A Socratic Rancher 8-10-09
August 10, 2009
Goats carry a reputation of eating anything, including tin cans. I’ve seen cartoons of goats on rooftops and in junkyards, the billy’s mouth holding a boot, purse or tire.
My personal experience with goats, however, never confirmed this reputation. The goats I kept were consistently picky eaters. This is not to say they wouldn’t put something in their mouth and roll it around, in an exploratory way, before dropping it, and I figured out that goats like the glue on the paper wrapping some tin cans. Goats are, by nature, browsers rather than grazers, so they’re disposed toward sampling, and exploring, an extensive range of possible things to eat.
When goats are kept in a corral and small pasture for milk, they can lose their browsing inclinations and become excessively finicky, consuming only the very best hay, only grain that has been steam rolled to perfection, and rejecting anything unusual that might get tossed into the corral, such as a rotten turnip.
The one remarkable exception to this finickiness was a goat we acquired from a neighbor in a surprising transaction involving 30-some nannies, the most unusual of whom we named Hot Lips, owing to her extraordinary facial endowment. When she showed displeasure with a feed, she could curl her upper lip to a point of completely covering her nose, and when she ate, her lips reached out like suction cups.
One afternoon as I finished lunch, I looked out the side window toward the loafing shed to see Hot Lips eating a long, jagged, section of plastic off the haystack, ripped from its tuck by the wind, and now flapping over the fence into the corral. This was not just a slip of plastic: at least 10-feet long and an average of 2-feet wide, it dangled off the top of the stack like a small sail.
At first I didn’t believe what I was seeing, as it was apparent that Hot Lips had already eaten a good bit of the loose plastic and showed no signs of being discouraged by the small strip still attached to the section that topped the stack. My hired man, Bubba, turned his head when I exclaimed, “That can’t be … I’m not seeing this…”
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Bubba and I both stood, but froze, hypnotized by the sight of Hot Lips eating the huge piece of plastic. Some part of us urged rescue, but a more pressing part of us couldn’t resist seeing the outcome. Was this goat really going to eat the whole thing?
Yes. Hot Lips ate the entire serrated strip of 6-millimeter clear plastic, about 12-feet long and 2-feet wide.
For the next few weeks we observed her carefully, waiting to witness her various exudates for signs of plastic. None emerged, and though she appeared slightly and constantly bloated, she frolicked and behaved like a normal, well adjusted goat in every regard. When I told our vet the story, she predicted Hot Lips had a short time to live, as the plastic would eventually interfere with passage of nutrients between stomachs.
Hot Lips defied fate and logic to live another five years, and have another 13 kids.