Friday, April 24, 2009

life lessons and livestock........

I don’t live on a farm or ranch, but I live in the middle of farming and ranch country. My neighbors have cows, horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys, dogs, cats, and did I mention kids. It’s a grand place, with something to hold, or pet, or ride all the time and the responsibilities of “chores” is part of their daily routine.

Just yesterday as I was mowing, I looked over at their pasture with the two horses, and multiple cows, and thought to myself, “If a kid grows up handling and dealing with livestock they can probably handle just about anything else life throws at them.”

Well, today I got to be reminded what it is like to handle and deal with livestock. Mind you I was really little when we lived on the farm, but I remember walking the lane with my sister to bring the cows in to be milked every evening and feeding the baby lambs from baby bottles when their mama’s rejected them and pushing the hens off the nest to gather eggs. I have enough “farm” memories to get me through when something comes up.

As I went to let Lily out right before lunch, I noticed the neighbors cows looked a little too close to our windbreak. Upon further investigation I realized, sure enough, they were out. I called Diana, volunteered to help, and changed my shoes; we received over a half inch of rain last night on already saturated soil so I wanted shoes that were old, and could be washed.

Cows are not the brightest creatures, and as I walked up to them to direct them where I wanted them to go, they simply stood there looking at me with an expression reminiscent of “lights on, no one home?” But Oh! When they wanted to go, believe me they went enjoying the freedom and relishing the unmown green grass of the lawn and ditches. At that moment you questioned if they were really as stupid as they appeared.

We eventually got them back in the pasture, thanks to a bucket of feed, and one greedy cow who all the others thought knew something they didn’t, so they followed her.

Diana and I then proceeded to stand and chat, catching up on each other as neighbors so often do. We weren’t that far from the pole barn when we heard a racket, and checked, and sure enough, two cows had figured a way out of that pasture next to the barn. They didn’t get far when we just steered them right back in the way they came.

It was at this point Diana wondered if we shouldn’t move them to the other pasture, the one they had originally found a way out of. I herded and she held the gate and kept the rest from getting out. This is where the flash backs of walking in mud, and cow pies up to my ankles returned. For everyone knows that where the lane narrows, the “grass don’t grow”. At this point I shared this memory with her telling her I was sure that was part of the reason I never married a farmer. She understood completely.

Feeling confident that the cows were safely corralled, we decided to walk out together to get our mail. Standing at the ends of our driveway we continued to chat, and eventually headed for our houses. Almost to the shop, I heard Diana call out, “Andrea, look at my yard!” I assumed she wanted to show me the pock marks left by the hoofs, so started to walk over to access the damage. As I rounded the corner there stood the cows, out again! We both laughed, and Diana simply requested that I keep them from going into the road while she called someone to come get them and take them to pasture NOW! Something her husband was planning to do, but our afternoon of trying to keep them where they belong expedited.

I couldn’t blame them, the pasture they were in was pretty much grazed down to nothing, the new spring grass hadn’t come in thick yet, and all they had to eat was hay. They just wanted out to eat the fresh green grass and clover. As I stood there between them and the road, and watched them eat contentedly in one place the thought while mowing returned to me; the lessons learned dealing with livestock.

Animals are “dumb”, they neither speak or process thoughts. They are driven by hunger and respond out of instinct and fear. You learn to access that every time you approach them to feed them, water them, or deal with them in any way. You have to be “smarter than the animal”, as my mother always said. You wouldn’t think it would be hard, but it takes more savvy than you realize when you are in the midst of them.

Learning to control something that is a lot bigger than you, and outweighs you by a thousand pounds takes forethought and calm. As Nic puts it, you don’t want to get going too fast, or it all goes south (or in our case, north) in a hurry.

I learned as a little girl that a little mud and muck isn’t going to kill you, that remaining calm in chaos usually gets more accomplished than panic, hang on to that feed bucket or bottle, and show calm and resolve and you’ll get the job done. Some things have to be pushed out of the way, and a couple of pecks from and old hen won't cause you to lose your hand, and sometimes you have to wave your arms and shout, but learning to know when is the trick.

Flashbacks? I had a few today, but they were good ones, and I had to laugh as I walked home at last, at the hoof prints and cow pies in my yard. Experiences like today can be reminders of what you know and where you learned it and encouragement to implement those lessons again and again.