In summer, around Mateo’s preschool and all over California, green grassy hillsides turn golden yellow. The dry grass presents a major fire hazard; hillsides must be cut. The steep slopes and scattered trees make tractors and mowers impractical. Weed-wackers work, but are highly labor intensive.
That’s why we call in the goats.
Having grown up in suburban New Jersey, I didn’t know much about the society of farm animals. Here’s what I learned. Left to their own devices, goats would wander off from the safety of the herd. Enter the herding dog. Seeming to act on instinct, the herding dog keeps the group together and guides them around hazards, such as predators in the wild, or, in a California neighborhood, the street.
How do herding dogs learn their skills? They observe other, more experienced dogs and pick up on subtle visual cues. As I watched the dynamic, I thought of how the behavior of animals parallels our own. Like young herding dogs, my children learn by watching me. They pick up on my visual cues. It’s a big responsibility.