Tuesday, May 30, 2017

RIP, Mustard E. Goat

She died on May 15th, with her head in my lap.  The matriarch of the herd, Mustard E. Goat was eleven years old, and her bloodline dominates the Harrison Farm herd of goats.  She was even-tempered and independent.  I always imagined that if she spoke, she would do so with a Scottish accent, inevitably complaining about the youthful shenanigans of others' kids.  The farm has lost one of its greatest characters.

My heart had told me during her pregnancy that this would be Mustard's last kidding.  We moved her to the special needs pen a few weeks ago to ensure she was getting plenty of the best possible grain & hay.  During the winter, Mustard had battled hoof issues and skin issues, but had bounced back from both.  On the Wednesday before her death, Mustard successfully kidded.  I was super excited that one of the twins was a girl . . . One more female to join the others who shared the bloodline of Mustard!  Autumn the Goat (boss of the herd) is her daughter, as is Becky Braune.  Mustard's granddaughters include Kaity Cupcake, Miss Barthol, The Loges, Kief, Black Jack, and Garden Goat.  Maggie (the newest goat yoga superstar) is a great-granddaughter to Mustard.

On Saturday morning, Mustard was grumpy, but I chalked it up to being an ancient mother with two active twins who were needing constant attention.  On Sunday all was status quo.  On Monday, I intended to do as little farmwork as needed.  May 15th is the one day of the year that I try not to work, as it is the anniversary of when my mother passed onward.  When I went down to the barn for the morning check, I was shocked to discover that Mustard's little girl was completely dead.  I took her to the compost pile and buried her, absolutely baffled as to what could have happened to her.   When I returned to Mustard, she did not want to get on her feet . . . And then I realized she was letting flies sit on her ears.  When a goat no longer cares enough to shake the flies off, they have lost their will to live.  With one baby left, I had to focus on his well-being.  I always keep some powdered milk onsite, should a situation like this arise.  Thankfully, the baby boy was quite willing to drink on a bottle.  

Unfortunately, Mustard kept going downhill all that afternoon.  I stayed fairly close to the barn, and frequently checked on her.  As the afternoon got late, I knew that her end was imminent and I found myself unable to leave her.  Her head was at an awkward angle, even with the pillow of straw I had given her, so I sat down next to her and placed her head in my lap.  I told her what a remarkable goat she was, and let her know that she could go peacefully having earned her reward.  I stroked her neck, and kept an eye on her baby.  I doubt that Mustard had any comprehension of my words, but I do think she perceived that she was in the barn where she had spent most of her life, surrounded by the other goats of her herd, and hearing the voice & feeling the touch of the human that had provided care for her.  

Despite my tendency to develop elaborate back stories for the animals, I know their true natures as beasts.  I know the place we each hold in the circle of life.  I hope that somehow there was a sense of peace for Mustard as she ended her time in this world.   I could not bring myself to bury this great matriarch in the general compost pile, and so I took her to the west pasture -- where general population of goats resides, and where Flirt the Horse is buried.  I went back to the compost pile and dug up Mustard's daughter, so they could be buried together.  This was purely for my own comfort, but it was the right thing for me to do.  

I have shared with some of my friends that we received a couple cancellations to Goats & Yoga when attendees learned that I raise meat goats.  It has weighed on me, and I have struggled to identify precisely why it bothers me so.  Both of the attendees who cancelled said they were meat eaters, they believed I was farming in a manner which they supported, but they did not want to interact with an animal who could become meat someday.  Another person did not even sign up for the class, but reached out to ask if the rumors were true that I raised animals for meat.  I am proud of the work that I do, and love talking about it with others.  When I am asked what I do with my animals, I usually explain that every creature on the farm -- including me -- has to contribute.  Some contribute by being parents, some by being guardians, some by being companions, and some by being meat.  The reality of the animal kingdom is that creatures are different.  A goat is not a dog, which is not an elephant, which is not a cat, which is not a chicken, which is not a human.  I believe in valuing each creature for what it is and for what it can contribute.  In some cases, this contribution is meat  . . . which then allows for income to be made to fund the farm, or nourishment to be provided for those humans who care for the animals.

I suspect my comfort with the circle of life comes from being immersed so deeply in it. When new babies are born, I help to make sure they are standing & nursing.  I assist with deliveries if necessary.  I feed the animals, and trim their hooves, and provide their health care, and extract them from bad situations.  I have splinted broken legs, dug maggots out of wounds, and tended to broken horns.  When an emergency happens, it is my responsibility to manage it.  The burden sits on me to decide if an animal must complete its journey of life -- whether by being slaughtered or by being euthanized.  I birth them, I feed them, I heal them, and I bury them.  I serve these animals, and we all serve this farm.  Through the lifetime I have spent doing this work, I have come to peace with my own mortality and with my own place in the circle of life. 

My interns laugh about how often I joke that someday I will just fall down in the barn and the chickens will eat my face off.  I tease the interns to just drag me to the compost pile when that happens, as we do with the livestock.  I work every day to care for the animals, who eat the grass so they become big enough to slaughter, so that I can have nourishment to provide their care.  And someday my time in this world will end, and my body will be buried and will nourish the soil that grows the grass that the animals eat.  My existence is deeply vested in this circle of life every day.

I wish that those who question my work would come to visit the farm.  I wish somehow I could share with them how my heart cried as Mustard took her last breaths with her head in my lap.  I wish I could convey the sorrow I felt as I looked at her orphan baby, and thought about my own experience of losing my parents.  I wish I could share the joy in my heart every time a baby is born, the sweet sound of a newborn nursing successfully, the fear that grips me every time an animal is injured, the courage it takes to know that life & death decisions sit solely on me, and the nights I spend awake second guessing my efforts whenever I lose an animal.  I wish I could convey to others my firm belief that every animal should be valued for what it is, but should also be given the kindness it deserves for its time in this world.  

Some of my animals will serve by becoming meat; all of them will eventually die.  And so will I.  For the time they are here, they deserve respect -- as does every human life.  I wish I could somehow share this perspective on the circle of life with everyone who questions the legitimacy of raising animals for meat.  And I also really wish I could introduce them to Bad Hombre the Goat, so they could understand that a belligerent male goat is very, very different from the adorable babies in Facebook videos.  I hope that by telling the stories of the farm that I will be able to share with others the daily reality of a farm.  And I also hope that these stories will explain why I believe that there is no endeavor more noble than a farmer's calling to care for the earth and God's creatures.