Pack goats and lawn-mowing sheep

Then there was the time I was a sheep and goat rancher.

I got the idea when I lived in Arizona, but somehow never was able to act on it until I was living with my wife in a farmhouse with some land, in Clifton Springs, New York. That’s about 30 miles outside of Rochester, where I worked at WROC-TV as the chief news photographer.

The farmhouse was a dream, sort of. It was structurally sound, but never really all that aesthetically pleasing. It had been last decorated in the 1970s, as best as I could tell, but it was now 1999 and really needed updating.

It had a couple of barns—well, one was really more like a garage—and I had great fun setting up stalls and sprucing up the other one.

My original idea was to raise goats to be pack animals, a very practical idea I learned about from the book, “The Pack Goat,“ by John Mionczynski.

The concept was workable and even profitable if run as a business out west, where there is a lot of open space and National Forest land.

In New York, not so much.

Still, I had the land and I was going to try my hand at raising goats. I first bought a pair of handsome bucks I named “Augustus” and “Woodrow,” after the two main characters in the book and movie “Lonesome Dove.”

We brought them home in the bed of the pickup, a beater of a “farm truck” if ever there was one, with stock rails on it, and covered with a blue tarp. The tarp tore itself to pieces on the drive back, traumatizing the goats for a good, long time afterwards

I built what I imagined was goat-proof fencing to keep them on about three acres. Oh, yes, I’d read all about the fun goats have escaping from fenced areas, but I was sure my work would hold them.

It didn’t. I added electrical wiring, and that seemed to work a bit better.

I learned all about livestock auctions as I built my herd and was truly proud of what I was accomplishing, even if I wasn’t sure what that was.

Every now and then, a neighbor would stop by to tell me that my goats were out. They never roamed far—they seemed to just want to prove they could escape.

Baby goats are cute, and if you get hold of goats when they are babies, they’re easily trained to like human company. They make great pets, and no—they don’t eat tin cans.

Eventually, I added a small flock of sheep. The eight little guys were excellent lawnmowers. I bought some portable electric fencing and made a corral that I moved each day to give them fresh grass and give me a more even lawn.

My best memory of my time in the farmhouse came on one summer night, when I couldn’t sleep.

I walked downstairs and looked out the window. In the moonlight, I could see my little flock, happily munching away on a midnight snack. I stood there, listening to the “crunch, crunch, crunch,” for a good fifteen minutes, at peace with everything.

I loved that farm, which I called “Flint Creek Ranch” after the small stream that ran behind it. I had so much fun there, barbecuing in summer, entertaining family, and simply enjoying the fact that we had a place in the country but still kept jobs in the city.

We added two dogs. One, I found as a puppy for sale in front of a house. The pups all were with their mother, a beautiful Siberian Husky. The one I picked out, however, grew up to be a nice looking hound with short, dark fur. Either mom got busy with the milkman (in dog terms) or someone pulled a fast one on me. But Casey grew up to be a great dog.

Sting was a purebred Border Collie, made for working sheep, and boy, did he! I was amazed at how little training it took to get him to understand what to do with my little flock. He was an endless ball of energy.

Winters near Lake Ontario are tough. Heavy snow is the norm, and the cold winds are biting.

One especially bad day, I was getting ready to go to work in town, when my wife called up to me, “I don’t think you’re going to work today.”

“Sure I am, I’ll take the pickup,” said I.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?” I asked, baffled.

“Because the state snowplow just got stuck in the snow in front of the house,” she said.

I stayed home that day.

The goats and sheep huddled together in the barns for warmth. I fed them lots of hay and even got hold of some after-Christmas Christmas trees for the goats.

One of the sheep died that winter; I don’t know the cause, but I was devastated.

Our well pump went out, cutting off our water supply that winter. It would have been a very expensive replacement, and the situation was made all the more frustrating by the fact that the town was laying water line, and the workers were within view of our house.

We agreed that spending the money was a bad idea (and we didn’t have it anyway), so I began the daily chore of driving about a mile to an old railroad water tank where people could collect potable water, and toting it home. We got several very large containers and, every day, I’d haul water back in the bed of the pickup.

We kept some gallon jugs near the toilet for flushing, and, in the mornings, I’d wake up and heat water on the stove to be used for showering. I made this happen by putting a “camp shower” setup in the regular shower and filling the container with the hot water just before we needed it.

Looking back, it seems incredible that we did this for a couple of months (the pipe-laying crew was delayed), but we did.

In the end, I took a new TV news job at KTVK in Phoenix and ended up selling the whole farm and the livestock. We moved away from the old farmhouse, and were probably better off for it—my pack goat idea was never going to work on the east coast.

Nor did my backup plan, renting the goats and sheep out to clear brush and weeds. It came close, but too many potential customers worried about liability from the battery-powered portable electric fence I would use.

I sure do miss those goats and sheep. They were like friends.

[wpedon id=”213″ align=”center”]

Leave a Reply