Goats: The History of Everything

Kessler’s journey from the suburbs to a life revolving around a small flock of goats was truly astonishing. I have had very little experience with farms in my lifetime as I have mentioned in past blogs, which made this account especially eye-opening for me. I have always lived with the story book idea of a farm being a simple happy place where plants and animals and people all live in harmony. Over time I came to understand that it wasn’t quite so simple but I never really knew anymore than the fact that farm work is often hard work. After reading Kessler’s account in Goat Song I got a small taste of what life really is like on a farm today. As I was reading, I felt like I was taking the same journey as him, minus the fact that he did all the work and I never left the couch. It really sparked my interest and I must say I got sucked into to the day to day happenings and the well-being of Lizzie, Hannah, Nisa, Pie, Penny, Eustace Tilley and the other kids, neighboring animals, and Lola.

Kessler did a phenomenal job weaving together his experiences on his farm with historical information, facts, and ideas. I really enjoyed the small breaks from his story to explain the origins of various words, or describe a cheese-making process or recipe, or tell another side story related to the happenings of his own life. It really kept me interested in the story and broadened my knowledge in ways that I would not have expected from a book about goats.

The whole process of caring for and raising a herd of goats was unbelievable. The amount of work that was put in from the initial selection of a few individuals, to breeding, to milking, not to mention all the care-taking duties really explains the term kid for baby goats. It was like having kids! It is a 24/7 job that encompasses joy and love and fear and sorrow and so much more. As I started getting into the book, I began to get a feeling that it might be a lot of fun to have a couple of goats of my own, but the more I read the more I realized that I have enough difficulty taking care of myself that to throw on the many responsibilities and tasks of just a couple goats would be an impossible mission. But the feelings Kessler describes through the process make the whole journey seem very appealing, even with all of the hard-work involved.

Throughout the reading, there were many subjects that caught my attention and peaked my interest. The many explanations for the origins of words and terms we use today were especially appealing to me. I have always loved learning where some strange phrase or term we have comes from, and Kessler seems to share my interest. I did not realize how much of our language can be attributed to goats and early pastoral societies. From words like scapegoat and panic to the letters of our alphabet, goats and the lifestyles surrounding them have played a significant role in our communication to this day. I have always wondered exactly where a word like scapegoat originated, and after explaining the background of the historical feelings towards goat, which seemed very negative at times, and their sexual habits and ties to the devil and of their being cast out into the wilderness, terms like scapegoat and panic make a lot of sense. In addition, I found Kessler’s discussion on the biochemistry of cheese to be really intriguing. I have never really been a fan of cheese, and have never looked into the different processes used to make the large variety of cheeses we have today, but after reading the section on all of the organisms and compounds involved in the art of cheese making, I can’t help but get  drawn in. I had never even considered how the diets, lifestyles, and surroundings of an animal would play into the end cheese product. Cheese was cheese to me, but now I can’t help but picture all the little grasses and bacteria that went into each slice. Cheese is like a snowflake; no two pieces are alike. I definitely plan to read more on the art of cheese-making.

Kessler also managed to weave in a few references that tie into our discussions of domestication. He touched on the idea of haves and have-nots briefly at one point, and I couldn’t help but see the connection to Jared Diamonds central theory in Guns, Germs, and Steel. In addition, he hits on what it was that made certain animals susceptible to human domestication, while others were not. Amongst other reasons, he mentions dominance hierarchies, diet, and flight response, all of which were central to Diamonds’ ideas. I don’t know if he borrowed these ideas from Diamond or from some other source, but it is very interesting to see how all of our readings seem to tie together when they seem so different on the surface.

There are so many great topics to discuss in this book, but I will save the rest for Tuesday’s meeting. I hope the rest of you enjoyed this book as well and I look forward to hearing what everyone else has to say!