I got in a fight with a goat, once. It was late last year, and I was volunteering at a goat sanctuary once a week, which meant that I was mucking poop for four hours every Monday, a practice I found weirdly, wonderfully fulfilling. It was wet during that wintertime, so one day we spread wood chips, and as I climbed up the little mountain of them to fill a bucket my legs sank into the pile and in that firm, half-buried stance, I plunged in my shovel and felt some deep, ancestral memory in my body sigh, Yes.
The majority of goats in a goat sanctuary are boys. It makes sense, when you think about it, but I'd never thought about it, until the sanctuary staffer pointed it out—this wild inverse to the human value system. Male goats who are born in dairies are worthless, so they’re often killed. In this sanctuary, there were more than a dozen of them, many sizes and breeds, one missing a leg and some missing their horns or probably their balls, and on this farm, they weren’t expected to do a single thing except live. They were happy. They came charging when I approached lugging the morning’s hay, but even when I wasn’t feeding them, one or another would saunter over as I swept or shoveled poo and nudge me, or rub against me, like an enormous, inflexible cat.
On my first day, I noticed one named Jupiter who stayed apart from the pack, often at the edge of the vast fenced enclosure. He was tall, and brown-black, missing his horns but growing an epic goatee. He’d been watching me a bit throughout the day, but it wasn’t until I put down all the tools and was getting ready to leave that he walked over, a bit tentatively, and then leaned his head against my chest.
He stood still, sidelong to me, resting his long neck across my torso. I put my hands up and pet it with one, cradling his skull with the other. Eventually, he rubbed his head up and down, up and down, against me as I stroked his body, and I remember feeling like it went on for a really long time but also that it could never end but eventually, I walked away from him, got in my car, and drove away.
I think it was two weeks later that we argued. I was putting hay in the secondary feeding area that’s set up to make sure smaller or less aggressive goats still get food while bullies are crowding the main trough, and Jupiter came over there, and started butting out a tiny chestnut-brown goat named Jonathan.