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Jessie Raymond: My goat has a taste for finer things

One recent morning, my husband, Mark, and I sat on the back porch with our feet up, drinking our coffee and enjoying some much-needed sunshine. A typical late spring scene, really.
Except, perhaps, for the goat.
Lucy, our one remaining goat, had trip-trapped onto the porch like she often does, to stare at us with her lazy yellow eyes. And smirk. She’s always smirking.
Six years ago, being new to animals and with some barn space to spare, we adopted three baby goats as a favor to a soft-hearted friend to save them from the slaughterhouse. Today, Lucy — the most aloof of the three — is all we have left. She rules the yard.
Fencing in the goats has always been good for a laugh — or, more accurately, a howl of frustration — at our house. And now that Lucy’s alone, we’ve given up trying to keep her penned. She doesn’t like us, but — as a herd animal without a herd — she likes being around us. And we get a kick out of her mischievous antics, whether she’s standing in the middle of a volleyball game during a cookout or cutting our brake lines while we sleep.
On this morning, I was telling Mark that when people find out she free ranges, they say, “But goats will eat anything, even your shirts right off the line.” That’s ridiculous. Goats don’t eat clothes, or tin cans, or anything else but plants. And if Lucy does occasionally nibble the corner of the newspaper you happen to be reading, it’s more out of sociability than hunger.
Not that her food choices aren’t a problem. Goats are “browsers” rather than grazers, like sheep or cows; they prefer brush and, ideally, landscaped shrubs to plain old grass. And, contrary to myth, they’re actually quite selective in their diet. For instance, Lucy won’t bother with the hosta plants that are growing in the flower bed I abandoned years ago. She dines only on the ones I just dug up and replanted in my new garden.
I’ve put up an 18-inch wire fence to keep the chickens out of the flowers (in their fervent scratching for bugs they gleefully fling seedlings several feet onto the lawn), but keeping Lucy out would take an eight-foot cinderblock wall, which doesn’t fit the cottage garden theme I’m going for.
In that maddening, fickle way goats have, she may go weeks without touching a certain area. All it takes is for me to look lovingly on that spot. A moment later, she’s hopped the little fence, trampling lilies and lupines as she goes, to mow whichever plants she suspects I like the most or have paid the most for.
What’s worse is her absolute lack of shame. One afternoon last week, for instance, I pulled into the driveway to find her eating the remaining leaves of an already-goat-pruned burning bush.
I slammed on the brakes and leaped out of the car like a cop in hot pursuit, shrieking for her to stop.
She declined to notice me. (This is how goats get your goat.)
After much gesticulating and hollering, neither of which drew so much as a flicker of acknowledgment from her, I stepped into the garden myself, crushing even more flowers, and pushed her out.
She took it quite well.
As soon as I turned away, she jumped back in and resumed munching. I pushed her back out. After three or four rounds of this, I finally stood between her and the bush. I made threatening gestures and bellowed, “Do NOT go back in that garden. Leave that bush ALONE.”
She eyed me for a moment, sensing that I was trying to communicate something — but what? — and then craned her head to see around me, impatient to get back to her meal.
This is how it is with goats.
I was regaling Mark with this tale, my point being that, even though Lucy shows no restraint when it comes to my garden, she’s an avowed plant eater. People who think a goat will eat any old thing it finds lying around are obviously not familiar with how real goats behave.
Now I’ve always assumed, given her indifference, that Lucy doesn’t understand anything I say. But just then, she ambled over to the coffee table and sniffed the ratty woven basket that held my clothespins. She found a protruding twig with her lips and neatly snapped it off between her teeth.
Before going back for another bite, she turned to look at us. And smirked.

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