Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Cow Poop Trail and Other Educational Wonders

     I followed a brown cow splat trail for about three miles up the asphalt road in front of my house yesterday. A sure sign that the neighbors have been on their annual spring cattle drive, moving cows and calves from winter pastures. Highland’s valleys are too narrow for there to be much open range for cattle moving, so most people load them onto a truck and drive them to greener pastures. But, Mike and George-Ann prefer an old fashioned cattle drive, so they saddle up and bring the herd down the road. It’s a raucous trip with mama cows and their calves bawling as they lose sight of each other and humans hollering directions back and forth as they work to keep the bovines away from open gates and front lawns.
     But, I don’t think those cows and calves were nearly as noisy as the ten girls from the city who came to visit grandparents this weekend. John and Jean entertained their granddaughters and eight of their friends as a special birthday gift for the just turned ten year old girl. Their back mountain adjoins us and as I was upstairs finishing some writing, I heard what I thought was a pack of coyotes carousing on the mountain. Turns out it was just a pack of excited ten year old girls walking down the backside to visit us. John and Jean’s grandchildren often come to see us when they’re up because we have a menagerie of dogs, chickens, horses and lambs to pet and feed and kiss and hug. The birthday crowd had hiked over to see what animals might be available for the city girls to visit. We have a bottle fed calf in the barn who was terrified by the shrieking, giggling, galloping crew, and the chickens got quite a workout running from long-legged girls in pink boots , but it was good fun to see the joy on the girls’ faces as they bottle fed the calf and gathered eggs.
     Visits to the farm are important to city kids. There are so many things they don’t know about the food they eat. One of the little girls asked me if we had to give the hens shots to get them to lay eggs. Another asked if the steers out in the field were milk cows. When I first moved out here, I was every bit as ignorant. I once admired a ram in the field noting that “she had one of the biggest udders I’d ever seen on a ewe.” Turns out the thing hanging down between his legs had nothing to do with milk. And Joe used to take advantage of my ignorance. For the longest time he had me convinced that he grew a special breed of mountain cow whose legs were shorter on one side than the other to accommodate standing upright on steep hills.
     I’ve come a long way. I can tell by the poop on the road which breed of animals has recently been herded by. I can tell the difference between orchard grass and alfalfa in a field from a moving car. I can tell the boy animals from the girl animals with one glance and just this morning I squeezed out a half a bottle full of milk from an engorged mama ewe so her lamb could nurse.
     I’m blessed to have received my country education and glad to share it with others. The happy sound of children squealing as they tried to catch chickens or bent down to kiss the calf was the highlight of my day. I hope it meant as much to them.

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