Getting My Goats
Well, actually getting my daughter's goats, but therein lies the story.
For a long time now, my animal-loving, youngest daughter Celia has been asking me for goats. With some woods behind our house and a space opened up due to removing several dead oaks, she kept persisting. As I have chronicled on at least one occasion or two, she is hard for me to resist. But I tried, especially because I did not know a thing about goats.
When she left for school on her birthday last August hopeful a goat would be awaiting her when she returned home, I thought I had sent a clever message. For I delighted, as any dad would do with his humor, in having a stuffed goat tied up to the post by the door when she arrived that afternoon. She's a good sport and laughed with me at the joke. But then a new look of determination could be seen in her eyes that startled me a bit. She knew she was wearing me down.
Years ago, when a friend from Ireland was staying with us, he saw the way my youngest had her dad wrapped around her little finger with her sweet smiles and impeccable logic. So he dubbed her "the Wee Wangler" for her cunning ways at bending me to her will, a nickname which has stuck despite her growing into a tall teenager. So, true to form, she figured out how to overcome my resistance. She started telling and showing me online how goats eat weeds and can clear forests.
As I have also chronicled here (with a telling premonition regarding goats), we have battled invasive weeds including poison ivy and especially bittersweet in our woods. Observable in part of the woods around us, the bittersweet ivy can grow up the trees and form huge, smothering ropes that eventually kill the host. Of course Celia kept using this angle on me regarding the goats, and others who I thought were friends would encourage her when they heard. "Yeah, why do all that hard work of pulling the vines?" they would say as they heard the Wee Wangler reminding me again. "Just get some goats and let them eat them." Others started telling me how "easy" and "doable" it was with "just some electric fencing and a little shelter," which she rejoiced in hearing.
So finally, I caved.
It's amazing how you can go to Tractor Supply, stand there staring at fencing looking dumb because you have no idea know what you're doing, and incredible mercy ministry appears out of nowhere. For if my goat story is anything, it is about how the Lord does send aid to the helpless.
My first trip to Tractor Supply, a 20 year-old girl was sent over to assist me, which I inwardly scoffed at. "What could she possibly know about fencing?" I thought as she walked up. But she had graduated from Celia's Christian school and they knew each other, she owned and bred goats, and she schooled me on how to build an electric fence. She also mentioned she had two goats for sale, which, interestingly, Celia seemed to have known. Conspiracy? On my second trip to Trac. Supply, a young man reminded me that I would need a gate. Now, you might think this would have been obvious to me, but I was intent on the fencing. My third trip to T. Supply, an old farmer, seeing me standing there looking bewildered, asked me what I was doing. From him I learned what a T-post is and why I would need some beyond my plastic step-in posts (ask me sometime and I will tell you). My fourth trip to T.S., another worker tutored me on the workings of electric currents which I had forgotten from my high school physics class. Did you know that the animals receive the shock from the fence primarily from completing the circuit with their hoofs on the ground, as there is (an expensive) copper rod in the ground? Amazing! Well, I could keep telling you about all the TS trips, but you don't have enough fingers to keep track and you're getting the picture.
Back home, between each trip, slowly things were developing. A perimeter was set with the posts, then line was strung out. Again, acts of mercy kept happening, though someone not knowing better might have thought I took lessons from Tom Sawyer who had a knack for getting others to do his work. A neighbor stopped by to see me struggling with setting the gate, giving me pointers and even some concrete to set the posts. A friend came by to give me a hand unloading the shed, yet ended up building with his boys the wooden foundation for it and then wiring the electricity for the fence. After Celia and I spent a whole day getting the shed up, it did strike me that with all this effort and help I could have probably cleared "the back forty" of weeds and then some.
Finally, the the day came when the goats arrived. We put Stan and Ollie in their new pasture, Celia paid the gal for them, and as she drove off we enjoyed the idyllic sights and sounds of these little dwarf goats in their new pasture. As they took their first nibble at the weeds, a smile played across my face as our plan started in motion. But the smile quickly turned to disbelief. In ten minutes they went right through the electric fence. Like their comedic namesakes often did, they escaped and took off.
When people think about goats from a Biblical perspective, they often view them as more of a loser animal, I believe. After all, in the parable of the sheep and goats, clearly the goats are associated with the wicked. But there's more to the story. Goats are actually listed as clean animals (Deut. 14:4-5). They could even be offered in some of the sacrifices (Lev. 1:10; 3:12-13). But there's one offering in particular that this occasion brought to mind. That of the scapegoat.
On the Day of Atonement, two male goats would be used. By casting lots, the priest would choose one for an offering and the other to be set free. The first goat would be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled in the Holy Place to make atonement because of "the uncleannesses of the people of Israel." The high priest would take the other goat, known as the scapegoat, lay his hands on it and confess the sins of the people, then release it into the wilderness. As Jerry Bridges explains so clearly in The Gospel for Real Life,
Expiation, which basically means ‘removal,’ accompanies propitiation and speaks of the work of Christ in removing or putting away our sin. Such is the symbolism of the two goats used on the Day of Atonement. The first goat represented Christ's work of propitiation as it was killed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat. The second goat represented Christ's work of expiation in removing or blotting out the sins that were against us. The object of propitiation is the wrath of God. The object of expiation is the sin, which must be removed from His presence. (p. 73)
In all seriousness, I'm thankful that both my sin and its judgment have been removed from me by the Lord. For as I tramped with my kids though all the tangled undergrowth of briers, poison ivy, etc. - a sign of the curse - looking for those escaped goats, I certainly needed forgiveness for what I was thinking. After nearly an hour, as the sun was setting, and after much shooing them back and forth, we finally scared them into the shed and closed the door for the night with relief.
I will tell you I put up two more strands of wiring the next morning, let them out, and I watched again in less disbelief as we repeated the above paragraphs. Yes, they scooted under the fencing in ten minutes flat. After recovering them again, I moved all the wires down a notch and we closed the gaps under the fence with logs and bricks. I'm happy to report as of this writing, they have stayed in their pen for more than three weeks now. Even better, Stan and Ollie are doing a number on our weeds. I may not be able to put "Professional Goatherder" on my resume, but certainly I could get away with "Four-legged Weedeater Supervisor." I may even have to expand their pen soon.
And the Wee Wangler is at it again. Now she's telling me how a miniature donkey would help protect and tame the goats.