Humility in Homesteading; the Getting of our Goats

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“If it can’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat”

These are words you would be wise to live by.  Everything I had read online said that the only electric fence option for goats was Electric Mesh Fencing, but when the friendly and seemingly experienced man at Tractor Supply told us that all we would need for dwarf goats was a three strand electric fence (that would save us a lot of money) my hope was restored.  After barraging the poor man with questions “What is a grounding rod?” “How do you get it in the ground?” “How do you actually get it electrified?” “How do you know it is working?” We bought everything he pointed to and went home confident in our abilities to contain our goats.  It took us almost a week to carefully place our step in poles, run the strand around at the suggested heights, hook up our charger, and figure out how to make our gate, but when it was done we sat back and looked on with pride.  We had done it.

The next morning we picked up Babs and Hazel, our first goats, and brought them to their new wooded goat paradise.  We carried them into the enclosure and plopped them down inside our electric creation. The sky must have opened up and a ray of light shown down on us as we beamed with pride, discussing how knowledgeable and experienced we had become through this process!  We had always toyed around with the idea of homesteading, with chickens and now goats we could finally and assuredly say it was official, we were homesteaders! If things continued on this track we would have publishers lined up for book deals, producers with reality show proposals, and universities begging for us to lecture on suburban farming! Grooming our homesteading egos, we kissed, high fived, and turned to gaze at our new goats. Terrified by the clapping noise, the two walked right through our carefully laid electric fence without so much as a hesitation.  My stomach sank, the clouds closed, and the book deals evaporated as we turned to each other in panic.

 

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Hazel concerned by my proximity

Our trip to pick up Hazel and Babs was not uneventful. We learned that the pair had lived the majority of their lives in a 10 x 10 pen with little human interaction.  This made them extremely skittish around people. As Hazel and Babs made their way to our neighbor’s property (actually they were just going anywhere where we weren’t), flashbacks flooded our memory of just how difficult it had been for Michael, the goat owner, and myself to catch these four-legged hooligans in a 10 x 10 pen. Now they were running scared and free in unfamiliar territory.  We stared at each other dumbfounded.  Hadn’t the fence shocked them? More importantly, how on earth were we going to get them back?

Suddenly my mind became laser focused.  My Army grandfather would have been impressed as I took control of the situation, barking out orders and making decisions (a rare thing for a woman who can never decide what she wants for dinner).  Bolting towards my car, I instructed Michael to stay at the house and maintain visual contact with our fugitives while I screeched off to Tractor Supply.  I arrived before the store opened and nearly knocked over the salesperson who unlocked the door as I rushed by. Grabbing a buggy I seized everything related to fencing I saw: a second grounding rod, insulated wire, a pole driver, four spools of electric tape, and five extra step-in poles.  I informed the sales clerk of my escapees while piling my contraband on the counter. She kindly tried to comfort me as I checked out, but I could only think of my beloved at home alone as I screamed out of the sliding doors. I think she yelled “Good luck” as I peeled out of the parking lot.

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There is a fence-escaping mastermind behind that cud chewing

I returned home to a huffing and puffing Michael who had managed to wrestle one of the fleeing goats down to the ground by the horns only to realize that he had nowhere to secure his captive.  Left with no other choice, he threw the frantic goat back into the insufficient fence and saw that miracles really do come true! Her co-conspirator walked right through the electric strands, choosing companionship over freedom.  Carefully, quietly, and without making eye contact (lest we spook the goats), Michael and I made three more rounds around the perimeter adding the extra strands, rods, and posts.  Finally, we tested the fence only to find that only one of the original strands had been properly connected. Okay, maybe this farming thing was a little tougher than we had thought just a couple of hours earlier.

Since installing the reinforcements I have witnessed Babs escape once or twice. Once she realized that her outbreak did not go un-noticed she ducked back within the bounds of her pen. Babs, Hazel, and I have reached an agreement of sorts; I understand that if our goats really wanted to get out, they would. But they are coming to realize that there is more hay and grain inside the fence than out. I am also sure that it has not been lost on them that their owners are a lot happier when they remain within their fence’s confines than when they go on walk-abouts through the countryside.

Despite the humility they have forced upon us, the book deals and lecture opportunities that have dried up, I love my goats. Not only will they one day provide us with our own wholesome dairy, but they continually remind me of just how truly clueless I am when it comes to homesteading.  One thing is for certain, we have to stay on our toes around here!

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