It’s 5 degrees and I’m squatting down in a stall filled with hay milking a goat. Something I never thought I’d have to do again.
Goats are my narrative. Still. I don’t want them to be but I can’t help it and the universe seems to be conspiring against me. If it were spring it would be one thing, when new life on a farm is lovely and the world, rich and fertile, is singing in joyful expectation.
When baby goats are cute and the sun tender and when little flowers are popping up everywhere to herald the green day.
When it is winter, it is an entirely different matter, especially when fragile life is exposed and brown and death seem the victors. When any life born seems to be a mockery of any attempts to sustain it here and tears are the only things that won’t freeze.
Snow fell on the Kansas City area all day yesterday, flash freezing happened early this morning. Wind chills values are supposed to be between -1 and -11 today, with wind gusts up to 32 miles per hour.
And we have new life in the barn.
In the house too.
Even before the temperatures plummeted, we were fighting the battles again. Battles we’ve fought for a dozen years. Battles I thought—hoped—would never be ours again. We have waged war and gotten battle scars and cried oceans here on this little farm in Kansas. We have done this, I have done this, because I thought it was what we were supposed to do for a season, and in spite of the fact that I didn’t love it.
A lot of people move to the country and take on this lifestyle because they have a longing for it. I never did. Because it’s in their bones. It wasn’t in mine. Because they want to talk about it.
But I rolled up my sleeves and took it on because I thought I’d make a difference somehow. That it was something God wanted me to do.
So, I planted and toiled and struggled and suffered.
I raised goats and fought off wild brutes to protect them. I planted food in the soil and fought off nasty pests to secure it. I ground my own grain and baked my own bread and cooked the meat we had raised ourselves. The milk too. And I fought with my own little beasts so they’d consume it.
The reasons we chose this lifestyle, are, well, so numerous, I could write a book about it. Oh, wait a minute. I have…And yet it couldn't possibly contain all the stories. Or the ones that are still being written.
And now that I feel God leading me in other directions, now that I am publishing and speaking, teaching high school literature and even making coffee with my girls at my local Starbucks a couple days a week, I had begun to believe God had other plans for me. (Yay!) That every minute of every day wouldn’t be an exercise in futility, that each time I began to envision a different way, I wouldn’t be pulled back into the narrative again.
The goat narrative. (Boo!)
And so this morning, I have my gloves off and my fingers wrapped around warm teats. As the steamy milk hits the pail, I am hoping it will be enough. That Mabel will be patient enough to give me what I need for her baby, now inside the house.
Mabel's little buckling hadn't made it. I found him not long after birth, and had assumed that was all Mabel had in her. I only have so many stalls, but sweet Mabel is one of my favorite milking goats, so to make sure she was comfortable, I’d led her to a stall to recover and bedded her down with new straw.
The next, dark morning, I’d gotten to the barn early, before work, to get chores done and check on everyone. That’s when I’d found Mabel had delivered a doe overnight. Thankfully, I had a little goat sweater in an old, unplugged refrigerator that we use for storage in the barn and had quickly gotten that on her before rushing into the city. I knew I could trust Mabel to nurse her, and as I left I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that things weren’t as they used to be. When I had to call off plans to attend to goats and it seemed a little weird to friends in the city when I provided the truth for my need to reschedule.
Mabel’s little girl was fine for the first 24-hours, which is a critical time period for newborn goats, but when I returned later, her body temperature had fallen. The outdoor temperatures had dropped too. There was nothing to do but to rescue her to the house. If I can keep her on her mother’s milk only, she can be returned to her in a few days when the weather warms up. Then, Mabel will recognize her scent and accept her back.
Keeping all of these animals inside our home is, obviously impossible, so I’d done the best I could to provide for them—and to allow me a restful night’s sleep. Last evening, I’d scattered as much straw for bedding as I could and cut hay from square bales to lob in the stalls too. I’d sliced away the netting on a large bale my husband placed just outside the barn and filled up pales of water I’d hung in each stall. Miraculously, I managed to close a large, sliding aluminum door to one of the enclosures—something I’ve not been able to do in years, after goats had slammed their heads into it so often, it had become warped.
I’d then placed two moms and their babies in separate enclosures and given them dog Igloos to crawl into for warmth. I hadn’t any more Igloos for Mabel’s baby, so I’d dragged a large, plastic dog kennel into her stall, covered the bottom with hay, and placed a sleeping bag over the top, hoping it would retain heat. (You can’t place too many babies in an enclosure with an Igloo because they will lay on top of one another and smother the ones on the bottom. We’ve learned this the hard way.)
I finish my milking and head back to the house, where we now have four babies, all of whom are being bottle fed round the clock. Thankfully, I find some cheese cloth in a new package and filter the milk through it into a small stainless-steel container. I then transfer it to the one bottle we have left, trying not to think about how we will now be chained to the property for the next couple of months to feed babies, and that's assuming the weather warms up and stays that way. And I am exasperated. I feel that God has exasperated me.
He often seems to exasperate us—the very thing he tells parents not to do to their children.
And repetitive exasperation can cause resentfulness.
So, yeah, I am resentful too. I really am. Because I had asked him of an easier time of it. And then last fall, I had found the bucks on our property had scaled two fences and dozens of acres to access the females and I had cried that day. I had so hoped, and PRAYED, I’d made the discovery in time. That they’d not been able to connect.
They’d obviously been able to connect.
I think every single female goat on this property connected.
And what are the chances that most of them have decided to walk away from their offspring now? That this season, right in the middle of winter, horrific death and suffering would turn out to be some sort of record for us? That nearly every time I’d walk into the barn or out in the field, there would be abandoned babies, or worse, dead or dying ones?
I even lost a doe in labor.
And here I thought our German Shepherd and our Rottweiler's passing in their sleep, as hard as that was, was a sign we were going to be able to leave this property. I had previously asked God, if he were to take any of our animals in order to show us we COULD leave, that any diminishment would be void of suffering!
And now this.
Do you know what repetitive suffering and death can do to a person? It can cause a sadness that lingers, that turns into a soft depression. It can steal hope.
It can cause resentfulness.
But still, I jump into action to make things right. I still hope!
I tear my laundry room apart looking for supplies, only to find I may have thrown away a good portion of them, and certainly my tube feeder. I make a Target run for new baby bottles and nipples and then head to the elevator for more straw bales and goat chow. I get out the basket of goat sweaters and wash and dry them and head down to the basement, emptying the contents of boxes I’d planned for donation. I collect as many as I can find and line them with hot towels. I later gather them again, replacing those towels with fresh ones and filling our garbage cans with the used ones. I find gallon plastic containers of frozen goats’ milk and colostrum too, in our garage deep freeze and electrolyte solution powder frozen inside the house. I set the colostrum out to defrost and steam some over boiling water too. I fill bottles and then Gracie and I teach those goat babies how to suck milk from them. It takes a while for some to get the hang of it, but once they do, we are home free.
And then I breathe deeply. And more so today. Because all of our babies made it through the hardest part of the night. We still have one terrible night ahead of us, but I can see warmer weather and spring in the distance and I have one great kid myself at home that is happily willing to help me care for all of it. She isn’t as worn out as I am.
And then I am not so resentful. The sun is brilliant and it creates a yellow world atop the white. We are warm and we have hot coffee and our bellies are full. Those babies are full too, and their noses crunch up as they drink their milk and their ears are velvety soft to the touch and their wee baas bounce off our walls and we giggle.
Gracie offers to go to the barn with me to milk tonight because her dad is away on business. It's 7 degrees and the night is still, the cold snow squeaky under our feet as we make our way, our black lab and Great Pyrenees as merry company. We find the babies gathered together in warm piles, but once I begin to replenish water and hay, they rise from their huddled balls to begin to prance and play. I milk sweet Mabel, assuring her I will return her daughter as soon. Just a couple more days now.
I don’t understand the plan here but I do see evidence of God in it. He always shows me he is here. What are the chances that ALL the boy babies were the ones to die? In the last few days, and before the hard weather hit, I found five baby boys had not survived. All of the babies who would have grown into bucks did not live to continue their lines and that can only be God. Really.
With him there are no coincidences.
The barn door that suddenly closed after being stuck for years. The left over milk I just happened to have saved in my deep freeze. The babies that lived through a frigid winter night.
I heard a song on the radio today that talked about heaven cheering us on. I hope that is what is happening now. To think, heaven is cheering me on!
What a perspective change!
If heaven is cheering us on, we must be doing good. And at the end of our days, it would be good to hear we've done good.
It would be good to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Regardless, saving little lives is always good. And if that is my narrative, so be it.