The tragedy of goats

According to the Christian bible, judgment day has us being divided into two groups of people. Sheep represent the good group, goats the bad.

As I’ve said for years, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don’t.

In the Christian version of separating the people into flocks, sheep will reap the rewards of a life of servitude. Sheep go to church, pay their taxes, and watch television without questioning the messages of God or culture. Goats pay little attention to God or others. They’re independent, intellectually curious beasts. The bible throws in several disparaging comments about goats and their habits.

Needless to say, I prefer goats.

Here in the real world, goats are mischievous, curious, sociable, playful creatures. They welcome any opportunity to escape their pen, just to exhibit their intellect. They pull down anything we try to put out of their reach, and pull up what we try to pin down. As nearly as we can determine, ours like to play with the dogs and take evening walks down to the river.

Ellie (aka L.E., aka Long-Eared Cutie Pie) surveys her domain from atop her perch while Lillian searches for food

Most of all, though, goats like to eat. Just as they try to dismember anything their hooves can reach, so too do they take a nibble of anything within range of their mouths. Shoestrings, shirttails, and buttons are fair game, along with rope and shadecloth. Among the results of edible food are two we particularly appreciate: goat milk and goat shit. The former is high-fat food, the latter is high-quality compost for the gardens.

Autumn typically is rain-free here. This year, we’ll take advantage of the dry weather to harvest abundant poop from the goat pen and apply it directly to the then-recently harvested potato patch. Potatoes are heavy feeders, so the patch could use the nutrients. By the time we plant next spring, the compost will be working its magic. Nonetheless, we won’t plant potatoes there, though we haven’t decided which nitrogen-fixing plant to work into the rotation.

The other product from our goats is even more immediately rewarding, which better matches the American notion of instant gratification. We drink the milk raw (i.e., unpasteurized) and make a wide variety of cheeses. Goat milk is homogenized, so the cream does not float to the top. We have a cream separator with which to separate the cream, thus producing skim milk and the basis for butter and ice cream. We haven’t yet used this device because we’ve been using any excess milk to make cheese. So far, we’ve made chevre, Romano, mozzarella, Colby, cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan.

Our single adult, milk-producing goat generates three to four quarts daily. We typically consume between two and three of those quarts when we’re all here on the property. I’m here for about three weeks while my partners travel, so I’m making hard cheeses. Between stints typing this essay, I am making my third and fourth two-pound wheels of cheddar this week while watering the potato patch.

Making cheese is so easy, even I can do it. Ingredients include milk, culture (we use cultured buttermilk or yogurt, the latter of which can be made from milk), a coagulant (we use commercially available rennet, but citrus juice, vinegar, or extracts from local plants will work), and sometimes a little salt. The only necessary technologies are a cheese press and the ability to raise the temperature of milk to 120 F. We use a relatively inexpensive press, but you can make your own with little effort (although controlling the pressure is challenging in the absence of a specialty press).

As I make the cheese, I’m taking occasional quick trips to check the water and the animals. Each time I go outside the house, the goats sing to me. The etymological root of the English word “tragedy” is the Greek word “tragōidía,” which means goat song. So every time the goats cry to me as I pass them by, I say the same thing: “I know, I know. It’s a tragedy.”

They don’t understand my humor. But the ducks laugh every time.


This post is permalinked at Energy Bulletin. There, as in the comments here, a reader takes issue with my interpretation of the Christian bible. Interestingly, I received an unsolicited message from a biblical scholar who agrees with my interpretation. Not that we should take that conclusion on authority, even if we’re discussing the ultimate authority-based document.

Comments 32

  • What a wonderful essay Guy =)
    Thank you, I’ve never been so proud of being a goat.

  • Cool Beans.
    The goat/sheep cheese-thing is definitely on my list…just as soon as the other wild lot is ours.
    I like the Idea of Goats, as opposed to Sheep…in this sense, I am also a Goat.
    As far as meat, I prefer college, I consumed probably fifty goats…a few of those were old billies,tasted just like they smelled,lol.

  • Bello, Guy, veramente bello:-) So, you actually make parmigiano cheese? My wife’s father was from the province of Reggio Emilia (right next to Parma) and right smack-dab in Italy’s parmigiano area. I remember we used to buy big piece of Parmigiano directly from the producers when we’d visit my wife’s folks in the mountains and the taste of that cheese was something that you’ll never get from a store. Good memories:-)

  • Loved this one…and to readers out there, I can vouch for the excellence of the cheeses from the pleasure of personal experience!

  • Guy,
    Your New Testament exegesis is rather wide of the mark, but your point is well taken nonetheless (though I still prefer sheep to goats for other reasons). The Jesus of the Gospels was much more goat-like than you might think. He never went to church without getting into trouble, never paid taxes (no income), and never tired of questioning the popular mythologies of god and country that were current in his day. You might have even liked him.

    Theology aside, I envy your cheese making. My Jersey gives 2 gallons a day, most of which I trade to very grateful friends for things they have to barter. I thought hard cheeses were harder to make and I haven’t tried yet.

  • Thanks for the first-time comments Sue, joe pinter/Amfortas, and Brad (if I’m not mistaken). john, Parmesan is my best so far — it’s consistently flavorful, and the flavor is good. My cheddar is incredibly uneven, and my Monterey Jack looks and tastes like Swiss. Thanks for the endorsement, Mark. And Brad, my apologies for lack of understanding about theology, but I do not doubt the biblical Jesus was goat-like. Hard cheeses really are quite easy with a decent (floating) thermometer and press. And with two gallons each day you could produce enough for the average rural county.

  • Hum….as a dairy goat farmer, I am speechless. I have to admit, there are times I just hate my goats! Of course, you are only working with a few, I have 30 of them and fall has arrived and the bucks are going nuts. Screamed all day they did! Keeping them in? As the saying goes, if a fence will hold water it will hold goats. But, as with all seasons, this will pass, breeding is just around the corner, then dry off with an end to cheese making in November and a well deserved rest. This has been a good season for the pasture but cheese sales have been down.

    As to sheep, I own a bunch of them too and these sheep are no ordinary sheep, they are Viking Sheep! (Icelandics) For those who think the Vikings conquered Iceland, WRONG! It was the sheep, mean nasty little things, they forced the Norse to build long boats so they could go out conquering. Do as they please, run off, won’t follow, fight the dog off and are just as smart as goats. If they could flip you the bird, they would. Not the kind of sheep common in Palestine 2000 years ago.

    I have to agree with Brad, just a bit wide on the theology mark. The sheep and the goats comparison was directed towards people within what would become the church, those who were followers and those who were not. It was not directed to people outside the church. And yes, Jesus of Nazareth was a real trouble maker, that is why he wound up on a cross, poked the religious leaders in the eye one to many times.

    As to the church today, I don’t think they would recognize him (Jesus) if he showed up for a service, and they probably won’t like him much either. That’s what you get for being counter culture. He is worthy of study, his life, times and culture and don’t let his modern day followers distract you. I took three semesters of Classical Hebrew in college and it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life, but it didn’t make me popular at church, so I understand your frustration with modern-day Christianity.

    I am glad your cheese making is going well. We had visitors today, a young couple aspiring to have a small dairy and to become cheese makers as well. It is always a pleasure to pass along what we have learned, not only on cheese making, but sustainable farming and low energy living.

  • When your goat has passed its prime and you need to recyle whatever is left of the dear animal, bear in mind that goat is commonly eaten around the world, and that goat leather is normally superior to sheep leather.

  • Down the road from us is La Buena Vida Farms, run by a young couple and designed to make locally grown food available to us in this corner of Arizona. This year they raised some male kid goats for slaughter and I bought some of the meat, which was so mild it didn’t have that lamb/venison taste at all, which I actually missed. It was very very good, just unlike all like the goat I’ve eaten in Peru, Mexico, Guyana and the Dominican Republic, all of which was very tasty goat too.

  • Good to hear about your goat adventures!

    We’ve got six Nubians, which are wonderful companions and entertainers.

    Recently, we took them blackberry picking with us. You’d think with a huge pasture full of reed canary grass and nearby alders and maples — all their favourites — they wouldn’t be right out in the middle of the blackberries with us, walking on our ladders, pulling thorny vines across our ankles and necks. But they’d rather be with us than in the finest pasture on their own.

    We’ve taken to sneaking about the place, because if they spot us outside even from afar, they’ll come running up to the closest spot in the fence, bleating as though we were leaving them forever!

    Yea, fencing goats can be challenging, except for this one thing to always keep in mind: make it more attractive to them inside the fence than outside!

    So if you have a buck on one side and does on the other, you’ve got trouble. If you’ve got a barren, dusty field on one side and a nice garden on the other, more trouble.

    We use two strands of electric, at knee and hip height. Goats are both intelligent and feel pain much more intensely than other domestic animals — a combination that lends itself well to electric fence.

    We’re constantly dumping stuff they love inside the fence. Garden trimmings, maple and alder boughs, ground-fall fruit — all are useful for making life inside the fence attractive.

    Also, implement a rotating paddock system. Because they’re intelligent, goats get bored easily. When they start escaping the electric, I know it’s past due rotating them to the next paddock. When I open a new paddock, they actually forget they’re spoiled and quit running up and screaming at us for a few days!

    Finally, they’re great ambassadors for our rural, sustainable life-style. If I had the heart, I’d get rich just charging people a buck or two (pun intended) to go out and play with them.

    “Controlling the pressure” of a home-made cheese press is not difficult: hang a ten-pound body-builder’s weight off of a five-foot rod, which is attached at one end to a fixed point on the press, and attached one foot away from that to a vertical rod that drives the follower — there’s the specified 40 pounds of pressure! Or just buy 40 pounds of gym weights — they’re almost free at thrift stores, since people buy them on an exercise whim and quickly tire of them.

    Guy, you’re really missing something by not using your cream separator! “Zero-mile” ice cream is something very special, and if you have enough electricity for a deep-freeze, is just as good a milk preservation technique as any — except it doesn’t really last long enough to “preserve!”

    The separator works best on warm milk, so I make half-skim feta or mozzarella immediately after separating, to avoid chilling and re-heating the skim milk. This is not just an energy savings — subjecting milk to yo-yo temperatures encourages the wrong sort of bacterial growth and shortens its life.

    I could go on and on about my favourite creatures and their gifts to us, but I’m probably boring those who have yet to discover that goats are perhaps the ideal Permaculture domestic animal.

  • Now Guy why did you need to get all personal like that? I read your blog every day, every single day. I am a great admirer of your work. The crack at Christians in this Essay was below you frankly. I’m glad that you obviously have so many readers that you can afford to throw them casually away on a whim. What Brad said just about summed it up so I wont say anymore except to say that I am disappointed in you Guy on this occasion.


    ‘green manure’ crops as opposed to the use of manure

    manure, according to Fukuoka is good for the plant
    but not necessarily for the soil – ‘natural farming’
    – put that mattock down! add layers of straw and green
    manure crops

    the wife is sending me on a bread making course in a couple of weeks,
    and now she wants me to learn how to make cheese!

    – timely, nice post Guy

    ps – just put stored 25kg (I years worth) of honey…

  • Out of the mouths of babes….

    DARWIN LYRICS by Low Anthem

    Charlie Darwin

    Set the sails I feel the winds a’stirring
    Toward the bright horizon set the way
    Cast your reckless dreams upon our Mayflower
    Haven from the world and her decay

    And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
    Fighting for a system built to fail
    Spooning water from their broken vessels
    As far as I can see there is no land

    Oh my god, the waters all around us
    Oh my god, it’s all around

    And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
    The lords of war just profit from decay
    And trade their children’s promise for the jingle
    The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

    Oh my god, the waters cold and shapeless
    Oh my god, it’s all around
    Oh my god, life is cold and formless
    Oh my god, it’s all around

  • Helen from the last thread. What brand is your water pump? Shurflo always pops up but they don’t seem to have the lift that we need. BTW Jen and I are from the DC area.

    Funny how we all seem to try the same things. We had 2 boer/nubians for about 2 years, and finally got rid of them. Too much work, and NOISE! Our neighbor, who has forgotten more about farming, permaculture….. than we will ever know said after we got rid of them that if you are going to get a couple of goats or cows, you might as well get 50. All the infrastructure, time and effort just aren’t worth it for a couple.

    Guy you might try growing comfrey. We are in the process of establishing around 1/4 acre of the stuff which we will harvest a couple times a year and use it for fertilizer. It really is a frigging weed, you can’t kill it. Works well with the nightshades. It may be too hot in your area. Learned about this process (comfrey’s not new) reading about a farm in England called Ragman’s Lane Farm. A couple other names of people that DO IT you can check on youtube are Martin Crawford and Ken Fern.


  • Ed re. pump: it’s a 6SQF-2 Grundfos, $1790 and for my DC-AC switching setup needed a $350 Grundfos transfer switch and a few other bits.

    Goats…Guy, how do you keep the bears, coyotes, cougars, jaguars and bobcats off their backs and throats? Our whitetail deer here are small, a little bigger than a goat, and my friend saw a bobcat kill one in her front yard by latching onto its trachea. A lion killed a deer about 200 yards from my house not long ago. I’m envisioning that goat-staking scene from Jurassic park.

  • Helen, I built a 7-foot fence for the relatively small paddock, which is about 30 m from the house (and between the house and a paved road). Each night, the goats are put into a fully insulated shed to keep the night critters away. Many goats in this area have been lost to mountain lions and coyotes, so we’re careful.

  • Have you evern seen your goats encounter a rattlesnake? They’re so smart I wonder what they’d do.

    Do you have a hot wire around the paddock? Lions here are out and about 24/7. I’ve had 12 mountain lion sightings in my life, and eight have been in the daytime. I have an 8-foot fence around my chicken pens and garden and the only thing I’ve actually watched scale it was a skunk, who chimneyed up and over by going up an inside corner when I chased him off the compost pile. Raccoons, ringtails and coatis also make it over but they’re better adapted for climbing. I suspect the ultimate anti-critter barrier here would look like the Berlin wall.

  • Lots of rattlesnakes here, but I’ve never seen a goat encounter one.

    No hot wire around the paddock. We have plenty of skunks, which is why I put skunk-proof subfloors in all the buildings that might, some day, house fowl.

  • And of course Frank Jr.,or Frankie (my Mother called me that) is a goat.

    I couldn’t be more proud !!

    Double D

  • I must add this: our digestive enzymes are far much more fit to process the goat milk than the cow one.

    And do not forget: you can have goats almost everywhere. They’re so intelligent that sheppards just have to guide them (sheep are stupid, and must be pushed)…

  • love the practical goat info u’all; close to getting some myself.
    & guy u are showing us u’r smart hands…like u’r intellect, thanks.
    & also guy i read that scripture, & according to it u’r a sheep!
    traaaaggggddee! nice post!

    but guy maybe u are the ‘new’ Goatman; u just need a wagon & more goats…actually u two agree on some very important things…& u’r traveling & preaching/teaching.

    …i got to see him as a child, very very memorable.

  • a goat poem for Guy McPherson

    by Stan Moore

    There is a male goat named Guy
    He dares to wonder outloud why
    He queries the herd
    With logical words
    About how we live and then die

    The shepherds took notice of Guy
    And shook their fists at this guy
    They rejected his truths
    Disrespected his youths
    And bade him emphatic goodbye!

    But this goat would not be denied
    Lord knows his detractors tried
    He gave a head butt
    Went to his mud hut
    To his blog we are now subscribed

  • Truly, blessed are the cheesemakers.

    @HelenSnyder: re anti-critter barrier. Try a wobbly-top fence!
    Look at

  • Goats do get a bum rap in the Biblical parable. Or at least the sheep get more credit than they’re do.

    However, the people that inspired the parable are real. You are most decidedly not a goat. Or do you cut lines and traffic endangering others so you can get shave a few minutes off of your trip? Do you needlessly squander resources so you can get yours now, without regard for others?

    I don’t think so.

    As for dividing, it’s not apparent that Jesus did the dividing. The people in those two groups may very well have done that of their own volition.

  • I am a witness and a member of a not-so-great generation of soft, selfish and sanctimonious leading elders who are bent on pleasuring ourselves to death… come what may. Our willful deafness to the songs like “Charlie Darwin” from our children is bad enough. But to wantonly destroy the future of children everywhere by legitimizing, institutionalizing and legalizing inhumane greed as if it was a virtue, that is beyond the pale.

    Shame on the the super-enriched talking heads, minions and sychophants who proclaim what is plainly profane. Shame on those who stand by electively mute because they are condoning “poisoning of the well of public discourse” as well as ruining that which the deceivers claim to be protecting and preserving.

    What is to become of our children, life as we know it, our planetary home, if the arrogance and avarice of a tiny minority of self-proclaimed masters of the universe and their highly paid deceivers rule the world much longer?

  • Sam, many thanks for the treasure of the Goat Man. Nice essay, Guy. Appreciate hearing about the farm doings.

  • “Frankly, learning the truth should make a person feel empowered, not hysterical.” From the essay, “Sheeple: Signs That You Might Be Part Of The Herd …

  • Wait a minute… are you really writing poems to goats??????

  • Wonderful post. I love goat anything but especially cheese any kind is fine with me! Here’s a big ole BBBBBAAAAA to you

  • “As I’ve said for years, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don’t.”

    Interesting start – high irony left unresolved, then moves into a paean on goats. I spent some time on a goat farm back in my formative years. Remarkable animals.