Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We had a school tour here at our little farm, a few weeks ago, and the memory is still fresh. Twenty-five Grade One students, five frazzled parent volunteers and one unflappable teacher (with the courage of a lion… or the imagination of one, for undertaking the field trip with such an exuberant bunch) spilled out of the bus. Or maybe I’m the one who is courageous (or tremendously unimaginative), but I never envisioned the amount of noise twenty-five excited kids set loose in the great outdoors on a school day can make.
At the pig’s pasture they all wrinkled their noses. “Eeeuww, what stinks?!” I explained how pigs (being a one-stomached omnivore like ourselves) were pretty close to us as far as farm animals and biology go, so their poop was most offensive. Delighted by this line of reasoning they were ecstatic when they actually saw a pig defecating and that was all they spoke about as we walked over to the chicken yard.
At the hen house I had the usual questions. “Why do you have so many roosters?” and I explained that roosters weren’t the only fowl with combs and wattles and that I was actually without a rooster for the moment because of my dog, Blue, who had a predilection for rooster-eating. The chickens gathered around us and the children shifted nervously, and then one jumped and pecked the hand of a small boy who promptly burst into tears. As we comforted him and moved the kids away from the chickens one clever child asked “How do you make new chicks if there isn’t a rooster?” I led the children to the brooding house where I currently had about 200 chicks of various parentages and admonished them to be quieter because they would scare the chicks. As I opened the door, the peeps were greeted by a chorus of yells of delight and froze momentarily before scattering to the corners where they piled upon each other dangerously. After closing the children out and redistributing chicks, we went on to the cattle and I tried to make myself heard above the din.
“Are they all bulls?” more than one child yelled, referring to my horned Irish Dexter cattle. As I explained that having horns was a manifestation of breed not gender, I heard excited laughter and squeals of disgust. “What’s that?” a few children piped in unison pointing to Finn our bull as he walked around in an excited state.
“All right everyone, let’s go see the sheep!” I called out desperately and led them along the bumpy path to the sheep’s paddock. The small boy who was still nursing his hand from the chicken yard tripped over a root and fell, scraping his knee and renewing his copious tears. The teacher and I cleaned him up as best we could while I wondered if the school’s waiver was iron-clad enough. At the sheep’s paddock while the children oohed and aahed over the gamboling lambs (there are few things cuter than 2 week old lambs playing together) one of the mothers asked why some had long tails and some had short. Groaning inwardly I explained about tail-docking and how in this case a small elastic was used to restrict blood flow until the tail atrophied and fell off. She looked at me as if I’d said I liked to eat newborn lambs raw. I explained about the ensuing poop-sicles and flystrike and maggoty-agonizing-death if tails were left intact, but I could see from her expression she thought I was a cruel tool of corporate farming. I guessed she wouldn’t be inquiring about buying lamb.
Our last attraction was our livestock guardian donkey, a jennet named “Poppy." A sweet girl, tame and loving attention, I was ending with her so that the kids (who had been told constantly to keep their hands to themselves) could finally touch an animal without fear of hurting it (the animal, or them). Poppy wanted nothing to do with any of us. She turned her equine rump and pointed her face into the corner. If she would’ve had arms, they would have been folded uncompromisingly over her chest. I dragged her over unwillingly but she was so sullen even the kids noticed and we released her to her donkey business.
The tour done and the day very hot, there was a half an hour left of free time before the bus picked them up. I produced Freezies with a flourish and in a flash they were running all over the yardsite playing, faced smeared with melted freezie.
Chickens had pecked, children had cried, the lambs and chicks hid from all the noise, and our donkey wouldn’t come near to be pet. All in all it went pretty well considering. I’m sure the highlight of the tour was when they got to run free and play, slurping the Freezies I’d given them and jabbering excitedly about how they all wanted to be farmers.
Music to my ears.