Calm. Composed. Prepared. These three words have never, to my knowledge, been used to describe me. As a matter of fact, the only accurate usage of these three words in relationship to me would be out of disbelief, “Wow, you’ve prepared for this.” I’m prone to habitual tardiness, procrastination, and “winging it.” Moreover, I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time and frequently experience panic attacks. As you might imagine, these aspects of my personality are less than ideal when it comes to farming. Exhibit A: momma goat rejects baby goat.
First, let me tell you this story has a happy ending in the form of a bouncing, healthy baby goat. However, before all that came to pass, I nearly lost my mind. For about a week, I canceled social engagements, left my internship early and spent hours watching the back end of my goats waiting for babies to pop out. I had prepared for the moment the best way I am currently capable: I read birthing chapters in goat books and bought/borrowed emergency supplies…at least the ones I thought of. After about a week of this obsessive behavior, I started convincing myself that my goats weren’t actually pregnant (an absolutely ludicrous idea) or, worse, that they’d already kidded and some bird of prey had swooped them away while I was gone. I even searched for them in the dark every night just to be sure…bordering on insane, I know. A few nights passed like this and diligent panic gave way to complacency…there’s no way they’ll come this afternoon, I’ll put in some extra hours at Tubby Creek. Of course, then she comes.
As I got home around 6:00 a little tingle in the back of my neck told me I ought to check the field before feeding animals at the house. Everything appeared fine: goats out for an evening browse, dogs panting, pigs doing pig stuff. As I turned to get back in my truck, though, I thought I saw just a bit of blood on Misty’s (a goat) udders. “I’ll just double check,” I said to myself. I turned off the electric fence and hopped over to be greeted by a very grumpy, still wet, munchkin of a goat. Baby had come! Not only had baby come, though, but baby had been rejected by mom, meaning she hadn’t been cleaned off or fed. This bonding between momma and baby is vital within the first two hours of life, and there was no way to tell how long this situation had gone on. Not had baby been rejected, but momma goat was busy nuzzling and cleaning Chloe, our female Pyrenees! To my knowledge, there is no other documented case of this accidental interspecies bonding happening. What’s worse, all of my efforts to get the two to bond met with failure in the form of Misty nearly trampling baby to get away from the screaming, sloppy mess of a baby goat.
Panic does funny things. My first instinct after failing to get the goats to bond, was to take a photo and send it to my wife, to Jo and Randy at Tubby Creek, and to my parents. My second instinct was to place a very panicked call to Jo and Randy for guidance and to get Claire and my dad out to the field to help. Randy calmly talked me through strategies as Josephine rushed over to help.
That evening was not one of my best moments. In fact, I’m extremely embarrassed by it and hope this literary self-flagellation will atone for my sins. Apparently, in my solitude I’ve given my mind over to illusions of grandeur: I’m brave like Beowulf charging after Grendel, I’m Sherlock Holmes calmly meeting Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls; I’m the unflappable James T. Kirk! Not so; not even close. There’s more than a little Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, in me. If I’m lucky, perhaps I can even aspire to a bit like Jose Martí, the great Cuban poet who fancied himself a revolutionary and bravely charged the Spanish. Of course, he was an easy target in his customary black coat, white horse combo and was killed within minutes of his first battle.
I’m humbled by the fact that Claire, my father, and Josephine didn’t leave me to my own devices as I panicked, kicked things out of frustration, and sought to blame basically anything or anyone in my line of vision for the fact that no matter how hard we tried we could not get this goat to accept her baby. And we tried everything. We held the goat down; we rubbed the baby with the placenta to increase her “mom” smell; we held the baby to the udder; we milked the goat into the baby’s mouth even! I think it was Josephine who finally expressed what I might have calmly realized two hours earlier: we had a bottle baby.
In the dark, damp, mosquito-filled night we managed to milk out Misty and bottle-feed baby, ultimately bringing her back to the house and letting her urinate on our carpet and stumble around to her little goatheart’s content while we enjoyed a few warm beers. For three days, I slept with the little cutie on the bathroom floor, a bit confounded by the fact that I had become a momma goat. We eventually got her used to the bottle and she forged a strong bond with Chloe, who may also be a bit confounded to find herself as a momma goat.
A lot of folks have extolled to me the virtues of a good farmer: patient, prepared, calm, etcetera. Clearly, I am not those things. The Myers-Briggs test and other such corporate pigeonholing tools would have me believe that I ought to work to the strengths of my own personality type rather than seek to be other than what I already am. It would be easy and comfortable to believe that sort of fatalism, “Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a farmer.” As I started twice per day milking of a still unruly momma goat, I think I’m beginning to see it differently. Maybe I don’t need to have all the virtues of a good farmer. Maybe, and hopefully, farming can help me to cultivate them. We often speak of “a different time” where people were self-sufficient and intimately bonded to the land. I’m beginning to feel, as I try to cultivate the patience not to burst into tears or brake something every time Misty ruins a quart of milk by kicking it over or stepping in the milking bucket (there is, often, crying over spilt milk) I can improve myself through practice. This is, in fact, what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he dreamed of a country of “yeoman farmers” (ignoring the less than virtuous, in fact, inexcusable slavery bit, which will be covered at some point on this blog ). Maintaining patience during the frustration of spilt, spoiled or “goat only” milk, which is often the first act of my day, is not only healthy for me, but it is necessary for the farm. The more overtly frustrated I get, the less cooperative Misty gets, the less milk is available to me and, more importantly, to baby Melian. The more patient I am, the more milk I get, and the more docile and happy the goats become. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be “cut out for farming,” but if my increasing patience is any indication of what is to come, I know I’m keen to see what farming decides to make of me.