Why a cellist with some of Canada's most prestigious orchestras is herding goats in Thunder Bay

·3 min read
Peter Cosbey herds goats on the Mount Baldy ski area in Thunder Bay, Ont. He had moved with his family to the city a few years ago, and took on the goat herder job this summer.  (Jon Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Peter Cosbey herds goats on the Mount Baldy ski area in Thunder Bay, Ont. He had moved with his family to the city a few years ago, and took on the goat herder job this summer. (Jon Thompson/CBC - image credit)

When the owners of the Mount Baldy ski hill in Thunder Bay, Ont., posted an unusual help wanted ad for a summer goat herder, the resumes poured in from across Canada and as far away as Australia.

As they sifted through applicants, Daniel Kardas, a former member of Canada's ski-jumping team, and his brother Jason weren't surprised to find almost no one had ever herded goats before.

The Kardas brothers soon found the right candidate was right in front of them, in Peter Cosbey.

"I won't lie. Most people had zero experience. I mean, who's a goat herder? Who even does that?" Daniel said.

"We went through everyone and then Peter came to me and said, 'Hey, what about me? I'm interested in doing this.' You know, he enjoys the goats and he's good with them. And I say, 'Yeah, let's give it a whirl.'"

From the symphony hall to the ski hill

Cosbey was a professional cellist in Toronto before moving to Thunder Bay with his partner to take life at a slower pace. He spent last winter moving hoses and snow-making hydrants around Mount Baldy.

He made a routine of taking water to the barn and had already even bred a couple of goats of his own.

 

Cosbey's former routine of playing in prestigious halls with the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada was a far cry from cutting trees and herding 30 goats across a 400-metre-high ski hill in northwestern Ontario.

"I think most people I know in Toronto, when I told them I was moving to Thunder Bay, thought I was crazy. But in my opinion, it was an excellent life choice," Cosbey says. "It's not really slower — it's just different, because now I spend a lot of time, you know, looking after animals, and growing a garden and that kind of thing."

Labour of love

Herding proved to be a steep learning curve on a steep incline for Cosbey, and he found himself calling for backup early on. The goats didn't take to their jobs as organic lawn mowers at first, trampling the electric fence and circling back to the barn where they spent the winter.

In one instance, the herd split and Cosbey found himself unable to leave the enclave where half of the goats had followed him, while the other half escaped to graze on nearby flowers. The rest of the hill's summer staff joined in with sticks and canes to gently pen the runaways.

Jon Thompson/CBC
Jon Thompson/CBC

Occasional flares of disobedience aside, he found goat herding to be straightforward work. He moved the fence uphill on each ski run once goats chewed the brush down, their manure leaving behind a fresh bed of iridescent green grass.

"Most days you don't have to do a lot, except the days when you move them is when you have to do a lot more work," Cosbey explains. "So basically, just check on them, bring them water, make sure they still have food, make sure everyone looks healthy still. About a month ago, one of them broke their leg, so it's got a splint on it right now. Hopefully that one will be OK."

Thunder Bay's wet summer led to lush vegetation, which kept the goats busy, but also kept away predators like bears, lynx, wolves and coyotes, which have been known to lurk around the hill during dry years.

 

It also made for a particularly buggy year, but in the wind out on the hill, Cosbey said he wouldn't have spent July and August any other way.

"It's really beautiful out here during the summer. I mean, the views are just fantastic. Nothing beats working outside in nature with the animals. It's pretty fun."

Jon Thompson/CBC
Jon Thompson/CBC