I’ve mentioned a few times that we are needing to downsize and reorganize some of what we do. As a result of this decision, we’ve had to say farewell to several beloved animals. Jasper (the friendly goat), Laverne and Shirley, the two most wonderful mules in history, my Kiko goats, just to name a few. Each has left a hole in my heart as he/she drove away to their wonderful new homes.
Well, it happened again this week. A few more of my goats went to live in new digs. We are very happy with the new owners, but my heart aches when I go to feed and they don’t come up to give me kisses.
I always thought farming was supposed to be an objective, matter of fact business, where animals come and go as the business needs demand and that is that. I thought wrong.
On a small farm, and I suspect on larger ones, too, bonds inevitably develop between farmers and livestock. I was talking via email earlier this week with a small farmer who simply cannot bring himself to process any of his hens, because he’s grown so attached to them.
I’ve always thought of myself as immune to that sort of thing. For example, I’ve heard people talk about ‘buck fever’ during hunting season, when they just can’t seem to pull the trigger even with an unmissable shot. I have never even has an inkling of such a condition. So you can imagine my surprise when farming revealed a whole new side of me.
Most of our livestock is merely that, livestock. We buy them or breed them, raise them, process them. It’s what we do. It’s part of the circle of life. But once in a while…
Exhibit A: Miracle the chicken. Miracle has not laid an egg in at least a year. She should have been in a crock pot or dog food a long time ago. When she was only about 8 months old she caught her leg on some rusty barbed wire and got gangrene. I found her in a pasture unable to stand. The green went all the way up her leg. I was sick about it, but was convinced that putting her down was the right thing to do. Brittan persuaded me to try nursing her instead. Her logic was, if she dies, she dies, but if we can save her it’s worth the effort.
My own thinking was, chickens don’t recover from gangrene and she’s suffering. A responsible farmer doesn’t let the animals under his care suffer. We’d had a lot of loss to predators that spring and many of the chickens weren’t quite dead and I had been forced to put them down. I was really weary of killing, so I agreed to nurse the hen. We put her in a corner of the barn with a water bowl and feed dish in easy reach. For weeks she lingered at deaths door and didn’t move an inch. She would, however, eat and drink a little. Then one day we went out to gather eggs and the chicken was up. She was limping badly and had lost quite a few chest feathers, but she was on her feet.
Each day after that she showed steady, observable improvement until she was back to normal with the single exception that the injured leg was twice as big around as the other one. That’s when she got the name, Miracle. Many chickens have come and gone since Miracle’s injury, but she remains, and will until old age finally takes her.
Exhibit B: Patty the Pig. Patty is a Vietnamese Potbelly and should have been sausage ages ago. She had one litter and all the other potbellies have been processed and forgotten. Somehow, Patty never found her way to the freezer. She now pretty much has the run of the place. She sometimes sits by the milk bucket while Brittan is milking, hoping for the excess to make it into her bowl, or hoping B will look away long enough for her to pull down the whole bucket and steal the entire contents; all the while, wagging her tail and looking ever so innocent.
Patty has gone from livestock to pet. It just happened. She will be with us forever.
This week, some more of our goats, a couple of them personal favorites of mine, went to live elsewhere. I don’t know how, when or why I got attached to them, but I did. It’s just not the same without them around.
Farming is not nearly as dispassionate as I thought, or hoped it would be, but it is realistic and reality says, things change. We will go on. Some of this year’s crop of kids will replace the ones we sold. I’m going to try not to get so attached this time. I expect to fail.