From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 7 - 10/14/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Goats: A Love-Hate Relationship

by DeeAnn Price

Goats just naturally produce conflicting emotions in people and my husband and I are no exception. Charles rails against our two goats constantly, while I jump to their defense. He calls them the Filthy Goats and I worry when they get locked up too long for misbehavior. In calmer moments Charles will concede that Brownie and Orphan keep obtrusive brush back where ticks and mosquitoes lurk. I get so cranky at them sometimes that I grab for the whip.

In many ways our goats are a valuable addition to our ranch. We acquired our first one from Ethyl David because Kent, our baby then, was allergic to cow's milk. Goats produce more milk per pound of body weight than a cow can. We also discovered that the milk was great for supplementing baby calves and lambs. I make butter and cottage cheese and cook with and drink the milk when there is any left over.

Baby goats are the cutest youngsters on the ranch and our females usually have three or four kids. More than once we have wished our cows were as prolific. They are tough little things too. If I can find even a spark of life in a newborn you can bet I'll be able to revive it with a hot water bath and some colostrum. Remembering its other three brothers and sisters in the barn I've been known to mumble sarcastically, "It figures you're going to make it!"

The market value for goats is low in this area so I usually give extra babies away right after they are born. Six or seven month wethers (neutered males), are butchered. We like the meat better than lamb.

Goats are intelligent animals but much like a two-year-old child, capable of getting over, under, or into most anything. Their feet have soft pads on the bottom, the better for climbing, and the kids will nibble on everything from saddle strings to exposed wires on horse trailers. Our little herd makes the same rounds every day, checking out each forbidden door or gate along the way. An errant goat (no longer with us) kept getting out of the pen, so Charles rigged up an electric wire around the outside. She escaped again and we found the plastic wire connected to the electric controller chewed to pieces.

Our goats always take care of themselves first and shelter up with the first snowflake or drop of rain. They are quick to complain when they need doctoring, and usually anticipate the pain before they actually feel anything. The shrieking screams of a young kid at dehorning time can unnerve the coldest heart. I can hear them outside now, crying against the mosquitoes that pester us all continually. Our bum calf, in contrast, tolerates the stinging bites with stoic acceptance.

Goats are known for their interesting eating habits. We borrowed a billy goat with a nasty temper from Wilcox's once. After a month at our place we took him home and watched the hired man offer him a cigarette. No wonder he was cranky; he needed his tobacco!

While on their rounds our goats always stop to eat at our wet garbage pile, yet they turn up their noses if I offer the same things to them directly. Anything on the other side of the fence is especially attractive. One year I planted my onions too close to the edge of the garden fence.

Mainly browsers, goats like a large variety of plants and seem to prefer brush and forbs. They are picky as well. They waste a lot of hay because they don't want to eat anything they've stepped or lain on.

Sneaking into the grain bin can be fatal for many farm animals but goats seem to have "iron" stomachs. Our goats got terrible bellyaches but recovered in a day or two with a renewed hankering for grain. According to Goats and Goat Keeping, there has been insufficient research on what goats can or cannot eat. The most poisonous plants likely to affect them were noted. Rhubarb leaves were on the list and we laughed about the time one of our goats got into the garden and ate a number of them. It didn't slow her down any but she sure got a bad case of diarrhea. Evergreens were listed too. We've learned from experience to put our Christmas trees in a safe place.

Perhaps goats don't succumb as easily as some animals to poisonous plants because they nibble here and there, tasting this and that instead of eating the whole plant. The few willow trees we have on our place need to be fenced off as the goats nibble on the new shoots. They ate the seed heads from our oats, the newly formed buds off of our Russian Olive trees (supposedly goat proof), and once when they got in the garage, took a bite out of every apple in a bushel basket.

Kent was around five years old and was outside eating a peanut butter sandwich when Piggy goat grabbed it right out of his hand and ate it herself. He came crying to us and Charles shared with him his image of a goat eating hot sauce. Never one to let an opportunity pass, Kent's next sandwich included a whole bottle of Tabasco. Piggy's reaction was all they'd hoped for.

We run our ranch in a way that works for us with our own time-proven methods. Our cows and horses and even our cats usually know who's in charge. With goats though, and we hate to admit it, there's always a question of who is controlling whom. We've put up with them for 20 years now.

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