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Magnetic North - February 7, 2018

Cashmere Goat.jpg
Cashmere Goat.jpg

Magnetic North 2/6/18
Combing Out
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North where the first real proof of winter’s coming demise showed itself this week on the tips of my big cashmere goat’s horns. Bosco, a striking cafe latte colored charmer, sported long wisps of cashmere fleece on both of his horns, proof that he and his three lady friends have begun to shed their winter coats. And, like any creature with excess hair, goats itch and scratch that itch with their horns. 
 
I feel bad for dehorned goats. Most dairy goats are, soon after birth, and so have to find a tree or fence post to scratch on.  So why do people dehorned them? Well, some say it is to protect them from each other, or protect us from them. The argument against is that, first off, it hurts to have a red hot iron held to the top of your head.  Duh! And if that isn’t enough for you, goats the blood vessels in goats horns help regulate body temperature in hot weather. And then there is the backscratching thing.
 
That said, one might assume that getting all that extra itching fuzz combed off would be something a goat would love. One would be wrong. None of my current flock, except for Bosco, enjoys being combed out, but I love to do it, and over time I’ve learned a thing or two about getting the job done with minimal stress to the goat and maximum fun for me.
 
First off, I have to catch them. Time was, I spent hours chasing the identified victim around the barn and corral, often sending a volley of invectives into the winter night as I careened around feed pans or trees. Once I got so fed up with a big male named Bubba, who continually escaped the barn into the frigid night, I yelled at him at the top of my lungs, ”Get in there you old “blanket-y-blank” or I’ll shoot you!” Only to have a neighbor call Paul on the phone to ask if he was “alright.” 
 
Since then I have learned that a bribe will get me whatever I desire. Turns out that goats dream of cracked corn, raisins and a bucket of warm water laced with molasses. The only trouble here is that appearing with such a treat bonanza puts me smack in the middle of a goat vortex. So I’ve learned to first rope one at a time, leading all who are not to be combed that day into the garage to wait their turn.
 
When at last only one goat is left outside, I tether him or her to the sturdy corner post of my woodshed and arrange myself on a chair, blocking the critter with the shed on one side and me on the other. Depending on the goat’s mood, the wiggling and bucking finally quits and I can pull my metal comb through her fleece without a fuss. First on the chest, where the softest fiber grows. Then around the neck and over the back and sides. This can take a while, sometimes hours, but time flies by as I see the buildup of  finely crimped cashmere on the comb and my shopping bag filling with clouds of fluff.
 
When each goat has had its spa day, combing and hoof trimming as well as a yearly tetanus shot, I’ll have at least six grocery bags full of cashmere, which I send off to a mill in Wisconsin to be washed and combed into balls about the size of a cantaloupe. If I liked to spin, which I have no patience for, I would feed strands of this ball into a wheel to make yarn. Or I could use it to do needle felting. But I am a knitter and love to use my fiber, from both the goats and my angora rabbits, to make ridiculously warm mittens. I learned a technique called thrumming a few years ago. It‘s a New England invention where you pull off a length of raw fiber, roll it between your palms, then knit the fat little roll into your mitten The result is that the inside of the mitten is packed with loose fiber, soft and warm and virtually water proof. For any of us who have to spend time behind a snow blower, that means a lot.
 
Admittedly, there have been a few comb outs that were, let’s say, less idyllic than they were near death experiences. Once, when I inadvertently cornered a very nervous goat named Nimbus in the barn after combing out another goat, I dropped something and bent over at the waist to pick up the fallen object. I was facing Nimbus, so I guess he thought I was about to make a move on him and he made a break for it, right through my legs! One second I was standing in straw and the next I was astride a terrified goat, riding him backwards through the barn and out into the snowy night of the corral. Neither of us was hurt, but the whole thing did nothing for our future relationship. Some years later though, Nimbus came right up to me as I was doling out feed for his stable mates. It was the first and only time he let me pet him. I figure it was his way of saying no hard feelings and goodbye, because the next morning I found him snuggled down in the hay, at peace at last.
 
For all the work, some heartache, and countless offenses such as debarking three apple trees, consuming rose bushes and any other edible plant they like, in the main, my experiences with goats has been worth every minute. And it is not just about the cashmere. My devotion to my goats is something that I often struggling to explain. When someone asks questions like, “how much fleece do you get?” or “exactly how long does it take you to comb them out?” or “does the fiber pay for their feed?” I am close to being struck dumb. It’s not about numbers, hours, pounds or dollars, so I usually just say, “I don’t really know, I just like goats.”
 
People either get this answer or they don’t. And if they don’t, I have only this to say to them.
Too darned Baaaaaaahed!
 
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.

   

 
 

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