We have been told on occasion that we aren’t truly farmers “until…(insert whatever).”  Yesterday, we learned that this life can, in fact, be better than any novel.  In one afternoon, we experienced unexpected adventure, battles, defeats, destruction, feelings of triumph followed by sheer helplessness, finally winding up in tragic death.   It would have been a test of any livestock owner’s resolve and dedication, and I’m thrilled to say my husband proved himself in soooo many ways.  Today, we are tired, and sore.  And the job isn’t over yet.  Nonetheless, I was proud of his ultimate victory, and in the end, we both learned many valuable lessons.  

I’ll tell you the story in all my infamous and verbose detail, however, I apologize that the pictures as quite limited.  During the mayhem, the last thing I had time to do was grab a camera, so all the pictures are from AFTER the kills.  Be forewarned, some are quite graphic, so if you have a weak stomach, you may want to avoid reading further. 

So, first I have to set the stage…..Remember that Craigslist ad I put on a while back saying we would take unwanted animals for meat?  Well, surprised that my ad was even still online, I got an e-mail last week offering us 2, 3 year old, fully horned Alpine wethers (castrated males).  They weren’t too far from us, and I just had to pick them up.  I thought about the repurcussions of accepting the offer, realizing my freezer space is quite limited, but came up with another plan I thought would work even better.  I had a guy who wanted 4 of my spring goat kids, because he wanted horned animals to be pets and weedeaters.  The only downside was that he wasn’t crazy over raising them for a year before turning them out.  I thought it would be a perfect match, as these boys were already doing what this guy needed.  He was a newbie, though, so I had promised to match him with tame animals.  I needed to verify these wethers would be gentle and tame enough for him to handle, and I wanted to do any hoof trimming or whatever to help him out before he took them. 

So, we accepted.  We figured, in a worst case scenario, they wouldn’t work for this customer, and we would just butcher them over the next few weeks as freezer space became available.  No biggie, right?  Yesterday afternoon, I went to pick them up.  We figured Sunday, a much-anticipated day of rest, was a perfect day to pick them up, and let them settle in over the next few days.  The previous owner was so excited that I may be able to find a home for them rather than butcher, and asked me to let him know if everything worked out.  The farm was beautiful–green grass, no goats on dirt paddocks, a few friendly goats, and few stand-offish ones.  The fencing consisted of about 3 strands of poly-tape fencing, turned off and not electrified, and a little 4 foot high gate.  No big deal, and the goats never challenged it once.  All the goats were a little fat if anything, and these wethers were obviously used to the living in luxury.  The owner warned me that they could be a little hard to catch, but once caught, they were gentle and would allow you do what needed to be done. 

The wethers were beautiful animals!  Very majestic, with foot-long horns, sleek and shiny coats, and gorgeous markings.  We caught the first one without much trouble, got him loaded into my van.  Yes, we used my mini-van because it’s all we have.  S had carefully laid a tarp, padded the roof to protect from horns, and done the best he could to make sure it could handle these big boys.  Once loaded the first wether wasn’t happy, but he stayed calm enough, so we returned to the paddock to catch the other one.  That was a bit more of an adventure, taking about 30 minutes to get the boy cornered.  As predicted, though, once caught, he settled well enough, and we loaded him into the van too.  I knew that getting them out of the van would be a challenge, as we had to ensure neither got loose at our house.  I wasn’t confident I would be able to catch them again in a new place.  They settled in for the ride home, though I found myself praying hard that no poorly-aimed horns would take out a van window.  I drove about 30 mph the whole way to make sure nothing upset the goats.  I figured if I could just get home, everything would be fine.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.

During my absence, S had carefully ensured our multi-purpose pen behind the house was ready to go.  With 5 foot high, 2×4 wire, lined with electric wire on the inside, we’ve never had trouble putting animals in there for quarantine or whatever.  Even before we moved it from its last location, when it was not pulled very tight, our most frightened, timid doe, Sara, had respected it. 

I arrived home, we grabbed some solid horse lead lines, fastened them to the wethers, and S took one, while I took the other.  They were nervous, no doubt, but S led his into the pen, and mine eagerly followed.  We got into the pen, let them stand for a moment to evaluate their surroundings, and then removed the leads.  They huddled together for a moment,  took a few steps, and then, suddenly, one decided to take a flying leap.  He cleared the hot wire, got tangled in the top of the wire fence, and as he struggled, he brought down 1/4 of the side of the fence.  He eventually cleared his legs, bounded out into freedom, and now that the fence was out of the way, the other lept over what was left, and followed closely behind.  That’s the moment we knew we were in trouble. 

We now had two, huge, 200 lb goats, with massive horns, loose, just a hundred yards or so from a highway.  We had to catch them and they didn’t like to be caught.  Things were not looking good.  Right then, I noticed Stallion, our Alpine buck.  Now, we are half-way through rut, and Stallion has kinda gotten used to the idea that any new goat on the property is here to be serviced by him.  He got a look at these two beauties, and wanted them.  He didn’t take half a moment to consider perhaps they weren’t does.  In any case, he was turned out in my pasture–the only fence not lined with electric wire, and decided to stand on the fence.  I had to get him down before we had 3 loose goats!  Then I got the bright idea that, maybe, the wethers would follow him into his buck-proof pen.  So, while S guarded the property perimeter, and directed the wethers towards the doe and buck pens, I leashed up Stallion, and took him from the pasture.  We allowed the wethers to get a look at him, but they couldn’t have cared less.  So, I took him into his pen, and tied him to a tree, leaving the gate open in hopes we could direct the wethers in.  Although the fence was shorter (4 feet), it was lined with extra electric wire, beside all the other goats, and Stallion was in there.  I hoped it would work.  It was, after all, our only option.

We tried a few maneuvers, but they wouldn’t be herded in.  One was extra nervous and jumpy by now, and the other followed his lead.  Then, S realized, they were very curious about him.  So, he started jogging away from them, and….to my eyes’ disbelief, they followed at a quick pace!  They always stayed just out of his reach, but they followed!  So, he continued jogging and calling to them, as they followed him—right into the buck pen!  I was totally impressed!  My husband does nothing with the goats most of the time, but these boys sure took a liking to him!  I ran behind and shut the gate.  Whew!  All was well, they seemed to calm down in Stallion’s presence (though Stallion was totally turned on by now!), and we just stood there watching for a few minutes.  Eventually, I had to let Stallion off the lead, and I couldn’t put him back in the pasture now that he knew these guys were around.  I figured the electrified pen was safe enough, and they had horns if he pestered too much.  They seemed quite comfortable with his presence, so, after a few minutes letting them explore their new pen, we agreed it was time to turn Stallion loose.  We decided to be a little smart, though, and left the lead attached to Stallion, trailing behind him, so we could grab it if necessary.  That did not go as planned. 

Stallion’s courtship behaviour was not appreciated or wanted, and that same leader took another flying leap, overcoming all the electric wire, and once again thoroughly entangling himself in the top of my 4-foot fence.  He essentially destroyed the entire back line of fencing for Stallion and Shiloh’s pen, ripping out my corner posts, bending metal brackets and staples holding things together.  Quite a display of strength, actually!  What had taken us days to install, took him mere moments to destroy!  For whatever reason, thank the Lord, once he untangled himself, he jumped INTO the pen, rather than out of it.  S immediately grabbed Stallion’s lead, and re-tied him to the tree.  Now what?  S ran around to try to boost up the back fence, in hopes of discouraging a complete escape. 

That stinking wether decided to show us!  He lept right over the dividing fence and into the does pen, this time, only slightly denting my center fence!  So much for quarantine!  And then he lept back into Stallion’s pen, perfectly clearing the fence!  I have heard of this type of uncontainable goat, but never witnessed it first hand!  He might as well have been a deer, with his flawless grace and agility.  At this point, we had nothing that would contain these boys, and no neighbors with fencing more secure than ours.  They were effectively taking out every fence we did have, one by one, and we knew, if they escaped again, they could potentially cause a car accident if they made it over to the highway.  There was only one, sad option to take.  And we don’t own a pistol.  So, S asked if I could handle things.  “SURE!  No problem! (Yeah right..insert helpless deer in the headlight look here)”, and he ran off to I didn’t know where.  Remember I told you the wethers liked him?  Yeah, no sooner did he run off, then that pesky wether decided to follow–perfectly clearing the front fence of my buck pen!  AAGH!  Now, I had me, and one wether on either side of one of my few, still-standing, fences.  This was the most helpless situation I have been in in a long time! 

By God’s grace, I managed to position myself to discourage the second buck from jumping, which kept the escapee close by.  Then, by a divine miracle, I was able to approach the escapee, grab his collar, and lead him back into the pen.  And I never let go of that collar again!  I held it with a death grip I didn’t know existed, and we stood perfectly still, waiting for S to return from who knew where. 

After an eternity (actually, just about the 5 longest minutes of my life since I experienced childbirth), S returned with a pistol in his hand.  He had gone to our neighbor’s, a retired Army warrant officer with a nice artillery collection, and borrowed it.  He managed to catch the other wether, as my hands were permanently attached to the collar of my wether.  Before I could even get turned around (I can’t stand the killing part!), BAM!!, and the wether slipped into oblivion.  Then, S calmly walked over to my wether, helped pry my hand from the collar, and then took him.  Mind you, as if we didn’t have enough adventure at this point, realize that loud, sudden noises can spook even the calmest of goats.  So, he just blew the first wether, with a .38 caliber pistol (it was the smallest the neighbor had), 5 feet from Stallion, who was tied to a tree, and 10 feet from all my does.  Shiloh was still out to pasture and unaffected.  Then, all the goats had stood stock still as they witnessed the first wether die.  So, with everyone on edge, I told S I wanted to get Stallion out of the pen first.  I untied his lead, took him to a tree outside his pen, and “BAM!!” the second wether was gone. 

Now, the sun was disappearing, and we had two, 200 lb goats lying dead in my buck pen, with pools of blood running everywhere.  It was like a scene from a horror movie.  My donkey was out to pasture with no shelter and temps were dropping into the 20’s already, my buck was tied to a tree, their fence was half-demolished, and my does were nervous wrecks by now.  S was freezing, but knew he had to get them out of the pen and up to his harvesting area–not that anything was set up for butchering anyway.  It wasn’t exactly in our plans for the day.  He decided to bleed the goats right there, before too much time passed.  I took off my coat and gave it to him, and then started running back and forth to the house to get supplies.  I ran in and got the kids situated–oh, yeah, it suddenly became a netflix movie night!  JR was put in charge of dinner, and I bundled up and grabbed flashlights, lanterns, and other supplies.  S then came in to change his clothes (he was still wearing his church clothes from that morning during all this mayhem!). 

So, next step was to figure out how to get those beasts several hundred yards to the house.  We have an industrial-sized wheelbarrow, and figured that was the best option.  This is a disgusting photo, but it gives you a size reference.  I told you these boys were huge!

Have you ever tried to roll 200 completely limp pounds of flesh ANYWHERE?  It isn’t easy.  These boys weighed almost as much as S and I combined.  We tried lifting them into the wheelbarrow.  That just didn’t happen!  So, we laid the barrow on its side, rolled the beast into it, then heaved and pulled every muscle we had to right the wheelbarrow.  It worked.  S pushed the wheelbarrow, while I held the horns to keep the big head from flopping around and throwing the wheelbarrow off balance.  We got almost to the butcher area, when the strain became too much for the wheelbarrow, and the wheel fell off.  At that point, S grabbed the goat’s legs, and drug him the rest of the way.  Then, we repaired the wheelbarrow, effectively tightening everything up good, and returned for goat #2.  Somewhere in the midst of all that, Stallion had settled down now that the new goats were gone, so S had put him back to pasture with Shiloh. 

It was about 5 pm, 29*, daylight was gone (wouldn’t you know daylight savings would end that day!), we had 400 lbs. of meat to tend to, lots of prep work to do, no freezer to put the meat into, and no hooks that would support that much weight for hanging.  And it was just S and I.  Nonetheless, we got busy.  First, S got some sturdy hooks hung into our second-floor back deck, so he could hang the goats for skinning and gutting.  Then, we had to hang the goat.  He ran a tie-rope through the heels, then attached a second rope around the heels for us to lift.  We looped the rope around the deck ballisters, and then around my waist for leverage.  S pulled and lifted, while I tightened and held the weight.  Thank the Lord for karate classes all those years ago!  I had to use all those body-bracing techniques I learned!  And, I also thanked God for plenty of butt padding!  I knew it would have a use one day!  Once we got the goat up to the deck level, I held the rope, while S ran back downstairs and tied it off to the hooks.  It worked! 

There is a solid 7 feet of clearance UNDER the deck, so these boys were massive!  I finished playing gopher for S, we got a lantern hooked up for him to supply light, and he set to skinning while I went in and tended the children.  Hours later, he had managed to skin and gut both boys, and his hands were so fatigued, they wouldn’t even function correctly.  Once I got the kids settled, I had to go back out and try to repair fences by flashlight.  After about an hour, and a lot of jerry-riggin’, I got my buck pen at least functional for holding Stallion and Shiloh that night, so they could have shelter.  I covered the blood up with straw.  Thankfully, they were too concerned with eating their hay to worry about their surroundings.   Then, we had to move to the next step for the wethers. 

It was forecasted to be in the low 20’s that night, and we didn’t want the meat to freeze.  It was going on 10 pm by now, so we didn’t have time to cut it all up.  We also couldn’t leave it out to attract coyotes.  So, we decided to turn our garge into a meat locker.  I went and installed hooks in the ceiling while S cleaned up the mess in the yard.  The mess included about 100 lbs of gut material, much of which we hated to waste, but we were out of time, and I had no space to store it anyway.  We didn’t want that much meat to draw the attention of predators to our farm, so S loaded it all up in the wheelbarrow, and walked it down the road to a country trails park, which also happens to be full of all sorts of wildlife.  He dumped it where coyotes would easily find it.  He returned, slung the carcasses over his back, and carried it into the garage, where we strung it up to hang.  Then, he climbed up on the roof with a flashlight, where our solar-powered electric fence charger is installed, and disconnected the totally shorted-out wire of the first pen we put the wethers in.  Now, my garage is looking like a scene from a horror flick.

We open and close the garage doors to control the temperature of the garage, in an attempt to keep it around 35-40*.  I just have to hope the UPS guy (or any other visitor, for that matter) doesn’t pull into the driveway while the door is open! 

So, today, I think we will be taking a break from school, cleaning pens, and preparing to cut up the carcasses this evening.  There isn’t much else I can do to repair fences without S’s help, so I’ll just have to hope the current fences hold the critters that are already used to them. 

As far as that meat goes, I will put what I can in the freezers, Athena will be getting some seriously large feasts at each feeding for a while, and if any of our friends out there desire some goat meat, let us know.  We have plenty!!