Like most pygmy goat owners (or so I imagine, I hope I’m not the only person who does what I’m about to describe) I spend a few hours every week relaxing outside with our four pygmy goats (Charlie, Ella, Jack and Sally), scratching their backs when they’re too lazy to bite at the irritant themselves, and quietly observing their bucolic existence.
I wonder what their pygmy brains are thinking as they wander around the pasture and walk along the pond. They seem quite intelligent, but so economical in their emotional expression that it’s hard to draw clear conclusions.
I’ve paid some attention to four areas of pygmy behavior: language, battling, affection, and differentiation. These are not scientific analyses by any means, they are simply observations. Eventually, if generalized theories of pygmy behavior can be developed, it might be worthwhile to gather more concrete data in addition to the current set of notes. Nonetheless, as a casual prolegomena to a more rigorous codification of pygmy behaviors this may serve as a useful starting point for additional observation.
Their role in life as prey rather than predators seems to inform much of their behavior. As more than one veterinarian has told me, “A pygmy goat that acts sick is on death’s door because they naturally hide any weakness.” The weakest pygmies are always the one’s that the predators attack first. Or, as Billy Crystal put it, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.”
So far I’ve found at least five distinct sounds. In general pygmy goats are pretty quiet MONOGRAFIAS PRONTAS, they make a little more noise than a cat and a lot less noise than a dog.
First, there is a separation call that they use whenever one goat wanders away from the herd. If two wander away then everyone wanders after and the herd coalesces before a warning call is needed.
Second, there is a recognition call generally associated with positive expectations. If I walk out of the house with a plastic bucket in my hand they know this usually means food and start calling out as they run to their shed. They’ll also make this call if we’re going for a walk, as they love to wander around the property.
Third, is a disapproving, somewhat insistent, call most often heard when their food is a little late. They know I don’t get up on time every morning so it’s muted at breakfast. But if their dinner isn’t on the floor by 6 pm, they start lining up outside the sliding glass doors on the porch and interrupt the evening news with their complaining.
Fourth, there is a little “meep, meep, meep” call they make deep in their throats when they’re readying themselves for battle. Supposedly, to a pygmy, this is deeply threatening and signals the incipient launch of a serious clobbering, but to everyone else it sounds ridiculous.
Fifth, and saddest, there is a very loud, higher pitched, continuous call which either means “I am hurt” or “I think I am hurt.” Mostly we observe the “I think I am hurt” variant at toenail clipping time. Sally, in particular, kicks her legs in all directions and screams like a little baby as soon as the orange clipper is unsheathed. I’m the only one that has ever been hurt by this ritual as she once kicked just as I was turning the clipper, jamming the two razor tips into the palm of my hand. Sally was then able to observe my high pitched, continuous, cursing behavior.
Battling: Dominance Ritual or Good Clean Fun
Pygmy behaviorists associate battling with maintenance of the herd order. I’m sure there is an element of this, but they seem to really enjoy smashing foreheads. There is no obvious competition between Sally and Ella, but they’ll stand on the porch, rear up on their back legs and just bash each other for 10 or 15 minutes; tails wagging the whole time. Their fur stands straight up on their backs, a traditional sign of anger, while they are battling, but it seems to be puffery more than enmity. The battle halts every 30 seconds or so if someone needs to bite an itchy foot or grab a slurp of water.