I could begin this story enumerating all the reasons people told us not to buy goats.
They’re always trying to escape. They smell. They’ll jump on your car and wreck it.
“Goats get up in the morning thinking of new ways to make your life miserable,” said our friend Gini, an old hand at farmsteading.
But I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the seven-month-old boy goat we brought home wouldn’t last five minutes before he darted under a fence and disappeared. When weeks passed with no sign of him, we just assumed our goat was gone for good.
I should say at the outset that my wife had always resisted the idea of goats. She took those warnings to heart. But a number of hedgerows on the property we bought in Upstate New York were wild with weeds and brambles. Although I’d never owned goats before,, I thought they’d be just the thing to get our hedgerows under control.
And while we’re at it, a small sideline business in goat meat might not be a bad idea. Did you know goat is the most popular meat in the world? With visions of my own goat herd dancing in my head, I found two female Kiko goats–a breed originally from New Zealand–for sale by a nearby breeder who was reducing his flock. Dolly, the dam, and Tanner, her young daughter, completely defied all the nasty descriptions we’d heard. I built an enclosure for them with portable electric netting and it didn’t matter if the fence was turned on or not: They had no interest in escaping. In fact, they came running when I called their names and ate grain out of my hand. They followed right along when I led them on a leash to graze those hedgerows. Two more cooperative goats you couldn’t have asked for.
Hey, I thought. This goat business is a cinch. The only thing missing was a male to help make baby goats. Our females might be perfect, but they were not self-fertilizing.
Although it was late in the season, I found another Kiko breeder who had one young buckling left to sell, about an hour-and-a-half from us south of Albany. The breeder assured us the goat we called Tigger would do just fine behind our electric fencing. So after a bit of a struggle–putting a collar and leash on him, then grabbing Tigger by the horns–we loaded him into the back of our pickup and sped home.
I backed the truck up to the goat enclosure and confidently lowered the tailgate. I couldn’t wait to see our boy grazing in his new home. But with a wild look in his eyes, the buckling leaped to the ground and took off running. “I have to get the leash,” cried my 13-year-old daughter as she trotted after him. Next thing we knew, Tigger had slipped under the bottom wire of our new high-tension perimeter fence and vanished from sight.
We searched for him on foot several times. Where he made his escape is a densely wooded area, nearly impossible to walk through in some places. Every time we drove the nearby roads our eyes were peeled. Needless to say, I got an earful from my wife. We imagined the worst: He snagged his leash on something and starved to death. Coyotes ate him. As temperatures plunged below zero, he froze. We never even heard a peep out of him.
A month passed and we’d given up hope when a neighbor stopped us in the village and excitedly announced that a hunter had spotted a goat. Was there a leash? “Yes, a leash!” the neighbor exclaimed. “A leash!”
Turns out the spot where the goat sighting took place is practically adjacent to our farm. A woman living alone had died and her house was sitting vacant. We drove up the driveway and, sure enough, there was our goat, standing on the front stoop. Apparently, he’d been grazing the yard and doing just fine all on his own.
Naturally, we were elated to be reunited with our buckling. But now we faced a new problem: How do you catch a male goat who’d sooner run away at the sight of you?
We imagined ourselves in an episode of Wild Kingdom. Where’s Marlin Perkins when you need him? We researched tranquilizer guns–too expensive–as well as netting. Friends volunteered to help us lasso the goat. Others suggested erecting some kind of temporary fence around the goat while he was standing on the stoop, or using a female goat to lure him into a trailer.
While I pondered the many possible scenarios, I visited the goat regularly with a small bucket of grain. He wouldn’t come near me at first. But as the weeks passed, he let me sit next to the bucket, then touch him, then run my hands through his fur. Eventually, I had Tigger eating out of my hand.
One day while his head was deep in the bucket, I slipped a leather dog collar around his neck. I came back later in the afternoon with a length of chain hitched to the truck. Click! Once again, our buckling was looking out the back of the pickup as we drove him home. Only this time I wasn’t taking any chances. I’d built a sturdy pen out of 10-foot lengths of metal fencing. That’s where he resides today.
Tigger seems to be content enough, getting fresh hay and goat treats and lots of affection on a daily basis. And now I know what farming is about. It’s about solving little problems like catching a runaway boy goat.