Communion

imageedit_1_9478466741

I walk with Llamas.     Freely, unfettered, they walk with me.

I enjoy the company of cows, taking in their calmness, their easy going ways and adapting their peace with their environment as my own.

I laugh with pigs.   Watching them enjoy the ability to run among the trees and savor the goodness the earth provides as nature intended.

I sleep with dogs. Warm and watchful, appearing completely relaxed but never quite unguarded just as I am never completely tuned out.

I chatter with chickens, enjoying their banter as they scratch and peck around the house and I sip coffee and chime in when I have an opinion.

I welcome strangers; stray dogs, fallen fledglings, orphaned wildlife, feral kittens, misplaced beings of any and every kind make their way to me with a knowing, as though led. Some staying out their days, becoming kindred–some moving on as nature intended. Each owning a part of me formerly undiscovered.

I share with this land everything that is myself.  I walk with it.  I talk with it.  I cry with it.  I laugh with it.  I struggle with it. I rejoice with it.  I cooperate with it.  I learn from it.  I glean from it.  I give to it.

The land and I and every being on it are bound in a way that defies all that was proclaimed for me by my birth and circumstances.  Even if I must leave it, this piece of earth and every being that ever tread on it will go with me.

print22

Respecting Them for What & Who they are

Tia Bella.JPG
This is Tia.   Also known as Princess Tia.   Also known as Tia Bella.

If you follow our farm page or are familiar with me at all, you know that Tia is the daughter of Bibs, the cow who thinks she is a dog.  Bibs is the daughter of Sweetie, my first cow ever milked here on the farm, my favorite cow, the cow I unintentionally had a hand in causing the death of due to a tragic  mistake in judgement .

Needless to say, I adore Tia.  Tia is a treasure here.  Tia is special.    Tia’s grandmother lived up to her given name being one of the sweetest cows I believe I will ever meet.  Tia’s mama is an attention seeking pest who follows me around and rubs her head against anyone who will allow it looking to be scratched and rubbed.  Those facts having been laid out and knowing what is known about me and my farm practices, what I am about to state may come as a surprise and shock to some who follow Tia and our farm and see the scads of photos and posts about this little girl–Tia has not let me touch her since she was three weeks old.

I employ the word ‘ let ‘ intentionally here.  You see, despite what impression I may inadvertently give with my posts of adoration for my livestock and my swooning over my “pet” farm animals, I never  force my attentions on them.  Never.

Tia has yet to accept my touch of her own free will.

All newborn livestock will tolerate being handled and held to some degree.  Some will even walk right up to you out of curiosity and lean into your touch.  Some actually come to enjoy affection early on and that remains with them.  Tia was petted and hugged her first three weeks.   There are several factors in the foundation of her young life that one would expect would leave her totally open to my touch and completely receptive to me in general: her mother being totally comfortable with seeking my affections,   spending all of her time with her best buddy, Izzy , a bottle baby who adores me and rubs on my legs continually,  her other fast friend being Elsa , the very tame and tiny miniature Hereford heifer who loves a good back scratching and walks pressed against my outer thigh–but  Tia gently withdraws if I extend my hand to her.  She has no fear of me, she just does not wish to be handled by me.  I respect her wishes for personal space.

I walk around this farm every day and address each and every animal on it by name.  I nod my head at them as I pass as though passing a neighbor and speak to them.  If I have time, I extend my hand or offer a hug to those I know will lean in.  I truly do love all of them.  I love all of them enough  to acknowledge that some of them do not want to be pets; Some of them just want to be llamas or cows or pigs …and that’s okay with me.  I try to respect not just what they are are, but who they are and understand each as a whole.

I studied both biology and psychology in college and while I did not get as far as I would have liked in my education due to unforeseen family demands, I was captivated by both sciences.  They still dance in my brain merging like beautiful puzzles when I consider my farm and the livestock on it.  The scientific classification a biologist would use, for example, I take a step further to include psychological factors.  I see little Tia in simple terms  as :

Mammal

Bovine

Dairy heifer

Jersey

mini Jersey

Tia

For me, the first three go to physical/biological facts: what she is; the last three to psychological and physiological facts: what makes her Tia.

The first three are self-explanatory.  The last  state that she has specific traits and qualities that make her who she is; the unique being that is Tia.

Jerseys are a particular sub-set of dairy cow with specific needs in the cow world as opposed to other breeds.  Add to that the fact she is a miniature stature Jersey and those traits are often times magnified as far as calving issue possibilities and dietary needs.

There are also social issues within the herd that may need to be assessed and closely  monitored  with Jerseys, particularly minis, that just don’t seem to exist with other breeds :  Jerseys tend to be shy , unassertive bovines and can be ‘ run off ‘ hay rings and troughs by stronger willed cows.  Social issues such as these are part of general psychology. Psychology is the study of function and behavior–not just human behavior, but behaviors of all species.

Not least important is who is Tia, the singular personality ?  Tia is wildly curious and playful.  Tia is confident and unafraid.  Tia will walk just next to me for long periods of time but gently back away if I reach down to touch her.  Tia will walk right up to me and stare right at my eyes while I speak to her while I work.  Tia likes the company of people, but not direct contact.  Tia will do exactly what you ask her to do with direction while moving her.  She will be a fabulous dairy girl !  She may choose never to be a pet.

Here, on this farm, she has the absolute right to make that choice.

 

Proverbs 12:10 (KJV) A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

The original Aramaic ( Ancient Jewish )  text from which  this verse was translated states ” The righteous one is aware of the soul of his animal, and the evil withhold their compassion.”

I regard all of my animals as individuals with certain rights.  Yes, I intend some of them for the table, but even they are offered my affection and spoken to.  They are allowed the freedom to pasture graze.  They enjoy the ability to engage in their natural behaviors.   My boars must be penned for the sow’s safety and mine , but their yard is large and planted and they have pools and toys.  I make them mud puddles when it is hot.  They get cookies with everyone else.  I never keep a single animal alone in a yard.

I do not believe in restraining an animal more than required for farm functions.

We do not halter our cows unless absolutely necessary.  Early on, a mentor explained to me why it was unnecessary with proper guidance and training and that stuck with me.  I had to halter my first two dairy girls as my parlor was not complete and I needed to tie them loosely to milk for a week or so, but the instant the parlor was done, off came the halters. I only halter the llamas for moving them or shearing.  I only haltered a cow once since and that was for vetting and she was trying to hurt the vet, being very uncomfortable with mastitis.

I do not tether my stock in any way aside from fences to keep them safe or to separate them when necessary–neither physically or spiritually.

I do not make unnecessary demands on my livestock and I leave them choices.

I respect them as the individual beings they are , each one of them a unique personality.

I firmly believe that even and perhaps especially for those meant to feed a family, an animal requires the ability to be himself to be in top condition .

11039908_10204328873485554_5891708621788239756_n

I believe it is of the utmost importance to engage the entire animal for optimal health: the mind, the spirit , the body —  Fresh air, cleanliness, exercise, natural behaviors, play, human interaction on their terms,  proper diet, sound medical care, regular assessment , room to roam, freedom to choose within limits of safety, etc.   I think the last may be one of the most important.  If someone took away all of my choices, I would be a miserable and unhealthy being.

11390047_10204805241394454_6360498360942150669_n

 

The common threads

We all start out in farming with the best of intentions.  We all seek to learn and provide for our stock in the best way and means possible.  In writing that statement, I considered the information and experience I have absorbed and the chasm between what I know and  knowledge  yet to be acquired.  I thought about farmers as a group and how we promote ourselves and assert ourselves; how we think we know what we know and how we think what we know and our own experiences, since successful for us or traditional in method, are the right way.  The required way.

We all have our own way of doing things, no matter our circumstances or occupation and the fact  that those ways may differ from person to person in the same field or situation doesn’t make either wrong, even when there is a generally promoted standard, providing the end result is positive.

I have learned very firmly in farming  that animals are, by and large, biological and sentient beings just like humans and not all will fit a standard.   I have learned  that farms are living , breathing, growing, changing things.  I assert with complete confidence that if you lined up fifty farms in a row, built to identical design ,with identical soil and identical animals, from identical lines of stock , set out with identical instructions for going forward and developing, no two would be alike in two years time unless they were all run by the same person: Fence lines would be moved, irrigation patterns would be changed, feed schedules and types would be altered, breeding schedules would be off line, etc… every one of those farmers would develop his own ‘ best ‘ plan for running his farm. And each and all would be right.

We all start farming / homesteading from where we are with what we have–large or small, from scratch or with a family history of agriculture.  Whether we grew up in the culture or just bought a piece of land , whether we inherited our granddaddy’s herd or stopped by an auction one day on a ride through the country and bought our first goat on impulse, we all start off new to farming the day we , ourselves, are responsible for the first time for that life, that land, that work.

It doesn’t matter how much experience we have under our belts or how much knowledge we think  we have prior to that first morning of waking up and realizing it is all on us, we are not prepared for all that will happen and all that will be expected–and unexpected.  It is ultimately the unexpected that will make or break a farmer or homesteader.  That is where you will find your salt or your quit , as a very wise old woman I knew as a child would say.

I almost found my quit a short time back, but at the last moment, I found my salt.

 

Every homesteader or farmer you meet has their ‘ magic ‘ for each situation that arises.  I have mine.  Every single one has their ‘ go to ‘ cures and remedies they try before they call a vet in common situations.  I have mine.  Every last one has their tried and true methods for each and every circumstance and encounter.  I have mine.   I can share mine with you and happily will if you ask, but here’s the thing–what works for me and my animals on my farm may not work for you and your animal on yours.  That’s the crux.  That’s why every single one of us has her own.  And guess what? None of them is any better than the other if they all work.

The best thing for a new comer to farming / homesteading to do is to glean as much reliable information from as many reliable sources as she can BEFORE she starts with any type of livestock.  Take notes.  SERIOUSLY, take notes.  Figure out what makes sense to you.  Ask questions of people who are doing things right. When you get some livestock, try some of the methods.  See what works for YOU on YOUR farm with YOUR animal, because People, Farms, Animals–all different, even if apparently the same.

How we are raised makes us different,  Our personalities make us different  , Our preferences make us different , two of the same breed of cow will have different personalities, patterns, fears, weaknesses, so on and so forth.

Never let someone tell you that something MUST be a certain way if it doesn’t work for you and your animal; neither of you will be happy.

* If an animal has a special need or is so accustomed to a certain structure that it requires a diet or structure you are not comfortable or capable of  providing, DO NOT try to alter it , the animal is not right for you–pass and look for your fit. Believe the farmer when she tells you what her animal requires.

I  believe wholeheartedly in engaging all of my livestock mentally as well as tending to their physical needs.  I believe that ” Humane Keeping ” includes the ability to engage in natural behaviors.  There are those who disagree with me.  There are those who believe in order to keep an animal humanely one must only provide adequate space and a clean environment with sufficient feed and fresh water–psychological needs and innate behaviors of the animal are not even a consideration.  Is their animal therefore abused?           I think not.

Would I do business with someone who chooses to keep animals without regard for their spiritual needs ? ( Yes, I said SPIRITUAL )    No.  I would not .

Why? Because, although they are not abused, it is my opinion that they are neglected and therefore, not wholly healthy nor a fit for my herds.

 

Some farmers will tell you a tamed production pig is a bad idea as it is prone to bite.  I have not found that to be true.

Some farmers will tell you a pet heifer or spoiled cow is the worst to milk, I had one spoiled heifer that was a nightmare to train and two that were as easy as a walk in the park and never lifted a foot.  I also had a well-trained dairy cow who decided she hated me right off the trailer and would wait until I had my head and hand under her and nail me every time so who’s to say? hahaha.

Some farmers will tell you to bring in a heifer cold to the stanchion and others will tell you to pre-acquaint them.  I’ve done both.  Both work. I prefer the kinder introduction.

Many farmers will tell you to tame your bull from an early age, others will tell you to ring his nose and train him to respect you as boss,  I find the opposite of both  to be true–a totally untamed, but calm and unafraid , hands – off bull is safest and most predictable.                    ( NO BULL IS TRUSTWORTHY)

There are pig farmers , even small ones, who swear by the need for farrowing crates to reduce piglet crushing losses.  I farrow in open barns and runs and have only lost one piglet to crushing death and she was ill-thrift and probably too weak to move out of the way.  I also lost a lamb to crushing death by her own mother who laid on her , so the argument falls flat with me.  Like I said, we all have our own way.  I don’t bash the farmer who wants to use them, although I do not think it humane to leave the mother in there long after delivery and I would not buy her pigs simply because I prefer to do business with folks of the same mindset and values.

We live in a world of hyper- connectedness: smart phones, lap tops, tablets, etc… keep us ‘ plugged in ‘ almost all the time to a myriad of social networks and resources galore.  That has become a blessing and a curse.    I  see a lot of unnecessary , snarky  ‘ my cow / goat / lamb / horse/ llama is better than hers, because ‘  posts and those make me cringe .

Why ?   In the case of two farmers humanely raising healthy, fit animals, why does one way have to be “better” ?

If we are all honest as farmers about the individual animal we have to offer, it really doesn’t matter how many years more experience we have than our neighbor who also has a cow for sale–let the buyer decide based on the individual cow which is right for her/ him.  Take the school yard competition out of it and start promoting each other.  If you don’t have a registered cow with an outstanding pedigree and your customer is looking for one, recommend someone who does and if you have registered cows and your client is looking to spend less, recommend the reliable dairy down the road.

It sincerely makes me ill to see so-called responsible farmers bashing each other on these pages across social media just to cheat each other out of a sale or promote themselves for future business opportunities.  It is so obvious what they are up to.   Some of these sites promote the page as a ” discussion group” but if you pose an opinion that is contrary to the majority, even in the most polite terms, you will find yourself banned from the group.

I see Memes all the time on farm pages and groups about buying local and supporting your local farmer and buying fresh meat and eggs from the small farmer, but then on the same pages I see farmers, male and female, touting why their animal is better than anyone else’s or their method of raising a beef steer makes for tastier beef than Joe’s down the street or why you shouldn’t buy Susie’s free-range chickens or eggs and  how their dairy cows will make better homestead cows for you than the one raised by the other farmers because their cows are taken more seriously than the smaller farm’s cows or the newer farm’s cows or they have more experience or better stock, even when they have no stock to offer.

I can tell you that if you are looking for a registered animal with a superior pedigree it is absolutely imperative that you stick with the handful of farmers that are well established in the community with excellent reputations for providing that specific breed.  Aside from those parameters, I will attest that you can find a perfect cow for your homestead at a good value from a small farmer with nothing more than a calf from her personal milk cow to offer; in fact, sometimes that’s going to turn out to be the better cow.

I recommend my farm friends all the time; even when I have the same type of livestock available if the buyer is looking for something in an animal I cannot offer.

Let’s be frank, if you buy an animal from me, you’re likely not getting just a production animal, you’re probably getting a pet.  Some folks simply do not want an attention seeking cow on their homestead.  Honestly, some people when first starting with bovines are a little afraid of close contact with them unless necessary for milking or feeding, etc.    That is understandable.  Cows are big ! They can hurt you !  I have the incorrectly healed broken toes to prove that they can step on you without even meaning to.  They just don’t know where their ends are all the time.

If I have a buyer here and I do not have what they are looking for I always recommend an option for a reliable farmer I am familiar with who has an animal I know they would be more satisfied with.  I never try to talk a person into buying from me when I know it is not the correct fit just to make a sale.  The farm friends and mentors I have would not either.

Criticism is rampant and seemingly contagious in the farming community.   Then, these same negative people will post a story about the closure of another small dairy or Mom & Pop’s grocery and shake their heads and say ” Tsk-tsk. So Sad.”   Folks, the only way to increase the options for the holistic, natural food sources we yearn for is to support the people trying to offer it and stop trying to take them down out of fear they will take something off your plate.  Work together.  Stop promoting ourselves by trying to take out a perfectly lovely family farmer offering perfectly healthy livestock at a decent price because we are intimidated by the competition.  Farming is hard.  Farming is expensive.  Getting started in farming and building a reputation as being reliable and trustworthy is brutal.  Dealing with these challenges and also fending off social media attacks and rumors / gossip is not something the newcomer needs to have to contend  with in a society and economy where many well established farms are throwing in the towel.

We small farmers and homesteaders are in a struggle to create a movement away from large corporate farming and into self-reliance and community involved sourcing.  We should be reaching out to our fellow farmers and homesteaders, recommending the roadside produce stands and farm fresh eggs down the road, not criticizing how they train their dairy cows or what kind of manure they use on their tomatoes.  If their cows walk into the stanchion and don’t kick the milk bucket does it really matter how they trained them to go in ?  If their tomatoes are vine ripened and at the peak of freshness does it matter if they used chicken manure or cow manure?  If the cow you are interested in has a pleasant attitude and is healthy it doesn’t matter if she was only talked to across the fence or was sung to in the pasture every day and twice on Sunday.