Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Neglect and Goats

Fluffy Cashmere goats shed their hair
Goats are great companion animals. They are good gardeners, unless you like your greenery to remain green and growing.

I am really saddened by the continued interest in using goats and sheep for weed abatement, an activity that sounds benign but hinges on starvation.

The goats in this picture lived on a 10-acre property with five others. Actually, it used to be nine, but the land owners never bothered locking the animals up at night, so four were killed by a mountain lion.

A few weeks ago, the house on the property caught on fire. The woman died trying to save her caged parrots. Her husband was severely burned trying to save her and their dogs (who survived).

I could not bring myself to take a picture of the gutted home - I felt the echoes of her life all around me, strewn on the singed lawn, burned and smoking in a shell of a home.

This mother and her two babies were less than fifty feet from the house in a small enclosure, with no avenue of escape. She shielded her babies and thankfully only suffered minor singeing on her fur.

In the pasture behind the house, a neighbor watched as one of the male goats guided his family (four intact males and one intact female) to the corner of the property. When he did, he turned back to the fire and faced it head-on. She told me this story with a sense of amazement, never before had she considered other nonhumans capable of altruism. I was not surprised. I've seen farmed animals exhibit emotional bonds, friendships, jealousies, and a range of emotions we think unique to humans.

None of the goats were harmed, but their hooves, body condition, and the sparse, sad landscape told their story.

Basic health care was never provided. Their overgrown hooves indicate a lengthy time between hoof trims (or lack of exercise on variable landscape). While not extremely thin, their fluffy exterior hid a lot of slender bodies.

This is the problem with using goats. When people base the value of a goat on what they can eat, the animals suffer. Weed abatement programs rely on starving animals. That is fact. Goats are browsers. They have a more varied palate than, say, sheep, who are primarily grazers.

But most goats do not actively seek out the plant species that people want - thistles, poison oak, etc. They will eat what nourishes and tastes the best first and what they like least last. We recently rescued a downed (could not stand) goat from a 300-goat weed abatement company. She had decided, for whatever reason, to not eat the target plant species on the property - and she nearly died. Many other goats were thin but could walk, so animal control could not confiscate them.

Certainly not all weed abatement companies mistreat their animals - some make sure that a shepherd is always onsite and that animals are supplied with extra hay, if necessary. But most don't. And most sell their animals to auction-yards (and slaughter) when they become ill or unable to do their job. Health care is rare.

All the males will be neutered
These goats were weed eaters. They were not companions and so basic health management was deemed unnecessary. Providing proper nutrition wasn't considered important, either. The goats had no grass to eat, no hay. They were being fed stale bread - chock-full of sugar that can bloat or kill a goat easily. It's what feedlots raising goats for slaughter feed them, it's not a diet that is beneficial to the health of a goat in any meaningful way.

And, the goats did not have predator protection at night. That is neglect. It is borderline cruelty - it is denying an animal you are supposed to care for the opportunity to simply survive the night without having his throat ripped out by a mountain lion, dog, or bear.

If a goat did not thrive or the property owners felt they were spending "too much" or had "too many" animals, they would sell them to an individual who would slit their throats in a backyard and eat them.

We will place these goats into permanent homes, where their adopters will name them, feed them properly, and enjoy their company (perhaps from a distance for the big, shy males). I always find that part fun and fascinating - fun because finding loving homes for any animal is awesome, and fascinating because suddenly the animals are viewed as "friends", not "food", not "grass eaters".

I am truly saddened that a woman and several parrots lost their lives and a man is still in the hospital. I feel empathy to the grieving daughter who called me for help. But I am happy that these goats are safe and away from this place, that they will spend their remaining days being cherished and respected. That is the only beauty to come from that ravaged home.

No comments: