This week in my little French village, my neighbour asked me if I could feed her animals while she was away overnight. “Of course” I said, “Just tell me what needs to be done”.
She has two dogs, 5 cats, 2 goats and about 200 ducks, geese, chicken, guinea fowl and quails. I had a quick lesson on what goes where and she said she’d leave me some instructions and all the food in buckets ready to distribute. She warned me I would need to be there no later than 10.00 am Sunday morning on account of the goats getting somewhat impatient if their food was late – there could be consequences. I innocently enquired what these might be “Well they might come looking for it, they might get out and they might be waiting when you open the door”.
A lot of “mights” to be avoided I thought to myself.
So, Sunday morning, up with the lark, fed my own small menagerie (in comparison at least, I only have 6 cats, 3 dogs and 37 birds) and set off for my neighbour’s house.
All went well. The little Sebright chickens were as usual sitting guard on the railings by the front door.There was a row of buckets filled with food in the house with clear instructions “this is for the birds in the pen with the goats” and “this is for the birds in the big pen” etc. Easy enough I thought. There was a bucket that read “this is for the goats – to be split between the red box and the blue box”. Ah yes, I remembered, she was very clear that their food must be split because they might fight. (There’s that “might” again).
I followed the instructions to the letter. The bells of the village church chimed ten times. The hungry birds pecked their seed – hundreds of them all flapping about and getting under my feet. I tipped the goat food into the boxes over the top of the high fence as I had been warned not to go in there with them as they can be quite “frisky”. That’s one word for it, everyone is terrified of them, they kick and bite and as for milking them which is what they were bought for, that has long been forgotten about as they simply refuse to let anyone touch them and appear to enjoy fighting for their right to not be milked.
Gertrude the giant goat ran to the blue box to eat – I couldn’t see Heidi, the other goat, at all. I called her and peered through the fence from the safety of the garden.
A scream rent the air.
The missing goat had come charging up behind me and put its front hooves on my shoulders. It was me who screamed as I turned and stared into the mad eyes of Heidi the frisky goat looking down at me. I am quite short it must be said but to have a goat tower over one on a Sunday morning was a bit of a shock.
I recalled the instructions “If the goats get out, throw bread into the pen and step back – they will jump over the fence”… Bread, bread, where will I get bread? I rattled the food pail and, throwing caution to the wind, entered the goat pen. Thankfully Heidi followed me and greedily ate from the blue box – one eye firmly fixed on me while she chomped noisily.
I breathed a sigh of relief and exited the pen, closing the gate firmly behind me. I gave the animals fresh water as instructed and turned to leave. As I did, I saw Heidi the goat, she was out again and feasting on the lush fresh vegetation in my neighbour’s pretty potager garden, she clearly had no respect for the fence or rules about staying in her pen. I had been told that on a previous occasion she had got out and eaten an entire row of raspberry plants, right down to the stems.
I went back into the pen and rattled the food box, Heidi nipped nimbly over the fence in front of my eyes and just looked at me and I could swear she had a goat smirk on her face. She came over to the box, sniffed disdainfully and walked to the fence and stood staring out wistfully at the plants.
I left hoping that when my neighbour came home in a few hours time there might at least be a leaf or two left in the garden…