That’s one of my favorite lines, delivered by the Sean Connery character in a pivotal scene from The Untouchables. It’s a question that every aspiring farmer ought to ask him or herself, especially before taking the responsibility for livestock — and one that I didn’t really ask myself until much later, only when I had to.
To paraphrase: “You said you wanted to get goats. Do you really want to get them? You see what I’m saying? What are you prepared to do? […] You must be prepared to go all the way.”
This morning, I had to make a gut-wrenching decision that no person with a heart wants to make: whether a struggling goat kid can really be brought to a position where he can thrive…or only, at best, be consigned to a lifetime of miserable survival at the margins. And if the judgment is the latter…well, what are you prepared to DO then?
As you may have gathered from the text and photo in yesterday’s post, one of the twin goat kids Queen Anne’s Lace gave birth to was very iffy. He was certainly in better shape than some kids we’ve had born, and we did get him put on a teat to suckle (some kids won’t even do that), but he still had one very big problem: he could barely stand, and couldn’t take two steps without his front legs buckling and falling to his knees. When we put him on a teat to nurse, he sprawled his rear legs behind him. One of us had to hold Mother Goat, while the other one held the goat kid on his feet.
We made sure he got a good meal last night. We owed him that, if he was to have any shot at gaining strength. But this morning, it became more clear that it wasn’t an issue of strength. There was something seriously wrong with his front legs, and milk wasn’t going to cure that. He hadn’t gotten up all night, even though we left the lights on and the other five kids in the pen were romping around with each other; at 7am, he was still exactly where we’d left him at 10pm.
Homeschooled Farm Girl helped me put him back on a teat, but he still couldn’t keep himself erect. We stood him up, and he kept toppling forward. Critically, even his mother seemed to know there was something seriously wrong with him: she would stand still for his twin brother to nurse, but grew increasingly agitated and tried to run away every time we reconnected the lame one to a teat. She’s a big powerful goat, and holding her still long enough for him to nurse (and, remember, someone still had to hold the kid because he couldn’t stand) was becoming nearly impossible.
We even rearranged our schedule this morning, coming home after church instead of straight to my father-in-law’s house, to give the kid another shot at nursing. Same story, same rejection, and same big problem with his legs.
Now we had a decision to make. Spend the next several months picking him up and bottle feeding him in the hopes that his legs eventually change, or put him down now. If he’d been healthy, and simply a bummer kid (rejected by the mother), the decision would be easy. We wouldn’t have been happy, but we would’ve bottle fed him.
But we’ve tried to bottle feed bummers with serious health issues before, and they’ve never ended up healthy. One of them was never able to drink water from a bucket. We literally had to bottle feed him water several times a day until he was old enough to butcher at 7 or 8 months. Another was so scrawny and sickly, even as an adult, he was constantly beaten up by the others and didn’t even have enough meat to justify butchering him. (I eventually simply put him down and we threw the body away.)
The children and Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I had a quick conference. Our consensus was that we should give thanks for the five healthy goat kids born this last week, and not prolong the misery of a kid with legs so bad he can’t even stand.
But actually pulling the trigger on a cute, innocent, defenseless newborn is quite different from coming to a decision in theory. Especially when the goat kid begins crying as he’s taken out of the kidding pen and into the snowy yard. This is where you have to ask yourself, as a farmer or aspiring farmer, “What are you prepared to DO?”
I love my farm. And I love my animals. And this morning that meant putting a .380 hollow point round into a goat kid’s head. I wasn’t prepared to do that kind of thing when we first got livestock, and I managed to avoid thinking about it until I had no choice. And it’s something that on occasion in the past I may have allowed myself to dodge or delay because the little critter was just so sweet and cute, even though I knew in my head that the most humane thing would be to put the animal down immediately.
It doesn’t get any easier the more times you do it. It just gets a little less hard. But if I wasn’t prepared to DO it, I think I’d have to get out of the livestock business altogether.
He went very quickly. And we are truly grateful for the five healthy kids and all the milk their mothers will be providing for our family this year.