Dear Ranch

Blending Bloodlines for a Better Tomorrow

First Goat

When I was 4 or 5 years old, living with my parents on their farm near Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas, I was claimed or adopted by one of my Granddad's Spanish kids.  Looking back now, I realize that the goat was most likely a bottle raised baby that viewed every human, large or small, as a walking meal ticket.  Everytime I went outside, the goat attached itself to me hoping to get an extra bit of feed.  I took the goats actions as evidence that it thought of me as its special friend.  Being an only child, I looked on that goat as my number one playmate and companion.

One hot summer afternoon (in the good old days before air-conditioning), I woke up ahead of schedule from my "against-my-will" afternoon nap.  It seems that while I was trying to sleep my mother had decided to run some errand that she was sure would only take a little while to complete.  She was positive she could run the errand and return before I woke up.  While she was gone, I soon discovered that I was home alone.  I wandered outside to see where everybody was and what was happening.  Sure enough, no one else was on the place.  At the time, I can remember thinking that something terrible must have happened and that I was probably the last person left on any rate I went looking for my friend the goat.  When my mother came back home and discovered I was missing from my room she started a frantic search that ended when I was discovered down at the barn, sitting on a trough with my arms hugging the neck of the only living creature I had left in my goat.

Later on, my Grandad had my little wooden wagon fitted with a couple of shafts so that the goat could pull me around the yard.  That whole deal never quite worked out as intended as either I wasn't much of a goat driver or the goat wasn't much of a wagon puller.

Granddad's Goats

In the middle and late 1940's, some of my earliest memories are of the daily checking of the goat pasture for newborn goats, goat-killing dogs, goats with problems, etc.  I don't remember stomach worms as being as great a concern then as they are now.  This was most likely due to the fact that goats were expected to be goats and were raised in an environment where browse was their primary food source.  There was an abundance of forbs and browse so that the goats had plenty of feed that was "higher than their head".  There was not much necessity to graze short rations that so often contribute to today's worm problem. 

There was a more deadly danger, that time, the screw worm was a major killer of goats and any cut or scratch that drew blood could develop into a fatal situation if not discovered and treated.  This made the checking of the pasture serious business.  One of my jobs was to crawl to the very back of the low-built "goat shed" to evict any goats found there so they could be looked at and doctored if necessary.  Being a kid I looked upon this chore as a great adventure and eagerly looked forward to what all I might discover in the goat shed each day.

It seems to me that, back then, there was more of a local market for young goats for barbqueing around the holidays of Juneteenth and July Fourth, than there is now.  Although my Granddad had a couple of hundred producing nannies, the kid crop would sellout every year when those two peak times for eating goat rolled around.  I had a lot of aunts, uncles, and cousins that would all gather at my Granddad's house for one of his famous goat barbeques.  My cousins and I would engage in contests to see how many "free" cokes or grapettes we could drink in one day.  Between the smoky pit, 100 degrees in the shade temperatures, wrestling matches with cousins anxious to see who was the toughest, flavorfull goat meat,  home made ice cream turned by hand, and all the cokes you could drink, it was a great time to be a kid.    

Prior to the days of Livestock Guardian Dogs, we spent a lot of time just easing around the pasture hunting for the stray packs of dogs that would cause such death and destruction in the goat herd.  Being a little kid who loved both goats and dogs, I was a hearttorn witness to that day when a group of four or five stray dogs were caught in the act of killing and ended up being killed themselves.

Disappearing Goats

In the 1970's, when living near Alto, Cherokee County, Texas, a friend of mine that shared a love of cutting horses talked me into getting a bunch of goats to use in training cutting horses.  We loaded up early one morning and made the drive to a sale barn near Gatesville where we bought what we thought would be excellent "cuttin' horse training goats".  Evidently the goats had a history with cuttin' horse training that we didn't know about.  Even though our horses were what we considered to be above average horses they couldn't come close to matching the moves of the goats.  In fact, it was soon almost impossible to even separate a single goat from the herd so the cutting could begin.  If you were lucky enough to get one separated, the goat would then run at full speed for the nearest fence where it would jump up to the third or so rail, turn right or left, run down the rail toward its friends and make a dive into the herd never to be cut again.

To add insult to financial injury, we loaded the goats back up into the trailer later that night and hauled them to my corrals where, about midnight, we backed up to the gate, turned them loose, shut the gate, and went home to try to figure out what to do next to either get our money back or trade them for better "cutting horse training goats".  The next morning, when I went out to feed, you can imagine my surprise to find that although we had securely tied the gate where we unloaded the goats, we had failed to make sure the back gate was shut as well.  From reading the tracks that remained, it appeared the goats had calmly jumped out of the trailer, walked down the corral fence, through the open back gate and off into the woods.  We spent the next several days riding out the farm, wandering through the timber company lands that adjoined our property, and interviewing neighbors in all directions.  The best we could piece together from various sightings in the days that followed, the goats ended up in the vicinity of the vast Neches River bottomlands never to be heard from by us again.  That ended our search for the perfect "cuttin' horse training goat".

Lightning Kills

Lightning is a natural killer that seems to strike in the darndest places.  I had a small herd of nineteen or twenty Spanish brush goats, in a great goat pasture on the side of a red clay hill West of Alto, Texas, in the late 1960's.  The goats were doing good on the excellent browse.  The kids were growing fast as a result of their mama's rich milk.  I will never forget that sad day when I found my entire herd piled up dead from a lightning strike of their favorite cedar tree.  They had unluckily selected the cedar tree for shelter rather than traveling another few yards to the log barn with tin roof that was available to them in bad weather. 

Over the years I have lost several cows from lightning as they stood under trees out in the middle of the pasture waiting for the rains to subside.  Others have died as lightning struck the fence they were standing next to.  These events always weigh on my mind as I get caught out in the thunderstorms that seem to frequent our area of Texas.  

Angoras Weren't For Me

A few years ago I bought a just weaned Australian Shepard pup from a friend of mine here in Palestine.  My wife had her mind set on a Blue Merle female so I'm still not sure how we ended up with a tri-colored Red male.  I guess the lesson is never buy a dog from a man that sells insurance to healthy people for a living.

At any rate, we called him Gator since he loved to heel animals and humans kinda low down to the ground.  Gator had an over abundance of natural ability which helped cover up for my shortcomings as a novice dog trainer.  Gator won his class and an award for the Best Young Started Dog at the first show we took him to out in West Texas on the other side of Abilene.  Later on he won the Jackpot for Started Cattle at the Southwest Working Australian Shepherd Association show near Manor, Texas.  That was the end of his show career as he had accumulated enough points that he was no longer elgible for entry level cattle or sheep classes.  In order to continue to show he would would have to move up to the higher and more difficult classes that far exceeded by abilities to teach.  He never did enjoy stooping low enough to heel a duck so those classes weren't an option.

For the remainder of his life with us, Gator went wherever the family went, whether to work in town or on the farm.  He even spent a couple of nights with us in high-rise hotels in Austin. Gator and Frances had come with me to Austin for me to get some continuing legal education classes.  They went places in town while I went to school.  At night we would leave Gator in the truck since the hotel was such a fancy place that I couldn't imagine that their pet policy would allow a dog in the room.  After a sleepless first night spent tossing and turning while worrying about how Gator was doing out in the truck on such a cold night, I had lots of extra time to feel guilty about the nice warm room.  Early the next morning when I went out to check on him I met a man and his border collie coming down the hallway.  I figured if a little old border collie was acceptable as a guest in the hotel than they should be overjoyed for such a great dog like Gator to spend the night in the room instead of the truck.  I hurried on down and, after a short run around the parking lot and flower beds, we started inside.  You could  almost see Gator's  heart swell up with awe and pride as he high-stepped across the marble floors on the way to the automatic door opening elevator.  He hopped into that elevator like he had been doing it every day of his life. 

As part of the training regimem we acquired a few sheep to use in working Gator.  This led to an interest in spinning and weaving the wool from the sheep which soon led to a few Angora goats to add to the mix.  I didn't do any market research on Angoras or I would have probably gone in a different direction.    The Angoras I had came from an unfortunate line of stock that were raised under conditions where natural was a stranger and mothering ability was a foreign language.  Needless to say, my percentage of live goats weaned to bred does would not win any contests.  The goats were doing their part as they were ready to wean the young one by sunset of the first day.   A friend of mine who was wise beyond his years said that certain breeds of goats (not Boers)come into the world looking for a place to die and it is the goat herders job to keep that place from being found as long as possible. 

Our sheep and goat pasture was overgrown with thick brush, briers, thorns, etc.  Every time the Angoras would come in from browsing, they would leave a few of their number behind tangled up the briars or thorns and unable to break free.I spent more time looking for and freeing goats than was possible to keep up so the Angoras had to find a new home in a more favorable location.  They were soon replaced with hardy, slick Spanich goats who could eat their way through the thickest briers and brambles without any hangups...ah, life was good.

This euphoria lasted until the incentives ran out on wool and then the drought came on with a vengance.   One day I saw a sheep and a goat looking each at other eyeball to eyeball while bending over a single blade of grass trying to outlast and outstare the other and end up with the prize.  I decided that now was the time for a change.  We sadly opened the trailer door for Gator to load the sheep.  The goats saw an opportunity to travel the world and hopped in the trailer as well.  It was easier to take them all to the sale than it would have been to unload and separate them and load them up again so for a while the goats were only fond memories.