About three lifetimes and two husbands ago, I was in school to be a social worker. I was going to save the world one child at a time. I was going to make a difference in society. I had all these made for tv idealistic dreams of what being a social worker was.
Then the first day of class my professor said “if you want to be a social worker to help people, you are in the wrong profession”. And for the last 13 years that hands rankled me. What else would one become a social worker if not to help people? So I changed my degree and became a biologist. Then a goat farmer.
I have people tell me all the time “I want goats! The babies are so cute bouncing around and I want a whole field of them being adorable” I usually kindly educate them on reality and goats.
And today I realized something. If you want to become a goat farmer to play with baby goats and have yard ornaments and think there is no real work to it, then you are in the wrong profession. Because that’s only like 10% of the deal.
This shit is hard. No matter how hard you work, how paranoid you become about health, vaccines, proper worming protocol, maintenance, keeping them warm, keeping them cool, waiting until they are old enough to breed but not so late in the season you’ll have kids born in the blazing summer…
Something will go wrong. Goats die, they go missing, they get hurt, they hurt or kill each other, they abort, they have still births, they get sick and use up all your medicine and then sometimes still die.
We’ve had six goats die or go missing this year. Six. Heart attack, poison, congenital defects, stolen, and killed by another goat. Some I had raised from the moment they were born. Some I spent years trying to save from neglect. The rest…
And I blame myself for every one of them. I am their keeper, their guardian. Yes they are my property and my job, but it hurts every. Single. Time.
My family asks me if everyone has it this hard. I come from city people, where if a cat or dog doesn’t live to at least 10 years something went terribly wrong. The concept of losing so many in a year doesn’t compute. They wonder why I stay.
I wonder why I stay. I wonder why I put myself, my husband, my family through this. Is that 10% worth it?
A very wise woman, who has been breeding goats longer than I have been alive, told me that guppies are mighty tempting at times. “You get sick of them, you flush them into the river”. You can’t do that with goats, obviously. Another friend reminded me that you have to love this job, and that shit happens. Both of them told me “you work and live for the good times. The new babies, that perfect Udder, the 16 year old doe that still thinks you are momma. The rest….the rest sucks. But it is the downside to what we do”.
Yes, when a goat is gone it is my responsibility. Sometimes there was nothing I could have done. Sometimes it’s directly from my poor decision. Sometimes I do everything I can and make a good decision that goes screwy. But I am responsible. And I always will be.
Today we finished winterized the barn for the girls. Laid down the pallets and plywood, piled up the straw, shut down the front door. At one point I was fighting the mineral feeder, and I was weeping. Yes, even goat mommas cry. I was so, so frustrated and angry and sad. At myself, the situations, the world.
And then I felt a tug. And a nibble. And suddenly there was a baby goat in my much too small lap. And another and another. Dora came to love one me, pregnant with life herself. I stopped listening to my own pain for a moment and listened to the animals around me. Looked at their thick shiny coats covering bodies of good flesh, half of them rounded with new life. I smelled the hay and straw and grain.
You want to become a goat farmer to play with baby goats and have yard ornaments without hard work, then you are in the wrong profession. Because there will be days you sit in the straw in your barn, covered in mud and god knows what else, and will cry.
But you will stop crying, eventually. You will dust yourself off and wipe your tears. And you will find a way to put another step forward. If that life is with animals or another path, is entirely up to you. No one of any worth will
For now, I choose the animals and the heartache and the joy. I’ll cling to the joy when the heartache overwhelms me. I’ll mourn the six I have lost, and rejoice in the 32 that live.
Don’t become a goat farmer because you love baby goats. Become a goat farmer because you are willing to work hard for something beautiful.