Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yes, That Goat Prefers Other Females

On a (not so recent) tour, a woman asked me why the white pygmy goat was chasing the brown and white goat. I told her that Charlene, the pygmy goat, really liked Laura, the Boer goat. Really liked.

The woman gave me this look, a strange mix of fascination and horror.

Wait, you're saying that goat, who's a female, prefers other females?

Oh yes, I said. She's gay.

Horror won out. She sputtered for a moment, and told her child not to go near that goat.

Normally, most people who see Charlene in action find her amusing and interesting. This was the first person who was outright horrified by the prospect of a homosexual goat. In her mind, it was bad enough there were gay humans, but goats? Unacceptable. She did not pet any of the goats that day.

I do not know much about homosexuality across all species. While nonhuman sexual preference has been studied for a couple decades, it is not exactly a popular field. Few species are studied, and perhaps the most studied are sheep. Between 8-10% of rams are gay. They prefer sexual intercourse with other rams and will not willingly copulate with a female.

I do not find homosexual behavior in any species discomfiting. It is a normal divergence and is probably found in many species. It is not something to fear.


There is an interesting deviation in breeding cycles between goats bred for dairy and goats bred for meat. Generally speaking, goats are short-day seasonal breeders. Their breeding cycle lasts from Aug/Sep to February. During that breeding period, they go into heat (estrus) every 20 days or so. But goats bred for meat can cycle year-round. Boer goats are known for their year-round cycling. All the Boer goats at the sanctuary go into heat throughout the year, regardless of day length. Goats in good health, with good forage, and in excellent body condition tend to be more likely to cycle year round.

I point that out as a way to explain why Laura is in estrus today, out of season (I doubt you would have asked, but hey, now you know something new, right?) Charlene is the pygmy and Laura is the brown and white boer. It is hard to see in this picture, but Charlene is about to engage in the flehmen response. Lots of mammals have a specialized organ, called the vomeronasal organ, located approximately under their lip. In Charlene's case, she is using the organ to detect the scent of pheromones in Laura's urine.

Charlene and Laura

Of the three Boer goats at the sanctuary, Laura is the most tolerant of Charlene's advances. When any of the does go into estrus, Charlene is more aggressive than any of the wethers (castrated male goats, no breeding allowed). She will mount the does and pursue them relentlessly. She will even attack the other males who try to intervene. Laura is the only doe who actually appreciates Charlene's advances. She will stand for grooming and will groom Charlene back. They will sleep next to each other and hang out comfortably, even with Charlene's pushiness. The other two Boer goats are as horrified by Charlene's pursuit as that woman was to find out gay goats exist. I think it is because Charlene is no romantic suitor, she's serious, aggressive, and pushy. Annie and Jessica (the other boers) prefer Gilbert or Jeffrey, who are much more gentle and less rude.

Charlene and Laura

I wish I had gotten a shot of Nate, the dominant male. He was trying to court Laura, but could not get past the 70lb Pygmy goat. He weighs 150 lbs. It was comical.

As an aside, Charlene does not exhibit any estrus behaviors. I have never seen any of the male goats interested in her. I have never seen her exhibit the tail flagging and body movement of a female in heat.


KG said...

Oh yes, I said. She's gay.

HEEEE. I am cracking up imagining the way you might have said that, with the Most Earnest Look Ever on your face, hiding the glint of mischief in your eyes. Hee. What a ridiculous lady.

And hey! I think Charlene should have her own promotional campaign! Maybe the sanctuary could become world-famous. Wasn't there a gentleman couple of gay penguins who made headlines a few years ago.

(I'm still laughing at the image of the woman recoiling in horror and telling her child "not to pet that goat." I mean, homophobia is not funny, but the absurdity of this lady's gay-goatophobia is amusing to me.)

KG said...

OMG hilarity part deux:

I wish I had gotten a shot of Nate, the dominant male. He was trying to court Laura, but could not get past the 70lb Pygmy goat. He weighs 150 lbs.

Your sanctuary posts are ftw.

Pibble said...

She wouldn't pet them? What, she might "catch gay"? Seriously, lady.

I do hope you're considering that book!

Retrieverman said...

If you could move my misplaced comment on homosexual animals to this one, I would greatly appreciate it :).

Mary said...

Someone should tell that lady that, while "teh ghey" it totes communicable, it has not yet managed to be interspecies contagious.

People are ridiculous.

Rinalia said...

I am not sure how to move comments, Retrieverman. Here's a copy of your comment (if you want to repost it under your handle, I'll just delete this comment):

Retrieverman has left a new comment on your post "Family Unsure What Triggered Attack by Dog":

Book I recommend:

Yes, I've read more of him than I normally admit on my blog!

In it he talks about homosexual pairs of swans (Australian black ones) that are far more successful at raising cygnets than heterosexual pairs.

People who are anti-gay are living in a strange world. It's a world of denial, self-loathing, and fear. Underline fear and self-loathing.

A lot of macho types like to say awful things about gay people because it reinforces their own heterosexuality. I see this a lot.

I live where intolerance towards people with different sexual and gender orientations is far worse than anything in California.

Rinalia said...

@KG: I was pretty earnest! Usually, people do not respond w/ such great offense.

Charlene could have her own children's book! We would become even more controversial than we already are (being a vegan farmed animal sanctuary!)

It was very absurd. So far she is the first person who has reacted such a way. She better be the last!

@Pibble: No, she would not. She appeared to believe homosexuality is contagious. It was sad, because her child did not get it.

@Mary: I wish I had said she wouldn't "catch it". I just walked away and paid attention to people who, you know, actually wanted to interact with the goats.

@Retrieverman: Many of our visitors are gay. I hope none were on that tour. Seeing such an ugly thing being taught to a child is so sad.

I live in the only county in the Bay Area that voted for Proposition 8, in which California only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. I was so embarrassed (I was even more embarrassed that California passed Prop 8). The county where I am moving may still lean Republican but they voted no on Prop 8, which makes me like them a smidgen more.

Intolerance is a dark, sad thing.

I'll check out Masson's book.

Amanda said...

Fascinating, I truly did not know homosexuality existed in other species. I feel quite dumb admitting it...hmmm...dumb enough to hit delete?! Guess not. Thanks for sharing!

Mary said...

@Amanda: You know, come to think of it, although I have definitely heard of many cases of homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom, this might be the first case I've heard of female homosexual behavior.

Now I'm off to do more research on the matter.

Princess said...

I like Amanda feel dumb admitting I didn't know it existed, but funnily enough I was actually just wondering this last week if it did exist for the first time. I can't remember what triggered the thought. Thanks for sharing.

Rinalia said...

@Amanda: I doubt I would have known had I not studied animal science in college. We learned a lot about sheep homosexuality, because that was the "hot topic" at the time.

@Mary: Hey, if you find any information, please share! I've only heard of males being studied too, and I'm not sure why.

@Princess: I don't think most people know or give it much thought, so please don't feel dumb! It's also not well studied anyways, so there isn't a lot of info on it (in nonhuman species).