“Great. Predators.” our neighbor sighed when we announced soon after we moved here that we were bringing home goats.
I was puzzled, “Goats are not predators.”
“They attract them though. Didn’t you see Jurassic Park?”
“You don’t think there’s a t-rex in the neighborhood, do you?”
“No, but there are coyotes and foxes and mountain lions…..”
“Sure. They cruise along the river to feed.”
This was curious news for us city slickers. Not quite “disturbing” but certainly a fascinating reality. While I didn’t want to offer up a sacrifice to the meat-eaters in the neighborhood, I bravely accepted this as a new possibility. “Our pets could get eaten now.” I felt just a touch more country for it.
So when the goats did come home – a happy day in every way – we started a tradition of the morning “goat count”. I thought it was a practical preparation to remember that every morning the goats are still here is a blessing. We bottle fed these three pygmies, provided a house – which they mostly climbed on – and eventually a pair of llamas, who are wonderful livestock guardians. We ran around the pasture just to laugh at them chasing us. We’d collapse on the ground and they would crawl into our laps to cuddle. They were like dogs to us, which is the highest compliment one can pay an animal at our house.
Mind you, these were purely pets. Castrated males all. Useless in farm terms. But who cares. We adored them and they returned the affection. What a hoot it was. Who’d have thought a month ago we would be goat people?
Eventually, we added two to the herd, including one baby girl who lived on the screen porch because she was such an itty bitty thing. That left four goats living in the wild under the watchful llamas’ eyes. They were rascals, those four. Hilarious to watch with their butting one another and jumping and twisting in the air and racing around. And they developed vertical leap skills that created issues. They had become escape artists.
We live on a busy, twisty two-lane road where people often drive too fast. More than once a car would pull into the drive offering advice about taking better care of our loose goats. One woman read the riot act to my poor daughter who was near tears over the near accident, made worse by the angry scolding of the motorist who nearly hit Sancho. We were beside ourselves trying to keep them in. Raising the fences, boards across the bottom….nothing seemed to keep those goats secure. And the whole thing was very upsetting to the llamas, too, who were worried sick and hanging over the fence whenever someone got out.
Now we had predators and traffic to worry about.
One day when I was away on business, John and the kids returned from a football game, and the goat count was zero.
The llamas were upset and searching with their giant eyes into the far pastures to the east. John and the kids walked our 8 acres and drove up and down the road peering into pastures and into gullies looking for a sign of them. Nothing.
They told me the news on the phone, and I started reaching out to the neighborhood watch gang via email to keep their eyes peeled. I attached a picture of the four of them I had just taken. Everyone was on the lookout.
Maybe they joined another herd somewhere. A herd with better food or more females. A farmer would notice and ask around.
Maybe a passerby picked them up and took them home. There’d be no sign of them if that was the case. They went everywhere together, so we imagined they were found – or stolen – together.
My daughter had a theory that the motorist who was so nasty to her about their escape came by and took them to turn them over to animal control. We checked animal control and local rescues. Nothing.
A good friend of mine who lives nearby said carefully, “You know there is a mountain lion active along the river these days. You might want to look up as you are walking your property. They often take their kill into the trees to keep it away from other predators.” There’s an image I will have forever: my sweet goats hanging from trees in my own, beautiful woods. Awful idea. But I did look up as I walked. Dreading what I might see.
It was sad, but after about five weeks of searching and asking around, updating our email contacts and letting them know the goats were still missing, we had to accept the idea that they were gone for good.
My friend – the one with the mountain lion theory – called me one day and said, “I was driving down our road, about two miles past your place – I’m rescuing my wife who’s had a flat tire – and I just caught a glimpse of a sign by a house, and I think it said ‘FOUND GOATS’. I can’t be sure, but it might be worth John going over to take a look…” My heart took a little leap. No way. It’s been five weeks. Could it be?
I called John and he said, “I’m in the truck just leaving. I’ll head right over.”
John found the sign and pulled in the drive. And there they were. All four.
The woman who found them said they were great goats, but she was having a heckuva time keeping them fenced. “They are real escape artists!” She’d had them for several weeks, and apologized for the fact that she’d finally given up on anyone claiming them, and since they kept getting out, she had called Animal Control this morning. “They’re on their way over right now.”
John loaded our happy clan into the truck and headed home. As he turned onto the road, he passed the Animal Control truck pulling in.
Wow. Five weeks of missing that sign and thinking they were surely gone for good, and here we are. Reunited. And all because of a flat tire. Actually, as grateful as we were to our friends for calling it in, we’re convinced that God Himself brought those goats home. Those useless, castrated, mischievous bundles of perfect goat love.