The Thing About Feet

I often wonder how the ladies in the beauty shops who do pedicures can stand to have their faces right up next to other people’s feet all day. Call me squeamish or a New England puritan, but I’ve really never much had any desire to touch anyone else’s feet (never mind place my nose up close and personal to these appendages). As a side note, to exemplify the Rhode Island ethic towards feet, our Halloween chant as kids used to be “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, and give me something good to eat.” We really don’t “do”, or for that matter, even discuss, feet up north. And as a matter of fact, I never even knew one could GET a pedicure until I moved to Maryland. But I digress.

Strangely in discord with this upbringing, in recent times, I have become intimately acquainted with more animal feet than I’ll bet ALL of you combined on this list have ever seen, times 10. OK, I exaggerate – perhaps times 5. Just today, in fact, I had occasion to give pedicures to a dozen or so sheep down at the National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, MD (www.accokeek.org/), where they have a living re-creation of life back in colonial days with a variety of animals living on site, consistent with the breeds and species.

Let me just say right up front that had anyone told me 10 years ago that I would willingly travel miles and miles, early on a Saturday morning, to bend over squirming, kicking, horned sheep who do NOT want to have their toenails trimmed (ingrates – I even offered them pink polish), I would have laughed and had another biscotti with my cafe au lait.

But we all mellow with age. We learn what is important, and I am here to tell you that feet are important. In fact, on a serious note, there have been felony charges brought against horse owners who have let their horses’ hooves grow so long that they curled upwards like elves feet. I’ve seen the same problem in sheep, goats, and even llamas. I suppose because one doesn’t ride or otherwise work these beasts, the protective laws and thus penalties are more lax (or sadly, even non existent). [I’ve attached four photographs to this story: 3 are of Angora goats from a job a few years ago, whose hooves were in such bad condition I nearly lost my lunch. The fourth is of our dear Mr. Newman Goat who receives regular toenail trims and whose feet show how goat hooves ought to look.]

And it’s hard to get people to deal with “livestock” feet. I’ve been shearing professionally for about 5 years now, and have met many a shearer who has said, squinting and spitting, “Nope, don’t do feet”. Shearers shear. They like to shear. Heck, I like to shear. Shearing is zen. Trimming hooves breaks the rhythm, slows you down. There are no goat farriers. There are no sheep farriers. Only fools half out of their minds will reach down to a llama’s rear leg (which can pack a punch hard enough to break a human femur) to trim those toenails.

But I do it.

The weird thing is …. I like the work. And the pay is lousy (I charge $2 an animal. That’s 50 cents a foot, or 25 cents a toe. Competitive rates for Bangladesh. I’m thinking about raising my rates to $3 next year, but I do worry that the farmers may revolt.) Oh, I’ll admit that prying out hardened bits of manure and grit from often foul-smelling toes is not my first choice of a day’s activities, but I love working with the animals, and I love knowing that when they stand up again, they not only walk better, but they will feel ever so much better about themselves – I’m sure of it. Who doesn’t feel better, no matter what kind of day it’s been, when they have had a really nice pedicure? (and don’t forget to tip!)

Till next time,

Farmer Anne