The Goat Grind: A Snapshot Into Goat Life

The goats in their natural habitat, enjoying the vegetation

The goats in their natural habitat, enjoying the vegetation / Photographer: Izie Janecek

Preoccupied with the dull lives and meaningless antics of human students at Orcas Island High School, we rarely acknowledge or give voice to the perspective of another, far more captivating population: student pets. Shunned to the margins of society and often confined to the home, these animals have long been invisible to the public, oppressed and deprived of attention by the local news. Even when goats played a pivotal role in OIHS student tradition by riding a senior class parade float two years ago, they were reduced to the brief slogan “goats on floats,” denying them of any mention of their unique identities and lives. While I cannot possibly do the student pet population justice, I can at least shed light on the personal life story of three local goats, in the hopes that goats will no longer remain disproportionately underrepresented in the news, and can instead be understood and appreciated.

On the east side of Orcas Island, three Nigerian dwarf goats live with junior Izie Janecek. Harry is a male of nine years, while Neville, also male, and Sprout, a female, are much younger; the three are all named after characters from the Harry Potter series. “Harry Potter, then there’s Neville, obviously, and then Sprout is named after Professor Sprout,” said Janecek. Born on a small family farm in Washington that breeds Nigerian dwarf goats, they likely share similar childhood memories. Harry first came to live with Janecek along with his talkative cousin Molly approximately eight years ago, primarily for as part of a symbiotic arrangement in which the two goats would feed on the family’s blackberry bushes. When Molly passed away last summer, Janecek and her family decided to acquire Neville and Sprout, who are not related by blood, to provide Harry with companionship.

Harry, in his youth, was an aggressive “macho man,” but his tough demeanor has softened into a sweet, motherly disposition towards his younger companions. Neville, an outgoing goat, displays some “macho goat” behavior, sometimes showing territoriality towards Sprout, but his outer coldness hides an affectionate nature. “Most of the time he’s really sweet,” said Janecek. Gorgeous but rather timid, Sprout was slower to open up. Sprout and Neville look up to Harry, following his cues in many situations. “Normally if Harry does something, they think it’s okay,” said Janecek.

A typical day for the goats is spent wandering the land and grazing on different shrubs; they particularly enjoy blackberry bushes and thistles — but only picked thistles, for reasons they have not yet divulged to their close human family. “They don’t like thistle if it’s just on the ground, which is kind of weird,” said Janecek. They occasionally climb the several rocks they can access, or lay in the sun. Each day culminates in feeding time, which is an extremely exciting, highly anticipated moment for them. Nights are spent in their shed. As Janecek said, “they just lay down, and start the whole thing over again.”

This daily routine is punctured by invigorating moments such as when the dog (a Great Dane larger than them) barks, prompting all three goats to run away in exhilaration. Curious and intelligent individuals, they are master escape artists, highly skilled in finding ways to free themselves from their confines. “We’re constantly fixing the fence,” Janecek said. Once, they managed to cross the road, a feat unmatched by many goats. They also derive occasional joy from deer, which fascinate and captivate them. Passionate about making sense of the existence and purpose of the brown creatures, they love to watch the deer that congregate next door. “I would say they have pretty interesting existences,” said Janecek.