Before we get into the article - so many of you have asked us to share a video of our farm, so here it is — Life By the Bucket. Many thanks to students from the G-Star Filmschool in West Palm Beach. Enjoy.
Always open pasture and pen gates into the pasture or pen, not out! When you enter into a pasture or pen, opening any gate inwards turns the gate into a barrier between you and the animals. If they rush you to get to feed or hay you are carrying, or just to escape, the gate will shut instead of flying wide open and letting everything escape.
This can be quite funny if someone opens the gate the wrong way and all the just weaned babies run out and scatter into the alleyway, but that can also be dangerous if that gate leads to a highway or the escaping animal is an 1,800-pound bull.
When you take an animal out to pasture, turn the animal to face you and the gate before letting it go! If the animal, be it a horse or a goat or a cow, is turned towards you and the gate before taking the halter off and releasing the animal, it has to do a 180 degree turn before it can speed up and kick out. This will give you time to step out of the way and avoid being kicked or run over.
This applies to all animals, even those you think would never do that. An older mare will just as likely kick up her heels and speed off in cooler weather as a 175 pound doe who wants to join her herd mates. It is no fun being run over either way. Those little goat feet are amazingly sharp and sitting down on your tail bone is not comfortable either.
Turn It Off, When You Get Off! It’s so easy and saves so much time, on average about 3 seconds, when you leave the tractor or lawnmower running to quickly get off and just open a gate, preferably on an incline.
Tractors and other large farm equipment do not know “ouch” or that the human or the horse is standing right in front of it, and ooops, the gear slips or the break slips and the entire truck, tractor moves forward and right over the unsuspecting human or animal. If you are lucky, it’ll miss you or will just squash your iPhone. If you are not lucky, the tire may run over your leg, or the hay spear will pin you against the wall.
A friend of ours didn’t even leave his truck running, but parked it on an incline, the break gave way and it missed him, but ran downhill, through a few fences and came to a stop at a wall, totaled.
Sit down, don’t stand when its moving! These wonderful time saving and load carrying vehicles might not look and feel so fast, but they can be fast and unstable enough for you to fall out unless you have your behind firmly grounded on a flat surface. These vehicles can take corners fast enough for you to lose balance and fall out, and then it will run over your foot or your leg, best case leaving you with a bruise or painful road rash.
If you have a golf cart with a roof, which is fabulous in the rain, you can also take a corner too fast and tip it over, best case a dent in the cart. As a driver, it will be your responsibility to ensure that all passengers, those on the seats and in the back, are seated and ready to go.
Beware of any animal’s teeth! While goats have no teeth on their upper gum and really can’t bite you, the back teeth are razor sharp so goats can snap branches and browse. These molars can snap your finger or give you a mean cut.
Most goats will not bite on purpose, but there are incidences when I’ve had my finger down a goat’s throat, if a goat was choking or to steal cud. I don’t do it lightly and I have been harmed in the process every time. Unless you are sure what you are doing, don’t attempt it and definitely keep your children’s hand out of any animals’ mouth.
If they raise their head suddenly, they will knock you out (worst case) or on your butt (best case)! Most visitors to Serenity Acres love to pet the animals. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is right way to go about that. Goats head-butt, and cows and horses lift their heads out of harm’s way when they feel there is cause for concern. They do it fast and determined and if your head or nose is in the way, because you are leaning over the animals’ head, your nose will be broken or you will sport a black and blue eye for a couple of weeks.
When petting animals, keep your head off to the side, and as a bonus tip, also never wrap a lead rope around your hands when walking an animal that clearly outweighs you. If they run off, the rope will tighten around your hand or arm and leave a burn rash in the best case.
Walk forward, you can see where you are going! Such a simple rule, but easily overlooked. On the farm we have lots of reasons to walk backwards such as luring a goat into its pen with feed, scooping a pen, or sweeping a concrete floor.
This is the one rule that if not followed, most likely will just hurt your ego, but I’ve fallen over a dog too lazy to move while walking backwards and just my pride was hurt, and I’ve fallen backwards over a mower deck while trying to escape from some wayward wasps and came away with some serious bruises.
Cows, horses and goats have different kicking zones. Know them! Horses mainly kick out to the back. If you are standing behind them, preferably about 3 feet away, you are standing in the prime kick zone and will receive the full strength of the kick. To avoid this, stay close to the horse, keep your hand on their body and speak to them so they know where you are. This minimizes the chance of a full force surprise kick.
Cows generally don’t kick backwards, but kick out sideways, as in cow kick. The same safe standing rule applies here, close by and no surprises. Goats, in my experience, can kick every which way and up and also jump on top of you, so here best be prepared and teach them from a young age: “no front feet on humans” and keep your face away from the legs while milking or trimming feet.
Sandals or flip flops don’t belong on a farm! If you’ve ever had a goat, let alone a horse, stand comfortably on your foot, you will appreciate the safety and cushion of a closed toe shoe, even if it is just a croc. All 200 pounds of the goat or 1,000 pound of the horse will miraculously be transferred to that one point on your foot especially if it’s a you’re your bones and skin are no match for a horse hoof, especially when wearing a horse shoe, or even a small, sharp goat hoof.
Closed-toed shoes will also protect you from stubbing your toes on wheel barrels and on steps into the chicken coop, and protect you from squishy chicken poo or dog poo between your toes.
Many people just can’t live without their headphones, but on the farm during chores is the place to take them off! I get it. Scooping poop and doing other daily farm chores can be quite boring without the buds in your ear with a cool pod cast, TedTalk or your favorite tunes.
But here is the rub: when you have the buds in your ear, you are focused on the music and any other sound drowns out. You do not hear the baby alarm when a young goat is in trouble, you do not hear the dogs barking at the hawk stalking your chickens, you do not hear another human calling you to help with a goat, or a cow, or a heavy board. Only having a bud in one ear doesn’t work either, because your concentration and focus is still on the music/talk/podcast and not on your farm surroundings where they need to be.
Too much can go wrong too fast. Just leave the headphones in your pocket and use them on your break. If you want to listen to music, turn the speaker on and have the music in your pocket, in the background. That’s where it belongs on a farm during chores.
Use your common sense and you will be fine.
Julia Shewchuk owns and operates Serenity Acres Farm on 80 acres in Florida. Serenity Acres runs on solar, is Animal Welfare Approved-certified, houses anywhere from four to 10 WWOOFers and interns, and is the home to 58 dairy goats, 16 Black Angus cattle, 278 laying hens, 3 horses, 3 cats, 4 house dogs, 6 livestock guardian dogs, and 6 ducks. Read all of Julia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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