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Silver Linings

“Well, I know if I wear a skirt she will go into labor,” I said with a shrug to my gawking husband as he stopped in mid stride carrying out the big bowl of salad greens to the table on the grass. It’s not every day he gets to see Farm Boss in something other than dusty Carhartt’s. He cleared his throat and replied, “I thought throwing a party on Fi’s due date would be enough,” and thoughtfully studied the rear view of my retreating skirt.

With the grill heating up, the folded table laden with food, and our friend Wes moulding burger patties, we were ready for Randy’s first staff appreciation party hosted at our farm. Being the big boss, he was anxious to make an impression. And believe me – an impression was definitely made! I just didn’t think it would be the barnyard making it!

There had been none of the pre-labor signals that Hazelnut had given me over days. True, Fiona did have a bit of milky lube on her vulva that afternoon, and her babies dropped into her deep keel rather abruptly, leaving her looking surprisingly slim and trim once more. And then hollows in front of her pelvis began to appear and sink deeper. It’s true, too, that all this happened in just a few hours. But Hazelnut had been in labor for 3 days! I did not think we would see a thing until the next day at the earliest. But a quick farm check after I hoovered down my burger sent me scuttling back to the house with skirt flying, blurting quick orders to Randy who, having been wrapped for a few hours in a 4 yr old straightjacket (that would be our party-shy daughter), had only just piled up a plate of food. “Towels honey! Babies are coming!”

I stripped off my skirt in the living room and yanked up my overalls, dust and barn odors emanating from the crusty folds. I THINK I had washed them since Hazelnut’s kidding. Tim, our 83 yr old camp ground volunteer might have gotten a free show but I did not take the time to find out. I fumbled the birthing kit into my arms and trotted back out the back door, dodging masticating guests, betadine bottle bouncing into the grass behind me. “HONEEEEEEE! A bucket of warm water!” I yelled over my shoulder. By now I had gotten everyone’s attention, for sure.

Fifi was in the dirt entry of the barn, nosing the slimy puddle of amniotic fluid on the ground. She was barely even grunting with each push, I noted incredulously, remembering my own births accompanied by a continuous stream of furious sailor’s curses. A single word burbled up from the catty recesses of my mind: “Bitch.” But I didn’t say it out loud. I also did not say it out loud to all the young mothers who just HAD to share their orgasmic home birth stories with me! Grrr.

“A HOOF!” I exclaimed, dropping to my knees. My arms were dripping with water and betadine. I reached my hand back and my husband/assistant plopped a fresh towel into it. I squirted a dab of KY onto my fingers, feeling very confident after Hazelnut’s tragic kidding, and inserted two fingers into Fi’s vulva,  just to help stretch her perineum. She was a first timer and her opening was straining to the max. Another hoof pushed past. I was breathless with anticipation. “A nose!” I reported more calmly. A little mouth pushed forward and it gave a funny one sided grimace. “It’s alive!” I whispered, choked with emotions. A few more pushes from Fiona’s youthful body, and the little black buckling was in the towel in my arms, wriggling and squirming with it’s first breath. Our first live kid! I wiped it’s face, wobbling on it’s little neck. Hazelnut was right beside me and immediately pushed her way in to lick off her grandson. Fiona stepped aside into her stall, lay down, and pushed out a seond while we were all engrossed with the first!

“Another!” said Randy. I heaved myself up from the ground, shoving past Hazelnut and assorted bodies, and knelt next to the second kid. She was wriggling too, quite alive, but something was… not right. Another towel in my hand answered my verbal request and I wiped her face and body. Oh dear. I inspected her quickly, my heart sinking deeper with each new realization. She was horribly deformed… and trying gallantly to draw her first breath, which, with a look at her issues, I doubted would ever be possible for her. I stood and stepped back, hoping this poor little doeling would do for herself what I would otherwise have to do for her. A quick image flashed behind my eyes – my hand holding her under in a bucket of warm water – then vanished as I turned my attention back to the buckling with a disappointed sigh.

He was a fine, braw laddie, being knocked about lovingly by his grandmother’s fierce attentions and warm tongue. I heard a friend’s voice say matter-of-factly, “She’s gone MacLaren,” and knew he was referring to the doeling, who’s heart had beat on involuntarily for a few minutes without the required oxygen. I asked Randy to move her body so I could tend to the new mom. Fi had meanwhile blown an amazing red balloon from her vulva opening! Christian had told me over the phone during Hazelnut’s kidding that placentas were actually in their own bags. Obviously that was what I was witnessing. I popped the balloon to help the process along and Fiona rose to her feet, assisting in the removal of her own placenta. Then for the first time she turned around and met her wee son. She sniffed as Granny Hazelnut continued her attentive cleaning, the bond growing deeper and deeper between grandmother and grandson. Fiona seemed mildly interested, probably wondering where that huge poop went that she had just pushed out. For I am sure she had no clue she had just given birth! We love our Fifi, but she has never been one of the sharpest knives in the drawer – always one ant shy of a picnic. Granny nosed the buckling as he attempted to gain his sea legs. He listed upwards, capsized to port, then tried to right himself once more. Finally he bobbed upright, lurching precariously from bow to stern, legs splayed awkwardly. Then he immediately tripped off to find his first meal.

His mother, Fiona, would have nothing to do with his nuzzling at her teats! She stepped away at his every attempt, knocking her hungry little nugget off his barely gained legs. But he was determined, and continued to try for another 10 minutes or so. I finally assisted by clipping Fiona to the stall partition, and holding her teat out for him, but she still had enough play in her collar to step back and forth over her buckling’s body, very effectively preventing him from nursing. So he tried Granny. She stood as still as a statue and even nudged him in the right direction.

And that story is pretty much told. Over the next 24 hrs, Fiona continued to reject her kid and Hazelnut continued to bond and nurse. And after 32 hrs, Granny would not let Mommy even get close! Fiona cried and cried, confused and rejected by her own mom, not really understanding she had just rejected her own offspring herself. Her crying was so pitiful, and so annoying, that I actually contacted several Nubian owners asking if they had any does with kids for sale. I thought some company for Fiona would solve the issue before we were kicked out of our urban neighborhood. But now, a week later, the issue has solved itself as the buckling has begun prancing about playfully. Fiona, still full of her own kid-like playfulness, has become his sort of sister/aunt. He prances and she raises her winglike ears into airplane mode and jumps about like she was a few months old. She has stopped crying, and is standing still on the milking stand, most of the time. In any case, we are quick to move the pail out of the way of her hooves which sometimes threaten to plop into the bucket of frothy, fresh milk, and sometimes succeed. She is not a stellar milk producer, but we hope to see an improvement.

And dear Granny Hazel finally has a baby. Her heart is healing from the recent loss of her quadruplets, and she is giving us over a gallon of milk a day, while still holding back enough for her adopted grandson. We are drowning in delicious, sweet, creamy Nubian milk! Tomorrow I meet with a few chefs from the higher end restaurants in town with samples of my chevre. And I cross my fingers they will love it as much as we do.

Some say that there is a silver lining to all life’s trials and tribulations, that there is always a gift and something to be learned. We lost 5 of our 6 kids in our first kidding season ever, ending with one live buckling alone, bound for our freezer some 10 months from now. It has been devastating. But we have 2 healthy does in milk with only one baby to feed, which translates into a LOT of milk and cheese to sell to supplement our inadequate income. I have gained an immense treasure chest of knowledge and experience including repositioning kids in utero, administering injections, tube feeding colostrum to newborns, and as of yesterday – disbudding. Castration will soon follow. But most importantly, I have gained a level of medical confidence and curiosity, and have learned that I unknowingly create an eye of calm in the midst of a medical malstrom. Randy told me he was amazed at how focused I was, how in charge, and how people just… did for me as I asked. I had assisted Fiona’s kidding with a barn full of people in the midst of an intense electrical storm. I had not been fully aware of either until Randy told me later on. It had been just me, the goats, and the kids, even though there was no emergency present. With Hazelnut’s tragic kidding loss, my focus had been ever so much more intensified. This newly acknowledged “gift” is now leading me toward the possibility of a fresh vocational calling — that of an EMT (and eventually WEMT). The medical field has always interested me, but I would never agree to put up with the crazy sacrifices of med school, internships and residencies. But I can still get my toes wet in the river, so to speak, and lend a hand from the bank.

So, I believe that out of all this tragedy, I have found my silver lining: a way I can help my community. I have found a way I can save lives as I saved Hazelnut’s; a way I can keep my family and friends safer on our wilderness trips; and a way I can make a difference for others….

Be they human… or animal.

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Granny Hazelnut cleaning her newborn grandson

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Bucky, trying to get to his feet!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

Ahhh! Granny milk!

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Have you wondered what was involved in the making of goat cheese but were afraid it would be too complicated? Well, then goat chevre is for you (and me!). In fact, it would take great talent to really screw up a batch of chevre, which it why it is my cheese of choice at the farm. Below is the description of how I make chevre, from the milking to the jared product. Keep in mind there are many “proper” ways to make chevre and my way is only one. Perhaps it will work for you, or just give you a place to start from to develope your own particular way. And also keep in mind that we are a VERY small operation. In fact, we have only one milking goat at present and she is about to be dried out for kidding. (But we are freezing jars of chevre in preparation for our few months without milk – it freezes wonderfully!)

Let’s start at the beginning with the milk.

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In my opinion, the three most important factors contributing to the taste of goat milk and goat cheese are cleanliness of the milking area, cleanliness of the equipment, and getting the milk chilled down below 40 degrees F in as short a time as possible (and DEFINITELY within 1 hour). If you, or your farmer, adhere(s) to these rules, your milk should be sweet, creamy, and NOT goatie tasting. (Of course, there are other things that can effect the flavor of the milk, such as the plants a browsing goat may consume, a buck kept with the does, or any medications the goat my be given). And please do not use store bought goat milk from a carton for your cheese making. Believe me – your cheese will taste terrible! In fact, I can not even eat store bought goat cheese anymore since we got our own goats and make our own cheese. Yes, spoiled we might be, but the difference in taste is amazing! It’s the store bought goat milk that has given it a bad name.

So if you are not keeping your own goats, please ask your farmer a few questions before you whip out your wallet and tuck those quart jars into your cooler. Or if you are just getting started on keeping goats yourself, consider following these simple rules:

1. Cleanliness of the milking area

No, I am not talking about haz-mat suits, respirators and stainless steel milking parlors. Although if you want to sell your dairy legally in stores, that’s not too far off the mark. But for the wee farmer down the road (like myself), the milking stand should be kept in a ventilated area as free from the smells of urine and manure as possible. These smells can lay down over the surface of the fresh milk in your pail and transfer into the milk itself. The milking stand should be reasonably clean as well. And your goat should get a quick (at the least) brushing before the milking commences so as to remove dirt, manure and fur that could (and will) fall into your pail. (Milking pail lids with little crescent moon holes are pretty cool but my aim has never been good enough to use them. Plus I like to milk while looking at the morning sun on our southern mountain range so I need the large opening.). I use two squeeze bottles – one with hot water and 5-6 drops of grapefruit seed extract, and the other with olive oil, and a small clean rag (we use our old cloth diaper wipes which are just the right size). Once Hazelnut is on her stand and brushed (especially about the udder and hind quarters), I rinse her teats with the hot water bottle, then my hands, and then dry my hands and the teats on the rag. Next, a squeeze a dime sized puddle of olive oil in my palm and rub it about my palm and thumb webs. This step makes the milking more pleasant for both of us, and keeps Hazelnut’s teats from drying out. A clearing squirt from each teat goes on the floor (or in your shoe if you have my aim issues), and then the milking commences. The bucket needs to be kept as clean as possible during and after milking, so it is best to leave the milking as your last chore in the barnyard and go straight back to the house. This is only how I milk. There are many ways to milk which would meet those “reasonably hygienic” standards you are looking for to make great tasting cheese.

Then that precious milk needs to be strained. We go the simple route and use a plastic tea strainer with a folded piece of cheese cloth pushed into it. BUT, we make sure that the cloth is washed and rinsed and dried well between uses, and the same with the strainer. There are fancy disposable paper strainers you can buy on line but I abhor all things disposable. Why make more waste to fill our landfills when the old fashion ways are usually just fine? When I am unsure of my choices, I ask myself, “What would Ma and Pa Ingles have done?” As Laura Ingles Wilder lived to be 90 years old, I figure their methods are good enough for me!

2. Chill that milk fast!

We use the milking pail itself so we can move it out of the sink if the sink is needed. The strained milk goes into quart sized mason jars and are placed in the pail which is then filled with cold water and ice. This ice bath method is MUCH faster at dropping the milk temp than just placing the jars in the freezer for chilling. I have timed and checked temps with both methods, so you don’t have to do it yourself (unless you are stubborn like me). After about an hour we shift the jars into the fridge affixing the day of the week on each lid.

3. Cleanliness of equipment

Hard to know where to place this detail as it important throughout. Always best to wash anything that comes in contact with milk with COLD water first. Hot water welds the milk onto surfaces (think of scalded milk) and builds up a milk scale over time. After the cold rinse and scrub, then wash with very hot water, detergent that is not scented, and a stiff brush or green scrubbie. Several very hot rinses follow and then air drying. Do NOT air dry upside down on a towel as it will turn into a bacteria breeding hot house! Set your jars, pail, strainer, cloth, cheese making equipment, etc on a metal rack to dry.

MAKING THE CHEVRE

Take a deep breath because the hard part is behind you. For making chevre you will need a cheese thermometer (or any thermometer that will measure liquids between 80 and 150 degrees F), a stainless steel pot, a spoon, a measuring cup, and the chevre culture. I purchase my cultures through either Cultures For Health or New England Cheese Making Supply Co. I buy many at a time and store them in the freezer to save shipping costs.

So! Measure out a gallon of fresh goat milk and pour it into your clean stainless steel pot. When I say fresh I mean no more than 5 days old and kept chilled in the fridge throughout. Heat the milk to either 86 degrees F, if you want raw chevre, or 145 degrees F if you want pasteurized chevre. I used to pasteurize but now make all my cheese raw as I trust our milking hygiene and prefer to have the beneficial enzymes and bacteria remain in my cheese. In either case, stir continuously and watch your thermometer like a hawk. You will be shocked at how fast the temp will spring over your mark – the pot itself holds heat, even when removed from the unit. If you are pasteurizing, once your milk reaches 145 degrees F, stir and keep at this temp for 30 minutes (or so I have read, although I never did this myself), and then place the pot carefully into an ice bath (ice and water in your sink) and keep stirring until the temp is almost down to 86 degrees. Be careful not to let any of the bath water slip over into the milk. In either case, raw or pasteurized, 86 degrees F is your goal. Obviously, if going the raw route, just bring your milk up to 86 degrees and you will have no ice bath to fool with. This is the temperature the culture prefers and does best at. Once you reach this temp, shake in the contents of the culture packet and stir for a couple of minutes. Then set the pot on a counter with a lid and leave undisturbed for about 12 hours. Honestly, this time is very flexible – sometimes I let it sit for 8 hrs and sometimes for 16. But I aim for 12. The packet instructions say to let the milk with added culture sit at 72 degrees F but I assure you I do not adjust the temperature of our house to accomodate the cheese making! Our house is usually between 65 and 70 degrees and my cheese is just fine.

Can you see the 3/4" of cream on the top here?

Can you see the 3/4″ of cream on the top here?

We scoop this off and freeze it for later use for making butter or ice cream.

We scoop this off and freeze it for later to make butter or ice cream. It is, of course, fine to leave the cream in the cheese too! But as we do not notice the difference when consuming the cheese, we choose to skim the cream first.

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter's mouth for a treat....

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter’s mouth for a treat….

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Measure out a gallon of milk...

Measure out a gallon of milk…

...pour it into the pot...

…pour it into the pot…

...raise the temp up to 86 degrees F...

…raise the temp up to 86 degrees F for raw chevre (I take the pot off the unit when the temp is about 84 degrees as it will continue to rise)…

...stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it's magic.

…stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it’s magic.

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Once the desired time has passed, prepare another pot, with a colander set on the top, and line the colander with butter muslin cloth (you can purchase butter muslin at the same stores that sell the culture). Gently ladle the solid curd into the muslin and scrape the pot bottom to get the remainder into the cloth. The whey will immediately begin to drip through sounding like rain pattering on a tin roof. Place the lid over the colander and let the curds drain for… oh 4-18 hrs… depending on what consistency you desire. If you want very soft, spreadable chevre, go for the shorter end of the time spectrum. If you want dryer chevre to put on salads, go for longer. And remember, it is not rocket science. Chevre is very forgiving in my experience. Many people will tie up their muslin cloth and hang it from a sink faucet, but I find it does perfectly well sitting in the colander (and I need my sink!). But hanging will lessen the needed time for the draining so keep that in mind.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Ladling the curd.

Ladling the curd.

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All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

Don't forget the lid!

Don’t forget the lid!

Once your chevre is at your desired consistency, lift the cloth out and let the cheese fall into a large mixing bowl. Then smash and fluff it to blend it evenly. If you want to add salt, this would be the time to do it (we do not). Place your cheese into pretty jars, drizzle the top with olive oil, and decorate with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few peppercorns. Or a chive blossom, or nasturtium, or mix in honey and dried lavender buds. Let your imagination run wild! So many flavors are wonderful with chevre. And don’t throw out that whey! Mix it with your dog’s kibble, feed it to your chickens, or soak your beans and grains in it (mixed with the same measure of water). Many people like to drink it straight! We use it for all the above and also freeze it in quart jars to use later for cultured vegetable making (see my sauerkraut post here).

This is a nice middle ground consistency - note the cracks on the surface of the cheese.

This is a nice middle ground consistency – note the cracks on the surface of the cheese. If the bag of cheese was hanging, you would have to give it a squeeze test to check consistency.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it's pulled up.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it’s pulled up.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Then jar as you choose.

Then jar as you choose.

The whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Here’s the whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Jar that whey up and save it for later tuse!

Jar that whey up and save it for later use!

A note about washing your muslin cloth: Rinse it with cold water first, then wash well in hot, soapy water, rinsing many times. If your cloth develops an odor, boil it in a pot of water with some baking soda added and rinse afterwards. Air dry. When I feel lazy I have been known to shove the cloth into the regular machine wash with our clothes and have had no problems. Just be sure you are using laundry soap that is free and clear of chemical additives and fragrances.

TALLOW UPDATE:

And while I am posting, my faithful readers may like to know what happened to the rest of the rendered goat fat. (If you are reading for the first time, check out the previous post here.) Here are a few pictures of that solidified disk of fat I previously wrote about:

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggies and placed in the freezer with the tallow muffins.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggie and placed in the freezer along with the tallow muffins.

And now ALL the fat has been rendered a second time, is clean as a whistle, and waiting for my future adventures in the arts of making soap, salves and lotion bars!

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I love looking at a fresh head of cabbage: the pale underground quality of the spring green, the slight waxy sheen of the surface, the sturdy leaf spines ending in curling ripples, like a gentle ocean wavelet, sucking back down a steep, sandy beach. I love the crunch of my heavy 10″ chopping knife as it reveals the secretes within that dense head.

Good thing, because I had nine of them to chop which meant a lot of cabbage brains spilling over my counter top. But that was where friend Marian came in… with her superior Japanese cutlery and sexy bamboo cutting board. Whew! Off the hook.

Here's Marian hard at work.

Here’s Marian hard at work.

And so my morning began, with “Mare” on washing and chopping detail and Isla and I on the food processor, sea salt, caraway and whey song and dance (maybe I’ll include a video of the literal song and dance when we jar the kraut in another 2 weeks, for there actually IS one! Hasn’t everyone made up a kraut song with their 3 year old?). We alternated purple heads with green, grinding in a large carrot with each. Then 1 tbsp of coarse celtic sea salt, 3/4ish tbsp caraway seeds and 4-ish to 5 tbsp of whey left over from my last batch of goat chevre. Isla and I filled the hopper, I ground while she covered her sensitive, wee ears, I dumped the pile in the massive metal bowl, I measured and Isla dumped in the condiments. Then together, with very well washed hands, we stirred it all in , inquisitive fingertips tickling one another inside of the grated mass. Most of it stayed in the bowl. The vegetables dwindled as our multi-colored mound grew, and pretty soon it was time for clean up and hugging Mare goodbye. And here is where I let the salt and whey do their jobs. There is very little kraut bashing with this method. I just leave it to rest on a counter top with a clean towel draped over it, and get to work on something else.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey....

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey….

...mix, cover, and wait!

…mix, cover, and wait!

The next something else was re-rendering our recently rendered goat tallow. I had noticed at the end of the first rendering, that there were a few bits of meat on the bottom of the last batch of tallow muffins. Read this post for more info on that first rendering job. I was not interested in goat meat showing up in future soaps, lotion bars and pastry crusts, so I set a massive pot on the stove top with about 4″ of water in the bottom.

While that got to boiling, I moved onto the third something else – boiling up a whole chicken for bone broth, gelatin, and meat. As I rinsed the expensive, organic chicken carcass, I vowed that we would buy straight runs of chicks this spring. I wanted my fall freezer filled with mean roosters from my back yard. No more $12 chickens from the store!!! I plopped the gold gilt bird into our crock pot with water and reached for one of our onions. This was when I received a horrible shock! No, not an electrical shock, a “we’re almost out of onions” shock! In fact, after this one, there was only one left!!! Our harvest had lasted until Feb 6th. Honestly, I was quite proud, but still weepy, as I sliced through the brittle, brown skin and into the white, seeping flesh. Oh. Well of course I was weeping – it was a yellow onion.

We try to boil up a whole chicken about once every 2 weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

We try to boil up a whole chicken once every 2 or so weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

Crock pot loaded and topped, I checked the pot on the stove. Boiling – good. Outside to the deep freeze on the porch. Molly, our Pyrenees leapt repeatedly into the air, channeling her border collie alter ego, hoping to catch a falling goat roast as I juggled the bags of tallow muffins. I dumped them ALL in, undeniable proof of my characteristic impatience.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Now what? I put away some dishes, blended up some kefir mango lassies, sliced some pears, spread chevre on the slices, and called back in my daughter for her elevensies (oh woops – at 12:30pm. Dear me. Don’t think I would impress any parenting specialists today.). And then, thankfully, it was quiet time. Isla read “quietly” on her bed (which means in a loud whisper to her doll Sarah) while I read a parenting book on mine, in hopes of getting a higher rating from said specialists. And as an aside, this is one of my two most favorite parenting books and I am reading it for the second time. How to Talk So Kids Will listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. (And here is the second of my 2 favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting”.)

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir.

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir mango lassies.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture. It should be ready to consume in about 2 full days.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend's farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend’s farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender. If we feel the need for more sweetener in the cup, we add a couple of drops of stevia.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Rest “hour” always feels like it is only 10 minutes, but the clock argued with my opinion loudly. Back in the kitchen I checked the tallow. It was melting nicely but there were still plenty of chunks. The “golden chicken” in the crock pot was simmering cooperatively, and it was not yet animal chore time. So back to the kraut went I.

I washed and rinsed well the 5 gal crock. I say this in such an off hand manner, but this is probably the hardest part of the the entire job. Have you ever tried to lift a 5 gallon, stoneware crock? No? Well start preparing the discs in your spine for some serious air time because they are about to be blown from your back in all directions. And then once in your sink – your teeny, miniscule, stainless steel sink (where you realize with terror that you have swiveled the spigot to the wrong side of the barely movable crock-a-saurus) – you have your eye balls shaken and teeth set on edge by the barest of movements of this mountain of ceramic against that teeny sink. Think fingernails on chalk boards. After this heavy weight wrestling match you still need to dry the leviathan and beach it onto the seat of a chair. Let’s hope the legs of that chair don’t promptly retaliate against the whale you dropped in their lap.

Next, with carefully wash hands, the kraut is transfered lovingly from the bowl to the crock, by double handfuls. (Make sure the crock is on a chair and not the floor as with all those missing discs, you will no longer be able to bend over.) At this time, if I were adding fresh dill instead of caraway, I would layer in a dill sprig after each couple of double handfuls. If you feel the need for some anger management, you are welcome to bring out a kraut bat at this time and pummel the kraut into submission. But it really is not necessary as the resting with the salt should have pulled the juices out of the grated vegetables by now. The addition of the whey will have given you plenty of juice. Give it a check by pushing your open hand down on the surface of the kraut. See all that juice rise up between your fingers? If you are answering “no”, then you probably weigh under 100 lbs and need to eat a lot more kraut. LEAN into it you light weight! THERE is that juice! I have to admit I like to abuse my kraut just a wee bit before I shut it up in the dark for 2 weeks. I have tried stomping in the crock with meticulously cleaned bare feet, but with size ten battleships, it was not terribly comfortable. So I usually just use my balled fists and puuuush in, alternating hands. I have not yet identified this gene – the one that entices me to do more work than I need to – the same gene that convinces me to knead my no-knead bread dough. But there it is.

Transferring the kraut from bowl to the crock.

Transferring the kraut from the bowl to the crock.

Punch it out baby!

Punch it out baby!

There's that magic juice!

There’s that magic juice!

Now I slip in an upside down dinner plate, well washed and rinsed first, of just the right size to cover as much of the surface as possible with out getting hung up on the sides of the crock (because ceramic grating on ceramic is only second in line behind ceramic on steel). Then I burp out the trapped air by pushing hard on one edge of the plate until all the bubbles release from under the concave surface of the plate. (You are welcome to use a truck with a cherry picker to lift the crock to your shoulder if you would like to attempt the burping in a more motherly fashion.) Then I fill a half gallon, or 2 qt jars (meticulously washed and rinse before hand, inside and out) with water, screw the lids on tightly, and place these weights on the protruding rump of the plate. This is merely to hold the plate down and keep the kraut under the juice. Lastly, cover the crock with a clean towel (I use a thick bath towel doubled over), and hire your neighbor and his back hoe to move it to a quiet spot in your house where it can remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. Join me in said time to see what our cheese whey and nifty, household microbes have created by clicking this link here.

Plate in and weighted with a half gallon jar filled with water.

Plate in and weighted down with a half gallon jar filled with water.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it's final resting place to do it's thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it’s final resting place to do it’s thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

OK. The tallow. It had melted and was at a rolling bowl with the water, hopefully as clean as a whistle. Then I simply repeated the previous rendering steps of ladling out the clear, liquid fat, straining it through a butter muslin-lined strainer, into a 4 cup measure, then pouring from the measuring cup into the muffin tins. Soon after, I discovered the process was not proceeding as planned (or previously experienced). It seems my impatient personality (that other unwanted gene) was not allowing the muffin tins enough time to chill in the freezer. So learn from my T’s and T’s (trials and tribulations) – let the tallow chill until some surface cracks show on the muffin tops. Do not try to extricate the muffins before this time (unless you want to bring in your neighbor’s heavy equipment again). Once the surface cracks are visible, run hot water over the bottom of the tins (quickly as they will want to leap from your overturned tin and break themselves in the depths of that teeny, weeny stainless steel sink with the ceramic scrapes on the edges), and pop the remaining muffins out onto a sheet of wax paper by inverting the tin again and pressing the center of each muffin cup. Slip the muffins into a gallon zip lock, suck out the air with your mouth, and store in the freezer.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

But I did not finish muffinizing all the tallow as animal chore time, laundry folding, hot bath, speedy dinner, and a movie with Marian preempted the rest of my greasy project (and I highly recommend seeing “Silver Linings Playbook”, by the ah, “whey”). So today I have a cool pot of water (I presume) with a thick circular block of solidified tallow on the surface (guessing at being 5″ thick without taking a core sample to verify). As I have been writing, I have not had a chance to tackle it’s removal. And I am about to make the drive to pick Isla up from pre-school now. (But you can see what it looked like at the end of this later post.)

I think I’ll just call my neighbor on the way and hire his power auger. I’m sure that will do the trick!

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner.

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner that evening.

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(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III)

And then it was simply another Back Porch Farm work party.

Day 1: Friends were laughing and cracking jokes and knives were hacking. Bill, Chuck and I made a concerted effort to keep each other’s fingers intact while Randy, Deedee, Drew (who’s arrival I had barely been aware of), and Carrie, with wee Larka asleep on her back, chatted and watched, asking questions when curious. The carcass was hung by carabiners snapped through the hind leg tendons. The biners were then laid over hooks screwed into a previously set 2×4, cantilevered out from the shed wall. The skinning was awkward, but after some direction and correction from the boys, I got the hang of it. I wish I could have had hours to simply study the warm pile of entrails – seriously. It was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be. So many closely working parts. These organs had been in complete dependance on each other, and had danced their dance in perfect synch to keep that body functioning. I felt like I was back in my high school biology classroom on dissection day. It was necessary to follow plumbing in all directions to be sure nothing was punctured or breeched. After all this, I was certainly not going to taint the meat! The guts did NOT just “fall out” as I had read. It took a lot of investigative effort to detach each organ at the right spot, and we (or “I” at least) were also trying to save as much of the white sheets of fat as possible from within the cavity. I had visions of bricks of clean tallow for cooking, soap making and candles.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

I am getting started on the skinning.

I am getting started on the skinning.

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Chuck, Bill and myself at work.

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We are finally in the abdominal cavity.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Once the cavity was cleared and the massive liver set aside, Chuck, Bill and I continued with the hide removal. Finally, somewhere on a shoulder, our blades met and the hide fell the the earth. I want to do SOMETHING with it, but I still don’t know what. I have been warned that it is an extremely tedious process to tan a hide, especially without chemicals. I just don’t know if I am up for it. The alternative would be to scrape and salt it and let it dry rigid. Then I could use it for a rug. But do I really want Bucky on our floor? Um, honestly, no. It is starting to look like it will end up as coyote food, although it is still hanging safely on our porch as I write. And then there is Marian, who keeps eyeing it thoughtfully….

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Hide is off and we're working on backstraps and tenderloins.

Hide is off and Chuck is working on a backstrap.

Next were the back straps (the strips of muscles along each side of the exterior of the spine) and tender loins (the strips of muscles along each side of the interior of the spine). We were instructed to treat them like gold and not share them with anyone. They were basically our fillet mignons. Then the ribs skirts were sliced off (thin sheets of layers of fat and stringy muscle below the boney ribs). Next were the rumps which meant the entire hind legs, and they were removed whole and hauled off to the prepared table inside the warm house. This is where the roasts would come from. The party meandered slowly back to the porch, away from the melting snow and gray skies, to the warm house, thick with smells of baking bread and pungent stew. It was 11:30 and we had been at it for about 2 hrs. Glasses were passed out and the scotch bottle followed and soon there was the chorus of “Slante!” and “Prost!” and “Cheers!” and a few others. Isla big sistered Larka with tenderness while we all dug into bowls of stew and heavily buttered slabs of hot, einkhorn bread.

I leaned against Randy’s tall, broad form with a deep sigh. I was caked in mud, blood, bile, grease, and melted snow. I was tired. I was relieved. I murmured, “Did you hear what Bill said to me?” He shook his head and waited, his mouth stuffed like a chipmunk’s. “When he cut off the head and looked for the bullet holes, he found the entry hole was dead center below the nob, just where I wanted it. The exit hole was through the center of the lower jaw – also right where I wanted it. He said I split the tongue clean in half.” I smiled shyly as it seemed a strange thing to brag about. Especially seeing as I had no memory of firing the shot. Marian told me later she suspected I had a lot of “help”, said with a glance to the heavens. I heartily agree with her opinion. I can only surmise I was channeling some mighty Amazons warriors that gray morning.

Working on a hunk of rump.

Trimming fat from a chunk of the rump.

Once appetites were satiated, Carrie and I sat down at the meat table, each with a hind leg in front of us, and set to work. Bill and Deedee said their farewells, Chuck took over child care, Randy began clean up and the brewing of a large pot of tea, and Marian (our duplex mate who had collected the 2 young girls under her wing for the first part of the morning) worked out the idiosyncrasies of the borrowed vacuum sealer. After another hour and a half, Marian and I were the only ones left. Randy and Isla had laid down for nap time and everyone else had returned to their own homes. Finally, after the 2 legs were packaged into nice little roasts and a bunch of soup bones, the 2 of us were spent, and said goodbye, she to walk across the courtyard to her apartment, and me, after a bit of this and that, to slip eventually into another hot bath.

Once more in the red glow of the bath candle, I stared out the picture window at the low, moody sky and gray dusk, watching the drops of rain wind their serpentine paths down the misty glass towards Mother Earth. The weather had been above freezing the entire day, melting our snow cover and dumping us into an early mud season of sorts. It was the first day above freezing in many weeks, and would be the first above freezing night as well. It added greatly to the surreal feeling of the day as we had just emerged from a winter lock down of weeks of sub zero temps. But the gloomy, darkening sky did not match my mood. I felt light and relieved and…. proud. And I knew that a full wolf moon was rising above the eastern hills as I soaked my bones and sipped my scotch. How interesting that this goat harvest had surrentipitously fallen on a full moon. Then, with a deep breath, I began my prayers of thanks. I thanked my higher powers for keeping my aim true, for keeping my arm steady, and for letting Bucky pass from this world with the least amount of trauma and suffering that we could offer. I gave thanks for my amazing friends and community, for all the support I had received during the preparation for this day, and for the friends (and even strangers) who had left encouraging comments on my blog and Facebook posts. I could envision this network of support surrounding me for many months prior, like a web of love and understanding… of shared strength.

And then I remembered entreating the Amazon warrior/mothers the night before. I let out a little chuckle. For I realized that not only had I received their help and support, I had become one of them. I had walked across the coals of initiation and passed the test. I was the newest member of the Amazon tribe.

Day 2 saw Randy back at his paying job, Isla set up with a pad and her paints, Marian grinding trimmed fat in the food grinder, and me hacking at the front legs for sausage. Alternately we would assist Isla with “oooos” and “aaahhs” while admiring her Picasso in process, or plop another mound of fat into the simmering crock pot, or ladle off a few spoonfuls of clear, greasy liquid, or drain these ladles into muffin tins through a cheese cloth lined strainer. Once the tallow muffins solidified, they were popped out and moved into gallon zip lock bags to be stored in the freezer. They were clean, white, and odorless. I fantasized mixing them with my melted bees wax, some of our honey, some goat cream I had been slowly collecting in the freezer, essential oils and healing herbs, and whipping out some mighty fine soap and lotion bars. Our hands were already soft as babies bottoms just from working with the dense fat.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it's in small pieces.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it’s in small pieces.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Marian posing here as the Queen of the Fat. She ground for many hours.

Marian posing here as the Queen of Fat. She ground for many hours as you can see!

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins.

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins. The cracklins were a mix of deep fried meat scraps, connective tissue, sinew, and etc. left behind once the fat was removed. They did not temp me in the least, although I know some people like to munch on them.

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

And once solidified....

And once solidified….

...we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

…we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

The pile of hacked off sausage meat grew larger while a matching pile of stripped, gleaming bones collected. I found the rib skirts hiding in the platter of fat and set to work trimming them out. Not sure that was worth the effort, it was so tightly layered, each layer of alternating fat and meat extremely thin. A late lunch and naptime for the Nugget separated us from Marian once more and Isla and I got happily horizontal. It wasn’t for nearly long enough in mama’s opinion. Randy had agreed to take the afternoon off from his paying job, so once I was back with the living, I set him to sawing ribs off the carcass that was hanging inside the shed, and hacking sausage makings off the second front leg. I kept up with the fat rendering and our wee lassie.

By nightfall, the house was a greasy, waxy disaster. The tall freezer on the porch was mounded high with bowls and platters of meat and bones. This lumpy burden reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s interior beneath mirrored it’s handicap with a bulging belly of assorted goat meat cuts and bags of rendered fat muffins, nestled around our 1/8 of a local, pasture-raised cow, 2 of our turkey tommies, one last mean rooster, a venison gift from friends, the remaining stores of frozen garden veggies and strawberries, and frozen jars of tomato sauce, homemade soup, bone broths, goat milk, goat cheese, cheese whey, salsa verde, roasted pablanos, (take a breath) and you get the picture! And I was brain dead – not even the energy left for a shower. I was on the get-the-kid-ready-for-bed-march-of-death brigade and tucked my crusty body in beside her with the shortest book I could find. My angelic husband continued to hack meat and clean up way past bedtime. God I love him.

Day 3 began with the arrival of Drew and a nice preliminary chat over black coffee. Isla was playing nicely alone, so Drew snuck out back with a bone saw and began to disassemble the remaining backbone and pelvis. There was only soup bone material left so this job was quick. Then he got on the vacuum sealer while I warmed up the food grinder. Laying out my bowls of freshly ground spice mix, my rendered tallow disks, cutting board, knife, package of organic bacon, wax paper sheets, platter and massive bowl, I pushed up sleeves, donned my apron, and dove in. And I ground sausage meat for what felt like hours. Well, it WAS hours! About half way through, Drew got a hankering to TASTE some sausage. Heck, I had been planning to give a little space between the carcass processing and the actual EATING of it. But he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

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The sausage set up.

Grinding, grinding, grinding....

Grinding, grinding, grinding….

I formed him up 4 patties with my goopy hands and he popped them into the cast iron skillet. A delightful aroma filled the kitchen as the patties sizzled happily without any extra oil. He cracked open a turkey egg each for each of us and fried them up beside the goat meat. (Holy crap! That was sausage from our goat! From BUCKY!) He was grinning ear to ear with anticipation and couldn’t serve our plates fast enough. I then had a very emotional moment while bracing myself dramatically against the kitchen counter. It was not about Bucky, per se. It was that I was really, truly living my dream life – the homesteading life I had imagined for so many years. Eating our mean roosters was one thing, but one of our goats? I was about to do just that! I was about to sit down with my good friend and my daughter to have a lunch of goat sausage and turkey eggs, which both originated a stone’s throw from the back porch. And just to amp up my fragile emotional state, I cracked a fresh jar of my own canned apple sauce to spoon out along side!

Ooooh baby!

Oh my!

Isla was non-plussed. In fact I had to stop her mid bite to say grace and give thanks to Bucky before chowing down. She said little but kept shoveling. Drew took a bite and then closed his eyes to savor it. “Oh – My – God.” he said slowly. “That is divine.” I was struggling. I stared hard at my plate, I cut off a hunk, I stabbed it with my fork, and I stared some more. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and it disappeared into my maw. My first reaction was a violent shiver from head to toe. Then a slight gag reflex. Then my taste buds found their anchor point in the familiar hint of bacon, and the bite slithered down my throat. And the next bite. And the next. And the egg and the apple sauce and the fresh cup of coffee. I seemed to have developed a mild, full body tremor that was humming from within. Drew summed it up with sparkling eyes when he said, “Wow. I’ve got a little buzz going. That sausage has some potent life force in it.” Yes, that was it! In fact, I wanted to go running around outside and do a half gainer and donkey kick off a play stump in the goat pen! This was Super Food! And it was going to take some getting used to – small portions. I would have to warn my friends when I passed out thank you packages. WOW. I could FEEL it. This was real food – food that I had loved and cared for, food that had had a happy life, food from a very healthy animal, food from my friggin’ BACKYARD!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, give the Bucky sausages a thumbs up!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, gives the Bucky sausage a thumbs up!

I had DONE IT!!!

And yes, Drew and I finished packaging EVERYTHING that afternoon, including the liver. And all the fat was rendered and the deep freeze is bursting at it’s seams. I have yet to finish cleaning the house, but it will happen this weekend. The massive Kitchen Aid food grinder we borrowed is still claiming the western third of the dining room table, but I am rather getting used to it.

Perhaps with luck, Wes won’t even miss it.

Post Script:

That very afternoon, after nap time had past, Isla and I cleaned up the vacuum sealer, loaded up a jar of our goat cheese and a 6 pack of goat sausage, and headed out into a freshening snow storm to Thomas’ house. It had been his generosity that had provided us with the use of a vacuum sealer. It was a quick pass off and short greeting as I was anxious of the mounting storm, and Isla and I were soon back on the highway headed home. The blizzard quickly turned into a white out and I shifted into 4WD and slowed down to 25. I was acutely aware of the dropping temps, watching the car thermometer like a hawk. 33 degrees. Treacherous driving conditions to be sure. As we slowly took the turn onto our own road, the temp dropped to 32. I was creeping along, dodging pot holes, taking my time. Then, with a completely out of place flash of lightening, and boom of thunder, the LED display dropped once more to 31 degrees. It was literally the first time it had gone below freezing since the morning Bucky was shot. For 3 days the weather had remained perfect refrigerator temperature, between 33 and 41 degrees (which was significant as we did not have a walk in fridge to store the carcass and waiting parts in).

That night it was in the teens once more, and the following night back to sub zero winter weather. It was sunny and biting cold. A fresh, cleansing mantle of snow laid over the mud, ice, and blood of the days before, hiding the evidence, granting us a grateful closure, and allowing us to move forward in our lives.

Back to winter.

Back to winter.

Post Post Script:

Several people have been curious about how Bucky’s demise affected the remaining goats. I had also wondered if we would sense any discomfort on their part. I can say that in the week leading up to the harvest, I had verbally “warned” all 3 goats (Auntie Hazelnut, Cousin Fiona and Bucky) that Bucky would be leaving soon and they all needed to prepare and say goodbye. And I can say that before I led him from the pen on the morning of, I told them all to say their farewells, that Bucky would not be coming back. The shot was taken around the corner of the house, away from the barn and barnyard, and the hanging of the carcass was not in their view.

I feel we must never underestimate what animals understand. I certainly do not think they understood my conversation in human english as I talked to them, but I think on a spiritual, energetic, or psychic level, they got the gist just fine. And I also think animals process emotions in a very different way than humans. They are in the here and now, just like young children. There is food and there is water and they are healthy, comfortable and feel safe. As long as they are cared for properly, they do not worry, or really think about much but when their human will visit again and when dinner is being served.

But back to the question at hand: All the goats were fine and unstressed – including Bucky! I can honestly say he never knew what hit him. He was not anxious in any way when I led him out of the pen. Hazelnut gave her normal quantity of milk the next morning, and Fiona and her never seemed to be “looking” for Bucky. They showed no indication of any sort of distress at all.

I have to say I was very relieved to witness this!

 

The tally sheet:

11.35 lbs of sausage patties

13.25 lbs of rendered tallow (several pounds went back into the sausage)

14.35 lbs of soup/bone broth/dog bones with minimal meat left (several bones has already gone to Molly our Pyrenees before the weighing)

4.50 lbs of ribs

1.45 lbs of liver (currently researching liver pate recipes)

2.65 lbs of rib skirt (really this should have all gone into the sausage, but we’ll try a stew)

.75 lbs tender loins

3.85 lbs back strap

10.45 lbs rump roasts (I would like to attempt some jerky out of the biggest one)

5.95 lbs of cracklins from the fat rendering which we are slowly feeding to the delighted chickens

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68.50 lbs total (head, lower legs, and offal were offered to the coyotes in a distant arroyo. Hide is still being deliberated over as it hangs on our porch.)

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I crunched up the hill in rhythm with my steaming breath, planting my poles alternately, wishing I had found my gaiters in the car. The snow wasn’t super deep, perhaps 6 or 8 inches, but deep enough to find it’s way past the cuff of a boot. Another gust of wind stopped my progress as it whipped my stinging cheeks. I turned away from the blast, eyes tightly closed and watering profusely. The gust quieted and I remained standing still, taking in the winter wonderland scene. Oh! The snow had not been simply blowing off the heavily laden conifer branches. It was coming down again with a will.

And the white out was beautiful!

This was my first moment alone since the Big Event and my mind was deeply engaged, assigning descriptive words and phrases to the jumble of emotions within. I had been dying to sit down at the computer and write, to pour out all my feelings and document my experience of the first 4-legged meat harvest on our farm. But for 3 days after the gun shot, it was all about processing, getting the meat in vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer. Three days!! And each night I had collapsed in bed beside my 3 year old, too exhausted to even consider getting back up for “adult time”. Visions of muscle groups, connective tissue and bone saws flitted behind my red-rimmed lids as I felt my own muscle groups relax heavily against the mattress. I had had no idea how much work it would be. After all, 3 of us processed an entire cow elk in 12 hrs! But, I reminded myself, that was from a skinned and gutted hanging carcass, and with 2 men who knew exactly what they were doing.

WE had started with a walking buck goat, a needy 3 year old child, and had only 2 knowledgeable friends in the fray and only for the first few hours. Thank god for Bill and Chuck, as they helped me angle the rifle barrel correctly, made sure everyone was safe from ricocheting bullets, taught us to skin and gut, and then got us started on how to process the carcass. But that only took us until lunch of the first day. The remainder of the days it was me, with either Carrie, Marian, Drew or Randy, depending on the moment, and all of us completely inexperienced, and continually interrupted by Isla and her constant 3 year old needs. After all, I AM a mother too. We also rendered ALL of the fat in that time which was a massive job – and strong evidence that we had grossly overfed our buckling.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first fill in the missing parts of the story leading up to the Big Day. If you haven’t been a part of the previous posts, I recommend reading Part I and Part II before you continue with this Post. And here is where my liability waiver comes in: if you can’t handle reading about the killing and butchering of a meat goat, then use your brain, stop reading now, and find a blog about kittens and butterflies.

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Nine days ago, four days before the harvest day, a good friend took me to a local shooting range to have me shoot the gun I was to use. This was yet another part of my continued personal preparation for the job ahead. Seemed like a smart notion, considering I had not shot a gun since I was 13, and had never shot a rifle (I am 50 now in case you are dying to do the math). It was a beautiful Mini Ruger 14, .223 caliber, that I had inherited from my father. When Dad was in the throes of downsizing and selling his house to move into a retirement community, his gun collection was up for grabs. Of course my little brother got the majority, many of which were antiques and non-functional for all practical purposes. But I did voice my desire for just one usable gun. I have to say I think I got one of the best. It is stainless steel and walnut, a beauty to behold, and smooth and balanced to fire. It has a magazine that will hold 5 bullets, making it a semi automatic. It will fire those 5 bullets as fast as my finger can tug the trigger in succession. This is not a hunting gun – my dad had carried it on his boat when he had plied the seas around Florida and the Caribbean in his more adventurous years. It was his official pirate gun!

Justin laid out all the safety rules for me and showed me how to load, aim and fire. It was a rush! I LOVED shooting my gun! Here is my target after firing the first 2 magazines:

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And a token picture of meself:

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After firing 4 or 5 magazines, I dug out a pen and sketched the back of a goat head on the lower part of the target. I wanted to really press home what I was going to do come Saturday. I stood a foot away, aimed, and fired. The lower part of the paper target exploded! VERY different from shooting from 15 yards. I would post a photo of the target at the end of that session, but the bottom is completely gone. At least that showed me it would do the trick.

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The next 4 days leading up to the harvest were difficult. I was racked with a vast array of violent thoughts that kept me awake most nights. I played and replayed the pending act, as I imagined it, over and over in my tired brain. I prayed. I asked my higher powers for help. And I spent time with Bucky, scratching him in his favorite places, and reminding him it was almost time to leave.

The night before the Big Day, I was up late, getting a beef stew simmering in the crock pot and starting bread dough rising. I did not want to have to think one iota about feeding our support group the next day. Then I ran a hot bath, lit my red bath candle, poured a wee dram of the Water of Life, and sank gratefully into the dark, steamy waters, glistening with a slick, red sheen from the flickering candle. I breathed. I breathed more. And I began to pray again. I prayed to have a clean shot through the back of Bucky’s skull with an angle towards the lower jaw, to have the courage to take that shot, to have the grounding to stay present and focused on the job, and most of all, to have the grace to keep my heart open and not leave my body. I had a strong desire to entreat some appropriate minor deity to stand behind me as spiritual support. I was rather tickled at what came to mind – the Amazon hunter/warrior/mothers of the distance past – the courageous women of history who bore their children, nurtured them and protected them with a fierce matter-of-factness passed down from generations of mothers and grandmothers before them. These were the true mother bears. And I would need them tomorrow.

The next morning I awoke, fairly well rested, and ready. As ready as I would ever be. I kneaded the dough as my pot of green tea steeped and laid the loaves in pans for a second rise. I stirred the stew and added a bit more salt. I boiled up some oats and raisins for the family and ate quietly, moving through the motions with a peace I did not expect. I was no longer deliberating. I was no longer visualizing. It was all done. Everything was set out and ready. I was just waiting for 9:30am. I sharpened our quiver of knives while the clock kept track.

At 9:26am the first 2 cars pulled in – Bill and his girl friend Deedee (who I did not expect and had never met), and Chuck. Bill was an avid hunter of large game with a great deal of experience. He was also a law enforcement ranger. Chuck was a hunter as well, and a nurse at the nearby hospital. I felt well covered by their presence. Carrie, Chuck’s wife, pulled in a few minutes later and hefted 1 yr old Larka out of her car seat. Carrie had grown up on a farm and had harvested multiple chickens, turkeys, and a pig. Not only was she a tough chick, she was also a mother. My support group was assembled and my courage bolstered. I had my gun handlers, my carcass handlers, my medical professional, and my tough mom. It was time.

I stepped into the bathroom one more time, even though I had already peed twice in the past 30 minutes. I washed my hands, slowly brushed my hair from my forehead, and tied it back from my face. I pushed my pearl earrings through my lobes and looked in the mirror. I smiled, and thought of my old high school friend who is in a woman’s shooting club on the east coast. She target shoots in make up, pearls and a little black power dress. I thought she would be proud of me donning my mother’s pearls for this very special day.

But something was still missing.

I was slightly aware of the kitchen murmur of voices and clinking coffee mugs as I pulled out my top drawer and reached far into the dark shadows. There it was. The little deerskin pouch that I had made from the pocket of my Poppy’s deerskin shirt. And inside was my hawk talon neckless. I had made it after a fatally injured red tail hawk had dyed in my lap, as I sat on the tail gate of my truck on the side of some Illinois highway. In that moment, as I felt the raptor’s soul release and fly free, I was introduced to the second of my 2 totem animals. And it was that experience which guided my pencil, and the tattoo artist’s hand, as together we memorialize this fierce hunter on my lower abdomen in permanent ink. It was also at that moment that I left my vegetarian life and drove on down the road in search of my first burger in 10 years.

I snapped the clasp beneath my ponytail and walked out tall.

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It was a friendly but subdued gathering in the kitchen. The smell of strong coffee was tempting, but I needed to stay in the space I was in, unaffected by a blast of caffeine. I avoided eye contact and collected the items I had set out – the bucket to catch the blood (which I wanted to give to the compost pile), the 4 very sharp knives, my 5 bullets to fill the magazine (kept separate from the gun), my water bottle, and a smudge stick and box of matches. I got Randy’s attention and nodded. He nodded to Chuck and all conversation ceased mid-sentence. I walked out to the pen gate, lit the smudge stick, breathed deeply and cleansed myself with the sacred smoke. I emptied my mind and then filled my heart with strength and love. The gate stuck momentarily on the melt-thaw glacier of runoff as I pushed inside the pen. Goats crowded warmly around me with soft breaths, Fiona lipping my coat zipper, Bucky pressing his forehead against my arm, and Hazelnut standing patiently aloof, waiting for me to come to her. I smudged Bucky, speaking to him soothingly, and told all the goats it was time to say their farewells.

Walking with Bucky.

Walking with Bucky. Hazelnut, Fiona, and visiting King Arthur calmly watch his exit.

Then, without further adieu, I looped the rope through his collar, and led him out, grabbing the bowl of grain on the way. Randy was there waiting. He took the bowl from my hand, and followed a respectful distance behind me, knowing full well I was in an altered state. My friends were waiting at the shed where the event was to happen. We threaded the loose end of Bucky’s rope through the eye bolt screwed low in the outer corner of the shed. Randy dumped the grain on the ground and Bucky happily got down to the business of Second Breakfast. I laid my hand on his knobby head and whispered, “Go with god, buddy.” Then I picked up the gun and snapped the magazine into place, saying each step out loud. “Magazine in. Safety on. Chamber charged. Breathe.” There was a short period of readjusting as I discovered I could not get to his head from where I had planned. Turning 180 degrees to shoot towards the east instead of the west, solved the issue, but resulted in a few more seconds delay while everyone readjusted their own positions of safety.

Time seemed to stand still. I raised the butt to my shoulder and the peep site to my right eye. I flipped the safety off, as if in a dream. His knobby, fuzzy head moved animatedly, but in slow motion, changing my own angle of aim. I thought clinically that I was lucky to be 5′-10″ as a shorter person would not have been able to get the barrel between their shoulder and his head. I exhaled. He moved. I exhaled. He moved. He raised his head and looked around, then put his mouth back to the pile of grain. A muffled shot rang out beyond my ear protection and in fast forward motion he was blasted flat again the snow. It was clean. There was little blood. Some unchewed grain fell from his mouth. His eyes glazed over and his legs began to kick – more than I imagined they would. I knew he was quite dead and it was only the muscle twitch of death, but it was still uncomfortable to witness. His head remained motionless and heavy, as if it were a tremendous weight glued to the ground. I knelt beside him, my canvas covered knee sinking into the slush and mud, and laid my hand on his warm, multicolored side. I murmured, “Let go little boy. Let go little one. Be free my dear.”

Kneeling beside Bucky after the shot.

Kneeling beside Bucky immediately after the shot.

Everything was so crisp and clear, so immediate and now. The impossible crimson color of his blood, blooming on the melting snow, his galloping legs reminding me of my old Pyrenees when he would dream, the unusual humidity in the air, the dead silence in the wake of the shot. His legs became still and I reached for the sharpest of the knives, noticing the intricate details of the smear of mud on my sleeve. It took a few passes to breach the fur, but soon his arteries and windpipe were severed and the blood flowed freely. I removed my ear muffs and the world flooded back in. Then the hands were on my shoulders, gently patting my back as the quiet congratulations found their way to my ears. “You did well MacLaren. You did well.” I heard, but I am not sure who said it. It was then I realized I had no memory of pulling the trigger. None at all.

I stood up, blinked, and stepped back. I noticed Chuck taking care of the gun but did not remember giving it to him. I did not cry. But I did need many deep breaths to return from the world I had just been in. A world of extreme focus and deliberation, a world void of emotion, but not of love, a shadowy world of death. And of life. And I was OK. And Bucky was gone – very gone. All that was left of our buckling was a hunk of meat at my feet and days of work ahead. It was over. Finally, gratefully…

Over.

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(See prior post for the introduction to this continuation.)

In our previous house, an off-grid, passive solar house that I designed and built, we were blessed to live across the rocky dirt road from a Tibetan Buddhist community. Their gold-gilt stupa framed our view of the Truchus Mountains to the south. We are not Buddhist, but we sure loved having Buddhist neighbors. Our closest neighbors, and dearest friends, were both ordained Buddhist lamas. They were also old hippies who cussed and farted and complained liked the best of us. No halos there! We loved them fiercely and still do.

A view we will always miss.

A view we will always miss.

One of the biggest points of contention between us was the fact that they would kill nothing – not even flies in their house. Yet they ate meat. I would tell them that was hypocritical! How could they eat the flesh of an animal someone else killed when they believed they should never kill another sentient being? Apparently it had to do with karma, and they wanted their karma to be clean. So I would razz them and say, “But it’s OK for someone else to taint their karma so that you can keep yours clean while eating a fat steak? Sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me.” We would always laugh and slap each other lovingly on the back afterwards, and in time we just stopped having that conversation. I respected their beliefs, even if they weren’t always my own.

This couple also worked in an assisted living facility. They cared for the old folks there, changed their diapers, sponged their atrophied limbs, and gave them emotional support. Sometimes they helped them die, just holding their hand until their spirit passed from their tired, shriveled bodies. And when the health of their old dog began to fail, they were perfectly prepared to midwife Kunga’s spirit into the next world too. I said, “Aren’t you going to have him put down?” But they refused, saying that everyone deserves the respect and patience of their loved ones to die on their own time line, when they are good and ready. And so they changed the pad under Kunga’s body and washed the poop from his fur – for months. And final Kunga was ready to pass on. On his own schedule.

When our time came and each of our 3 ailing dogs in turn became crippled with old age and cancer, we spoke to our vet at each visit. When will we know? She said, “They will tell you when it’s time. You will know.” And she came to our house each time and sat on the floor with us, holding the empty syringe, and our fragile hearts, as our canine children left us one by one. Were we wrong to take their time of death into our own hands? Was it for their comfort, or our own? They were suffering certainly. But perhaps they had the right to walk their own paths – the right to suffer their own pain. Perhaps that was their way of preparing for leaving this world. But it was breaking MY heart to watch. Selfish? I don’t know.

A friend sent me part of an interview with Susun Weed where she talks about killing her goats. Here is the link to the full interview, and here are some poignant excerpts:

Can you describe how you slaughter your goats?

 I would never slaughter anything.  I am a woman. I give birth. I give death. I am Kali, dancing through birth, life and death. I do not slaughter, kill, murder, or take life. I give the gift of death.

The giving of death is a sacred rite. We are very serious about it. We never threaten death for misbehavior. We set the date for giving death and tell the animal when it will be. We invite the soul or spirit of the goat to get ready to go; pack your bags!

 (Susan then explains the ritual she has adapted for the process of “giving” death, and finishes with a story….)

It’s not easy. At the opening talking stick with the thirty women in my German apprentice group, all but one of them complained: “Why are you asking us do this terrible thing of giving death?” The last woman said: “I have come to this apprenticeship because I want to learn to give death. I keep a herd of sheep and I can’t stand it anymore to have to hire a man with a gun to slaughter them.” When the day came, three weeks later, to give death to the rabbits we had tended, verbal battles ensued because so many women wanted to be She-who-holds-the-knife. They understood the value of what I asked.

I believe that death is a peaceful process – the act of the soul actually leaving our physical bodies. I believe it can be a true gift to be free of our cumbersome earthly existences and the pain and suffering of life on this plane. And so much of what Susun expresses resonates with me. But I struggle with the vocabulary of “giving” death. Since I have also made sure my goat had an enjoyable life, who am I to say he wants my “gift”? Who am I to chose the date for him?

Yes I am a mother, and for all practical purposes, Bucky’s mother. I bottle fed him from 10 days old forward, weened him, and have fed and watered him twice daily since (or seen to it that he was). I have insisted he is healthy, happy, has plenty of exercise, shelter, respect, and even affection. So as his mother, I do feel I have more than the average right to take away his life too. Is that the Goddess Kali speaking through me? The Creator and the Destroyer? The Birther and the Burier?

Giving birth to a child is the most potent thing I have ever experienced. I could feel the raw power of all women before me surging in every contraction, every push, in the fiery burn and tearing of flesh – my flesh – as each of my children entered this world. One dead. One alive. And was my son’s death a “gift” I gave him? Bad question for a mom who has lost a child at birth, unless you want to see all the anger of every woman who has lost a child before me channeled through my trembling body. I know some believe that souls have contracts with each other, and destinies can be decided long before we inhabit our bodies. But the thought that my soul would have agreed to lose my first born is a hard one for me to swallow. Maybe. I am not saying it’s impossible. But my current incarnation does not have a memory of signing those divine papers.

And what about Bucky? Did our souls make a contract too? Did he choose me to be his human mommy, like my human children did? Was his death by my hand on Saturday, January 26th, 2013 his pre-ordained soul choice?

I never thought the harvesting of a goat could bring forth so much emotion and deliberation in myself and my readers. I thought it would be a pretty simple thing when I led 10 day old Bucky into his new home behind his cousin and aunt, and dutifully warmed his 4 daily bottles of auntie milk. After all, he was so obnoxious, and so goofy looking with his horrid conformation and overbite. But as a young adult, he’s become quite sweet. I think I will even miss him.

Getting a goaty kiss from a week old Buckbeak, AKA: Bucky.

Getting a goaty kiss from a week old Buckbeak, AKA: Bucky.

So it seems the extra week I have given back to myself is for a reason. It gives me time to fully look into all my resistance and dread, my extreme discomfort, delve into the process of death itself, prepare Bucky (for I do, now, intend to tell him), learn to shoot the gun which I have never fired (that will be tomorrow), ground myself, center myself, and put forth my intention. With the help of friends’ (and strangers) comments, questions and listening ears, I am feeling calmer each day as the count down continues. The processing helps me tremendously. And with this additional time for introspection, I have learned where my stubbornness is coming from.

Why do I really feel I have to do this? Be the one to pull the trigger or draw the knife? It is a rite of passage of course. As was giving birth…. giving life. And like Kali, I too, can take life away, to give that life to feed my family and myself. Because when the nanny berries hit the fan, I want to know I have the guts. I want to know I can provide. I want to know I can care for my brood, my herd, my child and husband. That I have what it might take. For that is what Mother means to me. THE Mother. The Giver. The Taker.

AND….. the Nurturer.

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My head was splitting as I switched on the light in the kitchen. Ouch. Worse. I put on a kettle of water and glanced at the clock. 5:56am.

I’d been awake since 2:15am, tossing, turning, stressing and sobbing silently in our family bed. Finally, I disentangled Isla’s thin, warm limbs from my own and rolled out of our toasty nest of tossled sheets, down comforter and quilt. I left behind my tear sodden pillow and stumbled into the dark bathroom. Randy turned over, probably aware in some deep land of slumber that my exit at this early hour meant he had escaped milking duty. I blew the snot from my nose and dried my red, burning eyes. I had to do it today. I could not live another week with this monumental deed weighing so heavily on my shoulders. Bucky had to go. NOW.

THIS MORNING.

Coffee grounds pattered softly into the glass bodum carafe. The choice of coffee over my usual pot of green tea was indicative of how horrid I felt. My mind replayed all the images of my sleepless night as the steam rushed upward from the boiling water…

…The muzzle of my father’s gun placed just below the knob of Bucky’s horn buds… my trigger finger taking up the tension and slowly pulling back towards my sweaty palm… Bucky innocently nibbling at the pile of choice grain I had piled on the ground for him, his fuzzy little head with the wanky right ear bobbing enthusiastically, happy to be eating alone without the constant interference of his herd. And then, the ear splitting sound of the discharge and the rude slam of the butt against my right shoulder.

And then what? Would the bullet blow his head apart? How much blood would there be? Would he drop immediately? Would he struggle? Would I drop the gun and collapse in a sobbing heap in the blood splattered snow? Or, my biggest dread of all – would I miss and merely injure him, putting him through extreme pain and suffering before I could still my shaking hands and finally shoot true?

Why in the hell had I said I would pull the trigger?

This had been a joint decision to purchase and raise a meat goat. Randy and I felt it was an important aspect of homesteading. Although we had both been vegetarians for 10 years, we were now carnivores and believed we should take responsibility for our carnivorous choices. So, where did my partner disappear to? Why was I the one researching the best way to angle the bullet into the goat’s skull and how to skin, gut and butcher the goat afterwards? Why was I the one planning the morbid chore, sharpening my buck knife, gathering my support group and setting the date?

As I chugged my black coffee, a sleepy Isla straggled out of bed, looking like a jailbird in striped pajamas, and insisted on accompanying me to the barn in the 4 degree pre-dawn. Once the fresh milk had been strained and chilled, and Isla was warming up in the bath, I unexpectedly got the apology I did not even know I needed. Desperately needed. Funny how that works. And funny how once that apology came, the emotions I had not yet identified came rushing out in angry words.

Randy leaned against the blast from my sleep deprived, Scottish-Irish temper, then calmly admitted that he had been “checking out” around the impending slaughter day. Simply put, he was dreadfully uncomfortable about it. His admission and apology quickly defused my wrath as I realized this was one of the many things I loved about him – he was sensitive and emotional. Sure, he could whack off the heads of the mean, rapist roosters – but he hated doing it. We usually didn’t eat meat for a week or 2 afterwards. And shooting a sweet, innocent goat was different from beheading a nasty rooster. We both knew this was true. This was my gentle bear of a partner – all 6′-3″ of him. And I would not want him any other way. I also remembered that I had been forewarned. He had told me from the beginning that someone else would need to pull the trigger as he was not up for that challenge. Our argument was concluded with his promise that he would not abandon me next weekend, and that promise washed away the remaining fire in my hazel eyes.

And then the processing began….

Everything has to eat, as Isla will tell you, and we have chosen to be meat eaters. The majority of our species is right along there beside us. But we are not animals – we are emotional beings. So we do everything possible to distance ourselves from what being carnivorous really means. We do not want to feel uncomfortable about the choices we are making. Animals are totally renamed to start with. Cows transmogrify into “beef” once the processing plant takes over. Pigs miraculously change into “pork”, “ham” and “bacon”. Even the wild deer leaping freely through it’s native forest becomes “venison” once it’s antlers scrape the frozen earth and lay still. (Yet chicken remains chicken and fish remains fish…. is it only the 4-legged ones we rename for our emotional comfort?)

We wheel our wire baskets through aisles of fluorescent-lit boxes, cans, vegetables, and – oop! There’s that neat little pink lump all sanitarily plastic wrapped on a styrofoam tray, nuzzling the laundry detergent, and peeking shyly from behind a bag of frozen broccoli florets. Um… HELLOOOOOO. That is COW. A COW part. In your shopping cart. Right THERE. That hunk of FLESH was mooing a week or 2 ago. Let’s hope it was a happy moo. Let’s hope it was raised with respect, on open pasture, without growth hormones and antibiotics. Let’s hope it was slaughtered humanely. Or did that COW live it’s short, pathetic life in a filthy feed lot, so jammed with other COWS that the sick ones could not even fall to the manure caked earth? Did that COW ever even know what grass was? And was it carried to the slaughter pen in the bucket of a front end loader because it was so weak and sick it couldn’t walk there on it’s own power? If it doesn’t say “organic” and “pasture raised” on it, you can bet it led the latter sorry life.

No, I am not making these scenarios up. And yes, I still eat meat. Organically grown, pastured meat. Preferably raised locally. But even these choices have not felt like enough lately. I want to know FOR SURE how the meat I eat is raised, treated, and harvested. And the only way to do that is raise and kill the animal yourself.

So here we are, looking down the gun barrel of our first 4-legged domestic animal slaughter: Our Bucky, AKA: Buckster, Buckmeat, Buckmeister.

Randy says, “You should never name and love an animal you plan to eat.” I say, “Why should Bucky be treated differently from Hazelnut and Fiona, just because he will be eaten instead of milked? I could never shut my heart off to him while opening it to the other goats.”

And Randy says (hypothetically), “Why can’t we just sell him to someone else and they can eat him?” And I say, “Because he is OUR Bucky and we have made a huge investment in him both financially and emotionally. And how do I know the next owner won’t abuse him before they kill him in some UNrespectful and UNhumane fashion?”

And my friend says, “Why don’t you just keep him instead of eating him?” And I say, “Because we can not afford to keep a farm animal who does not pay rent in some way. I am not interested in supporting another pet.”

And my friend says, “I heard that women should really not be the ones who do the slaughtering. They are the mothers, the nurturers. The men should do the killing.” And I say, “That may be true, but it is also the women who get things done. Woman are practical. Women are mother bears. They can do what is needed to be done.”

And Randy says, “We need time to prepare. Let’s keep it scheduled for next Saturday like we had planned.” And I sigh, and say, “OK. I can wait, now that I have processed through this truck full of emotions.”

And Randy says, “It obviously upsets you terribly, Sweetie. You know you don’t have to do this.” And I say, “Discomfort has seldom stopped me from doing what I feel is right. I have a belief and I need to see if I can support it. I can not just sit down and let myself be paralyzed by fear.”

And Randy says, “Why don’t we just let Justin shoot him? He’s a law enforcement ranger and was raised on a farm.” And I say, “I sure would like Justin to be there for support, and a second shot if it’s needed. But this is just something I have to experience. I just need to do it myself.”

And I think I can. I hope I can. At the least… I can try. For the knowledge that I can be accountable and responsible for the choices I make so offhandedly. For Bucky, as strange as that may sound. For my family.

But most of all…. for myself.

Bucky

Bucky

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