A Socratic Rancher 10-19-09
Most goats are decent, pasture-abiding citizens, respectful of fences and boundaries. Goats are no threat to trees, flowers, shrubbery, or vehicles provided all of these are sensibly protected by a chain link fence approximately 8-feet in height.
There’s no better example of the docility and conformity of goats than their role as settling companions for horses, which is the origin of the expression “get your goat.” If an unscrupulous race horse contestant wanted to disturb a competitor, stealing away the companion goat of that competitor could cause a nervousness in the horse that greatly diminished performance.
Kid goats, of course, are naturally frisky but seldom destructive, unless turned loose in large numbers in a garden or professional landscaping. Or a greenhouse. A bunch of kid goats in a greenhouse might be considered the equivalent of a bull in a china shop.
Setting aside the extraordinary and the obvious, goats are typically content to manage their human keepers with minimal instruction. Most humans understand their job description has four simple parts: provide feed, water, shade and winter shelter. As long as humans do their job, goats won’t turn them in or let them go.
Nevertheless, in long passages of time and the wide scope of history, an occasional goat comes along who is ornery, in the most developed sense. Every species has such individuals in their legacy, and they no doubt contribute to the fitness of that species in ways that will forever remain mysterious to the humans trying to get along with them.
When a friend bequeathed to us a young nanny named Bungee, we had no idea what we were actually getting, and though the nanny’s name should have provided a clue, I have to mention parenthetically that the gift eventually cast a fleck of doubt on the actual depth of the human friendship involved.
“Oh, she’s a good ol goat,” the friend promised.
She didn’t look that old. In fact, she was barely a yearling, but the expression “ol goat” is used rather indiscriminately among goat keepers as an attribution of fondness, so it didn’t register as the diversion from reality that it proved to be.
Bungee could jump over, and in the process destroy, every and any fence we had on the place. She would literally take a running start of one to two hundred feet, and throw herself at the fence with an upward thrust, either clawing and climbing near the crest, or collapsing the top with progressive pressure, until she could squirm to the other side, at which point she became a helpless matron, bleating to be let back in.
But, because the fence was down, or nearly so, and there was a goat on the other side, the remaining goats in the pasture or corral were overcome with curiosity and decided to take a foray into otherwise forbidden territories. Not Bungee. She stayed by the fence and persisted in trying to get back in, which usually resulted in terminal damage to the fence.
One morning we woke up to goats in the garden. That afternoon we made sausage.
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I want to address a couple of issues in this week’s editor’s note.