Friday, June 19, 2009

Sue Weaver: For Love of Goats

Years ago I had the perfect job. I worked for the Minnesota Historical Society at a reconstructed early-nineteenth-century North West Company trading post rebuilt on the exact spot along the Snake River that it occupied during the winter of 1804–05. There, as a lifeways interpreter, I dressed in period clothing I’d sewn by hand and discussed and demonstrated the roles of Native and Mรฉtis women in the Great Lakes fur trade.

One day, while striding along the pine-lined path between the trading post and the outhouses, my moccasins sinking deep into riverbank sand, it occurred to me, “It doesn’t get better than this!” I was being paid a good wage to do something I loved so much that I’d gladly do it for free.

Now some twenty years later I’m at that enviable junction in life again. This time I’m writing Get Your Goat! a lighthearted guide to goat keeping for Storey. Goats are an integral part of my life. I spent the first 55 of my 62 years on earth enraptured with horses and blissfully unaware of goats. The quintessential equine obsessive, I lived and breathed horses to the exclusion of all else. Well, writing was there, too, of course — another passion cultivated since childhood.

It was late in 2004 when I was a contributing editor at Hobby Farms magazine that BowTie Press asked me to write their Hobby Farms livestock manual about goats. It sounded fun. I’d always admired goats and even owned pet wethers (castrated male goats) periodically throughout my life. Then, on a photo shoot at Claudia and Matt Gurn’s MAC Boer Goats near Winona, Missouri, I met MAC Goats' Chief Forty-Five, a.k.a. “Chiefee,” and my world shifted on its axis. Was it love at first sight, that narrowed vision, that almost imperceptible "click" I felt when he hove his huge, smelly face into mine? Whatever it was, I was smitten.

Chiefee and my husband John — that fateful first meeting

And Claudia sent me home with baby goats.

Salem and Shiloh, two of Chiefee’s orphaned three-week-old nephews, matured into 300-pound behemoths stout and strong enough to pull carts and pack camping gear upon their brawny backs. They were quickly joined by breeding-stock Boers, Nubian dairy goats, and more house-raised bottle babies than a person less besotted could imagine. Somewhere along the line my love of history and goats merged, and I began collecting vintage photographs of stalwart military mascots, period etchings of goats galore, goaty ephemera ranging from antique bock-beer labels (bock means he-goat in German) to Victorian tea trading cards, and every scrap of caprine (all things goat) folklore I could find.

A favorite vintage bock-beer label

Period engraving of the ancestor of all modern goats — the Bezoar goat

Newspaper engraving — The Prize Takers, 1875

The illustrious Sergeant Bill, Canadian mascot during WW I

The crรจme de la crรจme of my collection will be part of Get Your Goat! but the book has a serious message, too: Goats are more than commercial meat makers (under the pseudonym Maggie Sayer, I wrote about that aspect in Storey’s Guide to Raising Meat Goats) and large-scale dairy producers. They are intelligent, personable creatures brimming with mischief and joie de vivre; properly cared for, they adore their humans and make peerless farmyard friends capable of and eminently willing to provide draft power (for carting and packing), fiber (for handspinning), dairy products (yum!) and entertainment (goat agility? yes, indeed!) to the humans who love them.

And that I do.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then she’s marketed material to major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

1 comment:

Kim in Vermont said...

Love the picture of Chiefee and your husband!