From JENN CAMPUS
Since I was small, I have always loved animals with horns and hooves, mainly goats and sheep, but also as I have gotten older, members of the cervidae family, like elk, reindeer and whitetails, all ruminants similar to their domesticated cousins. If there is a family of animals that I feel a kind of kinship and draw to, it would be ruminants. Yes, I love my dogs – they are pretty much kids to me, but the ruminants have always held deep fascination for me. Goats for example are the second domesticated animal after dogs, so the human race has a long history with them, as well as the cervidaes who have nourished and clothed humans for centuries. It is stored in our blood and DNA, and theirs too.
My whole life, I have loved working farms and petting zoos – where I could go and watch, get close to and touch domesticated livestock animals, always dreaming that one day I might have my own flock of sheep or mixed herd of sheep and goats – a modern day little bo peep, who always loved the black sheep! I have had some wonderful experiences working with these animals and they have left their hoof marks on my heart. For many years now, I have had a dream to be a dairy maid. First it was making artisanal ice cream, and then turned to cheesemaking, which has been my focus for the past few years.
Now that we are committed to and living the homesteading life, something we have both wanted to pursue for years, and made the decision to raise livestock animals ourselves, the reality of that, and what it all entails has really hit home, no longer in the fantasy world of my child’s mind.
Not growing up on a farm nor having any family members or friends living on farms, I am the first to admit my ignorance about dairy animals. I will admit without embarrassment, for example, that it was rather recent on the grand scale of time, that I realized that goats need to have babies in order to produce milk and in turn, that then there are those babies to deal with. I say without embarrassment, because like so many others, I was raised apart from my birthright as a human being. This was not my parent’s fault, but that of some many stronger, sinister elements which have made so many of us estranged from our food and where it comes from. Since the industrial age, children have been encouraged to leave home and the farm for a better way of life in the cities, getting “good jobs” and “making lots of money” – more fantasies. This shift in culture has removed us from our humanity, one that has lived and worked with livestock for millennia.
Responsible homesteaders who have animals under their care, must always look to the future, there is a lot of pre-planning that comes into play – like where to house them, how to keep them safe from predation, disease and parasites, when to breed your animals, how you are going to do that (there are several options), how many animals your land can support (and if it can’t support the mammas and all their offspring, how will you handle that) and where and with what equipment you will eventually milk them. These cannot be last minute decisions, as the survival of your animals depends on your ability to care for them and to look after their welfare. As much as these animals can take care of a lot of their needs themselves, as humans, who have been domesticating and breeding livestock to have certain traits (to the detriment of others) this is our greatest responsibility when we bring livestock animals under our care.
I felt that although I spent the year before we got our sheep and goats preparing by reading as many books as I could, talking to other farmers, reading blogs, etc, I wasn’t sure I was prepared for the next steps. Raising them to have a nice life is one thing, but when you plan to use them to feed your family, there are other considerations.
So for the 5 weeks of June this summer, I took a Farm to Table course of study at Sterling College and learned a lot about the ins and outs of running a farm, the little details of how various animals and plants work together to make a sustainable system. I read countless articles and book excerpts from amazing pastoralists, all with their different perspectives on sustainability, certainly a lot of fodder for homestead applications.
Then we learned how to make food from a variety of animal products, dairy and meat. But the food business entrepreneurship class was the one that really got me thinking about our animals, and our future together. There are some major stumbling blocks that appeared and started crashing in on my little fantasy world – hard decisions to be made.
It has not been an easy time. But these are the times for the greatest growth, understanding and compassion, and at the heart of it all, my love and deep respect for the animals under my care.