“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
We arrived at Poplar Hill Farm yesterday at 11:30 am, after our six and a half hour car ride, to pick up our baby goats. We were travelling from Marengo, Illinois to Scandia, Minnesota. A beautiful drive it was. There was fog and then sunshine; fog then sunshine; fog then sunshine.
As we approached the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, the trees were covered with frost and there was some snow on the ground. A tad bit colder than our Chicago weather, by about 5 degrees. Funny though, because as we crossed over the river on Highway 94, we looked one way and saw people in their boats fishing, and to the other side, cars driving on the river’s frozen surface.
When we first arrived at the farm, we were greeted by some Adult Saanens, Nubians, Alpines and Toggenburgs. They peered out from their barn, checking us out. As soon as we walked towards the fence, some ran right over to us and others looked at us suspiciously. We later found out that was the breeding barn. No wonder they looked suspicious. These were the does in heat, that were mingling with very substantial looking bucks. The different doe breeds were in separate pens, with a buck of their breed all to themselves.
Farmer Vincent, founder of Poplar Hill, met us in front of the baby and youth barn. He gave us a very informative and interesting tour of the systems that they have in place for new goat arrivals and the “teenage” goats. He gave us the low down on things like bottle feeding, disbudding, milk dispensers, and his repair shop. We did not find our little babes in that barn. They were in the milking barn, with the other “just born” kids. They normally would have left that area by then, but they stayed there because we were coming to pick them up.
We were anxious to meet Luna and Areida, yet we were so enjoying our tour. So much great information that will come in handy one day soon.
Farmer Vincent took us over to the milking barn next. We learned about the entire milking system, from start to finish. I have to admit that I was having a hard time concentrating at that point in the tour, because the baby goats started crying in the next room as soon as they heard our voices. That next room was just an office of sorts, with some extra sinks and vet care items on the shelves. This is where the just born kids were brought. There were four goats in four separate plastic totes when we got in there; two Toggenburgs, a Saanen, and an Alpine. We are very lucky that goats are not too cheap, or they would have all been coming home with us. WOW, were they cute. Their little cries have to rank high in giving the “most desire to pick up and take home” effect. This is when the girls got to receive and give their little goatie friends a big hug.
The next leg of our tour was the most fun and interesting for me. I think Chris and the girls really enjoyed it to. We went over to the pregnant or just became a mom barn. There must have been 150 does and dams in that barn, plus a few bucks for the last few does to become pregnant. I had just asked Farmer Vincent how they keep track of new baby goats when there are so many mom’s to be, when we looked over to find two babies that had literally just been born. The dam and the kids looked completely dazed. She had birthed two bucks. Vincent grabbed a tub and jumped in with the does. He slowly went up to the new dam and put a red collar around her neck. That color indicated that she now needs to be milked. She would also head over to the other side of the barn with the dams who have recently delivered. He put the new kids in the plastic tote and we were all off to the just born office again.
While I was standing watching Vincent in there with the new dam, gently taking the kids and putting them in the bin, I have to admit that I felt a mix of amazement but also sadness for both the dam and her kids. Even as I write about it now, it gives me that tight feeling in my throat. There are different philosophies on how to manage the dam and kid separation. I am sure Vincent spent his own time pondering the different philosophies being that he was a philosophy professor many years back, before entering farming. I wondered how he felt about separating the dam and kid immediately and never letting them begin their newly found bond. I did not ask though. What I did do though is thought about my own feelings on this important issue.
Poplar Hill Farm is still a wonderful place in my eyes, but I can see now where becoming a big outfit does creates moral/ethical questions and issues. I need to remember what is critical for me as a farmer is to feel that my relationship with the animals is as symbiotic as possible. I could not sacrifice kind heartedness for profits, convenience, or creation of easier “systems”. I am constantly re-examining the relationship between humans and animals and I find that I am not fully sure of its acceptability. I am obviously enough on the side of the fence for keeping that relationship than not, but it is a fine line. What keeps me from stepping over that line has to be my own loving actions and those loving actions of others. It is a complex issue and like my dad says, ” There is no cornering the truth”. There are so many complexities and contradictions in everything that humans do and humanely keeping animals maybe one of them. I do know that if I am going to continue eating meat, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and drinking milk, I want a very high set of standards met on how those animals were raised, or I would rather go without. Again, it matters so much how we treat animals, not only for the animals sake, but for the sake of us all.