by Randall Beaird
There are lawnmowers, and there is Shirley. A few years ago (1996)my little farm (Jacksonville) had a little grass. Around April it was growing muscles and nursing a forest. I flashed lawnmower specials from the mail and waved my fist from the backdoor. There was a little choking going on. Maybe the grass, maybe the weeds or baby trees–I couldn’t tell who, but someone was winning.
The battle was ten feet high when I pulled into the Tri-County Livestock Auction to buy my secret weapon. Shirley was the last goat sold and at sixteen dollars, I knew her eight teeth would send anything green to its knees.
She was a beauty when it comes to mowers, but she was still a baby, only about two weeks old. I put her in the pen after a disastrous attempt at giving her a bottle. She was probably hungry, definitely wild-eyed and nervous; I would try again later I thought.
I was so proud of Shirley’s new pen, so pleased to have my mower, and so surprised to see Shirley gone. I turned around for two seconds, and the cattle panel pen was empty. I raced around the perimeter beating back the jungle,only to spot her bouncing up the hill. There was an hour of daylight to catch Shirley, or something faster would.
With hands in the air, I tiptoed after her. She spotted me and took off like a deer. I’m fast, but never was a great hopper. Nephews are great for catching goats, and I was off for reinforcements.
Upon returning, we found Shirley and eased her into a corner. With only barbed wire to stop her, I asked Matthew, Jake and David to stand guard as I inched closer. I knew my frightened mower would bolt; if only I was close enough for a saving dive.
How far I dove, I don’t know, but my body was stretched flat for a while as Shirley shot from the corner. The subsequent crash, I do know, left me breathless as I bounced off the turf. I couldn’t breathe but had a leg. I had Shirley, and a nice portion of whiplash to go.
I could have used a neckbrace for three days as I improved Shirley’s pen. The bottle was tried again; things can change quickly. Shirley found her long-lost mother and it was me. I never was a mama, much less a super mama. All it took was a bottle, some milk and a nipple.
I bought Johnnyboy, a Great Pyrenees puppy, to protect Shirley. I knew it was a good sign when I found them sleeping in the doghouse together. You might remember Sara; I called him Sara by accident for a while.
Reader beware–Shirley was contagious. Goat fever is real; I had it. You become intoxicated at the thought of finding a good deal. You sit at the sale barn with a motley crew and wave hands to win the goat. After three months, I had won thirty.
They were all in heaven as my farm’s grass, leaves and vines began to quiver and feel the heat. It was amazing to see them chomp down the poison ivy that only weeks before had my arms ripped with blisters.
Goats have Houdini blood. After a little hog wire here and some electric wire there, they only got loose about once a week. They know follow the leader well–crazy pilot goats that jump and wiggle; everyone follows. I kept staring wondering who as I rattled come home feed. Walking papers were handed to three. Do not pass go; do not make Mr. Beaird shake corn against the setting sun.
Springtime rolled around as baby goats hit the ground. You can deliver different things on the run before dinner–the mail, a message, a great pass, but when you help deliver a tiny goat, you better have a little lemon scented joy to grab and lather.
Finally, I shook the fever and sold half the herd. Some were invited over for dinner by honkers at my gate; others made the trip to the sale barn for a wild-eyed trot in front of the auctioneer and waving hands. When I moved, Shirley was in the last bunch to go. I made sure she wasn’t going as dinner, but as foundation stock for a Boer goat rancher.
Lawnmowers come in all shapes and sizes, but you can bet my next one will be named Shirley, even if it has ten horses and is painted red. I’ll just make sure no one is watching when I pat the hood.