A Socratic Rancher 11-16-09 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 11-16-09

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

I’ve devoted far too much time to profiling aberrant goats – nannies with disturbingly purposeless dispositions, kids who fail fit into the pattern of progress for the species bovidae caprinae capra aegagrus hircus, or wethers with excessively indolent habits, and billies whose manners have decayed to sheer rudeness.

Apologies solicited.

The fact is, goats are, by and large, a very normal species and I fear my stories have offered something akin to a carnival mirror of reality. So, my intent here is to correct any notions among the readership that my devotion to stories of odd goats is, in any way, representative of the entire species. The vast majority of goats are not like the goats I previously described, such as the jumpers, the self-suckers, the sofa bedders, the unrepentantly ornery, or the indiscriminate consumers. Most goats are normal to a fault.

Take, for example, my neighbor Rex who thought he could feed his goats discarded Christmas trees. His reasoning: goats like trees, don’t they? And Christmas trees are in great abundance in January, used for ceremonial New Years’ bonfires or erosion control in gullies. Therefore: from the town’s leaf dump, Rex hauled several 2-ton truck loads of the Christmas trees to his place, piling the decorative feed outside the corral to be tossed in, a few each day, to “supplement” the diet of his nine goats. I happened to be there on the third day of this experiment.

When presented with trees laced in plastic icicles, its branches drooping with stale cookies of frosted snowmen, and an occasional, though dented, pastel orb, the goats nominated their queen to inspect the offering. The herd queen speaks volumes in support of the profound normalcy of the capra species, as this is a goat who maintains stability and justice within the herd, a goat endowed with keen perception and management potential. In Rex’s herd, the queen happened to be an Alpine nanny with pointed horns and a surveyor’s squint. She strutted to the withering Christmas trees in no apparent hurry, then sniffed them from all sides, eventually turning to the other goats, who were watching with rapt attention. The queen raised her head, narrowed her eyes, and curled her upper lip in disgust. All the other goats went back to their normal business, sensibly rejecting any further investigation, or consumption, of a substance clearly not meant for them.

Another goatkeeper, obsessed with thrift, thought he could feed his goats rotten onions from the nearby sorting plant. Wrong. A goat will no more eat a rotten onion than will a human being eat a skunkweed salad. Again, though goats are reputed to eat anything, nothing could be further from the truth. Goats prefer a normal diet of dew-baled third or fourth cutting alfalfa, steam rolled grains entirely free of dust, fresh clean water, and an occasional nip at leaves or flowers. What could be more normal than that?

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Someone once challenged my assertion of goat normalcy by pointing out that a goat will chum with a horse. Well, of course. Goats are social creatures, a most normal aspect of which is companionship. A goat will make friends with any lonely species. A goat will even take up with a human, if there are no goats around.