Thursday, March 20, 2014

Who ya gonna call? Goat Busters!

Got Goats?

When I think of the Old West, goats are not the first thing that comes to mind.  Nevertheless, the story I'm working on now has goats.  It's a western historical romance.  I'm not quite sure how I'm going to pull this one off, either, but it'll happen.

It all started with a mule named Socrates who took over my second published book, Down Home Ever Lovin' Mule Blues.  It's a wonky contemporary western romance, narrated by good ol' Socrates, who has a rather condescending but patient view of humans.  Readers loved him, and now have come to expect animal characters in my stories.  Animals do have a role in nearly all my books and short stories.

Let's be clear here--I do not put animals in my stories to enhance the characterization of the humans.  The animals are characters in their own right.  I grew up on a farm and animals were my friends, which is how I see them to this day.  Not human, but each has a personality.  And they're always just there.  You can't have a ranch ten miles from the nearest neighbor that isn't self-sufficient--and that means milk cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, and cats.  Each animal has a job.  People who live and work there are just as dependent on the animals as the animals are on them.

Spanish goats

Which brings us to my current pickle--people kept asking me for a story with goats.  I've never had a goat.  In fact, I'm not sure a goat has ever set foot where my story is set, Owyhee County, Idaho.  I sure didn't see any when I lived there.  They have horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, rattlesnakes, porcupines, coyotes, skunks... but no goats.  One of the highest insults is to be called a goat roper.

So I know nothing about goats, other than Pat Garrett was killed over a goat dispute, but that was in the 20th century, and in Texas.  No help there.  Sigh.  Thank the giant Bit Bucket there's YouTube and Google.  First thing, I wanted to know what breed of goat my heroine would have.  I knew about horses, cows, and dogs in the 19th century, but not a thing about goat breeds.

After several hours of searching, I found out that the goats in North America came from Spain with the Spaniards (no surprise) in the 17th century.  They were called goats.  I guess sometimes we have to keep it simple.  Sometimes they were called Spanish goats.  In the eastern US, they were sometimes called by the location, such as Corn Patch Holler goats, but the DNA was the same as those original goats brought here by the Spaniards.  (Side note: that breed no longer exists in Spain.)  Not until the 20th century did goat owners start defining specific breeds and importing from Asia and Africa.  (Now Spanish goats are a vanishing variety because of all the crossbreeding.)

So goats were goats.  Females were called nannies and males were called billies.  That changed in the latter half of the 20th century and now females are called does and males are called bucks.  I'm not sure what was wrong with nannies and billies, but there you have it.  Offspring were called kids, as they are still.  I figured it would be more politically correct to call them fawns.  Castrated males are called wethers.

Goats can live just about anywhere and love rugged terrain.  They're browsers, not grazers, so they can thrive on vegetation that cattle can't even eat.  They give more milk for their body weight than a cow and cost far less to maintain.  Plus, they kid a couple times a year, and often have two kids.  A cow has one calf per year and that's it.  The only domesticated animal that goes feral more quickly than a goat is a cat, so that shows the hardiness of goats.

As you can see from the video, they come in every color from nearly white to black, with lots of different marking patterns.  They're primarily used for meat, but are decent dairy goats as well, and goat hair can be used for weaving.  They have horns (looks like they dehorned the goats in this video), and yes, they do butt, some more than others.

A lot of the survivalist sites recommend goats and that got my attention.  Owyhee County is high mountain desert and there's not a whole lot of foliage or flat land.  Pronghorns do well, so why wouldn't goats?  If a man who was an obsessive analyzer and planner wanted to take his family to such a place, it doesn't seem at all unreasonable that he'd consider goats, especially if he were the type of man who didn't give a rat's patootie about what others thought.

I've written stories that had dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, mules, cows, horses, and even a skunk.  I guess it's time to give goats a try.


  1. Jacquie, I've never had a goat, either, or even been around goats. But I love their pictures and your film of them. I'm sure they're stubborn and all, but I think they're adorable, and I've heard that they make good pets. Can't wait to see what you come up with in your story with the goats! LOL

  2. I love goats and, if I had any place to raise livestock, goats would be it.

    A friend of a friend raised goats because she was lactose intolerant and could drink goat's milk. She made her own goat yogurt and cottage cheese too. (I love goat cheese.)

    What really sold me on the idea of goats when I was in my teens is when I found out they were great for keeping the lawn "mowed" and weeded. (My job growing up.)

    Can't wait to read what you come up with!

  3. Goats have a big presence here in Colorado and Colorado Springs. Goat cheese, goat milk, and there are herds that travel to various parks etc. to clear the landscape. You will do well to have a goat in your story...they are characters. Doris

    I can't wait to see what you do with one in your story. (Smile)

  4. Charlie S., I don't know if I'm brave or stupid.

  5. Cheryl, I've never given a thought to goats before, but I guess we have to rename Billy Goat Gruff to "Buck Goat Gruff" now. LOL. Goats do seem to have a lot of advantages economically, and for the purposes of my story, a lot of personality.

  6. Alison, there are a ton of YouTube videos on making goat cheese, mostly chevre. I might have to find some goat milk and give it a try. And yes, it sure would've been nice to have a lawnmower. That was one of my jobs, too. We had cows, but cow pies tend to not cohabit well with lawns, especially when you're playing touch football.

  7. Doris, where I live now (Seattle), goats are allowed because of the blackberry problem. You can even rent a goat to eat vegetation. They have to be dwarf goats, though. We can have chickens, too. So even though goats have been overlooked by Americans from the beginning of the European settlement (except by the first Spaniards), they're becoming extremely popular now--the "in" thing.

  8. My personal experience with goats is not a happy one, but I don't really think it was the goat's fault. A puppy of ours (that we had purchased at what was then a pretty big cost and had shipped to us), got out of its pen and ran playfully up to the goat we'd gotten. She did no more than put her head down and stand her ground, but the pup ran into that hard head and went tumbling. A couple of months later, he had developed a brain tumor. This was a lot of years ago, and they hadn't developed the surgical techniques that nowadays would probably have saved him, nor did we have the money for that at the time.
    But I've been reading that in many places goats have been used for clearing weeds and brush, especially in dry climates where they feed wildfires. And for other clearing jobs, as you already mentioned. BTW, I posted a video to your Facebook timeline of an obstreperous kid that I think you'll enjoy!

  9. If anybody can do goats justice, Trail Boss, it's you. Can't wait to read the story!

    A friend of mine raised a pygmy goat from the time it was only a few weeks old. She also has three small dogs, and the goat grew up thinking it was just another member of the pack. She (the goat -- for that matter, the friend, too) has an interesting personality. :-D

  10. Judy, apparently goats are popular here for weed control You can rent one (they eat blackberry plants) at‎

    That's really unfortunate about that poor puppy. :(

  11. Tex, that's funny--a goat who thinks he's a dog. Or maybe he thinks the dogs are his herd. Nearly all the sites are adamant that you should never have one goat, that they need other goats for company.

  12. Jacquie,
    First, I love anyone who uses "wonky" in an essay.
    Goats are my nemesis. Early in our marriage we lived in a small farm house with cracks in the walls you could throw a cat through. I had no idea how scary a big spanish billy goat can look when it stands up on its hind legs to nibble on live oak scrub. The big ones are nearly six feet tall when standing like that--and in the Texas twilight look a lot like the devil incarnate when a feller is out checking to see what the dog is barking at.... I never did shoot one, but I came awfully close the first time I happened on one.

  13. Ha! Marc, I bet that would be alarming. That silhouette with the horns and hooves - whoa. Hmm, a paranormal story is coming...

  14. Much ado about ... GOATS?? hmm. I do love goat cheese, though. Can't wait to see what comes of this new adventure!

  15. Meg, the story I'm writing now is for the Prairie Rose Publications' Lassoing a Groom anthology, so not in the Hearts of Owyhee series. But it is set in Owyhee County and uses some of the characters in Much Ado About Miners.

    I don't think I've ever had goat cheese. Need to try it.