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Getting the buck outta here

February 1, 2011

We parted ways with our Boer buck on Friday. He had overstayed his welcome, and I was happy to see him go. The price of our hospitality wasn’t overly burdensome; a lot of hay, a little grain and some broken doors in the barnyard. The does shouldered most of the work of entertaining their energetic guest. He chased them around, nipping at their sides and pushing them away from their hay feeders and water buckets. The damage to the stalls in the barn indicated some wild late-night courting, but the does nuzzled him and rested their heads on the back of his neck in the daylight hours. Goats have relationships rife with what humans might call abuse; brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, all periodically work out their places in the herd with head-butting and rib-ramming. Bucks throw mounting and biting into the mix, 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 easier time 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 the rest were bucklings. Having started with some older does, we didn’t get kids from every doe, every year. When I bred the only doe born on our soil and imported a bred purebred doe, I hoped for a break in the buck streak, but we ended up with three bucklings last spring. Dairy goat bucks are hard to sell for some of the same reasons that we didn’t want to keep them. They’re only useful for breeding, as they lack the musculature desired in a meat goat, and when brought into a farmyard to breed, 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 from a prize-winning dam, but that isn’t the kind of operation we’re running. We’re in it for the milk, and the bucklings must go, as they are too closely related to breed back to their moms.

Boer genes are apparently dominant, and most kids born to a dairy/meat goat pairing will be meaty. Or so I hope. It will be a relief to have kids that can be sold, butchered or even given away. So we brought him to the farm as a frisky, wild, stocky six-month-old and bred him to our two remaining does in October, when he was eight-months old. He seemed more than ready to get to work. Out of an abundance of caution, I planned to leave him with the does for two months, or two cycles of heat, and because they got along well it worked out well.

He grew to be easy to handle and even friendly. When we first brought him home, he jumped over the four-foot-tall hard wire fence of the buck paddock and spent the next eight hours or so hanging around the exterior of the doe paddock and making himself hard to catch. He was explosive, powerful and lightning fast. We finally roped him and dragged him back to his paddock (thank God for horns) and turned on the electric. In these first days he was shy, having lived in a big herd of Boer goats with little to no human handling. I worked with him and taught him the value of a good scratch between the horns, partly because I wanted to make him easier to deal with and partly because he reminded me of a big dog and I wanted to pet him and take him for a walk. I never did get a harness around him and parade him through town, but he loved a scratch behind the ears.

Bonding with livestock has its downside. I knew when I finally coaxed him to come to my hand, he probably wasn’t going to end up on my plate. Hats off to those of you who can name an animal and make it your friend and later eat it for dinner, but I haven’t yet developed that kind of constitution. I will admit that it seemed crazy to me during deer season – spending hours in the woods waiting for a buck while one is being fed at home. But I’d much rather harvest an animal that I don’t know, and one that lives a truly free life. We didn’t drop a white-tailed buck, but we also didn’t intend to butcher our goat buck.

I put the buck on Craigslist and entertained a few curious emails and even a real live tire-kicker, but didn’t get any takers. After a couple months of re-posting, I received an email from what seemed to be a serious, eager buyer whom I’ll call “Santos.” Would I take $75? I thought 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 a good negotiator when it comes to money. I dread haggling, and figure if someone sets a price, they’ve thought about it and decided it is the correct 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 also did not want to have to continue feeding him and adding to the overall cost.

I think there’s another Puritanical Yankee thing about not talking about money, but revealing the figures involved may help to understand my bemusement at what transpired next. Immediately after I received the inquiry from Santos I got another, altogether different offer. In fractured English, with sentences terminated not with periods, but with rows of commas, someone we’ll call “mbugua” wrote to ask, “Do you still have goat for meat?? Let me know ASAP,,, can you provide space for slaughter? then i do it myself? how big is goat,,, how old? can you sell it $50, then i come for it Saturday? do you a pic for it? i may think of buying it,,,”

I replied that I didn’t have any space for slaughter, and I couldn’t sell the goat for $50. Undaunted, mbugua wrote, “it’s two hrs from Leominster,,,if you wonna i need only 10 by 10 space and i will clean the area after that,,,and i promise NO DIRTY TO REMAIN,,” Wow, you had me at no dirty to remain. Picturing either of the very full garages awash in offal, I congenially replied that I simply did not have a room for slaughtering the buck, and he quickly replied, “i can maybe 50 lbs dead weight,,,,let me know if i can just small space,, and i will come on saturday morning,,” The buck weighed in at around 150 pounds, and I never did figure out what he meant by “i can 50 lbs.”

Should I have stopped replying? I don’t see why, he was interested and I felt obligated to clear things up, after all, I expected the goat might become someone’s dinner, and I had no reservations about that. I told him that we are a small farm (understatement of the year) and that we don’t have indoor slaughtering space. I mentioned that I butcher my chickens outside in the summer, and he was not put off. “Yaap,,, that what i want outside, a small space and it will take me half and hrs only and i’m gone and if you want help i help,,,i can help you slaughter and show you how to slaughter,,”

The whole concept of butchering the buck on our land had just gotten very interesting. I’d heard horror stories from local milkmaids about backyard abattior gone woefully wrong. (Mostly just goats slipping out of the ropes that suspended them from their back legs in preparation for the big  moment.) But learning something new, from someone who claims to knows his business is intriguing. And Santos had backed off at my refusal to negotiate, so I considered the idea that I may have to take this offer. Then I considered the relationship I had formed with the buck and knew I couldn’t do it, as interesting as it may have seemed.

As fate would have it, Santos got back to me Friday, before mbugua could re-approach with his more disturbing offer. I had already resigned myself to the idea of sending the buck off to slaughter, and I accepted 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, I would be home in an hour and a half. The young man and his young friend arrived in a pickup truck with a cage in the bed. The friend puffed cigarettes and Santos talked about losing broiler chickens to a 30-pound raccoon. He thought our does were beautiful, couldn’t get enough of our big, healthy chickens, made an offer on our pig and loved the buck. I asked him if he was going to butcher the buck, and his face registered surprise. He’d never eaten goat and wanted to keep the buck as a pet and for breeding. I believe nothing I hear and half of what I see, especially when it comes to Craigslist transactions, but he seemed truthful. He was very interested in the pig, not having ever seen one quite 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 in return – another interesting idea.

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 kids without incident. That buck jumped the fence at least once after we penned him the first day, and one of the does looks noticeably pregnant. Some does do not show their pregnancy until they drop the kid, and most will not show until the penultimate or last month, so a moving bulge on this doe’s right side now is a worrying sign. She also delivered a nine-pound kid last spring, very big for a buckling, so I have to fret a little about the future delivery knowing that Boer kids tend to be big. If all goes well, I may have to get back to mbugua, and I have his email address on file. We’re trying to merge our milking goat endeavor with an all-new meat goat angle, and I just might need someone who knows how to get the job done in a small outdoor space with “no dirty to remain.”

I’ve included a video taken from the buck house roof. It shows the buck being introduced to the does in November. My son was in the viewing area with me, pounding nails and providing commentary.

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