Monday, June 29, 2015

Trust Ramp

[A gigantic shout-out to Mark Miller for envisioning and creating this contraption. Check it out on Sierra Pacific Pygmy goat Association Facebook Page.]
Katherine and I merrily chatted all the way home from the 2015 National Pygmy Goat Association Convention.  After giving me her assessment of precisely why specific goats won their respective classes and who feeds what grain, Katherine started talking about the newly unveiled “Teat Check Stand.”    Katherine commented that this ramp was a literal test of a goat’s trust in its handler.  We launched into an indepth and philosophical discussion of trust—in goats, that is.  Goat ramp as allegory….   

First, some background.  The breed standard for Pygmy Goats has clear parameters about teats: “cylindrical, of uniform length and size – sufficient for milking with two fingers and thumb; symmetrically placed; free of obstruction, deformities or multiples orifices.”  But, just like people, goats frequently have imperfect teats.  They can be multi-orificed (too many holes), bifurcated (two headed beast), or just too many (superfluous).  Any one of these conditions constitutes a “serious fault” in a doe and disqualifies a buck from competition.

So, before each class at a pygmy goat show the judge has to check the teats of each and every goat – male, female, adult, baby.  If the goat is small enough, the handler picks up the animal and holds it upside down for the judge to inspect.  For larger animals, the handler picks up the front end of the goat so the judge can see under the goat.  [I might add here that for the first time EVER I could not find a picture of this procedure on the Internet.  Esoteric I guess.]  As you can imagine, it’s literally a pain in the ass (and back).  At a normal goat show, teat checks are just a hassle.  But at convention, with more than 300 goats, the process threatened to be paralyzing.

Hence, the “Teat Check Stand.”  The handler leads the goat up the ramp, where the judge can inspect the teats from a comfortable standing position.  The handler then leads the goat down the other side and the next goat traipses up the ramp.  Genius!  In the goat world, I put this creation on par with the “cup holder.” 

Found on
In practice, some goats stood at the bottom of the ramp, digging in their hooves and leaning back on their leash.  Some goats even sat down in their attempt to avoid the ramp.  Some goats started to go up the ramp, only to scoot off the side in a sneaky leap.   Some goats screamed and some goats gagged.  Some goats turned around in a futile attempt to run back to the barn.  But most goats waddled on up the ramp and stood placidly at the top, surveying the view from their new vantage.
All 14 of our goats were in the latter category, so it didn’t even occur to me that other people had a different experience.  But Katherine saw quite another picture and formulated a theory: goats who don’t trust their handlers will not walk up that ramp, no way, no how.
Why don’t those goats trust those people?  Is it the goat?  Is it the person?  Is it the relationship between the two?  Nature?  Nurture?  Can trust be fostered?  Once it’s gone, can trust be repaired?  Can the goat trust a new handler?  I saw a teaching moment unfold before my very eyes…

Like children, goats are born with some degree of trust in humans but require socialization to cement the concept.  One of my goat mentors wisely instructed me that you have to handle and play with baby goats constantly for the first three days of their life if you want them to be friendly (substitute the word “human” for goat…).  If you miss that window, their chance of bonding or attaching with you drops significantly.  So, maybe those resistant goats weren’t cuddled as babies?
Or, maybe it’s the handler.  Some people hold the leash with an iron grip, choking the life out of the poor goat on the other end.  A combination of fear and physical restraint paralyze the animal.  Some handlers yank at the leash the same way they would give a short, sharp correction to a disobedient dog.  But a goat is not a dog and does not think like a dog; it is smarter, less forgiving, and has a longer memory.  Some handlers plain ignore the goat and just drag it along to wherever the person has decided to go.  (Are we still talking about goats here?)
Or maybe it’s a combination of the person and animal: a tyrant and a shrinking violet.  A bully and an enabler.  Two chiefs, no indians.  Trust is a two-way street.  Both parties have to actively participate in the relationship through honesty, clarity, and kindness.  The goat has to believe that its handler has its best interest at heart, and the handler has to believe that the goat is a willing participant.  You cannot coerce a goat into doing anything – not even with the promise of grain or tortilla chips.  Unfortunately for them, though, pygmy goats are small enough to be man-handled.  (Domestic violence?)
Katherine and I discussed the various combinations… in the context of goats and handlers, that is.  We talked about gentleness, respect, non-verbal cues and earning trust.

Ziggy and Cash
And what about bad experiences?  Case in point: Ziggy, a wether Bubba originally kept as Cash’s first goat.  He was born when Cash (child #6) was just under a year old.  He was (and still is) a flashy, chunky, carmel wether whose parents were both exceptionally friendly.  Genetically he had it all going for him in terms of temperament, and he started off friendly enough.  I do admit, however, that we probably missed out on that 3-day window but it didn’t seem to matter for that little guy.  Everything was fine, until one day we had to remove his horns a second time. 
Most pygmy breeders (95%?) “disbud” their goats when the kids are a few weeks old.  To “disbud” means using a super hot implement to burn off the newly sprouted horn all the way down to the bud (or root) of the wannabe horn.  The smell of burning flesh and hair fills the barn along with the screeches of both the baby goat and its mama.  Not a good time for anyone.  To make it a little easier (on me) Katherine bought a snazzy little box with a lid and a hole (see below).  Now she can sit on top of the box and burn off the horns rather than depend on me to put the goat into a Full Nelson body hold.
Disbudding box
Anyway, sometimes the horns start to grow back as “scurs.”  So you have to remove them – again.  By that time the goat is older, larger, and more sentient.   And they don’t fit in that snazzy little box.  In ye olde days with Bubba, Katherine and I would tackle the goat and Bubba would twist off the scurs with pliers – literally.  As you can imagine, most of us were traumatized, especially the goat.  Ziggy was a casualty of this de-scurring extravaganza, and he was never friendly again.  Bubba sold Ziggy to a 4-H family and is still looking for a friendly goat for Cash.  [Katherine and I have since learned that there is a more humane way to de-scur the older goats with painkillers, sedatives and simple surgery.  Who knew?  There shall be no more medieval-like torture on our farm again.] 

Which led us to the next topic: can goats (read: humans) forgive and regain trust?  We periodically see Ziggy on the show circuit and I personally make a point of checking in with his new owners every time I see them.  I explained Ziggy’s history to them, so at least they know the source of his angst.  The new owners are loving, kind and patient; time will tell.  Maybe Ziggy, or any other goat (or person), can learn to trust a different person but not the one who betrayed them?  Katherine and I are rooting for him. 

I’d like to believe that trust can be repaired.  In goats, we keep trying different goat/handler combinations looking for the ideal trust relationship.  Maybe at the next goat show the stars will align and all the goats and handlers will be in harmony, with each goat calmly marching up that “Teat Check Stand” alongside their compassionate human.  Maybe with enough time and positive experiences Ziggy can learn to trust again, too.  I will keep you posted.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Goat Convention: Top 10 Don'ts

Katherine and I just got home from the 2015 National Pygmy Goat Association Convention in Red Bluff, California.  Huge kudos to the myriad of organizers and volunteers who worked their collective tukhusses off to pull off a great show.  It ran like a well-oiled machine and set a high bar for next year’s organizers.  Great fun was had by all—maybe too much fun…
Besides the three consecutive goat shows, the weekend was full of raffles, auction, socializing, purchasing opportunities (for goats as well as miscellaneous stuffity stuff), and lounging in the stifling heat.  And don’t forget the Banquet….even if you can’t actually remember what you did at the banquet (or afterwards)!
After we unloaded the goats, and parked the trailer (ugh), David, Katherine and I wolfed down some pizza and put together the following list of “Ten Things NOT to Do at Convention.” A la David Letterman, we will start at 10:

#10: Don’t Wait Until the Day of Convention to Buy Your T-Shirt.   
True to our Sierra Pacific Pygmy Goat Association ( tradition of “California Crazies,” we had a limited number of special edition tie-dye convention shirts.  Iconic.

#9: Don’t Expect Cellular Coverage in the Arena
Necessary evil.  The other option was to use the outdoor arena and melt into little puddles of sweat.
#8: Don’t Eat Too Many 4-H Hot Dogs.  

A great big shout out to the local 4-H Club who manned the food table to keep us all going.  And God Bless you for having a chicken Caesar salad.  So much better than a hot dog! (See previous post about the Auction Yard….)

#7: Don’t Train for a Half Marathon in Red Bluff on the First Day of Summer.

Even if it didn’t hit the projected 104 degrees, it was hotter than Hades.

#6: Don’t Leave Your Checkbook at Home.  

Cut throat bidding in the live auction.  Internet bidders and all.

#5: Don’t Eat the Vodka-Infused Gummy Bears

Yep. Just don’t.

#4: Don’t Piss off the Mini Donkey People.

It’s a big fairground.  But somehow the noise of the post-gummy bear revelers carried all the way up to the barns where the Western Regional Miniature Donkey Show was going on.  Can you say Popo?

#3: Don’t Forget Where you Parked Your RV. 

Easy to do after downing a handful of vodka-infused gummy bears…

 #2: Don’t Spoon Your New Besties on the Lawn

...after eating vodka-infused gummy bears…Just sayin'.

#1: Finally, Don’t Forget That it’s Just a Goat.

 Words to live by.