Tahlequah Daily Press

April 6, 2012

Ruminant ruminations will get your goat

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — Marty Tinsley loves her goats. The way I’ve heard my husband tell it, she’d just as soon live in the pasture with her goats as live inside the house with her husband, Chrys.

That’s a joke, and hopefully I can get away with it. I’ve known Marty since she took care of my son when he was a baby, and my husband – also a Chris – has known her Chrys even longer: They worked together at the Methodist Home, and then for NSU’s Facilities Management department. Marty worked at NSU, too, until she decided to become a full-time goatherd. Still, I have to be careful. Marty’s the “connection” for those at the Press who have developed a goat cheese habit since her family’s Canyon Ridge Farm began producing the stuff a year or so ago. If Marty decided to cut us off, we’d be Jonesing in our desperate quest to score a fix.

Teddye Snell wrote a story about the farm for Friday’s Press, and when she returned from the interview, she was threatening to impose herself on the Tinsley clan, because those 80-odd goats are sooooo cute. A couple of them put their front hooves on her, like a dog would its paws, seeking treats or scratches behind the ears. One ripped off a page of the reporter’s notebook she had stashed in her hip pocket, intent on a quick munch.

I had already been thinking of entering the goat fray, mainly because the hooved mammals would be far more industrious than my husband or I at taking care of our lawn and field. We have plenty of briars, stick-tights and other vegetation, and Marty says two or three would do the trick. Our dilemma would be finding a way to ensure the critters don’t wind up pressed to the pavement by a Walmart truck jake-braking its way down Highway 10. According to Marty, goats would be at least as curious about summer river traffic as they would about a reporter’s notebook.

This isn’t the first time I’ve ruminated on ruminants, since I had some amusing experiences with a goat during my childhood. I know enough to tell you that, despite the old wives’ tale, goats do not eat tin cans, although they may indeed peel the paper of the cans and eat that. Teddye related some information from Marty that I had not known previously, that goats don’t have front upper teeth. I assume they scrape the paper off the cans with their lower chompers.

When I was a kid, we had a big garden and sort of a quasi-farm for our own consumption, with a few hogs and beef cattle, as well as a cantankerous Jersey cow that specialized in kicking over the milk pail. We kids begged for a horse, but never got one, although we did have a few chickens and ducks. And at one point, my dad decided to get a goat from the Hopsons, a Fort Gibson family that had dozens of the bearded browsers. Carolyn Hopson, who was between my sister Lisa and me in age, had named this goat “Ronnie,” after a kid she had a crush on. My dad, who never thought animals should have human-sounding names, changed the goat’s name to “Caesar.”

The trouble started immediately. Evidently we didn’t know how important it is to a goat to attain the highest vantage point possible from which to observe his domain. For his seat of authority, Caesar selected our spherical propane tank – a classical silver contraption with a green hood on top. That goat would spend hours walking around the tank and planning his strategy, before backing off to get a good running start. Then he’d charge, and at the pivotal moment leap into the air and utter a loud “BAA-AAA!” that in hindsight reminds me of the “HOOAH!” barked by U.S. soldiers. Then came the hollow “gong” as the goat hit the tank, following by the sound of hooves sliding down the side, and the “whump” as he hit the ground.

Caesar never did manage to reach the summit, but his efforts irked my dad, who is (and was) notoriously cheap, and probably feared the goat would knock something loose and cost him several dollars in lost fuel. So for a few days, the goat was banished to the bird dog pen, which at the moment was bereft of a bird dog. The goat had better luck with the doghouse, with its gabled roof he could straddle as he surveyed his world.

Once released from confinement, the goat set about his appointed task of mowing. My dad may have tried explaining to Caesar that the clover, Johnson grass, bermuda and various weeds were to be his spoils. Instead, the goat battened upon my mother’s roses. Now my mother, although she had a nice vegetable garden, didn’t have much luck at growing flowers where we lived. Roses were the exception, and she loved her rosebushes. Unfortunately, so did the goat. I remember the first time I saw her glance out the picture window and exclaim, in surprise, “Oh, SHOOT! That goat’s after my roses!” She ran outside and yelled, “GET OUTTA HERE, GOAT!” The response was a defiant “BAAAA!” as Caesar retreated a safe distance away, only to trot back to the flowerbed when my mom went back inside.

From that moment on, it was war. The combatants chose their weapons – a wooden stick for my mom, and a pair of stubby horns for her youthful opponent. I witnessed several skirmishes, once from a perch on the garage roof, looking down on the action. My mother went outside and concealed herself in a corner alcove of the house, back against the wall, poised with her stick, awaiting the enemy incursion. Moments later, the goat peered around the corner of the house, as he checked to see if the coast was clear. Then he tentatively moved toward the rose garden, stretched out his neck, started to nibble – and suddenly, my mother leaped out from her foxhole, brandishing her weapon and yelling “Ah-HAH! GOTCHA!” A clash ensued, with my mom waving her stick threateningly and yelling, and the goat bobbing and weaving and bleating and trying to get a good butt in edgewise. Within seconds he bolted behind the woodpile, where he maintained a vigil until my mom vacated her post.

At some point, the battles began to interfere with my mother’s household duties. Perhaps supper was late one too many times and my dad decided enough was enough, or maybe my mom simply told my dad it was either her or the goat. Whatever the case, Caesar went back to the Hopsons after about three weeks to resume his former life. Whether he also resumed his former name, I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about the Goat War lately, while pondering the possible adoption of a couple of Caesar’s distant cousins. I have roses, too, although most of my bushes need to be replaced. We also have a propane tank, but it’s the larger, lozenge-shaped variety, so it might work out better as a watchtower.

Or maybe I’ll just wait and hope my husband decides to get out the brushhog. I presume he won’t wander onto the highway and get squashed.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.