I recently bought a house in Santa Fe and have been trying to convince the people I live with that we should expand our family to include some livestock.
It was easy to convince everyone to get chickens, however what I really want is goats. Why do I want goats? Primarily because I want my own milk supply and am a little afraid of dairy cows. Those things are huge!
Additionally, I simply don’t have the room for cows, even if I were desirous of a bovine friend. However, I do have plenty of room for goats and chickens, and due to some rather agrarian legislation here in the city dipherent, I am legally entitled to have any type of livestock I want on my property as long as they are kept clean and healthy and don’t annoy the neighbors (overly much).
So, in that spirit I decided to do some research about milk goat care and found a fabulous web site which provided all kinds of information about raising goats: Mother Earth News
After reading several articles I concluded that I would probably want to get some Nubian goats and would no doubt be forced to hire someone else to do the disbudding. Luckily for me, my local goat milk supplier actually uses Nubian goats for her milk, and since she is currently awaiting several kids from her recently bred does, I might actually be able to get some goats this fall! And as an added bonus, she has offered to disbud all future kids.
The responsibility of owning livestock has been weighing heavily on me, disbudding or not. The thing about real food is that it nurtures a relationship between the human and the food. When this relationship is kept simple in the form of a garden, were there really isn’t a whole lot of give and take (unless you have talking carrots. I don’t.), there isn’t a whole lot of sacrifice. Thinning your veggies is about the extent of it (R.I.P tasty beets). However, as soon as the search for real food leads us to animal husbandry, the relationship suddenly becomes much more complex. Pastoral images of happy chickens and cows aside, there is an ugly side to raising livestock for foodstuffs.
Most people’s relationships with animals are limited to house pets, creatures we anthropomorphize and treat like members of the family. The extent of inflicted pain usually a) happens at the veterinarian and b) tends to involve anesthesia. It is the first issue, however, which is decidedly more significant. While we love our pets, we hoist responsibility of all the bad things upon someone else – namely the evil veterinarian. But frankly, animal husbandry requires that we take back some of this responsibility, and I’m not all that sure I’m prepared.
And to be honest, chickens kind of freak me out. I mean, they’re so…twitchy. But I can deal with them in exchange for their delicious eggs. And ultimately, that is where animal husbandry really differs from most other modern relationships. They are quite Machiavellian. There is (ideally) no intimacy. The chickens are there to give you eggs, the goats are there to give you milk. They serve a purpose and should be respected for such, but they aren’t your friends. They shouldn’t be made your pets (what if, god forbid, you ever had to kill and eat Mr. Clucky your chicken friend?).
It is a serious business, and I think, perhaps, explains a fundamental lack in our current cultural view of food. We tend to, as a group, have a hard time facing the fact that the cute little cow we just saw is eventually going to become dinner. And I, personally, think this lack of connection is partially responsible for our lack of respect for food. We take it for granted, we ignore where it comes from, and as a result we have lost our connection to it and therefor our appreciation for it.
So while I may be squeamish, nervous, and unconvinced of my ability to refrain from naming my goats and chickens, I take the step towards raising my own food with my eyes open. And I think I will be a better person for it.