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Everyone's a relativist - even a goat

Enjoy that delicious cucumber

The smell of pumpkin spice and apple cider fills the air for normal people this time of year. For goat people, our olfactory worlds get permeated with something a bit more distinctive: bucks. I wish I meant money - I don't.

Wild male goats attract the ladies every fall by making themselves as stinky as possible, an evolutionary attribute that stuck with their domesticated cousins. The boys will become more "goaty" as the season wears on in the hopes that the does will respond to their particular brand of cologne.

Around this time of the year, we start our "breeding program," a very fancy way of saying that we play do-si-do with does. We'll move some girls in with certain bucks and reshuffle others into pens elsewhere. We pair the girls with those mates who we believe will best complement them genetically to produce ideal kids.

Breeding time means, though, that goat routines get disrupted when the pairings are in full swing. 

We usually keep our girls all together in the largest pen. The girls establish a hierarchy of friendships and get in a groove. Their favorite time of day is getting out for a few hours to graze on weeds, then running back as a herd for some grain as their bedtime treat.

Right now, though, three girls are in a smaller pen with our buck and can't go out in the evenings for playdates. They're stuck with their betrothed until they succumb to his masculine charms.

Every evening, those three watch intently as I walk out to the larger pen containing the remainder of our girls and open the gate. They see their friends and sisters bound out and munch on the greenest and freshest grasses on the property before bouncing back together for grain and snuggling up for the evening. As soon as the three left behind see the evening routine starting, they begin to scream.

Goat and sheep screams are unmistakable. They're the stuff of memes, TikToks, and Instagram stories. Although sometimes hilarious, goat yells can get annoying fast. I try to make extra cookies at Christmas to distribute to our tolerant neighbors and only keep the quietest goat breeds.

It doesn't matter if a goat is from a generally quiet breed; she will scream when she sees the injustice of others' happiness compared to her own. Domesticated animals have gotten very good at communicating with their owners. I'm shocked at how expressive and opinionated our goats are, especially when mad.

But here's the thing: those three does will sit quietly, munching on their hay all day long, until their sisters get "special" privileges. They're content to mull around the pen with their new beau right up until the minute it looks like someone's got a better deal. Their situation got no worse because other goats got out and got treats; it just seems worse by comparison. 

Anyone with multiple dogs or cats knows relativism isn't just a human struggle. In his now-famous famous TED talk, Frans de Waal discusses an experiment with capuchin monkeys getting unequal treatment in a test chamber. One monkey is so mad that she starts throwing cucumber at the researcher because another monkey receives higher-value grapes.

Our goats are perfectly happy as long as no other goat is happier. Monkeys will eat cucumbers as long as another monkey isn't getting grapes. My son will eat oatmeal for breakfast as long as his brother doesn't get cereal.

It's such a base and fundamental force to fight against; feelings of wealth and happiness are often perceived only relative to what we see in our peers. We often can't look at ourselves and what we have in absolute terms. It’s so hard to take ourselves out of context.

Social media is the worst when it comes to creating a world of feeling like you're the monkey with cucumber when everyone else has grapes. Yet, seeing the other goats bouncing around outside their pen doesn't make the hay in your feeder any less sweet.

Tomorrow evening, when I let many goats out to snack, I'll tell the screamers that their lives aren't so bad. Then they'll yell right back at me because they are animals and don't speak English. I'll bite into my cool and crisp cucumber stick because I'm not a monkey or a goat - and it will be delicious. 

Kelly Maher