Goat Song by Brad Kessler

June 2, 2011 · 0 comments

Be forewarned: reading this book will probably make you want to get goats. That said, you should still read it.

Brad Kessler (author of Birds in Fall that I haven’t read yet but probably should even though I’m significantly less enthusiastic about birds than goats) chronicles his move from the city to a small farm in Vermont and the first two years of owning and tending goats. Kessler and his wife (a professional photographer) aren’t exactly city slickers, but they have no prior experience with goats, so he presents each trial and tribulation with a beginner’s curiosity. He documents every major and minor milestone in the life of a goat herd: buying a goat, breeding, kidding, care, milking, and more. He paints a vivid picture of the sights, sounds, and rhythms of the day to day chores as well as the highlights.

There is a lot in this book that I can relate to: we have the same breed of goat, we’ve faced many of the same newbie challenges (illness, doe stepping the milk bucket, etc.), and we’ve found a similar joy about food and the land in relation to goats. The writing itself is easy to get through and at times compelling, making it hard to put down for long.

I will say that there were a few parts that had me rolling my eyes and groaning.

*His descriptions of buck goats and their behavior was a little too graphic and over dramatized for my taste.

*As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have kids, and he spends his days observing and collecting information for a memoir about keeping goats. That’s all well and good for him, but for someone like me who has to balance family, work, and other responsibilities, I just don’t have many multiple hours in the day to spend communing with my goats. It would be great. It really would, but it’s just not possible for me to take them on long walks foraging through the forest or discover the finer points of each one’s personality.

*The part that really killed me was when he decided that he wanted to learn how to make traditional hard cheeses, so he just hopped on a plane to France for a several week apprenticeship with an established artisan cheesemaker…another one of those ideas that would be fantastic but will never be part of my reality.

*The book ends with a long-winded reflection on the quasi-monastic practices of tending goats and making cheese. While I do appreciate the meditative qualities of physical labor and repetitive activities, I thought he drew the metaphor out a little too far and went on a little too long.

I DO think you should read it, but take it with a grain of salt. Even for me as someone who owns goats and knows what a drag that can be at times, I was sucked into his idyllic world that was presented accurately but somehow also seemed to inflate the ritual and the beauty to a level that pushed the boring and the ugly to the sidelines. Then again, that may be what I’m doing regularly here on this blog, though never quite as eloquently as Brad Kessler in Goat Song.

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