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Monday, December 7, 2015

Kulning + Why The Name "To Sing With Goats"

  When people hear my blog name, their first reaction is always, "Well that's an interesting name. Where'd that come from??" I always struggle to explain it a little bit, since it's rather a complex reason. Or more correctly, there are multiple complex reasons. But this is today's post; a history lesson, and why I chose the online alias of "Goat Song"!

  It started out pretty innocently. I had Nubian goats. Those of you who have also owned this breed will most likely smile and nod in understanding. Those of you who haven't... Well, allow me to let you in on a not-so-secret fact: Nubians are LOUD! Very loud. They're talkative drama queens who never miss an opportunity to vocalize their opinion on a matter, no matter how big or small. This trait can either be endearing, or a nightmare, depending on your level of tolerance. For the most part, I found it endearing; my family however, considered it the latter choice and made many a complaint over the years about the noise. I couldn't do anything to make the goats be quieter, so I would usually end up simply winking and saying that the goats weren't being noisy; they were singing! I had myself a whole herd of talented, singing goats! Granted, this quirky explanation never soothed the family members' annoyance, but it started the path of a herd name...

  Along with being loud, Nubians are also dramatic. I had a first freshening, two year old named 'Ivy' who absolutely refused to settle down on the milking stand. She screamed, bucked, rolled her eyes like a wild mustang, held her milk back, kicked, and whatever else she could think of to let me know that she was most unhappy with the situation! At my wits end, I tried singing to her one day. Ivy had no idea what to do about this strange happening, and froze. Five minutes later, I finished milking her; she hadn't moved a muscle in that time, and I was hooked. Singing in the dairy parlor would now be mandatory! Ivy never did misbehave ever again after that day, as long as I sang the exact same song every time it was her turn.

  As time went on, each goat got her own song; they picked it, not me; I'd just go through the list of ones I knew until eventually I figured out which one made them let their milk down the fastest. Ivy's favorite was "Skellig", Capri liked "The Ballad of the Highwayman", Heidi refused to be sung to and had to be quoted Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" (she always was strange..). On and on it went. Every goat had a different song. After awhile, I referred to them as my "goat songs".

  My goat singing went up a notch upon finding an old, barely-read book at my local library. It was called, 'Sing The Cows Home; the remarkable herdswomen of Sweden'. Boom. Total game changer right there. The entire book was a historical account of the amazing Swedish women called "Valkulla" (plural form is "Valkullor"), who, every summer would take their goats and cows high up into the mountains to graze. No men were allowed to come up (except young men on Saturdays, to court the single ladies), and the women and animals stayed up there until the frost drove them back down to the villages. It was the sole job of the women to care for the dairy animals, collect enough summer grass, fall leaves, and pine boughs to sustain the animals over the winter, plus make enough cheese and butter to keep her family from starving during the cold months.

  These women were the bees knees, let me tell ya'. Every morning, after milking, they would simply let their animals loose to roam the vast hundreds and hundreds of acres of pasture and black forest. No shepherd or milk maid accompanied the animals, as the women had work to do. Come night fall, every woman would stand at the edge of her cottage and call her animals home via a high pitched song called "Kulning". A difficult talent to acquire, girls would begin training their vocal chords for this once they turned thirteen years old. By the time they were eighteen (old enough to begin caring for animals of their own), they could sing at a pitch that was 3 octaves above Middle C, and could be heard up to 6 miles away! Each woman had a different song, so that the right animals would go back to the right home. Tales are told by the men of the haunting sound of so many different songs ringing down from the mountains... Alas, the story isn't always romantic; at the time of the Valkulla, the black forest was still a dangerous threat and filled with wolves and other terrors. If a goat or cow didn't return at the sound of the valkulla's song, then she had to go into the dark forest, at night, by herself, and find her animal/s. Many a woman was either killed and eaten by wolves, or died from accidentally stepping into a quicksand swamp.

  The story of these brave women intrigued me, and I began learning to kuln. I never got very good at it, but could eventually get my voice to carry a good 1/4 to 1/2 mile, and my goats learned to come running when they heard the song. My goat song.

  If you've never heard what kulning sounds like, then here's a great starter clip! (this gal also has three other amazing sound clips on Youtube). There are never any words; just the rising and falling of the voice. Some think it strange, but I find it quite beautiful.


  The singing with my goats continued over the years. They sang to me from the pasture, I sang them home for morning and evening chores, and then sang to them again during milking. In the online world, I became known as "the girl who sings with goats", or "that goat song girl", and the names stuck. I was Goat Song. And I named my blog 'To Sing With Goats' in honor of the ancient tradition of mixing melody with milking. 

  When I sold off the goat herd and moved to Missouri, I often thought about changing the blog name. Maybe instead calling it something that didn't seem so exclusively "goat"... I considered many an idea for two solid years, but finally came to a decision: This place will always remain 'To Sing With Goats'. Not just because of a single girl who fanatically sang to her herd of caprines. But because of the broader scope of what it stood for. The blog name is in honor of the Valkullor; some of history's most determined women who farmed. And that is a key interest for me today: Women who farm.

  If they can do it, we can do it. 

  We sing our cows home. We sing our goats home.

  We carry on the legacy. May the songs never die...

12 comments:

gz said...

keep on singing, pass on the song..

Sarah G said...

Aw man, Caity, you have me listening to kulning again and wishing I was in Scandinavia.

Linda Foley said...

Absolutely love this!

Prairie Kari said...

This back story is so interesting and with each of them having a different song or Dr Seuss! I never heard of Kulning before but have to admit I LOVE yodeling which historically was also used by herders to call their stock or communicate btwn Alpine Villages. This sounds so much more fun than my normal whistle and “come onnnnnn” I have missed your book crate posts and this book looks very interesting with Folk Tales and Folk Medicine too per the comment on Amazon – I will have to check it my library has this too!

Prairie Kari said...

Forgot to say one of my favorite songs complete with yodeling is the Sound of Music The Lonely Goatherd - you just can't listen to that without trying to yodel along! :)

Janet said...

Well, I feel real dumb for saying that I sing to my goats. I don't sound anything like that! How beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing the story of the name of your blog. I am completely entranced.

Lindsey P said...

So... Summer must remember you singing to her, somewhere in her little Nubian brain, because she was a real pain as a first freshener, until I starting singing her song (Last Rose of Summer, of course) and she settled right down.

Chanelle Castle said...

I really want to learn how to do this. How do you learn? I can go very high pitch and hold the pitch but how do I make the song out of it?

Lauren said...

A woman after my own heart! And here I thought I was the only American girl carrying on the tradition of kulning, up here on my little mountainside homestead in Montana. Wonderful blog post! Brought tears to my eyes. You've gained a new follower. :)

MysticFairy24 said...

I've been fascinated by the calls. I taught myself kulning by listening to videos and doing them in the woods outside of my neighborhood. I'm hoping to try it on some horses, goats, cows or any other herding animal soon. I'm not Swedish but I feel proud to carry on the tradition of kulning!

Unknown said...

I have angora goats, I let them out to pasture and cAll th em back every night :) I live in Maine on the mountians and u can hear it eco for miles❤

Nicimos Clark said...

I have angora goats, I let them out to pasture and cAll th em back every night :) I live in Maine on the mountians and u can hear it eco for miles❤