Homesteading seems to have a heavenly glow hanging over it in the minds of those who dream of living this life. Beautiful sun rises, butterflies, big gardens with wonderful yields, sweet babies born in your barn.
And it is all these things, but there is another side. The side that is ugly, sometimes gruesome, and hard. The side that leaves you feeling zapped of all your strength and wondering what the heck you are doing. The side that demands you keep working when you feel all your strength and endurance have been sucked dry. The side that leaves the hard choices, the life and death decisions, promptly before your feet. The side that leaves you wondering if there is a right choice, and if the choices you made in the past were wrong.
This is the hard part. This is the part that no one wants to think about, but will come to everyone who decides to embark on a self sustained life, whether full throttle homestead or mini-backyard farm. You will have to make hard choices, and there is really no way anyone can ever completely prepare you for them.
I have talked a lot about Elvis lately. Elvis was the offspring of my favorite goat ever, the goat that trained me to milk. Her name was Olive. I adored her, and she fully trusted me. Two and a half years ago, we were all eagerly awaiting Olive’s kidding. She was huge and I just knew she was going to have at least twins.
Olive had a very hard delivery. She had one doeling, which she adored, and a huge buckling, which presented wrong and got stuck. We had to pull him and almost lost him before we got him out. We were able to save him, but Olive continued in labor for the next three hours. She finally delivered a still born third kid. She was up, eating, taking care of her babies and so proud. We all took a deep breath and a sigh of relief that it was over.
The next morning I came to the barn and found Olive dead.
No one knows why Olive died. 12 hours before she was happy, alert, proud momma. The vet could give us no definitive answers.
What a blow. I can truly say I loved that girl and I grieved for her for a long, long time. Is this silly? Weakness? No, this is being a homesteader. This is a link to your food.
Now I became the mother to Olive’s two babies. I loved them, bottle fed them, and made sure that they were well cared for. We made the choice to keep her buckling for breeding, as she was an outstanding doe and his father had beautiful milking lines.
Little did I know what that choice would result in.
My cute little baby that loved to sit on my lap and cuddle in my neck fully transformed into a hulking, hormone raging, peeing on his head, girl crazy, monster this year. I knew this would happen, as it must with all un-castrated male goats. It is their calling in life to be a goat’s gift to everything female, at least in their eyes.
But Elvis was over zealous. He began jumping fences in August. We reinforced the fences, he jumped them. We reinforced more, he squeezed through. We put up cattle panel, he found a way to break through it. Finally, after 3 months of pulling our hair out, our only option was to put up hotwire, or electric fence.
I hate electric fence, only because I have some very ugly childhood memories from it.
But it was our only option, so we made the choice, spent a lot of money, and put it up.
It only took Elvis three pops to realize that that fence was not to be messed with. After the third pop, he went to his barn and laid down with his friend.
We rejoiced and thought, “Hallelujah! It’s the end!”
The next day I fed like normal and all was well.
That evening I went to check the livestock and saw a terrible site. Elvis had tried to jump the fence, only got his leg twisted in the wire. He was hanging by one foot.
When I first saw him, I thought he was dead, but when I yelled his name, he lifted his head and looked at me.
This was not a swear, but a cry. I needed help. This was going to be hard.
After much effort, as he had really gotten himself into a mess, I was able to free him. He was so weak, that he simply fell to the ground and sat there looking at me with a look of “Why?” and fear.
I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad. I had no way to know how long he had hung from that fence. It could have been a mere hour, or hours. I just didn’t know. I knew that his leg was cold and his tongue was swollen. These were not good signs.
For the first time in awhile, due to his over stinkiness, I let him lay in my lap while we inspected him. I pet his head, and rubbed his back. He looked at me with those big black eyes that said “Why?”
Preston and I loaded him in the farm wagon and brought him into the barn. After inspecting him, Preston determined that his leg was not broken, but couldn’t tell about his hip, as he was too weak to stand. He wouldn’t eat or drink, so we doctored his cuts, gave him some pain reliever and left him in the cool, dark barn to rest.
The next morning he was standing and eating, but was dragging his back leg, the one that was stuck in the fence. Preston was on duty, (he is a firefighter when he’s not farming), and so I inspected the leg as best I could. I couldn’t feel any bones out of place and hoped it was just the lack of circulation that was keeping him from using the leg. I left him with fresh hay and water and some more meds.
As the day progressed, I checked on him frequently, by the end of Saturday, I knew that he was going down hill. He had started to shake, which is a sign of pain, and I knew that the decision I had to make was to have Preston put him down. I gave him some more meds, some sweet feed and hay, and a stinking, stinking hug.
Early this morning, Preston got of shift. I knew what had to happen, but it didn’t make it any easier.
Before he got home, I went out to tell Elvis good-bye. I gave him a hug and told him he was a good buck and that I knew he was only doing what he was programmed to do, but Dammit!, why’d he have to be so over programmed! I told him I loved him and I was so, so sorry it had to be this way. I told him it would be fast, and that he would never know it was coming. I told him he would be out of pain soon. I thanked him for all he has given this farm, and for sharing his life with me.
And then Preston did what had to be done.
He went fast. And now he had no more pain.
These are the hard choices.
This is the part of farming that hurts.
Am I a stupid, silly, weak girl to mourn a stinky goat? Sure, you can say that. I have a healthy respect for this life, I know that these choices will have to be made, and I will have the strength to make them when they come, and the strength to say yes to another day of farming tomorrow.
But I will never look at my animals as just a soulless hunk of flesh that has put here to serve me. I know that the Bible says God loves people and the animals just the same. And I figure if God can love an animal, and He tells me to care for it, I will. To the best of my ability, I will try to give these wonder animals the best life they can have, and when it comes time to die, I will make sure it as painless and fast as possible.
These are the things the “It’s a Wonderful Farm Life” books don’t tell you.
Sometimes it’s not easy, some times it’s not smiles, and sometimes it’s not harvest and sweetness and bounty.
But sometimes it is and that’s what keeps us going.