I totally love goats! Little did I know that when I was writing ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’ with some cheeky goat side-kicks called gotals, I would imbue my love of goats into the very story.
Evidently, I did. Because when people read the book, they’re always saying ‘You must love goats! Why is that?’
Aha! Glad you asked!
What’s not to love? Our two species have a shared history, and goats have got to be one of the smartest, funkiest animals. EVER. Here’s what I love the most about them …
Goats and us go way back
Seriously, we got history. Goats and dogs were two of the earliest domesticated animals. There is evidence of domesticated goats 10,000 years ago. That’s immense.
And because goats are so darn smart, they understand what we’re about. Just like dogs, goats are aware that we can help them. They communicate with us in a similar way to dogs, using eyes and body gestures to get their point across. Goats are not sheep with better horns – they are way smarter and more independent. And did I mention cute?
Look around the globe, and you’ll find evidence for our long connection. We’ve named constellations after goats, they’ve got their own section of the astrological zodiac (Capricorn – like me!) and are one of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. Roman gods had goats to pull their chariots, there are satyrs and fauns and Leshi and Yule Goats and Pan and Yang Ching.
I mean, think about it – we name our offspring the same thing. Kids. That’s love.
Dogs get all the good press as companion animals – and hey, I adore dogs – but goats are basically dogs you can milk. That’s epic multitasking, right there.
Goats have spirit
Goats are escape-artists. Goats are plucky. Goats play with toys and climb on everything. Goats eat everything, too. (Except, occasionally, the thing you really want them to eat!)
When I was a (human) kid, we got goats to eat the blackberry on our farm in New Zealand. The first two became things of family legend. They were fully grown and as smart as any of us. The first one off the back of the trailer was gone in the blink of an exceedingly fast-blinking eye.
Goats: 1; Humans: 0
My parents wised up. Got a big stake and a piece of chain and tied the second one up in the expectation it would get used to its new home after a while. It was gone about 4.2 second later. My parents swear they could see its procession up and away over the surrounding hills, dragging chain, stake, and an increasing number of fences.
We never saw either of them again.
Goats: 2; Humans: still 0
So then we got two baby kids. Half angora. I think they were free. I think there was a good reason for that. They didn’t run away, though. They did exactly what we got them for. Or they tried, at least. Very hard.
But have a think about it … long angora wool + blackberry thorns = ?
Well, it equals stuck goats.
We’d stand at the top of the hill, overlooking our farm in the valley below, and listen for the bleating. It had a special tone when they were calling us to help them. We’d have to locate them, then head down and find exactly which clump they were spreadeagled in the middle of (getting to the middle of a blackberry clump before getting stuck was one of their superpowers) and then hack them out.
Did having them reduce the amount of blackberry? Yeah, I think so … but maybe only because of how much we had to chop to rescue them every few days.
What they were really good at was breaking into our garden and eating the azaleas my mum loved so much. That was their second superpower. Azaleas are poisonous to goats, so I remain perplexed why usually intelligent animals kept doing this. Maybe they’d lost some brains in the process of breeding for wool? Or maybe they enjoyed the trips to the vet? We’ll never know.
I remember them as cute little individuals, full of life and cheer and cheekiness. My mother remembers vet bills and footrot.
So I guess that makes it Goats: 2.5; Humans: 0.5?
Gotta mention the ferals
Yeah, I’m an environmental scientist so I can’t write a piece immortalising the wonders of goat-dom without mentioning the problems with feral goats. Everything that makes goats so awesome also makes them prime candidates for getting out in the wild, and then thriving out there.
They were even intentionally released on fragile islands by sailors as a future food source, the most well-known being the Galapagos. On islands they thrived and upset the balance and refused to be eradicated because they were able to climb cliffs and trees and run fast and learn fast about how to avoid humans. It took until last year for goats to be completely removed from Kangaroo Island here in Australia. Even with our supposedly advanced technology, I get the feeling goats are still winning. I’ll give each species half a point, but I think that’s maybe because I’m feeling a bit sorry for humanity now.
Goats: 4; Humans: 1
I remember hiking in the glorious Kalbarri National Park here in Western Australia, keeping my eyes and ears open for signs of a recently rediscovered population of endangered rock wallabies. I heard a tinkle of rocks, and my heart rose with my eyes as I searched for the source of the noise.
And found a herd of feral goats. They were grazing on that gorge wall like it was a flat grassland.
Not their fault. What makes them awesome makes them adaptable. We shouldn’t hate them for becoming something so damaging simply because of human interference and goat ingenuity.
Goats still rock, in my opinion (excuse the pun). Just make sure you get an extra-super-special goat-proof fence BEFORE you get any goats!
Or, better yet, read about them in my book so you can live vicariously through Sunaya’s gotal experiences!