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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XLIII. Goats and Goat-Milk


IN our churchyard there is a tombstone to the memory of Norman Macleod, Chamberlain to the Earl of Cromartie, who died at Achernack in 1715. This is a stranger’s grave. Mr Macleod had crossed the firth to Abernethy to drink goat-milk. The first season he seemed to benefit much. The next he returned, but it was not to recruit but to die. Others have been more fortunate. The late Mr Robert Urquhart, town clerk, Forres, was delicate in his youth, and threatened with consumption. He came for two or three summers to Lettoch, and the goat-milk and bracing air quite restored his health. He grew up to be a robust, active man of business, and lived to be over 90 years of age. in books referring to the last century, the virtues of goat-milk is frequently noticed. Thus, in the Lives of the Haldanes," it is said, It was customary in those days (1776), as it now is in Switzerland, to resort to places in the country to drink goat-milk and goat-whey." Sir Walter Scott has several references of the same kind. Goats were once very numerous in our parish, in Glenmore, Tulloch, and the Braes, they were kept in large flocks, and carefully managed. But the keeping them has been given up. Except at Achgourish, in Kincardine, they are now seldom seen save in twos and threes about some of the outlying houses and crofts. The habits of goats are peculiar Their independence, their sure-footedness, their power of foraging for themselves and for their young, and their hove of the plants and herbs of the hillls, prove that they were mountain born ; while their horns, which they can lay back on their shoulders, and their thick strong fleeces, which somehow never seem to tangle, or get fast in thorns, as so often happens to silly sheep, show how they have come in the course of the ages to arm themselves against the difficulties and dangers of their surroundings.

Goats were considered very valuable. Their horns and skins were turned to varied uses. Their grease was held as a cure for sprains. Their flesh was classed as venison, and that of kids was regarded as a delicacy. But it was their milk that was most valued. It was believed to possess special virtues from the herbs which the goats fed upon, and it was much relied upon for the strengthening of weak constitutions, and for eradicating the tendency to consumption. The Gaelic proverb classes goatmilk, with garlick and May butter, as a cure for all diseases—

Is leigheas air gach tinn, creamh ‘s im a mhaigh,
Ol ‘an fhochair sid, bainne ghobhair bàn."

Another saying is—

Bainne nan gobhar fo chobhar ‘s e blàth,
‘S e a chuir spionnadh ‘s na daoine a bha."

Goat-milk, foaming and warm, that was what gave strength to the men that were." Goat—milk was also used as a cosmetic—

Sail—chuaich ‘s bainiie ghobhar
Suath
ri d’ aghaidh
‘S cha’n eil mac—righ air domhain,
Nach bi air do dheaghaidh.’’

Wash thy face with lotion
Of goat-milk and sweet violets,
And there’s not a king’s son in the world
But will run after thee."

The Latin name caper, and its English derivative capricious, would scent to indicate that goats were considered wilful and wayward. However this may have been, they were certainly remarkable for affection to their young. The kids were hid in the heather after the way of roe-deer, but they came to he fed.

They were tenderly cared for, and showed intelligence early, in this being different from calves and lambs. The Gaelic proverb says:—" Ma’s dubh, ma’s odhar, ma’s donn is toigh leis a ghobhair a meann:" "Be it black, or dun, or brown, the goat loves her kid." The love of their young lasted to two or three generations. This was shown in the way the different families ranged themselves in their folds at night. First at the top was the mother, then came the rest lying behind in the order of their birth—Am mathair, the mother ; ‘n nighean, the daughter; an t-ogha, the grand-child ; am fionnogha, the great-grandchild ; and an dubh ogha, the great-grandson’s grandson. Goats used to have names given them, to which they answered when called at milking time—Sineag, Jenny; Annag; Annie ; and so forth. Thus Theocritus makes the shepherd Lacon say, " Ho! Curly-horn (Idyll .5), ho ! Swift-foot, leave the tree and pasture eastward where ye Bald-head see." Virgil, in the Third Georgic, specially refers to goats. He shows how much they were prized, and how carefully they should be fed and tended. "I direct that the goats be bountifully supplied with leafy arbutus, and fresh water from the streams; and I wish the pens to be turned from the wind to face the wintry mid-day sun." Then he says, "In the heat of noon see that they carefully seek a shady dell, where a mighty oak, Jove’s tree, stretches its huge branches from an ancient trunk, or where a dark grove of thickly planted holmoaks casts forward its holy shade. Then once more give them liquid running water, and again let them feed even to the setting sun : when the hour comes that the cool evening freshens the air, and the dewy moon gives the lawns new life ; when the shores echo to the voice of the halcyon, and the bushes are alive with the song of the goldfinch"—(Globe Translation). "Ite domum, saturce, venit Hesperus, ite Capilla’----"Go ye home, go, my goats, for you have browsed your fill, and the evening star is rising ‘‘ ; so says the Goat-herd in the 10th Eclogue. But even then his care did not end, for Virgil declares "he who loves milk should with his own hand bring lucerne and lotus in abundance, and salt herbs to their cribs."

Goats are believed to eat serpents. It is said they leap upon their heads with their four feet together as they find them basking in the sun, and stamp out their life. Then they eat them tail foremost, with a curious crooning noise. This habit is referred to in the Gaelic proverb—

Cleas na goibhre ‘g ith’ na nathrach,
Ga sior itheadh, ‘s a sior-thalach."

Like the goat’s way with the serpent,
Still eating, and still complaining."

The agility and sure-footedness of the goat are well known. The following curious problem on the subject has been proposed for the solution of mathematicians:-

Supposing a goat, following a new path, has to take a leap as as to alight on a pinnacle or narrow crag overhanging some abyss. First of all he must estimate the distance to he traverse, and having got it, whether by trigonometry or by some capricious method of his own, he has next to compute, to the fraction of all ounce, how much propulsive force is required to project the body (the exact weight of which he has to take into account) precisely that distance and not an inch further. Moreover, he must take into the calculation whether the spot he wishes to reach is above or below the starting point and plainly hes brain, when it sends for motor impulses to the numerous muscles involved, must reckon and apportion to each its share in the task. At the same moment he must also estimate the exact proportionate amount of muscular force which will be required to each of his limbs on his new and precarious foothold. Of course, one need scarcely say that the whole process goes on without reaching the consciousness of the goat, or anything that could ever by courtesy be called Ins mind. But, nevertheless, it is obvious that in some way or other the calculation is made, and is completed in a time and with an unerring accuracy which completely put to shame the mathematical triumphs of the human intellect."

Wild goats seem now to he recognised as on the same footing as deer. In Glenmore and in Ardnarff, in Ross-shire, the killing of wild goats with splendid horns were reported in the sporting news of 1898. Sometimes droll incidents have taken place from the ignorance of Sassenachs, and the confusing of goats and deer. Colonel Thornton tells an amusing story of this kind. His friend, Mr Whittaker, had wished to see a roebuck, but had failed to find one. Then, he says, we got a he-goat, and set it in an out-of-the-way spot among the rocks, and by talking, excited Mr Whittaker’s imagination, and when the news was brought that a fine roe-deer had been seen, lie set out full of ardour. The stalk was conducted with much caution. Flat on his face, crawling over the rough stones, drenched in the wet places, at last the animal was sighted, and Whittaker "judiciously and precipitately fired." Believing the cheer to be mortally wounded, he rushed up to seize him, but lie was roughly repulsed, and called out for help. Then when help came, great was his mortification and shame to be told that it was not a deer at all but only a shaven goat. Colonel Thornton nearly fell off a steep rock in his convulsion of laughter. There was much chaffing and joking, but tile gentleman, it is said, took all " with such pleasantry of temper" that lie disarmed the satirical remarks of the company. There is a tradition of a similar mistake in our parish. A certain English sportsman supposed he had killed a fine stag. He was asked "Had it horns !" "Yes," he answered, as long as my arm !‘‘ But it turned out to be one of Donald Fyffe’s herd of goats, for which, however, ample compensation was made.

Goat-milk still enjoys a high reputation. In Rome, at certain seasons, the goats are brought down from the hills, and every morning people come to drink their milk, which is considered as an excellent blood purifier. In London, at Kensington, goat-milk is advertised for sale in the shop windows. Probably if proper arrangements were made in our parish - say near Nethy-Bridge—for a goat farm, and supply of milk and whey, is might prove an additional attraction to the place. Perhaps the greatest honour conferred on goats is that of being chosen as the pets of the Cambrian regiments. It is a fine sight to see a shaggy he-goat marching along with the stately Drum-Major, bearing on his forehead the proud motto, in Welsh, " Gwell angan na Chwildd" - Better death than shame."


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