When I was 11, my parents took me for an educational trip to Europe. Growing up in a (then) quite provincial, one might even say back-water, New England town, this overseas journey was mind- and soul-forming. It also introduced me to the concept of the “continental breakfast.” True, in the United Kingdom one was assaulted with vast loads of eggs, pig parts, and unidentifiable but distinctly smelly fish, but in the preferred lower continent, this pre-teen with a sweet tooth found it amazing that what was offered for the morning meal was fresh bread with sweet butter and jams. Or even better, just sweet cakes and sweet coffee. What a concept. I think, honestly, I’ve never gotten over it.
Even more delightful and surprising was the notion that one would eat dinner right around bedtime. I have never gotten over that, either, and the idea of eating dinner any time before 9 pm makes me gag. (Take note, future dates). Accordingly, I have trained my trusty flock to expect their dinner at a civilized, and, mais oui, continental hour. As far as I can tell, conservative albeit sensible farmers base their routines around the vagaries of the sun and would frown on my practices. Personally, I find that barn lights alleviate this uncomfortable constraint quite nicely.
Recently Louie the Morgan horse and Dee Dee donkey have been diagnosed with Lyme disease. This terrible illness has also afflicted two of the dogs here – Toby and Sam – and your very own Farmer Anne and, as far as I am concerned, should be completely outlawed in the state of Maryland. But I digress: practically speaking, this means that for our afflicted equines, their former diet of healthy hay must be supplemented with a twice daily bowl of grain heavily loaded with doxycycline. They could not be more delighted. The problem is that Dee Dee seems to start thinking about dinner at the ungodly hour of 5 pm and brays on and off until it is actually served at the proper dinner hour. She must be a Scot at heart.
I really love seeing animals enjoy their food. It’s a childish thing. Kids always want to “feed the animals”. While understandable, this is usually a Very Bad Idea. Kids and food and large animals with heavy incisors don’t appear to me to be a good combination. Kids also have an odd idea of what is edible. Kids’ parents also often have even odder ideas of what is edible, and I’ve more than once had to thrust my arm down a throat after hoarsely shouting, “you fed him WHAT?” It’s one of the myriad reasons I loathe petting zoos and now post signs here at the farm about not feeding the animals. But again I digress. Giving an animal food he likes and seeing him tuck into it is one of those direct pleasures in life, rather like washing dishes. (Dirty dish+ water and soap = clean dishes. Best job I ever had was in the Yale Pierson College dining hall dishroom, third and last digression.)
Creatures like to eat. The better the food you offer, the more they like to eat, and the more they love you. It’s so simple. My old dog Sage used to smack her mouth, chewing openly and with such gusto that it could have been made into a song. She was a dainty and lovely dog, and yet this open mouthed chewing was entirely feminine and life-affirming. I highly recommend it. Because of a disturbing book I recently read on factory farming (“Eating Animals”), I’ve now changed the dogs’ diet, giving them really high quality food from Canada (where regulations on animal care and slaughter are far more humane than in the US) and some locally produced raw foods (Origin and Aunt Jenny’s and no, I don’t own stock in either). The canine reaction to new food has been like suddenly offering kids ice cream sundaes for dinner. I only have to shout “dinner” and they are THERE, and they eat it all. Why do we assume that our animals are OK with eating dry pellets made from crap (quite literally) every day?
Because we humans pay the bills, do the shopping, and prepare the meals, I suppose we somehow think that we have all the answers to what our animals need, want, should have, deserve, and it’s “our call” if we buy convenient crap (yes, literally) or get them fresh grown food that requires work to serve up. I like convenience as much as the next person, and the extra minutes or hours added onto my day required to properly prepare the meals here are sometimes hard on me. And yet when I see their joy in the good taste, the palette satisfied, the bellies full, healthy sleek coats and bright eyes, I think about the good shepherd. If I am not willing to give them this, then what good am I doing?
Our local country vet, alas now retired, posted a quote on his practice wall: “If an animal eats, he will live”. Anyone who has gone through end of life care for either man or beast knows that death has started when eating has stopped. And so while we all live, we should all rejoice in the delights that spring harvest will soon bring – share the best with your beasts, eat the best yourself, support your local farmer by buying his produce, and remember that continental dining is not only about the hour but the enjoyment in true quality.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats