A Socratic Rancher 12-14-09 | TheFencePost.com
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A Socratic Rancher 12-14-09

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

I recall a specific moment years ago, looking out the window, having just awakened to a state of not knowing if it was early morning or late afternoon, and to my surprise, seeing something like 50 goats milling around in the corral. As with many goat keepers, I started with a few goats, and woke up years later with a herd.

Of course, much of the reason for this astounding multiplication of goats is that they are complex social creatures and it’s arguably cruel to keep less than a critical communal mass. Once this premise is understood, the consequences are a predictable progression of one goat after another. Not to mention that nanny goats often have triplets.

But I digress, as today’s topic is

goat lips.

To reach this hot topic, you need first to understand that for years I used an old Artsway mixer-grinder to make our goats’ dairy ration, a delicious blend of (roughly) equal parts corn and oats, with lesser parts triticale and cottonseed meal. One fateful day, however, the old grinder lost a bottom bearing – at a spot requiring a contortionist to remove and replace, so we bought several bags of “Premium Dairy Ration” from the feed store in town while I tried to figure out how to do the repair (or, more accurately, while I found ways to put off a nasty job).

The “Town Ration” had lots of stuff in it, including small tubular pellets of mysterious constitution. The pellets were brown and hard and had no smell. I knew only that they weren’t alfalfa pellets. The goats would not eat them. They deftly picked through a generous serving of the Town Ration, leaving every single one of these pellets in the feed tray of the milking stanchion, and leaving them bone dry. Which required acrobatic lip control.

This gave rise to a discovery and an observation. We discovered that nondescript pellets in a commercial ration can possibly contain a small percentage of waste products such as floor sweepings mixed in with otherwise good ingredients as a way of getting rid of them in disguise. In the case of our “Premium Dairy Ration” it’s a fair guess that the goats sniffed out something un-foodlike in the pellets and rejected it.

Second, the ability of goats to surgically separate a single foul ingredient from a ladle full of feed, supports a theory I’ve long held that goats use their lips for more than just eating and keeping dust out of their mouth. A goat’s lips are highly developed, sensitive instruments of perception, through which they identify and examine much of their world.

This, of course, contributes to the erroneous perception that goats will eat anything. On the contrary, they are very finicky eaters, rejecting dry or moldy hay, anything spoiled or rancid, and a host of irregular feeds. But goats will not hesitate to put something in, or near, their lips in the same way that humans exclaim, “Let me see it!” and proceed to pick it up and roll it around in their hands.


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