"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, October 24, 2011

The King Must Die (Goat Breeding and Divine Kingship)

I used to have my own buck. Storm Cloud, son of Flopsy, was (and presumably still is) an extremely handsome, healthy and virile tri-color purebred Nubian buck. He is black and white with brown points, tall, big-boned, from excellent milking lines, and also good natured, with healthy hooves, and never had a problem with parasites. Pretty much the ideal buck, in other words.

But even the ideal buck - even the divine Pan, were he to descend to Earth in the form of a buck - is only good for three years, maximum. After that, every doe on the place is either his sister, mother, or daughter. After three years, all bucks must be replaced. Now that I think about it, I am sure that is where the ancient tradition of the Summer King comes from.

For those of you who don't know, in ancient days, in Pre-Christian Europe, pretty much across the continent from Ireland to Asia Minor, there existed a tradition of divine kingship. The details varied from place to place, but basically, a king won his throne by supplanting the previous king, who was put to death.

Usually the reign was set for a specific period of time - a year, three years, seven years - after which there would be a solemn ceremony to replace the old king with a new, younger, stronger king. Sometimes the kings would fight to the death - a battle which was weighted against the old king - and sometimes the king submitted, after his appointed term had ended, to a ritual death of one kind or another.

The best documented of these rituals, perhaps, is that of the high festival of Dionysius, in certain parts of ancient Greece. On the appointed night, there would be an orgy, a great feast and dance, and the king would be celebrated, bedded by all the women he wanted, and gotten totally drunk. Then the Queen and her women - in a divine, drunken frenzy -would take on the personae of Maenads and literally tear him to pieces. His body would be plowed into the fields.

After that, the Queen would accept the new king into her bed and the country would be ritually fertilized for another year - or three, or five, or seven years. The Queen herself would only be replaced when she ceased to bear children.

However barbaric we might think such customs were, it seems to me they were expressing an inescapable biological reality. That is - you can't let one buck rule forever. That way lies genetic degeneration, illness, loss of hardiness, and general weakness in the herd. Inbreeding is bad.

Bucks must be replaced, alas. One might fairly ask, why bucks and not does? Well, think about it for a second: does provide kids and milk, year after year. One doe can feed a family of five with her offspring and her milk, each and every year for some ten years. A buck produces nothing but sperm, and his own meat. And each year, his sperm is less and less valuable. As is his meat, actually - meat from a mature, un-castrated billy goat is not, shall we say, a gourmet item.

Luckily, in a modern age, we can choose to trade bucks and shuttle them around rather than kill them when their local utility declines. I sold Storm Cloud to a lady in Portland, Oregon.
He went on to a delightful life servicing other does, and presumable, when he outlives his usefulness there, she will sell him on. Meanwhile - I need a new buck.

I have had a difficult time finding a buck this year. In my next post, I will detail my struggle - but for I will just say I think it is over. I think I have finally found a decent Nubian buck, albeit at a rather exorbitant price, and that I expect all my does to be pregnant within a month. It is late this year - I'd rather they were impregnated last month, but so be it.

Anyone looking for a great read - a truly wonderful novel, on my all-time top-ten list - which treats the subject of divine kingship in depth would be well-advised to read Mary Renault's The King Must Die. It is both a fabulous adventure story and a history lesson. Enjoy!


Laura said...

Similar conundrum with sheep. If we can, most of us keep more than one ram. This helps mix things up for a number of years. Eventually, they have to move on. Fortunatly, when not in rut, their meat is still edible.

I can't wait to hear about your journey!

Milkweed said...

Wow, though I've read about Summer King traditions in the British Isles, I had never heard of the Greek ritual. Plowing the king's body into the fields. Amazing.

We keep two Nubian bucks, who are sweet as pie for about 10 months of the year and monstrous sex fiends for the other 2 months (rut). Buckley, the older of the two, is really kind of over the top with his rut behavior (peeing all over his own face, bloodying himself trying to get through the fence to the does, etc, etc).

Lately (maybe because of watching the bucks at the height of their rut I've been wondering about AI. I think we'll always keep bucks, and I know it's much more sustainable long-term, and I never thought I'd consider AI, but when you can get a straw of primo grade-A top-notch goat semen for $25-40, it seems like it might be a lot better deal for us small-timers than feeding and caring for a buck year round.

Know anyone who's done it?

PS, I sure wish we could trade bucklings long-distance, cause I would love to have those moon spot genetics!

Olive said...

What a great story. Best of luck with finding another Handsome buck.