Difficult Days: Laments and Lessons On the Farm

The difference between dreams and reality is…well…reality. One often imagines things will work out a certain way, imagines all the fine details about how such things will work out, invents grand plans based on the success of such imaginings. Then, that cruel, exacting, unforgiving tyrant named “The Way Things Actually Happened” steps in.

The Dreams and Imaginings and Plans

Our pasture is full of tall shrubberies. Goats eat tall shrubberies. Goats (females) give milk. Goats are friendly (so we hear). So I moved to purchase a goat. We would have milk, cheese, soap, and baby goats. We would be closer to self-sustenance.

We bought some baby chicks, gratis our neighbor. 15 meat-bird chicks (though Cackle Hatchery gave us an extra), and 5 layer chicks (“easter-eggers”). We would have meat. We would have blue and green and pink eggs. We would raise them in the chicken tractor I constructed, modeled after hero Joel Salatin. There would be harmony, happiness, and full tummies.

The Way Things Actually Happened

I found a goat for sale online. We’ve been over this. $75 – a pregnant nubian/alpine cross, giving a quart of milk per day. She was beautiful, but a tad wild. I brought her home, put her in the 2-strand electric fence pen I had erected (full of tasty foliage, of course, and plenty of shade), and she promptly escaped. That was a week and a half ago – Tuesday, August 2nd. I haven’t seen her since.

Frustrated and dejected, I phoned the man from whom I had purchased her, asking if he might have another to sell me, perhaps at a discounted price (more discounted than the great price I had bought the first one for). It just so happened that he had sold the other two similar goats to a lady who had later called him and told him she could only keep one, and asked if he’d buy the other back. To make a long story short, I got in touch with her, and on Tuesday, August 9th, I went to pick up my new goat, for $50.

Now, Dad was in town, and he had helped me build a new pen, out of 6-foot-high chain link fencing. Very tall, and we reinforced the bottom so she couldn’t slip underneath. We thought about tying her up for a few days, but decided against it at the advice from the woman selling it to us – she thought if it wasn’t used to a rope, it might choke/strangle itself. Good advice, we thought. Stick with good fencing.

We got the sweet goat – who was also pregnant, very pretty (though a little smaller/skinnier than the first goat), and had turned out to be the goat I had originally kind of wanted before I purchased the other.

We thought about getting a bell to put around her neck, but were short on time, and so I planned on doing it the next day. So we brought her home and put her in her pen. She nervously munched on some leaves, and generally kind of avoided me. Understandable – she was a goat from a herd: more used to goat interaction than human interaction.

I went to get her water trough – which was in the original goat pen still – and as I approached her pen, she grew increasingly nervous. Placing one, then both front hooves on the fence, she found a spot that was not supported well. She could push it down a bit. I didn’t realize this spot was so weak. Neither did I realize she would try to push the fence down. In a flash, she had climbed the fence, and was out. I screamed for Dad, who was bringing the bag of sweet feed out of the car. He came down, but before we could even try to slowly approach and corral her, she was into the woods, and vanished.

We searched high and low for missing goat #2. Not a sight, not a sound. She was gone.

Reeling in disbelief, I spewed, for several hours, my anger and confusion. I felt like the farm world was laughing at me, condemning me. What kind of an animal caretaker was I, anyways? TWO GOATS. GONE. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them again. Probably not. They’ll end up in another county with someone else’s goats. Or perhaps dead by dogs or coyotes. Shame, disillusionment, and I wanted to give up farming. My confidence was shaken, my optimism had betrayed me, my dreams had vanished. Twice.

Now to the chicks.

We lost a few chicks early on. One easter egger ended up dead within a week. Don’t know how. Sometimes that just happens. Okay. Then a meat bird died during week two. We had them in the tractor at this point. Maybe it was the oppressive heat. Maybe just the natural attrition rate – my brother, who worked on a farm, reported a meat-chick attrition rate of 10%. Then a meat chick got stuck under a part of the tractor, unbeknownst to us. It died. Then another meat chick died. Convinced it was the heat, we moved them to the shade of a tree (the tractor is built to have part shade and part sunlight, but it can still get pretty hot in there, and it was stupidly hot outside at this point). No more died. Then, I began noticing that the mesh I had nailed over the chicken wire on the tractor – to keep out snakes – had been pulled down or something. Hmmm….I thought.

Last night, we saw a coon down in the woods, eating the sweet feed I’d left out for the purpose of drawing sweet goat back home. Tried to shoot it, but once I had the gun, I couldn’t find it.

Then, this morning, I opened the lid of the tractor to find three dead chicks – two meatbirds and one easter egger. There was blood. One chick had been partially eaten. A fourth chick had a bloody, wounded leg, and didn’t seem to be walking very well.

HOW?! I wondered. Then, I noticed at one side of the tractor, feathers strewn about, dirt dug away. He had dug underneath and crawled inside. He had killed who he wanted, eaten what he wanted, and gone back home.

The lost goats brought feelings of sadness, frustration, confusion, hopelessness. The murdered chicks give rise to a more determined rage. I liked killing coons before, but I felt a twang of sadness when I pulled the trigger. Now, I imagine waterboarding them first. Or worse. You know. Maybe they’ll turn over the locations of their friends and their outposts. Maybe they won’t, and I’ll have to resort to more primitive methods – like those they used on our chicks.

In reality, I’ll continue to trap them, and shoot them in the head. But you won’t begrudge me if I do it a little more joyfully than before.

In Conclusion

Life on a farm is a challenge. It provides days, weeks of problem-free happiness. Then come the seemingly-endless days of loss, death, tragedy, predation, and disappointment.

But I’m resolved to maintain resolve. I will own my errors, and wring from them every bit of knowledge and wisdom that can be gained. Disappointment and discouragement will not last. And this morning as I fed our loyal pigs, released our happy hens, and tended our remaining chicks, joy crept back in. The farm truly is a great place to be.

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4 Responses to Difficult Days: Laments and Lessons On the Farm

  1. Claire V says:

    Loved the resolution and theme.

  2. Jessica Claxton says:

    I don’t remember seeing anything about how to waterboard a raccoon in Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. And bummer about the goat(s).

  3. Danielle says:

    just thought I’d read and check up on you girl, it’s good to know yall are doing well, despite the sadness and rage 😉

  4. Jon says:

    “Mornin’ Nate”
    “Mornin’ Coon”

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