My son already has experience taking care of an animal and selling it. Last year, his 4-H project was pigs. He showed them, then he sold them, and we even went to the carcass show, which is where fifty people go into a meat freezer with a agriculture professor and find out why one kid’s carcass got a blue ribbon and one kid’s got a white ribbon.
If you guessed marbling, you guessed right. But the Farmer says this is an outdated way to look at meat. He says you get lots of marbling from feeding animals corn instead of letting them graze on the grass, but corn feed is like candy feed because there’s so little nutrition.
Okay. So even though we fundamentally disagree with the carcass show judging process, my son did take care of animals and then kill them, which is no small feat for a kid transplanted from New York City to rural Wisconsin.
In fact, I’d have to say that by now, my son’s childhood is more like the Farmer’s than mine. For instance, I walked out the back porch one day, and I saw my son chopping wood with an ax. Where I grew up, swinging an ax is like swinging a gun. Dangerous and only for crazy people.
So the Farmer and I agree to disagree, and when my son swings an ax over his head, I turn the other way. And pray.
I defer to the Farmer when it’s time to sell the goat. He says it’s fine to keep goats as pets, but we cannot keep having babies if we are not selling them.
My son likes the babies, so he agrees to sell one of the males so we can get the two females pregnant. He is selling Samuel, our favorite goat.
I try not to dwell on the favorite part. But we climb into the trailer and give him kisses goodbye before we start our trip to the auction house.
My son understands that if he is going to learn how to operate on the farm, he needs to stay far away from me. So when it’s time to sell his first goat, he rides in the truck with the Farmer. I follow along in my car
My son is excited. He feels grown up. And he does calculations to figure out how much money he’ll make from the sale.
At the auction barn, there are lots of goats. My son and I are curious. We get out of the car. We traipse around. The Farmer tells us not to get muck on our shoes. Muck is not the word he uses. Probably manure or something like that. There is lots of muck at the sale barn and the farmer does not want us tracking biohazards back to the farm.
Our farm is locked-down, or whatever the word is for the Farmer not letting other farm animal stuff onto our farm because of diseases. He has disease-free herds of pigs and cattle and surely that is from living for 20 years by himself. But I don’t say that. I just try hard to watch where I step.
I am concerned about how the animals are treated and I want to take pictures. I snap a few and the Farmer tells me that if they catch me we will not be able to sell the goat. PETA has come there. Or some PETA sympathizer types. In rural America PETA is a catch-all term for all people who are bothersome.
I take pictures while the Farmer is figuring out who is next and what we need to do to get Samuel into the holding pen.
I love when the Farmer takes charge. When we are fighting I tell him that I don’t need him to run a farm. I could run a farm by myself just fine. But the truth is that having him around makes my life so much more fun. I get to pick my head up and look around instead of sweating the logistical details of each step we make.
Samuel is scared, and I am scared watching Samuel be scared. We have protected him for so long. Someone left him to freeze in sub-zero temperatures two winters ago. We saved him. He is looking at us now, nuzzling our hands, assuming we are doing something good for him.
I look away so I don’t cry. I try to look away like I am curious and I sell beloved family pets for slaughter all the time.
My son answers the questions that the sale barn guy asks about breed, and age, and feed. My son knows everything about the goat but gets stumped when the sale barn guy asks for our zip code.
Right after, the Farmer puts his hand on my son’s back and says, “Nice job.”
My son is quiet. I know something is up because when the Farmer says nice job about something farm related, my son usually beams with pride.
The Farmer tells us to walk up to the auction room and wait for Samuel to come out for bidding. “See how much you get for him!” The Farmer says as he heads off to park our truck.
I walk with my son to the auction room but on the way, he starts crying.
Then I start crying. I say, “Do you want to bring Samuel home?”
“No. It’s too late.”
“It’s not too late.”
The Farmer sees us crying. He pulls me aside. He says, “It’s too late. Don’t encourage him by you crying, too.”
“He wants Samuel back.”
“He’s just sad. It’s part of the process of learning to farm.”
I turn to my son, “Do you want to take Samuel home?”
My son says yes.
The Farmer is so upset he has to go out to the truck.
I call to him. “Don’t be upset! I’m sorry!”
He says, “You can’t take an animal back. They don’t do that. It’s already processed in their system.”
“I can get Samuel back.”
The Farmer keeps walking to the truck.
I find the auctioneer. I tell him we are from New York City and we can’t sell our favorite goat and I am crying and my son is crying and they stop the auction and give us the goat back.
Then we are in the parking lot. Me, my son, and Samuel. Samuel is a bio-hazard now. He has poop from 100 other goats on his hoofs. I tell the Farmer I’ll put Samuel in the back seat of my car and we can give him a bath when we get him.
The Farmer looks down. Shakes his head. Laughs. He says, “No. Put him in the trailer. Let’s just bring Samuel home.”
This is the moment, right here, that determines what kind of person you are. If you see failure, you are a failure. And of course, failure is easy to see. We are not learning to be farmers. We are bringing bio-hazards onto the farm, and I’ve undermined the Farmer’s work teaching my son how to raise animals for slaughter.
There is success, too. There is the Farmer adjusting to our discomfort with farm life. He used to be much more rigid with us, and we would probably have had a big fight about this earlier in our relationship. I am helping my son to act on his emotions instead of hiding them. And, of course, we have Samuel back at the farm, and we love him.
Moments like this are so common in worklife. We can see success or we can see failure. We can choose. The right choice is to savor success and forget failure. That gives you energy to keep learning and trying new things. It gives you confidence to believe in your abilities. And remembering failure might seem educational to you—but it’s not. It’s a downer. So just forget it.
The Farmer usually approaches life this way, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Until we stopped for gas. My son wanted snacks. For himself and for Samuel. So we bought sunflower seeds, and while gas was pumping, the Farmer and my son stood at the back of the truck munching on seeds and sharing with Samuel.
When we got home, the other two goats were right there waiting, eyes glued to the trailer, looking for Samuel.
And when Samuel came out, everyone knew that the goats were now pets. So we compromised and got only one goat pregnant. We are learning how to be farmers, with some pets on the side. And the Farmer is learning how to raise a family, with some pets on the side.