C.T. and I have been in our log kit home in the Sierra Nevadas for just over a year now. Reflecting on nearly two decades of cooperative living at Heathcote, I still long to be back in an Intentional Community.
Has it happened organically around us here? ”We have eleven mouths to feed every day,” C.T. just observed this morning. Let me count that out:
Floyd, the landlords’ horse
Shiloh, a puppy we’re petsitting
Leeloo, our cat
Cricket, our Sheltie
Tonka, our male Akbash
Dana, our female Akbash
Ponder, our bottle baby goat
Guru, our big horned wether
Story, our middle sized goat
Yep, eleven. We smiled to think of our rag tag group being the community we wish we had. Of course, it’s not “Intentional Community” in two core ways: It’s heavily hierarchical and no one but the humans and the cat can be said to have chosen it. All the others were. shall we say, kidnapped, or at least recruited without their input. Neither did existing members get to weigh in on new arrivals, just us humans. So structurally, it’s more like a family, with parents choosing to add children.
Goats and dogs are considered to rely heavily on hierarchy in social groups. Although that’s not their whole story, it’s not untrue. And in our big family, hierarchy plays out every hour.
At the bottom of the goat ladder is Ponder, our bottle baby Alpine. She had rough beginnings, and is the smallest. She’s also very Mama-focused, which creates jealousy and also inspires her to do ungoatlike things. Guru constantly bullies her, like a drill sergeant trying to build a better soldier.
Ponder was the first arrival and Tonka was the second. When he got of of the car and saw the little baby goat he was brought to protect, he fell in love. Ponder is closer to the dogs than the other goats as a result.
So she’s always been curious to make friends with our little Sheltie, Cricket. Let’s list the ways this has not gone well:
1) Cricket broke her hip as a pup and fears being pushed or knocked down, which can be painful
2) Ponder, like Guru and Story, has horns
3) Goats gently butt heads/horns to say hello
4) When Ponder gets close to Cricket, intending to butt hello, she realizes she’s bigger than the dog and has an opportunity to dominate someone else. She can’t resist, and the hello becomes a die, demon scum!
I’m mama to both so when I sit with the herd, Cricket and Ponder both want to sit in my lap or at my feet. Die, demon scum plays out, over and over. When Cricket sees the various goats head butting or just chasing after each other as they leapfrog from one pile of hay to another, she barks an alarm. To her, horns equal violence and goats must be stopped. But she’s just eleven months old. She has a long time to learn to appreciate goat subtlety.
The combined goat and dog group has an overall hierarchy, apart from the goat and dog specific lists. They respect that dogs are just goats that have their horns in their mouths (innies) or that goats are just dogs with their fangs on top of their heads (outies), depending on perspective.
The ladder goes something like this:
Tonka–Normally livestock guard dogs should be below their goats or sheep, serving them while not being aggressive toward them. But after some early issues with food aggression and some bad moods overnight in the barn stall, The others give way to Tonka, who is gentle and patient with his charges. Now.
Guru–Not a lovable brute like Tonka, Guru is more like that curled mustache/dressed in black bad guy from the Old West, tying damsels to train tracks while speaking in a strangely out of place British accent. He’s strong as a pony but his dominance comes from endless micro aggressions. Being much larger and older than the does, he has several responsibilities: watching for danger, teaching the others what to eat and what to avoid, punishing bad goat behavior and advocating for the group to the humans.
Story–We often call her the little serial killer. She’s constantly looking for ways to bully ponder and anyone else down the line. But it’s not random. She has the most to lose. Being only slightly heaver than Ponder, she could actually lose her place as second goat.
Ponder–In two separate bullying events, Guru broke the tips off both of Ponder’s horns. This had an interesting effect: She now has sharp, knife tipped weapons which she loves to use on:
Dana–Dana is happy to occupy the traditional livestock guard dog place under the goats. Other than play fights with Tonka and barking at deer and jackrabbits who dare to threaten her charges, she is never aggressive. But just when she falls off to sleep or gets a comfortable spot under a tree, here comes Ponder to poke the one herd member she can.
Cricket–Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me. Goats are just wrong. Dana, let me stand on your head. I’m big! Whee, I’m fast! Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me. Goats are just wrong. Mama…Whee, I’m fast!