Goats might be the solution to one of our problems at Stray Arrow: mowing over 3 acres without turning into a full-time groundskeeper. In years past, our neighbors grazed some horses on the land; last year we borrowed some llamas.
The largest beast I ever had was an Australian Shepherd, and a predator at that, not prey nor herd animal. So I went off to the library for some study material and 2 visits to a friend’s backyard barnyard to meet her goats. Surprisingly, what I’ve learned applies to art-making and photography as much as goatherding.
I got some preposterous advice once, that to call yourself an expert, all you had to do was read 5 books on a subject. There’s even a website now with experts providing lists of their five books. And yet there is a kernel of truth in this factoid; after about five books on the same general topic, the material becomes repetitive and you have to dig harder for new information.
It turns out I read five books on goats last week. And the vast range of opinions reminds me, for all love, like reading photography forums and websites. Build your goat barn with a concrete floor. Or, repurpose some old shed, so long as it has a dirt floor. One author pasture-breeds her goats (buck stays with the intended mothers for weeks at a time) while another insists that you have to withdraw the doe from the breeding stall within hours to predict the time of kidding five months later. At least everyone agrees that you have to provide lots of fresh water at all times.
All these folks presumably are raising the same species and are considered expert enought that they got a publishing contract. Which is a lot better than some folks on the interweb nattering about photography with equally authoritative tones. There’s lots of advice that amounts to no more than fantasy spending of other people’s money on gear the authors themselves have only read about. Gear specs are a starting place, but tell you as much about making a picture as reading that goats need 10 sq ft of barn space per animal tells you how much manure you’ll be shoveling, and even less about the smell.
In one of those fortuitous coincidences that occur often enough I really should count on them, a friend called me up last week and said, “Annie, do you want to come see some baby goats?” Her 88-year old mother has a few goats to keep down the weeds on her property. Last year’s buckling didn’t get separated out in time, and things took their usual course.
Three sets of twins were born, none of them attended by anyone standing by with rubber gloves or uterine boluses of antibiotics. Mom did have to take one kid into the house to warm it up for a little while, but it was far less drama than the detailed sketches of breech presentations in all my books would lead a newbie to believe.
I picked up a baby and handed it to R. It squirmed. He set it down and it lay peaceably on the hay. The goatyard smelled considerably less than the cows a neighbor keeps, and they are a block away from Stray Arrow. You can read all you want about the requirements for goat fencing, but when one tries to blow by you at the gate, you understand how strong a gate really needs to be.
There’s a reason I shoot Nikon and not Canon, and that has nothing to do with the specs. I have small hands. On Bryan’s big Canon machine (I forget the model, but about the best you can buy), I cannot reach the exposure compensation button and work the thumbwheel at the same time. It doesn’t matter what the camera collectors (that’s what I call the interweb experts who write on forums more than they actually produce pictures) say about the virtues of Bryan’s camera. I can’t use it.
In my classes, I don’t even bother to talk too much about depth of field. It simply doesn’t make sense for most people to hear (or read) about it. In fact, nattering only confuses them. Instead I show some example pictures of high vs shallow DOF. Then I hand each student my camera and show them where the DOF preview button is. I set it at f16 and hold out a nearby object to focus on. When that 1.8 lens closes down and they can read the board, that’s knowledge about DOF. And who can forget a rubber chicken?
Photography and art-making are hands-on, messy, time-consuming and frustrating. Clouds when you don’t want them, running out of memory at the wrong time, forgetting to put the ISO back to a reasonable setting when going outside. Even if you read five books, that kind of knowledge is hard-won from real lots of experiences.
Don’t get me wrong: reading those five books about goats was a good start. But ground-truthing written words transforms information into knowledge. And having someone who has actually done the job is even more valuable. Making friends and collecting mentors who can show me how and answer questions about what to do next is going to help more than reading another book.
I’m not an expert about much other than Highway 89, but I do know that we need to build some fences before we start looking for livestock. Anyone want to show me how to run a post-hole auger?