My property is effectively divided into fourths. There’s the front yard, the house proper, the back yard and then the “Back Forty.” The Back Forty is approximately ¼ to 1/3 acre. It sits behind the privacy fence that defines the backyard.
Up until now the Back Forty was wasted space.
It was overgrown with privet, wisteria, briars and hackberry trees. The wisteria is so prolific that it killed one of the hackberry trees which fell during one of this summer’s storms.
When we moved into the house three years ago Samantha and I hacked our way with a machete around the perimeter of the space just to get a feel for what it was like. We discovered the remains of a barbed wire fence along the back and two runs of chain link on either side. I began to formulate an idea.
It always bugged me that I had space that I was paying for but couldn’t use. There are a good five acres of woods between my house and the nearest one behind me, so a wooded buffer isn’t really necessary.
I started looking into the cost of clearing that space and what my options were.
The first option was, of course, the “free” one. I could clear it by hand. With a hack and slash approach I could clear the property on my own. I have machetes, axes and chainsaws. What I don’t have is a tremendous amount of time and this job would take a lot of it. Also there would be the matter of what to do with the brush once it was cleared. Burning would be a questionable option in my area and hauling it off would be every bit as difficult as cutting it down.
I could rent or hire a Bobcat to come and push everything over and pile it up. This would cost me between five and six hundred dollars. The clearing would go much faster but I would still have to deal with the brush.
My third option was an “organic” approach. My grandfather has a farm in middle Tennessee. He raises goats and I have seen first hand their appetite and unbridled capacity to decimate vegetation. I decided for relatively little cost the best option was to bring in goats and let them do the clearing for me. A fence was mostly in place and with a little repair I felt it would be secure enough to keep them penned in. It was not lost on me that I might also have access to a very cheap source of “grass fed” meat to serve to my family. More on that later.
There is a client at the gym who has goats that he uses to keep the brush clear on one of his properties. I had jokingly suggested that he let me “borrow” a few of his goats. To my surprise he said yes and that he had one in particular he’d like to send my way. My friend Bob came over and helped me clear the perimeter and expose the fence. My wife, Samantha and I spent another day shoring it up.
Our main concentration was on the barbed wire fence in the back. We pulled the loose wire tight and reset posts that had fallen over. After a trip to our local Home Depot where we bought more barbed wire, T-posts and a T-post driver, we filled in what I felt were the weak spots. I was expecting an adult goat so I spaced the barbed wire about a foot apart. When I was finished I called Sam and told him we were ready.
I should have know something was up when he volunteered to catch the goat and bring her over himself. I, however, was too excited over how easy this had been and was ready for our new guest to get to work. Sam brought her over and we set her up in the back.
This was early afternoon and I didn’t think much more about it. We had guests coming over for grilled burgers and my thoughts turned to charcoal and what else I was going to put on the grill. My middle daughter Bronwyn, the horse girl, was at the stables all afternoon. She came home after our guests had arrived and while I was working the grill with two apple cores in hand. She breezed by without so much as a “Hello” to our guests saying, “I’m gonna go feed the goat.”
Needless to say, Bronwyn fancies herself as a bit of an “animal whisperer” and the prospect of a new species for her to interact with was more than she could stand.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and if I had it to do over again I would have stopped her. When Sam delivered her he warned me that she was a rescue goat and not overly fond of people. Unfortunately, I was too busy grilling burgers and didn’t take the time to think things out.
Not five minutes had passed when Bronwyn returned with eyes as big as saucers, “The goat got out!”
“The goat got out!”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t know!”
Not being really prepared to take a goat yet, I had no corn to entice her back with. So I took a five gallon bucket and a scoop of dog food, hoping that it would sound like corn and that maybe I could entice her back that way. I asked my friend to take over the grill and headed up the hill to see what I could do, Bronwyn followed with tears in her eyes and a look of absolute panic about her.
“Where did she get out?” I asked.
“Over here,” she pointed.
“I don’t know. I was trying to feed her the apple core and she just ran through the fence.” More like phased through. There wasn’t any sign of passage. The fence was undisturbed and the barbs were free of goat hair. Clearly one foot spacing was too wide.
I shook my bucket of dog food and called but heard nothing. Dark was fast approaching and there are five acres of woods behind my house. It was time to go in.
Bronwyn was completely distraught. She blamed herself and was convinced that she had killed the goat. I was mad and frustrated but I never blamed her. I blamed myself. The fence was my responsibility and Sam had told me she didn’t like people. Bronwyn was 11 years old and crazy for animals. I should have stopped her.
Nevertheless, she could not be consoled and she went to bed without eating. I resolved the next morning to go out and repair my negligence. I bought corn, a collar, a bell and more T-stakes to repair the fence.
That morning as I was leaving the Ag supply store I got a text from my mother-in-law, Nana. The goat had been found. She heard her bleating next door as everyone was getting ready for school. They chased her almost a quarter mile to the parking lot of a nearby construction company. With the help of one of the employees and a half hour spent chasing her around the parking lot they managed to trap her and get her back home.
By the time I got home everyone was back at the house. The goat was sequestered inside our privacy fence and everyone was relieved and ready to head to school. I made plans to come back in the afternoon bell the goat, fix the fence and return her to active duty.
At noon I received another text from Nana.
“Did u move the goat?”
Turns out the goat managed to jump out of a six foot high privacy fence and head out for freedom and whatever fate held in store for her. As best as I can figure she climbed on top of the woodpile. From there she made a leap onto a stack of pallets and used that height to jump the fence.
That afternoon I saw Sam again. When we made the exchange we had not exactly been clear on ownership and I was uncertain as to whether this goat was a loan or a gift. With head hung low I related the goat’s story and our failed efforts to recover her. Sam just shrugged it off. It became clear that by taking the goat I had actually done him a favor and now that she was out of his hands he couldn’t care less what happened.
It was at this point that I got more of the full story. This goat was part of a pair rescued by the Humane Society. They were both full grown adults, but the male was much more tractable and useful. She was a pill, being trouble to both the humans who dealt with her and the other goats in Sam’s flock.
The male goat’s name was Clyde. The goat we lost was named Bonnie and somehow learning this brought everything into perspective. Bonnie was, like her namesake,a wildcard destined to be free and to manage her own fate ro die trying. I figure one sunny afternoon while canoing down the Cahaba, which runs a short ways behind our house, that I’ll see Bonnie again. I fully expect she’ll be at the water’s edge eating water plants and in charge of a gang of rogue deer, living her life on her own uncompromising terms. Either that or she’s already been a part of somebody’s barbecue, either way she’s managed to live up to her name.