Mouth

Goats.

Early this week, I stocked my slow-cooker with roast, carrots, celery, onion, broth, and a slew of herbs in preparation to feast like a queen, for no particular reason other than it was Sunday, and it sounded delicious. The timer buzzed two hours later, I lifted the lid, and an aroma most divine sucker-punched my schnoz. It tasted incredible.

It wasn’t an elaborate meal. It was simple and flavorful, with one significant distinction. The difference between my roast and yours?

I knew the animal.

In 2004, my parents embarked on a quest for a lawnmower and returned with goats. Close, kind of.

Luke, Jake, and Chance return to the barn after an afternoon of feeding in the woods. A goat's stomach has four chambers.

Luke, Jake, and Chance return to the barn after an afternoon of feeding in the woods. A goat’s stomach has four chambers.

Ten years ago, we adopted Jake, Lou, and Dolly, three oddball Pygmies. Our empty barn immediately burst to life.

SV-goats-09

SV-goats-10

Years later, enter Annie and Olivia, two beautiful female Boers. Then Badger, a dread lock-baring Angora resembling a Bob Marley relative. Then Lilo and her daughter, Stitch. And Rusty, the big-balled stud that would eventually impregnate all of them. Minus the boys, since you know, biology.

After years of owning these furry, potbellied weed-whackers, breeding seemed like the natural progression in our life-sized experiment in raising livestock. And probably the cutest, most miraculous adventure we would have on our farm.

Goat babies, or ‘kids’ in the farm realm, are everything that’s right with the world. Five minutes spent with one of these teeny snugglers, and all evil is lost. They’re playful, charming, and absolutely, unbearably adorable.

Ivan feeds from his momma. Kids wag their tales when they feed, and punch the bag to keep milk flowing.

Ivan feeds from his momma. Kids wag their tales when they feed, and punch the bag to keep milk flowing.

This is Riley, our most adored runt. Last summer we lost Riley to illness, followed shortly by baby Stella, his very best friend.

This is Riley, our most adored runt. Last summer we lost Riley to illness, followed shortly by baby Stella, his very best friend.

One summer afternoon following a Detroit Tigers’ game, we arrived home to a tiny, white, doe-eyed kid balled up in the straw napping. We named him Luke. My heart turned to goo.

Luke's birthday before Lilly arrived. Forgive the image quality; early iPhones sucked.

Luke’s birthday before Lilly arrived. Forgive the image quality; early iPhones sucked.

Our herd grew by nine when Luke, Lilly, Dottie, Rosie, Star, Chance, Cinnamon, Roxie, and Reba joined us that summer—the first of four batches of babies we’d snuggle in the future. It was a doozy.

We witnessed and assisted in the delivery of all our kids, with the exception of Luke’s surprise arrival. I was quickly desensitized to birth by the amount of blood, goo, placenta, and afterbirth encountered that summer. I’m practically a midwife.

We experienced our first rejection. Star, the last of Lilo’s triplets, was a runt, unable to stand, and subsequently denied. We doctored leg braces with fabric tape and popsicle sticks—a win in farming ingenuity.

We experienced our first bottle-feedings. Both Star and Chance took formula ten times a day to compensate for Lilo’s lack of attentiveness. They often napped in our living room on a dog bed occupied by our Black Labrador Retriever.

It was and remains a crazy life.

But Stitch, that delivery was unforgettable. Her pregnancy was a complete surprise.

My sister and I readied the birthing pads, paper towel, and surgical scrub in anticipation of the little ones, and hunkered down with my dad in her pen. It was the middle of summer; the barn was boiling. Finally, she started pushing, but the baby wasn’t budging. Uneasiness and concern consumed us—this was taking too long.

Then chaos.

The baby needed a helping hand. Dad soaked his mitts in Betadine, and all three of us tried to stifle our shared sense of panic. We’d never experienced a birth like this—we were too fresh. My sister and I pinned Stitch as my dad reached in to find the baby. She was screaming. We were horrified. After an eternity of pain-induced wailing, my dad found a hoof and gently yanked the little sucker to daylight. It was alive.

Finally, quiet.

We leaned ourselves against the wooden beams, sinking into the hay, and collectively cried. It was the single-most overwhelming moment I’d experienced in that barn.

Pippy and Pierre pose for the camera. All of our goats are uniquely identifiable by their markings, like Pippy's "long stocking."

Siblings Pippy and Pierre pose for the camera. All of our goats are uniquely identifiable by their markings, like Pippy’s “long stocking” on her left leg.

Despite infinite moments of joy, farm-life is messy. With every life, death hovers around the corner. This year was riddled with tragedy. Over the course of one summer we lost five goats (a farm record), three of which were babies.

It was heartbreaking.

Riley naps on the hearth of our wood-burning stove. We lost Riley to illness a few months later, followed by his very best friend, Stella.

Riley naps on the hearth of our wood-burning stove. We lost Riley to illness a few months later, followed by his very best friend, Stella.

We’ve lost goats to illness, accidents, heartbreak, cold, and childbirth. In our ten years of farming, we’ve witnessed 11 goats die from natural causes. Death is tough, and each loss is deeply felt by members of the herd, our family included.

So, we raise goats. Now what?

People always ask. Naturally, the follow-up question is “what do you do with them?” Depending on the inquirer, the reaction to my answer generally yields one of two responses; a natural curiosity to know more, or a complete look of horror.

Because we eat them.

Some are sold to family farms like ours, some are sold for breeding, but mostly, we eat them.

I understand the horror. It must be difficult for anyone that isn’t exposed to farm-life to digest the fact that we raise our animals for food. It’s probably more difficult to swallow after having regaled them with tales of afternoon frolicking and snuggling babies.

But it’s no different than picking up a package of ground beef at your local grocery store. That plastic-wrapped hunk of meat once belonged to a thing that moved, mooed, clucked, or maa-ed, but it’s easy to forget life when our chow is pre-packaged in a cooler among a sea of groceries.

We spend a lot of time with our herd. We scratch behind their ears and under their chins. We rub their bellies. We giggle as they scramble along in a bleating mass, trying to reach the lush, green branch we have trailing behind us. We sunbathe together in the pasture. We help deliver their babies. We name them.

Rosie sunbathes near the barn. Our does wear colored collars as an extra method of identification.

Rosie sunbathes near the barn. Our does wear colored collars as an extra method of identification.

But at the end of the day, our goats have one purpose—to feed us. We’re cultivating a sustainable food source, and doing so responsibly. And it’s nice to know our animals were treated kindly, fed well, and raised with love in the process. That notion alone is more satisfying that the meat itself.

As I tenderly slice into my goat roast, I find myself both nostalgic and wholly thankful for the animal, its life, and its sacrifice. Every bite is seasoned with memories.

Slow-cooker goat roast with carrots, onion, celery, garlic, broth, and herbs.

Slow-cooker goat roast with carrots, onion, celery, garlic, broth, and herbs.

Discussion

2 responses to ‘Goats.

  1. Seasoned with memories indeed.

    The simple fact is that when we eat meat something has to die. It is comforting to know, however, that what we do is sustainable and responsible. Sending animals to the butcher is generally a bad day, but I take comfort in knowing there was a lot of heart and soul put into raising them so they could ultimately provide nutrition for the family. And so a farmer’s circle of life is completed, but the anticipation for next year’s kid crop begins again…

    Like

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