Lessons from a Thanksgiving Goat

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving turkey!  We had goat this year.  Our son Filip is allergic to chicken, turkey, eggs, seemingly all things fowl, so when I noticed a little farm near our house with Boer (meat breed) goats in the field I decided to stop in and talk to the owners.  I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the possibility of keeping a herd of goats for meat, so when they told me they had some young male goats for sale, but wouldn’t do the butchering, I thought, “this is the perfect chance to try out having a goat without making a huge commitment- we can buy the goat a few weeks ahead of time, see what it takes to keep it happy, then butcher it for Thanksgiving!”  Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…
I went home and talked to my husband about it, and he agreed that it was worth a try, so I went to work getting a gate made for our little fenced in area (which also housed our puppy, Jezebel- she is an important part of this story).  I made sure the fence was secure and about two weeks before Thanksgiving I went back to buy our little buck.
Lesson 1: Male goats stink to high heaven, and I don’t think I will want to keep one around in the future.
I brought the goat home and we named him Ferdinand.  Not a very fitting name since he was not as gentle or calm as the bull in the book.  We tried to introduce him to the dog, and he immediately freaked out and broke the leash we were using to contain him, so I had to tackle him and grab his back legs (that’s how his previous owner caught him, and it worked pretty well) to get him into his new home.  We went to church that evening happily content that our Thanksgiving dinner was munching on grass in our back fence.  My husband took off from church to do a shift at the fire station and the kids and I headed home to check on our new farm animal.  Much to our dismay, Ferdinand was nowhere to be seen, and the gate lock had been broken, leaving the gate wide open to the dark woods near the back yard.  I wasn’t about the go searching in the dark woods at night with three little kids in tow, so I basically gave the goat up for lost or dead and put the kids to bed with a heavy heart.  The next morning my sweet 4 year old insisted that we must do everything we could to find Ferdinand, so we spent the morning marching around the yard, calling his name (as if he would recognize his new name, or care to come back to our house with our excited puppy waiting to bark at him).  I finally thought to call our wonderful neighbor who has lived here for 25 years and knows most of the other neighbors and practically everything about this place, in the hopes that maybe Ferdinand had wandered over to her house to visit with her ducks.  She hadn’t seen him, but she came right over to help look for him and then called all the nearby neighbors to see if they had seen a stray goat.  Thank God for good neighbors!  She actually found the goat just inside our neighbor’s fence on the other side of the road from our driveway, but our loyal and not very well trained dog decided it was her duty to chase Ferdinand as far away from our house as possible.
Needless to say, when she got home, Jezebel got grounded to the dog/goat house.  From all the evidence I could gather, it appears that Jezebel must have barked at and annoyed Ferdinand so much during those few hours we were gone, that Ferdinand took to butting the gate and butted it so hard that he broke off the hook holding the gate closed and escaped, only to be chased up and down the dirt road by Jezebel until he finally took refuge among the cows in our neighbor’s field.
Lesson #2: Keep the dog tied up while a new animal becomes acclimated to our farm, especially while we are away.
Lesson #3: Always secure gates with at least two forms of closure.
Once we knew the goat was safe, I put a trail of feed from the road to our house in the hopes that it might lure him home, and waited with little hope for his return.  Two days later, I was driving home late in the evening when my husband called to say that Ferdinand was right outside the fence and I better hurry so we could catch him.  So I rushed the rest of the way home and we managed to tackle the goat and secure him once more inside his pen.  Hallelujah!! This time we wrapped about five bungy cords around that gate the make sure he would not be battering his way out again.  So, the up side was that we had a goat again, and the down side was that he proceeded to refuse to eat for the next three days.  I tried giving him sweet feed, apples, food scraps, branches and leaves… everything I had known goats to love, but he wouldn’t do more than sniff at it.  He just lay in the same spot by the fence day in and day out, hardly moving except when we went out to see him, in which case he would hop across the yard and onto the porch until we left him alone.  Great. A depressed, starving goat for Thanksgiving dinner.  I was aiming for happy meat here people.  This goat had the life- every yummy goat food I could think of, water on demand, and a comfy cozy porch to sleep on for goodness sake!  Maybe he was lonely for his goat friends.  Or maybe Jezebel was stressing him out with all her barking.  She finally stopped barking at him so much after a few days of much scolding, and started lying beside him on the other side of the fence for most of the day.  Sometimes I would even see her licking him through the fence… weird.  I like to think their new found friendship somehow helped him decide to start eating again, but it may have been the addition of a salt and mineral block I got for him and some hay I added after a couple days of racking my brain for things that he could need.  At any rate, he finally started eating again a few days before Thanksgiving and seemed to be making himself at home and even enjoying Jezebel’s company.
Lesson #4:  Goats need food, water, salt & minerals, hay, and friends.
I am glad we were able to give Ferdinand a reasonably happy week while he was here, but he was not a very friendly or nice goat.  He never let us get close to him, and one time he actually rammed our 2 year old when she got up in his personal space.
Lesson #5:  Get a nice, gentle, friendly goat if you want to keep it, but sometimes mean goats are easier to eat.
It’s important to keep in mind that his purpose in life was the Thanksgiving dinner table.  I know I had to keep that in mind very adamantly as I watched the kids get excited about seeing him every day.  Ironically, Filip kept calling the goat “chicken” for some reason.  It was cute, and a little sad to watch my little ones trying to befriend a goat that wanted nothing to do with them.  I hope we can someday get some friendly female goats that the kids can enjoy for a long time.  But one thing I want to note, now that the goat is gone, Filip and Havah don’t even seem to miss him.  They are back to requesting to see Jezebel (or, Bebebel, in Filip’s words) every hour of the day.  Naomi, at 4 years old, seems to understand the situation pretty well, and is certainly aware that Ferdinand was on the menu for Thanksgiving dinner, but doesn’t seem to have any emotional scarring from the experience. =)
So yes, I did butcher the goat, and I ended up having to do it alone because I didn’t want to be doing it on Thanksgiving day, and my husband had to work the day before, so my lovely neighbor watched my kids for the 5 hours it took me to kill, skin, gut and butcher the goat.  And yes, it was gruesome, and I did not like doing it one bit.  I did get some satisfaction from actually having done it all by myself, but it was way harder to do alone than I thought it would be.  I would have to compare it to having a baby (at least a natural birth) in the sense that, while you are doing it, you kind of want to swear off ever doing it again, but once it’s over, you’re like, “wow, this was totally worth it, and I do feel a little like super woman.”
I won’t go into the gory details, but I can say, taking the life of an animal you cared for it tough.  Hoisting an animal up for skinning by yourself is tough.  Skinning is kind of fun in a way, but gutting is just gross in my book.  I am planning to use most parts of the goat, but not the feet, head, or skin, since that buck stunk so much and I wasn’t about to try to deal with any of that stuff after spending hours just to get the main body edible.
I used this easy marinade recipe for Thanksgiving dinner, and it was delicious.  We have lots of meat left over from that, as well as all the ribs and bony pieces.  I see chevon (goat) soup in our future. =)  Since my husband and his family enjoy Afghan food, I tried to form the menu with that in mind, and served the chevon with Persian style rice, hummus and veggies, and of course, naan bread.  I also tried my hand at making some Ma’moul (date filled cookies) that my husband remembered liking, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with the outcome so I won’t include the recipe I used.100_5386

Not turkey, but still tasty! And actually it was a much simpler meal to prepare on Thanksgiving day than the whole traditional turkey meal.


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