Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sue Weaver: Raising Milo, Part Two

Before You Get Goats

Throughout this miniseries I'll be posting pictures of adorable kids and expounding on their virtues, so it's only right that I make this clear from the start: goats aren't right for every household. A goat owner needs a well-developed sense of humor. If you don't have one, get another species, maybe sheep. A friend defines goats as sheep on speed. That sums things up quite well. The same intelligence, curiosity, and irrepressible joie de vivre that makes goat lovers wax enthusiastic about their goaty charges drives other people up a wall, so stop now and revisit my photo essay on mischievous goats. Enough said?

Salem and Shiloh were little guys when they joined us.

Salem and Shiloh, our first bottle babies, taught us to leave no kid unsupervised. Once, in the few minutes it took me to visit the bathroom, Salem hopped from floor to kitchen chair, chair to counter, and counter to bread box and was smiling down from the top of the refrigerator when I came out. When Salem and Shiloh were one month old, we added a dairy buckling to the mix and named him Morgan. Soon our Internet connection, which was then in dial-up mode, became quite wonky. The phone company sent out a repairman. The cause: kid-chewed telephone wiring.

Soon the three musketeers and Dmitri, a bottle lamb I was raising at the time, moved from their indoor bottle-baby cribs to a pen with their own doghouses. They were closed in at night but had free run of our yard during the day. One day the passenger-side door on the truck came open, and the kids piled inside. Dmitri couldn't join them, so he started to scream. I ran out and began pulling kids out of the truck, but as I'd lug one out, the one I'd hauled out just before him hopped back in, so there were at least two kids in the truck at any time. This went on and on like something from the Keystone Cops.

They moved outdoors when they got a little bigger.
At seven years of age and 275+ pounds apiece, Salem and Shiloh still like to hijack motor vehicles. Just yesterday I posted this to my YahooGroups goat list: Picture this: I'm perched by the computer this afternoon and idly gaze out the window. I sit up and say, "Uh, John, there are goats in the van."

Now they're big guys, tipping the scale at 275 to 300 pounds.
Salem is an ace at opening doors, but if we park the van so the nose is a bit uphill, the weight of the doors generally keeps him from opening them. But not today. I rush out and evict several goats, including Salem, who fills the front seat by himself. More are clustered around the door. Emony, one of the Nubian doelings, trots off with a copy of The Horsetrader (the regional pennysaver-type tabloid) in her mouth. John, for reasons unknown, parks incoming bills above the sun visor on the passenger side of the van. Unwise, I know, but he's done it for years. Now a month's supply of bills is scattered across the floor, the front seat, and the ground. Some are mangled beyond recognition. I scoop up what's left, slam the door, and bring them inside. Surprisingly, John's not upset; he says he'll figure out which bills are missing and call to find out how much we owe. Later he goes to retrieve the Doubleburger he stopped by McDonald's to get for our geriatric Airedale. The greasy papers are on the console between the seats, but the bag and the hamburger, even the pickle, are gone.

Besides all this, the goat tribe has idiosyncrasies that can make keeping them an adventure, such as: they are hard to fence. If there is a weak spot in the fence, goats find and exploit it. Add to this that it's every goat's dream to see what's over the next hill — or at least what's growing in the neighbor's garden. They are also adroit climbers with a passion for automotive vehicles.

Shiloh is tall enough to eat leaves from trees.
Finally, you can't keep just one goat. Oh, you can if you furnish another roommate like a friendly sheep, alpaca, or pony, but goats need company and prefer to be with people or with their own kind. And a lonely goat will let you know it, at the top of his lungs. This does not engender good relations with close neighbors, especially if your goat is a Nubian or Boer, breeds that are notorious for their loud, strident voices.

Yet it's these same quirky qualities that endear goats to many folks, myself included. They're exuberant and affectionate and live to make you smile. In addition to being your best friend, some goats give luscious milk, tote your packs when you go camping, pull your children in a cart in the kiddies' day parade, take part in your church's living nativity at Christmastime, and happily bring joy to hospital and nursing home shut-ins (goats love visitations). In many states 4-H has written programs for recreational goats: carting, packing, and even goat agility. Goats are fun! As you read this series, I hope you'll agree and that you'll add a goat or two to your animal family. But be prepared. Mischief is a goat's middle name.

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 The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

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