Monday, November 8, 2010

Sometimes being one of the herd isn't such a good deal

We learned some interesting, and kind of hard (well hard on our son) lessons about Goat Herd Behavior in the last month or so.
In case you don't know every herd of goats has a a "Herd Queen". She is usually the oldest most experienced Doe, and tends to lead the herd around. The Queen also expects to be greeted first when you walk out to the barn, and when we start to milk she will have to be the first on the milk sanction.
Although we knew there would be a Queen in our herd we watched for a few weeks to determine who it was.
The obvious Choice was Hopper since she is the biggest. But Hopper is very unassuming and not particularly dominate.
Little One, on the other hand has been the biggest bully in the herd. She is constantly butting one of the girls. She is the same age as Hopper, but has always been smaller.
We monitored this behavior for awhile, and finally came to a conclusion. Although Little One is the most aggressive, whenever she started to bother Hopper, she would be put back in her place so to speak.
Hopper was indeed the Queen.
And we've been treating her as such.

The only problem is Little One still doesn't like this. She's a little social climber that one, and would gladly take over the queen title at any moment.
We watched this behavior and jockeying for position with a detached amusement. Until nearly a month ago.
We were spending quite a bit of time outside working on the barns, and Nathan (our oldest son) was often with us. He spent most of his time playing, frolicking, and leading the goats around.
One afternoon, I was standing only a few feet from the entrance to the barn door and he had disappeared inside with a few of the goats. I heard the sound of hooves moving at a faster rate and then Nathan yelped.

Little One had butted him, right in the stomach.

Since I hadn't seen the events the moments prior to this, I couldn't be totally sure if it had been provoked or not.

I separated the two of them and went on with my day.

Of course it didn't stop there.

Every time Nathan came anywhere near Little One she would lower her head and charge at him. She would even seek him out around and behind other goats.

Of course my Husband and I were there, and would immediately grab a hold of the goat and separate them so no one got hurt. But we knew this behavior couldn't continue.

So I hit the Internet.

My first search was "Goat Discipline" hoping to find a way to curb her aggressive behavior through some form of discipline.

Just so you know its not a very valid search in terms of goats it turned up many parenting discipline blogs because people refer to their kids as like a bunch of goat kids climbing on things.

So I looked up "butting" "butting problems with goats" and a few others until I ended up on many forms talking about how to handle a goat that butts.

The advice ranged
Many people suggested that once a goat starts to Butt you may have no choice but to sell it (although we were aware that may be the end result we were hoping to correct the problem)
Another suggested a much more aggressive approach- smack a goat across the horns with a piece of wood.
(We weren't about to teach our 4 year old to hit the goats with a stick)
The last piece of advice we found suggested that with Bucks you may have to pin them to the ground and rub their nose in the dirt to show that they cannot dominate you.
We also reread a lot of information on overall herd behavior.

That's when it all clicked into place.

We had been allowing Nathan to run with the herd. In some ways I think he was being adopted into the herd. This is where the herd hierarchy was coming into play, if you add a new goat into a herd the doe's will butt and carry on with the new addition trying to maintain or raise their status in the herd. Since Little One was trying to raise her status, she was butting Nathan trying to make sure she was above him in the social standings.

We decided that although we could keep dragging them apart the best way to solve the problem permanently was going to have to be teaching him to show her that he was in fact higher ranking than her.

Chris went into the pen with him and waited for Little One to make her move.
When she came over with her head lowered. Chris taught Nathan to grab her by the horns before she could hit him, and turn her by the horns forcing her head to turn back towards her body.

It took several attempts for Nathan to perfect the move, and for Little One to realize that she wasn't going to win.
Overall Nathan still has to be on the lookout for her when he enters the goat area. She will still try a sneak attack once and awhile if she thinks he's not watching. But this seems to have solved the problem.

It was hard to do, because you want to make sure your kid isn't going to get hurt. I also didn't want to have to sell her. We realized that we couldn't keep separating the two of them, if the problem was going to be solved, we were going to have to let him do it himself. Since she was treating him like a goat our intervention was not going to ease the situation. He needed to put her in her place and show her that she could not be above him in the herd. It was something we couldn't teach her for him. So we had to teach him how to stop her, and show her that he was in charge. I know it wouldn't have worked if he was younger or weaker, but it's worked for now.

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