Monday, April 27, 2015

The Goat

The past few days on farm have been a stark dose of reality. We found that one of our goat kids (not the ones born here, but some we bought in for meat production) had developed a condition he's likely had since birth, but it was now progressing rapidly. While we were moving the kids to pasture, I noticed he was in worse shape then at last check though in good in spirits, significantly smaller then his brethern and not using one hind quarter. I decided not to put him out into the pasture with Kermit (a large full grown buck) and the rest of grazers so as to get a better sense of his overall health. Upon a full physical examination, and a day of research- the results were grim. He had a condition causing cysts to form across his small body, cysts that eventually would rupture and then could be contagious to the rest of the herd. For the hundredth time, I cursed buying in livestock, even from reputable sources. This goat would have to be harvested at his current size if my diagnosis was correct. We couldn't risk the rest of the herd, or have that type of bacteria exist permanently on our pasture soil. While the condition isn't often fatal, it can ruin meat if left untreated, isn't curable with antibiotics, or any othe vet treatment and slows growth significantly. It can cause pain, or deformity. I returned the little fellow to an indoor winter pen, and scheduled a time to harvest him early for our own home use only. I spent a day confirming what I knew already, and resolving myself to the decision. We would make the best of the situation and honor the life of the livestock as always.

I hate these moments. These, sad, unavoidable farm moments where the life you want to give an animal just isn't possible. Sometimes, you can't protect livestock from a predator breaking a fence. Sometimes, the weather causes flooding or freezing or other discomfort. Animals fall ill, they acquire injuries and you can not seek to control all of the variances that occur and change the outcome you had planned. Still, for me, it's agony. I feel somehow I've failed, though I couldn't have prevented this onset, and the best I could do is protect everyone else (thus far, not symptomatic, keeping everything crossed). 

I wish that the steps that we take to protect our livestock were always enough. But when working with nature, nature always wins. And Nature has a dark side, to keep the balance. You can do everything right and still fail, it's a cruel part of agriculture. 

Many of the days tasks are a meditation for me, I work steadily and more often then not, alone, minus the puppy. I build housing, fences, haul feed, shovel, fix tractors and train the dog. I listen to stories on the technological wonder I carry in my pocket, fix meals, answer emails- it's busy and constant. I find peace in the routine things and challenges in the monotony. But I'm not operating in a vortex, the work I do will serve a whole community of people. There are moments I get to share with my wife, working side by side in a peace I know we are fortunate to have. We've always worked together as a couple, though I know it's rare, I wish more people could forge that bond that comes when you sweat and struggle in tandem. These types of tragic developments are like a sun burn, sore and uncomfortable- present in each small movement you make.]- interrupting each usual scene.

The joy of farming isn't in the success of our business, though of course that is crucial. It's not in the satisfaction of a hard days work- though I'd never deny that pleasure. For me, the joy can be found in tiny moments after hard decisions when you realize you are both powerless and powerful in your relationship with the living organism that is a farm. I stand, and watch, as Swanson, (near 5 months of border collie now) maintains a friendship with George, Fiona's buckling. They take turns playing tag across the farm, each skidding to a stop at my feet, begging for a scratch- one around the ears, one around the horns. I can't stop the gut wrenching decisions on a farm, but I can live for the moments where what we do goes right . I can be cautious in my chocies. I can do my best to mitigate suffering, I can provide the safest environment possible for the animals in our care. I can accept that there will be sadness. Farms, no matter how bucolic are not a perfect place void of misfortune. They are a constant shifting of life and death. Of failure, of human error, of natural trajedy. But there is also no place of greater magic in my opinion. 

When you live this close to animals, you become so attune to the fragility of our natural world. I can tell you how 10 degrees in weather shift will affect my chickens, how the water content in a pasture to play off of my sheep's hooves. I'm reminded that we're animals too, and just as easily thrown into the wind by something unexpected. It may seem too dramatic to some to consider all of this over the early harvest of one goat, and mabe not dramatic enough to others. As a prudent and practical farmer, we did what was right for the animal, and for the health of the whole herd. And it's never a decision we take lightly or without weighing each and every option. On our farm we value each life, from chicken to dog- and seek to help each animal fufill their purpose as part of our ecosystem. This goat was a reminder, and its purpose goes beyond harvest (which of course we are still grateful for). Its life gave me the opportunity to tell a story of what it's really like here- the choices we make and why we make them. Thank you, Goat, for everything. 

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