Someone asked "how do you know the goats are happy?" That's a great question because our girls are working animals, producing milk for the creamery 10 months out of the year. Since domestication has bred a lot of the "fight or flight" survival behaviors out of farm animals, we definitely have a responsibility to repay our milker's efforts with a safe and happy living situation.
For farm animals, happy is to live calm and content, a condition that generally results in optimal health — optimal health a key factor in helping animals live calm and content.
Herd animals like sheep, cattle and goats are prey animals, highly sensitive to their environments and on the watch for predators. Even with predators absent, an environment that is stressful to animals wears on well-being. Stress secretes Cortisol, a hormone that lowers immune function. So exposure to stress is directly related to vulnerability to ailments and disease. Juliette de Bairacli Levy, who's farm and stable handbook is a classic, "dismisses Pasteur-inspired beliefs that disease is inevitable, and gives assurance that.... healthy... is naturally reared animals." Temple Grandin revolutionizes animal handling around the world by changing handling facilities to reflect needs and perceptions of animals rather than the needs and perceptions of humans. Their methods are so successful because the benefits of raising animals kindly and caring for them in a way that allows animals to be calm and content ensures both good health and growth, both humane and profitable for farming businesses.
Grazing animals' perception is visual, not conceptual — they think in pictures not words. Their senses are more astute than humans'. They are perceptive to noises we don't even hear, alert to severe contrasts in colors, vigilant about random objects and movements, all a part of surviving as a prey animal. They form fear memories specific to objects and places so, for example, if a dog runs up and starts barking as they move through a gate, each time they approach that gate hereafter, the picture of the dog filed in their brain pops up and they become wary.
Another big piece of herd behavior is they form dominance hierarchies. Often the most dominant animals in a herd won't lead, they will travel in the middle of the herd because that is the safest place from approaching predators. Human respect for the herd's social order prevents a lot of stress. Our morning milking shift was having trouble with our biggest milker, Ella Mae. It was a "rodeo" as one milker put it — kicking, stomping and a hateful look over the shoulder, every time. (That was Ella Mae's behavior, not our milking crew's!) After contemplation and investigation what became clear is that Ella Mae is the herd queen (goats are a matriarchy) and her sidekick Luminera was being milked first every morning. This order made sense to our morning milkers as Luminera is kind of a tough old gal, head butting frequently and generally getting her way, but a Queen doesn't really engage in such unroyal behavior. Everyone pretty much steps aside and makes way for Her! As soon as we milked Ella Mae first and Luminera second, peace reigned, and stress for both goats and humans was eliminated.
At White Lotus Farms, we created an environment for livestock care and management based on general farming know-how and good intention, but have fine-tuned it with compassion for animal behaviors and needs, while then submitting the whole approach to the view of right livelihood, beauty and goodness. Our goat herd and farming staff are pretty happy!
—Tammy, White Lotus Farms Herd Manager