Monday, September 19, 2011

Who you calling a "wild animal"?

It never ceases to amaze me when people wonder why their domestic livestock need so much human intervention to stay healthy. They ask, "What do wild animals do? Why do my goats need all this stuff when wild animals don't?". Let me tell you as a member of the domestic livestock family, the differences are many.

One reason domestic livestock need more interventions than wild animals is that humans expect livestock to live in confinement. Whether confined to pastures, paddocks, pens or stalls, these are all artificial means of containment. A wild animal is not contained. They are free to roam as they please and as they need. Wild goats roam miles every day in search of the food they need that day. They satisfy their food requirements by nibbling constantly on just about every plant they pass by. The satisfy their mineral needs by nibbling on a very diverse set of plants. They satisfy their shelter needs by bedding down in softer spots and on the not windy sides of rocks. All this is done following the rhythm of the goat and their needs at this time.

Livestock are confined to small spaces and not allowed to roam freely. The pastures and paddocks are filled with monocultures of grasses that aren't the same as the variety of browse found on the free range. Goats are fed in short bursts, usually twice a day. This does not allow them to keep their stomachs' full continuously as they would if allowed to free range all the time. The feed is concentrated hay or grains that provide fiber and calories but not the full complement of nutrition a goat would seek out if left on its own to roam for food. Mineral supplementation becomes a must and farmers are turned into chemists and nutritionists as they try to simulate a diet that mimics a goat's natural diet while still working within the principles of agriculture.

Another reason domestic livestock are different than their wild counterparts is that humans have bred livestock for thousands of years to artificially produce more meat or milk than a wild animal would. In the wild, extra meat or extra milk is a detriment to the animal. It is a waste of precious calories that could be spent on survival and passing on of their genetics through breeding. A prodigious milker in the wild is prone to mastitis due to improper emptying of the udder. They are prone to malnutrition due to needing more calories to produce the extra milk and not being able to eat enough to produce the milk and keep their weight up. They are also prone to parasite overload due to being stressed from the extra energy spent on unneeded milk. This leads them to be poor producers of kids and lag behind. And yet, dairy goats are continually bred to produce more and more milk. Farmers should not wonder why their star milker needs extra grain or more medications or more delicate care.

Domestic livestock are not allowed to express their wild ways. We expect goats to get along with each other and act surprised when there is a fight in the herd. In the wild, goats would be living in a full herd consisting of a dominant buck, a herd queen, several junior does, kids, and younger males. The dominant buck would be in charge of keeping the herd safe and fighting off predators. The herd queen rules the social aspect of the herd. She keeps the younger does in line and makes sure the kids are watched over. The queen decides where and when the herd will eat. She's learned through her years what plants are the best and where is the nicest place to bed down. She teaches this to the younger animals as they watch her. The junior does are always waiting for a crack in the queen's rule to allow them a chance to fight for the top spot. Much fighting is observed amongst the younger does as they are constantly trying to push for a better herd position. The younger bucks are at the periphery of the herd. They aren't totally out on their own yet but they are kept at a distance by the dominant buck in charge. The kids are cared for by all the does.

On farms, goats are not allowed to live in a true herd. The bucks are usually kept separate from the does. The does do create a social hierarchy but the herd queen is not allowed to make the decisions as to when and where the herd will eat. The farmer makes those decisions. Kids are pulled at birth and kept separate from their dams to prevent diseases. They are bottle fed to induce tameness. Fighting and pushiness are bred out by the farmer selecting animals for breeding based on their tameness and domestication. Their abilities to fight for survival and live on their own are disregarded as duller and duller animals are bred together to create the farmer's dream of a domestic animal.

In conclusion, please don't compare me to a wild animal. I am a sophisticated, domesticated, dairy goat!

1 comment:

  1. Well said! I'm preparing to change my dairy goat herd from strict confinement to a more free range grazing environment. I hope they make the adjustment and adaptation well. I believe the end result will be much healthier for them. I hope I haven't bred too much "wild" out of them!