Saturday afternoon, we will clean out the goat shed. Since I only keep a couple of goats, I use the “bedding pack” method of stall maintenance. That means that I clean out the stall twice a year—spring and fall—and in between let the hay and manure accumulate. The mixture composts nicely and keeps the animals warm, and goats waste enough hay, even the very best hay, that there is always a layer of clean, dry stuff for them to walk and lie on.
In my early thirties, during spring break at the college where I taught, I used to clean out the goat shed by myself, shoveling out the layers of bedding and carting them in the wheelbarrow to the garden. One bright spring day I counted 72 wheelbarrow loads. Cleaning out the goat shed used to make me happy. I found it infinitely preferable to grading exams.
Now, in our Vermont homestead, the goat shed is farther from the garden, the ground is muddier, and I am no longer in my thirties. The cleaning of the goat shed has become a conjugal enterprise: my husband hooks up a garden cart to the riding mower, parks it in front of the shed, and I shovel forkfuls of bedding into it. He drives off, dumps it, and I fill the cart again. It takes about two hours, and the work is hard. Near the bottom, the bedding is wet and compacted, and it\’s a real effort to lift forkful after forkful of the stuff.
Now that the non-stop rains have eased, I want to get the shed cleaned out before the serious cold sets in and the old bedding freezes to the floor of the stall.
However, the combination of new puppy, new goat kids, and obstreperous milker has sapped my strength. So I have hired a young man to do the shoveling while my husband does the carting. I don\’t know what I\’ll do meanwhile—keep the goats from jumping on the tractor? Sit in the house and sew?
I need to save my energies for taming Blossom and training Bisou; the young man needs a job. So what\’s wrong with this scenario? What is wrong is that I feel that things are slipping out of my hands. Today it\’s help with mucking out; tomorrow—who knows? I have always believed that I should only keep what animals I can take care of (mostly) by myself. Yet recently I\’ve found myself asking more and more often for help.
For example, Wolfie is feeling neglected because of the puppy, and badly needs exercise. One way to take care of this is to throw balls for him, but the milking struggles with Blossom have aggravated a shoulder injury (from lugging water buckets) that makes my entire left arm hurt. So I have to ask my husband to do the ball throwing for me.
The temperature is going down to the 20s tonight, and my big rosemary bush is sitting outside in its big pot. I tried to lift it but my arm rebelled. I\’ll have to ask for help with that, and with the two pots of scented geraniums as well.
I don\’t like this. I\’ve always been a proponent of the “use it or lose it” philosophy, and now here I am, not even mucking out my own goat shed. I feel more and more like Marie Antoinette in her Petit Trianon, milking cows into Sevres porcelain bowls and letting the peasants do the real work.
Where, exactly, is the balance between masochism and self-indulgence? Will somebody please tell me that?