It was the goat farming day from Hell.
We’re used to wind out here. It’s a blessing in the blistering heat of summer and pleasant in the early days of fall. But when it brings sub-freezing cold, causes hundreds of dollars worth of damage and sends your goats airborne, not so much.
Several weeks ago one of this season’s many winter storms brought wind gusts in the 50 mph range. Gusts over 60 mph were reported only several miles away. Even Winnie the Pooh would have stayed inside.
But our horses and goats live outside (although Leslie would have them in the house if I let her). Goats need shelter or they get really fussy, so we use two 10×10 high-tech, portable shelters, one for the goats and one for hay storage. They’re made of a strong, waterproof tarpaulin fabric form-fitted over a sturdy metal frame. I staked them to the ground so solid and deep that it actually takes more effort to jack up the stakes than move the whole structure.
They had withstood some serious wind without a problem. But the melting snow and freezing temperatures conspired against me. The ground was saturated, but frozen on the surface. What looked like solid ground was just a thin layer of frozen dirt over mud. Something akin to a graham cracker sitting on top of a bowl of oatmeal.
I discovered this too late.
Before dawn the wind blew like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, and when sunlight hit the farm, I saw our hay shelter lying in ruins in the middle of the front pasture. Afraid it would blow into the street, I managed to drag the heap of twisted metal and torn fabric back to the now-exposed hay pile and cover it in cinder blocks.
Hay tent wreckage
I went inside to ponder the fate of the second shelter, the one housing two pregnant does, one nursing mother and three baby kids. The ground it was staked to was much more solid, yet I tried to think of how I could reinforce the structure in the midst of this windstorm.
I didn’t get too far. As I stood at the glass doors contemplating action, the shelter magically rose from the ground and flew out of sight toward the road as though commanded by some off-camera special-effects director. Left in its place were six goats, each looking skyward with a distinct WTF expression.
The shelter, which weighs close to 100 pounds not including the 2×4 cross beam and heat lamp I had attached, flew across the property like an empty drink cup. It slashed through the temporary hot fence, ripping the top strands and pulling many of the sections out of the ground.
Strewn along the shelter’s path were the four t-post stakes I had driven to secure the shelter. Each was pulled out of the ground like a popsicle out of a mold.
With the temporary hot fence in shambles, the mothers and kids were now free.
I ran outside without a plan or even a jacket. Thank goodness I had pants on. They say fear keeps you warm. It does … for about 15 seconds.
The shelter bounced off the hay feeder, across the driveway, into and over the high-tensile fence, across the front pasture, across the high-tensile fence again, and thanks to a ratchet buckle attached to a strand of one-inch webbing that snagged on the fence, the shelter was stopped just a few feet from the road. The shelter traveled 150 yards in the time it took you to read this sentence.
We live on a curve in the road and log trucks and local bubbas wiz past at 55 mph-plus. Only a thin strand of metal wire was keeping this behemoth from the road.
Right about now I was doing my Baby Huey meets Chicken Little dance in the yard. The goats were running free in search of food and cover from the wind, but the shelter was a million-dollar lawsuit in the making. Leslie was at work and Jordan was at a friend’s house with my truck. I ran to the tractor and called Jordan on the cell so he could come home and help.
With the wind screaming and small bits of yard debris whizzing past my head, I struggled to start the tractor and talk to Jordan. Acutely aware of the cold but unwilling to run inside for a jacket, I heard Jordan begin to explain the inconvenience I was causing him. Thankfully, the roaring wind drowned out most of my response. It seems my parenting skills blew away with the goat shelter.
I drove around the pasture to the shelter and grabbed the nylon strap to insure the tent wouldn’t fly into the road. But with hundreds of square feet of metal-framed fabric being pushed by constant 40 mph-plus winds, I had no hope of moving the structure. So I dug into my pocket, took out my pocketknife and began slashing at the shelter’s fabric covering until I had reduced the covering of this once-sturdy structure into scraps of wind-whipped canvas.
Slowly I collected the fabric and stuffed it into the tractor’s bucket. The shelter’s frame still sits by the road, like a slain elephant’s skeleton on the Serengeti – a reminder that Mom Nature can kick anyone’s ass, anytime she wants.
Skeleton of wind-wrecked goat tent
I drove back to the house, ran inside for my jacket, and when I came back out, I saw one of the babies, not yet two weeks old, running past a downed-section of the portable hot fence.
The portable hot fence is 42-inch wide netting interwoven with wire and staked every 12 feet. It carries around 9,000 volts, and when properly installed, provides a barrier to almost anything, including bears. But now, the fence was pushed over almost on it’s side, and the parts that were still staked in the ground were flapping like flags in the wind.
When the baby ran past one downed section, a gust lifted him off his feet and deposited him right in the middle of a section of fence. He was thrashing in an effort to find the ground and tangled his legs in the net. And the fence was still hot.
His weight put him in contact with the ground and he’d bleat in juvenile agony as 9,000 volts coursed through his body. Then the spring action of the bent-over posts and his kicking legs would lift him for a moment before depositing him back on the ground for another jolt.
“Bwaaaaaa!” – plop – “Bwaaaaaa!” – plop – “Bwaaaaaa!” – plop …
I was horrified. And laughing. You can do both, if you’re a sick ex-paramedic.
I ran to the cut-off switch, which, thankfully, I remembered to hit before trying to remove the kid. And for those who know me, yes, I really did run. Not trot, but run. Normally, I move like Godzilla through Tokyo. Picture that in fast-forward. It was a sight to behold, I’m sure.
I extricated the fried kid from the netting, insured his health and noticed Father Anthony and the nuns in the west pasture. They’d been watching everything with perverse interest. Goats laugh, you know. Not with the quiet majesty of horses, but with the childish glee of kindergartners who’ve heard a good booger joke. Some days I hate goats.
Jordan arrived about now, so we pulled several thousand dollars worth of tools out of the equipment shed and made a temporary home for the mothers and kids. We surrounded the tool shed with a section of portable hot fence and wasted several bales of feed hay for bedding.
The yard was in shambles, tools and equipment lay outside in the weather, but the goats were secure. The damage was in the hundreds and we were without a shelter for the pregnant/nursing mothers or the hay. Welcome to goat farming, Mr. Keck.
If you’d like to help, we set up a charity website at http://www.Really-Pitiful-Farm-Boy.com. Just kidding. But not by much.