Rogue Male: Function of the billy goat?

Danny McG

Star Trek is for adults, Star Wars is for kids
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I'm doing a re-read of Geoffrey Household's classic thriller Rogue Male.

At one point the protagonist is sleeping outdoors late in the morning.

He is hidden in a copse beside a field and a billy goat wanders close to him then returns to a herd of dairy cows.

He then reflects on 'The real reason' of traditionally putting a goat in with a herd of cows.

Annoyingly he doesn't reveal this old country reason.

Anyone know please?
 
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To paraphrase from the book (way too long to type) he reflects that
"one old tradition says it's for luck. Another says so the goat will eat the bitter wild herbs that cause cattle abortions. But not many nowadays know the meaning of the real old tradition."

TBH my first thought was something druidic because he's hiding out a few miles from some ancient earthwork henge.

Can't find anything Googlish apart from Judas goat :(
 
I've raised goats, sheep, and cows and cannot think of a good reason for this. Cows will easily be trained to come to the rattle of a grain bucket. You can even cheat with them from time to time and rattle rocks in a bucket, but they wise up quickly, so it's best to give them just a pinch of something. With dairy cows, there's even less reason for this, because dairy animals by nature of the arrangement are all tame. You usually don't even need to go find them because their udders become full with milk, and they start hovering near the dairy barn hours before milking time.

Only thing I can think of is for sacrificial purposes. People used to put fainting goats in a herd of animals; they would pass out and get eaten instead of the more valuable animals. It doesn't sound like this person is referring to that, so I'm clueless.
 
"Another says so the goat will eat the bitter wild herbs that cause cattle abortions."
Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) contains alkaloids poisonous to horses and cattle. (Maybe it isn't common in the US but it is widespread in northern Europe. See: Ragwort Wikipedia

Goats can tolerate much higher levels. Not toxic to them but passed on in goats milk. Also can be found in small quantities in honey from Ragwort.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (EHC 80, 1988)

However, Ragwort supports over 50 species and has pretty yellow flowers. Common Ragwort Attracts Many Butterflies | Urban Butterfly Garden

[GALLERY=media, 2251]Cinnabar moth caterpillars on Ragwort by Dave posted Sep 9, 2017 at 7:16 AM[/GALLERY]

 
Thing is horses, at least, won't eat Ragwort whilst its growing. It's only if its cut/dying that it becomes a problem because the horse can't smell the plant and thus be aware of the toxicity. Otherwise healthy ragwort doesn't want the horse to eat it and the horse doesn't want to eat it either. There is a risk element though, but mostly if its cut; and there are cases where some horses get a "taste" for it, but my impression is that that is very rare.
 
Over three years now, I wonder if anybody of a rural upbringing has joined since this question was posted?
 
It was because they graze alone, separate from the herd so the predators (historically wolves, I imagine) would take them rather than the cattle.

Relevant in the context of Household's protagonist if I recall the book correctly from 50 plus years ago :unsure:
 
It was because they graze alone, separate from the herd so the predators (historically wolves, I imagine) would take them rather than the cattle.

Relevant in the context of Household's protagonist if I recall the book correctly from 50 plus years ago :unsure:
Awesome!
Cheers for that, one less niggling thought now :giggle:
 
What did you think of the book overall? I remember rather liking it.
 
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Brilliant book that’s been serialised on BBC Radio 4 Extra a couple of times.

For those that are interested, it's being serialised again on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Episode 3 is tonight at 8:00pm. Subsequent episodes (4-15) on consecutive nights starting tomorrow at 6:30pm.

Previous episodes are available on BBC Sounds.
 

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