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Out of the wild, into a home

They've traded craggy slopes for meadows full of tasty weeds, swapped the incessant whirring of machinery for the gentle clucking of chickens. But in the bargain, they've had to sacrifice the freedom of roaming 850 acres for the fenced-in life.

Life has changed for Carroll County's feral goats since Humane Society workers began rounding them up from a quarry near Westminster in January. But the goats still act like goats. They eat whatever they please, butt heads and scurry when a stranger approaches.

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"I'm still getting to know them, and they're still getting to know me," said George Clabaugh of Littlestown, Pa., one of three people who have adopted goats from the quarry herd. "But I think they're getting along just fine."

The goats became a cause celebre late last year, when the Humane Society announced plans to capture them because they were reportedly wandering into the roads around the LaFarge Quarry in Medford.

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The herd, which began with a few escapees from a nearby livestock auction, had lived and reproduced in the quarry for a decade.

The workers liked having the animals around. Neighbors also enjoyed watching the herd climb the hills along Nicodemus and Medford roads. Such goat lovers said the county should leave well enough alone.

But Carolyn N. "Nicky" Ratliff, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County Inc., said the county didn't want a goat-induced accident on its hands.

So her workers began setting traps, shoving sweet feed in wire nets at the back of cages. One by one, the nannies and billies wandered into the cages and the doors snapped shut. The organization has captured 14 so far, with four believed still loose in the quarry.

Ratliff said that since the initial hullabaloo, she hasn't heard a word of complaint about the trapping.

With the goats showing up at her facility, Ratliff's attention has turned from catching them to finding them new homes. She has placed 11 with adoptive parents in Littlestown, Mount Airy and Frederick. Three males still live at the society headquarters outside Westminster.

Not just anyone can adopt a goat. Ratliff won't send pack members off as singles. And you have to have a proper fence.

The adoption notices on the Humane Society's Web site read like personal ads, if animals wrote them:

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"Wether (neutered male) goat, adult. Not well socialized but not aggressive. Has lived in the wild his entire life with the Medford Quarry herd. Needs responsible home. Must have at least one other goat for company and a well maintained fence of at least 5 feet. A MUST!"

The accompanying pictures show three shaggy males, all with well-curved horns, one impressively bearded. Despite their bold appearances, the animals are shy.

"They don't want to be near you at first," Ratliff said. "They're afraid."

That was Clabaugh's experience when he brought three females to his 1-acre property in Littlestown two months ago. "Oh man, they would jump and run anytime I got near them," he said. "I'd have a heck of a time holding on to any of them."

The three nannies have since calmed down. On a recent afternoon, they lay quietly in the grass, tethered to Clabaugh's fence as chickens and two smaller pygmy goats milled around them.

"The chickens will scratch and kick and carry on with the goats," Clabaugh said. "And the goats just stand there and stare at them. They get along fine."

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Like the other adoptive parents, Clabaugh said he took the goats because he enjoys looking at them and because they needed a home.

"And because our weeds were starting to grow back up," added Clabaugh's wife, Gloria. The nannies have already cleaned the couple's fence of poison ivy, a nuisance to humans but a nutritious treat to goats.

Six males from the herd moved to Betsy Higgs' farm in Mount Airy about a month ago. They have 6 acres of weeds and grass to munch and plenty of shade trees to lounge under. Once Higgs can get the proper fencing up, the billies will be allowed to graze on the hill leading down to her stream.

Like Clabaugh, Higgs keeps all sorts of animals, from chickens to peacocks to Australian shepherds. She used to have goats and sheep, so she had an empty meadow handy for the quarry billies. The goats usually stay to themselves, she said, "But sometimes, they'll sneak up on me to see what I'm doing."


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