Posted by: Eric | February 27, 2011

What if chores weren’t a chore?

Anyone who is starting a farm quickly learns why we say “I need to go do chores” and not, for example, “I’ve gotta go do the feeding.” Chores are hard work. They are labor. And there is, of course, a heavy degree of repetition. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable. For a dairy farmer, chores are when you get to really know your animals. After all, you need to milk each one, so that’s a few minutes of one-on-one time. You quickly find that no two animals are the same, although sometimes general dispositions run in families. (Not unlike us, truth be told. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and all of that.)

We have two milk stands, so the goats come out in pairs, or teams. Our first team (“squad leaders”) includes one elderly goat who is in “retirement” — she is no longer milking or having kids, so she gets to live out her last year or two getting fat and sassy. The other goat is a veteran show goat and is among the better behaved of the goats.

Our next team (“red team” — they are a mother-daughter pair with red collars) includes another retired doe and a veteran who, mostly, just comes out for the grain and could care less if we milk her or not. I think she’s the closest we come to a lazy, gluttonous goat. But she’s a good goat, a good mother, and makes enough milk, so we keep her around.

The third team (“brown team” — at the time they were named two of the only all-brown goats) is our dynamic duo. They’re very well-assembled, and excellent producers (production, I should note, is how much milk they make), but they can be a handful. Sometimes, I swear they egg each other on, just to see who can do something stupider. If any goats are going to find the weak spot in the fence and roam the yard looking for tender greens, it’s these two. But, taken one at a time, they’re both very sweet, and Lemon is an excellent mother. They can also both be a little too smart for their own good. They would no doubt have taken very well to training if anyone had had the time back when they were young.

Our fourth team (“noobs” — they’ll need a new name before next season, because they won’t be they newbies forever…) is a pair of first fresheners, and, frankly, they’re still learning the ropes. They’re starting to calm down a little, but they’re still not used to coming out of the pen.

I should note here that, until this season, the goats were managed by my in-laws, who, although lovely people, were not in good enough health to go in to the pen regularly and work on socialization with the young goats, so these first fresheners, who are all two, had little direct human contact outside of the occasional capture for shots, etc. So, naturally, they’re a little wary of us. Goats, like most domesticated critters, still do better with early socialization. In fact, once spring rolls around, I’ll be taking the new goats — at least any we’re keeping — for regular walks around the yard. They need to learn to trust us, to respond when we hold their collar, etc. A goat who is worked with regularly, like the better show goats, responds very well to commands. They have dog-like or cat-like intelligence and are very trainable. In fact, Didja, our squad leader show goat, has routinely been led around the yard by our two-year-old. She doesn’t fight, she just follows. And she’s very comfortable around people, even those she doesn’t know.

And so but anyway… one of the things that makes chores pleasant, for me, is just getting to spend time with my critters. Sometimes, if I’m not in a hurry, I’ll just sit out there and watch the goats interact with one another. Dairy animals end up existing somewhere between a family pet and a farm implement. We name them, we care for them, sometimes we love them. But they’re also part of the farm, and they’re here to do work for us. If a goat isn’t producing much, or isn’t kidding well, or has other issues, it gets sold. We get bucks every year who become meat. Our house cat got injured this year, and we spent a lot of money getting here fixed up at the vet. If that happened to a goat, we’d have had her put down. Realistically, the goats are here to provide milk and/or make money. If they can’t do that (and they haven’t earned retirement from years of milking), then they’re not worth keeping. I dunno. It’s a hard thing to describe. But that’s how it goes.

In the next couple days, I’ll talk a little more about chores, and all the decisions that go into it, like when to milk and what to feed them.

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