Goat on a rope

| 21 Jun 2016 | 02:56

“So why do you have goats?”

When people inevitably ask that question, I don’t have a solid answer. Milk? Not so much. This year, with two human kids to tend to, we’re probably not going to get around to milking our two does at all. We’ll just let the babies get their fill until their moms step on their heads to say, “That’s it, you’re weaned.”

Meat? Not so much. Over the past four years we’ve sold a few goats, mostly to Spanish speakers who lean on the fence and appraise the “chivos” with a knowing eye. But we’ve spent more in hay and vet bills than we’ve brought in.

Security, partly. We have a hunch that the goats’ presence makes raccoons and foxes think twice about nighttime raids. Not to jinx it, but ever since the goats and hens have started cohabitating we’ve been lucky. Knock knock.

Entertainment, partly. To watch baby goats do parkour and play king of the doghouse is to understand, really understand, the word “gambol.” Reveling in the pure joy of being turns out to be highly contagious. What better way to end a work day than pulling home to see these jaunty little bodies, all limbs, dash full frenzy and launch, then whip around 180-degrees midair, feint at a chicken and tap dance on a rock pile?

We are still getting to know goats, but it seems only natural for a homestead, rich in grass and poison ivy, to have herbivores as part of the mix.

“You could make goat cheese!” “Yogurt!”

My urban, childless friends are always eager to suggest goat-spinoffs I could throw myself into, in all my spare time. “You could host birthday parties!”

If you want to make goat cheese, come on over, I say. End of conversation.

But if a penny saved is a penny earned, we may have hit on another way for our goats to pull their weight around the homestead: mowing the lawn. The lawn is the island of civilization where we can have playdates even if the house is a wreck, where the grown-ups can throw a Frisbee while the children do their own gamboling, where this year we are even attempting to grow flowers. This oasis of civilization requires mowing, and mowing, and a week and a half later, mowing again. We bought an electric lawnmower last summer, which is powered by our spiffy new array of rooftop solar panels. But the biggest leap forward in terms of greening our lawn maintenance may require nothing but a rope.

Kai and I woke up one morning to hear Big Sherman, the papa goat, hollering outside her open bedroom window. Husband Joe had tied him to the fence, where he was eating the shrubbery where yard turns to woods.

“Why did Papa do that?” Kai, our three-year-old resident animal rights activist, was indignant.

Why? I sat up in bed and appraised the scene out the window. Why not? A goat on a rope is nothing new. I’d imagine it’s about as old as rope itself. Some Neolithic dude somewhere probably wound some fibers together and figured out that if you fasten that around a goat’s neck, that goat will eat eight pounds of weeds in a day and leave you with a nice circular clearing.

Joe has done this before, but always by constructing a movable pen, which turned out to be a pain to construct and move. The upgrade here was in the simplicity.

This was the obvious way to solve the twin problems of too much pressure on the pasture, and too much mowing for us. The lawn will probably have to be mown eventually to get that nice even carpet effect, but Sherman is doing an exemplary job of keeping it in check, and even of expanding the grassy area by munching the jungle behind the playground.

It’s been two weeks of Sherman turning up in different spots: tied to the see-saw, the garden posts, across the street around a neighbor’s tree (upon request). Joe has made improvements, like replacing the collar with a homemade halter. Kai has calmed down about it, seeing that Sherman stops hollering the minute anyone steps outside. Goats are social creatures like us, and enjoy company – goat or human, they’re not picky.

Sherman has settled into the routine, too, trotting over to be pet (be warned: that billy goat smell sticks around) when anyone gets within range. He keeps knocking over his water, though. We’ve got a few kinks to work out. But when we nail it, I see a great future for Goat on a Rope LLC.