Sometimes it seems that the only thing lacking in my life is a goat. My friend Becky has two goats, Pansy and Daisy, that I like to visit and covet. Their eyes remind me of the glass cat's-eye marbles I collected as a child, and their short black-and-white hair is all wiry cowlicks. Although it's tempting, I never pet Pansy or Daisy. It annoys them. Pretty much everything annoys a goat, except food and fighting.
Goats will eat anything, and lots of it. Last summer, while I struggled to keep the farm looking decent with mechanical weed-eaters, all Becky had to do was open a stall door and let nature take its course. Her place looked tidy all year, and decorative, too. Nothing dresses up a farm like farm animals, and goats are the most handsome pastoral accent of all.
My Great Uncle Ike also loved goats, although he had the dangerous delusion that there was money to be made from them. He bought a whole herd of goats from some shepherds in the west desert and brought them over to the foothills to pasture. Then he hired a couple of herders and sat back waiting for the money to roll in. I can understand how he was taken in by a goat's good looks and capacity for usefulness.
He just didn't know their nature.
Greed and mischief are the only two thoughts in a goat's head. Take those away and all that remains is bone. Uncle Ike's goats spent their days gobbling up the hillside weeds and their nights terrorizing the local farmers. In spite of the herders (who soon quit anyway), the goats became a loose, lawless gang of bandits, eating gardens and crops and laundry hanging out to dry.
Finally, the county sheriff organized a posse and rounded them up, locking them in a goat jail improvised from a sturdy corral. Uncle Ike had to pay $1 a head to bail them out. After they got out of jail, the goats went on such a rampage that at last Uncle Ike herded them out to their desert homeland and paid the shepherds to take them back.
Nobody saw much of Uncle Ike after that. He took up mining and spent the rest of his life wandering the West looking for silver. The story is soberly repeated in my family every time the subject of goats comes up. Someone usually adds that goats can be smelly, too.
Yet I still want a goat. I have a picture in my mind of how the farm would look if all the ragged fringes of weeds were mowed off short, if every fence post stood clean and solitary, if all the cheat grass and wild oats and burdock burrs were gone. I'd like to look out the window and see my very own goat standing there, short and handsome, chewing a big piece of ragweed. I guess most people want something they can't have, something that would only bring trouble.
For in order to keep a goat, I would need to spend years getting the farm ready. Otherwise, it would be Uncle Ike's story all over again. For instance, the roof blew off the barn a couple of years back, and although the horse doesn't seem to mind, I don't think a goat would put up with that kind of accommodation. I'd have to put the barn door back on, too. Our fences are just cedar posts with a couple of loose strands of wire. The vegetable and flower gardens aren't fenced at all.
The fruit orchard and the hay and grain fields would be easy to reach along the open ditch banks - no problem for an ambitious goat. I can think of no reason a goat couldn't get into the raspberries and currants. It would eat the strawberries and be up in the nut trees, then move on to the neighbors. Most of them have bad fences, too.
It's good to think things through. It helps me avoid impulsive, goatlike behavior. As a reward for my clear thinking, I'll go over to Becky's and just ask where she bought Pansy and Daisy. Might as well stop and pick up some prospecting equipment while I'm out. Someday I might want to look for a silver mine.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society