Laughing Dog News:

Summer 2019 Classes at Laughing DogSummer 2019 Classes at Laughing Dog
Three exciting upcoming workshops on Goats, Mushrooms and Guerrilla Gardening
posted Wed, Jun 19, 2019

"Taming Kids Civilizes Humanity...""Taming Kids Civilizes Humanity..."
The power of touch reveals itself doubly relevant for the "feral" farmer who discovers his last, great calling nurturing “kids” and tending a herd of wooly milk meisters...
posted Mon, Apr 16, 2018

"Guerrilla Gardening Tactics for the Backyard Gardener"
Upcoming workshop at Laughing Dog Farm, March 4th, 1:00-4:00 PM
posted Tue, Feb 06, 2018

New Video on
Taming the new crop of kids requires a community effort...
posted Wed, Feb 24, 2016

Laughing Dog Profiled in Country Folks magazine...
2015 goat birthing dramas the subject of recent piece...
posted Thu, Apr 09, 2015

New Life Bursting in Tunnels Despite Long, Cold Winter
posted Tue, Mar 24, 2015

Six Farming “Truths” Re-visited
posted Fri, Mar 01, 2013

“Good Night Irene”, Sandy, etc…
Extreme weather challenges small farmers (and large)...
posted Fri, Feb 01, 2013

Teaching Food Literacy
Permaculture and Backyard Farming
posted Mon, Feb 01, 2010

2009 in Review
"So long, 2009...", An Annual Retrospective...
posted Fri, Jan 01, 2010

Go to Laughing Dog News...

Daniel Botkin
farm manager

398 Main Road
Gill, MA 01354


Dog Shrine Pages

"Taming Kids Civilizes Humanity..."

The power of touch reveals itself doubly relevant for the "feral" farmer who discovers his last, great calling nurturing “kids” and tending a herd of wooly milk meisters...

Nurturing Kids Civilizes Humans!

Eighteen years ago, as a new parent, I reveled in my child’s animal magnetism, innate curiosity and the miracle of the exponential linguistic development of a precocious two year old!

I loved just keeping my little daughter company and witnessing her emerging personhood, as we rode around in my car, in her snuggly, or the trusty "baby jogger", supposedly shopping, inducing naps, or other useful stuff. At a strikingly early age this indigo child began verbalizing profound thoughts and questions, about herself, about her parents, other people, and about the cosmos! I was amazed both by her passion for the physical world, as well as by her keen awareness of “core issues”: family, relationships, love, pain, passion and justice. Talking with her was thrilling to me, a father at forty for the first (and only) time. She was so open, so “fresh”, so wholly mesmerized by life, like only an innocent can be. She asked question upon question, “why, why, why...?” to which I’d try to give my best, empirical “Daddy” answer (scaled for a kid), then watch her wrestle each new nugget of information, invariably spinning out always more questions. Our conversations were poignant, intimate, absorbing ...and endless! Sometimes I’d find an excuse just to keep driving, or find a beautiful spot to park, just to keep the conversation alive. When she tired, I’d tell elaborate, ongoing stories...

Raising and loving a delightful, human kid certainly helped “domesticate” this crusty bumpkin, so perhaps it was natural that, over time, we’d “evolve” a similar “attachment parenting” approach with the small herd of dairy goats we’ve ALSO kept, since the girl child was a baby. And whereas, we began our goaty foray "farming the feisty four-footers by force", we ultimately found a far friendlier approach, based on an intensive, hands-on “taming” process, applied over the first hours and days of their lives...

...There’s an old debate about whether we humans really “domesticated” wild goats, or whether, in fact, the wild goat ACTUALLY tamed and domesticated Humankind. Either way, this metaphysical “interchange” is thought to have played out about ten thousand years ago, somewhere in the Middle East. Faced with the ongoing challenges of survival, perhaps a roving band of hunter-gatherers caught and decided to KEEP ALIVE one or several wild goats, maybe some half-grown kids, to be consumed later, or even, episodically, to be fed and raised to maturity. Over time the keeping alive of prey animals probably evolved as a calculated tactic to hold famine at bay. Once in “captivity” it’s not far-fetched to imagine the first “domestic” breeding, kidding, the first milking, the first captive-raised progeny, and the first actual bonds of inter-dependency and even affection forming between humans and goats...

And through the lens of history, we see how goats and other livestock profoundly influenced humanity’s place on the food chain and on our planet. The “domestication” of hooved animals facilitated a newfound food security: pastoral livelihoods; homes, farms and villages; wealth accumulated, stored and traded... Hence it was the advent of livestock keeping, say many historians, that strongly pushed humans toward more stable patterns of settlement, commerce, and hence, ultimately, our higher “Civilization”. (Unfortunately, chronic OVERGRAZING by goats and other livestock are ALSO responsible for the desertification of entire regions, like the Gobi and Sahara, but that’s another chapter...)

For the first decade keeping dairy goats in Gill, we let them live largely "feral" lives, and wrestled them to move, milk, or medicate. Then in the spring of ’08 came a major epiphany about goat husbandry arising from the sad passing of our original matriarch, a spotted Nubian goat named “Baby”. Baby was acquired in ’99 as “insurance” against the “Y2K bug” and had already given a decade of buttery milk, cheese and lovely offspring. But when she was getting old, Baby got unexpectedly pregnant with triplets, who grew so big, there was ultimately no way to naturally birth them. After three days of heavy labor in the barn, having exhausted every known remedy, our old nanny goat lay depleted from exhaustion. On a freezing, March night, I killed her and rescued the triplets inside, where my wife and daughter reared them with bottles and unconditional affection, toasty warm by the woodstove....

And those bottle orphans grew up docile and cuddly, like little Labradoodle reindeer, prancing around on their daily walks, getting regular milk, car rides and other treats. All spring, the other goats in our barnyard keenly observed the privileged kids’ every move... And then, as we began to socialize the half-grown orphans back to the summer herd, something quite extraordinary occurred! Without orchestration or planning, the entire herd began assuming the “tamer” demeanor of the bottle babies! Their skittishness melted as they appeared now to “buy into the domesticity contract” they’d been hungrily witnessing for weeks. They became suddenly easier to catch, hold, handle and MILK! The “accidental” bottle kids had, by example, unexpectedly induced the entire herd into tameness!

...And we could surely debate the ethics and merits of keeping captive, sentient creatures as “livestock”, for human consumption. But if you are going to, on any scale or style, you’ll surely appreciate them being docile, friendly and mild, not timid, jumpy and wild! What we unintentionally discovered in ’08 was that kids that are petted and held daily, repeatedly, from birth, grow up vastly CALMER, GENTLER, and TAMER than those who miss out, even than those who get incidental or periodic handling.

And, daily cuddling of baby goats IS a TOUGH job... (But someone’s got to do it!)

So we fulfill our "contract", year after year, caring dutifully for the doe-eyed mommas and handling and inviting our friends and neighbors to interact with the newborn kids, starting on day one. There’s clearly some “bliss” chemical released in the brain when you hold a baby goat. Nearly everyone feels an abiding peace, joy and surrender stroking those fuzzy bunny ears and gangly legs, and feeling that fluttery, friendly heart! And although the therapeutic value of “goat yoga” gets mocked on social media, we healers, hunters and hippies know better than to doubt the vast power of the body/mind/heart connection!

Over subsequent years, legions of friends, neighbors’ kids, assorted college students, “lost souls”, special needs children and a smattering of emotionally shut-down, old men, alike, have spent quality time in our barnyard during "kidding" season. Even a dying man once spent a beautiful spring day gazing upon our barnyard tableau, soaking up the pastoral bliss. The healing effect on humans is dramatic and consistent, such that no brain scan is necessary. And the dramatic effect on each new crop of kids of NOT having daily holding is startling, and makes us ponder once again the greater significance of nurturance, trauma, bonding and touch within our own human species...


...Two nights before the unfortunate re-election of George W. Bush, in 2003, my wife and I (who both grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War) and our precocious five year old were on a highway overpass in Bernardston, MA, holding “peace” banners and waving to passing motorists, hoping to help turn our beloved nation away from “Dubya” and his catastrophic Iraq War. Suddenly, we were gang rushed by two frightful men in para-military garb, threatening, screaming obscenities, insulting John Kerry’s military service, and tearing angrily at our banners. Fortunately the attack ended in minutes and we weren’t physically harmed. But our precious, little girl was deeply traumatized by the encounter, which so violated and upset everything she’d ever seen, known or been taught by the trusted adults in her life...

It took months of agonized conversations, tears and questions, (always more questions) for our sensitive and uber-verbal daughter to begin to resolve “the bullies on the bridge”. Raised by non-violent parents, plus Gill’s own “Giving Tree Nursery School” and Greenfield’s own, “The Center School”, this child was no stranger to respectful communication, to “I statements”, personal integrity and the “Golden Rule”. And although she’d surely witnessed bullying and even violence in her five year old world, she’d never experienced enraged grownups attacking her family! Mostly she wanted to know, “Why did they do that?” And, “Why would they do that to US?” And, “Will they ever come back?”

We talked at length about who those “bullies” might have been and what they might have been angry about. I tried to explain to her about nations and politics and history and war, and about the "elections" that mattered so deeply to all four of her parents...

Finally, fearing I’d unfairly “adultified” and perhaps even permanently damaged my dear child, and attempting to put the issue gently and finally to rest, I said very seriously, “Those bullies got that way because of not getting enough love as a baby”. And right then, she seemed to accept this simple, almost obvious truth!

Fifteen years have slipped by, now... and the annual crop of kids is as cute as ever... Our tender child is now a thriving adult, studying at UMass Lowell to be a counselor for troubled children. Occasionally, when we get together, we’ll witness someone acting out or having a "meltdown" in public, maybe a road-rage incident, a fight, or someone acting mean, angry or outrageous on the web... Or we’ll encounter someone with poor personal boundaries or who cannot stop talking, and she’ll look over to me with a knowing smile and whisper, “...Not enough love as a baby!” And we'll laugh, again. Because, in truth, this pretty much sums up humanity’s thorniest problems!

Video: "Taming Kids at Laughing Dog"

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Laughing Dog Farm -- Danny Botkin, farm manager, 398 Main Road, Gill, MA 01354 -- 857-754-1614