It’s autumn and Romeo smells like he just peed all over himself… which he has… for the umpteenth time. The usually-white hair of his black-and-white coat is yellowed with urine. For some unfathomable reason in the goat world, this behavior produces a musky scent that is the crack-cocaine of alluring pheromones to female goats, does. To me, he just smells like the old goat that he is. What’s worse, he follows me around, rubbing against me, nibbling on my clothing, standing in front of me to prolong my visit to the buck pen, and I come away smelling just like him.
Although myotonic goats are more docile than other breeds, Romeo also can be a bit testy this time of year and will butt away any of the younger bucklings who try to compete for food or females. He wouldn’t try to hurt me, but I do have to watch out and not get in his way when he’s on a mission.
Romeo has completed his “mission” this year, and all the female goats have been bred. The does preferred him, rebuffing the advances of the younger bucks. I guess the still sweet-smelling bucklings were no match for Romeo’s rank ripeness. To make sure he hasn’t missed anyone, Romeo blubbers, curls his lip (the flehmen response), and sniffs the air. This is the yucky part that I don’t like about breeding goats—putting up with a stinking, blubbering, 150- to 200-pound buck in rut. One of this winter’s projects will be to move the buck pen to pasture even further from the house.
Something I do like about Romeo’s rut season is that it coincides with the campaign season for our local politicians. They love opening my gate and driving up to ask for my vote. Letting Romeo out of his paddock is very effective in keeping them at bay. My drive winds along the pasture where I keep the does, and Romeo will camp out in the drive all day mooning over the girls on the other side of the fence. All but one campaigner has declined to get out of the car to greet all that stinky badness.
That campaigner visited us in August. Romeo was in the driveway nose-to-nose at the fence with Reba, a pretty reddish brown doe. She had come into a standing heat and was bawling her lungs out on her side of the fence. I had decided it was time to let her in the drive with Romeo. I’d forgotten about the two young bucklings that I’d also let out with Romeo earlier that morning so that they could browse along the overgrown drive. Just about the time I let Reba out, here comes the next would-be county school board member. He got out of his car and handed me his literature, smiling and talking, and all the while ignoring what was happening under his nose.
Romeo was fast. Reba didn’t even have time to say hello before the deed was done. At climax, Romeo did what he always does in that situation—he fainted. Fell right out in the drive at the feet of the still-talking-not-saying-anything politician. The campaigner soon got in his car to head back down the drive.
Before he could get away, the two bucklings appeared and tried to get in on the action. Reba, preferring the riper aroma of Romeo, headed off down the driveway in front of his car to escape them. The two little bucks followed her, unsuccessfully trying to mount her and humping their way down the driveway in pursuit. Meanwhile, Romeo had recovered from his brief muscular lockup, saw what they were trying to do, and was having none of it. He headed off after the bucklings, which were after Reba–the whole X-rated parade now in front of the politician’s car as he crept along, still smiling between beads of sweat. Fortunately, the herd veered off before the politician reached the gate. He was able to flee, and I was able to go rescue Reba from her walk of shame.
Romeo and the small herd of his buckling sons are just some of the bad boys on my homestead. I also have a gang of maturing roosters and, believe it or not, mobs of drone honeybees. Way too much testosterone for one small homestead! What happens with all the extra males involved in keeping livestock? Let start with the bucklings. They will go to a local market for slaughter later this month.
Yes, I said “slaughter.” No, it doesn’t fit the storybook image that many have of homesteading, but I agree with and love quoting homesteader Gene Logsdon on this subject. In Gene Everlasting, he says, “We raise our farm animals with loving care, grow quite fond of them, put our lives at risk to save theirs if necessary, and then we kill and eat them.”
Keeping male animals is important and sometimes necessary on the homestead. Romeo’s genetics are half of my herd right now. He’s important and he’s done an excellent job. To care for him and the rest of my herd, I have to be willing to manage my bucks responsibly, and that means culling to prevent injury to both males and females from too many aggressive males fighting for herd dominance.
Domesticated livestock descended from wild animals. Males fight for dominance, maiming and sometimes killing one another to prove they are the strongest and most fit for mating. Offspring from these males have the best chance of survival. Even though they’ve been domesticated, all the girls still want the biggest, baddest dude on the homestead, and all the boys are all out to be that guy. Even the cocky little birds want to be that guy, and roosters can be the most brutal.
Nice Guys Are “Finished” Last on the Homestead
I try to keep one rooster so that I can maintain a flock of layers and hatch out new chicks when needed. Hatching out your own chicks is fun, saves money on replacement chickens, but always produces more roosters than needed. When they are about five or six months old, the roosters mature, start crowing, worry the hens sometimes to the point they quit laying, and fight one another for dominance. One mature rooster can sometimes be too many, but a whole barnyard gang of cocky adolescents can be a nightmare. Humane slaughter of a rooster is much kinder than the slow, painful maiming that these little birds can inflict on one another! When the roosters get to be about five months old, it’s time to plan a processing day.
One good rooster usually survives processing day. A good rooster will guard his hens against harm, call them to eat during the day and to the roost at sunset, let them eat first, and will not injure them—and will not flog humans! A rooster that does not meet this description—even if he is the last man standing—goes into the freezer. (Just ask my sister-in-law who was flogged by the “late” and latest Mr. Nasty.)
You must be willing to cull a bird if you’re going to keep roosters. You can’t have a rooster around who will flog you or your guests. He won’t get better. His spurs will just get longer and more deadly. I once worked with a woman whose grandfather was killed by a rooster! He died of blood poisoning after being spurred by one of his own roosters. Like me, she’s learned not to give her roosters a second chance when it comes to flogging humans. When a bird puts a bead on you, drags one wing downward as he circles around to attack you from behind, it’s time to put him in the crockpot.
You must be willing to cowboy or cowgirl up and not try to give the problem away to someone else to deal with. If you find someone who does want a problem rooster, that person is either naive to roosters, plans to eat it him or herself (the only good reason to give it away), or worst of all, plans to capitalize on its natural aggression and use it in a cockfight. I’ve even heard that roosters and chickens are ending up in animal shelters after people experiment with backyard flocks and then find it isn’t for them. An animal shelter? Is that how removed we have become from nature and the source of our food? You can learn to humanely harvest your own birds.
The most humane way to harvest a rooster is to take him from his roost at night and put him in a small cage until morning. Take him from the cage, and hold him firmly in your arms to keep him calm while placing him upside-down in a killing cone. Being upside-down and held firmly by the cone will calm him. Cut the jugular vein on one or both sides and let him bleed out into a bucket. If you do this correctly, the most stressful part for the bird will be in catching him. Joel Salatin has a great video on Youtube that shows you how to humanely and respectfully process a chicken: “How to Butcher a Chicken.” (Homestead.org also has this helpful article: Put Your Poultry in Your Pantry: City Folk Learn to Dispatch and Dress Chickens)
The rest of your flock will reward you with contented clucking, scratching, and more prolific egg-laying when you get rid of these domestic abusers.
Not Only the Birds, but the Bees Too!
The nice thing about keeping honeybees is that they take care of their own bad boys. The males, the drones, have one purpose in life—to mate with a virgin queen. Until they do, the worker bees, which are all female, will care for them and feed them. The drones do no other work for the hive. After being fed and groomed by their sisters, they fly out to what’s called drone congregating areas, the equivalent of their local bar, to wait for a queen to fly by. If they “get lucky,” they die in midair after having their boy parts pulled from their bodies during mating. If they fail to find a queen, they return to the hive to be fed and coddled until they can try again the next day.
But now as fall approaches, the bees are also preparing for winter. The drones that haven’t mated have no purpose for the hive and are using up valuable resources, which must be stored and rationed until the spring bloom. The worker bees unceremoniously drag the drones from the hive and prevent their re-entry. Left on their own, these lazy, ne’er-do-wells will starve and freeze to death.
Not Such Bad Boys After All
I’m calling these animals “bad boys” and “ne’er-do-wells” with tongue firmly in cheek. I don’t want to anthropomorphize. They are behaving as they are designed to behave. These males are as necessary as their female counterparts in the web of life. In the wild, nature takes care of excess numbers practically and matter-of-factly. Animals may fight to the death for food and reproductive rights. If they live, weaker males are often ostracized. Animals hunt, inflict pain, kill, and reproduce. It isn’t pretty by our sensibilities. It is what it is.
Just as we shouldn’t anthropomorphize animals, we don’t want to animalize humans. Although we are animals and interwoven with all of nature, we have a consciousness that makes us human. Unlike the other animals, we have morals, empathy and compassion, and love for one another. It is precisely because we are human animals that the suffering of other animals bothers us. On a homestead, we have taken responsibility for the animals we manage and we bring our humanness to the task.
Keeping Livestock Is a Sacred Responsibility
I call keeping livestock and their harvest a sacred responsibility because one definition of sacred is “worthy of respect, venerable.” To sacrifice an animal means we are harvesting something that we highly value for a greater good.
Many of the meals on our plates come from the excess males from our herds and flocks, sacrificed to become our sustenance. We can honor these animals by being responsible shepherds: treating them well, keeping them healthy, and harvesting them humanely. Doing so is much kinder by human sensibilities than the cold-blooded manner in which they deal with one another.