Getting the Goats

It's been almost two months since I got Lauren two goats to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We picked them up in Smithfield, a village near our house. They were for sale because the mother goat had started headbutting a baby goat on the farm. Her son came as baggage. We thought twice about getting them due to her violent pedigree, but figured we could tame her.


Once we gave the okay, the farmer whisked them up and carried them over to the van (on loan from the pottery, and already containing a pottery wheel and electric kiln). They fit just fine behind the kiln, and were good as gold on the way home; no poop and just occasional bleats. Lauren was having second thoughts on the drive back, though. It did seem very real somehow. We had just gained two large animals. I mean they aren't really very large, being Nigerian Dwarf Goats, but still, they were significantly larger than our cats.

What a menacing duo.
 We parked the van near our back garden and encouraged them inside. They ran out and started eating the plump-almost-ready grapes off my one single grape vine. I had grand plans for these grapes; visions of wine vanished in seconds. I shooed them away and tried to construct a barrier between goats and grape, but they found a way around it. They also started eating the bark off our pecan tree, some garden furniture I'd made, and they climbed up on the new kiln. Not an ideal start. Every time we looked around, they were doing something naughty. We needed to take charge, so Lauren went and bought leashes and collars for them.

Exhibit A: Grape vine. Bare.

Exhibit B: Bench and stool I constructed with friends over the July 4th weekend. Munched bark.

Exhibit C: Deconstructed compost heap.
 Getting the collar/harness on the boy goat (who we dubbed Brendan) was a whole afternoon's work. First we tried catching him by cornering him and leaping after him as he darted away. All this achieved was me laid out on the grass cursing, "Why did we think goats were a good idea?" and ruder exclamations. Brendan would not be caught. Morale was extremely low. I retreated to the Vitamix, made a smoothie, and called home. My parents suggested using food as a lure. Brilliant! I went out there with my delicious-smelling smoothie and sat in the middle of the garden drinking it, ignoring the goats completely, with the harness laid out on the ground next to me. Brendan was like a moth to a flame. Over he came, sniff sniff, lick lick. I directed him to the harness area with the open mouth of the mason jar. He put his head down and stepped one foot into the harness. I grabbed his other leg, inserted it, and pulled up the harness. He was wriggling and shaking, and I couldn't clasp the buckles -- I cried out, "Lauren, LAUREN, come quick, HELP!"

Lauren came out, fixed the harness, and clipped him into the twenty-five foot leash. What a relief that was! Getting Brendan's mum was easier because we had him as bait. After, we took them on a celebratory walk. Walking goats is not like walking dogs. You know how dogs just want to stop and smell everything? Goats just want to stop and eat everything. Especially crunchy dry leaves. I can't imagine that there are many nutrients in dead leaves, but the goats love them.

Their shelter at night (electric kiln covered up and goat-proofed in the background)

Goat morning.

Stairway to heaven = a La-Z-Boy

"Don't you wish you had a neck as long as a giraffe?"
 After a few short days with the new livestock, Lauren went on a Birthright trip to Israel and left me alone with them for a month. Before leaving, she organised a castration for Brendan. A nice couple from a local goat dairy came by with a metal tool that looked like a nut cracker. They helped put Brendan into a "goat yoga" position where his legs were tied up and he couldn't move at all. I held him whilst his balls were being inspected. At two months old, these things were gigantic. Really. Much bigger than you would expect. Apparently billie goats are much more placid without all that testosterone floating around.

They found the tube connecting Brendan's juice and clamped it down with the tool. I have never heard anything like it. He cried out like a baby being dropped into an ice bath. "Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghhhh!!!" It was a long pitiful cry that went right through us. Same again on the other side. "BAAAAAAAAGGHH!!!" Absolutely brutal. But afterwards, he didn't seem to be in any pain, just dazed and happily ate a bowl of food and lay down awhile. It was a closed castration, so no chance of infection and no special recovery time.

Post castration blues.

Whilst Lauren was away, I had a system of taking the goats out in the morning and back in at night. I had them leashed to a stake in different parts of the garden to keep them interested and evenly eat back the hedgerow. They were doing a pretty good job, but they kept getting tangled up around branches or logs or each other. Every morning, lunch, and evening I would untangle them. After a couple weeks, I started tethering them to different points, so that they could barely cross paths. It was working well, but then one day disaster struck.

The daily routine -- tangled up in branch.
They love dried leaves more than anything in the world.
It was actually whilst we were firing the kiln. I was set to come in for the 7 to midnight shift, an important time when the kiln must be heavily reducing. At 6:40, I went to check on the goats and found to my horror that they were badly tangled, and laying in an unusual position next to one another. Brendan's collar was all twisted up and had pinched his esophagus. His belly looked bloated and he wasn't moving. Brendan's mum was lying patiently next to him, her head pressed up against his. I took her off the leash and she wandered off to leave me to untangle Brendan. I worked fast, fleetingly thinking I might be able to save him. As the collar loosened, a hiss of air was released and his stomach flattened. He was stiff: nothing could be done. Brendan's mum came back in and sniffed the area, confused. Finding him like that was shocking, but the saddest part was Brendan's mum not knowing where he'd gone. She trotted around the whole place looking for him, not understanding.

Brendan's mum.
It was challenging to stay focused on firing the kiln that night, and very sad to have to break the news to Lauren, who was in Tel Aviv about to catch a flight home. I take full responsibility for what happened. I knew this was a possibility given the fact that they kept getting tangled, and I should have installed a proper fence so that they could roam freely. It was bad animal management and not a good start to my livestock care.

After my kiln shift, I watched several YouTube videos on goat butchery. The next morning, at first light I got up and skinned him. He was very healthy and had a nice layer of fat. I took the innards into a field for the vultures, kept some hide and hair for making paint brushes, and buried his head in the garden. The meat went into the freezer. I did slow cook some and bring it to the end of the kiln firing to share with the crew. Everyone agreed that Brendan was very tasty. We have since had a wonderful Moroccan-inspired tagine. There is some consolation to the tragedy, some silver lining.

He was really cute, I'll give him that. R.I.P. Brendan.
So now we're down to one goat. You shouldn't keep a goat alone because they're such social animals, but Brendan's mum actually seemed more relaxed after he was gone. This only lasted a couple of weeks, though, and then she became more anxious. Yesterday we decided to give her to a couple who run a nearby goat farm. They liked her markings and will breed her. She's part of a herd now, and apparently she's settling in well with the other goats. But we were sad tonight when there was no goat to give our empty corn husks to.

Here's a tiny video of them...