by Priscilla Ireys
It was still dark when we crossed the Mississippi River near Cairo Junction, Kentucky. My son Nick was driving our truck, towing an empty stock trailer. Two hundred miles across the bridge in Joplin, Missouri, was Pedro, the Spanish buck we were traveling to pick up. A thunderstorm had dogged us for a while, and now it intensified. As we rolled onto the bridge, we saw tornadoes on both sides of us, undulating grotesquely in the strobe-like lightning all around us.
The rain had been falling in sheets. Now those sheets were sideways, sounding like pebbles pounding the truck. Sandwiched between two 18-wheelers hurling themselves over the bridge, we surfed on the waves from their front bumpers. All I could do was stare forward in utter terror. Finally, I found some voice.
“Are we alright?” I asked my son.
“Sure, Mom,” he said. “No problem.”
I go back to mute state and stare out the window.
After we crossed the bridge, we made for the first exit. My son pulled the truck and trailer into the closest truck stop. The rain had stopped and the winds had calmed. I breathed deeply, a sigh of relief. We were lucky to be across the river and in one piece.
“That wasn’t so bad,” my son said, with a flushed, amazed look on his face. “You OK, Mom?” he asked.
I’m sure I looked pale and shaky. That was exactly how I felt!
I looked back toward the Mississippi. The storm was still raging, traveling up the river. I hoped the tornadoes had moved away. My son and I agreed that they had. At least that’s what we decided to tell each other. We got back into the truck and sat, sipping our waters and eating stale sandwiches in silence. Nick finished, and, exhausted from the white-knuckle driving, said he needed a nap. I drove the rest of the way.
The next morning, we arrived at the farm to pick up our precious cargo. We told of our harrowing trip, had a good meal and some sleep, and were back on the road, heading home to West Virginia.
Pedro and the four does with him were definitely worth the trip. He was huge with an assertive stare and a massive crown of horns. His head was handsome, and I had a hard time keeping my eyes from him. He was just flat out impressive.
We only had to drive through a couple tornadoes to get him. I smiled, thinking of the discussion with my husband right before the trip.
“Free goats?” my husband Henry said, trying to control himself. “You said you’d take on these goats?” He stared at me with the look that made me know I better have thought this out. “You are going where to get these free goats without even seeing them?” He knew that when it came to building a goat herd, there were some things I just did not do because they were far too risky. He also knew that I was about to do one of those things.
“This will give me some really important DNA in my herd,” I said, looking at him with eyes full of as much conviction as I could muster. He knew that I always try to have a well thought out breeding plan for my herds of Spanish and Savanna goats. Bloodlines of heritage livestock don’t have the forgiving numbers of commercial animals, so I’m always terrified of making too many mistakes. “Pedro’s bloodline is necessary, and he will cover all my important true Spanish does,” I said.
There was a silence between us for a minute or two. “And you’re going where to get these free animals? Missouri?” he asked as he paced around the room.
“We are in West Virginia and Pedro is in Missouri, which means going into tornado alley in peak season and crossing the Mississippi River just before dawn, at best,” my husband exclaimed, running his hand though his hair as he tried to take in my plan. The hand going through his hair was a signal of great frustration and worry. “And you said ‘no problem,’ to this person?”
With that question, my husband threw up his hands and walked deliberately out of the room.
Pedro settled down on the farm quickly and was soon Big Boss. He was happy with his herd of does and everyone seemed healthy. I could hardly contain my excitement for the new kid crop that he would sire. My grand plan seemed to be working!
But early one morning in breeding season – my favorite and most dreaded time of the year – I woke up and lingered in bed for a few moments, enjoying the brisk air streaming through the half-opened window.
The whole morning got off to a slow start and I decided to keep in that rhythm. I moved through the barn, wrestling with new bags of feed and measuring the buckets for Pedro’s herd. The walk to the pasture was long, but very pretty. I could see the gate in front of me.
The first strange thing I noticed was Arnost, the guardian dog, crouched at the gate with his tail between his legs, whining. Looking past him into the field, I saw the herd. They were in a tight group, near the other corner. I set down my buckets and opened the gate. None of the does turned to face me as I came into the pasture. Instead, they kept looking forward as if they were just staring into a far-away space. That was very strange.
A cold rush ran through my body. Walking cautiously into the field, I made myself look in the direction the goats were looking. And there it was: the mangled body of Pedro. It was suspended in the fence’s wire, his head twisted grotesquely, his eyes staring straight back at me. He had been electrocuted.
His magnificent horns were tangled in the remains of the ripped fence which now netted his complete body as if he were caught in the web of a giant spider. His back legs lay against the ground. He must have fought death to the point where the fence wire was torn apart but he could not free himself from the relentless current. He had become a tragic display of the struggle to live.
In complete horror, I stood gazing into Pedro’s deep hazel eyes with their black horizontal retinas. In life they were always darting and dancing. Now they were stilled and cloudy, covered in a dull film. His front legs hung, folded in unnatural shapes and wrapped with wire. They seemed delicate, dangling in space. When I touched them, they were stiff and cold.
I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had no voice. I kept thinking I was wrong, that it isn’t him but one of the other big does with massive horns. Or that I’d be able to get him out of the fence. Or that he’d wake up, sore but able to limp back to his herd.
I tried to pull his legs out of the fence, but I had no tool to free the stiff, lifeless corpse.
I made myself turn away. At that moment, I knew this was real. Pedro was dead.
With a deep sigh and wiping away my tears, I tried to think of the work that needed to be done now. First, get Pedro out of the fence and then make sure his herd was safe before dark.
I walked back to the house in a daze, looking for Henry. He was in the garage. Walking up to him, I heard myself asking him for help, but I felt like I wasn’t the person who was calling him. I must have looked sick or faint because suddenly he was holding me. Slowly, with his help I steadied myself. We sank down on an old sofa, and I told him of Pedro’s death. We worked out the jobs in front of us. But then, I passed the point where I could hold in my emotions. I dropped my face into his chest and cried, and cried, and cried.
He held me as I wept – for Pedro, for the does, for myself, for the farm, for my dream of this year’s kid crop. Henry held me until the tears ran dry and I had had my fill of misery. It was now time to get on with the things that had to be done before dark.
It took a few hours to get poor Pedro out of the fence. Then, we had to move the goats to a new pasture. For once, they didn’t give us trouble. In fact, they went politely through the gates. Arnost realized he still had to take care of his does and came with us quietly. He didn’t even run to the woods for his usual romp.
Henry and I looked for a good level spot in the forest behind the far pasture, a place that could accommodate a farm cemetery. We realized that Pedro wasn’t going to be the last goat we would bury. After selecting the spot, we loaded Pedro into the tractor’s bucket. I walked behind as the tractor bumped over the uneven ground. Pedro’s huge horns stuck out from the bucket, swaying with each bounce. I still kept imagining he’d jump out of the bucket and head straight for his does.
I could not watch Henry bury him, so I sat on the nearest fallen tree and waited, digging into the ground with the toe of my boot. We rode the tractor home in silence.
I still needed to figure out what the hell had happened. Also, what is Plan B? Who will take Pedro’s place for the rest of the breeding season?
Henry repaired the mangled part of the fence as I looked for clues to the mystery. I noticed that a young Savanna buck had somehow gotten out of the pasture he was supposed to be in and was grazing in the pasture next to Pedro’s. He was limping and had blood on one shoulder.
Then I knew what had happened! The boys were fighting over girls! Oldest story in the world! This Savanna buck was looking for love and I guess cocky enough to think he could fight Pedro for his does. Pedro’s horns and legs had become tangled in the fence as he tried to attack the young Savanna buck on the other side.
I drove the buck into another more secure paddock and away from Pedro’s herd. “I’ve had enough of you for a lifetime,” I yelled at him, as I locked the gate. I wished I’d buried him and not Pedro.
Now on to Plan B. In farming you always must have a Plan B. We had to put another Spanish buck in with Pedro’s group of Spanish does and we had to move fast. Breeding season was coming to an end. The first young buck lasted around 30 minutes; he climbed over the half-door of the barn to escape the biggest does, who were battering him like a punching bag.
The second young Spanish buck was not much bigger than the first, but he was stocky and agile. He came in real strong and aggressive to Pedro’s group. The does didn’t know how to take this new approach and he seemed to win the day. At least he wasn’t trying to escape. The next morning, he seemed to be comfortable with the herd. I let nature take its course. That season the young buck earned his name, Bulldozer.
In early spring, we watched Pedro’s kids be born. There were some real beauties. Even though his reign as herd sire had been short, he covered most of his does and we had a nice crop of his offspring.
And those offspring tended to be big. All of them – even the doelings – had their dad’s impressive horns. Many of the bucklings had the hard stare of their father’s and his strong beautiful hazel and black eyes. We also had quite a few kids with Pedro’s tri-color coat and long legs.
Bulldozer’s offspring carried his black and brown coat, and their horns were closer to their heads and not so massive. He threw a lot of does, which was a big plus for my breeding program.
Pedro’s children went on to influence my herd and more. One of his bucklings looked just like his dad: same tri-colored shaggy hair, same dignified stare, same set of huge horns. He became a great buck. After using him for a couple years, I sold him to a university studying Spanish heritage goats. I’m proud that Pedro’s genes lived on in the development of the Spanish goat breed.
For many years, when I looked at the herd in my pasture, I was able to pick out Pedro’s offspring. They had his majestic head and stood far taller than most others in the herd. In the evenings as I walked back to the house from the pasture, I imagined him towering over his does. He will always be my favorite Spanish buck. I will always be honored to have had his bloodline in my herd. I loved him. I still miss him.