Getting My Goat(s)

When a former New Yorker finds herself with a couple of goats, she discovers there’s more to know about poison ivy, Pepto-Bismol, and the critters’ strong personalities.

When my husband and daughter first started talking about getting a goat, I smiled indulgently. No doubt, this would be one of those far-fetched fantasies they enjoyed dreaming about, but which almost never come to fruition.

“Imagine, a goat!”  I thought to myself. We are, after all, transplanted New Yorkers; we don’t do goats.

Then one day, Ralph Packer showed up. Ralph keeps cows in the field adjacent to us. Every now and then, they break through their fencing and make a beeline for the greener pastures of our front lawn, and we call Ralph to come retrieve them. This was one of those times.

My husband and Ralph had a longer-than-usual driveway discussion after putting the cows back. Then Ralph drove off, waving amicably, and my husband returned to the house beaming.

“Guess what, sweetie?” he trilled to our daughter. “Ralph says he can get us some goats!”

I dropped the frying pan I was washing into the sink with a loud clunk. Not only was fantasy becoming reality, but also the goat seemed to have multiplied into a plural.

The next week, Ralph drove up in a pickup truck hauling a doghouse on wheels and some movable wire fencing. In the back of the truck were two three-month-old Angora goats. They were a gift, he said, from him and his daughter, Liz Thompson – a farmer and the owner of SBS.

Their pen was set up among some trees and scrub next to our driveway. The goats, my husband assured me gleefully, would eat the underbrush, poison ivy and all. Plus, when we let them out to play, they’d keep the lawn trimmed.

“Let me make two things perfectly clear,” I asserted. “First, if those goats take one bite of anything I’ve planted, they’re history. And second, I will have nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with their maintenance.”

We’ve had many family pets – two cats, a dog, two gerbils, and three hermit crabs, to be precise – and although most of them have technically “belonged” to some member of the family other than me, I always seem to end up taking care of them. I am the one administering Frontline, scooping poop, and making emergency runs to the vet. I had nothing against goats per se, but I didn’t need two more creatures to care for, especially not farm animals. What do I know about hoof-clipping and species-specific lice?

“No problem,” chirped my husband and daughter in unison.

Despite my reservations, as summer progressed the goats began to grow on me. Named Ivy and Nugget by my children, they were unexpectedly adorable. They love people and bleat demandingly for attention whenever a human is nearby. They enjoy having their heads scratched and their necks massaged. When we take them out of their pen, they follow us everywhere, and we quickly trained them to accompany us on our walks. Sometimes, they lag behind to nibble on something enticing by the side of the path, but once they realize we’re disappearing from view, they break into a run and tear after us, long ears flapping, round bellies bouncing up and down, bleating insistently. “HE-E-E-E-E-Y!” they seem to be shouting, “WAI-AI-AI-AI-T UP!”

With their curly Angora fur, Ivy and Nugget look more like sheep than goats. Once, when my husband was walking with them on a dirt road near our house, a neighbor leaned out his car window and called, “Hi there, Little Bo Peep!”

Last August, the goats had their fifteen minutes of fame. Not only did they win blue ribbons at the Ag Fair, but also, when the Vineyard Playhouse did a reading of Art Buchwald’s play “Sheep on the Runway,” the goats (pretending to be sheep) made a star-quality appearance on the Playhouse’s front yard as theatergoers strolled in.

But celebrity didn’t go to their heads. They remain steadfastly drawn to any and every human who comes to our house. They traipse after the pest-control guy as he sprays against bugs and refills rat traps. They nibble the laces on the UPS man’s shoes. Everyone is fascinated by them, and I have had many long conversations with people I know only vaguely about the merits and drawbacks of goat ownership.

Mostly, there are merits, but there are a few drawbacks. I have long since rescinded, for example, my condition regarding consumption of things I’ve planted. Both Ivy and Nugget enjoy sampling my herb garden, not to mention my roses and raspberries. And once, Nugget ate something toxic – probably my mountain laurels. At 11:30 p.m., I heard frantic bleating outside. I took a flashlight and found Ivy (the more vocal of the two) sounding the alarm, while Nugget swayed on her feet and looked not at all well. I spoke to her gently, and just as I reached out to touch her head, she opened her mouth and, like the possessed child in The Exorcist, regurgitated quantities of thick green vomit.

The next day, Liz Thompson came by and, after checking Nugget for bloat, assured us that she would be okay. Thanks to her Exorcist act, Nugget had rid herself of most of the poison. With Liz’s help, we administered Pepto-Bismol via a turkey baster, adding pink goo to the green vomit already lodged in Nugget’s fur. It was fortunate, Liz said, that Nugget didn’t have diarrhea as well; were that the case, we would have had to treat her “from both ends.” I didn’t want to know what that would have entailed.

The Pepto-Bismol worked wonders, and the following morning, Nugget was perky enough to join us on a walk up to the top of the Ram’s Hill – a fitting enough destination for a goat.

As winter began to set in, we realized that the little doghouse would not be enough protection for the goats in rough weather. In a bad snow, we (or should I say “I” – my resolution about not being the goats’ caretaker having flown out the window as soon as school started) would have trouble making it out to their pen to give them their morning grain. Their bucket of water would freeze in cold weather. We spoke to Liz, and she arranged for the goats to spend the winter in a barn on her father’s property.

By this point, Ivy and Nugget had violated every rule I’d made, plus a few others. They’d dined on my tarragon and tulips, leapt into my car as I was unloading groceries, left droppings in the garage, and tried to eat my favorite scarf. I had become their feeder, waterer, and hay-changer. I should have been relieved to see them go. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself saying to Liz: “Mind you, it’s just for the winter. . . . When spring comes, we’ll want them back home.”

And indeed, Ivy and Nugget came back in April. Now my husband is arranging to have a little shed built on our property, so they won’t have to move again next winter. February morning feedings may not be fun, but we’ll manage. The goats may get into my garden, but they’ve also found
their way into my heart.