Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Herding Goats

We have had a lot of neighbors in the last forty years and four houses. They ran the spectrum from the kind we tried to avoid (because she was a predatory and boring talker who didn’t know when to stop) to Emily’s childhood best friend who lived across the street. We maintained pretty strong boundaries with some of them (the Talker) and some we didn’t have any boundaries at all. Emily traded clothes so frequently with the girl across the street that I often suggested that we should just pile their clothes in the middle of the street so they could just pull from the common pile in the morning when they dressed.

When you buy a house you know nothing about the people you will be sharing a latitude and longitude with. I’ve come to appreciate the give and take that comes from sharing geography. In spite of the Talker, we’ve really never had a bad neighbor. And we have grown to appreciate the intimacy of living next door to someone.

One neighbor called us when she found her husband dead on the floor. Another invited us to their 50th wedding anniversary and I realized we have known them for much of that time. One needed Beaven to break the window of the car when she accidentally locked her grandbaby and her keys inside. Believe it or not, I have been called to help find dentures for not one but two different neighbors in different towns. (nota bene: The trick is to look for something pink and you can spot them easily. There are a lot of white things on the ground but not that many pink.)

But last week was the first time I’ve helped my neighbor herd twenty goats back home when they escaped from their pen.

Oh, yeah, I’m gonna love these people.

They moved in a couple of months ago and I’m still trying to keep track of everybody. Listen to the list: two dogs, two cats, two good goats named Misty and Sally, a totally different herd of twenty very unruly goats, a flock of chickens and a rooster, two geese, one duck and one calf named Suzi. Oh, and a new donkey to guard the calf against the coyotes. Humans come with the package: a husband and wife, four kids (children, not goats) and a grandmother who is my age. There is someone for me to play with at any given moment however the mood might strike me.

When Alisa and David moved in they already had two very well-mannered goats who had been raised from babies.  They never gave anyone a minute's trouble.  But Alisa wants milk and to get milk you have to have a baby goat and Misty and Sally are both girls.  And no matter how socially liberal you are, everyone knows that won't work. So they have been on the look-out for a male.  Then someone offered to trade a whole herd:  males, females and babies.  Twenty goats in all exchanged for a measly chicken coop. Sounds like a bargain, doesn't it?  However, in retrospect, you might beware of goats on the discount rack.

I was coming home from Thursday morning prayer meeting with the rehab ladies to find Alisa’s blue SUV stopped in the road with the herd milling around in another neighbor’s pasture. Alisa was holding a wriggling and bleating goat. I pulled over just as she plopped the goat into the back of her car. One down, 19 to go. The only problem was that the pasture the goats were lolling around in was over a mile from our houses and their home pasture.

I called Beaven. She had already called David. Both husbands arrived about the same time.

We decided to just walk them home instead of trying to catch them one at a time. You never know when you might show up on America’s Funniest Home Videos doing something like that. It turns out that it’s not really too hard to herd goats if you have four people and a lot of patience. We soon figured out the right distance to walk behind them (too close and they would break into a run; too far and they might change directions). Each one of us took a corner and just walked them home.

However, it wasn’t exactly the stroll in the park it might seem. We had a pretty steep learning curve in the mile or so it took to get them home. Most of the land around here is owned by three or four main families but they have divided it into a lot of different pastures for their cattle and horses. All I know is those goats took us on a tour through about eleven barbed wire fences., sometimes wandering out on the road and crossing over to the other side then back.

We started out in one of the fields that belongs to one of the Cobbs. We went through Timmy Brown’s field then across the road to his brother Tommy Brown’s horse pasture then next door to the Asbill’s farm (not quite a far as their chicken houses but closer to the house where we met their favorite cow) then back across the road to Billy Cobb’s pasture then through the barbed wire to his homestead then through another fence to his other pasture where we met more horses. The goats threatened to cross the road again to the Pruitt’s place but we managed to herd them back to Billy’s and finally going diagonally to the back pasture of their new family and their pen.

It was our first cool morning after a blistering string of hundred degree days. It was just cool enough to believe that God has not forgotten us; that we might have an autumn and maybe even some rain. There was promise in the morning. None of us really minded being outdoors and having some good exercise. Certainly it was a great bonding experience for new neighbors to share. It beat looking for dentures, at any rate.

I learned a lot about barbed wire fences and how to get through them faster. I learned what a cruel trick of nature it is when wild blackberry vines grow up along barbed wire fences. That made them almost impassable and sure took the starch out of you, especially when you're wearing shorts. But now I will know where the blackberry vines are when springtime rolls around.

I tried to think poorly of these goats with their lack of cooperation, with the obvious answer to why their previous owners would give them up so easily. But, try as I might, words like “spawn of Satan” just didn’t seem to fit them. They are so small and cute with their bleats and baas. They looked so innocent and curious to see if I might be offering food when I held out my hand. They are simply adorable.

When we got them back into their pen the new donkey looked a little bemused at it all. Her job is to watch the calf. Goats were not in her contract. I think a goat herding dog is next on their list.

And now, after the whole adventure, of course, I want a goat. But I realized what a much better deal I have. I can visit them and pet them any time I want; even herd them once in a while but I don’t have to pay for them. It's win-win.  I live right next door to a veritable petting zoo. They let me feed the animals one day when they went out of town.

Thank you, God.
 The chickens don't have names except for Reggie the rooster. I don't know if this is him.  All chickens look alike to me.

Suzi will bond to her humans by being hand-fed.


This is one of the polite goats. 


The duck thinks he's a goose.
Even I can tell the difference.




The unruly, wayward goats finally back in their pen.

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