Tuesday, 11 September 2012


After three weeks on a farm of Rove goats that are a breed that produce milk of high quality but not in great quantity I was led to believe that Alpines the breed on the farm of my next three week stint would produce extensively more milk maybe even three times the amount. I therefore thought there would be lots to do and I therefore imagined lots of people to do it! After being at the end of a 4km of bumpy track in the middle of nowhere for a long while with very little company (apart from the dogs and the goats) I was looking forward to a more sociable time. Bustling atmosphere shared dinners, conversation, wine… that sort of thing. As it turned out both of these expectations have now been proved false. There is very little milk coming from the Alpine goats here in the Cote d’Azur, at the moment, there is very little to do here, and there is not very much company and this farm is at the end of a hair-raising road that climbs 800km above Nice and about sea level.

The first thing that appears obviously different about the goats is their lack of horns, in a purely aesthetic way they look much less striking and much less majestic. Where their horns would have been there are bumps, stubs or stunted growths, growing in strange angles attempting to be horn-like. From my research it seems that the arguments for dehorning; cutting the horns of the goat when it is young, are that when the goats demonstrate their goat-like behaviour, bucking each other and playing, they can potentially hurt or damage each other. In my experience this was not a problem on for the Chevre du Rove. The arguments against dehorning are that the horns are sentient and sensitive and cutting them can cause a lot of pain and distress for the animal.

Whether it is the fact that these goats are dehorned, the nature of the breed, the difference in lifestyle or that quality of attention they receive from the farmers the alpines here are more docile, less intelligent and less engaging than the Rove Goats. And to reflect that instead of producing more milk, they are producing less, leaving not much work to do. At the last farm I understood that when the troupe where accompanied in the park, as they were in the afternoons by myself, the farmer of other woofers, they ate a lot more than when they where left to their own devises. When they were alone, if they finished eating, they might sit down to digest and ruminate, whereas if they were accompanied, when they had finished eating they were led on to another place to keep eating, therefore produce more milk.

In the UK the majoring of egg laying hens have the tips of their beaks removed to stop them pecking other birds, the people who would see this banned say that the trimming is an unnecessary mutilation that causes pain and is only viewed as necessary when the animals are kept in inadequate environments. Instead of beak trimming, other things can be looked into such as breeding, choice of feed and providing high perches for birds to get away form bullies in the flock. In the same way as with dehorning practices maybe the answers lie in alternative methods, departing from conventional approaches and promoting the livelihood of the animals.

In biodynamic farming the horns of cows are used for preparations that enhance the wellbeing of the horticultural crops. The horns are seen as instruments that make a spiritual connection with the ethereal world. My only two reference points for horned and dehorned goats lead me to respect this approach.