Friday, March 26, 2010

Sue Weaver: If You’re Short of Trouble . . .

One of my favorite sayings is the Finnish proverb, “If you’re short of trouble, take a goat.” The Finn who coined that phrase knew goats. They are intelligent, affectionate, winsome souls, but goats have a fey side, too.

Salem and Shiloh — 250 pounds of mischief on the hoof

Background: our property is set up with a 2-acre, rocky, semigrassy expanse we jokingly call our yard, flanked on three sides by animal paddocks and pastures; the fourth side abuts our township road. Our house (a goat-hoof-dented manufactured home — but that’s another story) sets as far back on the 2-acre yard as we could set it, leaving a long rectangular commons between us and the road gate. Our sheep and goats access their pastures through the yard via goat- and sheep-size passageways that keep the equines and cattle from filing in the opposite direction in the same manner.

Having goats and sheep lounging around the yard between grazing sessions is a simple joy that gives us ample opportunity to interact with and enjoy them. Unannounced visitors are, however, forced to run a gauntlet of curious and occasionally ornery animals to reach the house (we put them in their paddocks if we know folks are coming). That includes service providers.

We treasure the UPS driver who carefully winds his truck through sheep and goats rather than hang packages out on the gate. One hot autumn day when he was making deliveries with his side doors open for cross-ventilation, he threaded his way through goats to our door, honked his horn, and stepped smiling from the truck, package in hand. At that moment Salem, one of my giant Boer-Nubian wethers and an especially impish spirit, sprinted for the passenger’s side of the truck precisely as his brother, Shiloh, mounted the driver’s side steps.

I lunged at Salem, snagged his collar, and hauled him back, shouting, “Watch your door!” The driver’s smile slipped as he spied that giant body ascending the steps. Simultaneously, Kahless, our equally huge and seasonally smelly Boer buck clambered up the passenger steps and took a sharp left toward the back of the truck. I dropped Salem’s collar and dove after Kahless as Salem trailed me up the steps and began happily munching paperwork.

The driver, helplessly clutching my package to his side while maintaining a death hold on Shiloh’s collar, pitched the package at our doorstep, and somehow beat Shiloh up the steps. At that point we had three 250-pound, paper-eating goats gridlocked in the UPS truck. Since then, the UPS man secures both doors before turning into our driveway.

I’d like to say that tale is unique, but it isn’t. On February 22 I was working on my Storey cattle book when I heard a commotion in the yard. I backed up the file and stepped out on the deck to spy a young man with a clipboard clutched to his chest retreating at a fast clip across our yard — with a pack of curious sheep and goats hot on his heels. This was surprising because nowadays the road gate is locked through the day while the animals are out of their night paddocks (several of them, particularly Mopple, my lamb, have no fear of motor vehicles and beg to be run down; thus I lock the gate when they're in the yard); he had to have climbed the fence to get in, ignoring the "Livestock Guardian Dog on Duty" sign in the doing.

Feyza, a huge and very protective Anatolian-Pyrenees, was lunging and barking furiously but not biting, so I didn't intervene (he was almost out of yelling range by then). However, as the young man crested the hill, Teasel, our intrepid horned goddess, hotfooted it up behind him and jabbed his butt with one of her long horns (in Teaselese this means, "Hurry up!"). Did he jump!

Teasel, our horned goddess

The sheep, goats, and Feyza all flocked together and watched him bail over the fence, leap into his truck, and speed away, while they collectively nudged one another, saying, "Who was that guy?" I imagine he was checking our propane tank. I also imagine he'll call before he comes next time.

The curious flock — wondering "Who was that guy?"

Even we have trouble with goats’ mischievous natures from time to time. Just last week Big Mama gave birth to beautiful twins. Big Mama retired here because she wasn’t to be bred again, nearly dying after her previous delivery 2 years ago. She is old, a huge, lavishly bearded Boer-Saanen with a mind of her own. We wouldn’t allow our buck, Martok, to breed her. Solution: she backed up to the buck run and encouraged him to breed her through the fence. I observed the hanky-panky and quickly led Big Mama away, thinking they couldn’t have — could they? But they did. Fortune smiled on Big Mama (an aggressively healthy prekidding diet undoubtedly helped), and this year’s delivery went without a hitch.

Big Mama and one of her twins

Goats are a joy, but they’re mischievous, and they can be vexsome, too. My words to the wise: if you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t get goats.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in 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. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

1 comment:

Bernadine said...

I loved reading this, I agree wholeheartedly with the saying but life certainly seems boring without our sheep and goats and their nonsense.