Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Udderly Unexpected Education

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

We were two grown women hanging out with the petting goats at the Magnetic Hill Zoo. 
It’s not as if there weren’t other grown-ups in the enclosure, it’s just that we were the only ones without children.
And we were spending more time with the goats than the (human) kids were.
It’s my fault we were there so long; I was getting my goat fix. Ever since I spent two days at a friend’s dairy goat farm near Mahone Bay last April and hung out with her large, friendly Swiss Toggenburgs, I’ve been in love. 
But I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to have goats. Anyone can learn about dogs or horses or goats or goldfish if they wish to; I simply don’t have the time or money at the moment to become a proper goat keeper. 
Because if there is a goat born with the hankering to hang out on the hood of a car, that’s the goat I’ll get. 
But if ever I do get a wee herd of these entertaining ungulates, my goat guru and milking mentor will be my friend Jane.
She who almost got us arrested at the petting goat enclosure at the zoo.
A couple of the pygmy goats looked very wide around the belly and I asked Jane, she who grew up with goats in Oxford Junction, if they were pregnant. 
“Let me check,” she said and commandeered the company of one of those round-bellied goats. She proceeded to squat down behind the goat and grab hold of her udder.
A man with two young girls looked at Jane. Then he looked at the goat. Then he looked back at Jane. 
He took a few steps towards his daughters who were giggling as they hand-fed pellets to a group of greedy goats.
“It’s okay,” I said to him. “She knows what she’s doing.”
My words really didn’t register and it was obvious he remained in flight-or-fight mode induced by watching this goat fondler in the petting enclosure.
“She grew up with goats,” I explained. “She’s just trying to figure out if that goat is pregnant.”
The man blinked then he laughed. 
“Oh, I see, okay then. I was wondering...”
“Her udder is firm,” Jane announced, “so there is milk in there.”
The man took a few steps closer to his daughters. 

And yet what Jane was doing wasn’t freaking me out; I was fascinated by her ability to assess the situation, by her hands-on efficiency, by her knowledge of the workings of a working udder.
This ease with animals, this knowledge of their bodies and cycles and abilities are things I crave to possess. 
Item on a city girl’s wish list: Learn how to grope an udder to determine if there is milk inside. And not get kicked or bitten in the process.
There is an art to udder fondling, I’m sure.
If I had to pinpoint one perspective altering influence of my early days of visiting rural Nova Scotia (the pre-2007 years before I became the wife of a Nova Scotia country boy), it would be the in-your-faceness of the birds and the bees. 
You know: the “birds” and the “bees”. There is no farmer, no keeper of horses or goats, cows or rabbits who isn’t familiar with animal genitalia, and more importantly, their purpose in being attached: You don’t get milk if your cows or goats don’t get pregnant. And if you want to ensure that everything is working as it should, you have to inspect the equipment and watch the process. It doesn’t get more basic and practical than that. 
(There’s hope for me: I wrote that paragraph without fainting.)
If you want to make a living as a farmer, you know everything about the birds and the bees, and the “birds” and the “bees”, and nothing about it makes you squeamish or nervous. 
So I was quite proud of my friend Jane as she fondled the goat’s udder, trying to answer the question I’m sure other grown-ups visiting the goats were asking themselves. 
I just have to remember that maybe the petting enclosure isn’t the best place for my first lesson on the proper technique for fondling an udder.

No comments:

Post a Comment