Oft times when I mention that I have a homestead on 7 acres, I get similar reactions…
“Oh, how wonderful!”
“I’ve always wanted to live like that…”
“It must be so rewarding…”
Homesteading often conjures up mental images of fuzzy baby chicks, white fluffy lambs, contented cows lazily munching in green lush pastures… the satisfaction of fresh picked produce, frothy warm goat’s milk in a bucket, and farm fresh eggs plucked from a nesting box.
And while all these images are true, there are days when homesteading is just plain raw, ugly and painful.
Remember Marbles? Our goat who was sick a couple of weeks ago and I wasn’t certain what was wrong with her?
Well, she recovered and was her ornery self, pushing the other goats away from the feed trough, butting everyone in the head to maintain her dominance. We loved her – she had so much personality and she was the first goat on our farm, a birthday gift to Victoria.
Tori taught her to run and jump into her arms. Marbles made great babies and was a good momma.
About a week ago, I was feeding the goats and noticed something on Marbles leg, a fluid that had dripped down her leg. I looked underneath her belly and noticed a wound on her udder.
I had Megan help me get Marbles onto the milk stand so I could get a better look. There was a hole on the inside of her udder between the two teats. It was nasty looking and I wasn’t sure if she had torn her udder. I poured peroxide on it to clean out the beginning stages of infection. Yeah, it stung – you could tell because the pupils in Marbles eyes got really big.
We let her off the stand and she stood in the corner of the barn for a while. I watched and soon she was back to bossing around the other goats – no more pain.
Over the next couple of days, the wound got bigger and soon half her udder was dangling, the teat looking leathery and hard. I was beside myself about what to do and what made it worse, Marbles was acting very normal- eating well, playing with the other goats.
Finally yesterday, the wound was worse and I knew that I had to put her down before this situation got to the point where it was an emergency. I’d been agonizing over this decision, hoping every day that I went to the barn that by some miracle, I would see some improvement. I talked with a couple of friends who own animals. We tossed around ideas but the final conclusion was – Marbles would have to have surgery to correct the problem.
You want to know about raw homesteading? It’s when your emotions and logic conflict, when your heart says “whatever it takes” and your mind says “at what cost.” When your memory replays all the videos of your children bottle feeding this goat, “napping” with this goat, standing in awe as this goat gave birth to two beautiful babies…
And your practical side looks at a 9 year old goat who can no longer give birth or nurse a baby or provide milk for the family; calculating the monetary cost of a surgery that may or may not work.
It’s awful. And it hurts. And it keeps me awake at night and wakes me in the morning…
And I alone have to make the final decision on the life of this goat, our pet – whether she lives or dies.
That is the reality of raw, uncensored homesteading.
At 5:30pm, it was decided that Marbles would be put down at 7pm. Tears filled my eyes when I hung up the phone after making the arrangement. A friend’s brother-in-law would come to our farm and bring his gun.
I went into the bathroom and called a close friend of mine and cried, making sure that I was doing the right thing. It’s a lonely ache that invades your heart in moments like this. My 14 year old wanted to be there when Marbles was put down. As a mom, I wanted to protect her from this harsh reality. She wants to be a vet – should I let her be a part of this experience? My husband was unavailable…my heart won in this instance and I decided that I would stay with Marbles and not her.
I dug the hole with the tractor and Tori and Megan finished cleaning it out with the shovel. I had a hair appointment in town at 6:15p. As I headed home and turned onto our dirt road, I allowed my mind to replay the memories and I cried again. I drove down our driveway, there was Marbles nuzzling through wind blown leaves looking for acorns, snatching them up and munching them with a very satisfied look on her face.
The gentleman who came to help us arrived. He asked me a question and the tears choked my throat and I couldn’t answer. Megan came out and I put Molly, our Border Collie, in the house and picked up the leash for Marbles. I’d composed myself with these tasks and could converse one again.
I walked into the goat pen, hooked the leash on Marble’s collar and headed out the gate toward the back of the pasture. Twice, she dug her hooves into the ground and didn’t want to move. The last time was just as we approached the hole in the ground.
“Ugh – please don’t make this any harder than it is…”
The gentleman was so sweet. He took the leash and asked me if I wanted to go to the house.
“No- I’ll stay but I won’t watch. I’ll just stand over here and wait.”
…and then the gun shot. My breath caught in my throat with an audible ache from my heart. And I listened.
When I turned around, he was dragging Marble’s body into the hole we’d dug for her.
It was over…the wrestling, the anguish, the torment about what to do. Though my heart wanted to argue, I knew I had made the right decision.
He offered to cover her for me.
“No thank you – I’m okay.”
Megan was immediately by my side, having come down from the house.
We chatted for a bit with this gentleman, so grateful for his help. I offered to pay him.
No, no payment, just glad he could help and oh, by the way, “call me again ma’am if you ever need to put down another.”
I walked him to his truck, he handed me Marbles collar and leash, I shook his hand and thanked him again.
Dusk was creeping in, the moon rising and I wanted to cover the body well so the coyotes would stay away. I headed back to pasture and climbed onto the tractor. Within minutes, Marbles was buried.
Megan hopped on the tractor with me and we drove back up to the house. Megan leaned over and said, “Mom, she’s grazing with Emma in those beautiful pastures along with all our other animals. We have a farm waiting for us!”
A beautiful, star filled sky and a brilliant full moon…my girls who offered hugs and sweet tenderness.
No one ever told me about these kind of days when I chose to homestead. Perhaps because the emotional heartache of days like this one, so raw and uncensored, are soothed and consoled by fuzzy baby chicks, fluffy white lambs, and contented cows lazily munching in lush green pastures…