Herding cattle, naked by full moonlight
Ok folks, farming is not as easy as you might think! 'Twas a July middle of the night- a full moon of course- and I, your author, got up to pee, and what did I hear but the bellowing of a mama cow- REALLY CLOSE TO THE HOUSE!
"Why do you bellow?" I thought to myself as I peered out the window on the front lawn, all aglow with full moonlight.
Oh, you doth bellow because your damn baby steer and another of your moo crew munches upon the front of my lawn by moonlight- ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE FENCE!
With the husband, the baby, and all the farm interns fast asleep- I did what any sensible farmer might do- I ran out quite naked into the moonlight to herd the naughty cattle back into the pasture by myself!
And of course, with all my expert herding skills trying to get them back through the now open gate- they just walked right THROUGH the fence same way they got out.
This is not a unique experience on the farm, though, now that we finally got the whole farm electric fenced we have less animals out. But in general, raising livestock means that you have very few days that amble by without some animal needing extra care or doing something that royally pisses you off.
A couple years ago I was feeding the pigs in October in the pouring rain, and slipped on a wet rock as I was standing OVER the electric fence- and yup, got a real good electric shock right where you don't want to land on an electric fence- and as I was falling to the ground I dumped the entire contents of a 5 gallon bucket of sloppy pig feed on myself. And yup- four 200 pound pigs decided that I was just a fine addition to the pig feed. F*&***!!!@#&%#***K.
And then a few weeks later had to run like I was gonna win that marathon after a 200 pound pig that was running UP THE DRIVEWAY...and onto the road.
This morning's adventure was getting knocked INTO the feed bucket by a pile of ewes I was attempting to give a nice barley treat to. After knocking me into the bucket, they proceeded to all swarm on top of my body trying to get the feed- so I couldn't get up because I was literally pinned to the ground, ass in a bucket. Have I mentioned that sheep are not my favorite animal? Poor, sweet Nina, our Great Pyrenees, was desperately trying to help me, but of course I couldn't yell, "Nina, EAT THE SHEEP!" Tempting though.
This all happened after I came up from the barn with a weak little lamb in my arms. Of course, I went down to the barn with the whole day planned perfectly, just sure I would knock out chores real quick and get to the list at hand. But right away I noticed a little lamb whose mama has been refusing to let her nurse (because the lamb has DAGGER TEETH, seriously, I would let this thing starve too if I had to let it nurse on my boobs!). For weeks I have been holding the ewe down morning and night so little lambie can nurse (which, is also not as easy as it might sound).
This morning she was obviously way too weak, so I brought her up to the house, and after a nice warm bottle of sheep milk mixed with cow colostrum (saved in the freezer) she fell asleep in a cardboard box, and has proceeded to be not dead all day (which is an accomplishment for sheep!)
While I was nursing little lambie and Derek was washing dishes, we were talking about how humbling farming is. It really makes you present to how little control you have over anything. And, this might sound a bit strange, but as annoying as it is to have so little control over your life, I think it is a good thing, because I think it brings us back to a real, age-old human place that has been lost in the modern world.
Up until truly not too long ago, almost every one of us humans HAD to have a much closer connection to the place we lived, and the food we ate. Sure, not everyone farmed, but without grocery stores and electricity and Amazon delivering your every need wherever, whenever- you kinda had to figure out the food thing close to home. Which meant A LOT more people involved in raising animals and digging in the dirt, harvesting from the forest, knowing what plant to harvest in the forest, WALKING through the forest, and knowing who grew what and where and how! And being a heck of a lot more patient, and accepting that the day might not go quite as scheduled.
That also meant most of the human population having crazy stories on a daily basis with encounters with animals- their own or someone else's or the wild ones. I have so many years of crazy farm stories. Sometimes I am actually laughing in the moment (like the time Derek and I and our farm intern Ally tried to catch Jane the crazy sheep with a net and some fancy football tackle moves). A lot of the time I am NOT LAUGHING in the moment, like the above pig story, but by the time I get around to telling it to the nearest human it is pretty funny.
And sometimes the stories are just heartbreaking, and will never be funny. This happened this past winter when I lost my absolute love of a milk cow. I promise I will tell you the whole story some day, but for now, I can tell you that it changed me. And strangely enough, through all the desperate heartbreak of losing such a loved animal, it made me really think about JOY.
After Ella May, my cow, died, it was as if a window opened and I was able to see a bit more clearly, and what I saw was an overall need for more joy. I had been working so hard, for so long, to "achieve" my dream farm, that I forgot that the whole point was to create a life filled to the brim with joy! I'm not saying I have not been joyful all these years- in fact, my life is filled with joy in so many ways, and so much of this comes from my time spent with the animals.
I have also been thinking about my role as an "adult" on the planet at this moment in time. I've had so many conversations over the last few years with parents and teenagers, and teachers about how many kiddos are suffering from intense anxiety and depression.
And how could they not be? These sweet little beings have grown up hearing about how there may or may not be a planet for them to live on in the coming years. Then COVID happened and we told them they could not talk to anyone or touch anything for 2 years...and then one day we told them to just rip the masks off and go for it!
That seems like plenty to make a bunch of stressed out, anxious kiddos. But I have always felt there is another deep undercurrent that produces anxious kiddos, and that is the undercurrent of not having a deep, present, sentient connection to the land that holds them in place, and the animals that nourish life.
In my twenties I happened to become very close with an Amish family (long story, but it all started with my role as supervisor on a large sugar bush, where maple syrup is made, and I had to drive Amish guys through several feet deep snow on a 4 wheeler....crazy, awkward, and hella fun!). The family I was particularly close to had 12 kids, yup, 12 kids, and every single kiddo had their distinct role on the farm and in the family. In all my life I have never met such a happy, well adjusted bunch of kids. Sure, by our "modern" standards the kids lives might seem odd, but they were so present and awake and alive and they knew every deer trail on their 50 acres, they knew where to find the berries and mushrooms, and how to raise and milk the cow and how to grow and preserve food, and how to entertain themselves and laugh by just playing on the land.
As a kid raised in a big city, I can still remember how painfully precious every moment felt the very first summer I worked on a farm. I was 18 years old, and I had never, ever, felt such intensity and joy, and for the first time in my life my anxiety and depression just melted away. I felt ALIVE and USEFUL and FILLED WITH PURPOSE! I could not wait to wake up in the morning and greet the day and milk the cows and work in the gardens. And to this day I can still remember the feeling of eating my first meal that I had personally been involved in creating, and it felt like no other feeling I had experienced. I felt proud, and needed, and joyful.
This is why I put up with all the crazy that comes with farming- because the other side of that crazy is the joy and the love and feeling proud and needed. Sure there is heartbreak, and hard work and getting knocked over by animals, but snuggling one baby goat makes up for all of that, and nothing feels as good as eating a meal you put your own work into creating. It just feels human. And I think we might want to evaluate as a society that more of our kids might have less anxiety if they got to experience this too.
So for me, I am committing to not getting so distracted by my "TO-DO" list that I forget that my role as an "adult" on this planet, at this moment in time, is to spread JOY to as many children (and adults!) as I can. I will do that by handing them a baby goat to snuggle, taking them into the woods to play, and helping them remember that we CAN and already DO live in a world filled with joy and purpose- we just have to make sure to take time to see it.