- It was a long-standing custom, which lasted well into the 20th century and may even still be carried out, for farmers to keep a goat with their cattle. It is usually stated that the presence of the goat helps prevent abortion in cattle and generally acts as a calming influence. Some say that the goat eats certain plants which are harmful to cows and thus protects them, while at least one Durham farmer maintained that goats kill and eat adders. The correspondent to Notes & Queries who reported the latter was sceptical until he saw it happen with his own eyes. Several sources state that it is the smell of the goat which is beneficial. Virtually all the examples of this practice which can be geographically located come from the Midlands or north of the country, with Gloucestershire being the most southerly example. This may be an accident of documentation, or may reflect the true distribution. Its age is also open to question, as Opie and Tatem give the first known reference as c.1840, but it is likely to be much older than that. There is surprisingly little other English lore concerning goats. Hazlitt reported a belief that 'they are never to be seen for twenty-four hours together, and that once in that space they pay a visit to the devil in order to have their beards combed' which he claimed was common in England and Scotland. Another tradition is that diamonds will be softened by no other substance than goat's blood, andLean quotes three 16th and 17th century literary references to this idea.■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 174; N&Q 3s:9 (1866), 118, 330; 11s:11 (1915), 452, 500-1; 12s:1 (1916), 16; 12s:3 (1917), 310; Lean, 1903: ii. 605-6; Hazlitt, 1905: 278.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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