Heat Wave

When the weather is so hot, the goats are up and about with the first light and they use the cool of the morning for their most important pastime — no, not eating, though that is indeed very important to them. Their most important pastime is working on their hierarchy. They butt heads by the hour. They do seem to enjoy it so much. One will sidle up to another and shove her rudely. The other will shove back. Then they will say increasingly rude things to each other, escalating, escalating. One will back off and rear up threateningly and the other will stand fearlessly, sturdily to receive the blow. They both back off and rear up again and — bam — head to head. All around the barnyard pairs of goats are squaring off and butting heads. Each pair has a referee, a third goat who stands at right angles and watches the head-butts judiciously. Once one decides she doesn’t want to stand up against another’s abuse any more, she just wanders off, often to find another one to contest.

The hierarchy is too complex for us to completely understand. It has to do with age and size, and having a horn gives you an advantage, and if you lose today you get another chance tomorrow to move up. Goats who have lived together for six years are still working to see who is higher and who is lower. Nothing really comes of it except everyone knows where you stand. There is a slight effect on who gets to go into the milking parlor first, and who gets to eat from this hay bunk or that hay bunk. But it is all the same hay, and everyone gets into the parlor to be milked.

So after they have been milked and fed and they have eaten and worked hard on their hierarchy for a while, they settle peacefully around, some in the barn, some in the shade of the “Goat Pagoda” outside on the open hillside, some in the shade of the cheese room which overlooks the barnyard. They chew their cud and tell quiet stories while the small kids chase each other in and out and up the stairs and down. Then everyone has a good nap. About noon they all get up and have a deep drink of water, which is up to about the right temperature by then. They have another round of hay-eating and cud-chewing and a nice siesta.

It is very peaceful to go into the barn during siesta. It is hard to believe that just a few hours ago these peaceful goats were whacking each other with bone-jarring blows to the head.. One such blow would lay you or me in the grave. In fact, if you are accosted by a goat offering to butt heads with you, just say no, I don’t think so, and scratch its ears instead. It would win.

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