We have had a couple of recent posts about operant
conditioning, so I thought I would do a feature on the animal that I am training right now.
Chummix, pronounced “chummy”, lives in our farmyard with Max the steer. He arrived at the museum shortly before I started working here, but he apparently came to us in a very interesting way! The story that I was told (as passed down from one of the other keepers) is that we adopted Chummix from a doctor that acquired him as a gift from one of his patients. The patient was from another country, where giving a goat to someone was a way of showing appreciation to the recipient. So the doctor accepted the goat from the patient, but after about 5 or 6 months, Chummix became too big for him to take care of. He was born some time in early 2003, and came to us in June of 2003. What a great story!
You would think that, by living with a 1,000 pound steer, the keepers would be more concerned about being injured by Max instead of Chummix. But this is not the case. In fact, Chummix has probably caused more injuries to the keepers than any other animal we have! The reason is because he loves to ram everything with his horns, including walls, doors, Max and the keepers. And it may not seem like that could be very harmful, but he has enough strength to break his stall door off the hinges, which he has done more than once!
But this quality of Chummix does not make him a “bad” or “mean” goat. He’s just doing what comes naturally to him, so we can’t blame him for wanting to hit things with his horns. But it just means we have to be careful when we are with him. One of the main reasons for training him is so that we can control him better and hopefully lessen the injuries to the keepers. So far, he knows how to touch his nose to a target, stay in one place while I walk a short distance away, and put his nose into a halter when I ask him to. Eventually, I will be able to buckle the halter on him easily, and get him to station his nose on an object so that he can’t ram things. But those are goals that will take a while. Fortunately, he is very food motivated and especially enjoys donkey treats and pear!
I have enjoyed training Chummix because I have grown more attached to him and have had a chance to get to know him better. Who knows, you might catch us out in the farmyard during a training session on your next visit… and if you do, feel free to ask how it’s going and what new things Chummix has learned!