Knowing What You Don’t Know

By Fat Toad Farmer and caramel stirrer extraordinaire, Judith Irving

If you ever want to really know what you don’t know, hang around by yourself in a goat barn with a
bunch of does and kids for a half day. Those animals have their own ways of communicating, most of which
we don’t even notice or sense. And it’s a wonderful study of how our highly prized language of words is
only one way to communicate, and not a terrific one at that. Using the language of hearing, smell, taste
and je ne sais quoi, goats are extremely clear communicators…with each other.

So first and most obvious is the fact that each mother has a unique “nicker” that she uses to locate her
kids. On first blush, all of those moms sound alike, which is why, if I were a kid, I’d get lost for good at
the grocery store if my mom were a goat.

Hop on Pop (or mom, in this case)

However, after sitting among the moms and kids for awhile, you realize that all those nickers are
different and you can begin to hear the differences. A kid’s ears, luckily, are highly attuned to their
mom’s nicker – after all, its life depends on it. From 50 feet away, you see a little kid perk up from a
dead sleep, or stop cavorting with her friends, and take off to find her mom when she hears “her call”.
I’m sure many human parents would appreciate that trait in their kids.

The kids, of course, have their own distinctive bleats. And they have a vested interest in making those
bleats VERY LOUD if necessary. How else are they going to get their needs met ASAP? And there are
all sorts of bleats – just general “Here I am” bleats, a more panicky “HERE I AM, WHERE ARE YOU???”
bleat, and a “HOLY S**T I JUST FELL IN THE WATER BUCKET” bleat.

If you have dogs, you know that there’s lots to be learned by smelling. That, in the end (so to speak),
is the piece of information that convinces a mom that this little kid bumping into her udder is actually
her kid, not stupid Luna’s kid, who will get a good little nip on the ear if she doesn’t go away real fast. A
quick sniff or two quickly clears up the question “Is it mine?”

nursing stance

Taste is also a source of good info. Fair warning – what you read next, might gross you out unless you
are really into animal communication. I watched several moms actually drink their kids’ urine as it came
squirting out. The adults certainly do that with each other ,and it’s an especially critical communication
tool during breeding season. I wonder what they are trying to sense from their kids’ pee.

A good licking, in the literal sense, is critical in triggering a strong nursing reflex. While the mom actively
cleans the kid’s butt, the kid latches right on for lunch. This obviously ensures two life-giving functions
– good nutrition and good hygiene. It is also useful to know if you are trying to get a kid to take a bottle.
Standard operating procedure is to scratch its butt to get it going…and it works!

I know there is a lot I don’t know about goat communication. But I do know that there is much more
going on out there in the animal world than my eyes, ear, nose and tongue can discern. We may have
gained books and iPads and music and speeches with our mighty words, but I suspect we have lost a lot
too.

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