Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Goatherd Ruminates on Animal Care

Today I worked on cleaning out the box stall in the barn. This is one of my least favorite tasks on the farm, but it must be done. It goes without saying that goats cannot be potty trained, and thus their waste tends to considerably pile up over time. Modern barns are constructed so that machinery can enter and clear out the waste from the livestock. It can then be used as a fertilizer to nourish fields. Unfortunately, my barn was built a century before farmers could have envisioned machinery that would assist in this task! Thus, I utilize the classic tools of pitchfork and wheelbarrow to remove the manure!

We had a dusting of snow last night, so it was cool today. Dressed in my Carhartt overalls and Muck boots, I was less than glamorous as I began my task! The pups offered their “supervision” by first playing and then napping exactly where I wanted to work! I used my pitchfork to lift layer after layer of manure and toss it in the wheelbarrow – not an easy task on the back. Once I filled the wheelbarrow, I pulled & pulled across the barnyard, across the horse lot, all the way to the compost pile. Despite the snow last night, the ground was soft & muddy. This made it a bit difficult to navigate the horse lot pulling a heavy wheelbarrow, but the pups cheered me on!

I then pushed the wheelbarrow up the compost pile as far as I could and emptied it. After this, I tossed the larger chunks of manure up on top of the pile, to discourage the pups from digging in the compost. (Thanks a lot, boys, for pointing out the need for more cover on the pile by illustrating how easy it was to dig down to where Abe the Mule was buried!) That part of the job is particularly dirty, as I always end up with muck inside my gloves. My gloves are old & worn, and my finances do not permit the purchase of new ones.

I must admit to the fact that I can only manage about three loads per day before I reach my physical limit. This was particularly true today: the first Friday of Lent. My meager bowl of cheerios for breakfast caused my stomach to sound like a hyena as I was working on the last load I carried out! The other less-than-super part of the job is that I inevitably get very warm as I work, causing me to perspire. This leads me to start removing layers, and then I end up sweaty & cold in the winter weather – yuck! This probably also contributes to the hearing issues I have, which I suspect result from untreated ear infections. My grandfather likewise suffered from hearing issues, thus I wonder if our outdoor work in the winter weather added to a genetic predisposition to this problem. I cannot afford health insurance, so I do what I can to manage this problem without seeing a doctor. (Please be patient whenever I ask you to repeat what you just said!)

Despite these complaints, I recognize the importance of the task of cleaning the barn. The next group of does will begin kidding at the end of March, and I want to have a nice clean pen for the mothers. As I worked, I contemplated everything I had done today to promote quality livestock care. I took feed, water, and hay to the pen of little doelings that need to put on weight. It is costing me extra investment to nurse these little girls along, but I want them to be in good form. I gave extra rations & water to the yearlings that were just bred. Some may be pregnant, some may not, but I am trying to give them every benefit I can to ensure they are successful mothers.

I took water out to the main herd, stumbling through the mud pit that has formed outside the barn, thanks to all the rain we’ve had of late. The does stood safe & dry inside the barn and watched me as I struggled! Next, I picked up the hay they had wasted by strewing it on the ground. We have to be as efficient as possible, so I warned the ladies to clean up that hay before they got grain. I noticed that my tiny baby goat Scrappy Coco was looking particularly hungry. I was actually shocked when his mother gave birth to him, as she was thinner than I like a mother to be. Thus, I have been doing everything I reasonably can to help Scrappy. I “convinced” Bounce the Goat to let Scrappy nurse her for a few minutes. Bounce has a very full udder of milk and only one baby on her. She was not particularly pleased by this nursing activity, but I tried to be gentle as I held her & talked to her about what a good goat she is. Scrappy managed to get a decent meal and returned to his own mama.

I then clambered through even more mud to get to the bucks! Boyo K. Manley and Sean of Arabia live with good old Forrest, my bellwether. Forrest will be ten in April and is suffering from arthritis & hoof trouble. He’s had a long life, and I have come to peace with the fact that I will soon need to butcher him. He is aging and his physical ailments make life more difficult. I want my animals to be content during their lives and to be respected when they die. Soon I will have to make the decision that it is the appropriate day for him to be slaughtered. His meat will go to feed my guard dog, Jolie. Until then, though, I dote on him to keep him well. I am sure that I look ridiculous when I stand guard while Forrest eats so I can shoo Boyo & Sean away from Forrest’s bowl!

Next on the schedule was feeding the chickens. The hens are finally starting to lay again after a long winter break. This morning I was delighted to find 2 eggs! I let the chickens outside to frolic and will return tonight to shut them inside. I have lost hens before to foxes & raccoons, so I am very vigilant to keep them penned up at night. Once I get the box stall cleaned out, the chicken house will be next on the agenda. My final task, before getting to work on the box stall, was to feed the pups. Puppy chow is incredibly pricey, but these are working dogs that need good nutrition. The Pyrenees pups will require great financial investment, but their job is to protect the herd from the coyotes that have killed so many of my precious goats. Plus the love of a good dog is very rewarding!

As I worked I considered all of the items I had completed thus far in an effort to provide good care for my livestock. It struck me that there were very few animal rights activists who could list so many accomplishments for individual animals! I began to ruminate on how Wayne Pacelle, CEO of HSUS, might be spending his day. The Humane Society of the United States is truly misnamed, because they do NOT support local shelters. I have only the greatest respect for local humane societies that work to actually provide care for animals. This respect only increases my disdain for HSUS – which raises money under the notion that it supports shelters and then spends that money on efforts to hamper farmers like me. HSUS has made it clear that it promotes a vegan society and is against livestock production.

As the CEO of HSUS, I admit that Wayne Pacelle – with his perpetual orange tan and emotional speeches – is an easy target. I take the efforts of his lobbying group quite seriously, however. Wayne Pacelle runs an organization with a budget in the millions, compared to my little farm that I scrimp to operate. While I fed my livestock in the cold today, covered in mud & manure, he was probably wearing an expensive suit in a climate-controlled office. Wayne Pacelle might have been flying across the United States to raise money for his animal rights group, while I wondered if I would be able to afford the gas money to drive to a farm conference tomorrow. He probably discussed efforts to run million dollar campaigns in various states in an effort to restrict farmers, while I sacrificed things I need to be able to provide for the actual care of animals. Wayne Pacelle will probably head home to relax after work tonight, while I will be back in the barn – in the dark & the cold – making sure each creature is safe for the night.

In truth, I am sure Wayne Pacelle shares many of the struggles that we all share as humans. I expect that if we sat down and chatted over dinner (tofu for him, steak for me), we would have an interesting conversation. Wayne, you can consider that an open invitation! I resent the fact, however, that we farmers work so hard to provide the best quality care we can for our animals, and end up attacked by animal rights groups. The irony is that I am exactly the type of farmer that most of these groups would say they support: I have a small, sustainable operation where I feed my animals hay & grain raised in Ohio, and I sell my animals to be processed locally to feed an underserved ethnic population. Despite this, I know that any effort to hinder agriculture affects each and every farmer. When outside lobbying groups attempt to dictate how farmers raise their animals & their crops, farmers AND consumers lose! I have a great respect for the consumers I serve, and I am likewise offended when these lobbying groups attempt to limit our ability to freely choose the food we want through our spending dollars!

Obviously, mucking out a stall allows my mind to wander on many topics! I am certainly an opinionated goatherd, but those opinions have been formed while shoveling manure, trimming goat hooves, baling hay, and cutting meat on a band saw. I am appreciative of research studies and commentaries that I read, but I will openly admit that my opinions on farming and on life have been shaped through the realities I experience. All life is precious. Animals deserve appropriate care. The life cycle is to be respected. There is a greater reward beyond this world for those who walk humbly with God. There is no endeavor more ancient and noble than the care of the earth and the Lord’s creatures.

So, Wayne Pacelle, what did you do today to promote animal care?

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