I don't have a farm. What I have is five acres of steep land dominated by towering conifers, which in an era of less population pressure would have remained undeveloped. But a quarter mile down my private road are the pastures original to a small nineteenth-century homestead that was divided into buildable lots in the early 1970's. Most of them are weedy fields which are simply buffers between neighbors, an annual expense to disc every spring to keep them from becoming summer fire hazards. My idea was that these could become my goat pastures away from home.
People are restless these days. But there are advantages to staying put. My family has lived in this valley since 1972, one or another of us, and now, having outstayed everyone else, we are practically patriarchs. It was easy for me to get volunteers to try out my goat grazing idea. Of course, the first person had a field that was about as challenging as could be—almost unwalkably steep, covered with scotch broom and decorated with brush piles. Well, this is what goats are good at. At least, it's one of their talents.
Moveable electric mesh fencing is a great invention, but it is not magical. It requires intensive effort to keep it clear of weeds, and some contortions to keep it upright on a slope like the one we were facing. It also terrified my dog. Once shocked, she was extremely wary about approaching within a hundred feet of it again. However, if I told her to "get around", she went in to gather her goats without hesitation. Herding dogs are strange.
For the first few days, it all went just like I had dreamed. Bonnie gathered up the goats in my home field (now a dreary little landscape of stripped vines, which the winter sun never touched), took our tiny flock down the road to my neighbor's, and put them into their new grazing ground. At dusk we would reverse the process.
Then one afternoon I got a phone call. "Your fence is down and your goats are out," another neighbor told me. I grabbed my boots and dog, but before I could even get out the gate, I saw my goats coming down the drive, making their way calmly back home for supper.
Investigation showed the fence down in four places. Apparently the windy rainstorm of the previous day (when I'd kept the goats home) had broken some of the guy strings, which we'd casually made out of twine. We redid the guys in rope, added more, and upped the voltage. Then I made it a practice to walk to whole fenceline every morning, since that was the only way to view it completely. Live and learn.
Meanwhile, I learned that two of my goats had tested positive for CL, a chronic lymphatic infection with no cure, and that the idea I'd been given that my doelings would be big enough to breed this year was untrue. I had imagined I'd have baby kids soon, and it was clear this was not going to happen with Plan A. Once again I felt I was floundering in a sea of ignorance and mistakes. The answers to the CL question were hard to locate and the solutions seemed overwhelmingly bleak and expensive. What to do?
It is a mystery to me how some people find life boring.