“We’re losing ground,” the Bearded One says when he comes in for supper. “Can you google ‘Goat Barbeque’?”
He is still limping from his ladder work in the meat bird pen, and has been putting in long hours in the dusty barn making the meat bird coops. Thirty Cornish broiler chicks will be here in less than 3 weeks. But this is not what’s bugging him.
The goats have stripped off large patches of bark on three beloved, towering, hundred-year-old cedar trees in the pasture.
We’d been warned, but for the 4 and half months we’ve had them, our goats have seemed content browsing on a pile of small cut trees. Big trees seemed safe. For decades we’ve seen big oaks in Texas goat pastures stay unscathed. But these aren’t hardwoods.
“It’s not their fault,” I say. I’m as heart-broken as he is about the problem, but not as bothered by the solution.
“Yes, it is,” says the Bearded One. “They must take goat responsibility.” He smiles, but I can see that he is conflicted.
Goat experts say there is really no solution but to fence each vulnerable tree — which for us includes at least a dozen big cedars and Douglas firs. The Bearded One doesn’t like that idea. Fencing and/or hardware cloth or plastic screening is ugly, unnatural, expensive and a lot of work. It’s no wonder he’s balking. The Bearded One sees the givens, is irritated, and like any good goat, is exploring all the options in his arsenal.
He tried thinking like an animal and peed on the trees that were already being devoured. I was there when he faced off to a cedar. Leah the Rhode Island Red hen, who always wishes to be involved in any human activity, strutted between his legs. The pee didn’t work, and neither did diluted bleach. He’s still curious about vinegar and maybe dog poop. Goats are surprisingly finicky eaters.
“No matter how much I pee,” he says when we go to bed, “there’s no way I can put out enough to do this job.”
I say that we can surely give the goats away if this is just too much.
The next morning at 9am, our twenty-something nurse daughter arrives after her night shift. She’s here for 24 hours, to recover and sleep so she can stay awake and have a normal day with her sweetie pie tomorrow, before she has to work the night shift tomorrow night. Sort of an impossible task. “I should stay nocturnal,” she says. She sheds her blue nurse uniform and we do things that help her stay awake. We walk the road. We check on the unfinished coops in the meat bird pen.
The Bearded One says hi and limps around the coop showing us the ventilation windows. He is feeling a bit better, I can tell, when he suddenly becomes Barry Gibb and sings out, “Oh, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a chicken man, no time to squawk.”
It’s 10 o’clock now, and the nurse is still awake. She laughs, but then she sees Sage and gasps. She is appalled. Disgraceful matted clops of fleece hang from his neck and haunches and tush. Entire sections of his body are fleece-free, but they are coarse and dark, unlike LaLa’s wavy, shiny black underhair. In some ways, the condition of the fleece left on LaLa’s rear-end is even more pathetic.
“You could be reported for animal neglect,” she observes and we laugh. HaHa. “That’s REALLY hard to see and not do something.”
We both want desperately to brush them, to pluck off all the unsightly wads, but, alas, it is not possible. One of the 3 goats will let us scratch his head and neck. Gently. No sudden moves or he’ll bolt like lightning. The other 2 will barely let us scratch their noses while being fed treats.
Like the tree bark, it’s a goat thing. Sometimes I think it’s the goats’ job in life to push us into new discomfort zones.
“A lesson in self-restraint,” our nurse says, her eyelids growing heavier.
“Let it be,” I say.
“Acceptance,” she says. “As in, I can’t possibly stay awake ’til 5.”
We head back to the house — me to the kitchen, her to her bed. Maybe not losing ground after all.