Friday, March 18, 2011

I Love You, Forrest Goat!

I will admit openly admit that there are many parts of farm life that are tough/dirty/exhausting . . . but I enjoy them nonetheless! Cleaning a box stall? YUCK! What fun! Wiping baby goat poop off a little kid's bottom? Disgusting! Come here cute little goat! Tromping through mud/snow/dust to feed goats? UGH! Can't keep me out of the barn & in the house! But there is one part of my work that I detest, as much as I understand that it is part of my responsibility: deciding when it is time for one of my aged animals to be butchered.

I have often written on dealing with the loss of animals. As much as new life is a part of my world, so is death. I rejoice in each birth and mourn each loss. It is especially hard, though, when I have to make the decision -- as a responsible farmer -- to say goodbye to an animal that is special to me. I spent many months caring for Forrest the Goat and refusing to sell him. Within the last few weeks, however, I began to realize that Forrest was not enjoying life as much. I was keeping him with me for my enjoyment, not his. As an animal owner, I had to accept that it was time to say goodbye.

Forrest was the son of Cleopatra, one of two goats that Mother & I bought in West Virginia. After the purchase of our first six goats from Montana, we found a mother & daughter for sale in West Virginia and added them to our herd. Cleo was grumpy, but beautiful. She gave birth to Forrest in 2001. He was a single, and when I first saw I thought he was dead. The baby was all sprawled out. I approached and was delighted to see he was alive! Unfortunately, he was not able to walk very well (and didn't seem too bright). Thus, he became Forrest Goat after Forrest Gump. I recall few baby goats that were sweeter! Due to his walking problems, we ended up bottle-feeding Forrest. I have sweet memories of my brother Kevin visiting the farm and giving Forrest his bottle of milk!

I adored little Forrest, and did not want to part with this sweet-tempered, gangly kid. Thus, he was castrated and became a permanent fixture in the herd. With his physical issues, he would have been an unsuitable sire. By castrating him, Forrest was able to stay in the herd as a bellwether. He was loving in a brotherly way toward the lady goats -- and never liked dogs. When he saw one, Forrest would stomp his feet at that canine to assert his protection over "his ladies"! Forrest was friendly toward humans, and was often at my side while I worked in the barn. I have so many happy memories of Forrest!

Forrest had hoof problems throughout his life. Every year at some point, I would find myself doctoring him. This was compounded by arthritis over the last year. As he disliked walking, he went out into the pasture less, and thus ate less. Since last fall, I was struggling to keep weight on him. Most recently, Forrest lived with Boyo the buck and two other ladies. We briefly got his hoof rot under control after the holidays, but then it reappeared. As much as I babied him, he was getting more uncomfortable. Just a month ago, I turned down another offer to sell him. In the last couple weeks, though, I came to be at peace that I would soon have to make the decision to butcher him. His meat was a healthy protein for my dog, and I couldn't bear to see him suffer.

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Washington, I decided it was time last weekend. I did not want Forrest to be miserable without me there on the farm to give him special attention. With my sentimental streak, I did not want to be the one to do the kill. Mustapha (who works for Blystone Farm), kindly agreed to come help me. I took some pictures of my special goat that afternoon. When Mustapha arrived, I embraced Forrest's neck and told him what a good goat he was. How happy he had made me. That he was noble and had earned his rest. That my mother and Thunder and Abe were all waiting for him. I helped Mustapha hold him as this trained butcher quickly & respectfully brought Forrest to the conclusion of his life cycle.

The meat from this wonderful goat will now nourish my dogs as they work to protect the farm & the animals. I gave the internal items to Mustapha to cook for his family. The pups ended up with some bones to play with and I kept Forrest's horns as tokens of my love for him. While these physical parts of Forrest linger briefly after his life, it is in my memory that he continues on. The life cycle is a reality of agriculture and of life. We are born, we live, we die. I never become immune to the difficulty of making the decision to end a life, but I accept that sometimes death is the most appropriate next step in caring for an animal. It is part of my responsibility as a farmer. I am grateful for all the years that I had with Forrest, and grateful that he is now at rest!

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