What’s a Goat Show?
Don’t be alarmed. Although this story is about how a dirty weekend with Charm and Sparkle reminded me of the times I spent with Cinnamon and Stormy years ago, I assure you it is completely clean. Despite the names, it has nothing to do with strippers and it didn’t take place in Tijuana. It took place in a little town called Torrington, Wyoming.
I spent Memorial Day weekend helping my girlfriend, Barbara, and her mother, Cindy, transport, care for, and display 13 goats at two goat shows. You may be asking, “What’s a goat show?” I heard that question a lot in the weeks leading up to the trip:
“I need time off.”
“A goat show.”
“What’s a goat show?”
“Hey, I won’t be able to make it to band practice next week.”
“I’ll be at a goat show.”
“What’s a goat show?”
Even in casual conversation.
“Any fun plans for the long weekend?”
“I’m going to Wyoming to help my girlfriend’s mom with a goat show.”
“What’s a goat show?”
I’m not blaming anybody. I didn’t know what a goat show was either. When Barbara first asked if I could make the trip, the first words out of my mouth were, “What’s a goat show?” By the time we departed for Wyoming it had become a punchline.
So, what is a goat show?
It’s like a dog show, but for goats. Goat owners show their goats in different categories based on the breed, sex, and age of the goats. Judges pick the winning goats based on a variety of factors including the curvature of the goat’s spine, the strength of the goat’s stride, and the goat’s stance. Of course the female goats are also judged on the size and orientation of their udders.
A Long, Hard Road
Barbara and I drove from Layton, UT to Hillsdale, WY on Thursday. That’s basically from Salt Lake to Cheyenne. I met her parents for the first time that night. I brought her dad, Jay, a 12 year old bottle of scotch to grease the wheels of acceptance. The four of us sat around and sipped on some drinks that night. Had I known the magnitude of the workload we were about to face, I would have relished that relaxed evening a little more.
The first thing I noticed the next morning when I walked outside to help with the goats was the noise. The bleating was terrifying, especially from the kids. The voices sounded remarkably human. The volume, pitch, and tone cut through all other sound and touched on a primal instinct that triggered fear. It sounded like the noise animals make when they are attacked or brutally injured. It was a noise embedded in our primal psyche as a sign of danger.
After a few minutes I was able to block out the sound enough to stop the shuttering in my spine and did what I could to help Jay load supplies. Occasionally a particularly loud bleat would slice its way past my mental block and into my nervous system, momentarily stopping my heart.
Cindy and Barbara milked the goats. Jay moved things around the yard to prepare for cleaning the goat pen, which he would do while the rest of us were at the show. I did what I could to help with both tasks, but it was mostly just moving things out of the way. I felt a little useless, but at least this gave me the opportunity to observe the environment and soak in the new experiences.
I’ll never forget watching Cindy and Barbara milk the goats. The milking room had two milking stations. Each milking station consisted of a platform about a foot off the ground. A small trough and latch were attached to one end of the platform. Cindy brought the goats in two at a time. Each goat stepped up onto one of the stations. The goats stuck their heads through the latches to eat grain from the troughs. Then Cindy and Barbara closed the latches to secure the goats.
The women attached the hoses of the automatic milking machine to the goats’ teats. They let the machine do most of the milking, then finished milking each goat by hand. Barbara taught me the proper squeezing technique and I even helped milk one of the goats. That was a first for me.
After the milking, we loaded the goats into the trailer. Once the loading was done, the four of us ate dinner. Then Cindy, Barbara, and I hit the road for Torrington. Cindy drove the pickup with the attached trailer. Barbara and I followed in my SUV. Aside from the large snake that slithered across the road, the drive was uneventful.
The Tour de Torrington
Once we arrived at the arena in Torrington, the real hard work began.
We brought three bales of straw to line the bottom of the goat pens. As we hauled the first one into the arena, hundreds of cries echoing off the aluminum semi-cylinder that capped the arena assaulted my ears. The same haunting sounds of bleating goats I had heard that morning were now amplified both numerically and acoustically. I had to concentrate to keep the noise from distracting me from my duties.
We spread the straw out as needed and repeated the process with the next two bales. Each time I re-entered the arena it became a little easier to ignore the echoing screams.
Once the straw was in place, we led the goats, two-at-a-time, from the trailer to the pens. Then we pulled out the feeding cages and mounted them on the sides of the pens. Next, we wrestled a bale of hay into the arena to feed the goats. We separated the hay and loaded the cages all by hand. Then we hauled in the water buckets. Unfortunately, we only had four water buckets but Cindy’s goats were dispersed in six pens. She had only planned on four, but the pens turned out to be smaller than expected. It was a small problem that Cindy solved by procuring the two extra pens at registration. That solution left us two buckets short.
We watered the goats we could, then brought in the portable milking stand, along with a pump and milking machine. Once the milking station was assembled, the three of us went to check into the motel and purchase two more water buckets.
Torrington only has a few places where we might find a bucket. First we tried the local grocery store, but it only had small buckets. Next we tried the feed store, but it was closed. What else would you expect in a small town at 8:15 pm. We wound up at a Shopko at the edge of town where we found a couple of mop bucket big enough to do the job. We stopped at Pizza Hut for a quick dinner, then drove back to the arena.
Cindy started another round of milking. Barbara and I watered the goats in the two extra pens. Then we helped Cindy rotate the remaining goats through the late milking.
The Calm Before the Storm
We finally got to back to the motel sometime around 11:00 pm. Despite the late hour, Barbara and I decided to go out for a drink—this was supposed to be our vacation. We each took a nice hot shower, then found a little bar where we could unwind. This little bar in a cowboy town played dance and hip hop music—making me feel uncomfortable in two different ways at the same time. We only stayed for one drink, but enjoyed the time alone.
The next day Cindy was up early to start preparing her goats for the show. She caught a ride to the arena with some friends she had in the goat showing circuit.
Barbara and I got up about an hour later and slowly got ready for another day of goat wrangling.
You may recall from the beginning of this post that we helped with two goat shows. Both shows took place in the same arena. The show rings were back to back. Each had its own judge and functioned completely independently, they just happened to be under one roof.
When we got to the arena, Cindy was already showing her Saanen yearling, Lucy. Lucy placed third in the first showing, but the judge for the second show picked her as Grand Champion in her class. Barbara and I got to the arena just in time to help Cindy gather Lucy’s official documents so she could verify the goat’s identity and ownership to the judges.
Cindy only had one more goat to show that day, her Nubian buck, Sparky. The buck show wasn’t until the end of the day, but that didn’t mean it was time to sit around. The day was a continuous cycle of feeding goats, watering goats, and milking goats. Cindy also had to shave the goats’ udders and clip their hooves.
Wrestling the goats onto the milking stand was no easy task. Many of the goats would not go willingly so we had to lift them onto the stand—first their front legs then their back legs. This meant literally bear-hugging the goats. I had no idea I would be getting that close with them.
Of Goats and Folks
Barbara and I found a little time between tasks to walk around the arena and soak up the goatmosphere. The arena was lined with goat pens. The floor was fine dirt like you would find at a rodeo. The two show rings were at one end of the enormous space and the other half was sectioned off with square goat pens in a waffle pattern.
Although I wasn’t a complete stranger to farm animals, I had never known a goat before. I learned more about dairy goats in two days than I thought I would ever know. We met many goats of all shaped and sizes as we walked.
The goats were very clean compared to other farm animals. Their fur grew in tight uniform directions giving them a smooth, well groomed look. They weren’t mangy the way cows sometimes look. They didn’t roll around in their own feces like pigs do. Even the goat feces itself made as little mess as possible because it was in little balls, much like that of a rabbit. The patterns in a goat’s eyes, although unusual, was often quite interesting.
I was also surprised at the goats’ friendly nature, especially considering the terrifying noises they make. They seemed to have a never ending curiosity. They would approach the edge of the pens when we walked near, even climbing up on the rails. They weren’t skittish or afraid. They were looking for attention and affection. And once you gave it to them, they only wanted more. They were remarkably like dogs in that way. The goats seemed to have a happy disposition. They often looked as if they were smiling.
Often we would be leaning against a pen having a conversation when a goat would begin suckling one of my fingers. It was startling at first, but by Saturday afternoon, it was like getting a high five from a friend.
The only thing friendlier than the goats were the people at the show. Although the show was a competition, it was definitely a friendly one. People shared the limited amount of power outlets. If a goat got loose, strangers would help other strangers surround the goats and get them penned up again, even if the owner wasn’t even there. On more than one occasion, strangers asked if I would “hold this goat for a second,” while they ran to get a grooming tool, showed another goat, or posed for pictures.
The best display of friendly competition occurred when an owner would have more than one goat to show in a single class and handlers from other camps would show a goat for them just as if it were their own. Keeping with the friendly nature of the event, show officials even provided everyone with dinner on Saturday night.
After we ate and finally got back to the motel, we were all exhausted. A long day ended with a long shower. I collapsed on the bed.
Sunday morning Barbara and I got up and drove Cindy to the arena. Then we headed back to the motel to pack up and check out. Next, we grabbed coffee and breakfast for Cindy and ourselves. It was a cool morning and we expected our time at the show to be shorter that day. We went inside for another hard day at the goat show.
We took Cindy her breakfast, then fed and watered the goats. Cindy needed to show a lot of goats that day. Barbara had to help her show goats in a couple classifications in which Cindy had multiple goats competing. I assisted by leading goats back and forth from the holding pens to the show rings, then handing them off to the women. I also made sure Cindy’s book containing her goats’ official documentation was always within reach. It was a virtually continuous cycle for two or three hours.
One of Cindy’s Nubians, Charm, won Grand Champion in her class and Best in Breed. While that was a fantastic achievement and I was very happy for Cindy and Charm, the win meant we had to stay until the end of the show in order to show Charm in the Best Goat in Show competition.
Cindy finally finished the preliminary showings of all her goats. While we waited for her to show Charm in the final competition, Barbara and I started bringing the rest of the goats to the milking station to prepare them for transport back to the ranch.
The Storm at of the Goshen County Fairgrounds
Cindy and Barbara were nearly finished milking all the goats when a new sound filled the arena. Just like the bleating goats, the sound of the rain mixed with hail was amplified against the steel ceiling. It was almost deafening.
As we looked out of the overhead doorway, we noticed that the water coming down on the Torrington Fair Grounds wasn’t draining properly. Within minutes the puddles became a pond. The water kept climbing. Soon it was at least 18 inches deep. The surface of the water was up to the trailer door. It was even with the door of a nearby RV.
Worried that the water level was getting close to engulfing my SUV, I decided to go check on my car. Barbara came with me. Attempting to stay out of the water, we climbed onto a fence that made up some of the big sturdy exterior pens used for horses and cattle. We shuffled along the fence sideways. It felt like an obstacle from a Survivor challenge. Eventually we made it to the road beyond the standing water.
Luckily, I had parked on a little higher ground than where the trailers were parked. Still, the water was half way up my wheels. I rolled up my pants and waded out to my vehicle. I pulled out to the road, picked up Barbara, and drove my car around the arena and parked on the high ground on the other side. Then we both had to do an even longer fence shuffle to get back inside the arena.
The storm only lasted about 45 minutes and went away as quickly as it came. But, it left a lasting impact on the rest of the day. Even after the rain and hail stopped, the water level outside didn’t recede.
Back inside, Cindy showed Charm in the Best Goat in Show competition. Charm placed fifth.
With the show over and the milking done, we had to load up the goats and the gear and head back to the ranch. Unfortunately, 18 inches of water still dominated the exterior of the arena.
I asked Cindy for her keys. I rolled up the legs on my pants and waded out to the trailer. Once at the trailer, I climbed onto the wheel well. Then I shuffled around the edge of the trailer, onto the hitch, and into the bed of the pickup. Then I opened the door to the cab. I tried to squeeze into the driver’s seat, but it was way too close to the steering wheel. Hanging onto the bed of the truck with one hand, I used the other to pull the lever that allowed me to move the seat back. I then used my knee to slide the seat back. As I pushed with my left knee my right hand slipped off the bed of the truck and I lost my balance. Struggling against gravity, I heard the seat lock into place. I was able to swing myself inside without falling into the icy water. I felt a little like Indiana Jones at the end of the truck scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
My relief turned to stress when I assessed my situation. I was about to drive the diesel pickup that belongs to my girlfriend’s parents whom I’d just met two days before. If that wasn’t stressful enough, I would also be pulling the trailer her mom uses to haul the goats she raises – which is what she loves to do. Plus, I would be starting from a dead stop and pulling the trailer up-hill through the mud that lay beneath a foot and a half of water. I swallowed hard and turned the key.
Once the engine started up, I flipped on the four wheel drive. With my heart pounding I pushed on the accelerator. The truck easily climbed the smaill hill, but that put the trailer in the deepest part of the water. I kept my foot on the pedal. The front tires of the pickup reached the road, but the trailer was still too close to the other trailers to start making the turn. I kept going. The front tires reached the middle of the road. At this point I had to turn. The rain had left another pond on the other side of the road. Although I had achieved enough clearance to make the turn without hitting the other trailers, the trailer I was hauling still sat low in the water. I could not turn with the four wheel drive engaged. I had to stop and hope two wheel drive would be enough to pull the trailer out. I stopped, disengaged four wheel drive, and took a deep breath.
As pushed on the accelerator, the wheels slipped for a fraction of a second, then the friction took hold and the truck pulled the trailer from the water. As I pulled the rig around to the other side of the arena, the sun came out. I found a place to park and went back inside.
We’re All Stars Now, in the Goat Show
We were able to take out all the goats and the gear through a small door near the dry side of the arena. The sun warmed the moist air, adding a hot, muggy atmosphere to an already labor intensive afternoon. By the time we were finished I was exhausted.
After a brief stop for a bite to eat, we were back on the road to Hillsdale.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. We spent another night at the ranch outside Hillsdale and then drove home on Monday.
As we drove, I thought about all the work we did to take care of the goats. It was hard, but I look back on it fondly. I actually really enjoyed it. The goats were fun to be around. The people were friendly. The labor provided good exercise. With as much energy as it took, I don’t think it’s something I would want to take on daily, but for a weekend, it was a great experience.
My experience with the goats reminded me of when I was a kid helping my dad take care of our horses, Stormy and Cinnamon. That was also hard, dirty work, although I don’t recall enjoying it as much. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the horses more if I had only been more mature at the time, but that’s a story for the next post.
Thanks for reading.