Mischief (mostly) Managed
A legit cold front blew through over the weekend. That first, cool, dry breeze we’ve waited for since April came over the north woods and blew through the trees until leaves sprinkled off the limbs. Fall always feels like one huge exhale. The first cool breeze immediately reminds me of the smell of my mother’s split pea soup and homemade cornbread come wafting out the open front door of our old Victorian house. It carried through the neighborhood so that I’d catch the scent of dinner riding up to the house on my bicycle after hanging out with friends down the street. The pumpkins, not yet carved, would crowd around flower pots on our porch, and the trees were just starting to turn. So, for me, fall is just a fuzzy warm sweater of childhood with good food and rosy cheeks and football Fridays.
Here, however, it’s something else entirely. Although I will forever cling to the scent of Mom’s homemade soups and bread and the image of orange leaves hanging around my childhood home, at the farm it’s a season of animal mischief namely, animal breeding. Cooler weather causes them to come out of temporary paralysis. The donkeys chase each other in circles, the dogs find new and creative ways to defeat our fencing and the goats – oh the goats – start breeding season. A really despicable evolutionary conundrum. Even if I breed goats for the next 50 years, I will never comprehend the transformation that overtakes the male goat during breeding season. Or the female goats’ response to his somewhat perverse, depraved actions. For male goats, there is no formality, no obfuscation of their true desire during breeding season. In fact, the whole spectacle is driven so entirely by hormones that it suddenly feels like your male goats have become testosterone itself. Being “in-rut” is the diplomatic way of saying that your goat is being disgusting.
And I love my goats as much as the next guy loves his goats, but I’m not gonna sugar coat the situation.
This is the second fall I’ve spent dodging rogue urine spray my bucks innocently and unexpectedly shoot in my direction. It’s the second year I’ve had to scrub my hands with fresh lemons, even then not fully extracting the musky scent of male goat from my pores. That smell has overtaken the memory of Mom’s pea soup when I think of fall. Now fall just smells like buck. Really, deeply, smelly buck. On the other side of this equation lie my darling female goats, the does who are so perfectly trained to delicately jump onto the milk stand and quietly munch grain twice daily as I quickly and efficiently milk them. During breeding season, when they go into heat (every few weeks), they also become alien creatures, possessed by an unfathomable lust for the billy goats who strut and pee on their own faces in a pasture across the driveway. They stop eating. Their milk production dwindles, and they fling their bodies at the gate, screaming as if in torturous pain. During this period, my daily milkings stop being manageable and instead become the type of chore that requires a shot of bourbon before starting. Instead of running to the milk stand, they spring just out of my grasp, screaming at a full gallop towards the bucks, their udders swing wildly so milk spray flies through the air. It’s an incomprehensible dimension of “sexy” for Boss who pees on his face in happiness and paws at the ground as they hurtle towards him.
Have I lost you yet? Still interested in owning goats? No? Me neither.
I have spent many weary morning (afternoons, and nights) hanging my head in disgust, smeared with the greasy musk of a goat in love, muttering under my breath that “this too shall pass.” Instead of enjoying the cool breeze, carving a pumpkin, or baking pie (these are fall activities, yes?) – I’ve been keeping infatuated goats separated, scrubbing my hands, and hoping for the deepest depths of icy winter to fall upon us. This is when, finally, the hormones hibernate for another season, and we can move onto the other, more exciting side of breeding (two words: BABY. GOATS.).
Next year the bucks will have a new and shiny paddock completely separate from the cows, far from the house, with just enough room that they’ll be free to torment no one but each other. Next fall, perhaps, I will be able to enjoy this season the way I used to. Until then, I’ll be inside soaking my hands in lemon juice. Plugging my ears from the blood-curdling goat screams. Wiping goat pee off my legs. Happy fall!