Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bear Medicine

It started several months ago. "Have you see [this or that] goat today? [He or She] wasn't with the herd tonight." And we'd all try to recount when was the last time we'd seen that particular goat, and then we'd all spend time on rounds trying to find it or its body.

To no avail.

We had too many goats. More than we like to carry on the place. We only had them because we'd been too lazy to slaughter and hadn't needed the meat. Since they cost us nothing, are meat on the hoof, why not? Well, there are lots of reasons why not actually, but anyway. They started turning up missing.

And I went through everything. What about my management of these goats was killing them? For surely they were dead, even though we weren't finding bodies. Could it be worms? I wormed everyone. Could it be selenium? I bought a block with extra selenium and put it where only goats could get to. Never mind that we'd never had these problems. What else could it be?

When they continued to disappear, my mind went further afield. When you hear hoof beats, it just might be zebras, after all. Those crazy neighbors down there -- could they have something against us and us not know it? Job Corps kids with nothing better to do? Teenagers who bust up mailboxes decided to get more ambitious? It wasn't hunting season and besides it would take an awfully drunk hunter to mistake a goat for a deer, especially more than once.

We walked the perimeter. We studied the goats who were left. We searched for clues.

To no avail.

When Hotsauce went missing, I knew something extra ordinary really was up. He wasn't at all sick with anything, he was big and healthy, he wasn't stupid, he wasn't too young or too old. But what was it? No body. No clues.

The goat who had gone missing before him, the kids had found the body, in the creek. Which I thought was an awfully odd place for him to have died. But a few hours later, when the adults went to check it out, there was no body.

So it could be coyotes. Everyone around here blames everything on coyotes it seems. We haven't ever seen or heard coyotes or any evidence of them. Doesn't mean they aren't here, of course. Our biggest predator problem is people’s loose dogs, but we usually catch sight of them before the mayhem and dogs wouldn’t have been able to get rid of the body like that. They are usually too stupid to actually eat what they kill.

Then one of the twins was there when I milked at night but not there the next morning. As soon as the regular morning chores were settled, I went looking. I took the dog with me. Quite often, if you watch the animals, you can get clues as to what is happening around you that you are otherwise ignorant of. So if you are in a field and you see an animal looking in a particular direction, chances are there really is something in that direction to look at. So I took the dog with me knowing that if she went off in a certain direction that I would want to look in that direction.

I went all through the woods. A goat can just be asleep behind a tree and be nearly invisible so I looked pretty hard but didn’t see anything at all. Well, I did note the likely route of getting firewood out of that particular area. I scanned the back field. I walked up to the rise there so I could see the entire breadth of it. It is hard to describe how you look for something that might be dead because it is just noticing something a little out of place usually. Something dead is close to invisible until you are right up on it usually. Unless the vultures have come already but there were no vultures yet.

I walked down to the creek. I so enjoy our creeks. Someone once said I laughed the way a creek laughs. I hope so. In October in this fourth year of droughts the creeks are low but still delightful and full of life. The creek is rocky so I walked up it. Then I noticed the dog had disappeared. I called for her. She came from the direction of the long flat through the woods just off our property and into national forest. She had a goat sized backbone in her mouth. I knew that wouldn’t be the backbone of the recently disappeared but one that had disappeared previously. I kept moving in that direction.

Then I saw it so suddenly it startled me. There in the creek. Exactly where the kids had said the one they found had been, with a bluff on one side and an open retreat through the woods on the other side. A fully intact goat except that it had a hole in its flank and all its innards were laying about two feet away from it. And all the delectable innards, the liver and the heart in particular, were gone. What was left was all the light colored stuff -- the lungs, stomachs, intestines.

Coyotes would never leave that. Dogs wouldn’t do that. Bear. I hadn’t really thought of bear, but we do live in a bear preserve and we’ve seen them and experienced some loss from them before when they ate our bees. There is plenty of mast for them this year, but since they are fattening up to hibernate right now, small fatty goat livers must have proved quite the temptation.

Our neighbors had complained some time ago about property damage on their place and I would now bet it was this bear. I’d bet he is a young male and I bet his territory is getting crowded up on the mountain. I did find a track, and a trail, which was pretty exciting. We talked to the kids about how to get home if they were out somewhere and ran across the bear -- to not run away but to not challenge him either and basically try to get home and I think mostly they’ll be hanging a little closer to the house until he goes to sleep this year. We will probably need to put an electric wire up along the creek to discourage him from coming onto our property and eating our animals. We hadn’t done that since our animals are not tempted to walk off into the woods. I’m not sure what else we could do. We can’t legally shoot him or trap him and the wildlife people are, well, shall we say, yet more stupid government bureaucrats. The donkey should be a deterrent. A guard dog would be a better one perhaps. A fold to put them inside before dusk should work.

Meanwhile, we still have our biggest strongest goats and they are really the only ones we should have had anyway.

the title has a link to a little information about bear energy if you are interested but trust me, living with it is a holy [sic] different proposition than meditating on it


seasonseatingsfarm said...

I worried about bears when we had small pigs. Thankfully the bears disappeared when we plowed under the wild blueberries and turn the space into garden.

Can you ask to have nuisance bears moved? Normally it's only done in the spring here so that they are able to fatten up and hibernate, but an exception for livestock would be made. Good luck. I hope this works out quickly.

Alan said...

Sorry about the goats. I thought we had problems here what with flooding and sickness, but bears... Maybe you could eat the bear? When we ran livestock in Wyoming we used guard dogs, mostly Great Pyrenees. They seemed to solve all the predation problems.

J said...

Sorry about the goats. The coyotes are the main predator in our area. The farm down the road had lots of problems at calving time. The ebar being that close to your home and kids should be reason enough for them to relocate the bear if he becomes more of a problem.

CG said...

Ah, well, I can see you all haven't dealt with the TWRA! LOL! I seriously doubt they'd relocate the bear. They will tell me that I should put up an electric fence (which I mentioned I could in the post), and then to get a guard dog, and then, as last resort, I am allowed to shoot said bear WITH RAT SHOT! With rat shot. Yeah.

I'm sure things will work themselves out.

I relate this story, really, as medicine. This is how life really is.

Beno and Three said...

Hi CG,

Being that our farm is in Northern Ontario we live with bears every day. Shooting them here doesn't do much, with 500 miles of forest in every direction there is an inexhaustible reservoir of bears to take its place. However if a bear learns that chickens/vegetables/ calves are tasty,then we usually have no choice. Like your bear, our problem bears are all little 2 year old's looking for their own turf (we call them boo boo bears). They haven't learned the rules yet, so they end up breaking them and then they get killed. We do our part and make sure that we leave nothing out that might attract them, at that's 98 percent effective at keeping them away. However the best remedy for 'bearache' I've ever found is encouraging bears that have been around the block and know how to co-exist with us to stick around (by encouraging I mean leaving them in peace, not chasing them away when we see them or shooting them on sight) We've had a momma bear and her cubs here on the farm every spring for 5 years now. She never comes in the yard or garden, never bothers the livestock, and neither do her cubs (They are well trained I guess) She stays at the edge of the pasture and eats clover in the spring, sometimes we see her taking the cubs across the hay field. Since she's been around we've never had problems with 'boo boo' bears.

Alan said...

I guess that bears, like natural medicine, require balance. The same goes for goats. My only worry with the goats we run is that if I am not paying attention they can't get to safety when they need to. If I am going to limit them and their natural responses, I must provide the balance in some other way.

CG said...

I've written somewhere that I really don't rely that much on "balance" which implies a dichotomy but on a more complex "grounding" like electricity must be grounded before it will flow.

We do limit animals and are responsible and we all have to do our best to try to figure out what that is. There is no such thing as "no impact"! Which is a post I've thought about for a long time. There is such a thing as mindful, as acknowledging our impacts, reducing them, grounding them so that life still flows instead of being disconnected, cut off.

What truly worries me about this modern world, this society, and a whole lot of people I actually know is that they have no idea what the flow of life is really like. They imagine it maybe, dream it, they anthropomorphize it and fear it and put it in small boxes to try to contain it.