For those uninitiated in goat barn upkeep, let me explain. When the weather gods are with you, cleaning a goat barn requires little effort. You sweep lightly and carry barn waste to the compost pile where three months later it will turn to gardening gold and will excite envy in the breasts of all your non-goat keeping neighbors especially if their soil is like that around here – hard red clay atop solid rock. After you have completed the aforementioned tasks, you spread agricultural lime topped with a light coating of wood shavings on the floor and you are good to go until the next day.
One detail (and an extremely important detail at that), the goats are not in the barn while you clean it. They are happily browsing in the fields, ruminating on the sorts of things about which goats ruminate (best not inquire too closely here), or establishing who is head goat. At Tickleberry Manor, Linnea (sometimes referred to as the High Priestess of Darkness by goat malcontents) currently holds this title. But I digress. Instead let me repeat, THE GOATS ARE NOT IN THE BARN WHILE YOU ARE CLEANING IT.
Rainy days, however, pose difficulties for those who do not have Kentucky-sized, horse barn Macmansions complete with air conditioning and satellite TV. For on a rainy day, your goats are with you while you clean. And goats love being helpful; however, your notion of helpful may not coincide with theirs.
Let me elaborate. You climb on the benches intent on sweeping off nannyberries and washing said bench down. But lo, you find eight goats already standing on the spot regarding you in a helpful manner. You sigh, decide to sweep the lower bench instead, but behold there stand the same twelve goats joined by a baby or two regarding you helpfully. So up you climb to the top bench, only to find the same twelve goats (give or take one or two) once again regarding you in a helpful manner.
What to do? You give up on the benches for the time being in favor of sweeping. Easy, yes? No. Five goats are standing right where you want to sweep, two goats are nibbling on the broom bristles, and somehow a baby goat has ended up on your head or shoulders, no doubt intending to supervise. Move to another section of the barn. Five goats right where you want to sweep and an extra baby on your shoulders butting heads with the baby that was already there.
“Perseverance,” you tell yourself. You wait until no goat is looking, dash back to the benches, fling yourself lengthways on the bench and start brushing, easing back slowly all the while. Four little baby goats and one tweenie examine this spectacle; decide that cleaning must be fun; thunder up the ramp; leap to the top bench and onto your back; and start issuing maahs of encouragement, which you by now sorely (and sorely is the operative word) need.
Eventually - after many hours - you have all barn matter swept into neat piles, at which point you bring in the trash barrels to load aforementioned and painfully gathered barn matter. Now if there is one item that excites a goat, it is an object that is round and makes noises if you hit it or it falls down. If you can jump into it, all the better.
You start to load the barrel – one pitchfork of barn waste in, two babies retrieved from the barrel, and so on. When the barrel is full, Esther, goat princess of high places, jumps on top, knocks the whole barrel over, and looks at you as if to say, “What a good goat am I.” At this point many thoughts are running through your head (what is left of it), but “Esther the good” is not one of them.
“Stiffer upper lip, think of England, and right ho,” you tell yourself. Somehow, someway, who knows, the waste gets carted out of the barn and into the tractor scoop … at which point, the rain ceases and the goats run out to play.
For the record, the author cleans out three barns a day. Life is good.