Even though my first attempt was an utter failure. Even though it made me the subject of ridicule and friendly ribbing. I knew the “goat idea” was a good one and I was determined to see it through. Providence, I believe, agreed with me.
Some months after Bonnie had made her bold escape I got two new clients, a married couple who would come to weigh heavily in the future success of Emerson’s Acre, Rob and Stephanie McDonald. Rob is the owner of a local Pet Stop franchise and his wife Stephanie, in addition to being the mother of two awesome kids, is the Operations Manager of the Emerson’s Acre gardening project.
Rob had experience with his Pet Stop product and using it to contain livestock other than just dogs. In fact the product has been effectively used to pen cats, horses, deer and goats! A plan began to form.
Rob and I decided to trade a Pet Stop invisible fence, collars and installation for my training services for himself, Stephanie and their 12 year old daughter.
In very short time Rob had his crew come out and install the invisible fence around the entire perimeter of my property. In the front yard the wires were placed under ground and in the back they were attached to the existing fence structures. Rob’s guys do a great job and everything looked tight and right. Rob then came out and trained both of my dogs and go them used to their new “freedom.”
One of the great ironies of life is that Rob is a dog person. You can tell right away by the way he interacts with dogs. He’s well suited to his business and it is clear that he understands dog psychology quite well. What’s so ironic is that once the training process is complete most dogs won’t have anything to do with him.
I know that sounds terrible. You’re probably thinking, “Good God, what a terrible product. How inhumane!”
I’ve seen the training process first hand and felt the product at work. Rob understands dogs. His training process is gradual and quite gentle. It just so happens that when the dogs get their first taste of the “Hey, don’t cross this line” shock it’s Rob who is by their side and they forever associate him with that feeling. Personally, I find that a favor. I’d much rather my dog fear Rob as the possessor of crazy, electric, mind powers than me. Otherwise it gets in the way of cuddle time. I want my dog to respect me, not fear me.
By the end of August, the fence was in place and both dogs had been trained. Now it was time to get the goats.
I mentioned my grandfather before. I will mention him many times again. You can expect many future posts about him. He’s 92 and still hale, if not as hearty as he once was. He’s also a vast repository of farming knowledge. While he doesn’t farm as much as he once did ,he still maintains, with the help of my uncle and my cousin’s husband, Gary, a 300 acre farm with cows, chickens, several fields for hay and sharecropping and important to this article, goats.
Since the Great Depression Grandpa has been in the “goat business.” When he started out he would buy a goat for a dollar, butcher it into quarters and sell the quarters for 50 cents apiece. In a matter of a few hours he could make a good day’s wages and he could easily do this two or three times a day.
Today he still keeps a herd of twenty to thirty goats. Their meat now sells for a lot more than $2.00 a head.
Since my Dad died I have made an extra effort to get back up to Tennessee more often. It’s only a four hour drive and despite my busy schedule I have promised myself to visit at least four times a year. Our last visit was for a reunion over the Labor Day weekend.
A week before leaving Birmingham I called my grandfather and told him and my uncle of my wish to purchase a few goats. Grandpa has little patience for the phone and so I did most of my negotiating through my uncle.
“Tell Grandpa to work me up a good price,” I said.
“Oh, I can pretty much tell you what it’ll be,” my uncle Kenny replied.
Grandpa wouldn’t charge me a penny. I’m family and to charge family is just not how he does things.
That being said, my grandfather is no one’s fool. When I got to Tennessee he had hand picked the goats he was going to give me.
The first was a white, mid sized female, my daughters named Honey. Honey only has three legs. According to my uncle she had gotten her leg caught in the baling twine surrounding a hay bale put out for feed. Kenny only gets out to the farm on weekends and so Honey was trapped for several days. Over that time she broke her right rear leg trying to free it from the twine.
Kenny freed her as soon as he could and she hobbled around with a dangling leg for several days. Eventually it just fell off. Luckily for Honey she healed well and adjusted to life on three legs.
The second goat was a sweet, tan and white female the girls dubbed Sophie. Both Kenny and Gary told me she was sick and probably wouldn’t survive the ride home. Great.
Grandpa’s magnanimity would only go so far. Sure, he’d give me goats but he sure wasn’t going to just give away the best of his herd. Luckily for me Kenny and Gary convinced me to take an extra one for insurance.
Our “insurance” was another female, black and brown with a white “lighting bolt” on her forehead. My oldest, Madeline, named her Harriet.
The reunion was a success. Most of the local McLaran’s came out. My grandmother’s birthday was right around the same time and everyone came to wish her “Happy Birthday.” Gary, my cousin Jason and I barbecued a goat for the gathering on Sunday. It was awesome. The meat was clean, grass fed and would have brought a premium price at our local Whole Foods. Here it was just the natural consequence of life on the farm.
Monday I met my uncle at the farm and we set to loading up our three de-foresters. Kenny had already sequestered the goats in the barn and we set to modifying my three by five box trailer to get them home. Using a half sheet of ply wood, a small length of wire fencing and uninsulated aluminum wire (the duct tape of the farm) we rigged a roof for the trailer.
With the goats in the barn they were relatively easy to catch and transfer to the trailer. That Monday was a soggy one and we worked in a near constant drizzle.
Once loaded up we trucked on out and headed home. It rained the whole way and once in Birmingham I opted to push the trailer into the garage and leave the goats in the trailer. The garage quickly took on the warm hay and manure smell of livestock. Emerson’s Acre suddenly felt like a real farm.