I'm from the exurbs, so I can appreciate both urban and rural. They are both, at least, something, rather than an absence of anything. (Sorry, Riverside. You know you're always my hometown, loved unconditionally.)
When I tell people I'm milking an Oakland goat they seem amused slash to be wondering why I feel the need to be so obstinately strange. There is no explaining why goat-milking is wonderful. I cannot make the case in sensible terms, like the milk is so extra delish, or it's saving me money, or I have achieved near-vegan levels of food moralism.
I don't buy milk anymore, and that is cool. But I only quite grasp the awesomeness of the thing at 7:30 on Tuesday mornings when I'm in my pajamas carrying a quart jar of warm milk up the street of my city neighborhood. (Please note that my milking sentiments are less fond at 6:30 alarm time.) It's all there as I walk home: the udder just drained, the cereal soon to be wetted, the cheese later to be made, and the peculiar sensation of knowing how it all happens.
Knowing how it happens is not pure bliss. There's a reason we've divorced our food from its origins. The origins are often gross. The Goat Girls, aged twelve and sixteen, are wont to squirt milk from the udder right into their mouths, preferably whilst singing My milkshake brings all the neighbors to the yard/Damn right it's better than the store's--but I cannot yet do this. And in fact it took me a while before I could scramble and consume the eggs laid in my backyard without queasy revulsion. And in fact it took me a while before I could eat the lettuce grown in my backyard without a dubious mix of self-mistrust and grossness aversion.
Milking does not have a singular character. There are many kinds of milkings, as with any elemental activity. Sometimes the Indigoat Farm hens are pecking at the alfalfa hay strewn about the stanchion and Indi is bleating sweetly from the pen and sun reflects off Kiah's deerish brown flank and my hand works like it was made to do this particular finger dance, forcing great white streams into a latte froth in the collection cup. Other times rain drenches my Cal sweatshirt, its cuffs stained by and reeking of Udder Butter, and Kiah hates me, alfalfa bribes notwithstanding, and to spite me kicks her shit-caked hoof into my hard-won supply.
I was surprised (and a tad smug) when I had to convince someone--a wise and worldly reportorial sort once employed by CNN--that milk comes only from animals who have given birth. In the case of a bucolicized small farm creature he was quite willing to believe it, but surely, he objected, this was not the case for those milking machines in industrial farm bondage. Modern agriculture has us well fooled. Surely, we think, it must happen some other way.
Speaking of animals' inevitable reproductive habits, Marianne has gone broody, not unlike half my human friends. She sits on the nest, doesn't lay, has to be persuaded even to roam the yard at evening recess. There are nest box skirmishes when Ximena or Betsy want to go in there and get some actual work done, and egg yields are desperately down without her dark brown, speckled contributions. The one upside is I get to bust out heretofore unused chicken terminology, moaning about how she's 'setting' and I have to 'break her up.'
My attempts to break her up have failed. (Ice cubes? Bitch please.) I began to reflect on this latest form of insubordination disguised as poultry instinct in connection with the previous form: her weeks-long campaign of daily escapes, via flight from a high branch of the fig tree that canopies the run.
I came to suspect that the problem went beyond broodiness. She's at the bottom of the pecking order, forever getting her ass beat, last dibs on chard treats. Disgruntlement has radicalized her. I never saw this coming: my chicken is an anarchist.
Everybody seems to have ideas about how to break broodiness, but I couldn't find any tips online about how to break anarchism. And it's pretty far along. I cleaned out the nest box expecting to find some adolescent knickknacks, perhaps a few punk rock records. But no. She's got the entire fucking AK Press catalog stashed in there. Bakunin quotes scrawled on the walls. Suffice it to say that I came home sporting an "I Voted" sticker and got shat on.
I can roll my eyes and explain it away psychologically, and I'd have a strong case, considering her pecking order issues. But I should also give her choice of philosophy some respectful consideration. I do keep her caged in wire, after all.
Indeed there is much to ponder when keeping working animals. There is no 'freeing' them at this point, having finagled our needs into their very genes. At best we can work to ensure the bargain we strike with them is fair. I think
FOOD + PROTECTION ⇌ FOOD + OBEDIENCE
is pretty fair. Politeness on both sides is helpful; affection is bonus nice. (I don't eat meat, so you'll have to talk to somebody else about the off-with-their-heads bit.) But they are creatures, with creature hearts and minds. They can't be machinized, and I think that's for the best.
Animal husbandry is a progressive addiction, so I ended up with some ducklings, bought from a feed store in Petaluma. At maturity they're to join the lone duck at Indigoat Farm. But there was an uncute twist in which one of them died, age five days. It might not have been my fault. Then again, it might have been, which is another thing one has to think about. You gotta be on top of your game when it comes to those downy tufts of precious new life.
Leela and Erykah have certain duck-specific charms. You can tell they like muck, and seek it (by gathering at the base of my wine barrel water garden) and seek to create it (by making a sludgy mess of their brooder box). When they splash into the Pie Pan Pond™, it is an absolute refutation of any argument that animals can't feel joy.
Meanwhile, Paulie has been in the shade by the passion vine, writing his memoirs. Six weeks in he has only the title, Big Cat Diary. He somehow duped Carmela into doing all the research pro bono, so she's on the phone making polite entreaties to Hopalong and Thornhill Pet Hospital, gathering data on his kittenhood. When he sees the ducklings coming, he runs. And the backyard beat goes on.