The GOAT Channel

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, August 26, 2010

Weather-wise, this has been a year of extremes – with last winter's snow and summer's triple digit temperatures. Predicting the weather has become increasingly complex.

Weather forecasts aren't a problem at Stillmeadow Farm. We tune into a different weather channel. The call letters are GOAT.

Yes, we have a whole herd of caprine prognosticators ready to supply the latest forecast. We discovered this unique talent in our goats when we switched breeds from Nubians to animals from a much cooler clime – French Alpines.

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Claudine, the first in our French Alpine line, loved winter. When hot weather arrived she showed her disdain by retreating to the barn for the duration. She only came out when a drastic change in the weather was imminent.

She always knew, for instance, when the first frost of the season would occur.

“Claudine's out in the pasture – get out the blankets,” was a standard weather observation.

On fall evenings we stacked wood; in the spring we brought in the bedding plants.

After Claudine's demise we acquired Harmony, another great weather goat. She immediately set to training her offspring in the art of weather watching.

On many a spring morning I would observe Harmony and Paulette, the most astute of her kids, heading out to pasture. As I watched the goat twosome, erect ears turning like rabbit ears on an antenna, I sensed that some serious training was in progress.

Early in June of one hot, dry summer, Harmony trotted to the pasture and dug a hole. Circling around, she raised a cloud of dust that hung in the air.

“Hot and dry,” she pronounced.

And it was.

Harmony, with Paulette tagging along, seldom budged from her dusty hole all that summer while local meteorologists studied their maps for a change in the weather pattern.

If only they knew how simple it was – the weather wasn't going to change until Harmony got up!

The weather channel folks obviously don't know about the famous weather goats in the Northwest.

There is a small town in Oregon that doesn't depend on traditional weather maps – their forecasts come right from the goat's mouth!

Daily forecasts are based on a simple formula. The weather person checks the position of a herd of wild goats on a nearby mountain. When the goats graze high on the slopes the day will be sunny; midway down the mountain means cloudy skies; and goats on the lower range indicates rain.

A typical goat forecast, broadcast on a local radio station, might read: “A high goat pressure system is in place today, so the weather will be fair. Tomorrow, look for widely scattered goats that may result in clouds moving in. Variable high goats could also bring warmer weather late in the afternoon.”

These, of course, are mountain goats of which French Alpines are descended.

I rest my case.

And in case you're wondering about the upcoming hurricane season, all I can say is tune into the GOAT channel.

The Old Farmer's Almanac has this to say about the 2010 season: “Although the hurricane season will not have a high number of storms, there may be major hits in Florida near Labor Day and in the South later in September.”

When a storm of any kind is imminent, a goat will let you know. If strong winds are forthcoming goats hoist their tails like a warning flag. Conversely, when calmer weather is in the offing, a goat's tail will be in the “down” position.

This early warning system has proved accurate during several hurricane experiences. Unfortunately, my willingness to share this information has met with mixed results.

During a hurricane watch a few years ago I was waiting in line at the grocery store when a lady with a basket full of batteries started a conversation.

“Do you think the hurricane will hit us today?” she asked.

“Not a chance,” I reassured her. “My weather report this morning was definitely 'tails down.' ”

Rather than be assured, the woman sidled over to the next line.

I tried to explain. “My goats told me so,” I said.

“Of course,” she murmured, moving yet another aisle away.

“Goats always know,” I shouted across the store. “When it's 'tail's up,' look out!”

At that point the line thinned even more, but I didn't care.

Thanks to my goats I was the first to know when this summer's drought would end.

It was a hot night much like all the others when I opened the pasture gate a few weeks ago. A slight breeze ruffled the branches of an old oak beside the barn and then it was gone. So was Paulette. She had abandoned her usual dusty bed in the barn for her “high water” perch atop the hay feeder.

I knew it would rain that night, and it did – over an inch! It was a weather forecast exclusive to one weather channel. You guessed it – GOAT.

To all the other meteorologists out there, all I can say is your forecasts don't stand a ghost – make that goat – of a chance.