Knock knock. Who’s there? Stan-and-Lily.
I got the voicemail message amidst a rush of chaos. It was my friend Lee, wondering if we might be interested in a pet goat and…. “Hell no!” I’m sure I shouted, not even listening to the entirety of the message. I did NOT want to get a reputation as ‘the people who will take any old unwanted animals’, and a goat? I knew all I needed to about goats – they like to jump fences and climb on top of cars are therefore out of our league. I didn’t get a chance to return the phone call before an email message from Lee went out to a handful of local folks, describing the situation. Stan, a sweet goat, and Lily, a beautiful silvery grey sheep, it said, needed a new home. Their owner was moving and was hoping to find a home for both of them together – they are quite attached to one another. They really are the sweetest animals, the note went on, having both been bottle raised from the start. They are accustomed to having lots of human contact–they thrive on it, in fact–so a family with children would be ideal. (imagine all the invisible fingers pointing at my family)
No way, I thought. I do not want a goat. But my interest was piqued with the mention of a sheep. Silvery grey? Sounds lovely. All of my sheep are white. No way. Not interested in a goat. These thoughts swam through my head over the next few days, as I moved the sheep to a new pasture, noting all the stems they left behind. As I cursed the thistle that was sprouting up with a vengeance. I wish those sheep would eat that thistle, I thought. Wait a minute. Would a…..goat… eat that? I nearly stopped in my tracks while my mind raced forward a million miles an hour. Could a goat fill in the missing notes of my near-perfect pasture harmony? Would it eat the tougher plant parts the sheep disdained? Clean up the woody branches of small bushes in the way of my poultry pen?????! Hot damn!
Well. Now I was more than interested. I put a call in to Lee, left her a message apologizing for not returning her call earlier. When she called me back, I bombarded her with a slew of questions. How old was the sheep? A little over a year?!? (I had pictured her as ragged and ancient) How was the goat with fences? He’s trained to an electric fence? His current owner takes the two for walks down the road without a leash? Really? So you’re sure he wouldn’t try to get out of his fence and run away? Okay – here’s the clincher: does he eat thistle? Most of the probing specific questions were answered by the pair’s owner herself. “Yep – he should eat thistle. I don’t see why not,” she assured me. Well then. I made the phone call to Andrew, whom I had not mentioned any of this to yet. I started by recounting my “Hell no!” stance and then brought him through the meandering route of reasoning I experienced. “Yes, they’re free,” I told him. “And she’ll deliver.”
This was at the end of June. (Can you believe I had been holding out on this good news for so long?) Stan and Lily arrived on a Thursday night and walked into our lives like they were long-lost friends. They really are the sweetest ungulates we’ve ever met, greeting us with calls of “Hello, Gorgeous!” and nuzzles any time we’re near. That they were ungulates, though, and not people, was a bit of a surprise to them. That first 24 hours was a nail-biter. Stan’s first move, upon being corralled in the portable electric net fence, was to chomp down on the top strand. “NO!” I shrieked. He was so startled by the shock that he scaled the whole thing without a moment’s hesitation. Shit. What did we get ourselves into? we asked each other. The two were quickly moved into the orchard, conveniently enclosed within an eight-foot woven wire fence. Lily baa-ed constantly for the next few hours, longing for her familiar spaces; it was fitful sleeping all around that night. The next day I declared “quarantine-schmarantine” and decided to forgo the recommended separation from the rest of the flock. The orchard was out of grass for them to eat, having been mowed down by the other ewes days earlier. I thought that putting them into a bigger enclosure (of two portable fences) with the others would make them feel more secure. But trying to get them down there, from their space in the orchard to less than 100 yards away? That was the trial that turned all the confidence I had amassed as New Farmer on its ass. Stan (the GOAT!) walked right down there, without a care in the world. He followed me into the enclosure, where the other sheep swarmed us, hoping for grain, and stayed there as I let myself out. “Please don’t jump out,” I chanted. “Please don’t jump out.” Miraculously, he didn’t. Lily had taken off to the front porch, where she was insistent upon coming into the house. “I’ll just sleep at the foot of your bed – it will be fine,” she seemed to say. “You don’t understand – I don’t belong out there.” I went to get my secret weapon: dried corn. My sheep would climb to the top of our two story roof if I led them up there with corn. Anyone with a bucket of corn need only to rattle it to transform themselves into the Pied Piper of sheep. “CORN?” Lily said with disbelief. “I’m to follow you because you have CORN? Don’t you know that my last owner grew cherry tomatoes for me? (Where is she, by the way? And who the hell are you?) Stop this nonsense and let me inside.” I let only myself inside, ready to weep. Oh, I had had it so good before! I knew how to work my sheep, had them figured out! And now? I had a wild card, this girl who didn’t know how to play by sheep rules. My last ditch effort, before throwing myself off a cliff, was to get the harness that came with their gear. I put it on her and started to gently lead her out to pasture. She dug in her heels, literally, and thrashed about. The entire painstaking journey to the pasture took at least 10 minutes. “Oh,” I cried,” I’m so, so sorry. But you have to learn how to be a sheep.”
And she did. Or a sheep crossed with a big, wooly teddy bear. And Stan? I’m not so sure he knows that he’s a goat. He has not scaled any more fences, climbed on top of any of our vehicles, or sadly, eaten a lick of thistle. I curl my lip and growl at the prickly leaves as I walk past, on my way to the pasture, but all that melts away when I’m greeted by my friends. Stan may not get that he’s a goat but he knows what he really is – our BFF. (Best Friend Forever, of course) Let’s just keep the “goat” part to ourselves, okay?
P.S. Kindly refrain from offering us your homeless or unwanted animals. Our resolve to say no has worn down completely.