There are some posts that I don't want to write, and this is one of them, most likely because a part of me would like to deny what actually happened last week and pretend that it didn't happen. But it did happen, and at times like this, I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau's words:
I wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. I wish to learn what life has to teach, and not when I come to die, discover that I have not lived. I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear, nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary. I wish to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. I want to cut a broad swath, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms. If it proves to be mean, then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it is sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.
On Monday, March 4, 2013, my sweet Coco passed away a few hours after giving birth to quintuplet kids. Mike, Sarah, and I got two hours of sleep the night before, because we had taken her to the University of Illinois veterinary clinic when I couldn't untangle the last four kids that were trying to be born. They thought she was fine to leave, but she died less than two hours after we brought her home, and then they asked me to bring her back for a necropsy. They discovered that she had a 14 centimeter tear in her uterus and had bled to death into her abdomen, which was why we didn't see any blood.
It was painful and ugly, or "mean" as Thoreau would say. For the second time in eleven years, I questioned why I'm doing this. I felt horribly guilty. Had we not been breeding our goats so that we could produce our own dairy products -- because goats have to give birth to make milk -- Coco would not have died. For a brief moment as I was driving down Route 47 to take Coco's body back to the university for the necropsy, a part of my brain said that I couldn't do this any longer. But another part of my brain immediately fired back, "What is the alternative?"
Buy dairy products that came from cows injected with hormones, living in factory farms, whose babies are taken away from them at birth? Never! Buy dairy products from small family farms where the animals are treated humanely? Great idea, but there are limited options here, and in most cases the babies are still taken away. Become a vegan again? Not a bad option, but I love my yogurt and cheese, as well as goat milk in my coffee. And in my garden, I wind up killing bugs, sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally.
In our modern world, we are protected from so many of the essential facts of life -- far more than Thoreau could have ever dreamed. People in our modern world are so oblivious to the simple facts of life because it is all hidden away in factories and hospitals and other institutions. I couldn't tell you how many people I've met over the years who have no clue that cows are bred every year to continue producing milk in factory farms -- or how many people think that white chickens lay white eggs and brown chickens lay brown eggs. They apparently have no idea that there are gold-and-black-laced chickens and black-and-white-barred chickens and so on! The average life of a factory-farm cow is only about four years, even though cows can live to be 15 or more. And factory-farm hens, which are debeaked, are turned into odd chicken bits after little more than a year of life, which is spent inside a wire cage, so they never see the sky, run across grass, or catch even a single bug during their unnaturally short life.
When people have no clue about what is normal or possible, it makes it very easy for advertisers to convince them that things like confinement buildings, daily antibiotics, and debeaking are for the animal's own good. When we moved out here to grow our own food organically in 2002, my knowledge about our modern food system was a tiny fraction of what it is today. And with what I know today, I am more committed than ever to continuing this life, even knowing that sometimes it will get mean and ugly. Life is not a perfect, shiny, cellophane-wrapped package. Nor is it a dinosaur-shaped "chicken" nugget. Milk and meat and vegetables do not come from a store. Those are modern illusions.
Life is a chicken running through the grass, catching bugs, laying eggs, and sitting on those eggs until they hatch, bringing forth more chickens that will grow up and lay eggs or become a chicken dinner. Life is a sheep grazing in the pasture for a year to bring forth a few pounds of wool. Life is a turkey running from a coyote and flying up into a tree so that we can have a turkey dinner. Life is a garden that is filled with bugs, both good and bad, that will help and hinder us in every step that gets us closer to harvest. Life is a goat waddling around when she's pregnant and screaming through labor contractions to bring forth kids that will tell her body it's time to make milk to feed them. And life always ends in death.
In her nine years of life, Coco Chanel gave us 27 kids and hundreds of gallons of milk. I think of her every day when I see her daughters Vera Wang and Nina Ricci. And I'm sure I'll think of her often as her newborn Bella Freud grows up and becomes a mother and a milk goat. I can point to aging blocks of cheddar and gouda, which include milk that she produced, which we'll be eating in the years to come. Coco was an amazing mother, growing big babies, even when there were four or five, giving birth to them, and then nursing them. Even though she was carrying five babies this time, they were all the same size as normal twins would have been.
And unlike cows in factory farms that produce the majority of dairy products in this country, Coco was loved and appreciated. She had a name, not an ID number, and she had a personality that set her apart from the other goats on the farm.
|One-day-old quints with Bella on the left, then Bill Blass, both of whom will be staying here.|
I'll always remember Coco as my baby, the one who refused to grow up. She tried to die on me when she was only two weeks old, but I wouldn't let her. I remember holding her in my arms on the couch, crying, "Please don't die." It was only our second year out here, and I hadn't seen an animal die yet. In spite of my inexperience, we pulled her through. I called her PeeWee, and she wound up as a bottle baby. Katherine took her to 4-H meetings, where everyone cooed over the tiny little brown doe.
When we realized she really was going to live, we named her Coco Chanel, partly because she was chocolate colored and partly because she needed a classy name to suit her. Regardless of how old she got, though, she always thought she was a lap goat. Whenever I sat down anywhere near her, she would walk over and try to crawl into my lap. Even as we were driving to the vet hospital last week, she was trying to edge her over-sized, very pregnant body into my lap, as she and I were in the back of the car together.
As hard as this has been, I wouldn't trade the last nine years with Coco for anything, and although this was the first time we had a goat die as a result of kidding, I know it won't be the last ... because death is an inescapable part of life.