The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

The end of Lamb Chop

Carrying a goat across the creek

As an omnivorous homesteader, there comes a time when you have to put your money where your mouth is and kill that animal. For our first trial with homegrown red meat, we opted to take the halfway-house approach and drive Lamb Chop to the butcher. But I'll admit I still shed more than one tear over the endeavor.

Traveling with a goat

Honestly, I'd thought the hardest part would be getting our buckling across the creek and into the car, but he's used to following my lead. Yes, Lamb Chop and his mother (and Artemesia) cried as if the entire world was on fire as I led him away...but once I paused and let our buckling nibble on a mouthful of leaves he forgot all about the herd in a heartbeat. Instead, he followed me agreeably, submitted to being hoisted across the creek, hopped up onto the tarp-covered backseat with a bribe of alfalfa pellets, and then simply lay quietly with my arm across his back for the entire drive.

Goat on a leash

Only when we emerged from the car did he balk, and that was merely because the world was big and scary with a highway only a few yards away.


Without much prodding, our kid followed me into the slaughter room. Then I took off his collar, and we drove away.

(That's when I cried.)

Grazing goats

And, yes, the truth is that I let myself love our first homegrown kid a little too much. Even though he'd started harassing Artemesia (despite never quite finishing the job) and headbutting my legs when we walked together (in jest...he said!) and gnawing on my yoga mat (even though I continually pushed his nose away), I nicknamed our buckling Choppy and scratched behind his horns and let him lay down beside me as I read. Yes, despite protestations to the contrary, Lamb Chop and I were friends.

Goat on a log

I expected Abigail to cry all day after losing her kid, but the coop was ominously silent after Mark and I got home. And I'll admit that I dreaded my usually lusted-after evening grazing session that day --- I halfway expected our doe to call me a murderer when I came out to play. Instead, she was ready to eat, only looking up twice to call out Lamb Chop's name before putting her mind back to the serious business of grazing.

It was quieter in the woods without Lamb Chop present, but more peaceful too. And I learned at dusk that our buckling had been getting two thirds of Abigail's daily milk. Choppy, I thought we'd agreed to go halfsies!

Farewell, Lamb Chop

Which brings me back to the reality of homesteading --- if you want milk, there are offspring about once a year and 99% of the boys are really only good for meat. (The world would overflow with wethers in short order if we castrated all the males and tried to give them away as pets.)

So even though I shed a tear when I said farewell to Choppy, Mark and I still felt like we were doing the right thing. Next year, I'll probably be a little more distant with our kids...and maybe they'll be a little less magical in response. But as Tennyson said (about something else entirely), it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. So, for this year at least, I wouldn't have changed a thing.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I am proud of you. I never thought you would follow through with this. Good job.
Comment by Anonymous Tue Jun 23 06:56:18 2015

We have found that it is easier to be unattached when there is >1 goat kid around. Hopefully you will find the same is true for you next year. It is a little easier when they are kind of pesky as a group.

I have a couple of half-saanen doelings this year that we are probably going to butcher. We have not historically killed the girls, only the boys. These doelings are half kiko+boer and there is little chance of getting a price for them as milkers or pets. So this year we will probably do it. The thought of it is a little ouchy for me, even though we have not handled them or bottlefed them.

I'm looking forward to reading about your goat meat culinary adventures.

Comment by Suzanne Tue Jun 23 11:33:45 2015

You were great, being a farm girl and homesteader doesn't mean you can't care. I belive like Mark, that energy is powerful and giving your animals compassion gives them good energy flow. Therefore they will be happier and healthier. since choppie consumed so much milk, let us know how the meat turns out. Will it be like veal? Another experience in the making.

Comment by roseanell Tue Jun 23 12:13:51 2015

Hi Anna and Mark,

I too am looking forward to hearing about how goat meat tastes, cooks, etc.

A local goat farmer comments that there is more goat eaten as meat than beef [in the world] ??

The way of the world I suppose.


Comment by John Tue Jun 23 12:18:00 2015

I really appreciate everyone's kind words! I was really expecting to be flamed, so your thoughtful replies were much appreciated.

And I suspect Suzanne is very right about it being easier when there's more than one kid around. That definitely works with chickens.

I'll report back once we've started experimenting with the meat!

Comment by anna Tue Jun 23 13:10:25 2015
I am flamed & crying - so sad - he didn't know what was coming!
Comment by Jayne Tue Jun 23 13:36:07 2015

Jayne wouldn't make a good homesteader. sometimes it is hard to belive she let's us eat her beautiful vegetables she grows. Oh those tomatoes oi grew them from seed. Just saying Jayne.

Comment by roseanell Tue Jun 23 14:17:26 2015
Jayne --- I'm sorry --- I know it's tough! But, on the other hand, wouldn't you rather end your life without knowing what's coming? Happy up until the very end sounds pretty good to me.
Comment by anna Tue Jun 23 15:03:57 2015
It's ok to care and still send the little guy to the butcher. Not only is it part of the homestead experience, but it also a much more humane way to get meat. It gets even better for the dearly departing when you harvest the meat yourself. Then the last thing the kid or lamb knows is that the human who raised it and fed it and loved it everyday takes it for a little walk...a little bowl of favorite feed is the last thing the animal will know. No stress hormones pumping into the meat. And as a bonus, the cost of the meat per pound is dramatically reduced.
Comment by Anonymous Tue Jun 23 16:12:08 2015

was it Salatin that says "one bad day" after being humanely and respectfully raised, that isnt so bad. doesnt make it easier, but it is a necessity. I am fairly convincd that some animal inputs are necessary to be self sustaining on a homestead. And even those vegans, if they buy soap, or dish detergent, or jello, or innumerable other products,including many medications and skin products, or have leather anything, are participating in the slaughter of animals, which almost certainly were not given the good life that this little buckling had. good job, Anna. it would be worse,I think, if you were callous to the whole process.

Comment by deb Tue Jun 23 16:13:32 2015

It’s never easy even when you don’t get too close. It was hard for me to read because I had gotten a little attached through your writing. That is one of several reasons we went with mini-cattle instead of goats for our meat and dairy. Calves are cute but nothing compared to kid goats. Kudos to you for staying the course even after getting attached. Many wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Remember you gave him a very good life, but he had a purpose and as long as he was killed as quickly and humanely as possible there should be no regrets. Easier said than done I know.

Comment by Ned Newby Tue Jun 23 16:28:05 2015

I understand the torment. I feel it whenever we kill chickens we have raised. As generally you're more hands on, than with the adults you buy. Because you remember the times you watched over them, and they trusted you to protect them (one chick we even saved from the mouth of a python).

Then one day, that all changes. The protector becomes the carnivore.

But this is the reality of good healthy people, if they want to stay that way. You will look after your livestock, raise them in healthy conditions so they are connected to the earth. Then you eat some of them - the ones making life too hard for the rest of the flock/herd to thrive, if they were to stay. That was my only consolation. If they were to stay, they would make thriving difficult for the rest.

Comment by Chris Tue Jun 23 18:00:32 2015

It's all part of the process! I helped at an early age to pluck chickens and later, with hogs and lambs. We had an older guy name Arnie that would come and dispatch the animals, skin and quarter them in the yard...he would always straddle a lamb and slit it's throat, and say "Have a nice journey" before he did it... Yeah, it's more personal when you saw the birth and raised it than when you pull the trigger on a deer that is eating your garden.

You and Mark may not have a home in a subdivision and 87 channels of cable at your disposal, nor a normal driveway, but you are doing what so many of us wish we could do in avoiding the inevitable rat race. Keep up the good work!

Comment by Eric Tue Jun 23 21:44:49 2015

I admire you for doing this and writing about it. Most of us eat meat, and those who don't, often still eat dairy - dairy that's available to consume because female animals gave birth to cute babies who were removed at/soon after birth. It's hard to face the up close realities of food sometimes, especially for those of us who lead lives where we don't have to look directly at it!

I'm glad Lamb Chop had a good life, however long it was! And I'm curious to find out how you're going to cook the meat!

Comment by Cordy Wed Jun 24 00:21:19 2015

I'm proud of you guys. Once you told us you named him, I wondered if you would follow thru. Often times it's difficult to draw a line between respecting the life forms we work with and anthropomorphizing. The Sioux used to say a prayer after making a bison kill and before butchering, " O Bison, thank you for giving your life that we might live!" Sounds mysteriously like the Agnus Dei. (I'm so old I remember the Latin Mass.)

When you total up the costs, including all the time & work, cleaning up the mess, difficulty in achieving safe, rapid freezing of the meat and risks of contamination, the cost of going to the processing house and letting the pros do it is money well spent.

Comment by doc Wed Jun 24 07:42:48 2015
Thank you so much for writing this. A homestead with goats is in my not-too-distant future, and this exact scenario is something I'm keenly concerned about. I appreciate your perspective a lot. I'm trying to shift away from simplistic ideas (how could anyone possibly kill a pet?!) towards ones that allow for complexity (e.g., you can love a young goat like a pet and still know that the best thing to do is use him as a meat source). I'm sure it was really, really hard, though.
Comment by Jessica Sat Jun 27 21:52:12 2015

Thanks for sharing this, Anna. I'm currently contemplating learning to butcher my own chickens. Had a rooster I was going to try to get processed with help of a friend this week, and put it off only because he's behaving so much better and seems to be good protection for the flock--he chases the cats away when they get too close.

Even so, I could see it was going to be more difficult than I thought, after several days of giving him special care--putting him in the garage at night so he wouldn't either bother the other chickens or get killed himself!

Comment by Jennifer Thu Jul 2 14:10:07 2015
I can't think of a better life for a goat. But it still left me sad, which is why I'll continue to not eat meat or cheese. I wish most people ate as many fresh veggies as you guys though! <3
Comment by Anonymous Thu Jul 2 21:37:47 2015

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