State secretary Martijn van Dam was quoted in the paper recently as saying that animals are sensitive beings and should be treated as such. It made me think of a conversation I once had with a goat farmer.
I asked him, ‘Why do you keep goats?’
Farmer: ‘The goats give me milk and meat, but above all they bring me joy.’
Me: ‘Joy? Do you mean a tasty goat’s cheese?’
Farmer: ‘No, they give me a lot more than that! For example I once had a group of young people with special needs on my farm. One of them was blind and autistic. They were just walking through the barn between the goats lying in the straw when I noticed that the autistic lad was ill at ease. It got worse until he suddenly flipped. He fell on the ground, rolled around in the manure and shouted incoherently. The goats jumped up in shock and scrambled away in all directions to watch from a safe distance. The boy’s carers observed him for a moment and wanted to go into action.’
But they didn’t have to, continued the goat farmer.
‘An old goat walked straight up to the squirming boy, stood next to him and bleated invitingly. The boy heard it and felt the goat pushing against his body. He quietened down and reached out carefully towards the animal’s front leg, moved his hand up towards its head and scratched the goat under her chin. The goat bleated happily, pushed her nose against his head and nibbled at his ear as only goats can. The boy started laughing and in no time he had been ‘reset’. He stood up and walked around for the rest of their stay with a smile on his face and the goat trailing him.’
The farmer concluded: ‘Goats bring me joy.’
Could this be what Martijn van Dam had in mind when he talked about ‘sensitive animals’?
Kees van Veluw (57) teaches Permaculture and is active in organic agriculture networks. His vision stems from his work with African farmers, his networks with Dutch farmers, his family life with his wife, three sons, dog and chickens.