July 2007
On the Edge of Common Sense

Cows and Goats

by Baxter Black, DVM

Vicki asked if I’d ever run any goats. None, I said. We don’t have the right fence. Matter of fact, in Arizona we work on one of the lower investment management principles, the "illusion of a fence."

It seems to work well on my cows. I inherited lots of old fence and corrals along with the cows I bought. Cows walk up to a two-strand barbed wire fence with one willer stay and then confer, "Whoa back, Bessie, I believe this is our perimeter. We can not advance further!"

"What ya’ mean we can’t advance further! We could walk under that water gap carrying the Mexican flag and juggling avocados."

"No, no Bessie, not here in Arizona. If it looks like a fence, it is one. Therefore, we can’t go through it."

"Well, if you say so, but back in Wyoming, this here fence wouldn’t even cause a bevy of tumbleweeds to break their step!"

If a goat were overhearing this conversation, he would be dumbfounded!

In San Angelo the country is covered with miles and miles of net wire fence. It’s tight, with good posts and is well maintained. It is necessary because as they say, "A goat can go anywhere coal oil can!"

I guess my cows lack ingenuity. They will eat mesquite beans out of a tree head high, but no higher. A goat will stand on his hind legs and graze. I can’t ever remember my cows standing upright or even placing their front feet on the cow in front of them to reach higher. You’d have thought that somewhere in the evolution of the cow, a bull in breeding season would have noticed that there are times in his daily routine when he is actually 3 feet taller! But apparently he’s too occupied to look around.

Now that I’m thinking about it, why not therapeutic high-heeled insteps for cows! Each hoof could be fitted with 3-4 inch cloven cow shoes. It would increase their available mesquite bean forage by 4 feet (48 inches divided by 4 inches equals a 12% increase!)

I discussed this with a group of local goats who agreed on the cows’ inability to improvise. "They are so bovine, so dense, so plodding," said the Secretary of Goats. "They are stopped by chicken wire and ocotillo sticks. I’ve never seen anything like it. My gosh, they don’t even have prehensile lips!

"…And about your idea of wearing artificial shoes to make cows taller, don’t even think about it for us. Before we’d wear special goat shoes, we’d learn to climb trees, develop the opposable thumb and become computer literate. We could do it too! Lesser species of animals have. Just look at you!"

I stared back at the goat, overwhelmed by his logic, switched my cud to the other side and commenced to meditate.

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.