The first time we slaughtered one of our goats, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. That morning we got up earlier than usual so as not to wake the kids. Our son Walden was only a few months old and wouldn’t notice anything so long as I wasn’t late for his early morning feeding. Our daughter Maya, however, was quite impressionable as she approached age three. We moved quickly about the morning chores; milking, feeding, watering. Then I moved Chaco and Riley (our other goat and horse, respectively) out of the paddock as my husband grabbed his gun and some sweet grain. I walked over to the side yard with our one year old pup, Dulcie, as my husband set down the bucket of grain in front of Billy. As I waited to hear the shot, I busied myself gathering a cooler and the tarp, preparing the truck for the…BANG! Good, it was over, one less mouth to feed while managing to put away more food for ourselves. At least that’s what I was telling myself…and not entirely buying it.
We intended on milking the goats that we had purchased from a lady who had just moved her herd into town. We got a great deal on some purebred Nubians that hadn’t been bottle fed. They were sisters and they were wild. It took three very agile kids to wrangle our girls out of a herd of nearly one hundred head. My husband and I watched as the kids chased and tackled our goats to the ground and we both silently wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We then heaved them into the back of our Expedition as our daughter Maya squealed with delight. As we pulled away from the dairy we were both excited and worried: excited at the prospect of fresh milk, cheese, and yogurt, worried that the smell of goat urine would never come out of the upholstery.
Once we arrived home with the goats, we realized we hadn’t devised a plan for getting the goats from point A (the Expedition) to point B (the paddock). They had no interest in following a bowl of grain so we resigned to dragging them across the front yard by their horns. My parents, who were visiting at the time, watched in amazement as we wrestled the goats into their paddock. They were then anxious to return to the city, I am sure.
Goats are comical creatures. They love to play jokes on one another and climb to the highest point in their yard. One of our neighbors starts every day by sitting at his kitchen table and watching our goats jump and climb and play. It takes a lot of sweet talking and coaxing to get these goats to trust us, but once they begin to equate our presence with food, the job becomes a little easier. Chaco is the friendliest of the sisters and even though Billy only seems to tolerate us, we go about the business of having them bred and watching them grow bulbous and round.
At first we can’t tell if they are getting fat because they are pregnant or if they are getting fat because we’re feeding them more because we hope they’re pregnant. After a few months though, it becomes clear that they are, in fact, pregnant and suddenly we realize we are in need of hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. I place an order for navel cord clamps, teat balm, cheese making supplies, rubber gloves that come up to my shoulder, and J-lube. Because of their proximity in the catalog, I assume that the J-lube and the gloves are to be used together – but since I can’t find a hole on either goat that I can fit my entire arm into and not cause serious damage, I simply place them in the box marked ‘Emergencies.’ I also decide to splurge on a home pasteurizer since I have two small children of my own to watch after.
The kids were born on Mother’s Day, making it one of the best Mother’s Day gifts I’ve ever received. We spent that morning taking care of kids and milking the goats for the first time. The first few times we milked, everything went as smooth as possible, but that changed a few days later. Billy decided she wanted nothing to do with us, our milking, our food or our treats and we couldn’t catch her for days. After missing several milkings in a row, we realized it was something we were going to need to deal with quickly. Each day as her udder increased with pressure, we felt more pressure to do something about it. After we felt we had exhausted all of our options, we decided to slaughter her.
After I heard the shot, I suddenly became curious. Curious to see what shape her body had taken on the ground, to see if there was fear or shock or sadness in her eyes. As I rounded the corner of the house, I saw her standing in front of my husband just looking at him. I waited for her to bleat, to run, to fall, anything. Then she dropped her head slowly, not taking her eyes of my husband, and continued to nibble her grain. I looked at him looking at her with the most shocked look on his face. Finally he turned to me and said, ‘She jumped! At the last second she just jumped to the side.’
At the same time, our neighbor was on his way over to show us how to clean the carcass. When he saw Billy still standing, he ran back home to get his rifle. As we waited for him to return, I decided to start weeding in the garden. I got down on my knees not less than 10 yards from Billy and my husband and was trying to decipher weeds from seedlings when ‘BANG!’ I shrieked and looked up at my husband. ‘She gave me a clean shot’, was all he said. Our neighbor loped across the yard, set his rifle down, and pulled out his sharpest knife. I couldn’t help but wonder if our other neighbor was sitting at his kitchen table yet.
I watched as they cleaned her, our neighbor instructing Brian where to cut and what to remove. I could see the steam rising off her intestines as they were exposed to the cool morning air. I could smell the molasses and grain that she had been eating minutes before. I could also see her eyes, dilated, not full of shock or fear or any other discernible emotion. I work hard to try not to humanize her feelings (if she had any) or her death. I simply watch as they clean her and wonder if she will taste of the sage and wild grasses she has been eating for months from our pasture.
Jennifer Welch lives and writes in the Arkansas River Valley and is gorging on goat tacos and burgers that have just the slightest hint of sage. You are welcome to send your thoughts, inquiries, and suggestions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org