April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote, by which I think he meant (among other things) that springtime makes people crazy. We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can't keep, all passion is really a setup, and we're doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go out there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally. ... Come the end of the dark days, I am more than joyful. I'm nuts.
In the spring of 2009 we acquired our first livestock – three orphaned bottle lambs and one hundred baby chicks, and over the course of 2009 we have added five additional sheep, three angora goats, two nubian goats, three Berkshire-Duroc hogs, 10 heritage breed turkeys (2 Royal Palms, 3 Bourbon Reds, 3 Standard Bronze and 2 Narragansett). The lambs will provide wool and meat, as well as help with prairie restoration. The chickens will primarily be egg-layers, and a few will become chicken dinner. The Angora goats will provide fiber (mohair – angora rabbits produce “angora” fiber), the Nubians, milk.
There has been a tangible joy in our family since they arrived. For the adults, we are excited to finally be “farmers,” we see in these little animals the future of Taproot Farm that we’ve been dreaming about and working toward. We also rejoice in the effect the animals have on our two young daughters. Iris and Ani Willow are excited and serious about caring for their “babies,” and we are happy about the sense of responsibility, compassion, and work-ethic this is fostering, along with the tremendous opportunities to learn about life and the natural world. Sadly, though inevitably, one of those lessons is death. One day we came home to find that one of our lambs, Little Ragamuffin, had died. He had apparently eaten some plant on his walk that day that had given him “bloat,” and his stomach ruptured. When we asked our veterinarian/farmer/mentor what we can do to avoid such sad occurrences, he answered in his Southern Colorado drawl, “Well, I guess you could quit keepin’ ruminants.”
We worry somewhat about how our daughters – and us adults too, for that matter – will feel when it comes time to turn some of the animals into meat. No doubt it will be difficult in some ways, but we are committed to the idea that it is good to eat animals raised and slaughtered in a humane and environmentally-friendly manner. We talk about it candidly in our family, and are hopeful that we will find an appropriate balance of reverence and respect for life, sadness at life ending, and gratitude for the sustenance it provides to help our lives continue.