It all seemed so easy on the practice goat. The udders were long and full, and when you pinched and squeezed, the way the instructor coached, they obligingly filled with milk that squirted easily into the bucket. But that was only the practice run. During the actual Celebrity Goat Milking Competition at this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I didn't get to use that wonderful practice goat (I also didn't catch her name, but I'll always remember her fondly).
No, instead I got a "fresh goat" to work with. It was round three of the Celebrity Goat Milking (some of the milkers, like Outlaw Dave, were famous, and then there were those of us who qualified as "famous" because we happen to be in the media, which probably explains how I qualified) on Tuesday afternoon at the Rodeo. Finally it was time to put together everything we knew about goats -- like the fact that a goat is not a sheep -- with the 30 seconds we'd spent milking one about 15 minutes before the competition began. That was when Amber, the official goat-milk-bucket-holder for place six, and Bryce, the official goat handler for place six, introduced Autumn, my designated milking goat.
Autumn was beautiful, with short copper fur and bright goaty brown eyes. I nodded at her and leaned over to address her directly and give her a respectful greeting. After all, I was about to reach under her, grab her udders and start pulling, so it seemed important to establish a rapport as quickly as possible. She had a rather pungent smell, but I tried not to let this bother us as I readied myself to compete. I asked her how she was doing today and gave her a friendly pat on her side. She turned and glanced back at me, raised an eyebrow and shook herself in the halter.
Upon examining her undersides, it was pretty clear that she needed to be milked. Her handler, Bryce, said that Autumn was a fresh goat, meaning no one else had milked her so far. So it all should have been fine.
And it looked pretty easy, judging from the other milkers. The first two rounds of milking had flown by, with plenty of goat milk splashing into pails while the celebrity milkers almost seemed to not even be trying. One guy got so much milk he almost filled his plastic container, and most of the competitors had a decent-size glass of milk for their trouble after 60 seconds of squeezing.
I tried to send Autumn positive vibes, and got ready to do some milking. Sure, I'd never gotten milk out of anything but a milk carton before, but maybe I had some hidden talent for this. Hell, maybe I was secretly the St. Francis of Assisi of the milkable farm animals, I thought as I slid my hands around the udders and did a few practice pulls. "Never been closer to a farm animal than six feet, but it turns out we have a milking genius in our midst," I imagined the announcer screaming into the microphone. I would turn out to have a secret goat milking skill and then I'd tour the world giving classes on expert goat milking in Paris and Beijing, maybe even Switzerland, I thought. And I'd be generous and share all the credit, of course, I told myself. Autumn could come on tour with me once we got famous.
Meanwhile, the announcer was counting down: "Three, two, one. Go!"
That was when things went south. Autumn may have needed to be milked, but the milk just wouldn't come out of those udders for me. I pulled, using the pinch-and-squeeze method I'd been taught, to no avail. The seconds flew by and the milk bucket was bone-dry. Amber held it steady and tried not to look too pitying. There were 30 seconds left and still nothing. And then we were down to ten seconds and finally one, and I gave it one last futile tug, not even looking down to see if anything came out.
Members of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo made their way down the line collecting the milk. When they arrived at our stall, Amber, the bucket holder -- and a champion bucket holder, it should be noted -- held the bucket at an angle over a funnel that was held over a clear plastic container. Nothing happened so she gave the metal bucket a few shakes and tapped it sharply on the edge of funnel, and a few drops landed in the container. Autumn shook her rump a bit, making it clear that she wasn't the weak link. My future as a world famous goat milker was slipping away.
"Oh! Look! There's some milk! You got some, at least!" one committee member said as she shook her head.
Another committee member was a little more on the nose.
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"Congratulations! That is the worst goat milking I've ever seen! You couldn't have done worse if you hadn't milked the goat at all! I've never seen a worse milking and I've been on this committee for years!" She shook her head. "You should go over to the front. I'm pretty sure they have an award for you. A very special one."
She wasn't wrong. I am officially the worst celebrity goat milker of the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The judge tried to pretend there was a question about it, so I leaned over and shook my empty container at him during the final judging. He took a good look at those 10 drops and handed over the trophy without another word.