Animal & Human Relationships
Two years ago, we deicded to add goats to our farm for milk production and also for the educational value they could bring to visitors.
We started by buying two does, which Elan picked by spending a significant amount of time at the breeders, and taking home the two friendliest goats there. We kept them and brought them up to weight, and then we bred them to get them milking.
When they delivered, they delivered three boys and one girl.
Which raised the question, what should we do with the boys? The two options were: sell them for meat, or raise them as pets.
Not prepared to embark on the meat goat journey, we decided to raise them as pets, and then put them to work clearing brush and keeping the weeds down.
It was a hard choice to make, but bucks (uncastrated males) have a reputation for being difficult, while wethers (castrated males) are well known for being especially wonderful. We ended up castrating and de-horning them, both for their own and our visitor's safety.
We bottle fed them, brought them into the house on the few occasions they had injuries – I even spent a night sleeping on the couch with one when he was very little to give him extra care. We watched the TV show Smash, which we both enjoyed.
During the year, the wethers provided hundreds of visitors with a chance to connect with nature and the animal world first-hand.
Because we had the intention of keeping our goats as pets, they became a part of our human family. If we had raised them for meat, they would have spent more time on their own in the fields, interacting with the world of nature. As it is, their world consists of visits with people, playing, going for walks – in short, much the same world as a typical dog might have.
It has recently been decided that we will rehome these goats. While it is easy enough to get a home for milking goats and does, it's harder for "farm" animals that don't deliver a measurable product.
As a society, we spend a lot of time and money taking care and developing relationships with dogs, cats, lizards, fish, and other creatures, whereas cows, goats, and pigs are typically considered "livestock." While there are currently over 90,000 veteraniarians in the US, only 4,000 treat "farm" animals. But what we have largely come to observe is that the dintinction between "pets" and "livestock" is more about the relationships you build, or don't build, with animals, then the type of animal itself.
A few weeks ago, I listened to an episode of Radiolab about an ape named Lucy, who in the 1970s, was raised as a family member in a human home. You can find the full story of Lucy at http://www.radiolab.org/2010/feb/19/, but here is the gist of the story from Radiolab's website: "When Lucy was only two days old, she was adopted by psychologist Dr. Maurice K. Temerlin and his wife Jane. The Temerlins wondered, if given the right environment, how human could Lucy become?"
Lucy was raised with humans, had human toys, lived with people. At a certain age, however, it became impossible for them to keep Lucy anymore, because her chimp qualities began to come through more strongly. She became very energetic, and was strong; five times stronger than the average person.
While Lucy was not totally human, she also was not totally chimp. When they decided to bring Lucy to a refuge in Gambia for chimpanzees, Lucy became so depressed that she became ill. She wouldn't eat leaves, because she was accustomed to food for humans. She played with the toys she had brought from home. She had very human emotions and characteristics – she knew upwards of 100 words in sign language.
Her caretaker, Janis, ended up staying on the island with Lucy for three years, attempting to get Lucy to eat, act, and think like a chimp. Although there were other chimps on the island, Lucy would not go with them.
Janis herself lived in a cage on the island, waiting for Lucy to acclimate. Lucy would sit outside of Janis' cage, and they would talk. Janis would sign "Lucy go." Lucy would respond with "Janis come." This went on for ages. It took Janis multiple years before Lucy finally began eating leaves, living outside, and generally behaving more like a chimpanzee.
Janis came back to visit the island after leaving several times. She brough Lucy's human belongings, and Janis says that eventually, Lucy let her know that everything was ok and she could go. About one year later, Janis found Lucy dead. She believes that Lucy, who always liked and trusted humans even when the other chimps did not, approached a group of poachers and was killed.
The story illustrated to me how our relationship with animals shapes not only ourselves, but also who the animals become. Elan asked me yesterday if I would consider becoming a vegetarian again, as I used to be. When I answered that I would consider it, but wasn't planning on it anytime soon, he asked me why I found it ethical to eat other animals, but not my own goats.
The answer that I came up with was that our goat's really are different than goats raised for meat, because of the world we have created for them. Had they been raised for meat, the management strategies we used with them, both physically and emotionally, would have been very different. They would have spent less time playing with us. They would not have been bottle fed. They would not have been de-horned.
The world that we have created for them is, in a very real way, a human world. They love people, and trust people. They have lived dignified lives with us. They are members of our family.
They are lovely animals that value people, and we want to give them the opportunity to continue living dignified and worthwhile lives, where their characters will be appreciated, and where they can help provide people with a meaningful connection to the natural world.
We are looking for homes them, and we have thought about and started contacting places such as petting zoos, educational farms, family homesteads, and people centered projects. We have not found a suitable location yet, and if any of you know of a suitable place for our friends, please feel free to contact us or forward this article. We can be reached as GenevaFarm@gmail.com or 630.578.3313
Portraits are included on this page. There names are: Wapato (gray, black, and white), Little Cow (black with a white face and pink nose), and Elvis (black and white spotted).
Wishing everyone all the best in your growing season,
Kate and the Pushing the Envelope Farm Team