Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ruminating on ruminants

GOATS can haul us out of poverty.

To encourage more Filipinos to invest in these excellent sources of meat and income, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) published a goat-raising book and maintains an online message board, which attempts to answer all questions one can think of about goat breeding. (For instance, how many goats can fit inside one hectare of grazing land? The answer from Los BaƱos: six mature animals during the wet season; during drought, if native pasture is planted with legumes and grasses, 10-12 bucks and does.)

But the opening line of this column, and the brainstorm it spawned in me, was not sourced from PCARRD’s “The Philippine Recommends for Goat Farming.”

I have to credit Juan. Then nine-year-old, he blurted this statement out when he was in possession of a failed quiz on Friday night. In our household, this is the schedule for dispersing weekend rewards, such as computer time for games.

Perhaps reflecting that decades in school surely doomed him to the perpetual agony of gaming withdrawal, Juan declared that he would stop studying and be a farmer.

Okay, I agreed, cool as cucumber. But you’ll have to raise plants in pots since that would be all the land we own. No cows, I added as an afterthought, remembering my feline cabal and what it might do to any slow and placid animal silly enough to stray into their enclave.

That’s when Juan decided on goats.

As a former community extension worker in the uplands, I see no fault in my son’s logic (let’s not go into his motives).

A goat is a type of herbivore called a ruminant. As I told my son, his four-chambered stomach makes the goat efficient at feeding. Food goes to the first chambers for initial digestion. Then the cud moves out from the rumen and reticulum into the mouth where the goat “chews the cud” some more. He then slides it back to the last chambers, the omasum and the abomasum, before taking on another mouthful.

Eww, said my farmer.

Goats need less water because of the moisture in plants, I replied brightly, ignoring the spittle Juan was trying to dribble, in imitation of a drought-resistant goat.

From livestock traders that met regularly in Mantalongon, Barili, I learned that imported and upgraded breeds were desired but the bottom line in fixing the price was the size and the meatiness of the goat.

Though often portrayed in children’s literature as a solitary and idiosyncratic fellow more at home among rocks than with other creatures, a goat needs care from its human owners, if not to carry off handsome portraits while framed against a cliff then at least to look attractive, cut up and garnished, on the platter.

In a goat dispersal project, more crucial than hybrid pedigrees is the recipients’ expertise and commitment to care for the animals. Humans have to construct sheds, raise napier or forage, cut and feed these to the livestock, and give dewormers and vitamins—all these efforts just so goats can have a thriving sex life.

For as in all dispersal exercises, procreation is the end-all and be-all: get the does to produce kids (one of which is turned over to the next recipient or goat raisers’ association as “payment”) and bucks to mount does (so its owner can also earn from stud fees).

I skipped this portion of the lecture with Juan.

Unlike noisy cats and indiscreet dogs, goats make a pretty good impersonation of long-haired ascetics. Even though the English language is replete with sexually implicit expressions, from “buck naked” to “old goat,” the animals are publicly fastidious and dignified despite all our capering about and monitoring of their private lives.

Last month, while Juan fed and pulled around a white kid we named after him in the upland barangay of Guadalupe in the town of Alegria, I wondered if my son had stumbled on the secret that will liberate us from, if not poverty, al least scapegoat voyeurism. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 14, 2008 issue

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