Life on the Funny Farm

By Laura Cunningham

My husband and I had always dreamed of raising our own food. Before purchasing our farm, I imagined I would pass platters of young vegetables across the table, along with the modest message "Our own." But today the two of us stagger, lugging 50-pound sacks of chow to a crowd of 45 fat animals who do little but exist in a digestive trance. How did I, a city person, get stuck running a salad bar for useless creatures?

We began with "our own" garden, a disaster from which we learned nothing. After a season of rototilling, fertilizing, fencing and back-dislocated labor, we produced "the $700 tomato." It was a good tomato - spared by the groundhogs who left they're dental impressions on all the others.

The goats came next. We had always loved goat cheese and imagined a few dainty dairy goats would supply us with chevre or feta whilst cavorting as adorable pets. Thus, I accepted delivery of two demented goat sisters, Lulu and Lulubelle.

While I knew goats didn't extrude neat white logs of Montrachet, I had not known that the "goat person" must become involved with milking platforms, teat problems and, most significantly, sexual liaisons. Goats won't give milk unless they have been mated, and in our town the only billy around was Bucky, a horned and whiskered creature with an odor that seemed visible. On his initial conjugal visit, he and "the girls" kicked up such a fuss that they did $2000 worth of damage to the barn before eating the windowsills. The romance was canceled.

Lulu and Lulubelle now occasionally entertain us with a goat frolic on our front lawn, banging heads and performing a few choreographed moves that recall some Dionysian rite. But most of the time, the girls simply munch and relieve themselves.

Next came the dream of fresh eggs, gathered warm in the mornings - a dream that gave way to the reality of 38 irritable Rhode Island Red hens. After several hundred dollars worth of chicken feed, there was, one morning, an egg - under the hen who almost took my hand off when I reached for it.

Hens, I soon learned, are cranky creatures. Even the rooster has let us down. We expected him to wake us with his proud crow. But on the Phony Farm (as we call our spread), the rooster must be shaken awake at noon.

With the chickens came the geese, who make the least sense of all. We ordered them on impulse from the poultry catalogue when we read the listing: Toulouse goslings.

GOSLINGS. The word had a nursery rhyme appeal. But my five chartreuse-fuzzed baby geese soon quacked and snacked themselves into 20-pound fatties. For a time, I labored under the delusion they would fly south for the winter. I had seen a documentary, "The Incredible Flight of the Snow Geese," and thought of taping it on my VCR for my geese. But they fly about as well as I do - skidding a few feet down to their plastic kiddy swimming pool.

I became resigned to running a goose spa, but my husband had other ideas. "Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat," he hissed with a Jack Nicholson glint in his eye. I was appalled. How could he consider roasting an animal that thought of me as Mother Goose?

The goslings had followed me to a nearby pond, where neighbors assured me I could relocate them ("Once they hit that water, they'll never leave."). But when I left, so did they - in single file. I turned around and saw them, their goony gray heads raised above the tall grass, seeking only to walk in my footsteps.

I was touched. For life. Their fuzz gone, their voices raucous, the geese had become quite repulsive pets. The only male, Arnold, has even goosed me when I turned my back on him. The bad news is they can live to be over 30.

Today I buy my "farm-fresh fare." I pick up my goose from a prime meat market, and find "fresh laid" eggs and natural goat cheese at the fancy-food emporium. The eggs cost $2.50 a half dozen, but they're still cheaper than m own eggs, which cost $300 each if you factor in things like henhouses.

But the best news is that I can roast a goose, baste it, enjoy the aroma and know: IT'S NOT ARNOLD. Arnold is out in the kiddy pool, having incestuous sex with his sisters.