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So A Goat Walked Into A Starbucks ...

The goat did not order a latte. But when it escaped from home and entered a nearby Starbucks in the Northern California town of Rohnert Park, it did have a hankering for cardboard.
Sgt. Rick Bates
Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety
The goat did not order a latte. But when it escaped from home and entered a nearby Starbucks in the Northern California town of Rohnert Park, it did have a hankering for cardboard.

It sounds like a joke. A goat walked into a Starbucks ...

But it's true.

It happened a couple of days ago in Rohnert Park, Calif., when a goat whose name is Millie somehow got away from her home and ambled over to the nearby strip mall. Employees dangled a banana in front of the goat in the hope of apprehending her, but she preferred to chew on a cardboard box. Police officers took the ruminant to an animal shelter, where her owner reportedly reclaimed her.

So, here at Goats and Soda, we knew it was time to talk to one of our favorite goat experts, Susan Schoenian, a sheep and goat specialist at the University of Maryland Extension, to probe the goat's behavior.

With all the good things to eat in a Starbucks, why would a goat chew on cardboard?

You can feed livestock cardboard. It's a source of fiber. I won't say it's routinely done, but over the years I've been reading about alternative feed sources. One of the great things about a ruminant animal is we can give 'em stuff to get rid off, byproducts. Cardboard is one of them. So she probably liked it.

Any other surprising things being fed to goats and other livestock?

There's a lot of pine bark in the Southeast. Because it has tannins in it, it appears to have an inhibitory effect on parasites. And you know how we put dates on food so you have to throw it out even though [there may be] nothing wrong with it. I remember reading a study about feeding potato chips and other food whose dates had expired to livestock.

But isn't that junk food?

It gets fed in the context of a balanced ration. You and I eat chips because we like 'em. We don't pay any attention to our balanced ration. If we included cardboard and outdated potato chips [in an animal's diet] it would be part of a balanced ration.

So was that the goat's goal in eating cardboard? To get a balanced ration?

As far as why goats eat it, they're eating out of curiosity or mischievousness or whatever you want to call it. It's something fun to nibble.

Can people eat cardboard?

If you eat rice cakes, you eat [the equivalent of] cardboard — they're just filler.

It's unusual to have a goat wandering around a shopping area in the U.S., but in some countries it's pretty commonplace, right?

I just did a consulting job in Jamaica and in the city and towns, goats are everywhere. They just walk nonchalantly down the street. The joke is they will stop at the cross light.

And they're not afraid to mingle with people?

If they've been raised like a pet they're not afraid of things. A sheep's practically afraid of its own shadow. Animals are afraid of things that are new. But goats are more curious.

Did you discover any other interesting goat stories in Jamaica?

People steal goats from farms and sell them. So the owners have to pen 'em every night, and even then it's a real problem. We call it rustling; they call it praedial larceny. [The thieves] will put the meat in the market at a lower price. Sometimes if you catch [a goat thief] and they go to court and don't get much of a punishment, they come out and they kill the goat's owner.

So wouldn't that mean it's dangerous for goats to walk the streets alone?

No, they don't want one or two goats; they want 20 or 30.

The Starbucks goat didn't order a latte, but do we know anything about how caffeine might affect a goat?

I'm sure they've done research, although I don't know of any. I would think caffeine would have a similar effect [as it would on people]. The goat won't be able to sleep at night, would get hyper — although goats don't need anything to get hyper!

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.