Tag Archives: Goats

Feeling Life


June 28, 2013

Last spring a kid was born on the Farm.  Well, a lot of kids were born.  But one in particular, the third of three, smaller than the other two came mid-morning, mid-week.  We had seen similar babies in the past, a runt, sorta thrifty, and a great desire to live.  But desire doesn’t get you far when mom has two teats and your siblings are larger than you.  The result, as the result always is, the runt struggles to get a good meal.  This means the runt seldom gets a good meal and is always the first to begin eating grass.  This wouldn’t be bad, except their stomachs are not quite ready for it, so even though they begin grazing, it doesn’t do much for them and they remain runty.

I grew up with Charlotte’s Web.  A great story, but a story of ideal.  Wilbur is a newborn runt piglet, saved from death by Fern.  Wilbur ends up growing grows up to be a great hog.  However, the story is fantasy and reality seldom has a good ending.  Runts most never have a good life.  They are always fighting for the next meal and even with the best of care, die deaths that are seldom good deaths.  The reason why the farmer was going to put Wilbur down was because he knew there are times death is more humane than life.  The reason he was talked out of it was not because of Fern, but because he hoped for good life every bit as much as Fern and, like most farmers, would a whole lot rather take a chance at life than have to kill life.

Such was life last spring with the runt kid.  Unlike Wilber though, the runt has struggled ever since.  Mom took good care of him, but that did not make life easy.  However, he has made it four months and today he is the size of all the other kids after about three weeks.  Chances of survival?  Well, pretty minimal.

Until today.

One of the best parts of having a farm where folks visit, where conversation is about justice, food, theology, and life, is folk get to know the soil, the plants, the animals, the wind, and a runt.  Our hope every year is someone will come along and experience the truth of life, the truth of being a neighbor—even to a runt, and should we have a runt, take a chance on giving a kid a home that would not happen on the farm.

Well today is that day.  Youth from two sister congregations, Riverside UCC and Bethel UCC, have been with us this week.  Residing across the Colombia River from one another, Riverside in Hood River and Bethel in White Salmon, they have spent a week conversing about cultural justice, anti-racism, and economic justice.  In our time together dealing with these issues there is always the question of where soil, plants, and animals fit.  I am not all that sure to their reasoning, other than I think it is out of a sense of justice, but they took the time to find a home for our runt!

I feel a bit like Fern today, but a lot more like the one who was going to have to put Wilbur down.  Life is certainly given, but when life is allowed to live well, well, that is a time of rejoicing.  I feel a bit like that!

A Bath For The Trip!

A Bath For The Trip!

© David B. Bell 2013

Wombed Is To Life, As Life Is To ???


March 28, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 3

The day began with an almost death and ended with the real thing.  Death is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away.  And like birth, everyone does it sooner or later.

As I reread what I wrote yesterday, I noticed I said that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  That got me to thinking, was it dead?  The kid never took a breath.  Can there be life without breath?  Can there be death without life?  The old storytellers of the Hebrew Testament tell the story of Creator gathering up ground, forming it, and then breathing the breath of life into the mud ball.  With breath, forth came human life.  For some of our ancient people life comes with breath.

I choose to think life comes with breath with birth.  Many folk don’t agree and say life comes before breath before birth.  However, defining existence prior to birth and prior to breath as life is accepting society’s norm of thinking in absolutes.  Absolutes like right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, hot or cold, life or death.  Absolutes are problematic because this either-or way of thinking does not allow us to wonder in liminal space.  In other words, by defining everything we know as not death as life we confine the fullness of creation, but when we dull the edges of what we choose to call life and death we enhance the richness of life and death because we become comfortable with the ambiguousness of existence.

Years ago, Belinda and I had a baby after twenty-five weeks in the womb.  Breath was not breathed into and breath was not taken.  So, like the kid from the previous post, was she born dead?  Well, she did not have life as we know it.  She was not a walking, breathing being.  And yet, there was something prior to birth.  Something like life, something real, something extraordinary and unique existed, but that something did not fit the language box of life.  In our want for simpleness, we have not taken the initiative to find a word (or words) which best expresses the state of being lying somewhere between non-human and human existence.  Or have we?  Perhaps we do have a word to talk about unique existence prior to life, but in our sloppiness we have not allowed it to become all it might be.  After all, womb is a fairly decent word that expresses something more than an ammonic sack.  The womb, created at conception, is a unique landscape—at least as unique as the landscape we call earth.  The landscape of the womb is a place of extraordinary existence—every bit as unique as life is on earth.  Therefore, it seems a shame to use the word life to talk about an existence that is extraordinarily different from this breathing walking around life we know.  Instead of describing existence in the womb as life, wouldn’t be more appropriate to talk about being wombed or wombing or wombingful?  Would not such language speak to an extraordinary and creative existence that is equal to but not the same as life?  To value womb and life as different but equally unique existences is to appreciate the rich and imaginative nature of creation.  By letting go of either-or absolute thinking and allowing our language to become creative and imaginative, existence becomes fluid and rich.  Moreover, fluid existence means we can better cherish death.

Cherishing death though, is to find fertile language that honors post-life existence in the way womb honors pre-life existence.  As wombed existence becomes richer when we let go of phrases like life in the womb, post-life existence becomes richer when we let go of words like afterlife.  In doing so, after life or post-life would speak to that existence which comes into being when the breathing walking around life we know, ends.

It is within the human imagination find language that speaks to post-life existence as extraordinary, creative, and equal to life, but not the same as life.  The trick is to find a word(s) (Many that come to mind seem inadequate: Heaven, Hell, paradise, angel, eternity, afterlife, Hereafter, eternity.) that speak to post-life as wombed speaks to pre-life.  There is also the need to find new ways of thinking and descriptions of existence that allow us to imagine post-human as fetus speaks to pre-human.  In doing so, we move away from words and phrases like, life in the womb and afterlife toward constructs like, as the womb is to life, life is to ??? and as the fetus is to human, human is to ???.  With such words, we can better speak to and honor the fullness of our human and non-human existence.

Taking in the fullness of the creativity of our human and non-human existence allows humanity to grasp the richness of death.  The movement, if I might call it that, from wombed to living or fetus to human is that of birth.  Birth in its own right is a transitional moment from one existence to another.  There are times at the farm when we have watched a doe mother give birth to a kid, only to have the kid fully within the ammonic sack and fully outside of mom lying on straw.  This moment only lasts for an instant, but in that instant, one can watch the kid moving and having its existence in two realities at once.  The instant the sack breaks, one begins to understand that birth is a unique transitional moment.  Death is similar and transitional, but not the same as birth.  Unlike birth, where the fetus body becomes the human body, death is a transitional experience into a post-life existence that is bodiless.

The lack of body brings forth the realization that both the wombed-fetus and the living-human experience death.  This lack of body in post-life existence is why I commented that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  However, there is one stark difference between the death of the wombed and death of the living.  Those which experience life have the opportunity to experience the movement of being from wombed to life to ???.  Whereas the fetus experiences the movement from wombed to ???, missing the experience of life.  Does missing the experience of life matter?  I don’t know.  But I do feel creation experiences deep loss when either a doe births a kid or a mother births a baby (and I choose to allow the mother to define that existence within her as baby) that is dead.

Death really is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away—as might be noted in my reflection.  However, in this season of birth, of Holy Week and of Passover, which is a time of life and a time of death, nailing an explanation for death and life doesn’t seem as important and as taking a deep breath and wondering about the richness and fullness of our (goat and human) existence.

© David B. Bell 2013

Long Day’s Birthing Into Night


March 22, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 2

Belinda and Kate headed off to the My Future: extended learning program.  I later learned youth spent the better part of the day exploring new duct tape ideas, while also taking some time to prepare and eat a meal during their once a week time of exploring new food opportunities.  Like many rural ministries, I imagine, life is seldom compartmentalized into work or play or this job and that, but rather ministry is a fluid mix of what is and what is about to be.

As they headed down the drive another doe dropped two more kids.  She is an older doe so care for her kids, on my part, was minimal.  Soon afterward another doe gave birth, then another.  All the while, one doe who has been through this many times kept walking around with a slight discharge…hoping, I think, that soon she would give birth as well.  In the meantime another doe gave birth.  7pm rolled around it looked like all the remaining does without kids, except for the doe with the slight discharge, were not going to give birth today.

This last one though was at her wits end.  This seems to happen every year with her.  Her teats are as tight as they can be from milk, her utter is so big she has to walk bow-legged, and the hair on her utter has been rubbed off from her legs rubbing past.  You know she has had it and wants the pregnancy to just be done because as a standoffish doe who never lets you touch her, she now allows you to scratch her back and rub her shoulders.  Yet, as the saying goes, a watched pot will not boil, so I gather up old used slimy towels and head back to the house to get some admin work done that has been left behind during this day of birthing.

Belinda returned from My Future a while later.  We got supper together and ate.  Then Belinda headed out to the barn around 8:00pm while I cleaned dishes.  The phone rang a little after 8:30.  Belinda said it might be best to come out to the barn.

As I came around the corner I could see Belinda and the doe were having problems.  Two feet were out and no head.  A normal presentation has two front legs stretched out with a head nestled between them coming out the vulva.  Such a presentation allows the body to come to a point of sorts, which allows for an easy birth.  Tonight, the hooves and legs are in the correct position, but the head is turned back—not good.  The presentation told the story of why the birth had taken all day, and this far into it meant there was little chance for a live birth.  It also meant the does chances were dropping as well.

It is probably luck, but for twelve years of birthing we’ve never had such a presentation—that we know of (there has been a lot of births we’ve never seen).  If mom was at her wits end hours ago, she was done now.  Belinda took her head.  I ran a finger between the baby and the vulva until I could feel where the neck was bent back.  Everything was far too tight to push the baby back in and turn the head around.  I hooked my finger in the notch created by the head being turned back and grabbed the front feet.  Then I placed one foot on each side of her rump, just above the hock, then pushed with my legs and pulled with my arms.  Belinda pulled.  Nothing happened.  We all pulled again.  Then again.  With the head turned back over the shoulders there is simply lot of area to move through such a small opening.  About the time we began to wonder if the baby would ever come out, there was movement.  Then a little more.  Finally, the head was through and the baby was out.  And dammit, yes, the baby is dead.

Before we had a chance to place the baby on the straw another bag began to come out.  With bag in tack, two hooves came out, then two legs, but no head.  You have got to be kidding!  Another abnormal presentation and a breach this time—everything is coming out backwards!  This time though, the kid came fast and was on the straw before the amniotic sack broke.  Coughing and shaking its head, we wiped birth gunk out of its mouth and placed him by mommas head.  She began to lick and clean him up.

Normally, when a doe is done birthing, she looks a little hollow in the hindquarters.  That was not the case.  We watched as she cleaned up the kid and figured we would hang out for another twenty minutes and see if another kid might come along.  Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, she pushed again.

An intact bag came out, but only with a head, no feet.  It seems like all twelve years of few birthing problems are going to be made up right now, with one mamma—third baby and a third abnormal presentation!  This time the legs are pulled back in line with the body, so like the first, there is no point to the presentation, the area around the shoulders is larger than the vulva and an easy birth is out of the question.  She pushed and the neck came out, but as soon as she stopped, it all went back inside.  Another push and the same result.  The doe is shot by now and energy non-existent.  So when she pushed the third time, Belinda took her head, I grabbed the kids head and neck (the amniotic sack didn’t break) and we all pushed and pulled.  Slow even movement and in a moment the baby was on the straw.  Belinda wiped the nose and mouth and placed the baby by mommas head.

Thirty minutes later we took one last look as we turned to leave the barn.  Mommas everywhere with babies lying up beside them.  Most are sleeping.  A few are chewing their cud watching us.  Lights out.  11pm.

© David B. Bell 2013

Beginning Life at the Woodstove


March 12, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 1

It’s 5:30am the day after daylight savings time has begun.  Seems like it should be spring, but really, it is late winter and the morning temperature is proof.  Belinda is ahead of me heading out to the barn.  The night was too short, but there are kids being born and our curiosity has gotten the better of us—More times than not, the does and babies do just fine without us intruding.

We divide the barn into two sections this time of year.  One side is where we place the does who are going to birth any moment and everyone else spends the night on the other side.  Entering the barn we see none of the does who we thought were on the verge of kidding kidded.  But on the other side, well, sure enough one of the first-time does who we did not expect to birth had two kids on the ground.

First timers have a habit of having one kid, cleaning it up, and then before she knows it she is birthing all over again.  So, she gets up walks around, lies down and has another kid—a good fifteen feet from the first one.  She gets to work cleaning the second baby, but by the time she is done cleaning-up the second kid, she’s forgotten about the first.  That is the case this morning.  The first kid laid flat to the ground, cold through and through.

Figuring the first kid is dead, we got mom and the second kid into a pen where we warmed him up and got him on mom’s teat.  Then we went back to the first.  Picking it up, the kid folded over Belinda’s hand like a cloth napkin.  She took it to the other side of the barn to leave it for burial later.  As she laid it down she checked it one more time and said, “David, I think it’s still breathing.”  It was, and its eye’s still had the clarity of life.

We milked the doe and took the baby up to the house.  There Belinda placed her in a sink full of warm water.  After she has warmed, Belinda took her out of the sink, wiped her down and placed her in front of the woodstove.  Then with a small rubber tube in hand, Belinda threaded it down the kid’s throat to it stomach.  After filling a syringe with milk, she attached it to the tube and fed the baby—this went on a couple of times throughout the morning.

About that time Kate arrived and for the remainder of the morning Kate and Belinda worked on a grant in front of the stove while feeding and massaging the baby to get its muscles moving.

By noon, a grant for the My Future extended learning program was finished and the baby was back with mom.  The day had just begun.

© David B. Bell 2013

May Mother

May 9, 2012

Each October we turn the buck in with the does, which then gives us kids in March.  But, every once in a while, a doe doesn’t take the first time around, or the second.  Yesterday, two full months after all the other does kidded, the last one had her baby.  After two months of watching all the others with kids and being treated as something a little other, it is evident that she thinks different about herself now, as do the other does.

© David B. Bell 2012

Farm Kid Day!

March 12, 2012
JustLiving Farm

She moved around slowly.  Very slowly.  Every doe in the herd except her had kidded.  I had thought she would kid two days earlier and I think she thought the same, but so far, nothing.  When I arrived at the barn she moved up to the gate.  The gate led to the area where we bring mothers for a few hours after birthing.  While there, kids get a shot of selenium, iodine on their umbilical cord, and an ear tag.  I think she came to the gate because she thought if she could get in, that would induce her babies.  I opened the gate, and she slowly walked in.

It took a full day, but by the next morning the slow moving doe finally had twins, one doeling and one buckling.  Life seemed better!  After a week of birthing, every doe had a kid on the ground, and no deaths!  Which means…

FARM KID DAY!  Yep, the time has arrived for our annual workday with kids and their mothers.  This is the day when we trim mother’s hooves, give them a good brush down, and cleaned them up.  At the same time kids get tetanus shots, dehorned, and banded.  A very busy two to four hours.  Normally, we have this day on Saturday, but this year we have a Saturday workshop presentation.  So, instead, we are going with a Sunday afternoon.  If you would like to come and help (your kids and grandkids are welcome!), you are welcomed!

COME join us and other folk who support small farms!  Come and help work with the mothers and kids, walk around and learn about the farm, and sit down with us, new friends, and have homemade chili and sourdough bread!  Please call or email and let us know your coming!

March 18, 2012: 1:00pm

Join JustLiving Farm for a day of…
Care for Does and newborn Kids.
Supper of Chili & Sourdough Bread.

RSVP (509) 969-2093 or

© David B. Bell 2012

Just Kidding

March 4, 2012
JustLiving Farm

The birth of this season’s first two kids reminds me, creation keeps on keeping on and the slower living winter gifts us with is on its last legs.  As each kid emerges into an existence we all too often take for granted, we are called to gear up another notch.  Though there is plenty of winter to come, this is an exciting time after months of gray frozen fields, snow, and frost ringing window edges.

© David B. Bell 2012


February 23, 2012
JustLiving Farm

Yesterday, with the help of a few friends, we reshaped, remodeled, and temporarily organized the barn into a kidding area.  This came the same day I received notice a friend of mine is pregnant.  As a guy I really don’t have a clue what it means to be an expectant mother, but as a parent I do know what it means to be expectant.

I know it drives folks—it did me at one time, a little nuts when folks compare the human condition of pregnancy or raising children to that of animals, but I know few folk who are parents and work with animals that don’t make the comparison on a regular basis.  For instance, today, four out of twelve does have bagged up—that telltale sign of goat utters filling and teats enlarging.  This stage of pregnancy says soon: soon birth, soon mamas making the sound only mamas make with newly birthed babies, soon baby kids finding they have legs, soon the first taste of milk, soon babies learning the mystery of life with sky and wind and straw.  This sooness has the demeanor of the four does quite different from that of the other eight and not all that different from other mothers, four legged or two legged, living this stage of life.

When the demeanor, the expectation, of these mamas become what it is, then we are compelled toward the barn to ready stalls and a loafing area in anticipation of birth.  In only a few hours the barn was readied for the first birth of the year.  Now we wait.

It is nice to be ready, to have shelter and warmth in the time of expectation.  And I reckon that is my hope for all expectant parents, to have a warm place for new life to enter which allows their youngsters to live and learn and love the mystery of life with sky and wind.

© David B. Bell 2012

Lenten Kid’s

March 9, 2011

The last kids were born yesterday afternoon.  After three days and a good deal of our time with does and babies, there are now twenty-one kids on the ground.

Today is also Ash Wednesday.  Christian folk enter this first day of Lent in many ways.  Some take the time to have ashes placed on their foreheads on this day, the forty-sixth day before Easter.  The ashes are representative of living into a time of humility and sacrifice.  In the spirit of sacrifice, some folk make a promise to themselves to give up something they enjoy during the time of Lent as a way to express the hardship of living life that matters.

Three days of birthing has given doe mother’s twenty-one babies.  Twenty-five were born, four never made it to their second day of life.  Whether we are a Lenten people or not, it seems fair to remember life in the landscape of this world is a gift, and living into that realization with humility, matters.