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Saturday, May 25, 2013
My Short Career as a Goat HerderPosted Monday, December 10, 2012, at 4:15 PM
Two of the goats from my last herd stand on top of the dog houses that I moved in as supplemental summer houses. The red and white one in the back was called "Mom's Foolish Purchase" by my children. If you knew my farm now, you would see how well the goats kept everything trimmed down.
At three points in my life, I have been lured into buying goats. Each time I make this foolish decision, certain factors override my common sense.
The first time, I reasoned that a goat would be a good pet for my first-born child. This ill-considered decision proved wrong, when the little black-legged creature insisted on butting my son into the gravel on what was supposed to be pleasant walks on the lane. Old experienced goat herders will laugh when I reveal my early stupidity: You do not choose a little billy goat as a pet--especially, if you purchase him at the Poplar Bluff livestock auction.
I shake my head, when I remember that fiasco. The situation does not improve if you turn the evil critter loose in your pastures, as a billy goat does not co-exist peacefully with cattle. That experiment ended with a shotgun blast, the only reasonable solution to a totally unreasonable situation.
The second time, my children begged me to purchase two sweet little baby nanny goats to put in the old chicken yard behind the house, where they could play with them. These sweet babies were the right sex, since the female of the species is much more pleasant-tempered than the male. They were also bottle-fed, so they were as tame as tame could be.
However, as they grew older, it became evident that a fence which will hold chickens will not hold goats. We soon learned the truth behind the old folk saying, "If smoke can go through your fence, so can a goat."
The goats insisted on jumping the fence and coming up on the back porch, where we had our final litter of border collie puppies. What ensued was a carnival of wild activity, whereby the adult dogs chased the intruders back to the pen, with black and white puppies hanging from the goats' ears. So, when Carl Cockrell came to get a pup, I sold him two goats, cheap.
The third time I talked myself into the goat business, there was a much better rationale behind the decision. My son Matthew wanted to get rid of the riot of brush which covered the east side of our pond levee. The steep grade prohibited the use of a mower. Goats seemed a good solution.
This third goat enterprise actually lasted several years, during which I learned that this project was far more work-intensive than I had previously been led to believe. We began the DeJournett Brush Goat Project with good, strong fences and three goats--two pregnant nannies and one home-sick male, who cried for his mother each day. Through the natural process of nature, we increased our herd size to twelve. I loved watching the babies as they bounced around the pen, but I soon learned that goats can die real quick, if they aren't wormed often enough, and they have to be caught up in order to do that.
The little homesick billy soon grew into an enormous, stubborn male, with a total disregard for control. After considerable battering, my fences soon became worthless, and I had a yard full of goats, going where they pleased. They were up on my porch, in my flower beds, trying to climb my young buckeye trees, stripping the bark off my schefflera plant, taking bites out of the cactus plants. I never knew what I would find, when I came home from work.
This time, my goat herding experience lasted about four or five years. The experience gave me a wealth of writing material and many wonderful and sometimes traumatic episodes designed to keep me young. Needless to say, the best part was collaborating with my son, who spent many hours at the farm, building goat houses and helping manage the herd.
The worst part was burying the casualties and being chased all over the farm by "William F. Bonnie," more commonly known as "Billy the Kid." My dogs loved getting permission to chase the wayward goat. The carnival atmosphere of my farm was often at a maniacal pitch. My son finally bought me a cattle prod, which was the only thing Billy respected.
Those days are gone, and my buckeye trees survived, only to be decimated by this year's drought.
When I see the goats in the petting zoos or the live nativity scenes, I curb my enthusiasm. They may be cute, but they represent a world of trouble!
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Madeline DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-722-5322.