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Duce's Wild: The art of animal whispering

Published: Thursday, June 27 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

My daily duties now include the care and companionship of a goat — that’s in addition to my five kids, seven chickens, a dog and a guinea pig. I know that’s not much for most Montanans but I’ve never purported to be a farm girl — just an admirer of those who are.

But then the other day, I pulled into the gas station in my husband’s truck with a goat in the back, a dog in the second seat and boxes of chirping chicken in front with me. My good friend was in the next truck over and couldn’t fathom the reason for me being the driver of a major animal transport operation.

“Maaaaa,” the goat whined and I responded as if he were calling me by name and speaking in sentences. “I know — you hate riding around. We’ll be there shortly,” I say scratching him behind the ear.

“A goat?” my friend asked more than once with furrowed brow as she came across the parking lot.

All I could do was shrug because the major accomplishment was not the fact that the animals were in my truck, but how they got there. For a moment, the truck bed had been a boxing ring with the pygmy goat dominating the yellow lab handily. Our adolescent lab was not exactly welcome to be that close to the chickens either since she had played with one to the death the day before.

I considered the arrival to my destination to be as rewarding as that of a school bus driver at the end of a busy day or the captain of an airplane staying calm through turbulence on the way to the tarmac.

I watched in awe a few weeks ago as a cattle broker loaded, prodded, rearranged and then reloaded eight massive mama cows which were not ready to be separated from their babies, even for a quick trip to new pasture.

By the time he successfully closed the gate, his rubber boots were covered in nervous reactions from the mamas and I don’t know how he wasn’t crushed in the process. But to him, the chore was like changing a light bulb — work that wasn’t even worth a tally mark. His roundup was like a chin-up for a professional athlete or a diaper change for a busy mom — a simple step in the process of doing a job right that would seem like a major accomplishment to those with different job titles.

Technically, our family menagerie is managed by my 11-year-old son but summer hours are in full swing which means I’m the only one who wants to rise with the sun and doesn’t feel right eating breakfast until the animals have theirs first.

So, I fumble with the feed, wince when a chicken flaps its wings and feel a strangely deep level of gratification when it seems the goat says “thank you.” It’s all unnatural to me and yet I’m a willing caretaker — either that or hungry for my own breakfast.

Maybe by the time my own children are grown, I’ll be comfortable raising gaggles, herds and litters. But most likely, I’ll always be in awe of those who are animal whisperers.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com

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