Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
"What are your favorite animals on our farm?" I asked my oldest daughter as we walked around the perimeter of our front pasture. As usual, a small herd of chickens gathered behind her. They pumped their skinny legs into an awkward front-heavy waddletrot
in fervid hope of catching some tasty morsel thrown from my daughter's hand. She didn't wait to ponder this question, but quickly answered with assurance: "The goats!"
I was not surprised. This same daughter stumbled down the stairs at 7:15 this morning, still rubbing eyes not yet fully opened, and sleepily mumbled, "Can I go do chores, Mom?" I would never deny an offer of help, so I easily acquiesced. She soon faded into the morning mist, the echoing clomp clomp of her mud boots mingling with the welcoming bleats of the goats. This has become a common morning routine, one that I realize will not last and refuse to take for granted now. Hours later, I found her sitting in an earthen throne, carved into the hillside by her small hands, grinning at her goat friends as they nibbled leaves near her bare toes.
When I decided to purchase our first goat, an Alpine/LaMancha doe, I was told by many that goats were nothing but trouble. Sure, fencing was a learning process for us. There have been mornings of tired trudging and milking with fingers going numb, kicked milk pails and days spent chasing escaped goats. I have left weddings early, rushing home to milk long after dark. My toddler has eaten goat poop, and my porch has been decorated with ample amounts of their brown confetti.
If I will be honest, I bought goats simply because I wanted regular access to raw, organic milk. In our quest to be self-sufficient, it seemed like an obvious next step for our fledgling homestead. I never thought I'd fall in love with these animals. I never thought I would consistently look forward to my quiet moments, head bent over my milking pail, squeezing out milk and easing away troubles to the squirt squirt rhythm of milk on steel. Moreover, our goats are the stalwart companions and frolicking playmates of my children a cheerful constant in a world of flux.
Sure, my refrigerator is teeming with creamy goodness and assorted cheese spreads. My iced coffee is now perfectly delightful, and my skin has never been this smooth in my life. Yet, it is so much more than that; owning goats has added to our family in a way that cannot be measured in quarts and pints.
I am currently reading a compilation of letters penned by Elinore Pruitt Stewart in the early 1900s. A widow and a young mother, she packed up her child and belongings and moved to Wyoming to start her own homestead. She wrote the following quote, which beautifully describes my own experience. (Well, if she had only written "milk goats" instead of "milk cows," of course.)
"When you think of me, you must think of me as one who is truly happy. It is true, I want a great many things I haven't got, but I don't want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine. I have my home among the blue mountains, my healthy, well-formed children, my clean, honest husband, my kind, gentle milk cows, my garden which I make myself. I have loads and loads of flowers which I tend myself. There are lots of chickens, turkeys, and pigs which are my own special care... Do you wonder I am so happy? When I think of it all, I wonder how I can crowd all my joy into one short life."
Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Letters of a Woman Homesteader