Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So Long, TomTom

  Way back about 8 or 10 years ago, when Josh first started out in 4H, we decided that we were more interested in dairy goats than market animals like steers, pigs and sheep. Market animal raising is a nice, clean, short term deal. You buy a steer calf (or lamb, or pig), you feed it and raise it for a few months, you show it, you auction it, it goes to the processor and the buyer gets his animal in nice little frozen packages. You count your money. You don't learn very much.

  Dairy being in our blood so to speak from way back when I was a kid (the family dairy farm my aunt and uncle managed) , we chose goats. Raising dairy goats is a labor of love. In order to show a dairy goat doe, she has to be in milk. The only way to get her in milk is to breed her and have babies.  A youngster involved in a dairy project learns a whole lot more about the cycles of life, breeding, birth, and finally, death.

  We bought our first two does, Samantha and Rita, from someone we knew well who had a pretty well known herd of Toggenburg Dairy Goats. Samantha and Rita were supposedly already bred to a good buck. Samantha had a false pregnancy that year and did not, ultimately, give birth. Rita however, let us know late one night that she was in labor, and we hooked up lights and got ready to sit it out with her. I will never forget the look on young Josh's face when Rita's single birth; TomTom, flopped out onto the straw all gooey and struggling. Rita, a veteran mom already, dutifully licked him dry and got him to his wobbly feet and pushed him to the teat for his first sip of life giving milk outside the womb.

  I will never forget the look on young Josh's face 5 days later, when the poor guy had his little horn buds burned off with cherry hot dehorning irons heated on a wood stove, and his testicles sliced and scraped off with a razor blade and butter knife by June Meacham, our aged and wise goat guru.

  TomTom grew like Topsy. Rita's milk made him strong and playful and it wasn't long before he was jumping in our laps and pestering his mama and aunt Samantha and becoming the devil incarnate for our poor old sheep. He loved to goof on the sheep. Sheep are kind, passive, gentle and not very intelligent creatures, and TomTom delighted in finding new ways to bedevil them.

  There were times when we thought of selling or giving TomTom away. A wether (castrated male) is really of no use to a herd. He can't breed, and of course he can't be milked. He was our first born here, and as a result wasn't ever going to see the butcher's knife or the freezer. One family wanted to have him for their kids, who rode in 4H horsemanship and rodeo events. The kids would use him to practice for an event in youth horsemanship called, "Goat Roping". I won't describe goat roping, but my answer to their interest in him was a polite, but firm, "you're kidding, right? I LIKE this goat. NO, you can't have him."

  In spite of his lack of hormone producing gonads, TomTom became quite the ladies' man. He dutifully flirted with and tried to boyfriend all the does who joined the herd after him. He only tolerated Josh and me because we were the ones with the hay and treats, but he adored Kate. She would sit outside and once he got too big to be a lap goat, would amble over and lay his big old head and horns (which had regrown in spite of our efforts) in her lap while she scratched his ears and rubbed his nose. Not only Katie, TomTom loved all the girls with equanimity.

  The Toggenburg is normally a medium sized breed. TomTom, as a result of stealing milk from his indulgent mama WAY past the time he should have been weaned, grew into a 200+ pound giant. The does, who usually only barely tolerate castrated males and will take every opportunity to push them around, gave him a wide berth, and never questioned or argued when he decided he preferred to eat THEIR hay.

  Late in life, TomTom became afflicted with what we believe is a congenital arthritis. His joints slowly began to fail him. No supplements, no vitamins, no miracle cures helped him. In the last year, he had become a liability to himself and we knew it was only a matter of time before he would break something and be downed permanently.  Still, he persisted in bossing everybody around. Persisted in being the surrogate boyfriend for all the girls who had no buck during their heats, persisted in tormenting the sheep and snuggling up to human women who couldn't resist his clumsy, sometimes stumbling charms.

  Friday morning, Veteran's day, Josh and I found him down. He'd been actively involved in the amorous adventures of two does in heat the night before and had apparently hurt his back legs and gone down. He'd dug himself into a mud hole struggling to get up and was cold, shivering, hungry and weak. We got him up and he shakily gained his footing but it was clear his back legs were injured. For the next two days we got him up every few hours to eat and pee, and he'd lay back down in a few minutes, no strength left in his spindly old  legs. No apparent connection between his joints and the muscles and connective tissues that should have strengthened them.

  The ruminant animal, the cud chewer, the multi-chambered stomached goat, sheep, cow, alpaca, deer, bison, giraffe and others have in my opinion the most highly developed digestive system of any furred creature, including us. They're able to convert indigestible plant tissues into digestible nutrients, largely through the process of fermentation. Their first stomach chamber, the rumen, is nothing more than a fermentation tank, more similar to the fermentation tanks that give us beer, wine and whiskey than they are different. This fermentation gives off a lot of gas, which has to escape the animal in the form of burps. I like to sit outside at night with a beer or glass of other fermented beverage, and listen to the contended animals happily burping and chewing their cuds. Sometimes in the air is a whiff of those burps, not unlike burnt cabbage. It's the smell of contentment, nutrition, caprine and ovine happiness.
  For all their evolutionary perfection, a ruminant that can't get up and move around is destined eventually to bloat. Bloat is a condition in which the rumen fills with gas which can't escape. The ever swelling rumen causes pressure on the animal's lungs and hearts, eventually leading if not remedied to to either suffocation or heart failure.

  I went out to check on TomTom Sunday night- Monday morning about 1:30 a.m. It was clear he was bloating. Baking soda is sometimes a remedy. TomTom had always loved it and would eat it out of our hands, but Sunday night he wouldn't have any. I massaged his rumen trying to get him to burp. I got him up, he tried and then went down. I got him up again, again he went down. Short of unacceptable extreme measures, there was nothing to be done. In the end, he gasped a few times, his big beautiful head in my lap, and finally relaxed. I'm sure his heart had stopped. I went in the house, woke Katie up and told her TomTom was dying, and we held him and told him goodbye. And we cried.

  Earlier on Sunday,  Josh had said his goodbyes to TomTom before leaving to go back to NAU. He knew the old guy wouldn't last the week. We talked about all the things he had taught us about himself, about goats, and about ourselves. And we cried and were grateful.

  Alan Watts has posited that god is playing hide and seek with himself in trying out the various guises of different living things. It escapes me why he kept going after trying out being a goat.

  There are eleven goats and two aging sheep in the pasture still. There is no doubt we'll be crying again sometime, and it'll be all right. So long TomTom old bud. Thank you.

1 comment:

Marti Spudboater said...

GH, I recall your billy's when i was there,and I liked them alot. I don't recall which was Tom Tom but I recall one in particular took a fondness to me and like me scratching his ears and horns. My brother raised goats in Florida and I have always had a fondness for goats. I am sorry for the loss. He obviously had alot of love in admiration from your family. Even the animals we may raise to eat we sing our praises. As it is Thanksgiving, I bless these goats and the passing of love and affection between animal and human. I truly do believe, much as with our dogs, that goats do know us, and we know them when taking the time. Peace Out Brad, Katy and Josh. Hope you have an awesome thankfullness. I now I am blessed to have met your through John and Susun.