Archives for category: About Goats


In the goathouse yesterday, while it was raining:


goat eye227

Some goats have much longer horns

…than others.

Christmas is mostly about nostalgia, I find. Although she renounced children’s telly about a decade ago, on the morning of Christmas Eve Alma still watches the 1970s Czech film of Cinderella.  It’s broadcast on television in many European countries at this time of year – rather like the old English film they show in Germany every New Year’s Eve, Dinner For One (The same procedure as last year?).


Topsy hung around too, pretending to be a rug.


We’d had quite a lot of snow during the night.


Now that it’s covered with snow it seems unlikely that we’ll be using our outdoors bathtub again this year – although you never really know.


The first thing I had to do was blow the snow off the driveway. Then I let the goats out for a couple of hours.


They hardly ever come out in the winter now.  Dyveke says they’re old ladies, but old ladies go out in the snow. I see them all the time.




There really isn’t much to eat.


Though all three had a go at debarking this little mountain-ash tree.


Holly’s beginning to look a bit like a polar bear.



Misty, as always, wanted to show me her undying gratitude for something or other.





Then Holly did a little dance,skip638

and Misty ate some clematis,


and a rose.


Not liking the disruption Vesla was reluctant to come outside.  The only thing she would eat, besides the mountain ash bark, was beech leaves.ves8556

One day when the snow has settled I think I’ll take them for a walk.


It’s not the daisies that were eating the tree.

The daisies were quite close to Holly, who was lying next to a birch tree and watching me:

I think she’d been taking an afternoon nap there.

She got up,

decided the birch tree was a snack,

and tried to nibble it to death.

Holly is one weird goat.  We’re all slightly scared of her – all except Vesla, who’s much smaller than Holly.

Dog pictures too.  I was given a camera for my birthday and – this is always my biggest problem – I think I can focus sharper with it.

It’s got a video button too, so expect some Youtube action once I’ve figured out how to use it.

I’ve been reading an excellent book about animals, but that will have to wait until next time.

As usual on the seventeenth of May, we were awakened this morning at seven by a deafening twenty-one-gun military salute from the cannons outside our neighbour’s palace.

17 May is Norway’s national day.  It’s the biggest day of the year here, with flag waving, parades and barbeques similar to July 4th in the United States .  Our local parade of small children goes past the neighbour’s (the crown prince’s) front door (it’s the second photo, I can’t seem to link to it directly).  The children attend the primary school across the road, and when Alma was small we too had to show up at seven, wearing national dress or some other form of best clothes.

Some news people say it’s going to be even more enthusiastically celebrated this year;  it’s the first 17 May since the man shot the teenagers on Utøya, last July.  Norway has been preoccupied ever since with the significance of that incident.  There has been a thoughtful national debate – both about multiculturalism and how to deal with the culprit, as well as about human emotions like sorrow, anger, memorial, and so on.

Vesla has never expressed any interest in the seventeenth of May; it’s not her kind of thing.

Alma painted the Easter-egg heads that are sitting on the windowsill. It means your children are growing up when they’d rather paint Kant, Descartes and Nietzsche (l. – r.) than chicks and bunnies.

It’s May, and I’ve opened the windows.  They are locked tight during the winter and though it’s much warmer that way, we lose any connection with the outside –

where the birch trees near the house are now becoming greener by the day.

The windflowers are still thriving,

so are the daffodils,

and so is Tops.

Vesla had a haircut on Sunday.

It’s always a surprise to see how small she really is, like the front half of a pantomime horse.

I’m not the only one who thinks so.

We lost the goats for a while, but then two of them turned up in Alma’s old hut in the back garden, taking some sun.

Where was Vesla?

Vesla was hiding behind the goat house…

Dyv took these with a telephone, so Vesla’s a bit fuzzy.

It is very clear and crisp at the moment.  Yesterday, Alma and I clipped Holly.  This meant turning her on her back to cut the wool underneath, and I think it caused her to get grass and twigs stuck on her back.

She must have been pleased to get rid of all that shaggy wool, though.

If you’re wondering why Vesla’s wearing a red scarf, it’s because of the butting that always takes place when one of them has a haircut.

This time Holly accidentally cut Vesla’s forehead, right in front of her horns.

Although Vesla didn’t seem to notice the damage, it was bleeding quite badly; so Alma used a red horse bandage that she wound neatly around Vesla’s horns.  The bandage sticks to itself, but somehow manages not to be sticky on its outer surface – I don’t know how they do that.

I think she looks like Bruce Springsteen.

It’s about time we had some nice weather.

It’s Spring.  The cherry trees have buds, and here are some:

The goats are confined to their part of the garden.  They can’t go outside the fence until the grass has had a chance to grow and the cattle grid is in place.

We have sheared them at both ends, but there is still much work to be done.  This is Holly:

And this is Misty:

They’re still quite glad of their coats at night.  Misty will do anything to find new sources of food.  She’s such a smart goat.

But I thought Holly seemed disdainful.

I didn’t take any close-up pictures of Vesla.  She just looks the same as the others, only shorter.  Here’s Topsy:

There are some lovely wild flowers out at the moment; if there are more than usual, it might be because the snow melted very early this year (that’s just my theory).




My wife found these pictures, she was vague about where.  She says they are African.

Julia sent me this cartoon because of our discussion, a couple of posts back, of odd & even numbers.  According to Julia, the man says something like: “And now I have to be odd all the rest of the day”.Julia currently has some pretty great pictures at her blog.

The camera is fixed (a dirty electrical contact).  You can see there is some snow here, just not very much.

The goats are outside,

sort of.

And Misty is trying to chew her way

through the gate.

Misty (with the lampshade) & Holly.  But later on it may be Misty & Vesla or Vesla & Holly.

The hierarchy never changes, I don’t know what’s resolved by this ritual

or if it’s just practice, like a fire drill.

“In case something happens, we’ll know what to do”.

Practice, practice, practice.  On and on, whenever there’s a spare moment.

Nothing ever does happen, though.

Frolicking kid and hobbled goat, Inis Mór. Photograph Juliet Clark, ⓒ 2011

Poet and blogger Tom Clark sent me these two photographs of Irish scenes.  They are part of a marvelous collection all taken by Juliet Clark, Tom’s & Angelica’s daughter, who spent three weeks driving round the country last April.

Beara Peninsula between Ardgroom and Eyeries. Photograph Juliet Clark, ⓒ 2011

I love the goats’ hole in the hedge.

All these goats have much longer tails than ours.

Inis Mór (aka Inishmore) is one of the Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway, in the west of Ireland.  If you think of the map of Ireland as a face Inis Mór is hovering like a grain of pollen under the nostril, and the Beara Peninsula is part of the straggly beard in the far south west.  I think Beara has more to do with bears than beards – at least, there’s a Bear Island to its south.  These locations are all coloured magenta, below:

Update:  Juliet’s pictures of Ireland are well worth looking at.  You can see them all here:

Yesterday lunchtime, I was taking some pictures of the old-witch tree at the top of our drive.   I like the two figures on her right-hand arm, one of them looks like a high-heeled shoe, and I’m wondering whether I ought to do something with it or if it wouldn’t be best to just leave it alone…Anyway, I turned around because there was a young couple oohing and aahing about the goats, who were just behind me

This kind of thing happens all day long at the weekend.  They enjoy the attention

and Vesla in particular has no qualms about asking people for spare change.

Sometimes she follows them as far as the next bend, and you see them start to worry she’s not going to turn back.

You can see that Misty’s got a thing round her neck.  It’s an inverted dog collar that we got from the vet and it prevents her turning her head to lick a wound – a bite she got on the bottom, probably from a dog.

She seems to rather like her collar.

She was very appreciative of the medical help she got as well as enjoying the extra feed she was offered as an inducement to put it on.

Now I think she kind of associates it with the food.

This happened yesterday evening.  Here’s Holly standing on the empty road above our house, baahing:

And here’s Misty, her voice too deep to do much baahing:

I’d been taking pictures in the garden, but the goats wanted my attention.  Vesla was there too of course, but she was preoccupied.  She was staring at something and I think the others could see it too:

Whatever it was was up on the hillside among the old tree stumps.  Thistles and small hazel bushes have grown up in the past two years since the spruce trees were cut down, and there is a pine tree on the ground that blew over in the wind last winter.  It would be easy for a lion-sized predator to hide in plain sight here:

She stood there for ages, maybe fifteen minutes, moving around but not taking her eyes off whatever it was.  This is Vesla’s job, watching out for lions; the others never do it.   I’m pretty sure she was looking at something:

I’d get her a pair of binoculars if I thought she’d accept them.  Actually there’s nothing wrong with her eyesight or her sense of smell.  Not being too worried for my own safety I walked up the hill to take a closer look, but all I could see was thistles.  It’s too bad the goats don’t eat them.

Of all the goats Vesla has the finest wool.  Usually the younger the goat the finer and softer the wool – the best mohair comes from one-year-olds –  but Vesla is an exception: she’s the oldest by a year, the smallest by a good 20 cm, and the finest (where wool is concerned).

Of Holly and Misty, Holly (right) has finer wool.

Misty’s is more greasy which is why it’s darker, and it’s rough to the touch in places – lately it has become matted, almost like dreadlocks.

It’s still lovely wool, much finer than sheep wool.

Of course it varies over the body.  This is Holly’s ear where, even when it’s just been sheared, you can still see it’s fineness.

The rest isn’t bad either.

I don’t think Misty cares one way or the other about wool quality.

I’ve always thought Misty was the prettiest.   My daughter says Holly’s prettier. Holly has blue eyes, which is quite unusual for a goat.

But Misty has has very kind eyes.

When Vesla had finished eating the clematis on either side of the gate,

she went and hung around with Holly.

For a fastidious eater like Vesla there’s not a whole lot of opportunity at the moment.  Most of the food is  buried in the snow.

Misty – who will eat almost anything – worked on the beech hedge.  Its leaves from last year hold tight until the new ones are fully out, some time in early May.

The hedge is twenty-something metres long.  It’s a big job really for one goat to demolish the whole thing, but she’s goat enough to give it a shot.

Misty likes to lick my hand and arm.  She also licks paintwork occasionally, but mostly it’s my hand and arm.  Quite often it seems to be an expression of gratitude for having done her some sort of favour – fetching clean water for example – but at other times (like here) I don’t really know why she does it.

Holly would never do that.  Sometimes I think they look a bit like rabbits.

There are angora rabbits as well as angora goats, but their name comes from what’s now Ankara, in Anatolia,

rather than from the two wools.

If Misty is the most well-adjusted, said Julia yesterday, why there’s only one picture of her in this post?

It’s a fair point.

And yet the race is not to the swift.  Is Kate Moss, the fashion model, well-adjusted?  Not according to the newspapers, and yet her picture is everywhere.

The FBI never claimed its Most Wanted posters were mugshots of the well-adjusted, and yet they’re in every post office in the United States.

Holly’s temperamental but she’d never rob a bank, she just wants a fair crack of the whip.

Vesla was more friendly today.  She rubbed her horns against my trouser leg and butted my head.  She’s still baaing very loudly, though; I don’t know what that’s about.  In the picture below she’s chewing a clematis stem.  She had quite a go at the clematis on Sunday.

I think Misty will appear tomorrow.  It’s not very imaginative, but I’m presenting these pictures in the order I took them.

Here are all three goats with their heads neatened up.


Vesla.  Since I took these pictures on Sunday, Vesla hasn’t been at all pleased to see me.  She won’t gently butt heads with me, and if I stroke her she starts, and then bolts as far away as she can get.  Yesterday evening, she hid her head behind a sack so that there was no possibility of eye contact with me.


Vesla.  On Monday, I took a big pile of manure away from her perch by the window.  Since she’s quite short it’s made it harder for her to see out over the window-sill.  I’m wondering if she’s cross with me because of that.

Holly.  Holly’s been in a very good mood recently.  I suppose Misty is really the most well-adjusted goat; she hardly ever gets cross without it being pretty obviously my fault.  She’s not as temperamental as the other two.


…All new except this one, this is a “before” photograph:

I can’t even tell which goat that is, I think it’s Holly.

It’s not warm enough to give them a proper shear, but they had so much hay lodged in their coats that last weekend we decided to give them a trim around the face so you could at least tell which end is the front.  They also needed their hooves trimmed, so we did that.  Although a professional goat wrangler could do the whole job in five minutes we’re amateurs, and it required all three of us to work for two days (ok, only one hour on each day).

As you can see, while we’re preoccupied with giving Holly the full treatment, Misty seizes the opportunity to nibble someone’s trouser pockets:

Holly seemed to love the whole thing.

Afterwards, she looked less like a sheep and more like a goat.

I think this is what they’re supposed to look like.

I took lots more pictures, so I’m going to put some more up – but I’ll do it over the next few days, so it doesn’t take hours & hours to load on your computers…

The goats have been spending the past few days in the sun in front of the house.  It’s comparatively warm, about 5C.  (The rope in the foreground is Topsy’s, nothing to do with the goats.)

They look very bedraggled. They have long wool with bits of hay fastened to it:

Misty has a new hobby.  She likes to stand in the wood shed.

And chew the bark off the birch logs.

She loves it in there.

Her teeth seem to be getting longer.  With horses they have to be filed down, but I’m not sure about goats.

The goats haven’t been outside since it got so cold.

Today, I thought they might want to stretch their legs, and I let them out, Vesla first.  Holly looked a little bit unsure of what to do…

Then she remembered that she could always butt Vesla.

Vesla had plans,

and led them out into the garden.

Where there wasn’t anything to do except nibble tiny rosebuds in the wind.

They very soon wanted to come back inside, which is exactly what I was hoping.

They’ve got it quite cosy now.  You can’t see, but there’s lots of straw on the ground which gives off heat as it composts.  For the first time, this year they’ve got a heat lamp.  I’m so glad we didn’t shear them in October.


Actually, I don’t think they mind fog or snow.  They aren’t crazy about wind or rain, though; but who is?

Here is a 4-minute unedited video of the goats and my daughter* that my mother took in the summer of 2008.   Theoretically I ought to be able to make videos myself now, and edit them so that there’s a plot and narration and the other things we expect from a film.  In the meantime, please remember this was not shot with the general public in mind.  But even if the goats aren’t very animated,  it does at least show that they are more than stuffed toys.   I’m surprised they’re wearing collars, I thought we’d given that up years ago.  We must have been taking them up to the reservoir at the top of the hill to erode the council’s undergrowth.  And now…

* (and that’s me & Topsy walking past, like Alfred Hitchcock)

I opened the front door this morning and blow me, if it hadn’t started snowing!

After half an hour, it was like this:

Vesla had noticed.

When I went inside, she was shivering.  We’re getting them the heat-lamp from the hen house.

Misty was still keen to go outside.

Holly was unsure.

Now it’s half-past-twelve and it’s stopped, but it’s still quite cold.

This October no one could be bothered to clip the goats; and then it got too cold to do it, so we’re leaving them with long wooly coats until the spring.  My daughter has trimmed the wool around their faces because it was beginning to be hard to tell which end was the front.  They look quite elegant like this, I think.  This one is Misty:

In contrast to their faces they’re very wooly around what the Guardian would probably call their paws, but I call their hooves.  This is Holly:

She was chewing:

The birds are still living with the goats.  They fly in and out during the day:

Vesla and the other bird, Cloudy, are spending a lot of time together:

As Trond predicted, the rain cleared before it got dark.  Betty the horse and her old friend Askur have moved down the hill to a winter stable.  It’s at a big old  farm that nowadays is on the edge of Oslo’s fairly hideous suburban sprawl.  It’s close to the motorway; I only hope that it doesn’t get eaten.  Here’s the driveway yesterday evening, as the rain cleared; one of many avenues of polled ash trees around here that are the symbol of the local county:

Horses don’t like being ridden when it’s foggy, they spook when they see monsters looming.

When I came home, I went to turn out the lights in the goat house.

Last week, Champagne — the only hen to have actually been hatched here — died.  She was quite old: eight, I think.  Now we have only one hen left and that’s Cloudy.  My daughter and I tried to find some more Faverolles to buy; they lay small eggs, but they’re very friendly and I like their feathery feet.  There aren’t any Faverolles available in southern Norway at the moment; so for now she’s on her own, species-wise.

For the first couple of nights, while my wife was away in Stavanger working, we let Cloudy sleep in a cage in the living room.  It got awfully dusty.  When my wife returned, she suggested that Cloudy might enjoy living with the goats.  Cloudy’s always spent the odd day in the goathouse; sometimes she lays eggs there.

We put her in with Vesla.  She’s got her own cage on the ground, on the right, below.  There’s also a family of tits living with the goats, you can see one sitting on the railing in the middle of the picture:

Every night Cloudy climbs up to sleep on Vesla’s bed.  Maybe it’s warmer up there or possibly they just like the company.

It’s not so much a doctor who lives in the trees I need, as one who treats them.  What should I do about the following accident?

This morning, the goats broke into the garden.  Actually, it’s Misty.  She’s figured out how to open the gate.  The others just wait around the corner while she fiddles with the lock, and then they follow her in.

One of them broke a branch of my 3 year-old Bramley apple tree:

Bramleys (cooking apples) are next to impossible to get in Norway, so I want to save it if I can.  You can see it better up close.  It’s not completely severed, just split:

What I did was I wired it back into place:

And I gave it more support (it’s on a steep slope):

Is there any more I can do?

Meanwhile, from a safe distance …

killer goats were watching me.

Today I took Topsy the dog for a walk to see the autumn colours.  We passed Vesla and the others on the way.  They didn’t follow us, they were quite content where they were.

I took this immediately after I took the sunset picture in the last post.  Every year after the berries stop coming, I cut off that year’s raspberry-producing canes and give them to Misty, so she can have the leaves.  The others could have them too, but Misty is the goat who seems to appreciate rare foods.  Vesla’d run a mile to avoid eating something new.

Language Hat was kind enough to point out a film being shown at the New York Film Festival, at Lincoln Center, called Le Quattro Volte — “Four Times”, according to google, although there may be other meanings.  It looks quite wonderful, and includes four of my favourite subjects and objects: charcoal, Italy, trees and goats — well, five, if you include the NY Times’s comment that its humour is reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s films.

I don’t know whether it will ever be distributed in  Norway though I saw somewhere that showings are planned elsewhere in Europe; in the meantime, unless you’re in New York, Italy or Cannes, you’ll have to be satisfied with the two short trailers at the European distributor’s site (click on the film there).

Michelangelo Frammartino, the film’s director:

“In Calabria, nature is not hierarchical; all beings have a soul. You can see it when you look into an animal’s eyes. You can hear it in the sound made by charcoal, which sings as if it had its own voice.  You can see it in the tall fir tree swaying in the wind, summoning us all to its side.”

Here’s a synopsis:

In the back-country of Calabria, in the Apennine mountains of southern Italy, an old shepherd leads his flock of goats to pasture along disused hillside paths. Every morning, the church housekeeper trades a handful of church dust for some of the shepherd’s fresh milk. Every evening, the elderly shepherd dissolves the “magic” powder in water and drinks this mixture as a remedy for his aches and pains. One day he doesn’t show up for their trade, and the next day he dies in his bed while the goats keep vigil.

A kid takes his first steps, but he is slower than the rest of the flock and falls behind. He falls into a ditch in the middle of the forest. Unable to climb out, he bleats for help, but neither the shepherd nor his dog hear him. The flock leaves the kid in their wake, leaving him to his fate. When he finally emerges from the ditch, he finds that he is alone. He wanders aimlessly until, as night begins to fall, he stumbles upon a majestic fir tree, where he seeks shelter.

The following spring, the village residents come to fell this tree for the annual “Pita” festivities that have taken place there for centuries. They saw off its branches and carry its stately trunk back to the village where it is erected in the main square.

Once the village festivities are over, the trunk of the fir tree is sold to charcoal burners. It is then cut into logs and used to build the hearth and chimney of the charcoal kiln; it will also be burned  to make fuel. The kiln, covered in straw and clay, is lit and begins to smoke. Once the fire has gone out, this ancient technique, passed down from generation to generation, will have transformed the living vegetable matter of the wood into an inert mineral, brittle and easily crumbled: charcoal.

I  particularly liked this still from the film (there are four others here):


The goats

would never refuse

an invitation

to butt heads.

As long as they’re tall enough,

the answer

is an unequivocal

Hell, yes.

Even if

the gates

are closed.

The goats have started their summer job.  Like they did last year, they’re keeping the reservoir up the road tidy.  Eating their way around it.

Sometimes they take breaks up on the roof.

More than the other goats, Misty likes to explore

every opportunity

to get hold of branches

of young leaves.

It’s not always easy.

But, on the other hand,

she’s not really

that busy.

I suspect these are young midges, small mosquito-like insects that swarm in the evening.  If you click on the picture, you’ll see they came out as dots and straight lines, and if you were a midge you would probably think that cameras are rubbish.  Imagine if people came out as either dots or straight lines.

The first of our late-flowering tulips is out, next to the out-house.  I’m not much good at flower photography.  Studiolum very kindly gave me some tips yesterday — his and Kata’s pictures of their Hungarian garden are superb — and I’m going to try some new moves (this isn’t one of them, obviously).

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon pulling up stinging nettles in the goats’ part of the garden  I had heard that goats eat nettles, but they’ve never done so here until today.  I found that Misty, who’s the most willing to experiment with new foods,

would eat them once I’d pulled them up .  Maybe there’s less stinging that way, I don’t know.  I get very stung and it still tingles, but I take a primitive delight in finding the red and yellow shallow roots and ripping them out.  It’s approximately the same satisfaction as I’d have if I were George Smiley and I’d discovered a nest of Soviet spies.  This is more like Studiolum’s marvelous technique:

although he takes them by the dozen and crops them much more.  Oh, well.

Yesterday evening we finished shearing the last goat, Misty.

My daughter says the clippers are now completely blunt.

I’m guessing that both Misty & Holly are feeling much better.

This is the sheared Holly:

I don’t think we’ve ever been this late with the shearing before.

My daughter did some work on Holly and Misty yesterday. She’s planning to finish it today. She’s very busy with school at the moment.  Unlike my Australian forebears who could have done them both in five minutes, each goat takes us several hours to shear.

After she’d finished they looked pretty odd, but they seemed pleased to be less warmly dressed.

We had seen a beautiful afghan hound earlier in the day, and I think that may have been the look that the hairdresser was trying for:

Holly as a scary monster:

It’s two weeks since Vesla was sheared.  She’s looking better now her coat has grown out a little bit.  Here she is about to …

… butt Holly:

She’s a good little runner:

"Nice day."

"Mmm. Delightful."_____________ "Holy crap! What's that up there?"

"What are we staring at?"___"Sinéad O'Connor, I presume?"____ "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

"Are you talking to me!"__________________"Never mind."____"Never mind."

__________"No, but seriously. Can I have another look?"__ "This is nuts. I'm off!"

The column of Saint Theodore of Amasea, in Venice. Teodoro is standing on a crocodile or dragon.

You might think I’m in competition with Studiolum, what with the crocodile and the bestiary.  His latest post at Poemas del Rio Wang is called Bestiary, and I recommend it to everyone, but I’m thinking of Kenneth Rexroth’s poem that Jamessal sent me today.  Here’s one verse:


G stands for goat and also
For genius. If you are one,
Learn from the other, for he
Combines domestication,
Venery, and independence.

Here is some more:

for my daughters, Mary and Katherine

The lion is called the king
Of beasts. Nowadays there are
Almost as many lions
In cages as out of them.
If offered a crown, refuse.

Someday, if you are lucky,
You’ll each have one for your own.
Try it before you pick it.
Some kinds are made of soybeans.
Give it lots to eat and sleep.
Treat it nicely and it will
Always do just what you want.

The raccoon wears a black mask,
And he washes everything
Before he eats it. If you
Give him a cube of sugar,
He’ll wash it away and weep.
Some of life’s sweetest pleasures
Can be enjoyed only if
You don’t mind a little dirt.
Here a false face won’t help you.

The trout is taken when he
Bites an artificial fly.
Confronted with fraud, keep your
Mouth shut and don’t volunteer.

Uncle Sam
Like the unicorn, Uncle
Sam is what is called a myth.
Plato wrote a book which is
An occult conspiracy
Of gentlemen pederasts.
In it he said ideas
Are more nobly real than
Reality, and that myths
Help keep people in their place.
Since you will never become,
Under any circumstances,
Gentlemen pederasts, you’d
Best leave there blood-soaked notions
To those who find them useful.

St. Thomas Aquinas thought
That vultures were lesbians
And fertilized by the wind.
If you seek the facts of life,
Papist intellectuals
Can be very misleading.

Let Y stand for you who says,
“Very clever, but surely
These were not written for your
Children?” Let Y stand for yes.

I’m not sure where to find the complete poem except, as Jamessal says, in Rexroth’s Complete Poems.  Jim added “He’s not big on cat owners”, which certainly makes me want to find the whole thing.

Remember: If offered a crown, refuse.

Marie-Lucie  told me about this goat tower.  It’s at a South African vineyard:

It was built in 1981 with room for six or seven goats.  There are more pictures of the tower & its residents, as well as a short video, here and you can read about the herd here. I’m sure that goats would love to live in a tower; I wonder if there are fights about who gets to live at the top?  Perhaps the goats climb up every evening, stopping when they reach the first empty room; though that kind of order seems too fastidious for your average goat.  Although there are 750 female goats, it’s only billies who live in the tower, I’ve no idea why.  It could be that the males prefer sleeping on their own; we’ve never kept males, so I don’t know.

Since 1981 more goat towers have been built; there’s one in Norway and one in the United States.  There was a recent outbreak of serious illness at the Norwegian one, I’m not sure if it’s still going.  The American farmer who built his own goat tower claims to have the tallest goat tower on earth: thirty-one feet to its peak, with the potential to install a revolving observatory in the roof (I’m guessing we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for this, for some reason he just seems to be preoccupied with not letting birds roost in the roof).  I like the South African one the best, they are milking goats (it’s the only one where your landlord doesn’t end up eating you). Here are some more milking goats who live, if not in a tower, at least upstairs.

One interesting structural feature that the American man mentions is that his steps are made of (sort of) reinforced concrete, which stiffens the tower sideways against the wind.  He used 5,000 hand-made bricks, no two of which are alike.  It’s not clear to me that there is any advantage in that.

The first three look exactly the same.  I think the next builder could work on the appearance of his or her goat tower.  There are precedents for this building type:

Thanks to Language Hat, we have this great poem by the great Australian, John Kinsella.  Kinsella is a vegan.  It is published in this week’s New Yorker magazine.

Goat gone feral comes in where the fence is open
comes in and makes hay and nips the tree seedlings
and climbs the granite and bleats, through its line-
through-the-bubble-of-a-spirit-level eyes it tracks
our progress and bleats again. Its Boer heritage
is scripted in its brown head, floppy basset-hound ears,
and wind-tunnelled horns, curved back for swiftness.
Boer goats merged prosaically into the feral population
to increase carcass quality. To make wild meat. Purity
cult of culling made vastly more profitable. It’s a narrative.
Goat has one hoof missing—just a stump where it kicks
and scratches its chin, back left leg hobbling, counter-
balanced on rocks. Clots of hair hang like extra legs
off its flanks. It is beast to those who’d make devil
out of it, conjure it as Pan in the frolicking growth
of the rural, an easer of their psyches when drink
and blood flow in their mouths. To us, it is Goat
who deserves to live and its “wanton destruction”
the ranger cites as reason for shooting on sight
looks laughable as new houses go up, as dozers
push through the bush, as goats in their pens
bred for fibre and milk and meat nibble forage
down to the roots. Goat can live and we don’t know
its whereabouts. It can live outside nationalist tropes.
Its hobble is powerful as it mounts the outcrop
and peers down the hill. Pathetic not to know
that it thinks as hard as we do, that it can loathe
and empathize. Goat tells me so. I am being literal.
It speaks to me and I am learning to hear it speak.
It knows where to find water when there’s no water
to be found—it has learned to read the land
in its own lifetime and will breed and pass its learning
on and on if it can. Goat comes down and watches
us over its shoulder, shits on the wall of the rainwater
tank—our lifeline—and hobbles off
to where it prays, where it makes art.

I was going to take some pictures of Cloudy, our beautiful Faverolle hen who has feathers on her feet:

But goats love to know what’s going on,

and Misty got very interested.

Recently I’ve been noticing her horns

How long they are getting.

The dark brown colour towards the tip is caused by the build up of lanolin grease from their wool.

Now their wool is so long that grass seeds get stuck in it.  It’s very irritating.

Yesterday we walked in a different direction. There were still blåveis leaves to eat.

Contrary to what most people think, dogs don’t eat only meat. They always grab some vegetables when we’re out for a walk.

We passed two old men who seemed astonished to see the goats walking behind me.  I was preoccupied with my camera and I wasn’t paying anyone any attention.  Vesla obviously regretted that we missed the chance for a chat.

The small dog isn’t used to going this way and the rocks are much bigger than him, but he’s up for anything; he’s very game for a sixteen-year-old.

These boulders have tumbled down from the cliff of the escarpment behind our house.  It’s hard to see quite how big they are; these two were about seven feet high.

This area is protected.  It’s not like a city park: nobody comes to clear away the fallen trees, and the birds and animals and insects who live here make use of the pieces.  Every time we come to a fallen tree, we have to decide whether we’re going to scramble over the top…

…or crawl underneath.

I used to somehow block out the fallen trees — something about them being dead, I think — but I’ve come to love the amazing jumbled-up expressionist compositions they make,

and their contrast to this kind of landscape, right next door:

There were some extraordinarily puffy looking clouds yesterday.  My daughter says they may be Icelandic volcano droppings.

The lake is still frozen, if only just.  It’s freshwater and it takes some weeks to unfreeze after the winter.

The dogs & I went around one side of this big rock.  The goats went around the other side.

Look what they found: an exercise class paying obeisance to the volcanic ash.

What the hell is going on?  says Holly.  In the background is another civilization, our local town.

The weather’s beautiful, and we are doing this every morning.

I just found these pictures of Vesla.  It says they are from last Whitsun, or pinse as they call it in Norway; Pfingsten in German.

I’d certainly forgotten about them.

And, if I posted them last year, I hope you have too.

Without my glasses, sometimes Topsy looks like a goat. (How she got hold of my glasses… etc.)

The Large Hadron Collider started working again at CERN this morning for the first time in eighteen months.  You can follow the full coverage here, live from CERN.  The Guardian is putting out an edited version, here.  Not all live events are interesting, certainly not the same ones for everyone;  I prefer this to live sports coverage.  Is there a Small Hadron Collider?  Trond and Canahan report, below.

Last night we put the clocks forward.  Past the equinox, it seems quite late to be doing this.
Holly is today still in the same position as when you last saw her, still waiting for the snow to finish melting.

She is getting quite irritable.  You can see the footprints of one of the huge crows that I would dearly love to photograph.  They’ve always flown away by the time I’ve fetched the camera.

The snow is still about a foot deep:

Yesterday my daughter asked me to take pictures of her galloping.

Well, I suppose it’s Askur who’s doing most of the galloping.

At the top of the road is next winter’s pile of birch logs waiting to be sawn and split.  They are enormous, something you can’t see from this picture.

And then round the next bend are the young cows, who would also probably like to be outside by now.  I think I mentioned this greeting, where we yell MOOO! at each other as loud as we can.  My daughter pointed out that the one on the right has a 7 on her face.

And then just past the fjøs is where the horses graze, if that’s the right word; they’re eating silage and hay that have been sprinkled on the snow.  The Shetland pony is Lisa.  Beyond Gimondi, the thoroughbred on the right, is the Oslofjord in the distance.

This is Misty.  We finally got around to giving the goats a trim yesterday,

and today they are out

sunning themselves.

The goats are a bit of a mess these days, they’re spending so much time indoors.  They need a trim and a brush up.  My daughter has said she’ll do it.

I’ve posted so many pictures of Vesla recently.  It’s unfair to the others, so here’s a couple of Holly:

And one of Misty:

I let the goats outside because it wasn’t very cold.  There isn’t much room for them to gallop around, but it makes a pleasant change, I thought.

It may have made Vesla slightly agoraphobic.  She retreated under the little stabbur where we keep their food.

It’s quite cozy under there if you’re her size.

This is where they cut down the spruce forest last autumn.  They left most of the birch trees; you can see them much better now.

Before the snow, they were cutting firewood with this tractor attachment.  We bought some for next year, you can’t really use it until it dries out  properly.

You can kind of see the mist on the horizon.

There’s mist on the lake by our house too.  After a large snowfall, a little machine from the local ski club comes chugging past making two sets of tracks for people to ski in.  Having grown up in England I sometimes use the left hand tracks, but it’s easy to swap over if someone’s coming.


It’s Vesla.  My wife took this picture outside the goathouse at around nine in the evening, the goats’ bedtime, when she went over to turn out their light.

It’s close to a full moon.  I found this one of Vesla among some pictures I took the last time it was full, so it must have been about a month ago.  I’m sure it says the date accurate to the minute somewhere, but we farming types generally go by the phases of the moon.

I suppose I need a telephoto lens to take detailed pictures of the moon.

Someone has to go first.  Might as well be me.

Mmm, granbar.  I wouldn’t touch this stuff in the summer, mind you.

Oops.  Later, dude.  Gotta eat & run.

Can’t get left behind.

Don’t trip over those ears, Misty.

Break right!  Break right!

Go, man, go!

This is the life.

And so to bed.

My wife took this picture.

8 a.m. today. Waiting at Gardemoen airport to greet the U.S. president were Vesla, Misty & Holly

The American president, Barack  Obama, has landed on Norwegian soil.

“Too Busy”.

But Obama’s trip to Oslo to pick up his Nobel peace award is in danger of being overshadowed by a row over the cancellation of a series of events normally attended by the prizewinner.

Norwegians are incensed over what they view as his shabby response to the prize by cutting short his visit.

The White House has cancelled many of the events peace prize laureates traditionally submit to, including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children’s event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre and  a lunch invitation from the King of Norway.

He has also turned down an invitation to meet the goats.

According to a poll published by the daily tabloid Vidergående Geiter, 44% of Norwegians believe it was rude of Obama to turn down a Goat House meeting, with only 34% saying they believe it was acceptable.

“Of all the things he is cancelling, I think the worst is declining the lunch with the goats,” said Siv Jensen, the leader of the largest party in opposition, the populist Progress party. “Even if he doesn’t normally eat hay, this is a central part of Norway’s daily life. He should respect mohair,” she told VG.

Although Obama will not lunch with Holly, Misty and Vesla, they may watch him on television.

The visit will test Obama’s rhetorical skills as he seeks to reconcile acceptance of the Nobel peace prize with snubbing Norway’s goat minority.

Given the chance to stand on top of something,

a goat will do so.

I don’t think this is true of sheep.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been taking the goats here every  lunchtime.  It’s our view towards Oslo twenty kilometres away, and the Oslofjord.  The goats are eager to accompany the dogs and me; they want a last opportunity to forage for the remaining leaves and accessible berries before everything gets covered in frost, or even snow.  This cloud cover gives you some idea of the recent weather, it’s been raining solidly for days.

(And here is an enlargement of the part of the fjord opposite the city centre that Trond is talking about in the comments, below.)

Here are the ripe rowan berries that the goats love.

Rowan grows up through the rocks at the outlook.

There’s the remains of a campfire below on the lower left.  People come up here on summer nights when it’s light, like in an old Bergman film.

We clipped the wool on Vesla’s face, last weekend.  Now she looks more like the others and less like a hedge.

Browsing through this summer’s posts, I came across a blurry picture of Holly’s lower teeth:


So yes, they do indeed have lower teeth.  Even Misty must have teeth in there somewhere:

misty 8

Where are they, though?  I think Holly’s teeth look a bit stained.  According to my daughter, our dog Topsy ought to get her teeth straightened.  Dogs can have braces, she says.

It’s not going to happen.

goat cinema

Two goats go to the cinema.  As they’re watching the movie one of the goats is chewing up a reel of film.  Afterwards, as they’re leaving, the other goat asks,

“So how did you enjoy the film?”

“It was okay, but I preferred the book.”

This joke comes to you from Alma.






Meanwhile Vesla finds a bush of her own:


A picture from our correspondent in the Indian Ocean, Siganus Sutor.  Here are one hundred and twenty-five goats, one dog and a man, probably a goat herd or compulsive pet owner, he recently bumped into in Mauritius.  I’m not sure it’s exactly 125; Sig, who moonlights as a structural engineer, is likely to have added a hefty safety factor.  If you click twice on it, the picture is easier to see.

One hundred and twenty-five goats

V in office

If you walk by the goathouse in the morning, before we let them out, Vesla is often at the window on the left.

ves 2She looks as if she’s in her office, working.  The window is right next to her hay bag, so that may be partly why she spends so much time there.  She’s standing on a raised platform which gives her a good view.  She often spends the whole morning there.

From our Russian correspondent, mab, this story (first posted here):

Here’s the breaking goat news from Russia via The Moscow Times (it’s the silly season for newspapers…) I have to go see this goat and find out the story. I mean, why is he in glasses? And what the ruble around his neck for? Inquiring Readers Want to Know!

We here at Crime Watch like to keep readers abreast of not only the latest gruesome felonies but also of random acts of criminal anarchy.

Some people, it seems, have no shame.

A five-meter tall statue of a goat in the western Russian city of Tver was brutally vandalized this week by unidentified hooligans, who removed the wooden animal’s glasses, broke his tail, tore up his saddle and left him covered in graffiti, the local Tver Information Agency reported.

To add insult to injury, the vandals also stole a large wooden ruble that had been hanging from the neck of the goat, which, according to the report, is one of the city’s most prominent symbols.

The wooden goat has had some troubles in recent years. Last year its head fell off, forcing the cancellation of an event called “A Visit to the Tver Goat,” sparking “deep discontent among city denizens and foreign guests” who had arrived to have their picture taken atop the beast, the news agency said.

The Tver Goat will be on the DL for a while now while undergoing repairs, after which the city will make greater efforts to protect him, the report said.

It’s was unclear from the report whether a criminal hooliganism case had been opened, though we assume Tver City Hall will be pressing for a full investigation.

The glasses are of course the big question, but I wonder what they mean by “sparking ‘deep discontent'”.  It’s a good phrase, that leaves something to the imagination.

2fernBy the fence that runs along the east side of our property is a wood.  Actually it’s more of a forest; more like the dark evergreen forest in a fairytale, a place where witches live and there’s an occasional gingerbread house with smoke curling from the chimney.  We sometimes take the goats through the forest to a rocky point about a twenty-minute walk from our house.  There on a clear day is a view all the way to Oslo, twenty kilometres away.  If you squint, you can even make out Oslo City Hall.

The goats trot in a line, as they do when we take them to the reservoir.


I’ve never to my knowledge actually seen a witch in the forest.  What I have seen is a lot of anthills.  They are all connected.  Apparently there’s an enormous network of anthills that stretches all the way to Chile in the west and Mongolia in the east.  I doubt that they have a proper telephone-like connection.


After ten minutes we come to a clearing.

12pathIt’s bigger than a clearing; it’s where the local authority dug a 40 km-long emergency water pipeline, just in case something goes wrong with the normal one (“Be prepared”, the Norwegian motto).


Removing the trees created a scenic overlook, as well as a strange long line of dead wood.


But what is the point of this walk?


Bugger the view, the point is berries.  So, after some scrambling…


down the side of the rock…


we get to…


some Mountain Ash.  Somehow I lost my trousers on the way down.

8eating mtn ash

This deer is wondering what happened to my trousers.  We hardly ever see deer.


Misty couldn’t care less about my trousers, she loves birch leaves.


To show that I’ve recovered from my rib injury, this morning I stood on a stepladder in the garden and picked the Morello cherries in the photograph below.


Next to the peonies, the tall magenta flower is Geitrams — Goat-rams — aka Rosebay Willowherb or Fireweed, in English.  In Russian it’s Иван-чай узколистный, or Narrow-Leafed Ivan’s Tea.  According to Wikipedia it was used as a tea substitute (when, I don’t know) and by googling I’ve found that some people absolutely love it.  Now I’m going to have to try it.  I would like to include the Mongolian for Geitrams, but I can’t find it and it may not be indigenous.  Oh, all right, in German it’s Das Schmalblättrige Weidenröschen and in French it’s L’Épilobe en épi.

Addendum: In the comments, MMcM draws our attention to this, at

Synonyms—Flowering Willow. French Willow. Persian Willow. Rose Bay Willow. Blood Vine. Blooming Sally. Purple Rocket. Wickup. Wicopy. Tame Withy.
Part used—Herb.
Epilobium angustifolium (Linn.), the Rose Bay Willow-herb, is one of our handsomest wild flowers, and like the Foxglove, is for its beauty often cultivated as a garden plant.

Its tall, erect stems, 4 to 8 feet high, densely clothed with long, narrow, minutely-toothed leaves, terminate in long, showy spikes of flowers of a light rose-purple, hence the name Rose Bay, the leaves having likewise been compared to those of the Bay Laurel. The plant has also been named Blood Vine, because it has a red appearance. In Ireland, we find it called ‘Blooming Sally,’ Sally being a corruption of the Latin Salix, the Willow, really a reference to the willow-like leaves.

Gerard calls it:
‘A goodly and stately plant having leaves like the greatest willow or osier, garnished with brave flowers of great beautie, consisting of four leaves apiece of an orient purple colour.’
It is a native of most countries of Europe. In this country, it has apparently become more common than it was in Gerard’s day. He tells us he had received some plants of this species from a place in Yorkshire, apparently as a rarity, ‘which doe grow in my garden very goodly to behold, for the decking up of houses and gardens.’
It is to be found by moist riversides and in copses, but will sometimes spring up in a town, self-sown, on waste ground recently cleared of buildings: the site of Kingsway and Aldwych in London, adjoining the Strand, where many buildings, centuries old, had been pulled down, was the following summer covered by the Rose Bay Willow-herb, as by a crimson mantle, though no one could explain where the seeds had come from. The same phenomenon was repeated, in Westminster, when other old buildings were demolished for improvements and the ground remained waste for a considerable time. In America, it springs up on ground recently cleared by firing, being one of the plants called ‘Fireweed’ in the United States where it is known as the Great or Spiked Willow-herb, Bay Willow, Flowering Willow, Purple Rocket, Wickup and Wicopy.

The plant is in bloom for about a month.

The individual flowers are about an inch in diameter, calyx and corolla each four-parted; the stamens, eight in number, standing up, form an arch or dome over the ovary, on the green, fleshy, upper surface of which nectar is secreted. Sprengel, in 1790, showed that the flowers, which open soon after sunrise, are protenandrous, i.e. the anthers ripen first, and self-pollination would occur if insects did not visit them. Bees, who much visit the flowers in search of nectar, get smeared by the pollen, which is sticky. It is not left by them on the stigma of the same flower, however, which at this stage is a mere knob, immature and unable to receive the pollen grains. On reaching another flower, further advanced, the stigma, ripe for reception of pollen, has opened out to become a white, four-rayed cross of great distinctness and perforce receives any pollen the insect visitor may have collected as he pushes by to get to the nectar below, and the ovules thus become fertilized.

The dead flowers, when fertilization has been effected, fall off cleanly from the long, projecting, quadrangular pods, which later split into four long strands, which stretch wide apart, disclosing a mass of silky white hairs, in which are embedded the very tiny seeds, a few hairs being attached to the top of each seed. The slightest wind scatters them broadcast over the neighbourhood. All the Willow-herbs distribute their seeds in the same manner, and as the plant spreads extensively by creeping stems it is very difficult to keep it within bounds.

Uses—The leaves of the Rose Bay Willow herb have been used as a substitute and adulterant of Tea. Though no longer so employed in England, the leaves of both this species and of the Great Hairy Willow-herb (E. hirsutum, Linn.) are largely used in Russia, under the name of Kaporie Tea.

Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) reports:
‘The young shoots are said to be eatable, although an infusion of the plant produces a stupifying effect.
‘The pith when dried is boiled, and becoming sweet, is by a proper process made into ale, and this into vinegar, by the Kamtschatdales; it is also added to the Cow Parsnip, to enrich the spirit that is prepared from that plant.
‘As fodder, goats are said to be extremely fond of it and cows and sheep to eat it.
‘The down of the seeds, mixed with cotton or fur, has been manufactured into stockings, etc.’
The young shoots are boiled and eaten like asparagus.
The ale made from the plant in Kamchatka is rendered still more intoxicating with a toadstool, the Fly Agaric, Agaricus muscarius.

Medicinal Action and Uses—The roots and leaves have demulcent, tonic and astringent properties and are used in domestic medicine in decoction, infusion and cataplasm, as astringents.

Used much in America as an intestinal astringent.

The plant contains mucilage and tannin.

The dose of the herb is 30 to 60 grains. It has been recommended for its antispasmodic properties in the treatment of whoopingcough, hiccough and asthma.

In ointment, it has been used locally as a remedy for infantile cutaneous affections.

By some modern botanists, this species is now assigned to a separate genus and designated: Chamcenerion angustifolium (Scop.).


Topsy’s favourite way to sit is with her back legs one step higher than her front.  She seems to find it more comfortable that way.


It’s been a while since I showed any goat & hen pictures, so here’s one even though I don’t have much to say about it.

cloudy & vesla

All right, here’s another one:

cloudy & ves 2

Cloudy loves hanging out with the goats.

When we went tilting yesterday it was only a ten-minute drive from our house, but it was all uphill.  In the foreground below is an Icelandic horse.


We went in fact to an Icelandic-horse farm:


where there’s an oldish Norwegian guy who teaches tilting.  Here he is, check his foot-long knife for getting stones out of horses’ hooves:


Actually it’s just Alma who is learning to tilt properly, not me.  So, when they rode off …


I was supposed to sit and eat waffles on the steps outside the stabbur:


but I didn’t do that.  I followed them on foot, taking pictures of things I passed.  All over Norway are massive volcanic boulders striated with different stone and moss, and I love them:


In the winter a lot of skiing goes on here.  This cabin by the side of the path belongs to the skiers; ‘fiskbein’ — I suppose we’d call it ‘herringbone’ — is how you go uphill without slipping backwards.  I think ‘slalam’ is originally a Norwegian word, but no doubt somebody can put me right about that.


Never mind skiing, WHAT IS TILTING???  I can hear your frustration at this shaggy-dog story.

Icelandic horses have five gaits;  they can walk, trot, canter and gallop like other horses, but in addition they can do this extraordinary additional movement that is best seen in a moving picture. In Norwegian it’s called tølt, in Icelandic it’s tölt and in English it’s ‘tolt’ or ’tilt’.  There’s a Wikipedia article here, on gaited horses, that includes a discussion of it from Chambers’ 1728 Cyclopedia.

Here is Alma practising:


It really is quite difficult, a knack.  You have to relax your legs, but still indicate to the horse that she should be going forwards, ‘full tilt’, so to speak:


I guess the old Norwegian guy — we’ll call him Einar, because that’s his name — was doing it correctly here:


Einar was very friendly despite the enormous knife.  He can tilt like a pro.  It is one of those walking and chewing gum things that I know I’m never going to be able to master.

As you know by now, the goats spend the day up at the reservoir eating their way round it.  They enjoy their summer job, but in the evenings when I collect them they always seem very pleased to be going home.


Especially Vesla:


Look at those ears go.




When they come to the road …


they walk a little way, and …


they come to a stop .  They want me to go first.  Holly’s Errol Flynn moustache comes from eating sticky evergreen bark.


They’re quite happy walking behind me.


They see all sorts of potential trouble lurking in the shadows.  It’s odd, they weren’t so worried last year.  I wonder if it’s a phase, or if they can remember a bad experience that occurred along here?  I can’t think what that might have been.


The goats recently started their summer job with the local council, which is to eat their way around the fenced-in, grass-bermed concrete emergency water reservoir up the road from our house. Here they are on their first morning, on the way to work:
hi ho
They have taken to walking in single file like this. You can almost hear them going “Hi-ho, hi-ho…”

with tops

(That’s Topsy, the dog, at the back thinking I can’t count higher than three.)
Of the goats, Vesla’s obliged by the others to be last in the crocodile (and even then she still gets butted).
more pipes
The council are storing bits of pipe up there; the goats occasionally jump on them. The weather has been very changeable lately.
Then the work begins. They start with weeds:


(It’s worse than spaghetti, everyone looks …


… a bit silly …


… chewing dandelions.)


and work their way up to the leaves. This is a tree they love, I don’t know what it is.



Note the good shot of Holly’s lower teeth:


By this time, they have reached the top of the grass berm and are on the asphalted roof of the reservoir.


It has a good view, and goats seem to instinctively like to go to the tops of things.


And if your job is eating greenery, you might go to an asphalted place to take a break.


This was what happened next:









Vesla doesn’t usually start butting contests.  I think she may have been asserting her right to the leaves I pick her when she can’t reach.








I see I haven’t written anything about the goats since their seventeenth of May celebration.  I don’t want to lose my goat audience; they could so easily sign up eløsewhere, like the NSG site (Norwegian Sheep and Goat).  Talking of celebrations: like everyone else, goats have birthdays.  Holly’s and Misty’s are only two days apart in April.  Alma, my daughter, makes them all a birthday meal.



Which they might eat inside the house:

holly in the kitchen

Or outside:


Or both.


And then in the goathouse:







Holly working.

Holly working. (Click to enlarge.)

An interesting anatomical feature of some vegetarian animals is that they don’t have upper front teeth. Goats still have 32 teeth just like we do — some of usteeth3 — but they’re placed differently. We use our front teeth for biting and the back ones for chewing; whereas cattle and goats have 24 molars and premolars top and bottom to chew with, but their 8 incisors are all attached to the front of the lower jaw. On the top a goat has what’s called a ‘dental pad’

Misty eating windflowers

Misty eating windflowers

it’s a patch of tough skin covering the gums.

Goats eat leaves and tree bark and grass. misty31While a cow uses her terrifically long tongue to wrap around a clump of grass and her lower incisors cut it off, goats don’t have long tongues and they seem to simply bite the leaves against the dental pad. (Inci-dental-ly, in the picture below you can see that goats’ eyes have rectangular pupils.)misty2They swallow their food mostly unchewed. misty4This behaviour goes back to their wild ancestors’ habit of dashing out from under cover to eat and run back before getting mugged by the neighbourhood meat-eaters.  A goat’s stomach has four compartments. The food enters the first, called the rumen, for a short time and then it is pushed back up through the esophagus and into the mouth, where it is chewed and re-chewed. This is cud chewing, and it goes on for  hours. misty5If you see a goat or cow apparently chewing gum, it is more likely that it actually has cud in its mouth.  Cud chewing decreases the particle size of the stalks and leaves, making the chopping function of front teeth unnecessary.

Goats aren’t the only animals with a dental pad instead of upper incisor teeth; most ruminants — sheep, cows, deer and camels — are the same. Horses, like us, are ‘monogastrics’, they have one stomach. Horses don’t ruminate, and like many of us they have upper front teeth.  It’s possible to tell what kind of stomach an animal has by looking at its teeth. No upper incisors means ruminant.  Cows and goats can lose their teeth after 10 years, a condition known as peg teeth. Since their teeth wear down at a known rate (cows chew at a rate of about fifty-thousand jaw movements a day), tooth wear can be used to deduce age.misty6


Misty. It's not really blood, she's just been licking the red salt-lick.

Siganus Sutor, our correspondent in the Indian Ocean, has started a blog — you can look at it here and it’s in the blogroll — it’s about the French language as it is used in Mauritius.  It lists all sorts of words and expressions that are used there; some come via English or from India, but they’re French.  It is really interesting and fun to read.

There was one thing about goats, that Sig put in a comment here yesterday.  I find it so extraordinary that I think it requires a post of its own.  This is what Sig wrote:

In Mauritius “la bouche cabri” (the goat’s mouth) refers to someone who mentions something bad that might happen and who makes it happen. I thought this caprine Cassandra had an English-speaking equivalent in the Caribean, and here it is, amazingly:

51. ‘Im ‘av’ goat mout’
He has a goat’s mouth

A person is said to have a goat’s mouth when he/she wishes another evil, and the wishes are fulfilled. It also applies to one who has the foresight to discern impending danger and forewarn those concerned. In either case, one is likely to say “‘im ‘av’ goat mout’,” or “‘im put’im goat mout ‘pon” whoever suffers.

P. 119, Jamaican sayings, By G. Llewellyn Watson

One can only hope that Norwegian goats never learn the tricks from their faraway cousins.

Sig mentions a blog from Trinidad, Small Island Girl,who says in her own piece entitled ‘Goat Mouth’:

In Trinidad they say you have goat mouth when if you say like don’t do that you’ll cut yourself and two minutes after you cut yourself then they say you have goat mouth …

But she’s really talking about a visit she made in 2005 to the Tobago Jazz festival, on the island where she grew up,  She goes on,

… don’t know where that came from but that was my experience that night every time I say something it happened so there was like a Jazz village set up with people selling art and craft and food it was nice the place was not bad I was impressed and I said I wonder if my favourite artist will be here lets go look low and behold he is there in person I go up to him and started rambling on about how I love him and his art and I have one of his paintings in my living room and I can’t afford his originals yet but I am saving for it one day I was talkng rubbish and he said real serious you can’t afford my art but you can afford this show? and he made me laugh I said you have a point 

Actually it’s a really interesting blog that makes you want to head immediately for the Caribbean, but that’s another story.  I want to know why this expression, ‘goat mouth’ — la bouch cabri — appears in two different languages off the coast of two different continents.  Did it originate in Africa?  If anyone can explain it, please post a comment.

vesle-as-zebraWhen they’ve been sheared, the goats wear coats for a couple of weeks.  It’s just to allow enough time for their wool to grow out a little bit so they won’t get cold.  Immediately following a shearing, the other goats seem to pretend not to recognise their colleague underneath her new look; each sheared member of the flock has to reestablish her position in the heirarchy.  Being the smallest, Vesla has the hardest time.  You would think that being bottom of the heap would mean she doesn’t have much of a position to reestablish, but it doesn’t work that way.  She gets butted for a day or two and has to take part in lots of five-minute challenge matches.

With this in mind, a few years ago my wife made Vesla a special coat from some zebra-striped fabric she’d bought on sale in Olso.  When the others saw her, they absolutely freaked.  ‘What the hell is this?’ they seemed to be saying, while Vesla trotted around going ‘I’m a zebra, I’m a zebra’.  It worked very well.  This is the only picture I can find of Vesla in her zebra coat.  You can see the effect better on Alma, who got one too.


What I said in answer to mab’s question the other day — it was about how to remove all the grass and seeds that accumulate in the wool of the goats — what I replied was utter rubbish, according to my wife.  I think I might have said that we card the wool with a wire brush before we spin it.  Well, we don’t.  Nope, that would completely ruin it.  To have this lovely wool and then destroy it’s … by … would, in fact, be a crime.  She told me the details, but I’ve forgotten and now she’s busy.  I’ll ask again later.  I do remember she said we comb the wool rather than card it and we pick out the shriveled blades of grass and seeds by hand.

Nijma asked me the other day if goats climb trees. They do, although most are not as extreme as this Moroccan herd:goats-in-trees-photoshot-510x566You can see more of them in this video.

The Moroccan herds only climb one sort of tree and they do it because they’re especially fond of its fruit. The tree is the Argan, which grows up to 10 metres high.  Its thorny, twisted branches make it fairly easy for goats to climb (unfortunately you can’t see this in the video, they are only jumping out).  The fruit is supposed to be ‘similar to an olive’, though I’m not sure how.

1280px-argania_spinosa1The farmers — Berbers of the Sous valley in S.W. Morocco —  follow their goats from tree to tree, collecting the nut inside the fruit, which the goats spit out or excrete. The kernels are ground up to make argan oil which is used for cooking and in cosmetics.  More about the Argan tree at Wikipedia.


By a tremendous coincidence there is an article about goats in trees and  argan oil in today’s Dagbladet, a Norwegian daily newspaper.  Even if you don’t understand the text, the pictures are worth looking at.  Saturday 25 April 2009.

Here are Holly and Misty when they were one-year-olds.

Height rules in butting.  I suppose the blurry bits show that having been on their back legs now they were coming back down.   This is just butting for the hell of it.  Practise, practise, practise.


After lots of bureaucratic hassle — goats need official goat-papers if they are to cross the county boundary — we bought our three-month old angora goats from a wonderful farm about an hour’s drive from where we live.p5100319Misty above and Holly & Misty below.

p5100321They had to be three months old before they could be moved. We visited them almost from the day they were born (this one is Misty).


There’s a museum where they have a collection of  old buildings, down the road from us.  This is an early fire station.  I wondered if the goats couldn’t live in something like it, but it turned out they need full enclosure — not from the cold, they just hate draughts.


We rebuilt an existing garage to house them.


I don’t enjoy carpentry — becoming an architect was meant to be a way of avoiding it — I think it’s boring, but we needed a goat house…


It gets quite humid inside.  In the winter, the condensation freezes on the windows…


and makes lovely crystal patterns…


Snow Leopard asked what we do with the wool.  In the post below this you can see, in the Christmas picture, on the left hand side, the corner of a spinning wheel that my wife spins yarn on.  In this picture Misty is wearing a scarf that my daughter knitted from her wool (they dyed it using some sort of natural dye, a yellow flower) — and jolly warm and soft it is too, I wear it in very cold weather.


That’s a really good shot above of our bright-yellow wood chipper, or whatever they’re called — branch and twig eaters — before I smashed the plastic casing by dropping a bale of hay on it.  Those were the days.  Anyway, below is a close-up of the coat of a newly-sheared goat.  The softest wool comes from young goats, except for Vesle (top right in the above picture), whose wool will always be the top quality.


My good friend Jim (of Caviar and Codfish, on my blogroll) asked if the goats ever come indoors, and of course they do…pc310038Holly eating a waffle.


And at Christmas they come in for a glass of sherry and a piece of Christmas pudding.  This is Holly again, always the last one to leave.

I swore I wouldn’t do this.  Here is a rather sweet picture of Misty when she was young.holly

In the summer our goats mostly eat leaves, but of course there haven’t been any proper leaves for five months.  Over the past few weeks I have cut down about fifteen christmas trees for them.  Although they munch needles and branches it’s mostly the bark they want —  I think they’re after the sap: it’s sticky and bitter (horrible bitter chewing gum, I’ve tried it) and it leaves them with black moustaches.  I do this every year, but I’d forgotten and only realised they needed some wood to chew on when I noticed that they’d been nibbling the paneling and wooden furniture in the goat house. img_9361

John Emerson:  Those are sort of foo-foo looking goats, though, sort of high-society social parasite looking goats.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Language Hat:  The kind of goats who will eat only imported tin cans.

Here are some pictures that show their tougher side:

img_74281Number 4145 is Misty.  If you remove the number from her ear the authorities could say she’s not legally a goat, not a goat on paper, otherwise I would do so.

img_7427We shear them twice a year, and after they have been sheared they wear coats for two weeks in case it gets cold.  This is Vesla, the small one; note that her horns are smaller too.
holly (l.) & misty
A friendly butt from Misty.  Note that Holly, on the left, has blue eyes; it’s very unusual and her best feature, in my opinion.  Misty’s brown eyes are more friendly, except when she butts you. Misty my favourite goat, she is the smartest and the best communicator.
img_3092They don’t look so tough when their wool has grown out a bit.  Remember that these are angora goats, not milking goats.  They supply us with very soft, warm mohair wool.

Yesterday, Snow Leopard made the comment ‘Having three goats must make for some interesting goat politics‘.  That is a good observation, so I thought today I would try to describe their hierarchy.  Goats have their position on the social ladder decided by head-butting contests.  They battle each other like medieval knights, one-on-one.  Here’s how to win:


1. Height rules, so stand on higher ground than your opponent and then get up on your hind legs.

2. Cock your head sideways and eye your opponent’s head.

3. Butt your horns downwards on to the other goat.  She will just stand there while you are doing this.

Next, charge at your opponent’s side and butt her in the ribs as hard as you can.

Repeat these steps until your opponent runs away (you have won).

It is not as straightforward as it sounds, though.  The biggest one in the herd isn’t necessarily head goat.  It takes time to learn fighting skills.  Supposing you are a short, but ambitious goat and you want to make an impression on the others: a good trick is to hook your horns underneath your opponent’s body and jerk your head upwards fast.  It’s not just physical, brains play nearly as big a part as brawn.  Being able to convince your opponents you’re unbeatable isn’t a question of size, it is about how confident you appear even when inside you might feel like running away.  It’s like becoming a good poker player, you have to learn how to bluff.  It’s fun to watch a contest because you can see all this going through the winner’s mind as they’re doing battle.

What’s the point of being head goat?  It is mostly about food.  You get first choice of everything while the others just stand back and wait until you are finished.  If there is a catch it is that the other goats are going to be expecting you to stand in front when they come face to face with a panting great dane.  You never know how goats are going to react with a dog: sometimes they run, sometimes the dog runs, sometimes they all run and sometimes they just sniff each other.  It isn’t about size, there’s a lot  more to it than that: body-language things, carnivores and herbivores.

We have three Angora (or Mohair) goats:  Holly; her cousin Misty, who is her age and breed——part Asiatic and part Texas (Texas is smaller, but with the softest, finest wool)——and Vesle (Vesle means ‘Tiny’ in Norwegian) who is unrelated to the others, one year older and a Texan goat.

Vesle is really small, pure Texas, no bigger than a retriever, although unsheared she seems a lot fatter——more like a little pig than a dog.  Vesle gets beaten up by Misty all the time, but although she is much smaller than Holly, as well, of those two it’s Vesle who is the boss.  Early on, when Holly was small, she won the head-butting and now she keeps her position by giving Holly at least one butt every day.  Holly isn’t bottom, it’s a vicious circle——literally——what happens is this: Holly butts Misty, Misty charges at Vesle and Vesle hooks Holly from underneath.  So Holly butts Misty again and they do the whole thing one more time, only running.

butting, plan view

Vesle leaving the reservoir after a hard day's work.

This picture shows Vesla on her way home.  During the summer our three goats are employed by the local council to eat their way around the water reservoir up the road, thereby tidying up the undergrowth.  The notice says ‘Goats grazing – lock the gate!’.

Misty & Vesle: old enemies.