Is your head doe bossing you around?

In my little goat herd, Rosie is head doe. Goat herds are not exclusive clubs. Nearby chickens are included. People are too. As far as the goats are concerned, I’m a member of the herd, and that’s usually really nice. We’ve cleared brush together companionably, and they miss me if I’m not the one to look in on them.


The head doe does boss her followers around. Gigi’s felt Rose’s horns more than once. Unfortunately, so have I. Not often, but it happened again a couple of days ago. Here’s what I’ve done to clarify our relationship.

Grabbing the goat by the horns

The horns that make Rose’s bossiness a problem are also a great way to get a handle on her. Literally. Rose is stronger than I am, but those horns give me an advantage. The first time I had to use them was a few years ago. She was a couple of years old and felt it was time to take me in hand. I couldn’t quite control her by holding her horns and didn’t dare let go. She was seriously trying to take me down, as she would an impertinent goat in her herd. I’m not as tough as a goat, and she probably could have hurt me far more than she intended to.

We danced around for several minutes before I thought, “Hmm. Goats do not like to lay on their side. If I switch this hand… to the rear leg… and pull…”

It worked like a charm. She went down hard and I had complete control. More important, I had her complete attention. I lectured her on appropriate behavior toward humans. I don’t know whether she understood any of the words, but she definitely got the message. I avoided her the next day (I was pretty pissed) and that had her really worried. We’ve not had many issues since then.

Last week I had the girls out on a lead. Rose wanted to move to a new location, but I was still working with the lead (which Gigi, as usual, had wrapped around the stub of a shrub). Rose hooked her horns into my thighs (ouch), threw me off balance, and made her escape — all of three yards, to a bit of blackberry vine she’d been eyeing.

When I caught up with her, I grabbed her horns and twisted her head to one side, as if to lay her down, and gave her a synopsis of the earlier lecture. For the next two days she sidled up to me at every opportunity, nuzzling me, giving me her best doe-eyes, and essentially saying, “We’re good, right?”

Life is back to normal in the herd. We’re a close-knit group where Rose is head doe. But I’m the boss.


Goats and sneezes

Social animals, like goats, have ways to sound an alarm. It might be a bark, or a trill, or a shriek. With goats, it’s a sneeze. Really.

So, there I was in the chicken run, which is right next to the goat run. I had a cold. I sneezed. And Gigi, my easy-going docile little Nubian goat, came dashing out of her stall. She was on alert, looking around for the source of danger. She was coming to my aid! I’m not sure what form that aid could possibly take. But she was not going to let me face danger alone.

It’s just so darn sweet.

Improving the eggs-to-feed ratio

These old vans tended to get good gas mileageYears ago, when  I lived in the city, I had a problem with the gas mileage on my car. It got really bad really fast, and soon I was down to about three miles per gallon. As a friend of mine said, “I don’t think a Volkswagen can run at all if it’s in that bad shape.”

I fixed the problem by getting a locking gas cap.

Now I’ve been seeing a similar situation with the chicken feed. The organic feed I get costs twice as much as the standard stuff, and I’m hardly seeing any eggs lately. In fact, feed consumption has gone up even as the flock has diminished by natural attrition.

If you keep chickens, you’ve already guessed the problem. The other day I found a rat. Not some scroungy refuse-eating alley rat. This is a country rat, the kind that makes a living off of whatever the woods have to offer. On a good day, she’ll find a stand of something yummy all ripening at once. On a very good day, she’ll find the food people leave out for their animals.

This particular rat had enjoyed many very good days. So many, in fact, that her route through a bit of 1″ x 2″ wire mesh no longer worked. She was stuck. She struggled, then sighed, rolled her eyes in exasperation, and rested. Then she struggled again.

She was actually quite lovely, as feed-stealing pests go. She was plump and sleek, and her pelt had that healthy sheen that comes from eating fresh organic eggs. I recognized the look on her face as she worked at getting free: a little frustrated, very practical, and readily accepting that she and she alone had gotten herself in that situation.

When I found her, I was just leaving the house. When I got back, she had slipped away.

Since then, we’ve watched rats come into the run at night. They don’t seem to bother the chickens. They grab a mouthful of feed and dart away. Repeatedly. So I take the feed away from the chickens at night now. I know it’s only a temporary solution and that we need to get rid of the rats. Even country rats are not good to have around.

Some year I’d like to have a run with a concrete footing and walls of quarter-inch mesh, roofed in clear panels with plenty of overhang so the run stays nice and dry even along the edges. It would be a palace for the girls, and I could leave their food out all night.

A daily dose of brilliant conversation

My mother has always been able to carry on a brilliant conversation with anyone about anything. Her secret? A sharp mind and a sense of wonder, of curiosity. Let’s say you sat her down with a high level researcher in, hmmm, energy production from algae. To be clear, Mom knows nothing about energy production from algae. Her formal education ended with high school graduation. Her gift is that curiosity, and the brilliance.

She’ll ask questions like “how do you choose which algaes to use? Do some environments produce better candidates than others?” or “are there advantages as far as storing and transporting the energy?” The researcher, typically, has a great time discussing the intricacies of the research. And if they talk very long, my mom will ask a question that suggests a subtle shift in approach. For days after, she’ll be buzzing about all the new ideas, new implications.

This being my mom, I get to talk to her a lot. It’s a delight and a feast for my mind. Today was typical:

We talked about the pervasiveness of music across human cultures. We speculated on which came first, music or speech (we both favor music). She mentioned a stag that had come up to the window of the dining hall at her apartment building while a cellist was playing for the residents. The stag stood outside the window and listened to the music, then eventually moved on. We considered the implications of this sort of effect of music on non-human animals. Just how deep does the importance of music go? Deeper than our humanness, apparently.

She mention an interview she’d seen on the Charlie Rose show, in which Dick Martin had said that in television and also in written stories it is often important to show things through the eyes of an observer. A skit that would flop on its own would succeed if an observer were included. Why is that? From there, we discussed the effect of the simple witnessing of beauty. There is witnessing beauty and then propagating it in some way of course. Georgia O’Keefe sees a flower, and makes others see it too in all its sensuality. But even the simple witnessing of beauty is a powerful thing, bringing it more into the world. It changes the witness, and that effects the rest of us.

She mentioned that she’s notice that when she makes eye contact with someone while she’s talking it’s generally just one eye. The right one. She hasn’t yet identified whether she looks at the same eye when she’s listening, but it’s an interesting question. Is there any significance of one eye over the other?

We talked along these lines for about an hour. I grew up with conversations like this. We explored the world over cookies and milk when I got home from school. How society functions, how brains are wired, how to sew a collar that lays smoothly, why people are ever cruel  — it was all part of everyday conversation.

I discovered this evening that this wonderful, bright woman had no idea how rare this is. That I do not, in fact, get to have conversations like this with most of the people I know. That she is the only person I know for whom this is the flavor of everyday conversation.  “Really??” she says. “I thought all you young people would be talking like this all the time.”

How about you? What is the flavor of your conversations, when you are hanging out, maybe having a cup of coffee? Because I would really, really like to have conversations around wonder, news from the sciences, implications and possibilities.

Who is that goat in the banner?

That is Rosie, a year or so ago, trimming a hedge by the front drive. She’s head doe of a herd of two. Well, two goats. They generously include other species in their herd. The chickens have honorary membership. I make it in too.

In fact, I had to wrestle with this goat one day last summer. Those horns can do some damage, especially with 120 – 150 pounds of strong goat behind them, and I couldn’t get away from her until I’d managed to lay her down on the ground. (Tip: hold onto a horn with one hand, and pull a hind foot out from under her with the other.)

We’ve been on friendly terms ever since. I really don’t know whether she was fighting me for dominance or whether she was just in A Mood. She was showing some signs of being in heat, and that could explain it.  Even the nicest colleagues can be a pain in the butt when hormones mess with their heads.