This time of year, when not perusing seed catalogues, a farmer -- even a Would-Be Farmer -- allows her thoughts to turn lightly toward the origins of farming. Again.
It was ingenious to plant a seed and watch over it, lo those 13,000 years ago, but it was absolutely gonzo brainiac to take up animal husbandry.
Imagine that campfire brainstorming session:
Proto-farmer 1:"Hey, hey –– I know! Let's capture one of those boars and put it in a cage. Then we won't have to hunt it later!"
Proto-farmer 2: "Keep a tusker live? Sounds risky. Howsabout we get us a bunch of goats and steal their milk?"
Another thinker around the fire (who never ends up doing anything like farming, by the way): "Goats? Goats is for sissies, I think yaks are where it's gonna be at..."
Granted, humans tamed wild dogs as far back as 30,000 years ago -- but that was more a hunting partnership than a farming proposition. (Check out this Radio Lab episode about how quickly foxes can be selected for tameness!)
I'm not exaggerating. The first cows in Europe, aurochs? Seriously, the stuff of nightmares: 1500 lbs of leggy temper, six feet tall at the shoulder and a horn-span of up to seven feet. Categorically NOT tame. The last specimen of the species lived until 1627 in the forests of Poland. She died in the interest of steak, not so surprisingly.
I just wonder at the gall of the first person to put a thieving hand upon the hairy udder of a wild cow. What could possess a person to try? A dare, maybe? Or maybe impelled by a rescue effort –– a calf or a human baby who needed that milk enough to risk the effort? Some dramatic extremity, no doubt.
Unnatural selection has led from these wild and wooly forebears come the sweet-tempered Jerseys and Gurnseys, and those homey black-and-white gold standards of milk production –– Holsteins.
Me? No, I don't want another cow in my life. I know the ways of young Holsteins from many a winter's day dealing with scours in a veal calf. And there was a year or so when my mother and I swapped the care of a hairy herd of Highland cows for the rent of an old farmhouse. Small cattle, Highland cows, but feisty.
Anyway, enough cattle for my lifetime.
But goats, now, huh. Goats...