“…for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.” ~Psalm 50:10-11
We’ve had our little farm just three years. Not long in the grand scheme of things. But you’d be amazed what a mama can learn in three years, especially when it comes to animals. And kids of course.
An especially poignant day comes to mind when this mama found herself in the surreal situation of stuffing the way-back of her Ford Expedition full to the ceiling before sunup one morning, cages and kennels teetering while she drove through the early morning dark, her children’s faces in the rearview, solemnly brushing the lint off their white fancy shirts, combing their hair and their coon skin caps and quietly practicing their showmanship routine.
Guinea pig shows will do that to a family. You see, this raising animals gig ain’t for the faint of heart. I said it after my kids raised the roof and cleaned house with their little pig herd, winning ribbons and prizes and honorable mentions as I just sat bewildered, shaking my head slowly. I told the judge then and I maintain it now, you just never know what road you’re gonna travel once you become a mother.
And that’s the way it is with farm life too. We’re little. We have pets on the barnyard, not dairy cows or beef cattle. Our little herd of mini horses and goats are just fun family members who fill our table talk and empty our checking account. We’re not pros, heck we have to pray for strength and fortitude before we even butcher up a few chickens. Big ranchers are tough and strong and get thrown off bulls and cut their hands on barbed wire. We’re what you’d call a much softer, fluffier version of that. Think petting zoo. But not quite as cute. That’s us. With a buncha guinea pigs and a two-toed rooster thrown in.
Large scale farmers or not though, we’ve still learned a peck about life from these crazy animals. In fact, I’d venture to say I’ve learned more about life and love and how this whole operation works in the three little years we’ve had this crazy little farm than I probably did in all the years before hand. You see, when God made animals, He gave them to us humans to take care of. And yes, some animals are with us just for companionship and to keep our feet warm at night, and that’s a wonderful thing. But there’s more to it too.
The way I figure it, as long as this big old world keeps spinning, and no matter what happens on it, there will always be animals. Always. For friendship, for work, for transportation, for eats. Where there are people, there will be animals. And as long as there are animals, there will always be a need for people who know how to care for them. So that’s what we’re doing. We’ve set out to learn. We’re learning how to care for animals. And in learning how to care for animals, we’re learning a whole bunch about how to care for people too. These are just a few of the tidbits we’ve garnered:
Life is messy. Farm life isn’t like what we see on t.v. The farms on t.v. have us thinking barns clean themselves, manure evaporates, animals quietly graze on grass all their livelong days and no one ever gets sick. Or when they do, a quick visit from the vet fixes them up lickety split. Life, real life, is messy.
And you’ll more than once find yourself standing in a pile of poop, wondering how you got there, and having no other option than to just take your shovel and get after it. But after a few times of mucking, it’ll get to become a little more familiar. It won’t be so alarming after you’ve been through it once or twice. You’ll get better at dealing with the poop. And you might even start to figure out ways to head off big messes. But it’s still going to always be there. In life, there’s poop. You just gotta learn to deal with it.
Life is unpredictable. You learn to deal with messes and may even get good at it. But then, on farms, and in life, something’ll get thrown at you that you have no idea where it came from or how to deal with it. The pony will get sick and you’ll find yourself giving him shots in the neck twice a day for two weeks straight even though you can barely calm the shaking in your hands. Or the hedgehog will develop a very sudden onset of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome one morning which will force you to ask your husband twelve hours later if he wouldn’t mind just getting it over with by gently sending the poor animal to the hereafter while you and the kids run into town. Things happen that you’d never even think of when you woke up in the morning and the older you get, the harder it is to deal with sudden happenings, but the easier it gets too because when it comes down to it, isn’t that real life? Interruptions…Surprises…Messes…Unpredictable.
Life needs our attention. When you’ve got critters, you study them close and you study them long. You come to know what an animal needs from you. You understand more than anyone else on earth what they need for food, shelter, routine, training, affection. That animal has specific needs as an individual. You are the person that been commissioned to meet the needs of that critter. If I don’t study the critters on my barnyard, if I don’t know what they need, I’ll wake up one morning to a loose animal, a sick animal or a dead animal. It’s my job to give them my attention.
This life needs our attention.
Careers, worship, recreation, sports, education…all contain one common thing: people. There are people under my roof I need to study close and I need to study long. They have needs that only I can meet. I’ve been commissioned. I need to know how they learn, what their favorites are, what makes them thrive, what makes them shrivel.
Who needs your attention? Study them close and study them long. Make sure they’re warm and fed and sheltered and that they have your affection. We don’t want our people lost, or sick or spiritually dead.
Life needs our commitment. As I write, it is six degrees below zero. Yesterday it was 15 below, the day before 17 below zero. It gets dark at 4:30 p.m. This will go on for months, at least four, usually more like five, depending on our weather pattern. The animals on our barnyard don’t comprehend these details, but they have a keen understanding of when they’re too cold, when their water has frozen solid, when it’s chow time and who brings these things to them. Life isn’t a joy ride. It gets ugly, it gets messy and it gets cold. You have to do it anyway. Because you committed to it and because there are critters, and people, who need you.
Take care of the outcasts. Every herd has an outcast. That one who’s never invited in, who tends to stand off alone, sometimes by choice, but most times because they’re driven off. Jesus took care of them. We have to love them. And they’ll love you right back. Forever.
My little horse is an outcast. So she eats first on our farm. Every day. She still bristles though when I want to come in close. Her first instinct is to want to run. But when I use my soft voice, and gently reach out to her, she’ll come in close and let me hug her neck. She stands still and her eyes go soft. She’ll blink, almost in puzzlement. Then she’ll sigh. She receives my love. She knows that I love her even though something in her just wants to run. Even though she feels outside of the herd, she knows she is safe with me.
I’m an outcast. Somewhere, somehow, aren’t you one too? Don’t we all sometimes feel like we don’t fit? Like we want to bristle? To run? And if you don’t, trust me, someone you know does. We’re walking and talking with folks on this planet every day who’ve been run off, who aren’t invited in, who are just plain scared of the herd. Love them. Jesus told us to. You might help heal their heart. And you’ll both have a friend forever.
Kindness usually works. When an animal is mean, it is usually because it is scared or sick. Sometimes people are mean. They are usually scared or sick too. Don’t be mean back. Kindness usually works.
It doesn’t always go the way you’d hope. Death is part of life and even though we hate it, we’ll have to say goodbye to those we love. It will almost break your heart in two to see an animal you’ve loved, tended to, syringe fed, kept hydrated, administered shots to – lying there lifeless, eyes dull, no more movement in their once-strong muscles. It will break your heart in two to see the tears rolling down your children’s chins as they look on that same animal. But it will happen. It’s part of life’s natural process and seeing death in our animals helps us appreciate life with our people all the more.
Life requires help. It might be in the form of getting the sweet neighbor boys to do some work for you, or hiring a babysitter, or someone to mop your floors, or asking your best friend to go for a walk. We aren’t an island and this life wasn’t meant to be solitary and we need people. Especially during the extra messy times. When we try to walk it alone we walk it hard and in the hardness bitter is born. We need help.
It takes two. When I carry one bucket I’m a weakling. I slosh the water all over my pant leg and into my boot and bring a half empty haul to the trough. When I carry two I am strong like a teenaged boy and deliver full buckets to the barn. It’s uneven with one. Heavy. Too much to carry. It takes two. It’s balanced with two. God wasn’t kidding us when He said it right there in Ecclesiastes 4, “two are better than one”. Friend. Family. Spouse. Neighbor. Pair up with someone. Get a buddy. Share the load. In this life, it takes two.
There’s more. So much more.
Like how I’ve learned so much about my obedience to God when I train my misfit mini horse. How some animals will listen to certain people but treat others like poo on a shoe. How maddening that is, in animal world and in people world.
How sneaky little goats make you think they’re the cutest thing in the world and then you turn your back and they cause a ruckus that raises the roof, much like a willful and exploratory two-year-old.
How a rabbit will warn all in the hutch of oncoming danger. They look out for one another and will even let kits from another nest nurse and move into their nest if need be. They instinctively take care of the helpless.
How some things are just good plain fun to watch and bring tranquility. Like a flock of chickens. Talk about boring and tranquil entertainment. And even then, there’s the blessing of eggs. Life doesn’t always have to be serious and industrious. We sometimes need a little boring entertainment. A place to sit. Something goofy to watch.
And when we do, even in the boring…
…we’ll find blessing.
© Cassandra Rankin, This Crazy Little Farm