My twin sister was back for another visit this weekend, so a variety of long-delayed tasks finally got done. I try to always be ready for Jules with home-cooked delicacies in one hand and a hefty to-do list in the other. She doesn't seem to mind the latter and unabashedly delights in the former. (Is there a better combination than that in a houseguest? I think not!)
We started with the smaller jobs: hanging bulletin boards in the Discovery Room; nailing up a bird house in the Enchanted Garden (the name the girls have given to the circular island in front of the house); and installing a Mason Bee lodge in the woods near the area where I'll plant a vegetable garden in the coming weeks. We then moved on to helping my husband (bless him) tear out the dilapidated chicken run and spread extra wood chips around the coop and behind the barn.
At that point, we couldn't put off any longer the most critical and most dreaded task of the weekend: tattooing the goats' ears. This is one of those tasks that--like bringing home our first load of hay and collecting our first egg--feels like a sort of rite of passage into farmerhood. While I have been a bit nervous about some of the other new responsibilities I've "winged" during the past few months, such as trimming the goats hooves, this time I was positively shaky. Perhaps the process reminded me a bit too much of the mutilation and scarification rites of passage I used to teach as an anthropology professor and, thus, seemed to have an aura more profound than most of the other tasks I've had to figure out how to do. I think I was mostly afraid I would goof it up and irreparably traumatize and/or disfigure our little friends.
Of course, I could have asked a goat breeder or a vet to come do it for me, but I figured I might as well learn how to do it myself. So I read and read, and read some more, about the importance of tattooing (it's a must for registered dairy breeds) and how to do it correctly. And I called in Jules. There's nothing as helpful in facing a daunting task as having someone by your side who thinks you can handle it, who will help you in whatever way you need, who will encourage you as you stumble along, and who will later know just what parts to laugh about.
First we spent nearly an hour getting all the letters and numbers lined up correctly for the "applicator tool"--a devise that looks disconcertingly similar to a medieval torture instrument (a toe smasher I'd say). We then gathered up the ink, some rubbing alcohol (to sterilize the ears), a few rags, and a box of rubber gloves, and headed out to the barn. As we approached the gate, all three little goats came running toward me maaa-ing just as they always do, begging for some TLC and a bit of grain. I started to get weak in the knees. Did they look that small and vulnerable when I fed them earlier that morning? Was I really going to do this to them?
I won't relate all the gory details, but in summary can report that:
- I have a much greater capacity for causing small creatures piercing pain than I had imagined;
- My twin sister has an iron grip and a startling knack for wrestling livestock into submission (I got the feeling she could have handled a calf just as nonchalantly); and
- Goat kids get over trauma much more quickly and seamlessly than adult humans.
Despite all the fighting and screaming that went on during the "operations," within seconds afterwards, the goats were hopping around and chasing one another through the barnyard. They didn't even cower from me (as I'd feared they would) that evening when I went out to feed them and put them in their stall for the night. I gained a new respect for those little critters that day. And perhaps grew a bit taller in my new-farmer boots.
In any case, I am immensely relieved to have this latest ordeal behind me. And almost ready for the next item on the "wing-it" list.