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Ask Farmer Brown
I was raised on a family farm in south central Michigan. We raised beef cattle and occasionally had other animals, such as dairy goats, rabbits and pigs. As early as I can remember I worked on the farm doing whatever I was capable of. We were always helping out our neighbors with whatever needed to be done, from baling hay to building fence. We had a tangible community, an extended family.
Like other farm kids, I spent many hours doing chores, which became a kind of meditation for me. If I were digging post-holes I would get into a rhythm and time would pass like nothing. I also spent time feeding and caring for animals, and I would talk to them about most anything and I swear they understood. Growing up, it occurred to me that there are two kinds of livestock farmers: those who do chores and go about their business, and those who talk to the animals and look in their eyes. To me there is a certain knowing and peace in an animal's eyes which always gave me comfort.
Spring calving was a special time for me ó I would come home from school and run out to the pastures to see how many new calves there were. Living in Michigan posed one challenge in spring, that was snow. Sometimes a calf would be born in the snow, which could lead to pneumonia. At that point I would carry the calf to the barn and put the calf and its mother in a stall. Sometimes I would need to set up a heat lamp and cover the calf with a blanket. Usually the calves would pull through okay, but occasionally we would lose one. This was a difficult for me, probably because I had spent so much time with the calf, sometimes falling asleep with them. And it wasnít so much the loss I felt as much as watching the mother grieve. I did what every good farm kid did and blocked it out, shut down to what I had to do.
In retrospect it was a kind of death of my spirit, the ability to shut off the emotions and feelings I felt for the animals and replace them with a steely resolve to be a man. It is an interesting capability to be able to live one moment in your heart and the next in your head with no balance or compromise. Or, at least no compromise until the job was done. I needed to understand this duality, this incongruity in myself.
Now that many years have passed and the community I once knew is mostly gone, I realize that our callousness to the animals was proportionate to the decay of the community. What we are seeing in factory farming, the commodification of animals into production units, is having a proportional effect on the farming community and the lives of those involved in the industry. I have chosen to find a healthier, more compassionate way to live and to promote the ideals of farming community.
This, like myself, is a work in progress ó so letís see what happens and learn together.
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