Saturday, May 17, 2014
The goat whisperer
Way back in the mid 70s we lived on a small holding in the interior of British Columbia. Our little farm sat at a 30 degree angle facing west with a magnificent view of the Purcell mountains, and the Columbia River ran at the foot of our property. We had a cleared pasture and a garden spot and since the newly-weaned baby was allergic to cow's milk we decided we should buy a milk goat.
But came the day when the milk began to diminish and it was apparent that Villanelle needed the "attentions" of a gentleman goat, and the ensuing arrival of a new kid to renew the flow. So we began to search for a billy to hire. We began shamelessly soliciting for billy goat sex up and down the valley. Trouble was, the valley was thinly populated, and few people had goats. Our newspaper ads and posters around town brought no responses. Finally one day an acquaintance named Carol stopped me in the grocers and asked if we still needed a billy. I said we did, and she said her aunt had one for sale.
Anyone who knows goats knows you can't keep a billy anywhere near a milking doe, because the milk absorbs the rank billy goat odor and is undrinkable. So we didn't want to buy a billy, we just wanted to load our pony-sized girl goat into our van (she liked a ride now and again), ferry her to a romantically-inclined billy, wait while they consummated their brief affair, pay $5.00 and take her home again. I asked if we could just bring our doe and pay for stud service.
Carol's lips went rather then at my suggestion. "The billy's for sale," she said flatly, handing me a piece of paper with instructions written on it. "Sunday at 3:00. Bring a stout rope and a trailer."
It was late October and cold, with a razor-edged North wind, when we set out. We didn't need a trailer, not for a goat. Our old Dodge van had a double row of seats and a cargo area big enough to hold a queen-sized mattress. What it didn't have was much of a heater, so we were all heavily bundled as we drove up the winding bench road. We eventually came to a hulking wreck of a house wrapped in a wide porch which had fallen completely away from the walls.
We were met at the back door by a dour old woman. We had to climb a ladder to reach the door. She waved us through the large kitchen into an enormous empty room with a 10 foot ceiling. A crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the room was festooned by years of spiders webs. The wood floors sagged alarmingly and looked as though someone had scraped them with a coal shovel. The staircase had collapsed. Flowered wallpaper was visible in places, but all the way around the room it looked as though someone had stained the wallpaper dark brown with a wavering brush at the four foot mark.
"I was born in this house," she said, "I've never lived anywhere else, and now my niece is taking away my children and making me leave." She pointed to a 12 foot wide stone fireplace on the far wall. "My Daddy used to burn 10 foot-long-logs in that fireplace. This house was built as a stage coach stop, a lodge. People stayed overnight on the way to Vancouver - before they built the railway."
You could hear a car approaching. "That'll be her now," she said sourly. "She made me put my babies in the barn. They're gonna die out there!"
Carol climbed the ladder and poked her head and shoulders into the room. "I see you found it. Good. Have you seen the goat?"
"I ain't selling him!" The old woman shouted at her, "He's been mine all his life and I ain't selling my own child."
"Go back in the kitchen, Auntie," Carol said. "You know it has to be done." She turned to us, "Come."
The barn was in as bad a shape as the house. In it were about 50 sheep, five or six doe goats. But these were not the ordinary sheep and goats one saw grazing the lots and pastures of our neighbours. They were a quarter of the size of normal sheep and goats.
"Why are they so small?" our older boy asked, accustomed as he was to our goats. They look like babies!"
"They've had the same stock for 50 years," Carol said, "and they just let them breed indiscriminately. Every generation they got a little smaller, until they are about a quarter the size they should be. Some of them are a bit weird." She pointed at one of the ewes. "She gave birth to a two-headed lamb last spring. That one," she pointed at another ewe, "has an extra foot on her back leg. But here's the fellow you came for."
He was confined in a stall, and he looked back at us with a gleam of undiluted hatred in his yellow eyes. He was no bigger than a German Shepard, but he had the most enormous sweep of horns I'd ever seen on a goat of any size. It was hard to imagine how that three foot rack of scimitars didn't make him topple over on his face.
"Did you see the brown line in the parlour?" Carol asked, as we stood looking at this marvel of horns and malevolence. "The sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and geese lived in the house with them for 20 years. My husband and I shovelled four feet of compacted manure out of there over the summer. We scraped the floor with snow shovels," she shook her head. "We should have just set a match to it.
She's my grandmother's sister and we're the only family she has left. We lived in Toronto for years and only moved back this Spring. When we got up here to see her we were horrified. The road closes in November and you can't get in or out until May. No heat, no power, no phone, no running water, the house full of livestock, and she was starving. Her husband died two winters ago, and it was June before someone came to check on them. She didn't realize he was dead, she just thought he was having a good sleep. The porch fell off this winter and the building inspector says the roof will collapse next time we get a heavy snowfall. She'll die if we leave her here this winter. So we're taking her to town to live with us, and she hates us for it."
She sighed and waved at the billy. "Just take him, and get it over with. But he is a mean little bastard, so be careful."
We paid her the $10.00 she was asking and between the three of us we managed to get him into the back of the van and tie him securely. He would lower his head and sweep across with his horns, trying to catch the boys, but we'd tied him too far back.
The goat struggled and reared and bleated and swept across the back of the seat with his horns constantly, as if his smell alone was not enough to insure our sufferings. As we rolled along we all got progressively colder, and progressively more nauseated. Seldom have I ever had such a miserable ride.
And the billy? He was Satan incarnate, with murder in his heart and a vendetta the Mafia might envy. And he was so stupid Villanelle had to teach him about the birds and the bees goat-style. Once she'd finally managed to get him to do the billy goat deed one time she wouldn't let him anywhere near her. We decided we were either going to find a new home for him or kill the murderous little sod.
I had to be rescued when he climbed over the wall of his stall and came after me. My screams brought Tony, who picked up a 2 x 4 and smacked the goat between the horns as it reeled around to face him. Goat decided he'd best go graze and mind his manners.
A neighbour borrowed him to service his does, but the billy trapped his wife in a stall and broke her hand and all her fingers. The neighbour admitted that if the billy was his he'd have shot him. We wished he would have, because now we had to deal with him again.
We were desperate. We didn't really want to kill him but no one was safe with him on the farm. So we placed an ad in the little ad and classified paper that went up and down the length of the valley. "Billy goat - FREE - come and get him!"
That night the phone rang and a bass voice asked if we still had our billy goat and I said we did. The voice said, "I'll pick him up in the morning. I got a dairy herd and my old billy died on me." I told him to bring a trailer and a stout rope, that this was the meanest damn billy that ever grew horns. He chuckled a bit.
The next morning an enormous long-haired, red-bearded fellow in bib overalls sauntered down our drive and into the yard. "I'm here for thu billy," he said.
We had put the billy in a big leather collar and tied him in his stall with a rope on each side, so we could maintain control over him. Tony and I wrestled him out of the barn into the sunlight where the hippy stood.
"You bring a rope?" I asked.
"Naw, I don't need nothing like no rope," he said. "Me and goats, we git along. Take thu collar off 'm," he said. He must have seen the terror on our faces. "Jest do it."
Tony held the goat's slashing horns while I dodged around trying to undo the buckle.
As soon as the collar was slipped the goat ran at the hippy, jumped his leg and started humping him. The hippy threw his head back and laughed. "I told you I's good with goats!" he said. He slapped the goat on the shoulder, and said, "C'mon goat," and that damned goat followed him up the driveway, no collar, no rope, like a labrador pup.
Who knew the world has a goat whisperer?