ON RAISING A (TINY) MEAT HERD

 

On a day that now seems so long ago, at the beginning of June, we decided to raise our own goat. We called him Satchmo, cleaned out a pen for him in the barn adjacent to Pink Cameron, and agreed that we would raise him for meat. Our choice was the culmination of a conversation that we have been having since we began our work at Consider Bardwell Farm; a conversation that we thought worth having with the community around us. We promised to give updates and to discuss our thought process and ethics as they relate to the choice of raising animals for meat.

Naturally, much has happened since then. First, Satchmo gained a pen mate. We named him Smithers. Many people decide to forgo naming animals being raised for meat for the simple reason that they do not want to become too attached, as if they were pets. We worked around that by purposefully choosing names that weren’t too cute (because how can you skip out on the opportunity to name your own goat!). We set up an outdoor enclosure and began weaning Satchmo & Smithers from goat’s milk. They started to forage plants and munch on hay and grain, growing bigger by the day.

Then, two more kids came along. Suddenly, we had a herd and an experimental homestead going on our humble little campgrounds. As I write, I can hear Dill & Tuna outside, loudly voicing their displeasure over weaning. Today will be their first day without any mother’s milk. Fortunately for them, they have two older, capable pen mates showing them the ropes of a post-milk diet. Also fortunate for them: Smithers has decided to stop bullying them. Surprising as it was to see sweet little Smithers head-butting the newbies, the naturally selective & competitive instinct in animals always comes to the surface, no matter the size of the herd.

Raising our own herd of meat kids has been challenging, enriching, fun, not-so-fun . . . all of the above. There are many times when the last thing we want to do at the end of a twelve-hour farm shift is more farm work. Alas, these four kids are living beings that need and deserve our best care, day in and day out; and because we really believe in what we are doing, it is not too difficult to muster the energy required to do just that. This whole experience circles back to the fact that we are consumers of meat. More than that, we are striving to be conscious consumers of meat. For us, that means coming face-to-face with all that choice entails; it means that we will see the process through from beginning to end, and that we will try to “do things the right way” from pasture to plate.

Our goal is to keep Satchmo, Smithers, Dill, and Tuna as healthy and as happy as possible. We make nutritious food available to them in an outdoor environment that is perfectly suited to goats; and we personally interact with them, showing them affection on a daily basis. If we are going to be consuming meat, we want it to be coming from an animal that we know was happy and healthy during its lifetime. And a significant reason for why we have chosen to raise four goats is so we can nourish not only ourselves, but also our family & friends with the very same peace of mind.

We have received a few common questions on the subject: Why don’t you just raise them as pets? Don’t you think that it’s wrong to kill them? These are valid questions and deserve answers. It is our view that goats fall into a category of working farm animals that are called to a productive life (just as we are!). The herd of milking goats here at Consider Bardwell is a prime example of that. They work hard to give us clean, nutritive milk, which is then made into cheeses of excellent quality. They “come to work” twice per day, seven days per week; and between their “shifts” (a.k.a. between milkings), they are rewarded with lush, fertile pasture and all of the tasty shrubs and weeds that grow around it. In order to do all of this, they need to be bred every year. As is the case with humans, with all animals, without babies there is no milk. So, there are kids every year—kids whose gender it is impossible to select or predict. Some are female and can be raised as milking goats, while others are male and cannot. In a world where meat is consumed, it makes sense for those kids to become meat. It is their most productive purpose. In that way, meat is a necessary byproduct of dairy.

As for the final step in the process—slaughtering—it is an inherently difficult task. We have yet to perform it ourselves, but we have given it a lot of thought. Let this much be clear: no, we do not take pleasure in the idea or the act of killing anything. We anticipate that the final act of our goats’ lives will be a painful and emotional one for us.  Nevertheless, it is a part of the production of all meat. And as consumers of meat, we have already had a hand in the slaughter of those animals we have consumed—whether we see it or not.

So long as we slaughter our goats in a humane manner, it is an act that we believe is acceptable and in no way “wrong.” Their meat will help to sustain our bodies and give us the energy needed to live, and that seems reason enough. Moreover, that goes without saying that the meat kids who are being raised on the farm for sale—who will be slaughtered and processed at an Animal Welfare Approved facility—help to pay our salaries, giving us the ability to make an honest living. Their mothers, the milkers, do the same. They make our lives here possible. So it goes on our little experimental homestead at Consider Bardwell Farm. We owe so much to these goats, and so we try to give back to them the best way we know: by caring for them, by loving them, and by giving them the best lives that we can.


—M