Monday, May 27, 2013

Farewell Jeannette

Today Several Gardens' Farm said goodbye to our oldest animal and dearest animal buddy, Jeannette.

Jeannette was our first goat. She came to us in 2002, a friendly six year old goat who kidded twins the following spring. She was a La Mancha, naturally without ears. I was forever being asked where her ears were, and got in the habit of explaining it before anyone asked.

Jeannette was a good mom, but typical of many goats, when her kids reached a certain age she seemed to stop identifying them as family and simply treated them as other goats. Oddly enough, it was Meggie, who was not her daughter, that she took to the most. Meggie's mom Gloria had a strong preference for her other kid, Streak. Gloria didn't encourage Meggie to nurse, and didn't help her much as she learned her way around.

It was always Jeannette who was out with Meggie, and to the last they were inseparable. I know Meggie will probably grieve too, in her way.

Jeannette had a thick, heavy coat that crows and robins liked to grab for their nests.

I often looked out to see a crow riding around on her back, pulling out great beakfuls of fur.

Far from minding this, Jeannette seemed to feel like it was attention and grooming for her - two things she loved.

She let chickens sit on her back too.

In general she was very tolerant of birds.

Jeannette preferred being brushed to anything.

She let anyone brush any part of her, even her beard, which must have pulled a little.

She just stood staring into the distance, lost in her own world.

When I got Jeanette, I decided to try something called "milking through". Normally people breed their goat every year. After having kids, the goat's milk is very abundant. Over the year, it plateaus, then drops in production, and eventually either the goat dries up on her own, or the owner dries up her milk supply so she can put her energy into having kids.

When milking through, you don't breed each year, instead milking continuously for two years between breeding. I didn't realize that two years is usually the longest time people do this. I just kept milking her. When Jeannette finally stopped giving milk, five and a half years later, she was twelve years old and getting arthritic. I didn't want to breed her at that age but I've always regretted not realizing how special it was that she made milk for so long. Ironically, the trait of making milk for years without having a baby meant the gene was less likely to be passed on.

I'm a natural pessimist. When her arthritis first made her reluctant to jump up on the milking stand, I began the process of grieving, but in fact she had many happy years after that, slowly losing ground but still enjoying life.

Every time I went into the barn and saw her sleeping, as she does in this picture - head floppy, body motionless - I felt a rush of panic that we'd lost her. I felt this off and on for years. Because goats are very deep sleepers, and they really look a lot the same as dead goats.

I experienced her loss like a long, grey Seattle rain. You don't know when it starts, and it just goes on and on, until you don't remember a time without it. And you don't notice when it slows, and stops - until suddenly you look and the sun is back.

David is the family optimist, who doesn't look for trouble ahead but handles it when it arrives. He was sad like the first spring rain in a dry place - a healing, fresh scented shower that leaves you feeling better when its' over.

Noah is sad like a flash flood. When he confronts one sad thing, it makes him remember everything he's ever been sad about in his life. He cried for his grandparents who barely got to know him before they passed - for my grandparents who doted on him for a few years - for our cat Tumbleweed - for the golf ball he dropped in a storm drain years ago.

A torrent of debris washes down from his stored memories, some of it things I didn't even know he could remember. Then just as suddenly, he's better.

The vet let the other goats see Jeannette's body before we moved her. They sniffed her, and I believe understood what had happened.

Jeannette has always eaten from one dish in one spot. Lightning always wanted that spot but either Jeannette would drive her off and bite her ears, or toward the end, I would stand guard while Jeannette slowly finished as much as she could.

Now that Jeannette's gone, Lighting seems to not believe she's allowed to eat out of that dish, much as she wants to. She's shy and nervous of it, maybe because it's been forbidden in the past, or maybe out of whatever the goat equivalent of respect for the dead.

I was grateful to have a vet who came out to the barn and euthanized Jeannette right where she had spent her life. Moving an animal of her age would have been much less peaceful.

Once she was gone, we had decided not to bury her but instead to have her cremated.

This meant hauling her 90+ pound body out to the car and delivering her to a clinic that would do the service.

As we transferred her to a gurney and brought her inside, four or five teenage boys were walking by. I saw them look, and do a double take. Then I saw their brains working extra hard at how to react. They wanted to be cool and indifferent - should they joke about it? Be shocked to see a dead goat? Should they walk by like this happened every day or gawk?

Typically of Jeannette, something about her gentle and loving demeanor seemed to settle over the group even though her spirit was gone from her body. They stopped and watched us move her, with quiet, respectful manner.  And one offered to hold the door.

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