Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hindsight's 20/, you know the saying

I've been experiencing more frequent realizations or epiphanies about the land and how it will be best utilized. It hits me in waves. I research something that leads me to something else that inevitably causes me to slap my forehead and shake my head feeling, yet again, that the cows and the donkeys were a colossal mistake.

Case in point: the donkeys are useless. My amateur research one year ago led me to believe that every farm absolutely must house a guard donkey. Regardless of the the size of livestock, the donkey is necessary. At that time, I failed to realize I only pursued this argument in order to, you know, own some donkeys. What I really wanted was a horse and this clearly was as close as I could get to the real thing. The reality, however, is that although miniature, our livestock are still cows. Cows with horns. Cows that have already demonstrated their ability to locate, intimidate, and chase coyote (while the donkeys blatently ignored the predator). Adding insult to injury, our sweet baby "girl" donkey was actually a boy. He'll be gelded in a few weeks which involves the following:
  • A lot of money
  • Blood
  • Tears (mine)
  • A lot of money

I love the donkeys. I do. But the expenses that accompany land, tractor, and animals accrue rather quickly and one is forced to take stock of the value of what one supports. Basically - the donkeys aren't worth a flip and a part of me regrets that we bought them. Moving on.

Why did we buy cows? We hope to establish an agricultural exemption for the land - a feat which takes at least 5 years to accomplish meaning that we can't even apply for the exemption with less than 5 years demonstration of some sort of agricultural pursuit. Living in the suburbs limits our options greatly. Our 15 acres requires either a minimum of 3 cows or 24 goat/sheep to even be considered for this exemption. Considering that goats/sheep, if left unattended, are coyote snacks, the decision was easy. Finding miniature cows made the decision lots easier (you know, because they were so damn cute). And the donkeys got thrown into the mix I believe because my land research happened during grad school finals and everything got jumbled together in the confusion. The donkeys are meant to guard goats, really, not cows. But it's not my fault. I was writing school papers and memos while also measuring fencing and learning to trim hooves. At that point I probably believed that goat milk weight is measured by the Laffer curve and that Dexter cattle were brought to America in order to resolve domestic policy disputes. It was a mixed up time.

The result is that we have two steers (castrated and useless for breeding), two donkeys (belligerent and useless in general) and then we have Matilda who represents our only true hope of establishing that exemption. The steers might serve a purpose if sold for meat, however, they have names and are my pets. Meat is therefore absolutely out of the question. Matilda can be bred eventually but that makes little sense until we live on the land (birthing complications, watching a baby calf, etc etc). I have no comment about the donkeys, for obvious reasons.

And this leads me to the point I easily could have made in sentence #1. I want goats. I've always wanted goats, and I've always known it. Growing up, we had two lovely Nubians (the large goats with Roman noses and long floppy ears) in the backyard. They were given to my sister for her 12th birthday. That's right - my sister who never cared much for animals and wrinkled her nose at the birthday goats (Whereas I figured the highlight of my life was happening at that moment. I mean I had goats in my backyard!!) - since what she really wanted were high tops and a skateboard. Turns out my mother had dreams of making her own goat cheese but felt that the purchase of goats could only be justified by gifting them to her daughter. It didn't go over too great, and I'm pretty sure Jesse got a "do-over" 12th birthday.

I loved Ashes and Dusty (Jesse and I each named one. Obviously, we make an impressive creative team). They were docile but full of personality and intelligence. They were a manageable size, even for an 8 year old. And most importantly - they produce a fairly hot commodity if handled with care, patience, and knowledge. Yes, that's right. I'm talking about goat cheese. I am a woman obsessed. Jeremy and I are now members of a variety of regular and dairy goat associations (this means only that we receive newsletters asking us to vote in the upcoming association officer elections - and all positions are uncontested, but it makes me feel closer to the goal by being a voting member. Makes sense, right? Don't judge). I just finished Brad Kessler's Goat Song which caused me to run out and buy a log of chevre and look for jobs in Vermont (read it!). I then read another goat book, and I have 4 more on reserve at the library. I'm signed up for an intensive cheesemaking course at a local goat farm in the spring. And if you have a goat, I want to talk to you.

Sure, sure - we can still do cheese with Matilda and add a few heifers to the mix down the road. But cows are still cows. They're too powerful for easy handling. And frankly, they're not goats. I'll have to scratch my head over this problem of turning these five livestock into something profitable that makes sense, but I have a feeling they'll end up as the minority in a pasture crowded with goats. Angora goats, Nubian goats, La Manchas, Nigerian Pygmies - the list goes on. But the goats must wait, and in the meantime, the cows and donkeys, the belligerent biting, the obnoxious handlicking...

the animals we have - will do.

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