This morning, booted and bundled, I step out my front door and am smacked with the perfume of a billygoat. Eau de Billy is like a mix of cowboy boot stuffed with moldy cheese and drizzled in a testosterone vinaigrette. Soon I hear the choked warble of a young doe, who comically lost her voice after twenty-four hours of screeching for a mate. The barnyard is a sensory tsunami when the he-goat comes to town.
There are plenty of good reasons not to own a billygoat. Besides the stink, they’re ornery. They possess the weight and will to break through fences and bust human limbs. For a dairy farmer, they serve one function: to impregnate does. When they’re not busy doing that, they oaf about, eat a ton, and cause jailbreaks.
Thus, for the servicing of my small dairy herd, I choose to rent. For one month each autumn, I invite a billy to share my home and hay. It’s ideal to choose one with a good temperament, and I’ve been fortunate to employ such a goat year after year.
His name is Zahav. In moments of affection, I call him “Z.” He’s a fine lad who stands tall, massive horns curling robustly from his head, fur flowing in all the right places. He’s rarely aggressive, throws very few head butts in my direction, and hardly ever rears up in an attempt to mount me. This morning, when he thought breakfast was a little late, he took out his frustration on his enclosure and bashed his skull into it repeatedly. The sight of our fence violently undulating caused my husband to cry out in alarm, and me to run for the hay barn.
Once well fed, Zahav congenially follows me about my business, pausing thoughtfully by my side while I pound T-posts and drill reinforcing screws into the fence line. His eyes fix on me and sweetly suggest: rub my head. I know that touching him will saturate me with his stench, for which mere soap and water are no match, but his charm is strong. I extend a cautious finger and scratch the base of his horns.
This coziness between us only occurs if Z isn’t busy fulfilling his purpose. Does go into heat during the fall and winter months, once every 3 weeks. It lasts 2-3 days, and is an all-encompassing event for all parties involved. She follows him devotedly, her tail fluttering enthusiastically back and forth. Zahav drinks his own pee, making sure to splash plenty on his face. The doe can’t get enough of the smell this produces; she nuzzles him and accepts his French kisses. He follows her while performing the mating dance: marching with both front legs completely straight, making the sound of a young boy with an imaginary machine gun, wagging his tongue obscenely in her face. They mate quickly and often.
If they become separated, everybody knows about it. A deprived doe rolls her eyes wildly, lolls her head backwards at an impossible angle, the tips of her horns grazing her spine. She extends her tongue and bellows. Zahav also cries, sounding surprisingly pitiful.
When this romantic three-day date comes to an end, the relationship abruptly turns cold. Z keeps tabs on the scent of the doe’s rear end (sampling her pee), but she swats him like a fly, making her distaste known.
Once I’ve seen Zahav make the rounds of my herd, and I’ve dutifully recorded the dates of each encounter, I coax him into the back of my truck using the illusion of control. We make the ambling pilgrimage down country back roads to his home. I pay his owner, a fellow goat lady, $20 per doe bred. We chat about the year’s events: does kept or culled, goat meat recipes, home remedies.
On a dairy farm, time moves in circles. A new cycle begins with Zahav’s visit, with conception. Afterward, the milking season wraps up and the girls take off the last months of their pregnancies. Life is quiet as the snow falls. In spring, kids are born, and milk production is renewed. When the oak leaves appear, the girls spend their days grazing. I milk and make cheese, milk and make cheese. When fall comes again and the oak leaves burn with color, I sell or butcher the kids. Soon after they’ve gone, Zahav appears, to sow the seeds of another round.
His cameo in our lives is a staple of the season, a watermark on the dipstick of our year. We pass through birth, productivity, death, and conception like the spiraling arc of his horns.