The little girl with straight brown hair was loud. She talked loudly to her mom, and she talked loudly to the goats, standing in straw behind white iron gates.
She was one of those kids who giggle-shrieked. When the goat came closer to the side of his pen and thrust his head through the bars, when he stretched his lips toward her outstretched palm and the tiny pellets of food, she giggle-shrieked.
Abby King’s mom doled out the feed and soaked in the laughter, and the goat was happy basking in the attention.
“It feels like it tickles, like when daddy tickles me way too much,” Abby said.
Abby was just one many kids and adults who will frequent Goat Mountain during the Indiana State Fair. The goat exhibit—10 pens of goats waiting to be fed $2 bags of carrots and 25-cent handfuls of feed pellets—has been at the fair for 16 years. It’s one of the simpler and cheaper exhibits to be found at the fair, and it still manages to draw crowds of people each day.
Abby called her favorite goat “Climber” because he liked to put his front feet up on the bars. He was small and fuzzy, and after she touched him, she exclaimed how soft he was—she didn’t know goats could be so soft.
“He gobbled it up so fast,” she said. “His lips are soft.”
The goats seem to know when someone is slipping a quarter into the feed machine. They thrust their heads through the gate, trying to get the pellets before the gumball-type machine even dispenses it. As they hoovered every last crumb of feed from every outstretched palm within reach, they looked like the mobile street cleaners vacuuming the streets of the fair each night.
As soon as the feed comes near their mouths, their tongues slick out and they try to eat it as fast as they can before it’s taken away and given to another goat.
It was as if they haven’t eaten in days—even though they spend their days lounging in pens being fed by overeager kids and adults.
Natalie Hunt, from Danville, has worked at Goat Mountain for the past week and a half. She spends 15 hours a day with the goats, and she’s become a “goat expert” in that time, she said.
She moved away from her childhood farm at age 12, so she understands the draw people feel to the goats. City kids just don’t get the chance to be around these kinds of animals.
“They’re so interesting,” she said. “Going from having dogs to something like this is completely different.”
She said dogs just need to be fed and let out, but with goats, there’s so much manual labor involved.
Even so, she’s become attached to the goats in the short time she’s worked at Goat Mountain. She even named one Pearl, a white Saanen goat who doesn’t like to eat that much.
“I love them. It’s pretty bad,” Hunt said. “I’ve thought about buying a few of them to take home.”
Larita Snyder, who lives in Twelve Mile, Indiana, has three goats, but that doesn’t stop her from heading straight to the goats when she comes to the fair.
“The ones at the fair are so loving and right there and are wanting to eat,” Snyder said. “My goats want to eat horse feed and weeds and grass.”
While Snyder’s goats normally don’t have any interest in what she has to feed them, if she brings out a loaf of bread, they will be all over her. Their favorite foods are bread, cookies and peppermint.
After walking through the exhibit and petting and feeding each goat, she stopped to take selfies with a few by the end—the same thing she said her 46-year-old son did when he came to the fair last week.
“It always makes me want to buy another goat,” she said.
Snyder keeps horses, peacocks, rabbits, ducks and “any other wildlife that wanders into the barn,” but she loves goats. She bought her first goat when she was in her 20s, when she passed a goat farm. She pulled over and the guy offered her a goat for $10.
“I threw her in the front seat of my Trans Am with the top down and took her home,” she said. “She was living the life, and I’ve had goats ever since.”
Her goats have their own personalities—one of the babies is a “princess,” she said, and the other is cuddly and always wants to be petted.
Like dogs, she’ll play games with them and try to rile them up, and they get excited when they haven’t seen her in a while.
“I love them at home; I love them here too,” Snyder said. “They’re just so neat.”
Kara Berg is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a group of 30 students telling Indiana’s stories from a trailer somewhere between the cheese sculpture and the state’s biggest sow. This Ball State University immersive-learning project works for elephant ears.