The other day I was talking with Jenna from Bee Tree Farm about how hard farming is. You see, we’re both romantics and above all, we love goats. I say this because I think it helps sum up the kind of people we are. When something goes wrong on the farm we look for the silver lining, the learning experience, the justification. And, because we love goats we’re also slightly masochistic and can almost always find the funny side of a story…Even if it’s weeks after the event has taken place and our memory has been dulled by alcohol—While I’m a beer drinker, Jenna’s drink of choice is straight up Bourbon. (Texas Forever, y’all). But here’s the thing.
Farming is tough.
Like fall down on your knees, cry out loud, wipe your brow with a shit and blood stained hand tough.
But then you laugh.
Because you just wiped your face off with poop.
While I was pregnant other women handed out free advice like it was candy:
“Sleep now. You won’t get to sleep when the baby comes.”
“Enjoy this time. Your freedom goes away after you have a child.”
And it’s true…infants and sleep don’t really go hand in hand (at least not at the hours that you want to sleep).
But you know what?
Our infant was a dream compared to this farm.
Since her birth I can attribute way more sleepless nights to this farm than I can to her. In fact, we’re usually tip-toeing past her to get outside to the animals. Lambing, farrowing, things that go bump in the night. When someone on the farm needs you it’s almost always guaranteed someone on the opposite end of the property is also going to need you, and it’s probably also going to be raining.
Leaving the farm? That’s easy with a baby. It’s hard though, to find a minivan large enough to bring the whole farm on vacation.
And then there’s the death.
There’s the animals that die because that is their purpose. You have raised them from birth, in some cases you’ve even saved their lives at birth, just to eat them. Except it’s not, “just” to eat them. It’s acknowledging that animals are more than a product to be pumped out of some factory.
Yes we eat meat. I’m proud of the life that every single one of these animals lives. We are present at every single killing. Our animals are born here and they die here. Our promise to them has always been a life free of stress and full of sunshine, earth and companionship in exchange for nourishing our bodies. We believe it’s a fair trade. We harvested 5 pigs last week who will go to fill 8 family's freezers. These families have been waiting months for their pork with the promise that their meat has been humanely raised. I am honored that we are able to fulfill this promise to them.
And then there’s the death you don’t expect. We lost Lulu last week. Those of you that have followed us for awhile know that Lulu was an Angora Goat my mom rescued from the slaughterhouse, with plans for her fiber. We promised to take care of her and in exchange my mom paid for her feed and anything else she might need (coat, boots, etc.). Lulu was a wreck. She came to us with terrible feet, stained fiber, underweight, and not a bone in her body willing to trust a human. It took a lot of time and patience, but we brought her back. We helped her when she gave birth to her surprise kids (she was pregnant at the slaughterhouse but no one knew), we fattened her up and we trimmed her hooves CONSTANTLY. Eventually she came around. She began to trust…at first for a snack of peanuts and then just because you called her name in the field. Last month she began to fail. She started to stay under shelter when the rest of the goats would head into the forest. We pulled her away from the herd and started giving her more attention. More attention for Lulu meant less sleep for us. It’s a sacrifice we were happy to make. After a visit with the vet we made the call. Lulu wasn’t going to make it. And so Nick stepped up and ended her suffering.
Lulu’s death wasn’t tragic. An autopsy on Nick’s part revealed what we had suspected. Lulu was old. That’s probably why she was sent to the slaughterhouse. Even though she was a high maintenance animal for the majority of her life here, she was a quirky little creature who always reminded me more of a giant hamster than a goat. I’m glad we were able to give her a home, if even for a few short years, because as far as I'm concerned nothing deserves to die in a slaughterhouse. NOTHING.
Between recovering from the stress of her trip up to the slaughterhouse (all we know of her origins is that she came from a farm in Oregon), surprise kids and a nasty bout with lice we never did get useable fiber off of Lulu…but I like to think that we made a difference in her life. In no way do I think we failed Lulu but still, dealing with the death is hard.
My best friend currently lives in Colorado, in a neighborhood with a big enough backyard to accommodate chickens. She hatched her first set and suffered a poor hatching rate, most likely due to dud eggs to begin with. In a late night text conversation, while trying to save one of her incubator chicks she came to the realization, “Farming is Tough.” I of course, agreed.
So begins my new promise to you…to talk about the good AND the bad. I hope that more people take up farming—there is a growing food gap in our world that disconnects people in an unnatural way from the food they put in their mouths. But I’m also realistic. And so, if starting a farm isn’t for you, I hope supporting one is.
The next time you see a farmer, give them a hug. Chances are good he’s just witnessed death. And if the farmer is like me or Jenna, chances are even better there were tears involved. And then, after you’ve given them a hug, buy something. Anything. Because a dollar spent at a farm is worth $25 spent at a big box store.
ps: I just made that statistic up, it’s a bad habit of mine, especially because people tend to believe me. I blame the goats…they’re always making facts up too, usually while trying to convince me they haven't eaten in DAYS.
pps: If I’m the next farmer you see, don’t give me a hug. I’m not a hugger. But you can buy me a beer.