Thursday, January 21, 2016


I acquired goats, as you know, in hopes of someday using them as back-country pack animals so that I might actually get to at least hunt bighorn sheep for a year or two before any more of my body parts run out of warranty.
Why goats, aka Taliban War Brides? I’ve ridden and packed horses in the past and found them to be really expensive and about as smart as a fencepost. Plus I’m too busted up already to be able to afford a horse wreck. I looked into llamas and alpacas and was amazed at how much people want for them critters these days, too. I wanted cheap and low maintenance.
Someone suggested pack goats and I began to look into the subject. I was surprised to find out that when fully mature the bigger dairy breeds can comfortably carry fifty pounds. Removing my shoes and socks to do the math, I realized that came to 100 pounds for two of them, or 200 pounds for four. Not too shabby. Even when I was young and dumb and full of come I learned to limit my pack to no more than 50 pounds, so four times that much without me having to schlep any of it might translate into a pretty comfortable camp.
Plus goats are supposedly able to pack on game trails, scree slopes, cliff faces, and otherwise inaccessible rugged country where other stock dares not tread. Our nearby Crazy Mountains are a steep and rocky island range where some of the high country trails are signed with warnings of “Not Suitable for Stock Use.” Trails too rough for horses and mules remain just fine for smaller, more sure-footed goats and, from what I’ve read, they can even out-do a llama or alpaca. 

                                Goats as babies...Awwwwwww.

 Goats as teen-aged boys...just like real kids!

          Hence, back in May, we became the proud owners of four 5-week old goats. A nearby dairy has no need for the extra males born during lambing (calving? goating?) season, the male of the species being exceedingly difficult to get milk from, and was actually giving them away. So we wound up with four free whethers (castrated males).
Driving them home in the back of the pickup was the last inexpensive and low maintenance part of the whole deal. There are times when I wonder if it might be cheaper to just feed them greenbacks. They would eat dollar bills, no problem there.
          The first difficult goat-related task I had to face was one I hadn’t counted on. My wife insisted we had to name them all. I immediately thought of my friend Doug’s spastic Brittany bird dog. He claimed its name was “Bear.” After witnessing the two of them working a field in search of pheasants one morning, another friend and I immediately concluded that the dog’s full name was actually “Bear Goddamn It!” Although with hindsight I now know that “Goddamn It!” is actually a very appropriate goat name, that idea was vetoed by my wife when originally suggested. Later, she also turned down my idea of calling one of the goats, “Bleeping Little Bleep of a Bleep!”
The goat with LaMancha blood turned out to be easy enough to name. He’d recently been de-horned and sported the little tiny LaMancha “gopher ears”, so he looked kind of nubby, and I just started calling him that. Nubby. Later on, I began to notice his tiny ears make his eyes look really big compared to the other goats. Looking into those big yellow eyes with the tiny black slit pupils reminded me of Kermit the Frog, so we sometimes call him “Kermie” now as well.
          My wife got collars for the goats and called me “intellectually lazy” (not the first time I’ve heard that phrase…no, wait, the term Doug and I proudly earned in high school was “academically lazy”) when I christened the Saanen with the blue collar Blue and the Alpine mix with the red collar Red.
Simply not true. “Blue” and “Red” are great, traditional American critter names. For instance, there’s a Chris LeDoux song about a bucking horse called Old Red and Grandpa Jones of Hee-Haw fame had a song about his ‘possum hunting dog Blue. And in the Ringling Five classic Sheep Dog Rap, an under-appreciated musical masterpiece often mentioned in the same breath as Mozart’s final piano concerto or at least Weird Al Yankovic’s Angry White Boy Polka, the dog in the song is named Ol’ Blue.
          Which left me with one last goat to name. The collar theme had already played out and besides, his collar was brown. “Ol’ Brown” just doesn’t have any kind of ring to it.      
Contrary to what your spouse may have told you, there’s no such thing as watching a Clint Eastwood movie too many times. So I named the last goat Clyde, after Clint’s orangutan co-star in Every Which Way But Loose. Even now I am eagerly anticipating that glorious future day when the goats and I will find ourselves at a trail junction somewhere high in the Crazy Mountains and I can say, “Right turn, Clyde.”
          With the goats named, I went on to learn new information about the species. Yeah, sure, we got a couple of books on goats and there is some good information on-line if you’re willing to dig for it. The most valuable information garnered, however, was stuff I’d picked up years ago from old Warner Brothers cartoons and an episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Jimmy the Goat ate a case of dynamite.

 Old cartoons: a much more accurate source of information on goats...or any other subject, for that matter...than the MSM.

          Oh, sure, scoff if you will, but the info you can get from Bugs and Daffy and Andy and Barney is a great deal more factual and reality-based than anything we’ve gotten from all the MSM TV newscasters combined for the past eight years. Old cartoons, on the other hand, depict goats as creatures with cast iron stomachs who delight in eating the most inappropriate items, ranging from the odd tin can to entire Model T Fords, which turns out to be fairly accurate.
          Goats are browsers rather than grazers, and their tastes can be quite eclectic. I’ll never forget when, more years ago than I care to think about, my daughter got two Nubian goats. Turned out into a pasture of tall, lush creek bottom grasses, they immediately sought out and gobbled down every species of thistle they could find to the exclusion of all else. Mmmmm. Nummy. Herds of goats are in fact seeing considerable use in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as biological weapons in the battle against invasive noxious weeds like leady spurge and knapweed.
          Our goats lean more towards the eating of Model Ts, or at least petroleum-based automotive products. It was for this reason, even more so than the fact that I found myself tripping over one of them every three to five seconds, that the goats were confined to quarters while I was building fence around their pen.
          First I turned around and caught Ol’ Blue attempting to lick the yummy mixture of creosote-treated fencepost sawdust and bar oil off of the recently sharpened teeth of my chainsaw. Once the chainsaw was safely put out of reach in the back of the pickup, it only took him a few moments to find another automotive goat delicacy; he began sampling the grease on the tractor’s drawbar roller. Hey, if you can’t find a convenient tit, I guess a grease zerk is the next best thing.
As I attempted to herd the varmints back through the main area of our pole building “barn” and into their corner pen, Ol’ Blue sidestepped me in an attempt to suckle one of the terminal posts on of an old 6V tractor battery. I grabbed him and carried him to the pen and turned around only to find his brother Clyde wagging his tail vigorously while attempting to sample the sweet-smelling delicacy of fresh WD-40 on a bicycle chain. Nubby appeared to be licking his lips as he eye-balled and headed straight for a Dolamr full of two-cycle mix.
          Even though the price of gas isn’t that bad these days, it was time to lock the goats up in their indoor pen until I finished.
          Goats can certainly bring strong emotion into your life. Sometimes they can be cute and cuddly and amusing. Other times, you find yourself secretly wondering if you could actually beat one to death with a pair of fencing pliers. It usually depends on just how inappropriate the item is that they are trying to consume at the moment, especially if it’s physically attached to you or your clothing.
          However, goats cannot just randomly ingest any old thing they come across with complete safety. One common farm item in particular is apparently highly disagreeable, even toxic, and possibly even radioactive to goats. That item is store-bought $75-per-bag goat/sheep milk replacer.
          Feeding our bottle babies milk replacer mixed as per the directions (see why men don’t read them?) was not a winner. Over the first few feedings it caused three out of four to bloat up like ticks.
          So I spent a couple of long mornings and evenings trying to get a mixture of vegetable oil and baking soda down the gullets of various young goats who were quite expressive about how much they hated the procedure. OTOH, they did really seem to enjoy me massaging their tummies for fifteen or twenty minutes afterwards. Goats apparently express gratitude by unleashing a concert of burping and farting that puts the eating-beans-around-the-campfire scene in Blazing Saddles to shame.
Fortunately my wife found something called Probios at the local farm & ranch store, Hooter’s Hardware. Its addition to the morning feed finally cured what ailed ‘em.
We gradually weaned them on schedule and they took to hay and COB and mineral with gusto. As they grew they were given the run of our twenty acres and eventually put a big dent in the thistle crop, although a great deal of electric fencing was still required to keep them off and out from under the tractor and cars. When I take them for hikes up in the mountains, sub-alpine fir, commonly called “piss fir” or “pitch pine” for its copious amounts of sticky Krazy Glue sap, becomes the Holy Grail of goat culinary delight. Lately, we’ve been raiding the Christmas tree dump in Bozeman and “recycling” Douglas fir into goat poop.
I was going to point out here that goats think only of eating and pooping, but that’s not true. No thought whatsoever goes into pooping. They just go ahead and let fly no matter where they are or what they’re doing…at a dead run, halfway up a cliff face, when their butt is over the water bucket. The only time they can control pooping is if they suspect they might be able to get on the porch in the next few minutes, in which case they can save it for at least that long.
They love to climb on stuff, too, which is why I constructed “Baby Goat Mountain” out of some slabs of limestone we had laying around the property and later half-buried an old tractor tire standing up in the backyard. This playground equipment kept them entertained for a good five minutes before they decided it was more fun to climb on the Jeep, pickup truck and tractor.

Sure, you get 'em all kinds of nice toys, but they just want to play with Dad's shit.

Which is why getting goats reintroduced me to the joys of electric fencing. Having grown up on a hog farm, I didn’t think mere goats could show me anything new since hogs are pretty good at opening gates and making holes in fences themselves. Ha! Hogs are rank (pun intended) amateurs! Silly me! Goats are the Houdinis of domestic stock fencing and with electric fences you have to use considerably more juice than you’d expect just to get their attention. Here’s a quick and handy guide I made up which should be of use for prospective goat owners. Now I know when the goats are trying to get on the porch because three nearby communities suffer electrical brown-outs.

I also learned plenty more about regular fencing, which isn’t as big a pain as some people claim. I’ve found that any fence that is strong enough to stop a charging rhino and tight enough to keep out mosquitoes will also work…most of the time, anyway…for goats.

Is this fence goat-proof? Don't be silly! It can't even hold a lousy T. Rex. Goats would through it in five seconds flat.

I do have to admit the four boys have already put a serious crimp on our formerly abundant thistle crop. When I figure up the cost of feed, fencing and accessories for the past eight months, however, I reckon I could have sprayed them with something costing about five thousand dollars per gallon and still have come out ahead cost-wise.
Just think. In only three more years I can actually start to do some serious packing with them. That should get me back in shape and back up in the high country, if nothing else just so I can get some of my money’s worth out ‘em.  

No comments: