CUMBERLAND — On opening day of the Cumberland County Fair, Gael and Gayleen were two unhappy Nubian goats.

The 5-month-old pair, with their trademark woebegone drooping ears, emitted mournful bleats Sunday as they stood tethered outside the arena while inside, their owner, Phil Cassette of Saco, showed off a potential champion before the judges.

Suddenly Gael made a break for it, snapping her collar and running free while Gayleen, still tethered, sobbed even louder.

Someone shouted, “Goat on the loose,” while a bystander grabbed Gael by the leg just as she was about to disappear around the corner. Soon the two were back on their tethers being cradled by Debby Orff of Waldoboro, who quickly calmed the two kids.

“That’s Nubians. They tend to be dramatic,” said Bethany Parker, who raises LaMancha dairy goats with her father, Cliff Parker, at their farm in New Ipswich, New Hampshire.

The near-escape was just one of the behind-the-scenes dramas that played out Sunday at the fair, which runs through Saturday. The 145th version of the fair features daily agricultural demonstrations and exhibits, animal competitions, craft displays, food, rides and live entertainment. Tickets are $10. Admission is free for children 12 and under.

While the fair gives attendees a chance to get close to cows or sheep, it is also a chance for agricultural families to talk shop with other farmers. Goat keepers are no exception.

“This is kind of a social event. We are an open and friendly group. We help each other out,” Parker said.

The goat show circuit shifts into high gear in the fall, when enthusiasts, like the Parkers, travel every weekend to compete at fairs across New England.

The Parkers got started with goats 20 years ago when they were living in Bangor and Susan Parker, Cliff’s wife, wanted a source of goat milk for making cheese, yogurt and soap. Their two home-schooled daughters expressed an interest in goats and started raising the animals as part of a 4-H project. Soon, their father, a chemical engineer, got drawn in.

“You have anatomy, genetics, disease prevention, physiology and economics” all rolled into one hobby, Cliff Parker said.

Today he is a director of the American Dairy Goat Association and he and Bethany, now 27, keep a herd of 20 or so LaManchas that includes five grand champions.

The Parkers say showing their goats gives them valuable input from the judges and a chance to socialize with other goat enthusiasts.

“It’s a way to find people as crazy as you are. It’s a community,” said Bethany Parker, a biochemist.

Goat keepers can talk for hours about goats and the particulars of their favorite breeds.

LaManchas – which are virtually earless because they lack cartilage in their ears – are known for their sunny, pleasant personalities.

“They hear just fine but they don’t always listen,” Bethany Parker said.

Nigerian Dwarfs tend to be trainable but naughty. Alpines are bossy. And Nubians, as seen earlier, are quick to turn on the theatrics.

Goats are not great grazers. Unlike cows, which lower their heads to munch grass, goats prefer to browse with their heads up, feeding on shrubs and other eye-level vegetation.

Abby Schofield, 33, has been tending goats since 1995. She said her herd of 32 Nigerian Dwarf goats plays a major role in her life.

“They have the personality of a dog. They come when they are called and give you milk,” Schofield said.

Her goats even caused a breakup with a boyfriend.

“My boyfriend didn’t want to be a goat herder,” she said.

So she and her herd moved to her own Valley’s Edge Farm in Strong, where she is almost able to eke out a living with her goats. Recently, she managed to trim down her full-time job as a veterinarian technician to just 10 hours a week.

“I bought a house with these goats,” Schofield said.

Cassette, the owner of Gael and Gayleen, has been raising Alpine and Nubian goats with his father, Bob Cassette, for more than 45 years at their Chateau Briant Farm. “This is our 46th year at the Cumberland fair,” Cassette said as he gently stroked a now-subdued Gael and Gayleen.

He said the pair were making their first rounds at the show arena Sunday and were understandably nervous.

“This is the first time they have been out of the barn and their first instinct is to flee,” Cassette said.

More goats will be on display at the 4-H Goat Show at 9 a.m. Monday at the fair.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]