Some people talk to plants. Some try to shout a golf putt into the hole. Me? I sing to goats. This is the story of how it all started, very suddenly, a year and a half ago, in a flood in a remote corner of New Mexico.

I’d just completed a 480-mile Craigslist pickup, and was en route home with a precious cargo — two of the most heart-meltingly cute, four-week-old, unweaned goat kids I’d ever seen. Natalie was a pure white gum drop who had immediately taken to nursing from my finger. Melissa was a speckled brown and white, just as pretty, though with a head-butting personality closer to Martina Navratilova. These Chihuahua-sized ruminants were to be the centerpiece of my local living plans.

I’ve always been a whistler, the guy who hums in an elevator or discovers from the look of nearby drivers that he’s singing out loud at a light. So when, on our first drive, we came across an overflowing creek and the little mammals started maniacally bleating, I naturally tried belting out “Homeward Bound,” arching my neck around like an owl so the goats could listen as we braved the raging waters. It was the moment I became, for the first time in my life, a professional musician. That is, someone who sings in order to survive.

Amazingly, my off-key Simon and Garfunkel rendition worked. The goats stared at me like junkies after a fix. They became silent, enraptured. I could swear they were smiling. After about 30 seconds in the soaked creek bed, Natalie, ears half the size of her tiny body, leaned forward and cheered (I think it was a cheer) toward my ear: “Mmmbah.”

And then it occurred to me: Not by accident was the drunken Greek music god Pan represented as a goat. Goats love music. I guess I had unconsciously realized this when I named the little beasts after two musicians whose voices sound to me a little like bleating goats (in a good way): Natalie Merchant and Melissa Etheridge.

Though goats are earth’s most disobedient species, music has never failed to snap Natalie and Melissa into total obeisance since the day of the flood. When I was still bottle-feeding them, I’d use Keller Williams or the Be Good Tanyas to get them to chill. When they were ready to wean, they seemed to like the Beatles. And if I want them out of my rose bushes (evidently filet mignon to goats), I have to pull out my saxophone and lay on the Charlie Parker live. Nothing else, nothing recorded, will extract them. They won’t even look up to, say, the standard James Brown or David Grisman, or even Beth  Orton’s “Stolen Car.”  To my extremely amateur efforts at Bird, Natalie and Melissa march back to the corral like I was the pied piper. Goats are discerning music critics.

My biggest musical challenge came last fall, when Natalie seemed less than interested in the billy goat, Walt, I had brought in for her to date. Walt stank and had vicious horns, so I couldn’t blame her. And as an overprotective father, Natalie’s reticence about becoming a teen mother actually made me kind of proud. But in order to have local milk here at the Funky Butte Ranch, I needed a lactating nanny goat. To speed up the romance, I belted out the obvious Marvin Gaye and Al Green. But what really seemed to work was when I burst forth with some early Allman Brothers, with lyrics slightly modified:

Goats, can you feel it?    
Love is everywhere.

We’ll see if my aria really was effective in the late spring, when Natalie is supposed to give birth. Which reminds me — as head midwife, I’ve got to come up with a labor song for the big day. I’m leaning toward “The Kids Are Alright.”

Story by Doug Dine. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

The goat whisperer
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