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You were warned!

It's been a while since I posted anything of substance, but it's already been busy up here. Spring is coming!! No, REALLY! Never mind that we've just three days of snowy, cold weather and about 4 inches of new snow. Last Wednesday morning I stumbled out of the house at 630 am (as customary) to go do my morning feeding and while walking up the hill towards the garage and lean-to, I noticed all three of the horses are facing up the hill, with ears pricked forward, and obviously looking at something, but not spooked like if a loose dog or a cougar was around.

"What the hell are you bozos looking at," I wondered to myself. "Deer or something up on the hill?" Deer both fascinate and spook horses. Dunno why, but they do.

About halfway up to the lean-to, I hear a high-pitched "maaaaah!" that is unmistakably a baby-goat bleat. Oh. Shit. Somebody has kidded early. And it's been raining, and then freezing at night. I hustle up to the goat and sheep pens, and Nana, one of my senior does is nonchalantly walking around, there are three soaking-wet, unlicked and cold kids lying in various places in the cold wet straw, on the cold wet concrete in the pen. Shitty-shit-shit. Kids will die if they get chilled and aren't quickly seen to by mom. I hurriedly grab up three cold and wet kids all at once in my arms and rush them into a pile of straw in the lean-to. Grab a rope and after a few minutes of chasing Nana, get it on her and pull her into the lean-to as well. Grab a small handtowel that I had left up in one of the garage apartmens for something or other and start briskly rubbing and drying the kids as much as I can. Nana is highly uninterested, and seems much more concerned about browsing on the hay bales stacked in the lean-to.  A preliminary toweling-off complete, I shut the lean-to gates and run down to the house and as soon as I open the door barked towards the bedroom, "Forrest!! Get up! Nana's had triplets and isn't cleaning them!"

A muffled "Wha..? Oh! I'm up!" from my dear and loving mate, and I quickly call in to work, get my supervisor on the phone and breathlessly inform him, "We'vegotsurprisetripletsI'mgonnabelate,sorrygottago!"  

"Wait! What? How late?"

"Ah..um! I dunno...an hour or two! I've gotta go get them cleaned up, bye!"

I felt really bad as I had judged that Nana was going to kid first, but that she still had about a week to go, so I hadn't built the kidding stalls that previous weekend. I grab some bath towels and Forrest and I head up and resume drying the kids as best we can. Brisk rubbing gets the circulation going, and stimulates them (lambs, kids, colts, calves, whatever) to get on their feet. There are two bucklings (boys) and a doeling (girl), and the two bucklings look good, but the doeling seems to be the coldest and is fairly unresponsive, she just seems to want to lie there. We quickly get a kidding stall arranged, stacking straw bales for the walls, and tying a pallet across the front; I'm either cheap or improvisational. It works. I figure Nana was a little upset about kidding in with the other goats, as does will naturally try to find a place somewhat away from the herd to kid. We went down to the house to leave her be quiet for a while and see if that would induce her to start licking and thereby accept the kids and let them nurse. If they don't get the colostrum, which is the thick sort of waxy, creamy 'first milk' that has a lot of nutrients and antibodies from the mother, the babies don't do well, and will often die.

We came back up about a half hour later and she is 'talking' to the kids in short bleats and they are responding. The doeling is still just laying in the straw, however. I had to get to work, and told Forrest to keep me updated by email, especially before he left for work around 1 pm. The bucklings he had seen nurse, he said, but not the doeling. This was not sounding good, and I fully expected to come home and find her dead, but when I got home she was up and being a little active. I managed to corner Nana and strip a little milk from her with the intention of getting at least something into the doeling so she'd survive the night. No luck. No suckling reflex, and when I tried to wedge the nipple into her mouth to drip some milk in, she does the pitiful baby-bleat that makes me feel like the Evil Human Trying To Kill The Goat. I put her back in the kidding stall and decide that whatever Nature decrees, so shall it be. One of the bucklings is a dark-chocolate brown all over with one white foot, just like his sire, Spats. The usual color for Boer goats is white with a brown head and 'cape', and often white markings on the face. So I'm thrilled that this one little buckling is a 'chocolate goat', and I wonder how odd that color type is. Here's a pic of the trips and their mum.

I make another kidding stall for Indigo, my other senior doe, since I figure she will kid next. We will need one more for Circe, who is Indigo's two year old daughter, and this will be her first kidding. I give a look at the two does, and figure Indigo looks like she's closer, so I grab her and put her in the stall. 

The next morning I get up and Forrest wakes up for a little bit to sleepily mutter to me "Circe had a buckling last night...I put them in the lean to." Well! Surprises all over, it seems! I go up to the lean-to and sure enough, there's a little brown-and-white buckling in the straw at her feet. Circe isn't as mellow and friendly as her mother and aunt Nana, though, and she has horns, so I quietly talk to her and get a look at the buckling, who is up and nursing.

All is well. Nana's kids are still alive, and active. Maybe my fears about the doeling were unfounded. Indigo has not kidded yet, but looks like she's swallowed four whole watermelons. She looked the same last year, and I was convinced she was going to have at least twins, maybe triplets, and she ended up only having a singleton buckling, although he was huge. So huge, we had to pull him, and at birth, he was slightly bigger than Nana's twins who had been born two weeks prior to that.

Indigo says, "Wha? Huh? You talking about me? I heard my name....got any food?"

Interestingly enough, as I write this, a hindquarter of that very buckling, whose name was Magnus, is slow-roasting in my oven at this very moment. Sort of feels like the completion of some kind of circle.

I come home that night, everyone is fine. Indigo still hasn't popped, but I look at her and think that she looks more sunken around the hips, maybe she'll kid tonight. Next morning, nothing. Sigh. I get in to work and around 2 pm, Forrest drops by as he often does, and tells me Indigo had twins! And one of them is an all-brown doeling! So now I have TWO chocolate goats from the same sire!

On top of all this, the previous Friday I had gotten a free bummer Katahdin lamb that I'm bottle-feeding. Which means that sometimes she comes to work with Forrest and stays in a box in his car until I can pick her up on my way off of work at 430, since it would be too long between feedings to leave her at home. Or we ask Forrest's parents to lamb-sit for the day. 'Lambchops' has also gone to medieval-night practice and dazzled everyone with Epic Levels of Disgusting Cuteness. Here she is, checking out the hem of my cloak and the basket of feastgear on the floor. Pardon the crappy camera, her white coat is just reflecting the flash; she's not actually radiating an aura of Holy Lamb or anything.

It's really difficult, I admit, to bottlefeed a fuzzy, white, epitome-of-cuteness baby lamb and let it sleep on your lap tucked underneath your sweater (since you're in a drafty building), give it the necessary physical contact it needs and at the same time exert the mental discipline to not get emotionally attached to something you plan to kill and eat 8 months or so down the road. I fell victim to the Cuteness Defense with Bodhran, the goat I got from a guy I work with. I had fully intended him to become a bodhran (an Irish drum played from the side; all the best bodhrans are made with goatskin heads) and some freezer meat. However, he ended up spending a few nights in the bathroom since it was rainy and cold when we got him, and he was so mellow and friendly, and forlorn without any people around. Then he came along to a few medieval outdoor events, cooed and fussed over, and.....yeah. He's now being sold to a no-kill home, as I will not have his blood on my hands. Oh, I could probably do the deed....but I think the meat would taste like sawdust in my mouth.

This is why one of the tenets of the Homesteading Creed (if there was one) should be "Thou shalt not get attached to that which thou shalt eat." And yes, it's hard. People I know who are city-folk will wonder aloud to me, "How can you raise something, feed it and care for it, from birth, and then kill and eat it? Isn't that cruel?"

Maybe so. People are entitled to their own opinions. Yet that goat that I helped literally bring into this world, and eventually put the barrel of a rifle to its head and pulled the trigger, butchered it out, and cooked and ate it had a much, MUCH better life than any chicken, cow or pig that 99% of city-folk have eaten. You want to see cruelty? Visit (if you can, most are closed-door) an eggery and see how your morning omelet is produced, or visit a feedlot and slaughterhouse. In one, hens are kept all their lives under artificial light in cages they can hardly turn around in, much less walk, hunt bugs, eat grass, or even flap their wings. In the other, animals are raised in crowded feedlots and have rarely or never felt grass underneath their hooves before they are eventually piled into trucks and then herded towards their fate, smelling the blood and entrails of those who have been slaughtered moments ago. They get an air-propelled bolt through the head, which kills on the first shot, at best, 90 percent of the time in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing. Others get broken legs and aren't all the way 'gone' by the time they are hung on hooks and pulled away to have their throats slit in a miasma of pain and terror. Enjoy your next steak you buy from the store, because that's how it got onto your plate. Nothing in this world is 'free' in terms of that kind of cost; everything has a price. It just depends on who pays it, and how.

I didn't intend to get all graphic and rant-y, but there you have it. I've only had one 'bad' kill and I felt like shit afterwards for quite a while, but it drove me to learn the right way to do it. My animals get the absolutely best life I can provide, they have freedom, good food, loving care, and the full opportunity to naturally be a goat, or be a chicken, or be a sheep. At the end, they get a quick and as painless a death as I make every effort to manage.

Now, who is cruel?