These are the basic philosophies that guide my practices on the farm. They don’t have to also be yours to get use out of this website, but I want you to understand where I come from in my decisions so you can fully understand how they play out in real life.
The Animal Usually Knows Best
We’re taught in modern society that we cannot rely on ourselves, that we must turn to experts to know how to think, eat, act, be healthy, lose weight, etc. We have a tendency to apply this to our animals as well. I’d venture that in both cases, the self knows best.
While this isn’t universal, it has generally proven true in my own animals. I trust that my animals know better than me:
-When and how much of their regular food they need to consume
-When to go to bed and when to wake up, which includes when to seek shelter or stay out in weather I might consider unpleasant
-How to mother their offspring with as little human intervention as possible
-How to interact with other members of their species
Exceptions exist in all of these cases, but in general, with a little applied common sense, my animals make their own decisions wherever possible.
Each Animal is Equally Deserving of Dignity and Respect
We all contain within us our own unique and beautiful yet related spark of life. Animals thrive when their own autonomy and need for dignity and respect is honored. I want to hear what my animals are telling me and respond to their changing needs…and wants.
If I’m trying to get an animal to do something and they’re strongly resisting, my first thought isn’t to be upset at the animal, it is to question what it is I’m missing in the scenario. Like children, goats don’t normally act out just to act out. There is usually an underlying cause or unmet need to be addressed and if we can puzzle it out, we can restore harmony in whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.
Animals Tend to Make Better Decisions When I Step out of the Equation
It is presumptuous of me to believe that I, not speaking the language or walking the walk, am somehow more wise about being a goat than the goat itself is. We can learn great wisdom by sitting back and observing the patterns and behavior of our herds and trying not to overlay our own human desires, emotions and thought habits on what we observe.
I try to give them the benefit of the doubt if I observe something that goes against what my own instincts would tell me to do. If I’m uncertain, I try to imagine what the goats would do if I weren’t there, because often they’ve done it fine all along and the issue comes when I begin to observe the behavior.
A quick example of this comes from a Facebook post I saw the other day. The author had just gotten a barn camera and observed how her newborn goat kids had started going off away from their mom to sleep in an adjoining stall. She was very concerned and wanted to know if she should go move them back. I ask you: was the problem that the goats had moved or that the owner could now see them moving?
There are No Absolutes
Folks like to think in black and white, “If _____ then _____,” but in reality, life is rarely that straightforward and the same is true in the animal kingdom. Be wary of anyone who tells you something will always happen, because I can guarantee you nothing ever always happens when it comes to animals. When we take the time to observe and really know our animals and then we apply our own knowledge and common sense, we can make fluid decisions based on the situation that is in front of us, not based on what we’ve been told. If you spend any time in online goat circles, you’ll quickly see how varied the experiences of goat owners are. Geography, management, owner personality, goat personality and so many other factors affect the outcomes in each case.
I used to doubt myself so much and so needlessly because an “expert,” which in my mind was virtually anyone who owned goats because I didn’t have faith in my own wisdom, would say things had to go a certain way, yet my own experience seemed to indicate they could go another way with more success. I’ve learned over the years to trust my own knowledge and experience over what someone else said, because no one else knows my herd like I do and the same is true for you and your herd. It’s important to remember this when seeking advice – take in the information offered, but if it doesn’t bear up against your own observations and knowledge of your animals, chances are another course of action is needed.
Less is Almost Always More
In a society where there’s a cure and a product for virtually everything known to man, we’re conditioned to believe we need to do the thing or own the product in order for things to be right. In my experience, the more we let nature do what nature does, the better the outcome for our goats and ourselves. Conversely, the more we feel compelled to “help” and intervene, the more likely we are to interrupt the perfect balance created by nature since long before humans herded animals.
When I first got into goats, Facebook groups—though sparser back then—were my mentor. I learned a lot of great things, but I also picked up a lot of the fallacies prevalent online. Over the years, observation and experience have led me to some very different practices than I was taught.
One example of this is the needless intervention we provide at birth, one of the most natural and instinctual processes we’re fortunate to witness in our herds. Like a good goatherd, I would show up to a birth with sleeves rolled up and an army of towels at my side, anxious to catch the presenting kid and “take care of it,” like I’d been taught.
One day, at the end of a long day filled with many kidding does, I was too exhausted to get up so I just sat and quietly observed while a doe kidded. I watched the innate struggle of breaking free from the birth sac and saw the strength and tenacity it required. It was a beautiful moment, one I realized I was depriving every single kid of with my good intentions. From then on, I took my proper role as observer, intervening only when it was necessary to preserve life.
Over these years of raising goats, I’ve learned one thing with absolute certainty: the natural world is filled with wonder and awe and I kneel humbly before it, keenly aware of how little I truly know.
With that, let’s head into the practical discussions and learn the ins and outs of safe and effective fencing for goats.
Continue the discussion in the Management forum.