People always assume that farmers get up before the dawn. Since I grew up in the city, I couldn’t tell you why. Is it to milk the cows? And why would cows prefer to be milked before the sun comes up? You’d think a new mother would have had her hands full all night and might appreciate a bit of extra shuteye in the morning. But noooo, those serious farm dudes in flannel shirts get up at 4 and are yanking on her poor tired udder not realizing that SHE had not had the benefit of a cup of coffee.
Perhaps it’s because roosters crow early in the morning. But roosters also crow at 10 am, noon, at tea time, before dinner, and any old time they feel like expressing themselves including many hours before the dawn. This “farmers get up early” thing seems so illogical to me that I’ve taught all the animals here to sleep in.
In fact, mornings when I have to leave the house by the ugodly hour of 8 am, the dogs are still sacked out, uninterested even in a morning biscuit.
But we do have a schedule here. In fact my entire social and professional life revolves around making sure that I am here to feed exactly a half hour before dusk. Try to do it earlier, and the animals are involved in napping, grooming, trying out new weaknesses in the fences, picking on each other, and other generally industrious activities – not that they won’t be willing to eat early, but they will fully expect their regular meal, as well, exactly a half hour before dusk.
This poses a distinct problem for me with regard to Mr. Newman Goat because he’s got the schedule memorized. The week before last, in fact, we had to have words. I need to tell you that having words with Mr. Newman is really not something any of you want to try anytime soon.
It started with the ducks. Getting the ducks herded into their pens for the night is probably the most aggravating task I can think of. In fact I think I’d rather shovel out week-old fermented urine-soaked straw than herd those ducks. Let’s just say that while some of them are extremely cooperative and sweet, and head right to their spots when they’re supposed to, there are certain stragglers who to all appearances are, well, really not the brightest crayons in the box.
Or as my friends at school like to put it, “They’re one fry short of a Happy Meal”.
Anyhow, on this particular evening, after quite a bit of effort on my part all ducks and geese were in their pen (where is the border collie when you need him?). I dallied just a moment longer than usual in the feed room, and came out to find that Mr. Newman had bashed in the gate of the pen, and let all of these guys back out again.
Quacking and complaining and confused (they get confused at the drop of a hat), the ducks scattered, the geese screamed deafeningly, and I told Mr. Newman if he tried it again I was gonna wallop him (NB: this was NOT a serious threat). But he understood me.
Damn, if he didn’t understand me. He said “You want wallop, I give you wallop” and gave me a bruise that Rambo would be proud of.
Not able to deal with the herding thing again for the moment, I turned my attention to getting the horse’s and the steers’ meals ready. I went back to the feed room, started measuring out their feed and suddenly Mr. Newman was pushing his way in. There is an ‘ante chamber’ to the feed room, constructed of galvanized steel panels solely for the purpose of keeping Newman out – but sometimes that gate doesn’t latch correctly and sure enough, my luck was running a blue streak that night; I shut the feed room door, went about my business thinking there was nothing Newman could do in the antechamber but stew. But when I came out I saw he had discovered a very old bucket of orange powder electrolytes meant for equines. He had buried his chin in it, and as he raised his head to look at me, he grinned with a terrible orange moustache painted across his lips, reminiscent of “The Joker” in Batman.
That did it. I simply couldn’t have a goat with an orange mustache running my life anymore, and I did the unthinkable: I told him he would get no cookies for a week. Now I am sure there are skeptics on this list who think, “Yeah, yeah, cute goat story; she’s just making it all up – he can’t be that smart.”
I am here to tell you that this goat sulked VISIBLY for days, did not want to be touched, did not want anything to do with me, the volunteers, the visitors, or anyone else walking on two legs.
Until last night. Yesterday we tilled the back pasture, which was destroyed over the winter. I had gone out to dinner quite late and when I returned, it was raining softly – the perfect type of rain to help grass seed germinate. So at 2 am I got out my sack of pasture seed and spent the next hour broadcasting grass seed by moonlight, followed like the Pied Piper by a herd of sheep and ….. Mr. Newman Goat. And yes, he got a cookie.
When I was a child I believed the legend that on Christmas eve at midnight the animals start talking. As an adult, I think in fact that they talk *every* night at midnight, and beyond – under the stars, when the moon is out. What’s really lovely is that they don’t speak all sorts of unnecessary noisy words like we do; their speech is musical, philosophical, honest, and always to the point.
The moral to the story is that farming in the moonlight is a little known joy in the western world; I wonder if I can patent the idea?
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats