Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dancing Goat

Years ago I read the beautiful books, Goat Song by Brad Kessler and The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway.  They're the stories of journeys into goat herding and eventual cheese making.  I read these books at the beginning of all this, and it solidified some plans for me.  We had just gotten the land and were mulling it over, generally.  I was unsure of most things to do with the future, but I knew something for sure - there would be goats.

It seems silly to the outsider, this poetic and romantic obsession with these creatures.  Our tough-as-nails neighbors are legitimate cowboys and cowgirls.  They fill their pastures with Angus cattle and trail horses.  They spit on the ground, eat bbq for breakfast, and hunt hog like it's a trip to the grocery store.  To them, goat keeping is awfully peculiar.  But I know there's a whole group of the rest of us out there that feel some ancient pull towards these animals.  After all, since the beginning, people kept goats.  They were easy to move, hardy in most weather, and provided lean meat and incredible milk.  Now that I've got my own micro herd growing, literally, under my roof - I understand there are other reasons why people have connected with this beast for so many centuries.  Goats are inquisitive and affectionate beyond anything I've witnessed in other animals.  Sure, I'm guilty of anthropomorphism like most animal lovers, but with goats, it's different.  They are uniquely human in their relationships and actions.  Baby goats in distress sound like actual babies crying.  It's no accident they're called "kids."

Yesterday I met Kimberly at a local, organic feed mill - Coyote Creek Farm.  This is a mill that produces feed for all sorts of animals and will even create a custom mix with a minimum order amount.  Knowing that I wanted to feed my animals the same organic custom mix as she does, Kimberly's started tacking my orders onto her own, and we meet at the mill to grab our bags of feed.  The road to Coyote Creek is open and winding.  It bends past old crooked farm houses and between corn fields.  On my drive, I thought about the lengths we go to when animals matter this much - Kimberly driving over two hours every three weeks for this good, clean livestock food, and me paying a little extra and coordinating with someone else just to pick up bags of grain.  I guess we both do it as much for ourselves as for the animals.  If you're eating animal byproducts it matters (very, very much) what they eat.  But it's also a gesture of purpose.  Driving to a feed mill connects me directly with a local food source and with the animals I chose to bring here.  I am purposeful with the food I choose to feed them, and ultimately, with the food they'll give me.  I've been much more deliberate in my decisions with the goats than any of the other stock, but that's already changing.  This summer, if all goes according to plan (Plan: come hell or high water - there will be a barn), we will add a dairy cow and calf to the family who will also be given this premium, organic feed.  The hens and teenage chicks have already also been switched over to the local grain.  These animals - the goats in particular - provide so much more than just food.  We end each day on the front porch watching the various creature communities interact, play, fight, spin, jump and dance.  In the end, they give this property purpose, as much as we do.    

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