I have to confess to having known very little about goats. Although one book does not an expert make, I still feel that I know quite a bit more now than when I started Sue Weaver’s masterful The Goat: A Natural and Cultural History. I can’t convey it all to you here (that’s what the book is for), but I can offer a few highlights. I do have to say that books that measure animals by the human exploitation of them tend to bother me a bit. There’s something about reading how they make good pets but then they taste good too. Especially since one of the takeaways is just how intelligent goats are. I suspect even smart animals wouldn’t hang around if they knew their owners were licking their chops behind their backs.
Goats were very early among the domesticated species. People do keep some breeds as pets, kind of like herbivorous dogs. Goats require stimulation and tend to be playful and curious. And they put up with humans quite well. They climb. You can find goats in trees in some locations since they do like to ascend whatever they can. I remember seeing goats on the roof of a restaurant in Wisconsin (I can’t remember the name of the place, but I do recall the goats were supposed to be there). Having not grown up on a farm I’ve never been too close to goats, but this book does make me interested in knowing more.
The book is heavily illustrated and it describes several varieties of goats as well as general goat physiology and behavior. In fact, it answers that age-old question of how to tell the sheep from the goats. Behaviorally they’re quite different, with goats being more individually minded and not always acting as a herd. More individualistic, they nevertheless crave company. And it is this difference between the sheep and the goats that starts to give the latter a bad name, perhaps because of their willfulness and individuality. Goats are good followers, but on their own terms. Sheep apparently don’t think much about it. They follow any leader. Historically, and unfortunately still, in some locations, goats have been preferred sacrificial animals. Indeed, some gods, such as Pan, are portrayed with caprid qualities. It is the intelligent, it seems, that are often targeted by the gods. In any case, goats have long had associations with the divine in human minds. And Weaver’s book parses goats in great detail.