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"Oops," Said the Tattoo Artist

Green rain pants? Check. Rubbing alcohol? Check. Rubber gloves, kid restraint box, and screaming goat kid? Check, check, and check. I'm ready to tattoo this little doeling to make her an honest pedigree-bearing member of the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA).

Tattooing baby goats is my second-worst kid care job. The worst? I cauterized her horn buds a few days ago, a physically traumatic process with lots of burned hair smell. That job means they won't grow horns, resulting in better safety for the humans working with them as well as other goats. But the kid is not eager to get back in the kid restraint box with just her sweet little head poking out. What is the mean giant going to do to me this time?

With an ice pack on her head after disbudding

But tattoo I must if I sell her as a registered goat. Any show or appraisal or milk test will look for a tattoo in her ears and match it to registration papers. I've seen a handsome buck turned away from a goat show because the breeder had neglected to tattoo him at all, despite his pedigree declaring he had certain letters and numbers stamped into his ears. If the goat and the paper say different things, who's to say which is right? The disappointed goat owner had trusted the breeder, and was now faced with tattooing a full-grown animal and filing additional paperwork in the arcane ADGA system.

So I grit my teeth and load the tattoo pliers with letters and numbers picked out in sharp needles. HF17 is my herd tattoo for the right ear, given to every goat born out of a doe I own. I wish I had chosen only three digits; four is a lot to fit in a week-old dwarf goat ear. The left ear gets a combination unique to each animal: a letter that changes every year--2020 is M-- and a number indicating the birth order of that particular goat. I'll be using M 1, 2, 4, and 5 this year since baby 3 was a male destined to be an unregistered pet. One less goat to tattoo, though he faces a future uncomfortable procedure as he matures.

Here's a dear little goat, scrabbling and screaming in the box. Here I am, sitting on the box and punching the tattoo pliers through a piece of paper to check that I have the letters right. EVERY TIME! I punch and see 4M instead of M4, so I switch the letters in the pliers before I actually tattoo the goat. OK, M4 it is... Wait a minute. I didn't double-check the HF17 I just did in her other ear. I could easily have put a letter upside down or backwards. And I really got her good in that ear, every needle poking through completely. Alea jacta est, I think, and scrub green ink into both ears.

3 days after tattooing, her little ear is still too green and crusty to tell if I made a mistake. Goats hate to have their ears handled, and I'm not willing to stress her just to satisfy my curiosity. Time will have to tell. I smile to note my thought of, "Well, if I mis-tattooed her I will just have to keep her." If I did make a mistake, this goat is just as adorable as if she had a perfect rose (or skull and crossbones) in her ear. I may not be much of a tattoo artist, but I love my goats.

There are probably times in your life when you have felt that no-going-back feeling. It's just a side effect of living in a linear concept of time. The tree falls, the milk boils over, the words can't be unsaid, the arrow can't be called back to the bow. Accepting consequences gracefully is one of the challenges of being human. Just remember to ALWAYS CHECK the tattoo pliers on a piece of cardboard first, okay?

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