Pastoralism is the ancient practice of symbiotic goat husbandry.
It begins with an understanding for the care of goats, and appreciation of their uniqueness. This is foundational. Goats are not like the cows, the horse, sheep, or the family dogs. The same bale of hay, pasture, run, and paddock does not fit all species. What’s good for the donkey isn’t necessarily ideal for the goat. If you’ve never raised goats, but have dogs, sheep, cows, and or horses - you’re already aware that goats are in a distinctive, ruminant class all their own.
This blog series was borne out my personal experience of seeking information and resources devoted to pastoralism. I wanted to be a modern goat herder, and not rear my herd in the CONVENTIONAL, CONFINEMENT SYSTEM of livestock management practiced everywhere. My searches continually resulted in finding the same subject matter on the basics of caring for goats. Repeated by multiple bloggers, writing about similar topics. In many cases it was the same exact content throughout various websites. Did they just copy and past word for word? How could this be? Granted, some of this basic information is necessary, but once it has been mastered, is that really all there is to goat husbandry? I became unsettled by the idea that goats, being truly amazing creatures, designed to provide so much help to the land, remained in an unending cycle of being kept like horse, fed like cows, handled like sheep, and looked down upon as the lowliest species on the farmstead. Deep inside in knew beyond the basics, was where my herd would connect with its true purpose, and many of the struggles I encountered would be overcome.
My herd would painstakingly teach me. What I needed to do, was watch, listen and learn.
1. Pastoralism is not the endeavor of venturing into goats for the sole purpose of making a few dollars on the side. It is an awful practice to sell any animal to the first person that shows up to buy. This practice has put animals in the hands of fast buyers, that later turn-out to be incapable in patience or resources for their care. That is the reason why places like SAFE HAVEN FARM, have to pickup where others have given up. There are buyers that are sadistic animal abusers, seeking creatures to torture, in order to post their perverse thrills online. I have seen it with my own eyes. But hey, the creature yielded $100 in cash, and that’s all that matters to some. When money is the primary end goal, the bottom dollar many times rules against the welfare of the goat.
2. At times we are driven by an appeal for trends in homesteading.This practicum is not the latest rage, or compulsion. Pastoralism is not a fad, but a lifestyle commitment. Fads lead to one becoming bored and eventually burdened with the upkeep of a creature they are no longer fond of. You know, like the bunnies on Easter, puppies for Christmas. This leads to the inevitable moans later, of regrets and buyers remorse. Then neglect. Pastoralism is not the here today, gone tomorrow, onto the next thing, the next fad, that our society is known for pushing. I have responded to group posts on Facebook, of goat owners enraged and ready to put a bullet in the head of their goats that they could not silence. Their frustration borne out of a lack of understanding of vocal breeds. No knowledge of how goats react to changes in environment when separated from their herd mates. Disregard for their bleats possibly being due to hunger, because they are confined and just want to wanting to forage for a nibble. Inattentive to the possibility the animal is feeling ill, needing water or just in heat and wants to make babies. Yes, these are all their simple attempts at communication with us. Pastoralism is an ancient art. Fostered through the deliberate and immersed relationship with the earth, the creature and The Creator.
3. Not for the lazy or the ones with too many rabbits in the fire. There are goat owners that have no regard for proper nutrition. Who throw whatever is scrounged-up from kitchen leftovers. They speedily clean-out a week-old, dirty water bucket. Having priorities that look like this: Rush out and feed animals to get back inside and catch Monday Night Football or Jane the Virgin. There are many of this genre on FB looking to impress the world with numerous selfies. Attempting to demonstrate their success in having a farm. Behind the scenes the animals are in dire conditions. Those are the busy people, too in a hurry to properly wean the kids from their dam. So they put hot sauce on the does teats to force wean the babies.I must ask is this brilliant or brutish? I did not make that up. This really happens. It's this manner of herd management that cause the industrial mega farmers to call everyone else that does not conventional farm, as the "hobbyist". In their eyes, it seems the animals are better off headed to the sale barn than living in neglect and in minimal care. To them it's better caged and fed, than caged and not fed. I would have to agree. But does it have to be this way? I SAY NOT. If you have found yourself trapped in this system, I hope I can convince you there is a better way.
4. Pastoralism is not a Pinterest post or a You Tube video of the TOP 10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RAISING GOATS.Oh my goodness, we all know there is more than ten things. I wish I had grasped that reality when I first started my herd. I would have avoided so many mistakes later.Symbiotic Goad Husbandry is about understanding that the input and the environment affects the overall state of the animal. That knowledge develops out of time, observation and relationship.
5. It's not an archaic, wild, pandemonium, but rather a humane manner of herding. Even goat herders and sheepherders of 10 or 100, understand that order and routine enable communication. A true pastoralist has invested in developing a cognitive language the creature understands and responds to.The pastoralist would not take a fist or a bat to a buck’s face because the buck is ornery and in rut. Pastoralists don't grab a doe by her ears or yank on her tail to maneuver the animal into place. The pastoralist is aware of the value and outcomes of investing in communication and relationship.It happens with dogs, cats and horses. Goats are no different. They are exceptionally witty, have an amazing memory and are fully cognizant of vocal tones and language, and hand signs.
6. Symbiotic goat husbandry goes beyond the arena, with a focus on connecting the goat to the land - their true purpose. Like many other ventures we Americans experiment with; raising goats successfully can mean different things to different people. Success to some is how much the kid factory rendered in a given kidding season. To others its how many ribbons are hanging on a wall. While these may not be completely undesirable standpoints, they do not express pastoralism in the least. I am grateful for the champion breeders who excel in the arenas. It was a breeder of this class I chose to seed my initial herd sire and matriarch. There may even exist champion herds that are raised by herders using pastoralist methods. It would be a delight to hear more of that from them. However, when I was seeking for this knowledge and guidance, I couldn’t find it.
7. Pastoralism cannot be based on poor foundations. In many circles, breeding for competition, building muscle mass, and increasing milk production is the primary goal. Even if it means pumping supplements and special grains to achieve it. Unfortunately, in modern/conventional confinement system of livestock rearing, grain is common. In it's basic form, grain is not the ideal food for ruminants, and is the primary source for many of the ailments goat herders are attempting to resolve with languishing animals. Furthering problems with health and behavior, that arise from improper housing, no forage, and an inability for the goat to live and express, as Joel Salatin would say, its "goatiness".
Pastoralism in practice is the antithesis to modern, industrial livestock management. Unlike conventional confinement systems, pastoralism will demand the restoration of the ideal environment, diet, care, and even remedies to the goat’s husbandry. Thus, the eventual relationship of the herder with the creature back on the land cannot be disregarded, as it is the symbiotic stage of pastoralism. Honing in on the goat's true and innate purpose.
LOOK FOR PART 3: THE UNIQUENESS OF PASTORALISM
For those without land, that are wondering if the paddock / confinement system is the only solution, and thinking pastoralism won't work for you or your animals. I encourage you to stay connected, continue to follow this series. There are upcoming posts on a myriad of ways to enhance the life of your goats, even when living in urban areas or small plots.