Like any good farmer, Sean Beedle possesses skills that elude other men. He can nourish the soil, plant a seed and grow food. He is accomplished in the art of animal husbandry, delicately coaxing eggs from his shiny-feathered chickens.
And he's pretty good at sitting in the shade and observing his handiwork with deep satisfaction, an act that nourishes the soul. Tall with broad shoulders and a long black beard, Beedle looks the part but is actually a little different from other farmers — he's also an English teacher at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Last week, with a warm March sun forecasting a promising growing season, the shade-sitting was good.
His wife Erin was busy in the backyard of their modest home in southeast Colorado Springs, where the couple are raising three sons and two kids. There is Logan, 8; Henry, 4; and 2-year-old Abe. And then there are Zeke and Huck, the 10-month-old, energetic and inquisitive miniature goat kids, Beedle's new hiking partners.
Zeke and Huck have already explored Palmer Park, Red Rock Canyon, Blodgett Peak and Section 16.
"We've been pretty popular," Beedle says. "We get a wide range of reactions. Most of the people we meet think it's pretty interesting, seeing goats on the trail. We get our picture taken a lot."
Thanks to the support of City Councilor Jill Gaebler, who has championed local food awareness, and the advocacy of goat owners locally, urban farmers may now keep two miniature goats per residence.
Most keep the animals for milk — Nigerian goats are capable of producing up to two quarts a day — but since Zeke and Huck have no future in milk-producing, they'll need to earn their keep another way. Plus, having been castrated (a castrated goat is called a "wether" ... there'll be a test, later), exploring the backcountry and occasionally robbing the tender shoots from the Beedles' vegetable garden will be as good as it gets.
A self-described "weirdo who has taken advantage of the new ordinance," Beedle has plans to climb Pikes Peak this summer with Zeke and Huck sharing the load. A motorcycle wreck last year left him with a broken pelvis. He spent a month in the hospital and rolled around in a wheelchair. Hiking area foothills trails has been part of his recovery, but packing extra weight has been difficult. Zeke and Huck are up for the challenge.
The family's backyard contained a flurry of activity during Spring Break. Erin, dressed in cowboy boots and a dusty skirt, stayed busy preparing the garden for planting. Henry and Abe played on the ground and displayed amazing abilities in absorbing large amounts of dirt. Zeke and Huck nibbled shoelaces and loose shirttails and bounced about with gymnastic athleticism, all while traffic on the Milton E. Proby Parkway hummed in the background.
"The thing about the goats is that they have a great personality," Beedle says. "They can be stubborn, but they are very intelligent and fun to have around."
The goats will grow to weigh 50 pounds, perhaps a little more, and they'll stand about 20 to 23 inches at the shoulder. They are ruminants, with round bellies that house a specialized digestive system — there are four chambers in their stomachs — allowing them to consume a variety of plant materials.
Beedle has outfitted Zeke and Huck with packs with room for 20 pounds of gear. He says so far they've carried no more than 10 pounds, but their strength and endurance has proven impressive.
"We made the loop up and around Section 16, five or six miles, and they stood up well," Beedle says. "Afterward they took a nap and then seemed like they were ready for more. They're a good work animal. They're very sure-footed and love to be up among the rocks. It seems like they want to please you."
On the trail, Beedle keeps the goats tied together and, per Colorado Springs parks rules, guides them along with a leash. He plans to climb Pikes Peak with Logan, Zeke and Huck in late May or early June, camping at Barr Camp along the way. A spokesperson for Pike National Forest confirms that goats are welcome with no special restrictions.
"I just really want to show that goats aren't just for milk," Beedle says. "I want to spread the good goat news."