The Wandering Goat

Today I have a story that comes from long before most of the others.¬†Throughout my life, I spent many years living on the farm my grandfather bought and built. It was a special place, my true “home” for the longest time. It was there that we kept our exotic mammals, many of our reptiles, and our livestock. As a small child, we kept a few lambs and goats as well, and plenty of poultry.

When I lived there as a young teenager, many of the animals were gone, leaving empty pens and overgrown pastures.

As a young person still trying to find footing in the world, I often struggled with many of the same things others at that age do. I was living alone with my grandmother, which brought it’s own difficulties, but we slogged on and got along as well as a pair so different could.

It was during this otherwise dull time that the wandering goat joined my life.

I think we were on the way home from church when we found him. As we drove down the very long and lonely dirt roads, I was absorbed in watching the trees and underbrush pass by in an unending rhythm when my grandmother hit the brakes and exclaimed, “Look at this goat!”

I looked up and indeed there was a goat. A long legged white buck stood in the center of the dirt road, gazing nonplussed back at my grandmother’s old Buick. He was the epitome of the story-book billy goat: two light colored horns topped his head and a nice little beard graced his chin. We waited for him to run off, but he only stood and looked at us.

After a moment I got out of the car and approached the goat, who walked over and butted my leg gently as if to ask for patting, just as my goats today do. I looked around – not a house or car in sight. In these deep backwoods of Navasota, TX, it was miles between homesteads and you could drive your entire way home from the highway without seeing another car. We knew most of our neighbors too, and none of them kept goats. This goat’s appearance was a mystery – where had he come from?

Well, we certainly couldn’t leave such a cute goat all on his own! I seized him by one horn and drug him over to the car and opened the back door. I shoved him into the backseat, his oversized testicles that hung entirely too low swung comically as he scrambled onto the luxury suede seats. Jumping back into the front seat, we continued our journey home. When we arrived, I pulled my new pet over to the very pen that would house the first K-N-S Farm goat herd over eight years later, and gave him water. There was plenty of brush to eat already in there for him, and I happily christened him “Billy” to top off the stereotype fully.

Billy was uninterested in staying in that pen however, and the next morning he was waiting for me on the porch. After a couple of repeats, I just let him stay out and go where he pleased – which he did! He even followed me into the house once, causing my grandmother to screech at a decibel I hadn’t been aware she could achieve. I suppose her patience could only go so far.

When I’d come home from school, I would make my way down the half mile lane from the road to our farm, and Billy would frisk up to greet me, his testicles practically mowing the grass as they swung back and forth. We would play together and I would give him a piece of bread before we’d go off and explore the forest and creeks that ran deep within them. Afterward he would sit on the porch and chew his cud while I read a book or talked on the phone with a friend.

When I had goats and lambs as a younger child, they were just livestock – food for our family. Billy showed me that goats could also be your friends. To this day I wonder where he came from – who raised him?

Billy stayed on the farm for around a month. One day when I came home Billy was not there. I was upset, as you can imagine, and spent much time looking for him on the farm, to no avail. I accepted the reality that a predator must have gotten him, but a few days later, one of the neighbors called to ask if we knew anything about a white goat. Billy had reappeared in his horse pasture, but could not be caught. My grandmother told them to keep the goat (no doubt tired of the pellets on the porch) but Billy only stayed with their horses for a short time before he vanished from their pastures as well.

I later heard that Billy reappeared on several farms before going missing for good. Perhaps someone finally was able to put him into a pen he could not escape, and he enjoyed a long life as some other child’s pet. I hope so.

I forgot about Billy until years later, when we brought home Hope and Uno and put them in that same pen. I shared those good memories with my husband, and I was able to pull out a picture that showed me in my dorky glasses and messy hair standing next to a silly looking lanky young billy goat. Did Billy unknowingly create a spark that would someday bloom into a passion for goats? Is his friendly companionship why I have bonded so strongly with our current pets? Even if not, he gave me some very fun memories and a new appreciation for goats that no doubt played some part in my current life, and I am grateful.

How I wish that picture had not been lost in the fire so that I could share it with you today, but sadly it only lives in my memory now – just like Billy himself.

Visiting the Vet

As you can imagine, vet days are fun days around here.

Not only do all our goats need health testing which includes Brucellosis and Tuberculosis testing that can only be done via the vet, but all of our cats and dogs need their regular rabies vaccinations – both of those are important and can never be ignored, so we are pretty regular at the vet’s office.

The goats are generally the easier side of vet visits, believe it or not. We often stuff smaller goats straight into one of the cars and larger goats can now go in the back of the truck.

Usually when we arrive at the vet’s office with goats, we stay outside. I remember when my husband and I brought my new doe Rainbow in, however, they stuck me in a waiting room, goat and all. Sure, Rainbow as a Nigerian Dwarf isn’t much bigger than most dogs – but the bowel control doesn’t quite compare now does it? I spent the short wait for the doctor asking Rainbow politely to not poop all over the place. By some miracle, she complied, and though she screamed when her tail was pricked for the TB test (scaring the entire waiting room), she was otherwise well behaved. That was the last time Rainbow did as I asked however – she’s been a rather stubborn opinionated addition since!

On another visit with some Nigerian Dwarves, I had to turn away as the vet pricked one of my new (and expensive) does over and over, unable to find the vein to draw blood. It can sometimes be a challenge, and the vets don’t often see goats as small as mine, so hard to blame them, but it was giving me terrible anxiety! Lance noticed my pained expression and asked the reason. Francine quickly explained, and before we could stop him, he stopped the vet and told them I could do the blood draw instead!

Which I did – sorry vets, I’ve just had more practice, that’s all!

Another memorable time, we had quite a load in the back of the truck – seven La Manchas and two Nigerian Dwarves. We’d gotten a new ramp made for dogs, which we propped against the tailgate. I had the idea to loop a leash across the grill guard in front of the truck and make a tie-out so that we could unload most of the goats. They promptly turned themselves into a tangle, only made worse once the vets arrived and we started sorting through them one at a time. At one point one of the La Manchas got tangled with one of my Nigerian Dwarves, a particular favorite called Oddball. I intervened quickly, snapping at the offending goat, “Knock it off, Oddball cost a lot more than you did.”

The vets were amused.

Nothing can compare to Rabies Day however. On the farm there are four Border Collies, four Livestock Guardian Dogs, three of my small dogs, and multiple cats. Getting them all to the vet in one trip is an accomplishment, and not one we always succeed at! During one trip, we managed to get everyone loaded up only to have one of the cats cleverly escape at the last minute. She went to the vet another day.

The first time the Z-Team went to the vet as pups, they were so horrified that they just lay flat on the floor and refused to move. We had to slide them along the tile to the room, the vets laughing the entire time. During the ride home afterward, Zeni the Anatolian lay her head on my shoulder and drooled in a steady nervous stream.

On our most recent visit, the Z-Team were much more well behaved, especially once I put Ana the Chinese Crested among them. She’d helped me raise and train them from pups, so they were calmed by her presence. However, as we stood in the waiting room, no fewer than three people stopped to stare at the sight of the little hairless dog standing in the middle of four furry monsters. “One of these doesn’t belong here!”

Of course, that scenario only repeated itself in the same visit when the four Border Collies were unloaded and Ana wanted to stand next to her boyfriend, Kalev.

Undoubtedly, the most exciting visit was a Rabies Day. We had somehow managed to arrive with all of the animals in tow and safely contained. The Border Collies rode inside the truck with Lance, all sitting politely on the seats and looking out the window. As we worked through all the other dogs and the cats, they waited patiently in the truck, which was left running and the air conditioner on, of course. Reloading the other animals, we asked Lance to start bringing in the collies. He went outside, only to return quickly. The collies had moved to the front seats – and locked the truck.

Oh dear. We went outside and Kalev and Dov peered happily through the windows at us. Old Malka was sleeping on the backseat, completely uninterested, while the one-eyed rather anxious Ace barked at Lance questioningly. Pulling on the door handles did nothing – we were locked out!

I wish I could say that one of us cleverly jimmied the lock, saving the collies from their unintended imprisonment, but that would by lying. No, Francine called Triple A, and she and I then left poor Lance at the vet’s office to wait for them.

Probably not the nicest thing we’ve done!

However, the Z-Team needed to be home with the goats, the cats were crying in horrible soul tearing rythem, Ana was irritated and snapping at the guardians, and my small dogs were disgusted by being outside this long. Plus Francine and I have work to do! So we abandoned Lance and the collies, wishing them well.

Triple A saved the day instead, and once the collies had their vaccinations, they joined us at home, no worse for wear.

Goats as Artwork

Ever since I was young, like many people, I have had a great affinity for artwork. As a child, I drew everything I could think of – from scenery (I really liked mountainscapes) to animals like horses and dragons. Fantasy drawings mixed freely with reality.

As I grew older, my eyesight unfortunately started to slowly fail, and I drew by hand less and less. Eventually, I discovered painting models, and with a lamp fixed with a magnifying glass, I jumped into 3-D artwork, and loved it.

I continued to paint models for years, up until my home burned down in 2012, along with everything within it. With that, my painting days pretty much ended.

However, my love for artwork didn’t go anywhere. Though I mourned my own, now lost, I turned to other artists and began to collect pieces I really liked. From paintings to figurines, I covered my walls and desktop with new art, and felt better. I have always greatly appreciated having nice things to look at – perhaps because I know at some point I may not be able to look at beautiful things at all. Perhaps too, that is why I can find beauty in almost everything, even if it is something that may not be to my taste, or fully understood.

I still desired to create my own work, but as my workload continued to increase and my eyesight decreased, the opportunities to create came fewer and fewer. Even my writing began to suffer, as novels and ideas sat for long months untouched. I felt a great deal of sadness over what I perceived was a loss of my creativity, my motivation.

It took me entirely too long to realize I was still creating art. It just wasn’t hanging on my wall or collecting dust on my shelf – it was running around in the fields.

From the very beginning, I have aimed to produce beautiful goats. I want bright colors and gleaming eyes, with spotted coats and trim little ears. I want sleek long bodies, graceful legs, delicate faces. I want round soft udders tightly attached high between the back legs, and sharp little hooves to carry them. I want living artwork.

Any breeder with an end goal in mind is creating their own artwork. When the show goat breeder poses her new champion doe, that is the result of years of planning and work, come to literal life. When the hunting horse stretches over the jump with his rider clinging to him, the breeder can see her own results flying without wings. When the labrador swims back to his owner, the limp duck in his jaws handed over without a feather ruffled, he is doing justice to every moment spent in his creation. And yes – even when the farmer carefully wraps the perfect cuts from what was once a little piglet pulled wriggling from his mother, he has created and brought to (near) completion his own form of art.

We are artists together. A living being is our canvas, the genetics our paints and oils. The care we give them are the strokes made upon the backing, and the result reflects every morning and evening spent with our stock.

Branching into (very amateur) personal photography only broadened my appreciation for my little goats. Though little can compare to watching the actual animal in the flesh, often their lives come and go so quickly compared to ours. When their spirit is captured in a photograph, it lives forever. It can be shared across the world, as artwork is meant to be.

So though I may no longer have the eyesight to draw, or the patience to paint, nor the time to write, I continue to create. I can run my fingers through the soft damp fur of a brand new creation many times a year. I can watch them grow, and in turn, become what’s needed to create the next year’s success. I can send them to new homes and see them upon a new backdrop, bringing brightness to a friend’s life.

I am an artist.