We Talk With the Man Who Lived Like a Goat

You might think that goat life is easy. And for a goat, that may be true. But for a human trying to be a goat, like Thomas Thwaites, it was a grand and harrowing adventure. Anita Stizzoli/Getty Images

Most of us have a time in our lives when we'd like to get away from it all. Take a break from our problems and responsibilities. Become a different person. You know — don a complicated set of prostheses, walk as a quadruped, find a way to digest grass for nutrition and live as a goat.

Perhaps that doesn't include most of us, who generally resort to wearing a brighter shade of lipstick or getting a new haircut to mix things up. British designer and author Thomas Thwaites is not most of us.


Thwaites is no rookie when it comes to complicated projects. His 2011 book "The Toaster Project" detailed his attempts to make a toaster completely from scratch. 

At loose ends after its completion, he noticed how happy a friend's dog appeared. Living among the nonhuman animals seemed like a good bet for a pleasant, free life. 

The Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation headquartered in the U.K., agreed and gave him a grant to investigate. Initially, Thwaites wanted to live life as an elephant, but quickly found the sheer power of the pachyderm wouldn't be practical to replicate.

"It would've been like building a little tank or something, and that just wasn't what I was aiming for," Thwaites says in an interview for the podcast The Stuff of Life.

So after a few missteps with prototypes (including a wooden transformer-type costume that was "an absolute nightmare" to walk in), he found a doctor who made specialized prosthetics, and tasked him with creating some arm and leg apparatuses that could mimic a goat's gait.

"I picked him because I'd seen that he once was a zoologist, so I thought zoology and prosthetics was what I was kind of trying to bring together," Thwaites says.

The doctor's simple design proved robust, if not comfortable. More than half of Thwaites' body was pitched forward in a hunched quadruped position when he was wearing it. "It feels really quite painful and really quite terrifying," Thwaites says, adding that while it might be OK for a short jaunt, "it's a whole different kettle of fish when you're pitched forward heading headfirst down a mountain accompanied by a herd of 50 sort of excited goats."

Because that's exactly what Thwaites did. He spent three days living with the goats in the Swiss Alps and then three more days crossing the mountains as a solitary goat. He wrote about the journey in his 2016 book "GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human."

As part of his goat journey, Thwaites researched transplanting goat microbiota to his gut in an attempt to eat and digest grass. Unfortunately, adding goat microorganisms to a body may cause damage to the human microbiome. He had to resort to cooking a grass mixture to get the feel for a goat diet. 

Despite all his accoutrements, "possibly later you might expect, I realized that becoming a goat is actually impossible — at the moment, at least," says Thwaites. "But I think I got close — maybe as close as anyone has ever got." 

To hear more about the extraordinary journey of the GoatMan and other stories about taking an escape from ourselves, listen to The Stuff of Life podcast embedded above or at this link.