We parted ways with our Boer buck on Friday. He had overstayed hiswelcome, and I was happy to see him go. The price of our hospitalitywasn't overly burdensome; a lot of hay, a little grain and some brokendoors in the barnyard. The does shouldered most of the work ofentertaining their energetic guest. He chased them around, nipping attheir sides and pushing them away from their hay feeders and waterbuckets. The damage to the stalls in the barn indicated some wildlate-night courting, but the does nuzzled him and rested their heads onthe back of his neck in the daylight hours. Goats have relationshipsrife with what humans might call abuse; brothers and sisters, mothersand sons, all periodically work out their places in the herd withhead-butting and rib-ramming. Bucks throw mounting and biting into themix, and after a while, they have to be separated from their mates.
I bought the buck in August for $150, in hopes of having an easiertime getting rid of kids. Our luck with goat kids has been odd at best.In five years, from five goats, we've had one doeling kid, and all therest were bucklings. Having started with some older does, we didn't getkids from every doe, every year. When I bred the only doe born on oursoil and imported a bred purebred doe, I hoped for a break in the buckstreak, but we ended up with three bucklings last spring. Dairy goatbucks are hard to sell for some of the same reasons that we didn't wantto keep them. They're only useful for breeding, as they lack themusculature desired in a meat goat, and when brought into a farmyard tobreed, they're only needed for a month, at most, and, in some cases,one day. The purebred show goat people will keep a beautiful buck froma prize-winning dam, but that isn't the kind of operation we'rerunning. We're in it for the milk, and the bucklings must go, as theyare too closely related to breed back to their moms.
Boer genes are apparently dominant, and most kids born to adairy/meat goat pairing will be meaty. Or so I hope. It will be arelief to have kids that can be sold, butchered or even given away. Sowe brought him to the farm as a frisky, wild, stocky six-month-old andbred him to our two remaining does in October, when he was eight-monthsold. He seemed more than ready to get to work. Out of an abundance ofcaution, I planned to leave him with the does for two months, or twocycles of heat, and because they got along it worked out well.
He grew to be easy to handle and even friendly. When we firstbrought him home, he jumped over the four-foot-tall hard wire fence ofthe buck paddock and spent the next eight hours or so hanging aroundthe exterior of the doe paddock and making himself hard to catch. Hewas explosive, powerful and lightning fast. We finally roped him, dragged him back to his paddock (thank God for horns) and turned on theelectric. In these first days he was shy, having lived in a big herd ofBoer goats with little to no human handling. I worked with him andtaught him the value of a good scratch between the horns, partlybecause I wanted to make him easier to deal with and partly because hereminded me of a big dog and I wanted to pet him and take him for awalk. I never did get a harness around him and parade him through town,but he enjoyed a daily scratch behind the ears.
Bonding with livestock has its downside. I knew when I finallycoaxed him to come to my hand, he probably wasn't going to end up on myplate. Hats off to those of you who can name an animal and make it yourfriend and later eat it for dinner, but I haven't yet developed thatkind of constitution. I will admit that it seemed crazy to me duringdeer season - spending hours in the woods waiting for a buck while oneis being fed at home. But I'd much rather harvest an animal that Idon't know, and one that lives a truly free life. We didn't drop awhite-tailed buck, but we also didn't intend to butcher our goat buck.
I put him up for sale on Craigslist and entertained a few curious emailsand even a real live tire-kicker, but didn't get any takers. After acouple months of re-posting, I received an email from what seemed to bea serious, eager buyer whom I'll call "Santos." Would I take $75? Ithought about the purchase price, plus the gas it took to get him here(around $40) and I didn't want to take that much of a loss. I'm not agood negotiator when it comes to money. I dread haggling, and figure ifsomeone sets a price, they've thought about it and decided it is thecorrect fee. Maybe it's a Yankee thing. So, I made the price $100. If$90 seems like a high price for breeding two does, it is, but I alsodid not want to have to continue feeding him and adding to the overallcost.
I think there's another Puritanical Yankee thing about not talkingabout money, but revealing the figures involved may help to understandmy bemusement at what transpired next. Immediately after I received theinquiry from Santos I got another, altogether different offer. Infractured English, with sentences terminated not with periods, but withrows of commas, someone we'll call "mbugua" wrote to ask, "Do you stillhave goat for meat?? Let me know ASAP,,, can you provide space forslaughter? then i do it myself? how big is goat,,, how old? can yousell it $50, then i come for it Saturday? do you a pic for it? i maythink of buying it,,,"
I replied that I didn't have any space for slaughter, and I couldn'tsell the goat for $50. Undaunted, mbugua wrote, "it's two hrs fromLeominster,,,if you wonna i need only 10 by 10 space and i will cleanthe area after that,,,and i promise NO DIRTY TO REMAIN,," Wow, you hadme at no dirty to remain. Picturing either of the very full garagesawash in offal, I congenially replied that I simply did not have a roomfor slaughtering the buck, and he quickly replied, "i can maybe 50 lbsdead weight,,,,let me know if i can just small space,, and i will comeon saturday morning,," The buck weighed in at around 150 pounds, and Inever did figure out what he meant by "i can 50 lbs."
Should I have stopped replying? I didn't immediately see a reason to shut him down completely. He was interestedand I felt obligated to clear things up - after all, I expected the goatmight become someone's dinner, and I had no reservations about that. Itold him that we are a small farm (understatement of the year) and thatwe don't have indoor slaughtering space. I mentioned that I butcher mychickens outside in the summer, and he was not put off. "Yaap,,, thatwhat i want outside, a small space and it will take me half and hrsonly and i'm gone and if you want help i help,,,i can help youslaughter and show you how to slaughter,,"
The whole concept of butchering the buck on our land had just gottenvery interesting. I'd heard horror stories from local milkmaids aboutbackyard abattior gone woefully wrong. (Mostly just goats slipping outof the ropes that suspended them from their back legs in preparationfor the big moment.) But learning something new, from someone whoclaims to knows his business is intriguing. And Santos had backed offat my refusal to negotiate, so I considered the idea that I may have totake this offer. Then I thought about the relationship I had formed withthe buck and knew I couldn't do it, as interesting as it may haveseemed, regardless of what I might have learned.
As fate would have it, Santos got back to me Friday, before mbuguacould re-approach with his more difficult offer. I had alreadyresigned myself to the idea of sending the buck off to slaughter, and Iaccepted the fact that I could load him up, knowing what he would face,but I couldn't watch him die. Yes, we still had the buck, and yes, Iwould be home in an hour and a half.
The young man and his young friendarrived in a pickup truck with a cage in the bed. The friend puffedcigarettes and Santos talked about losing broiler chickens to a30-pound raccoon. He thought our does were beautiful, couldn't getenough of our big, healthy chickens, made an offer on our pig and lovedthe buck. I asked him if he was going to butcher the buck, and his faceregistered surprise. He said never eaten goat and wanted to keep the buckas a pet and for breeding. I believe nothing I hear and half of what Isee, especially when it comes to Craigslist transactions, but he seemedtruthful. He was very interested in the pig, not having ever seen onequite like it, and he mentioned that he had a sow ready for breeding.He suggested he might bring her down, get her bred and take the boar inreturn - another thought-provoking idea. We have each other's numbers, and we might engage in future livestock transactions.
The buck was easy to load and we got the price we wanted for him.Now our hopes are focused on healthy does delivering healthy kidswithout incident. That buck jumped the fence at least once after wepenned him the first day, and one of the does looks noticeablypregnant. Some does do not show their pregnancy until they drop thekid, and most will not show until the penultimate or last month, so amoving bulge on this doe's right side now is a worrying sign. She alsodelivered a nine-pound kid last spring, very big for a buckling, so Ihave to fret a little about the future delivery knowing that Boer kidstend to be big.
If all goes well, I may get back to mbugua, andI have his email address on file. We're trying to merge our milkinggoat endeavor with an all-new meat goat angle, and I just might needsomeone who knows how to get the job done in a small outdoor space with"no dirty to remain." If my track-record on the farm holds true, I fully expect to bond with each and every kid and have a bit of heart-wrenching to endure as I figure out what to do with them. Maybe ignorance really can be bliss, or at least a blissfully uncomplicated glass of milk or cheese-topped cracker. For now I'll continue producing as much of my own food as I can, even when the path from start to finish isn't completely smooth and painless.
I've included a video taken from the buck house roof. It shows thebuck being introduced to the does in November. My three-year-old son was in theviewing area with me, pounding nails and providing commentary.