How We Got Our Own Goat - Or, Rather, How She Got Us

I had never thought of eye contact with a goat as a compelling experience - until I met Cynthia. The little tricolored Toggenburg stood amid a flock of her mates in the center ring of the auction barn. As the bidding began, she locked eyes with me and didn't let go, her meaning unmistakable: "I am going home with you." There was nothing to do but agree.

We'd gone to buy hay, and did that, too, after outbidding the crowd for the nanny. We engineered a soft cave among the bales in the small trailer hitched to our ancient Datsun. Cynthia entered without hesitation and promptly fell asleep, her future settled to her satisfaction. Charlie and I drove home along the dark, ice-crusted county roads, oddly buoyant despite some recent setbacks and a bout of bad weather.

As we pulled into the barn drive and opened the trailer, Cynthia awoke and entered the small stall in the milking barn without so much as a glance around. It has been her home space ever since.

Cynthia could have become lonely as the only goat on a cow farm, but she lacks the prejudice that might lead to a sequestered life among creatures not her ilk. Instead, she grazes with the cows, sleeps alongside their calves, and stands guard over the broody hens and newly hatched chicks that seek refuge in the corner of her stall. She even tolerates the dogs, who have by now given up on worrying and teasing her. She has risen above their slap-happy pranks and pathetic ploys, and they know it.

As the cows file into the milking parlor each morning and evening, they pass right by Cynthia, who watches the procession with ever-renewable interest. Like us, she knows that no two milkings are quite the same. Something noteworthy always happens. One of the animals entering the parlor might get deliciously tangled in the hanging hose loop; or a fourth cow, greedy for grain, might bully her way into the three-stanchion room, causing head-butting, hoof-stamping mayhem.

Neighbors may drop by for a tank-side chat, knowing they can always find us in this place at the appointed hours - and Cynthia, peering plaintively from her nook, usually elicits a greeting and a head scratch. Sometimes my son swings his leg over her stall wall to properly pet and play with her.

Best of all, her foremost local admirer regularly arrives with his weekly offering of lawn clippings and crackers. On the goat-tail mobility scale, Wally's arrival registers a solid 10.

But even uneventful milkings hold their charm. Cynthia seems to drink in the atmosphere of the place as if it were her birthright to be here. At milking time she noses the parlor door open a crack and watches everything, from the first udder wash to the last cow's exit and our hosing down of the floors and walls. She has the routines down pat, and could probably do the milkings herself if she had opposable thumbs.

This goat has borne her last kid, and her milk is no longer daily fare for us, but our nanny isn't going anywhere. She makes that plain every time she looks at us.

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