Profit margins in farming are slim. Until Charlie broke her leg, we were up ever so slightly over the course of our three years of goat ownership. On the expense side: the initial cost of the goats, goat feed and hay in the winter, and all the extras you don’t think about, like a hay rack and milking stand. On the profit side: the income from selling a goat every now and then.
Vet visits, you’ll notice, are not listed above. They would make our goat operation very much a losing one. Goats can be very self-sufficient — feeding themselves three of four seasons, bearing their young while you’re not looking — although we have also had goats get sick and die very quickly. We let things take their course. Unless, that is, the goat in question is Charlie.
Charlie holds a special place on our homestead. We bought her at three days old this winter from a nearby goat cheese farm, and raised her and her twin brother, Don Fenucci, in our foyer. We bottle fed them, cleaned up after them. It was like having infants: exhausting.
When it got warm enough, we were overjoyed to get them out of the house and into the corral with the bigger goats. Too early, it turned out. We found the Don on his back one day, bleating. He’d clearly been beat up. We brought him inside, but he didn’t make it. Maybe we’d doomed him by naming him Don Fenucci — the precursor to the Godfather, who meets his end at the hands of Don Corleone.
We quickly let Charlie out of the corral, and since then she’s had free rein of our property. She sleeps on our porch, which unfortunately is also where she poops. She is the first to greet visitors. She’s a companion for Kai, until sometimes she gets “too rough!,” jumping and head-butting. She loves being scratched. We really would like to get her into the corral, but we’re not going to rush it again. In the meantime, she’s become our de facto dog.
Over Memorial Day weekend, husband Joe stayed home to man the farm while Kai and I headed to the beach. On Friday night Joe found Charlie lying on the side of our mountain, with a badly broken leg. How it happened, we don’t know. Our best guess is that the other goats breached the fence and roughed Charlie up. Joe did his best to cast the leg. When Kai and I got home, he broke the news gingerly.
It looked ... OK. She was grazing and pooping normally, and getting around admirably; she was still hard to catch. I decided to take the wait-and-see approach. A week and a half later, she seemed lethargic. She was lying on the porch when I got home from work, and she didn’t get up right away to try to eat my skirt. I felt her hoof: swollen and hot. I called the one vet practice I knew took goats. Bring her in, they said.
I dug out the neglected pet brush and tried to spiff Charlie up a bit before bundling her into the newspapered trunk and buckling Kai into the car seat.
It took the vet a long time to get Joe’s jerry-rigged cast off, and when she finally did, it wasn’t pretty underneath. In an attempt to stabilize the broken bone, Joe had encircled the leg with two U-bolts, which he then wrapped with electrical tape. He hadn’t put any lining or cushioning between the bolts and the skin, and the flesh had begun to grow into the bolts. Bad. We might have to amputate, the vet said.
Can a goat get along on three legs? I asked. The vet shrugged as if to say nothing this horrible has ever happened before, so who knows?
She sent us home with two baggies of injections — antibiotic and painkiller — and instructions to come back in a week. That’s when she would decide whether the leg had to go.
We dutifully injected Charlie every day. We enjoyed it about as much as Charlie did, but the infection quickly receded. Charlie seemed to be putting more weight on the leg, too.
Let me say, I was not in a hurry to go back, if what awaited us was a hacksaw and a hefty bill. A week came and went, and I guiltily made no appointment. Two weeks later, though, worry got the better of me. Was the pink skin around the wound unusually warm? Back we went.
She was actually doing great, said the vet. Much better than expected. The warmth was just healing in progress. She put her in a pink cast and told me to bring her back next week.
Bill: $87. At this point, Joe, the family bookkeeper, had begun muttering about goat stew.
A few mornings after the cast went on, we discovered Charlie with a mysteriously broken horn and a blood-smeared forehead. I wearily flipped through our goat books and, finding nothing on this subject, fired up the computer. Yep, horns can get busted ... some people recommend pain killers and iodine; others, the do-nothing approach. We decidedly did not call the vet. Now we’ve got an asymmetrically-horned goat with a pink cast, who still manages to be really cute.
For Charlie’s sake, I was as firm as I could be at her third appointment. Yes, we’re hoping Charlie has a long future ahead of her, full of frolicking kids and goat milk. But she’s a farm animal, after all, and we’ve got a canister of jerk spice in the cabinet, waiting to be used for a jerked goat recipe we got from a Jamaican friend.
We would really prefer not to come back again, I told the assistant, accentuating my point with the Barbie in my hand. She nodded as she lifted Charlie to her chest and whisked her to the back.
After Kai and I had made the acquaintance of the dog in the waiting room and counted the three fish in the fish tank a number of times, we were summoned to the back, where Charlie stood on a stainless steel exam table.
“To be honest,” the vet began (this was her standard opening, and it was nerve-wracking), “the leg has stabilized a lot in just the last week. I won’t need to cast her again.” The busted horn, she said, would grow back as a partial horn called a scur.
“A bargain!” said Joe, when we pulled into the driveway and delivered the news.
Kai put her arm around Charlie’s back. “Take a picture of us,” she said, and grinned while Charlie licked the salty car. For the moment, everything was alright in our little world.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite now living on a farm upstate and writing about the rural life.