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Greene: Herding Goats

09/25/12 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) Herding goats has Commentator Stephanie Greene, a freelance writer who lives with her family on a farm in Windham County, considering that humans and goats have quite a lot in common.

(Greene) My friend had five little doelings she wanted to wean and a nursing doe (unrelated to the five) she wanted to dry out.

I had a pasture that needed the kind of attention only goats can provide - full of goldenrod, blackberries, milkweed and burdock.

A visit was arranged.

The first thing you do when planning for a goat visit is to get the fence up. Sing Sing quality will just barely suffice. Then you check for loopholes.

We discovered a glaring one just as our newly-arrived goats tripped nimbly through it. They took a flying leap into our roses and commenced to eat their way happily out. We dragged them out of the garden - bodily but carefully - and built a barrier that kept them off the stone wall.

Since we could not afford to fence in all the land we had to graze, I struck on a plan to spend about 2 hours a day goat herding. Thus I could keep them from finding other ways into my gardens, or from escaping, and I could discourage marauding coyotes. Although I was assured the latter wouldn't be a problem. These goats have horns and are big enough to really hurt any attacker.

I get the goats to follow me and to sort of obey by having the lead goat, the mother, on a leash. The other goats reason that since Nibbles follows me, I must be all right - maybe even some kind of uber-goat.

I think there may be a lesson here about political leadership, but never mind, democracy is not an option to explore with goats.

My other goat herding tool is a coffee can full of goat feed. When shaken, it rattles like a maraca full of M&Ms: and the girls come running.

Twice a day I bring water, sun screen, a lawn chair and a copy of Anna Karenina, along with the goats, out to the pasture. We find a good stash of goldenrod, asters and old raspberry canes. I set up the chair and enjoy Tolstoy to the sound of the goats busily stuffing themselves.

Theology likens humans to sheep, but I think that's wishful thinking. We are far more goat-like than sheepish. Like the goats who gaze longingly at my garden from the middle of lush pasture, we believe the grass is always greener on the other side of just about anything. Both goats and people are strivers, with adventure and greed constantly at war within us. And both species are brilliant at mischief.

Nibbles almost separated my arm from its socket when she got spooked by a motor and yanked me across the pasture. One of the little does got her foot caught in another's collar and nearly choked the latter as she hopped about, trying to get free. When bored, the girls chew dreamily on the barn, remodeling it, goat-style. I worry about their plans.

My friend sums it up this way: sheep are checkers - she says - but goats are chess.

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