The Perceptive Goatherdess
Mor Kupperberg is young, charismatic and energetic, and she is the goatherdess and caretaker of the goat herd at Ramat Hanadiv. Between providing care in the goat pen to taking the goats out to forage, we caught up with Mor Kupperberg, and left with insights about leadership, gender approaches to animal care, and most importantly, much inspiration.
It is known that many of the great biblical leaders began their careers as goatherds and shepherds. Before they led the people of Israel, our forefather Jacob, our leader Moses, and even King David led herds of sheep or goats to pasture. But not one of them was a woman.
One day, in the pastoral atmosphere of Ramat Hanadiv, while leading a herd of 170 goats out to forage, Mor found herself in a very tricky situation. The bleating of a goat that had lagged behind drew her gaze away from the herd advancing towards its food. “The goat stood next to the fence surrounding the Mekorot (Israeli Water Company) pipe, and then I discovered that she was guarding a little kid, and that she wasn’t even its mother. The kid that had encountered the fence had got stuck inside and couldn’t manage to get out again.” Now imagine this – 170 goats continue forward, and a lone goatherdess needs to make a decision, to run to the kid and leave the advancing herd, or to continue with the herd and return to the kid later.
You’re alone in the field, which decision did you make?
“I realized that the kid was in real distress and ran toward it immediately. As soon as I arrived the goat that had been guarding it ran to join her friends in the herd. Releasing the kid was not easy, since it had wiggled in through an opening that was too narrow for me to pass through. But after a while I managed to release him. I turn to the direction of the herd and discover that in the meantime they had taken over a private orchard which is a forbidden area. I realized that this is the moment for a real shout. The herd understood the type of shout and knew that my intentions were real. It’s a matter of understanding and a lot of experience. The friends left the orchard.”
“The herd is the best teacher there is, and the most important skill for a goatherdess is to listen to the goats. If we learn to listen to them we can learn a lot about them. But more than that, you learn about yourself. With time, you discover your leadership skills and a significant part of that is belief in yourself. You can follow the herd or you can set the limits. You learn to understand how to stop them, how to call them and they listen in response. Like the incident with the kid, in those moments when I need them the most, they come. The tone makes the difference. If you approach them with a fearful, hesitant tone, they will continue. You develop for yourself an authoritative and definite tone. Like children, goats also push the boundaries.”
as with children, are there more and less disciplined goats?
“Of course, goats have personalities and feelings; the entire herd is not a uniform entity. There are the more attentive ones; they will usually be higher up in the herd hierarchy, the “closer” ones. It depends on the goat’s body condition, size and health. A sick goat may be ostracized; although they are now domesticated, from an evolutionary point of view they developed in nature, and in nature a sick individual may attract predators.”
“Do the kids go out to forage?
“By the age of two months the kids are weaned from suckling and then we separate them from their mothers and they are transferred to a separate pen for one to two months. During this period they begin going out to forage each day. At the beginning it’s very hard for them. They cry a lot. They don’t understand exactly what to do and this also requires fitness. At the beginning they eat very little, and only after about a week do they really begin to graze.”
Let’s go back to you for a moment – what connects a young woman like you to goat herding?
“A love of animals was always there; I’m not a person who likes offices or enclosed spaces. After the army I worked at a horse farm, then travelled around New Zealand, and when I returned I began working at Amikam with a dairy herd. I began each day at six in the morning with the morning milking and then went out to forage for four hours. I came to Ramat Hanadiv two years ago. Here we are a team of several caretakers who divide the work between the pen and the pasture. This herd grazes in the Nature Park all year round and is accompanied by research and learning on management regimes and animal welfare.”
What are, in your opinion, the required character traits of a good goatherd?
“First and foremost, you need to know how to observe the goats, to investigate them constantly. All of the problems can be seen when foraging – who walks slowly, who is quick, who doesn’t feel well. Like all animals, goats have feelings; only when you really observe them can you understand them. This connects strongly with a love for animals, which is a basic requirement for this work. They feel the love. You cannot force an animal to do anything. The real feedback is when they come to you to snuggle up, this is the purest thing.
In addition, it’s important not to be too spoilt, because you have to get used to the outside conditions. Rainy days, intense heat, you need to go out to the field in all weather. Beside this you should also be physically fit. Their upkeep requires a lot of energy. It is also important to know how to manage situations. For example, when the herd advances and one goat doesn’t feel well and is not prepared to keep walking, or when a goat suddenly stops to give birth in the field. These are situations that require control, decision-making and a lot of self-confidence.”
Do you think that there are basic differences between goatherds and goatherdesses?
“Of course. Gender proves itself also in the conduct of male and female animal caretakers. From my experience, men are usually tougher and they have an invigorating approach. Goats pay more attention to the male tone, which gives an advantage to the goatherd. In contrast, women are more sensitive to their individual needs. The combination of the genders when rearing animals is the most correct and balanced approach.
I believe that each animal has a personality and feelings, each herd comprises individuals and we must understand their needs and provide them with warm and loving care.”
And what would you like to do when you grow up?
“To continue looking after animals and to acquire professional qualifications in this field. In order to have a greater impact on the approach to animal care it is not enough to understand what happens in the field, you need the required certificates.”