I have goats. I’ve had them for years. I was country before country was cool.
Before my goat friends arrived I had prepared them a lovely deep straw bed, a bucket of water, and some goat fusion. On their first night they ate all of their bed, but that is life with a goat, and I soon solved the problem by providing them with as much hay as they could eat. And weed I could pull. And every scrap provided by my neighbors.
My idea of a peaceable kingdom was coming true. Their purpose was to be environmental lawnmowers and land clearers, but they immediately became my fuzzy wuzzies. Goats can be pets, and great ones. They don’t hang out in the house due to the hot fecal balls they spew all over, and they don’t cuddle in my bed like our cattle dog, Minnie Pearl, but they are blissful and I view them as my personal herd.
In looking for a culture that treats goats as pets, I found out that the Greeks take excellent care of their goats and allow them to wander around villages nibbling here and there. Children play with the young kids, sometimes even dressing them as they would a doll. And then, Easter comes around and they eat the goat. The same seems to hold true in Africa, where people love their goats and then eat them.
At first, this eating of pets horrified me, but I then came to the conclusion that the modern American view towards what animals are okay to eat is perhaps more horrific. But I don’t plan to eat my cuddly baby dolls. They have names, I brush them daily, and I kiss them. Their lips are velvet soft.
Puppies and kitties are treated well and have laws to protect them. These animals serve no purpose and are purely companions. Then, we have farm animals, which the farming industry treats in a systematically horrible fashion. Because they are raised to be eaten, never named, never loved, and always treated as a commodity and not as a fellow creature, we deem eating these animals okay.
The word pet did not even come into the English language until the early 1500s and then it was used to describe “an indulged or spoiled child; any person indulged or treated as a favorite.” By the mid-sixteenth century, “pet” included animals “domesticated or tamed and kept for pleasure or companionship.” The term was especially applied to orphan lambs that required raising by hand. It morphed into a verb, meaning to fondle an animal, and by the early 1600s, although it did not become slang for sexual foreplay until the early 1900s.
I think humans have a natural affinity for other animals. For tens of thousands of years, people lived with animals, which always served a purpose. Virtually all dogs (perhaps with the exception of the pug) were bred to do something — retrieving, hunting, sled pulling, guarding, ratting. Cats too served a purpose. They took care of rats and mice. However, with the industrial revolution, people moved off the farm, farming became industrial, and your average person no longer needs to keep an animal, since she can buy meat, eggs, and milk so cheaply at the grocery store. But people still seem to be hard-wired to want to be around animals.
Goats prefer the trees to the grass. Goats like trees. A lot. They will run past green bales of alfalfa, buckets of grain, and fresh spring grass just so they can demolish a tree. I had considered small donkeys but they will chew bark and destroy trees faster than goats. Hogs will eat grass and they won’t eat the trees, except they plow the ground up, which might damage the roots and kill the trees. They’d need more supplemental feed since grass isn’t a complete diet for them.
Our little goat family connects me to nature in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Their little, sweet voices wake me up more kindly than any coffee could, and help restore my equilibrium again after a long, busy day. I find I am drawn to the goat pen even more often than this, however, just to enjoy my little ones’ company. If I sit down in their pen, Jackson and Krista clamber all over each other in their excited efforts to snuggle up on my lap first, while Goatee and Vega amble by occasionally for a short head-scratching. We may not have a real farm, but our goats have given us the chance to experience a more natural life; my child and I spend free hours sitting in the field, strumming the ukulele, petting our furry kids, and watching the grass grow.