My vested interest in our goat

One of the pleasures of rural life is readying a farm for winter, a gradual exercise in storing away, covering up, and closing in. I've never found it depressing, only necessary and befitting the season, even downright satisfying.

Winterizing needn't be done in a frenzy or even in much of a hurry if you don't leave it to the last howling minute. By late September, of course, we have the hay in the barn. The relief that comes with oiling and storing away the baler, tedder, rake, and elevator traditionally leaves us limp through much of October - our month off between work and winter. We start to get serious about winter in late November, and by early December, we're on a roll.

Firewood is Charlie's bailiwick, and the animals are mine. He begins chopping and splitting; I lay plans for our creatures' comforts. Never mind that our cows know where to go and how to avoid winter's excesses - besides the barn (partially open but roofed, a shelter from inhospitable blasts), they have the wooded creek valley, or the buffering cedars to hunker down into when snow-laden winds blow.

In all but the worst weather they prefer even these outdoor venues to the barn itself, but I still begin to fill the interior with bagged leaves this time of year. They'll welcome that bedding some raw sleety night after an evening feed. I ready tarps to hang as wind breaks across open windows and gated entrances should a blizzard descend. I draw the line at electric blankets, but I've toyed with the idea. (If only they would keep them on.)

The draft horses have their sheer bulk to protect them. I presented the Belgians with weatherproof blankets years ago, but the largest available size at the co-op barely buckled around their massive chests. Though they wore and certainly appreciated them at times, they didn't really need them. Even I had to admit it. Ben, our equally large and wild black Percheron, considers single-digit temperatures a lark - and anything that momentarily blocks his vision a call to battle. Just try to slip a blanket over his head and you'll quickly conclude he's fine without.

And so it comes down to Cynthia. Our pet goat finds herself the sole focus of my winterizing schemes and she rises to the challenge with relish, at once satisfying my overblown protective impulses and her own shameless appetite for pampering. The more I hover over her well-being, the better she thrives and pleads for more. I recently moved her from a drafty barn stall to the empty, fully enclosed chick nursery, laying fresh bedding on the floor and stapling plastic insulation over the wire-mesh windows. She stepped inside and lay down as if this was indeed a good idea long past due.

She reacted the same way when I had the sudden inspiration, during our second cold snap, to retire one of my old wool vests her way. She stood unresisting as I slipped it over her head, and lifted her front legs through the armholes, a chorus of low-keyed bleats spilling straight from her heart. The vest stretched snugly around her, reaching about halfway down her back - an ideal fit and length.

I stood back for a critical look and realized, with something like a designer's pride, that the cabled V-neck perfectly framed her beard. It's a lovely beard, brown and white and flecked with gray, and the vest called attention to it in an understated way.

Cynthia appreciates the vest for its warmth more than anything, and has never tried to paw her way out of it, as any of our dogs would have done without hesitation, however cold they were.

When a new neighbor dropped by to meet the animals, Cynthia, emerging from her small hut (its door, salvaged from an old house, even sports an address) immediately caught her fancy.

"Oh, she needs more of those," Karen exclaimed, eyeing the burgundy wool pullover with deep approval. "They ought to be easy to find in a thrift shop."

I visit thrift shops regularly, and the suggestion was too good to ignore. Soon Cynthia's wardrobe had tripled. For $2 I added a lovely wool felt number, embroidered with vines and flowers, and a powder blue, zip-up velour.

And I'm just getting started.

I'm on the lookout for a Christmas motif, something with a Valentine's theme, and a green St. Patrick's chest warmer. She'll be the best appointed goat around.

I know it's not what Goodwill had in mind, but I don't think they'd object if ever they met Cynthia and saw how well she carries herself in these secondhand knits - and how perfectly ready she looks to face the winter, clothed as she is against its excesses. The cows and horses can suit themselves this winter - outside or in the leaf-littered barn. The nanny is all mine to suit in perhaps as many different vests as there are weeks until spring. The right ones are out there on the racks, with her name on them. And since the goat and I wear essentially the same size, they won't suspect a thing at the check-out.

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