While wandering through the hills earlier this week as part of a lek survey, I happened to find an object that I have long coveted; a set of billy goat horns. Undaunted by the fact that the horns were still connected to a dessicated skeleton, I wrestled the skull off the spine and brought it off the hill with me. There was no obvious reason for his death, but I understand that billies are vulnerable to a wet winter, and this fellow must have been a good old age when he finally went upstairs.
Now, the horns are spectacular – they really are. The brute that carried them must have been quite the playboy in his time, and the rippling lengths almost touch one another at their tips, which is quite unusual. I was thrilled to have made such a find, but it would be an understatement to say that they are quite the smelliest things I have ever come across. A billy goat stinks in life, so let him die and fester in the moss for a few months and he is so ripe that even a Frenchman wouldn’t touch him. Then add the fact that a smelly item left out in an open area automatically becomes a fox lavatory, and you have got quite a cocktail of aroma. I was gagging and heaving all the way back to the car, and only when the skull was double bagged in rearing pellet sacks was I able to drive home with the window open.
The horns will look great when they have been properly cleaned and treated, and I started that process this afternoon by boiling off the dense pad of forehead gristle which was binding the horns to the skull. My girlfriend is a chef and obviously understands such things, so she was enlisted to see that the goat stock was boiling up nicely. She periodically prodded the festering stew with a twig, stirring up the rancid emulsion of fat and matter. If anything, the smell got worse before it got better, and particularly vile was the grey crowdie which materialised from the sinuses as soon as the skull was turned for the first time.
To her credit, she gamely resisted the urge to be sick as I finally sloughed off the horns to reveal the slimy bones concealed inside them. Another hour in the boiling vat and the skull now looks very presentable, although it still smells bad enough to make Satan boak. The tips of the inner horn bones were floppy and gelatinous, so I sawed them off short in the certain knowledge that they would never dry clean and fresh. The horns still slot on to the stumps with no ill-effects, and the next stage will be to let the whole lot dry in the sun for a few months, then bleach the bone and replace the horns.
And then “hey-presto”, an impressive head to hang up in my office, even if it will always mean that I will have to open the window on a hot day.