Farmer’s Dilema – Existence vs Thriving

You know it’s cold when your breath freezes instantly into icicles!

TyeDye With Icicles IMG_6701

The animals handle the cold really well – much better than me!  During bad spells of weather I am happy that humans discovered how to make fire and then invented central heating.  You have to be impressed by the humbleness of animals and their ability to take what comes their way.

Goats and sheep are very similar but their personalities are very different.  Goats are much more interactive than sheep.  My goats walk in front of me in a blocking move to stop me from leaving.  My sheep will follow me for a treat but would never try to trip me.  One of my sheep, Bella,  is more aggressive than the others and at nearly 300 pounds can be a handful.  She will push me with her nose for treats if she smells them and follows within inches behind me with her head down, looking like a missile.  An amusing sight!  Mostly the sheep watch my activities with attentive paranoia but will come forward to take a treat if one is offered.

Goats really appreciate personal attention if they are feeling bad and will nuzzle you with their thanks.   Sheep are generally so much more nervous about being handled that it doesn’t noticeably help them.  They do love to be scratched, between the front legs and on the checks are favorites of my sheep, but they have to be in a happy, relaxed mood to allow such behavior.  Generally if they are sick, they are fearful as they know they are more susceptible to predators.

Prey species don’t show they are hurting until it is very bad indeed so farmers have to keep a sharp eye on their charges.  Even very minor behavior changes can indicate that an animal is in trouble.  I can sometimes tell almost as a feeling, not because they are doing anything specific to indicate they are hurting.  They all have their own personalities and knowing each of them well is the key to keeping them in good health.  Large farms can’t possibly do this.  I had over 50 goats and I reduced my flock size after realizing that I could not give them the care they deserved.  Since animals “handle” what they are given I feel a greater responsibility to ensure they have healthy, happy lives.

As an animal lover I struggle constantly with the continuum of offering an animal an existence vs providing them a ‘quality’ life.  I believe that it is better to put an animal down humanely than to keep them alive under bad conditions but where to draw the line?  There is no single correct answer, but for myself I have become more conservative over time, feeling that the animals in my care deserve a good life and if I’m stretched too thin it is best that I don’t take on additional animals.   Currently I have 10 goats and 3 sheep and this feels like a good number.   All the same, it is always hard to pass on sheep or goats needing homes as their options are slim vs companion animals such as dogs.