Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day in the Life of The Goatherd

So what can you expect from my farm journal? Information about agriculture, promotion of Harrison Farm products, and recounts of my hilarious misadventures! With apologies to the parents of Winchester Elementary Bus Route #5, here is a typical event in the life of the Goatherd . . .

One of my favorite recurring jokes is to reference the TENS of dollars I make as a goatherd! Farming is definitely a business for those who are passionate about agriculture, can handle hard work in difficult situations, and realize that their chosen field will not yield abundant financial profits. I work to utilize everything possible to save money, and try never to let anything go to waste. This can lead to some interesting scenarios . . .

During the summer months, I tend to check the animals a few times a day to guarantee that they have plenty of fresh water. It was the afternoon of one of those late August days, where the sun beats down in such a way that it is hard to believe autumn is so close. After arriving home from a Farm Bureau event, I decided to make a quick jaunt to the barn to check on the well-being of the livestock. As I approached the barn, I could see that one of the little boys had his head stuck in the fence that divides the buck pen from the pasture where Abraham the Mule resides. One of the frustrations that I live with as a Goatherd is dealing with unthinking goats that stick their heads through the fence to nibble at whatever might be on the other side. They can usually stick their head through the fencing, but then discover that the angle of their horns prevents them from removing their head. Typically this results in me struggling to get them out of the fence, since they refuse to believe I could possibly be doing something to help them!

I jumped in the horse lot, expecting to push the head of the kid goat back through, when I realized this was a more serious situation that initially expected. Was the goat alive or dead? He appeared to have put his head at such an angle that he was strangling himself. I pushed and pushed, eventually freeing him, only to realize the goat had just died. Immense frustration! This was the best of my kid goats! Nearly the perfect 50 pounds for sale, healthy, and the son of Little Stuff (one of my best does). Due to his stupid actions, the goat had not only committed suicide, but had lost me the potential to sell him for at least $60 (as the market was running around $1.20/pound).

Losing animals is not only hard on the soul -- this was a living being I had cared for -- but very hard on the wallet. Hay is $4 per square bale. The goat feed I give the young goats is $14 for a 50 pound bag. I spend about 2 hours each day working with the animals. These are all expenses for me. I rely on the sale of meat goats to not only cover the expense of the herd, but provide me with needed funds to eat, to have an SUV, to pay for my cell phone, etc. I cannot in good conscience let anything go to waste. The goat was dead . . . but barely dead. The meat simply couldn't be a total loss.

I hustled back up to the house. Still wearing my summer "barn check" outfit of a Hard Rock Cafe tank top I bought in 1992 and a pair of blue shorts, I added my knee-high black Muck boots and my cowboy hat (which proudly sports a feather from a vulture for decoration). I grabbed my knives and a tupperware container for the meat and hurried back down to the barn. The goat was still dead, so I heaved him over the fence and dragged him up near the water hydrant.

Although I had honed my butchering skills over the last five years working as the general manager of an ethnic slaughterhouse, this was the first animal I had butchered on the farm. In the Great State of Ohio, you can slaughter your animal on your land with no regulations. If, however, you wish to slaughter your animal at another person's property, they must be licensed as a slaughter facility. If you intend to sell the meat, an inspector must be on site. I intended to eat the meat of the goat myself, cook the bones for my crazy dog, and give the internal organs to a friend, thus I could butcher my own animal without regulatory issues. Since the goat was already dead -- sigh -- I did not have to worry about a humane kill. (Actually, so-called animal rights groups should respect that I allowed the goat to choose the end of his own life! HA!) I was a bit overwhelmed, however, with how to start the processing . . .

I tried to consider the best way to keep the carcass clean, using the skin as a work area to protect it from the ground. I decided to take the front legs off first, since I could easily keep them clean. In all my glamour of shorts & Muck boots, I bent over and started skinning out the first leg. After opening the skin, I grasped the leg firmly as I cut it off of the carcass. With a final swipe, the leg was freed, and I stood up -- with goat leg in left hand & knife in right. And at that very moment, there went the school bus with all the little elementary kids looking out the window! Complete embarrassment on the part of the Goatherd!

As I finished the process, I tried to reassure myself that the kids (human variety) were probably too busy texting or talking to pay any attention to the farmer cutting up a goat. I considered that I was doing the right thing by raising and processing my own meat. Really, children need more exposure to farming and food processing! I still couldn't help but think, though, that the small children would now know me as the crazy goat lady with the knife who made them scream on the school bus one afternoon . . .

Just another fun day as a Goatherd & Butcher!

Photo Caption: The Goatherd & Cassie the Goat at the Franklin County Fair! Cassie has NOT been butchered, because she is not suicidal and does not stick her head in a fence. Cassie is part of my herd of commercial meat goats and is an excellent mother. I raise the kid goats for meat, but retain the best little does (girls) to add to the herd. Cassie raised triplet girls this year! I hope to keep all three.

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