A Socratic Rancher 7-27-09
Back in the day when we had goats, I happened to be at the Sale Barn buying calves when a young Alpine nanny strutted into the ring as if walking a model’s runway. Bright eyes, erect ears, long, straight back, and a bulging udder that caused her to walk as if straddling a basketball, made her a stunning sight. Near center ring, she perused the audience of buyers, her eyebrows wrinkling a bit before crossing like sabers as she curled her upper lip in apparent disgust. No one bided.
Surprised by this, I tossed up a forefinger, only to hear the auctioneer cry, “Sold!” The surprised hit me like a ton of meringue. I’d just bought a goat an obvious Number 10 for a buck. Initially, I attributed this to my skill as a bidder, and happily took the nanny home with a load of calves.
However, before I’d finished bragging to my wife, she broke out laughing, pointing to the goat who was nursing herself. “Great,” she said. “You bought a self-milking goat.” We named her Recycle. Determined to prove the goat a bargain, I had to break her of this unproductive habit, which I learned from other goat keepers was rare, but known.
The first suggestion involved tying a yoke known as a weaning stick around Recycle’s neck that would prevent her head from getting low enough to suckle. This worked for a few minutes, while Recycle rocked her head from side to side, swinging the yoke out of the way just long enough to reach her spigots. Apparently she’d seen this before.
Next I tried a dash of ceyenne pepper on her teats, which Recycle seemed to think gave her own milk a nice, spicy flavor. Three last resorts remained: permanently collar the goat, wrap a coat over her entire udder, or return her to the Sale Barn.
I tried the coat strategy, but it didn’t work very well, as Recycle had all the genius of Houdini when it came to escaping various wraps. As I was coming to terms with the prospect of returning Recycle to the Sale Barn, a fellow came by, wanting to buy a goat as a hiking companion. He immediately picked Recycle as his favorite.
“Well,” I explained, “she’s a fine goat, though I must tell you that she suckles herself.”
At that moment, Recycle got thirsty and reached back for a nip. “That is far, far out,” the fellow said. “That goat is in perfect balance with nature. How did you ever teach her to do that?”
Conscience and opportunity tussled in my head as I said, “It’s a secret.”
“This goat is exactly what I want,” the fellow said, giving her a hug. “I won’t even have to milk her on the trail. But I know she’s probably more valuable than average.”
“True,” I agreed.
“Tell you what,” said the fellow, “I’ll give you 20 dollars for her.”
I hesitated, but only because the offer hit me like another ton of meringue.
“OK,” he said, watching Recycle nurse, “I’ll go 25.”
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