark and I both heard him say “sheep will cut your lawn, but goats will eat all your weeds.” Our heads snapped toward each other simultaneously as we chirped to one another “we need a goat.”
We had struggled mightily the first year on the farm keeping weeds under control, with a resulting infestation of burdocks that damaged some of our alpacas’ fleece. We wanted to decrease the likelihood that this would happen again, but without the application of gallons of chemical with dubious safety effects. So we began the obligatory Google surfing for “goats for sale near me.” As luck would have it, our friends at Blue Mountain Farm and Fiber Mill had an angora buckling available. It seemed both providential, and also too easy.
We set out to find a place on the property to house the goat, and quickly realized that a good goat home could be established in what we called the “run in,” a large, three sided building that, at some time in the past, had housed dairy cows. In our eighteen months on Hard Hill, it had served as an auxiliary, free choice shelter for the alpacas and hens. Its location uphill from the barnyard and house offered more direct sunlight and breezes; the herd often slept there on spring nights while in full fleece, presumably to escape the warmth of the barn.
So the shovels and muck buckets and rakes and saws and wrenches traveled up the slope for the goat shed renovation. Over several weekends, braving cold and wind and rains that never seemed to cease, and taking trip after trip to the farm supply store, we had one sunny day, and it was finished. From gates covered with cobwebs and a floor full of horse manure several years old emerged an indoor/outdoor space with a new fence, feedbags, water buckets, and a big sleep platform constructed from recycled pallets from the local feed store and an unused piece of wood siding. Even the hens pitched in to help, by spreading the straw bedding all over the cleaned concrete floor.
The appropriate arrangements were made for us to pick up Francis the Goat, with a little hitch. His mom, Borealis, needed a new home, as she had had medical problems during Francis’s delivery, and was to be removed from the owners’ breeding program. Could we take her? Would we take her? Those were silly questions to ask a family with three rescue cats, two abandoned alpacas, and a rooster who would have been dinner had we not stashed him in our truck that day. It worked out fine for all involved: mom got a safe new home free from concerns for her reproductive health, Francis stayed with his mom and didn’t have to rush his weaning, and he also wasn’t an only goat, at risk of depression without a herdmate.
Of course, getting the two goats into the back of our SUV was comical. They did the things that stressed goats in cars do, like pee and poo and try to jump over the seats. They looked out the windows and made silly goat sounds. After an hour on the interstate, we hit Hard Hill safely, the goats moved into their new digs, the alpacas bounded up the hill to see who had taken over some of their space, the dog barked at the unfamiliar pen residents, and the hens jumped into and out of the goatspace at will to eat goat chow (which is apparently delicious to free-range chickens).
And then that night, well after dark when everyone was tucked in for the night, the dog started to bark and bark. Borealis had escaped the pen through an open window eight feet in the air … and we officially became goat herders.