I’d like to apologize to goats everywhere. While I never thought of goats as the devil incarnate, I’d also never found them particularly appealing, let alone “elegant,” in any sense of the word. If I ever envisioned myself owning livestock, goats were definitely not in the picture. That is, until I read Goat Song. My opinion isn’t easily changed, but I have to be honest, after reading about Brad’s life out in Vermont with his goat-children, it’s not so hard to picture myself doing the same thing (in the distant, distant future). The point is, it was a great read- my favorite out of the readings we’ve done so far. Besides the phenomenal writing style, it was entertaining. The storyline held my attention, and the tidbits of facts, history, and biology inserted among Kessler’s anecdotes didn’t dry it out or ruin the romantic nature of the book.
I think what helped make Goat Song such an enjoyable read for me was the focus on cheese-making. I’ve always loved the idea of making as much of my food from scratch as possible, and while I’ve only made cheese once or twice, I’d like to get back into it. There are so many benefits to homemade/grown food- it’s healthier, cheaper, more sustainable. And way better tasting! As a college student having my own vegetable garden is pretty much out of the question (not that I’m really one for gardening anyway), so the closest I’ve come in recent years is making homemade pesto from basil I grew myself and baking my own bread; but I’ve never really been able to make a lifestyle out of it the way Kessler did. Reading Goat Song definitely inspired me to start thinking about getting some cheesecloths and microbes.
I was also fascinated by the complex behavior the goats displayed. I’d always assumed they were similar to sheep, just more intelligent, however they’re clearly completely different. They actually seemed closer to dogs or horses in their behavior to each other and their owners. In fact, in a 2005 study, goats were found to respond to certain social situations in ways only before seen in domestic dogs and primates (the study was led by Juliane Kaminski and a link to the abstract can be found here). I wonder if this is a product of domestication, or a natural inclination found in the wild version of the species as well? Kaminski seems to think it a “side-effect” of the domestication of goats over centuries and centuries. I’m inclined to agree, but how interesting that these behaviors (such as following gaze direction) haven’t surfaced in other livestock? It speaks to the high level of intelligence and social behavior programmed into the DNA of goats- something I’ve never thought about before. When Kessler wrote about his wife bonding with their goat as she struggled to overcome her infection, he described a bond I never thought possible between humans and dairy animals.
I’m not saying I’m going to move to a farmhouse and start raising my own herd of Nubians anytime soon. As inexperienced as Kessler makes himself out to be before starting his goat and cheese adventure, he did have certain advantages that I don’t. However, it was refreshing to read a book like Goat Song, written so well and with such passion that it changed my opened my eyes to an entire species, and got me thinking that one day owning a couple goats might be pretty cool.
March 25, 2014 @ 11:48 am
The gaze-following study is really interesting and raises all kinds of questions about how that aptitude developed. Thanks for posting the link to the abstract!
March 24, 2014 @ 11:42 am
I totally feel the same way about having a new appreciation for goats. I had no idea they were so intelligent. The research you brought up is really interesting. In my opinion, I would also agree that it seems t be the domestication that has formed their behavior. Given that humans give them their milk from birth, I could see how they become so deeply bonded with people. The bond you mentioned that formed as they nursed their goat back to health is still interesting, though, given that the goat seemed to form a bond with a different human than the one that fed her from birth (if I remember the story correctly). Perhaps they don’t differentiate between humans, or perhaps the goat was aware she as being cared for, making for a truly remarkable behavior. Regardless, I’m also really glad I was able to learn and gain appreciation for this amazing animal.