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Goats Gone Wildways (part 2)

There's been a little drama since last time we talked. After a few shocks, the goats seemed acclimated to the electric fence and ready to be left to graze on their own. Wrong. When we tried leaving the goats alone for a couple of hours, we received a phone call saying that one of the kids got her horns stuck in the fence. We rushed back to McKenzie Park and decided that we would simply watch them for twelve hours a day and lock them in the trailer at night. We strung up our hammocks and spent our days reading, snoozing, gossiping, and waiting for the goats to get themselves into trouble. It was great to get paid to just chill under the canopy of boxelders and silver maples while we watched ospreys and bald eagles soar over the open fields ahead of us. There really wasn't much work to be done other than providing the goats with fresh water and grain. However, as much as we love the couch-potato lifestyle, we started to feel bad that we were neglecting our other Wildways projects. Goats are not a very good tool for invasive species management if they require fulltime babysitters. I was all by myself on Saturday and I couldn't take it anymore. No goat tried to escape when she was being supervised, but what if they were to make a break for it when I was gone? I decided to risk it and go for a run.

"Don't do anything stupid," I said to them. They stared at me with deep concern as I trotted away. When I returned thirty minutes later, Gordon, Ramsey, and Guy were eating grass and minding their own business. On Sunday I did the same thing and the goats remained well-behaved and unharmed.

On Monday I confessed to Patrick that I had started leaving the goats on their own for a little while. We decided that we were going to leave the goats alone for three hours that day. If that went well, we would leave them alone all day on Tuesday. If that worked, we would keep the goats for the rest of August to see if we can get them to make a real impact on invasive plants. Today is Wednesday and the goats have spent their first night on their own. Rather than putting them in the trailer at night, we gave them an old chicken coup in which they can go for shelter and sleep.

Joe Putnam, an author for Premier1Supplies, said that an "electric fence is a psychological barrier, not a physical one." Marj, Libby, and I aren't trained in "goat-think." If we had more experience, we would have known that an electric fence may not be foolproof if the goat has gotten shocked only once or twice. If we were to recreate this experiment with different goats, we wouldn't have dreamed of leaving them unsupervised on the first day of electric-fence-training. It's also important to note that our goats were extremely nervous during their first couple of days at McKenzie. A goat is more likely to penetrate a painful barrier if he or she is stressed. After a week of grazing at McKenzie Park, the girls seem much more relaxed. I hope that they're happy, but I'm still trying to figure out what happiness looks like in an animal with horns and horizontal pupils. No matter how well the goats do their job at goutweed removal, this project is teaching us a lot about what's possible with a few goats and three curious college students.


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