A Socratic Rancher 3-22-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 3-22-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Just when I thought I’d probably written my last goat story, I was cleaning out a file cabinet and came across a picture. Pictures sometimes bring back pages, and this one certainly did: a 3-year-old boy in one of our jug pens with 10 kid nanny goats.

The picture was taken almost 30 years ago, and goes back to the day when good friends of mine had a son, and the sun shone from the father like never before. A formerly gruff and argumentative man who’d been to the gravel many times with his adversaries became so mellow and charming as to create suspicion in his close friends. But I understood the transformation as one I’d gone through when my own son was born.

In what seemed a matter of months (but was actually several years) my good friend’s son walked about with ease and spoke to his elders in decent English. During a visit to our farm, the toddler saw a pen packed with kid goats. It was a pen in which we fed the nanny kids from the best milkers so as to regulate their consumption and get them started on solid food sooner than they might if left to nurse freely with their mother. We fed this group of kids from a 2-gallon bucket that had 10 nipples attached around the base, and spaced such that exactly one kid goat could get hold of it. When mounted securely on a platform, the kids all found a spigot and drained 2 gallons of milk in about 10 seconds.

While we were talking about something, probably one of the world’s more pressing problems, the toddler climbed over the fence not long after the kids had finished their bucket of milk. The kids, curious about such a young human, and hoping this new creature might also be a carrier of milk, began to explore and nibble his fingers and ears.

Meanwhile, the delegation of adult problem solvers, boots and elbows resting comfortably on nearby corral rails, heard yelps of joy from the kid pen. We ran over to find the toddler standing in the midst of 10 young nanny goats, all of whom were nibbling or nursing on some part of him. The smile on the toddler’s face was one I’ll never forget, and, of course, someone ran and got a camera.

Years later, I spoke with the young man. He was in vet school, studying to be large animal veterinarian.

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I nodded to that profession, and we talked about how it was a field of declining interest, as most students were going into the small animal service because of better prospects for clients.

As we were parting and making the usual promises to get together, the young vet student laughed, “You know, I’ll never forget those goats.”

“Oh yeah, those kids.”

“They weren’t exactly trying to eat me. I don’t know. It was more like they were exploring. But no, that wasn’t it. After a while I think they figured out I didn’t have what they wanted, but they just kept on … I’ll never forget that. There’s a word for it, but I don’t know what it is.”

Looking at the picture, I had a pretty good idea what the word for it is, but as a socratic rancher, I’ll leave up to you as readers to decide.