We have been getting to know some goats, learning to milk and how to care for the animals. Each of the goats has a unique personality. The does are all quite friendly, enjoy the human interaction and are generally cooperative with the milking. I am enjoying getting to know each of the four milkers. I’ll write more on them and learning to milk another time.
Today I want to write about their kids and one kid in particular. As we think about having our own goats someday our goal is to be able to get enough milk to provide for all our own dairy needs. I always knew the goat had to have a kid in order to start lactating, but I guess I never really thought about how that played out in reality. Each of the four goats we milk has kids. One had her kids a year ago, was milked through the winter and will be dried off before next winter. Her kids are not with her. She will not be milked in the winter, but will be bred and hopefully have kids next spring and move back into the milking rotation. The other 3 have given birth in the last few months. Two of the goats had twins and one had triplets. So in addition to the 4 milkers, 7 other goats live in this place. The person who owns the goats started with one goat not too long ago, but you can see how quickly that number can grow. Theoretically the goats will stay in milk as long as they are being milked, but it is better to “freshen” them every year or two – which means more kids.
Here comes the harsh reality of farm life – something has to be done with the kids. One option is to keep them and add to your herd, but at some point you reach a limit of how much milk you really need and the financial cost of providing food, space, and care for goats that may not be producing something for you in return. A second potion is to try and sell the kids. American Dairy Goat Association registered doelings can fetch a fairly good price, a doe in milk gets an even better price and each have a fairly good likelihood of finding a new home. Bucklings, however, are a harder sell.
The third option, then, for animals who can’t be kept or sold is to raise them for meat. This is what recently happened to one of the bucklings we have been getting to know. He was never named and we knew from the beginning that would be his fate. By all accounts he was treated very well. He stayed with his mother, nursing from her his entire life. He was not subjected to being disbuded or otherwise altered like some of his counterparts. He was quite wild and lived a fairly natural, happy goat life. He was with his mother until only moments before he met a swift and painless end. The farmer who “harvested” him approaches the job with a great deal of reverence and gratefulness for the life being taken. When we saw the farmer later that night, a tenderness and vulnerability permeated the work; it is not an easy thing to take a life.
This weekend we ate some of that goat. It is the first time I have eaten an animal that I have known. HB harvested our turkey for Thanksgiving a couple years ago, but I didn’t meet or know that turkey. It was certainly sobering to be served goat and then to recognize where that goat came from or, rather, who that goat was. I did feel more grateful; I was more conscious of not wasting. And yet, it did not feel wrong. This is the way it ought to be. If we are to eat meat (and I think we are), then we ought to be more in touch with how that meat comes to us. Eating meat always means a taking a life. We don’t like to think about it, but our squeamishness only leads to less humaneness in the process. Embracing the reality of killing and processing an animal for meat can lead to a greater respect for the animal and a greater sense of responsibility.