Monday, May 14, 2012

Costuming and status

When you attribute human qualities to animals, you are being anthropomorphic. I go the other direction and watch behaviors in my flock and see parallels in the human world. What's that called?

Yampa's yearling daughter Geo. My only dairy goat with horns.
Geo really is a beautiful girl with a great udder.
Statis in the flock is pretty obvious even to an outsider. There are bosses and then there are low ranking animals. Usually, a young animal growing up in the flock takes it's mother's rank, but not always. Yearlings are frequently at the bottom of the pecking order.
My dairy and angora goat flocks were separate for years and had established rankings. Yampa was the undisputed boss and she did nothing to keep her status, no one ever even thought to challenge her. As is often the case in herds and flocks, the number two, Erie, was the enforcer. She bawled, bashed and bit other goats to make sure they knew she was boss over them. She always automatically defered to Yampa, but not to Yammie's daughters.

In the angora flock, Bramble was a gentle boss and Abracadabra ranked second. It was mostly just an eating order, untli Tillie joined the flock. Tillie quickly let everyone know she was boss and she enforces it with blows from her horns.

Over the last year, I've sold both of the flocks down. Drought, high feed costs and job demands have stretched our resources and it's just made sense to have fewer sheep and goats. I went from 9 milkers, with assorted bucks and kids to 4 dairy goats, total. Erie, Beannie, Cricket and other long standing members of my dairy flock have new homes. I kept Yampa, her yearling daughter Geo and this year Geo gave me two very beautiful daughters by Footsie, Harley and Henna.

The angora goat flock went through similar shrinkage. Bramble and Eve, two of my all-time favorites angoras, started jumping fences, so they went to new homes. Abra, Rose and many other followed. I still want my red buck from Indian Spring, so Sultan went to join a new flock. I now have angora does Tille, Fantasia, Fritillary, Gamma and two wethers, Glitch and Gizmo.

With only 10 goats, I put them all together.
What a bruhaha that's been.

Yammie is still boss, though Tillie disputes it. The two dairy kids don't worry about status, they mostly climb through the fence and live with the sheep, though they do sleep with their mommy at night. Geo also sleeps with her mommy, Yampa, at night, but other than that, she ended up a the bottom of the herd, with even the little angoras eating before she does.

Geo kept getting her head caught in the fence, high and low.
The last two weeks, probably in an effort to get more food, Geo kept getting her head caught in the fence. I always disbud my dairy goats, but for two years I was without a disbudding iron. My Rhinehart 30 burned out after more than 20 years of service and literally thousands of baby goats. I didn't think I needed to replace it. After two years of dairy goats with horns - I replaced it this spring. But Geo has horns, and she kept getting caught in the fence. I was afraid she was going to hang herself or that Tillie would break her neck while she was stuck.

So, in desparation, I taped a stick across the top of her horns. We've done this off and on in the past, mostly with bucks, I was reluctant to add extra pointy bits to a dairy animal that I have to handle twice a day.

Geo's new headgear.
It's been fascinating to watch the transformation of this meek little dairy goat yearling. Now that she has a big, impressive looking headdress, she suddenly has status. I have not seen her hit anyone, she still thinks of herself as low enough rank that it hasn't occured to her that she could hit anyone. But suddenly, the rest of the flock, except Yammie, fades back and lets Geo get grain. They don't shove her out of the best dust wallers and they leave her settled when she beds down.
It will be interesting to see if this new status holds when the flock gets used to the costume. Will Geo get used to her new status and change her behaviour to expect this new ranking? Or will Tillie decide to beat her up for "pretending".

There really is something to the old saying "The clothes make the man." or, the headdress makes the goat?

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