Tree Change - City to Farm.
I spent most of my life living the rat-race of city living. I had no option but to retire early, and when the opportunity came to live on a farm, away from it all, I took the challenge. I spent many years there, three of them full time, and many a time I was left on my own, to manage as best as I can. The experience has enriched my life more than I could ever have imagined.
Tragedy on My Watch.
I sat on the grass and cried, and cried, and cried. I stroked her brow and she looked at me, pleading with her eyes. "Make it go away, please. . ." I wiped her tearless face and her eyes spoke of the pain, deep, deep within her. When I could cry no more, I prayed.
Farmer came back to his home and he knew what to do. She was now in good hands. My prayers were answered. I went inside, washed my face and calmed myself down.
Maggie gave out one or two loud cries and it tugged at my heart. After all, one female understands another! Then I heard the thin cry of a newborn kid, a cry of the hope of a new life. When I went back outside, the kid was already standing on its four legs and Maggie was washing him down.
How Did I Get to be On A Farm?
Until a few years back, I had not even come close enough to a chicken to touch. I could tell you where the restaurants were or what exhibition was on at the gallery, but now here I was, on many hundreds of acres, holding the fore-hoof of a goat having a hell of a time birthing. The first year had taught me much; but not how to play midwife to a goat.
When I first arrived on this farm it seemed to me that it was in the middle of nowhere. In truth it was a mere 30 ks out-of-town. Then, I could barely tell the difference between a goat and a sheep, and I was the butt of many a joke when I asked which one was the bull, let alone knowing that a steer is a castrated bull that is reared for beef.
I was enjoying the most deliciously fresh country air, with goats, sheep and cows , dogs and cats, geese, chooks and colorful birds. I got to know many of them just by their faces. I knew others by the way they used their voices and their body-language. It was to me as clear as day. They, too, knew me. Some of them still recognize me now, years later, when I go visit.
I learned that what I used to refer to as a ‘white goat’ is called a Saanen goat and that it is a good milker. The Saanen, a fine boned in [mainly] all white, seems to have no problem in keeping the coat pristine. It has erect ears forward bent, and some may have fine looking horns. They lock horns mostly in play, but the young bucks can do each other quite a bit of damage if they are vying for supremacy.
The brown ones with floppy ears are the Boers and they are produced mainly for meat. They are better suited to harsher conditions, shorter in leg and need less maintenance than the more delicate Saanen, but the extra care is well worth it as the Saanen is one of the best milkers. Maybe I imagine this, but I feel the Saanens are the most intelligent goat I have come in contact with.
I learnt how to bottle-feed [goat] kids two at a time, and I wished I could have doubled that at times!
A sheep will take her lamb with her everywhere and I have always marveled at the way a lamb seemed to be able to keep pace with the mother, perfectly synchronized!
The goats on the other hand, seemed to lead their kids to a hollow in a rock, and leave them there, often in the company of other kids. The kids would play together, climbing whatever they can find to climb; sometimes it was my car that was their slip-and-slide frame for the game. I soon learnt to park it outside the fenced yard!
When the kids got tired of playing they would huddle together and sleep till their mothers came back to feed them.
Goats are intelligent creatures, and they behave similar to a dog. They get to know you and they like coming close even if it is only for a scratch on the head.
It was all very interesting, and I got involved in keeping records of the breeding and cross breeding of these herds, and had much fun choosing names for new ones. Each year the names would start with the next letter in the alphabet. That way it is easy to know how old each one is!
So one year we have Faith, Freda, Felix, Falcon, next we had Greta, Gaby, Grunt and Garth. Then we go on to H names and the year after all names started with J, which was a wee bit more difficult!
I learnt how to handle a farm animal, or a mob of them, how to protect myself from them and how to protect them from the dangers around them, which are many.
The electric wiring works on an on/off pulse pattern, so it is not dangerous, but it does have a sharp bite. Most young ones soon learnt not to get too close to it, but from time to time you’d hear a yelp, and it was not only the four-footeds that did the yelping. I too learnt what it felt like, from personal experience!
Would You Take the Challenge?
Dogs with Real Personality.
The Maremma dogs lived with the goats or with the chooks, or wherever they were placed and guarded the animals with a fierce protectiveness from dingos, snakes and whatever else might have managed to sneak into the paddock despite the electric wiring. Sometimes eagles came down to grab a chook or a small goose.
These dogs were originally bred on the Italian Alps to guard the flocks on the icy mountain tops, and are geared to living outside with thick fleecy double coats which protect them from the cold and also from dingo attacks. The Australian summer can be pretty hot and they tend to dig deep holes to lay in. They are in search of damp earth to keep them cool. They can be affectionate and playful towards anyone walking into the paddock with Farmer or me, but no one I know would dare put a foot inside the fence if we are not present. Yet, they never touched a chook or a lamb except to sniff and give it a lick.
These beautiful creatures are so intelligent that they seem to know instinctively what they are to do. Sam, the Godfather of them all, was of course in charge. He would perch himself on a high rock where he could survey his mob of goats, sheep etc. . . If any of them wandered off too far, he only had to let out his long, deep, Wooof, and you could see their heads coming up and soon they turned tail to walk back from whence they came.
Where he marched, they followed. So all I had to do was to call S-A-A-M, or whistle to him, and in due course I’d see his bobbing white tail moving towards me, with the sheep and the goats following dutifully. If they dawdled, he’d give them his warning Woof, and they got going again.
I had so much fun tending to the 13 pups born to Sam and Juno. They were absolutely gorgeous and at one point in their young life, they were gaining 1kg per day. Pity that we could only keep 3 of them, so now there were 5 dogs on the farm. Juno and Sam and Kimmie in one big paddock – they are most effective when in a pack – and Boof and Prancer in the smaller paddock.
A couple of Dingoes can wreak havoc in a mob of sheep, especially if lambs are present. It is a heartbreaking sight to find a lamb or a small goat ripped apart and still breathing.
If dingoes are hungry enough they will brave the momentary discomfort of the electric wiring to gain access to a good feed. But with 2 or 3 Maremmas there, they haven’t got a hope. The Maremmas will make their presence known, and that is enough for most dingoes to give that paddock a miss.
Gunyah, the Gentle Giant.
We also had a few cows and a big, big, bull.
I could stand in front of this bull much, much higher than I am tall, and wave my arms and say 'Back, Gunyah, back!'
He would eye me, sullenly at times, probably thinking to himself "I can crush you with just a little push you foolish woman!" ; which he could have, easily. But he never did; in fact, he would back up, slowly, slowly but surely. His mother had probably taught him to look up to the hand that feeds him, and he followed her teaching faithfully which is more than can be said for the way our human race behaves!
Here I was in this magical place, out in the open, loving the way each animal responded to me. Animals do not lie, and they do not give mixed messages.
Do I miss being behind a large desk, facing daily challenges?
You gotta be kidding!
Image A- Lic CC0_2 Flickr
Image B- Pixabay - License: CC0 Public Domain / No att required
Image C- Lic CC0_2 Flickr
Image D – Lic CC0_2 Flickr
Image E – Lic CC0_2 Flickr
Image F - Private Collection
Image G –https://www.pinterest.com/pin/106467978669396286/
Image H - Private Collection
Thank you for reading my story. Have you also done something out of character in your life?
I'd love to hear about it.
© 2015 Marie L Boler