the goatastrophe: lessons learned awash in tears
A lot has happened since winter set in. Spring sprang right passed us. I had so many plans...
I was busy as a bee, incubating eggs. The chickens, guineas, and ducks were all planned. The gosling was not. In the end I had to buy 2 more incubators, but they will get used every spring. I will likely need more. So many eggs to hatch.
Our dewlap toulouse geese unexpectedly made a nest, and of the 9 eggs I stole to incubate, one hatched. Of the 13 they sat on, none hatched. They are not yet mature, and this was not expected. Once it was in motion, we did not expect any results. But we got cookie. Cookie is a hoot. She is Dingus' gosling. Once we knew they eggs they were sitting on were no good, we introduced them. They treated each other like aliens and did not accept her, nor her- them. Once the ducklings were big enough, we put her in with them, and they all seem to get on well.
Once again I brought babies onto the farm (or hatched them, as it were), with only a brooder ready. This meant we had to scramble to get their adult housing set up. Milo and his mom (she came to visit!) built the duck house. Eventually, I want to have several portable duck houses built. Right now we have 24 ducklings and will only keep the females and 1 male/4-5 females. The extra drakes will be food (the Saxony), or I will try to rehome them (Indian Runner). They will need more housing by next spring. More about the ducks in another post.
Cookie was a young gosling and the chicks were a week out from hatching on a cold, rainy day in early May. I went out to find a goat kid in the pasture with the goats. She was already dead. I saw afterbirth hanging from June. They were not due for another 3 weeks. We weren't expecting them so soon, Then I heard a sound. Searching around, I found another kid, still alive. I took it inside, pushed cookie's bin out from under the heat lamp, and held my goat kid while he died. His eyes never opened. I also couldn't open the doelings eyes. Apparently, that is common in premies. We scrambled to build a pen in the barn for the remaining pregnant doelings, initially thinking the kids died from the cold. We weren't past our last frost date yet. We put Fern and Shiela in the pen in the barn. The other pens were taken with a chick brooder and 3 pregnant pigs. After a day or two, Fern looked frightfully thin, as if she were no longer pregnant. It took the vet saying something for us to realize June and Fern each had a single kid that day, both of which were very big, way too early, and now deceased. Shiela was the last remaining pregnant goat. A week to the day after the first kids were born, Shiela went into labour, and I could see something was off. She was acting like nothing was hapening when she had a bag of fluid hanging outside her body.
We called the vet. We have no real relationship with our vets. The kids were visibly moving in her belly. This vet seemed to not really know what she was doing. She seemed unsure and kept asking her assistant if the other vet was on her way. Sheila was pregnant with twins. They got the first one out after the 2nd vet got there. It was dead. For hours I held Shiela down while they caused her suffering. She cried and cried the entire time. By the time I could see they weren't getting the 2nd one out, and said it was gone, I could also see my Shiela was fading. They gave her a shot and I watched her take her last breath.
We never thought this would happen. How could we lose all 3 of our pregnant doe's kids, and one of the moms, to boot? All our kids for the entire year- dead. The goats had been a lot of work up until that point. They constantly had issues with their hooves. They don't seem to do well in a moist climate. We put our too young doelings in a pasture with a too big buck. The end result was a lot of death. We shouldn't have used a buck that was so big. The kids were very big. We should have let the girls mature more; they were much too young, even if their bodies were willing. Our mistakes resulted in death and trauma. We decided that since they didn't have commerical value without offspring and had been so troublesome, we would divest ourselves of goats.
The day that Shiela and her twins died, 72 chicks hatched in my incubator. I could barely even see them. It wasn't real.
Milo made a huge pyre and we burned Shiela and the 4 kids. From dust to dust.
It was an exhausting and traumatic week. I had held a guinea while she died on my birthday. She was eggbound, and I found her too late. So much death. Another had just randomly died, no real reason I could see.
But 72 chicks had hatched! Our miracle cookie had hatched! The first set of piglets had been born. A week later, the keets hatched. 37 of them! And a week after that, 25 ducklings! I lost one chick to smothering (maybe) - found it's body when cleaning out the brooder. I lost a duckling to a bucket I put in their house for cookie at night, and it got stuck in it and died of hypothermia. I spent the day heartbroken. Again, this was my fault.
All during this time, I was scheduled to get the greenhouse set up. We had 13 yards of compost delivered. It was the worst fucking compost I have ever seen. It took over a month, and the generosity of a stranger from my masterclass to get it done. George was one of my peers in my masterclass. He got in touch to say he was in the area, and could he come work. Wow! Sure. He came, and worked for 2 days, making my greenhouse finally look like it should. It had been weeks since I should have planted seeds and transplanted my tomatoes and peppers. I practially let my starters die in the house, under their grow lights.
When the goat kids, and Sheila died, I was paralyzed. I had not been prepared for that much death in one fell swoop. There were many days where I would come in from chores and go staright to bed, only stopping to feed cookie or check the incuabtors. My garden lost it's capacity to be a commercial enterprise for this season; everything being planted too late. In time, I forgave myself for this failure, recognizing I am only human. And all of this is new.
We make so many mistakes every day. We learn from them, and then we make new ones. All of this is new, in one way or another. Trying to get animal husbandry and gardening to scale is tough. And sometimes things die, be they grapevines or cows.
Being someone who loves animals more than she loves people (except for my daughter), this is unmistakably the right place for me. I am surrounded by babies all of the time. It is heaven. (Also, there are a lot of pooties.) But who better to raise the pig that will one day be your bacon, or the chickens that lay your eggs, than me? I will love them every day of their lives. And as much as I know their lives are in my hands, I will always try to do right by them. Milo, too. He loves them so much it hurts. Who else should be raising the meat that you eat? Livestock should be raised in small numbers by people who love them, who give them the life as close to the one they would have had, had they been wild in nature. And the price I pay for this is grief. Because with birth, there is death. And with death, there is birth. Our vegetables can't grow without the matter made from decay, nor without shit from animals. The circle of life is painful and beautiful.
As we continue on in this adventure of farming, so much is happening. We have cattle on the way. We have seeds in the ground. We have been rotationally grazing our animals for the first time, and it is getting easier with each move. We still need fencing and we still have many animal shelters to build. With each day, we move foreward in our efforts to be a part of a movement in agriculture that is making farming eco-friendly, as well as restoring the planet, once acre at a time, storing carbon in the ground, where it belongs. Our regenerative farming movement will help bring food back to local communities, and to bring agriculture down to a scale where it won't hurt the planet; where more people will have access to good, clean food.
Just know when you eat the food from my farm, there is blood, sweat, and tears in every bite. So gross, don't thinkg about that while you eat it, but think about it. It's true. I sweat everyday. I bleed most days (not from my vagina- jeez!). And I cry a lot, sometimes because it is so fucking beautiful. And sometimes because I couldn't prevent a baby from dieing when it wasn't (what I thought) their time. And I wouldn't change it for the world. I just have to remind myself that for every "fail" there are many more "wins".
More blogs coming this fall with details about incubating different fowl, our plans for those flocks, the cattle, our pigs, and all the ins and outs of our experiences.