Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An anthropological puzzle

Our (now ex)-HOD (who still needs a better pseudonym), asked me yesterday about an observation he had made when last in New Zealand, and which, although I was able to confirm, I was at a total loss to explain. Perhaps someone knows? Badaunt? Other random NZ readers?

"When you are driving through the countryside in New Zealand," he said, "and you pass a farm, next to the letterbox there is often a little corrugated iron hut and chained to it—"

"—a goat," I finished for him (because I'm impolite like that).

"Yes," he said. "A goat. Why?"

"Well, that's where you keep your goat," I replied, rolling my eyes, because of course that's where you keep your goat.

"But why?"

"Why what?"

"Why by the letter box? Why the little hut?"

"The hut, well... it's the goat hut," I explained. "For the goat."

He gave me a Look.

"Maybe to keep the rain off?" I hazarded.

"But why the letterbox? Is it so that the goat can defend you against the postman? Or eat the junk mail?"

"Where would you keep your goat?" I asked, with the smug sense of whipping out the conversational mat from under his feet.

"I wouldn't have a goat."

"Well, if you did. You'd surely keep it by the letterbox too, wouldn't you? In its hut."

"I don't think I would. I don't think I'd feel any social pressure to keep it in any particular place," he explained. And then added the real stumper. "Why do New Zealanders keep a goat anyway?"

So, my plea to any rural New Zealanders reading this blog: do you have answers to any of the following burning questions?

  1. Why do rural NZers keep goats and Australians not?
  2. Do we really tend to keep them chained to little iron huts by the letterbox, or are ex-HOD and I both suffering from a joint delusion?
  3. Why the little hut?
  4. Why the letterbox?
If no one can solve this puzzle soon, there will be nothing that can stop ex-HOD(wnabp) from suggesting it to the anthropology department as an honours student project topic.


ScienceGirl said...

LOL! I am signing up in the comments just so I can see if anyone's got your answer (sorry, never been to New Zealand, although would like to go very much).

Anonymous said...

There is a tendency for goats to be tethered to the road verge to keep the grass down. People most often want to keep the grass down in front of the house near the section of road near the mailbox, so maybe that.
1. NZ gets rainfall such that there is grass for the goat to keep down.
2. Think I have seen it.
3. SPCA? Other types of goat shelters can include sheds or dead cars...
4. Dislike of Posties?

The better expert on the subject is currently reading and/or asleep, but I can poke him on the subject should you wish.


Weekend_Viking said...

Goats don't like rain - and suffer horribly from footrot if their feet stay wet all the time - hence, they need shelter more so than sheep - hence the hut. (or in a paddock full of goats, a car wreck, providing both roof and something to climb on to keep their hooves in good condition.)

As to being beside the letterbox, well, it's sort of a lazy way to keep the roadside grass neat. Generally the practice is to have the goat tied to an immovable object (fencepost, letterbox, rusty lump of ironmongery), and move it every so often to a new spot, then back again, according to grass growth. This is possible in NZ because we get what Aussies would regard as stupid quantities of rain, and therefore grass, and the goat isn't going to starve unless you forget about it for more than a week, say. Generally the kids have to go out and move it every day or so.

I'm assuming aussies don't do it because of lack of sufficient roadside grass growth year round, and well, not enough rain to need the shelter. And, of course, no real goat tradition other than shooting them.

Surely you remember me telling you the story of the goat, the boys in the bush, the railway iron and the mineshaft?

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Aussie's don't keep goats by the letterbox on rural roads might have very little to do with relative quantities of rain in NZ vs. Oz (think Tasmania or tropical Far North Qld and there is just as much verdant grass growth due to rainfall but I have never seen goats by letterboxes nor any goat huts). I think the answer might have more to do with there not being many letterboxes along rural roads in Australia. The distances are far to far to have the postie travel along everyday and drop off mail so people tend to go to the nearest town to collect their mail every so often (maybe over 100 km away). So, no letterbox, no need for a goat to keep the grass down

Barry said...

We had a pet goat when I was young: he lived in a little tin hut, but that was only because he was living in a spare dog kennel, and our dog kennels were all little tin huts. Lucky (the goat) did not live out by the mail-box, so I can't answer that. We also had a lot of wild goats on our farm, but they neither lived on the road nor in tin huts - they were wild.

I have friends who have goats, they grow them for their hair. They tend to leave them on the grass verge, chained to a wire. Two reasons - to keep the grass verge under control, and because goats do bad things to pasture, so that other animals (like sheep) don't like sharing space with them.

But I have to say, I have spent a lot of time driving around this country of mine, and goats in tin sheds beside letterboxes have not been so common a feature as to impinge upon my consciousness.

Anonymous said...

i award this comment thread the prize for best use of the term ironmongery.

physics*chick said...

Well, I'm no goat expert, but my husband's relatives have them in rural Nova Scotia (that's pretty much on the exact opposite side of the globe from NZ). There they have one of their goats by the roadside (in a hut, of course, to protect from rain, but also snow in the winter) because he is the male goat and cannot be kept anywhere near the female goats. The roadside is the obvious place for them to keep him as far from the lady-goats as possible, and has nothing to do with the postman, or keeping the grass trimmed, though I can see the convenience of that.

Are these NZ goats solitary? Or are they hiding another hut with more goats somewhere else on the property? Perhaps it is an isolationist strategy and carries a convenient product of free grass trimming?


Badaunt said...

I can't say I've ever noticed goats by letterboxes. Our goat lived in the back yard, in town. Oh, and there was one other little goat who lived out at the farm, where she was in charge of a small herd of steers, who apparently found her both baffling and entertaining.

The 'keeping the grass down' explanation sounds likely. They certainly make good lawnmowers.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I must say that this whole exchange is making me smile.

grace said...

Hah, *I* always thought the tin hut was for the kiddies to wait for the school bus in, when it was raining. Don't they often have a seat in them? But the goat thing makes sense too.

Anonymous Kiwi said...

I know there are an number of goats and tin sheds on NZ roadsides, but not always associated with the letter box.

I always understood that the pens next to the letter boxes were Bobby Calf Pens.

Anonymous said...

Snap i thought they were for bobby calves as well....