Ben Hur, Goats and a Hangover …

Our posh but very nice neighbours (Mike & Pat) were happy to have our goats on their grass, and we were happy to oblige because it saved our grazing. Therefore there was nothing untoward when one morning Cindy said “I’ll put the kettle on if you put the goats out on Pats lawn. Gert’s (the mum) got her tether chain with her but Oscars (Billy kid*) chain is still out with his tether spike, and as Oscar might not follow you out you’ll have to lead him by his collier.”

(* Yes, we did eat the Billy kids, but this one is another blog)

Over night Gert was tethered to her Ark, hence she had her chain with her, and Oscar free ranged in the chicken run. I didn’t normally get involved with the goats, Cindy did the milking she had built up an empathy with the critters, so there was an uneasiness in air as it was me, and not her they spied approaching them, fetchingly attired as I was in my old boots ( sans laces) and baggy shorts. It was still early enough that the nice posh folks had their curtains drawn and the birds were BLASTING out a dawn chorus which coupled with the persistent two tone bleating of agitated goats was not sympathetic to the aftermath of the several pints of cider which was still trying to impose its numbing presence on my skull bone.

I got the kid out of the chicken run, holding him as instructed by the collar. Unhitched Gert’s chain and started towards the grazing. Gert broke into a trot, anxious to get to the grass and to get away from me, the kid although young was getting to be a ‘handful’ and sensing the panic of its mother was pulling so hard it was rearing onto its back legs. To help with this torturous situation I was bent at forty five degrees, because when Oscar was on all fours, he was only stood a little over two foot at the shoulder.

I pride myself as being pragmatic, so rather than endure this situation and end up with a permanent stoop and arms proportionality so long as to never fit a ‘regular’ suit again. I had an idea …….I hauled Gert back to me and hooked Oscars collar to the other end of her chain so I could lead them both on the one chain ….‘Ben Hur style’. Proving that even under the haze of receding cider intoxication and applied torture. I could ‘sort it’.

All I did was to shut my eyes for a few moments, they wanted to be shut, I needed them to be shut! The tugging of two goats and that bloody bleating was doing my head. The sun was warm in my face. I was fighting to keep awake. OK, I may have remonstrated with the critters (just a little) asking them to “please be quiet” or words to that effect. Their instinctive ‘fight or flight’ mode kicked in, they went into flight mode, so now instead of the buggers being in front dragging me out across Pats lawn they were swinging out sideways and parallel with me. At this juncture I defiantly did question their antics in a slightly more animated and vocal way, which severed as the final impulsion they needed to cross behind me and run out tight which left me with a twenty foot tether chain warped around my naked legs being pulled tight by two goats who were not about to stop pulling and release the tension because the critter in middle (me) was now screaming every profanity he knew (which is lot), crying and starting to bleed.

How I laughed, laying on the grass outside my neighbours bedroom window ‘reeling in’ a kid goat whilst its now demented mother was taking up the slack in the chain instigating a cheese wire sawing action across the back of my knees.

Still looking on the bright side, the sodding kettle was on, so there was plenty of sterilised water!

In fear or ecstasy ….. it was hard to tell

Gert the goats first morning at Forsham found our new girl a bit ‘stressy’ her unrelenting bleating bellowing visibly into the damp morning air, an indication she needed attention in the udder region. With some trepidation we lead Gert out of her newly constructed (Stig of the dump) goat shed, to be milked. A liberal bribe of goat mix got her up onto the milking stand. Cindy positioned herself and the bucket, took a hold of Gert’s teats in the fashion Goat Bloke (see last blog) had shown us. A combination of her new surroundings and new slightly hesitant handlers were obviously going to impact on the new girl, so she was going to be, and did, get a bit ‘worked up’. To give Cindy her due she kept talking and assuring Gert, but initially only the odd squirt of milk resounded into the stainless steel bucket. As Cindy got to grips (pun fully intended) with the task and Gert started to relax. The squirts became more frequent and more rhythmic and although it took an inordinate amount of time, patience, and perseverance on Cindy’s part (the latter two attributes, God forgot to issue me) she actually had our first milk. Unfortunately this initial contribution to the Forsham Dairy Emporium was short lived as Gert then ‘plonked ‘ her foot in the bucket………

Cindy’s mum, Topsy, had hand milked cows as a girl, to her milking was as simple and as automatic as riding a bike. It took her only moments to get back into her stride, milk gushed into the bucket. Gert stood mesmerised, whether in fear or ecstasy it was hard to tell. It would have taken a high speed camera to actually see Topsy’s hand action, and an interpreter in ‘Middle Kentish’ to decipher her instruction, but Cindy’s milking technique was enhanced under her mum’s guidance.

After only a few weeks both the goat and Cindy were getting comfortable with each other. Gert would run to the stand to get grub, and udder relief. Cindy was getting as proficient at milking as her mum. The whole milking bit was becoming so ‘matter of fact’ that Cindy did not even have to clip (by her collar) Gert to the stand. This trust was repaid one bright and sunny morning when with surprisingly nimble action Gert jumped off the milking bench, knocking over Cindy and bucket. With milk swollen udder swinging like a metronome, and Gert bleating in time to the beat, she was out of the garden, and went heading off down Forsham lane. Gert’s progress was followed Benny Hill fashion by Cindy welding a feed bucket, the Kidlet in her red wellies and pants, a pair of demented Collie dogs (Dill & Basil) who assuming this was a game, were running in circles around the entire procession, barking manically at each other, at the goat and the pursuers. Gert took a right at the next gate, up the ‘posh but nice’ neighbours drive, across their manicured lawn, pass the patio window and family (now agog) at breakfast. She blundered her way through their boundary hedge back into our plot, stumbled over the wood pile and jumped back onto the milking bench. …. ……… lesson learnt.

I should at this time mention that neither of us had actually drunk goats’ milk. Cindy was completely at ease with milk straight from a warm hairy mammal. To her teats and udder cream, were normal. I however was not enamoured with the idea, and had qualms about drinking anything that had just been squirted into a bucket from the lady parts of a critter sporting a beard and Beelzebub eyes, and then had to be filtered through several layers muslin to get the hairs and ‘bits’ out of it.

After that very first mouthful, I knew I was right,……….. it was awful.

More ballcocks than bullocks……

As kids, the fields around us were ‘polka doted’ with cows, they were everywhere. Whenever you crossed a pasture a quick scan to see if the bull was about became standard ‘survival’ practise. As a dare we would grab hold of the electric fencing, set up to stop the cows braking out onto lusher grass. Bike riding slalom skills were required to avoid the twice daily application of cow poo which was literally splattered up and down just about every lane and byway as countless cows were brought up for morning and evening milking. Farms and lanes had a bitter sweet smell of cow poo and silage, which I found strangely pleasant (perhaps that’s just me). There’s still a junction in our village known as ‘smelly corner’ but I doubt if there has been a cow on that farm for twenty five years or more.

Cindy’s dad, Stan, was a farmer as was Stan’s dad, his dad, and his dad’s dad. Their family farm was in the middle of High Halden, I say ‘was’ because it’s now a selection of ‘desirable residences’ with not a blade out of place let alone a silage clamp. Elm Tree Farm was typical of its type and of its time in its framing diversities, including the requisite herd of black and white Frisian cows. Within living memory Stan and his dad had delivered milk, cream, farm kitchen butter, and eggs from a horse drawn cart. The milk being ladled directly from a churn straight into the customers own jug. (There’s a carbon foot print to ponder, hand milked, no diesel, no bottles, not even any foil bottle tops!)

Given her lineage, Cindy’s hankering to have a house cow was totally predictable, so we out and brought a ………. GOAT !

She may well have a blood line of cow keepers going back generations, but Cindy is scared stiff of the critters. Herself will sit astride a horse which looks to me as if its having a fit….. but she won’t go within thirty passes of a cow. Me, I’m not comfortable with cows or horses, my blood line goes back through generations of jobbing plumbers, so more ballcocks than bullocks in my case.

A scan of the local classifieds located us our first goat. Yet again blissfully ignorant we went to see our proposed addition to the Forsham Cottage mad house! We listened intently to the ‘Goat Bloke’ as he told us what he (and we) thought we needed to know. He showed us how to tether the goat. He showed us how to house the goat. He showed how to milk the goat. He showed us how when trimming the goats hoofs it was essential to hold the beast properly because if you didn’t it would kick out and you would plunge your pen knife into your leg. Goat Bloke demonstrated how to bleed quite badly whilst doing a one legged hopping dance and cursing at a disinterested goat. Mr and Mrs Goat Bloke started shouting at each other about ruined trousers, tetanus and tourniquets. Mr Goat Bloke did not look at all well as they sped off in the direction of A&E.

We posted £60 though Goat Bloke’s letter box and took the goat home. ……. another interesting day.

“That’s disgusting, what would Louise have said”

“Come and push down on the goats bum to see if she wants to mate”. That’s a welcome home greeting that only a select few would have had.

Coming home after dark from a late shift I found Cindy and the goat bathed in the light radiating from the back door. Gert the goat was very animated, anxiously shuffling from side to side, bleating persistently and waging her tail like a child with a flag. Having consulted the books Cindy reckoned this behaviour meant our Gert was on heat, but she needed conformation of her prognosis by having me ‘act the Billy’. Feeling slightly self-conscious I stood behind Gerty and pressed down on her hips. Gerty registered her ‘requirement’ by bracing herself for some ‘nooky’ action. My remonstrations that I was too tired, and she’d have to wait till morning, got me ’THAT’ look from Cindy and her mum (who I didn’t realise was there) went back to the telly, muttering something about “that’s disgusting, what would Louise have said” (Cindy’s gran) .

We understood that the second morning of the three day season was the most fruitful time for mating. I can’t remember how, but we had the contact number a lady in Biddenden (ten miles south) who had a suitable stud Billy goat that would ‘do the deed’.

Early next day found us heading toward Gerts ‘Mr Right’. Gert was a big goat so when she stood ( she didn’t want to lay down) in the back of our old Cortina Estate her head and neck came over the back seats and pressed tight against the roof lining making her ears protrude at right angles from her head. Gerts restrictions and contortions did nothing to quell her persistent bleating, which was now at our ear hole level. We had to open the car windows when Gert gave up on bladder control and started a torrent of wee which went on for miles, most of which found its way into the spare wheel well. Exposure to warm goats pee in the confines of a moving motor vehicle must surely contravene some road traffic act or other. Going through the road works in Headcorn High Street earned us some bemused looks.

Having found the place, a smallholding in the ‘back lanes’. We introduced ourselves to a very serious lady in a once white dairyman’s coat. Stud lady was not interested in any attempt at small talk . This was SERIOUS and things had to be done correctly. Cindy and I obviously knew about the ‘plumbing aspect’ but the protocol of having a goat mated was another matter. Stud lady disappeared behind the house to get her prize Billy. I had a preconceived idea of what a stud billy goat looked like, this based on the illustrations in the Billy Goat Gruff book Mrs Taylor read to us in class two at primary school (Cira 1959). I wanted the stallion of the goat world, a big powerful beast with a flowing beard, massive sweeping horns and a look that would kill. I was thinking Arnold Schwarzenegger, I got Albert Steptoe.

Albert was small, only about two thirds the size of Gert, sported a matted nicotine yellow stained white coat. Protruding from his head was a pair of distorted horns one pointing north the other east. He had a steady dribble of ‘stuff ’ coming from the ‘nether regions’. The smell of Albert and his ‘stuff’ is beyond any words I can conjure. To complete the picture smelly Albert was salivating, had a puckered top lip, which was twitching, as was his nose as he savoured the essence of Gert, this was no Schwarzenegger.

However Albert was well up for it, he did the sniff the bum bit (Gerts not mine) Then he let out a loud bellow, ran and up and banged himself against Gerts rear in a clumsy leap frog action which had him jumping clear over Gerts head. The whole ‘action’ was over in seconds. Stud lady said “we’ll leave it a few minutes and then do a second cover”. I was not aware there had been a first cover. The second time was none the less intimate, loud bellow, leap frog over the head, but this time on landing Billy raised himself on his back legs, spun on the spot and with head cocked crashed it down on Gerts crown. My comment that “Albert was not much of gentleman, gets his end away and then head butts her”, was not well received by the serious stud lady.

We took Gert home, this time she laid down, she stopped bleating, she smelt ………as did we and the Cortina.

Son of Albert was a good looking kid, but he ended up in the pot……..