A few years ago a friend brought her children here for a farm tour. They had so many questions which inspired me to write them a story. I found it today on my external hard drive and decided to share it with you.
“Mommy, how many days till Saturday?”
“Tinley, you just asked me that yesterday. Here, look at the calendar.”
Saturday was highlighted in bright pink, my favorite color. Grandma T., who I was named after, (the T. stands for Tinley), gave me these highlighters for my birthday. I use them for marking special days on the calendar or coloring or marking stuff I like in books, not the ones I get from the library, of course. Once I colored Stella’s nose pink but Mommy told me the markers were for paper not cats’ noses. Written on the calendar was Schooner Farm. One more day.
Schooner Farm is so far away. Daddy says it will take us 30 minutes to get there. I’m taking some books on farm animals with me in the car so the ride will go faster. Daddy went to school with Mr. Schooner and he’s been promising to take me to their farm to see their animals for a long time. We’re not allowed to have farm animals where we live because we live in a circle of houses Mommy calls a colt of sack. I don’t know why you can’t have chickens or cows when you live in a colt of sack but Mommy says we have to follow the rules. When I grow up I’m going to live on a farm where there are no rules and I can have any animal I want.
“Here we are,” Daddy announced as we crossed a bumpy bridge Daddy said was a cattle guard used to keep the cows from running away from home. I liked the way it felt when we went over it and asked if we could do it again. Daddy said, “on the way out.”
It smelled funny at the farm, nothing like where we live. “Buck, I’d like you to meet my daughter Tinley”.
Mr. Schooner shook my hand and it felt like my hand got swallowed up by a gigantic, and I mean gigantic, cat’s tongue. His hand was warm but very scratchy. I sniffed my hand afterward and Daddy looked at me, frowned and shook his head. Mr. Schooner was almost twice as big as Daddy and smiled a lot. I could tell he and Daddy were happy to see each other. There was a boy standing on the porch staring at us. I wondered if something was wrong with him because he just stood there not doing anything but staring. He was really tall like Mr. Schooner.
“Jackson, come here and meet my old friend, Mr. Carson, and his daughter, Tinley.” Jackson walked toward us but stopped 10 feet away and didn’t look at us. He mumbled something that sounded like hello. “Tinley, you and Jackson are almost the same age. Your moms were in the hospital at the same time having babies. Speaking of babies, I’m glad you came today, Tinley, because one of our does had babies this morning.”
“You have deer?”
“No, goats. Female goats are called does just like female deer.” I think I saw Jackson smile at this. “Would you like to see them?”
I nodded. “I saw baby goats at the zoo once. They chewed on my shorts.”
As we got closer to the goat barn I smelled something very bad. I held my nose. “What stinks?”
Jackson giggled. His dad said, “Oh, that’s our buck.”
“You named him after yourself?”
“No, that’s what a male goat is called, a buck. We keep a buck here at the farm so we can have babies. They give off a smell that some people think is unpleasant. After awhile you get used to it. If you think he smells bad now you should smell him during breeding season.”
I had no idea what he was talking about but I was sure I didn’t want to be here during breeding season if the buck smelled worse than this. I forgot all about the smell after Mr. Schooner opened the big sliding door to the barn. One of the goats greeted me by rubbing her head up and down on my leg. “That’s Luti, our herd queen. She wants to be sure she gets attention before any of the others. She’s going to have babies this week too.”
“I think she likes me.” Almost all the goats came running into the barn when they saw us in there. One of them stuck its nose in my pocket. It tickled.
“She’s looking for treats.” Mr. Schooner said. “Over here is Poppy and her triplets.”
“Whoa, triplets?” Daddy asked.
“Yes, many goats have twins and triplets. Some breeds even have 4 and 5 babies.”
“Wow. What are they doing? It looks like she’s squishing one of them.”
“He’s ok. They’re nursing. She’s a good mother and will be sure not to squish them. Even new mothers seem to have the instincts to take care of their babies and the babies know just what to do too. There’s plenty of room for them to get away if they need to. They really need very little help from us.”
“What happened to their ears?”
“They’re LaManchas. That’s the way they’re supposed to look. They have very tiny elf ears. See how one of them looks like it has no ears at all? Those are called gopher ears.”
“I think those are really cute,” Jackson said. I was surprised by the sound of his voice. I think we all were. He hadn’t said anything up to this point.
“These goats are Jackson’s responsibility. He feeds and milks them and cleans up after them. He even decides who we should keep and who we should sell.”
“You sell them?”
“Well, we can’t keep all of them.”
“I wish I could buy one.”
“Even if you were allowed to have goats where you live I wouldn’t sell you just one. Goats are very social animals and need a companion. A single goat would be a very unhappy goat. You’d have to take 2 home with you.”
“Oh Daddy, couldn’t we get 2 goats?”
“Honey, you know we can’t have them where we live.”
“We should move then.”
Daddy smiled. He asked Jackson, “How much milk do you get in a day?”
“From 6 does I’ll get about 4 gallons of milk at peak but I’ll get more next year because some of these mothers are first time fresheners and won’t give as much because it’s their first time kidding.”
HUH?! Was this the same boy we met earlier? And what in the world did he just say? I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to sound stupid.
“What do you do with all that milk?” Daddy asked.
“Jackson and his mom make lots of wonderful cheese, yogurt and soap and if we can’t use it all we feed it to the pigs.”
I love cheese, yogurt and soap. I’m definitely going to be a farmer when I grow up. “In my book I was reading on the way here, the goats had horns.”
“These goats would have horns, too, if we didn’t disbud them. Jackson, do you want to tell them what that is?”
“They aren’t born with horns but when they’re a few days old they start getting bumps on their heads. My dad and I use an iron to burn the bumps so they won’t grow into horns. It really stinks and it makes me feel bad when they scream and cry.”
“It’s hard to do but we know it’s for the best for our goats because they won’t get their heads stuck in fences or buckets or hurt each other or us with them. The burning only hurts them for a little bit and then they’re back to bouncing happy babies again.” Mr. Schooner added.
“I’d like to taste their milk,” Daddy said.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to escape without Jennifer offering you some of our milk before you go.”
“What does it taste like?” I asked.
Jackson answered, “Milk, what else would it taste like?”
“More people in the world drink goat’s milk than cow’s milk,” Mr. Schooner said. “The US is one of the few countries that drinks cow’s milk almost exclusively. Most Americans don’t know what they’re missing.”
“Do you have cows?” I asked.
“We do,” answered Mr. Schooner. “But ours aren’t milk cows. We raise cattle. A cow is a female and the males are called steers or bulls. They’re raised for meat.”
“You mean you kill them?”
“We don’t kill them. We sell them to other people and they usually have them butchered so they’ll have beef in their freezer for the year.”
“You know how much you like hamburgers, right, Tinley?” Daddy asked. “That’s how you get your hamburgers only we buy it at the store. I’m beginning to think we should buy it from the Schooners though.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. “I’d like to see the cows.”
“Of course. We have about 20 head of cattle but a large number of them will be gone this summer.”
We walked over a hill and I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. It was all so green and the cows had their heads bowed and looked very calm. A few were lying down and I wanted to lie down with them. We walked closer, close enough to see the wet, shiny noses on a few. I think they had the prettiest eyes I’d ever seen. How could anyone kill an animal this beautiful?
I must have said that out loud because Jackson answered.
“That’s what farmers do. They raise animals so people like you and me can have meat.”
Mr. Schooner added, “We like to think our animals live a good life until the very end. We treat them with respect and give them all an animal could need in the way of comfort and food. We feel we’re raising them in the most healthy environment we can and in return we get good healthy beef.” We stood there and watched them for a long time. Mr. Schooner broke the silence. “It’s about time for lunch. Anyone hungry?”
Jackson and I both said at the same time, “I am.”
Mrs. Schooner, who was really short, like not much taller than me, had lunch all ready and the table was set like she knew we’d be there at that very moment. She had a really round face and freckles. I’ve never seen an adult with so many freckles. She reminded me of Mandy, my doll I played with when I was just a little kid. Daddy hugged her and even Daddy looked tall next to her. “Jennifer, this is my daughter, Tinley.”
“She looks just like you, Ted. Tinley, I’m so glad to finally meet you. I don’t know why we’ve waited so long to have you out here. She hugged me too even though she didn’t know me. I felt like I knew her though. It was nice. “Would you like milk with your lunch?”
“You bet.” Daddy said.
Mrs. Schooner poured us big glasses full.
“Wow, it DOES taste like milk, only sweeter than the kind we get.” I said.
“This is delicious, don’t you think, Tinley? Daddy asked. I nodded. “It’s a little richer than what we drink at home because we buy skim. I forgot how good whole milk is.”
The adults did most of the talking during lunch. I couldn’t have talked much anyway because my mouth was always full. This was the best lunch I’d ever had. “May I have some more bread, please?” I asked. “I’d like some more milk too if there’s more.”
“There’s plenty more where that came from.” Mrs. Schooner said.
“Did you make this bread from your own wheat?” Daddy asked.
“She did. She also made the blackberry jam.” Mr. Schooner boasted because he knew Mrs. Schooner wouldn’t. She smiled at me and told me she’d send some bread and jam home with me to share with Mommy. I don’t know how Jackson could be so skinny when his mom was such a good cook.
“Mrs. Schooner, are you going to go with us to see the rest of the farm?”
“Tinley, I would love to join you for a little while but then I need to take care of some chickens for a dinner being catered for a local business in Lancey tonight.”
“Can I help you take care of them?”
“Honey, I don’t know if your dad would want you to see that.”
“Daddy, can I help her take care of the chickens?”
Daddy looked at Mrs. Schooner and raised his eyebrows. Mrs. Schooner tilted her head to the side, looked at me and then back at Daddy. I didn’t know why this was such a big deal. How hard can it be to take care of chickens?
Daddy kneeled down and said, “Tinley, Mrs. Schooner has to process some chickens. Do you know what that means?” I shook my head. “It means she has to kill them and prepare them for someone’s meal.” That was not what I was expecting at all. We stood there in silence. Mrs. Schooner didn’t look like that same bubbly woman I met an hour ago.
Mrs. Schooner finally jumped in and said, “I’d like to show you one of my favorite animals here on the farm.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sheep. We raise sheep for their wool.”
“Yes, we shear them in the spring, clean the fleece and make it into yarn so we can make clothing out of it. Most of them have been sheared already.”
“Wow, I’d like to learn to do that. Do you make clothes for Jackson?”
“Sometimes. I’ve knit him hats, gloves and sometimes sweaters. Maybe someday you and I could spend time together and I could teach you to knit your own mittens.”
Mrs. Schooner and Daddy laughed. “Well, we’ll have to talk to your mom about that and pick a day. How ‘bout I walk with you to see them. Maybe you saw them when you visited the goats. They’re in the pasture just beyond.”
There were brown and white sheep. The ones that were sheared looked kind of like goats but when I went in their fence they wouldn’t let me pet them like the goats did. I got real close to one but when I reached out to pet it, it darted away. Finally one of the young ones let me touch it. It had been sheared and was very soft. I would like a pair of mittens knitted out of fleece from this sheep. Mrs. Schooner told me it was still a lamb. “They’re called lambs until they’re a year old. Her name is Nightingale.”
“Do sheep make milk too?”
“All female mammals make milk when they have babies but these sheep don’t make enough for us to milk them and make cheese like our dairy goats. They just make enough for their babies. Many of them are getting ready to have babies soon. I wish you could see their new lambs. They’re very cute and it’s fun to watch them play.”
Very quietly I asked, “Do you eat these too?”
“No, not very often. Mostly we raise them for their fleece but occasionally when we have too many boys we’ll raise one or two for meat.”
“Why the boys?”
Mrs. Schooner paused and looked hard at me.
“Never mind,” I said.
“What kind of dog is that in there with them?”
“That’s our Great Pyrenees, Simon. He’s our livestock guardian dog. He keeps coyotes and other predators away from our animals. I don’t know what we’d do without him. Last summer we had 22 lambs born here. We couldn’t lock them up at night because there wasn’t enough space and the sheep like to sleep outdoors anyway when it’s clear and warm. We went to bed early but were awakened around 2:00 to barking like we’d never heard before. We knew something was wrong so Mr. Schooner rushed out to see what all the commotion was about. When he arrived at the pasture he saw a bear standing on its hind legs with Simon standing on his also. The bear was twice his size but Simon would not back down. The more Simon pushed the more the bear backed up. This continued until the bear was cornered and had to turn around and leap back over the fence, which was a great accomplishment for a bear his size. Simon didn’t care how big that bear was. He was going to protect his charges no matter what. He had no fear for himself. Now we sleep easy knowing Simon has his eye on the flock.”
“Did Simon hurt the bear?”
“No, he never touched him that we know of. He just intimidated the bear so much that the bear had to leave.”
“Wow. Simon is so brave.”
“Yes, I think so too. Tinley, I need to get those chickens ready for the dinner tonight. How ‘bout I take you to find your dad and Jackson?”
“May I watch you kill a chicken? I promise I won’t cry.”
“Tinley, it’s ok to cry over animals dying. I cry lots of times when I butcher animals.”
“Oh yeah. I grow very attached to some of the chickens and turkeys. Sometimes I cry even when I’m not very fond of an animal. I can’t explain it. There’s something about taking the life of another creature that makes your heart ache and you can do nothing but cry and give thanks for all that they’ve given you. We once had a turkey named Rocky.”
“I go to school with a boy named Rocky. Actually his name is Randolph but everyone calls him Rocky. He’s the strongest boy in my class. He can do 15 pull-ups and no one else can even do 10. He’s very smart too.”
“That’s funny because Rocky the turkey was also very strong and smart. One morning I went out to feed the animals and the whole turkey yard was flooded. There was water everywhere. I blamed Jackson for leaving the water on when he was filling buckets the day before. He said he didn’t do it but I didn’t believe him. Two days later it happened again. This time I was pretty sure it couldn’t have been Jackson. When I turned it off Rocky walked right past me, grabbed the handle with his beak, flapped his wings and lifted himself off the ground, pulling the hydrant handle up and turning it on full blast. All the other turkeys came running over and drank and danced in it like children playing under a sprinkler. If they could giggle I think they would have. We ended up having to put a lock on the hydrant so he couldn’t do it anymore. Oh he was a real nuisance sometimes but I cried like a baby when he died. We never got to butcher him though because something else got to him first.”
“How come Simon didn’t protect him?”
“We didn’t have Simon then and I’m not sure he could have protected him anyway. Rocky refused to sleep in the turkey house at night with the rest of the birds. He insisted on roosting up in trees. We gave up trying to catch him to lock him up each evening and then something else killed poor Rocky. Come on, let’s go find your dad.”
Mrs. Schooner took my hand and we walked, skipped and talked until we found Daddy, Mr. Schooner and Jackson feeding slop to the pigs.
“Yuck, they like that stuff?”
“Believe it or not they do. I don’t know how many other animals would eat egg shells, moldy cheese, spoiled milk, apple peels and a chicken carcass,” Mr. Schooner said.
“They sure grunt a lot. What are their names?”
“Guess,” said Jackson.
“Umm, I don’t know – are they girls or boys?”
“Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup?”
“Nope, that one’s Oscar, that one’s Meyer, and guess what that one’s name is.”
“Nope, Frank.” Jackson laughed so hard he snorted.
“Those aren’t girls’ names.”
“They are now,” he said, still laughing at himself.
“That’s stupid,” I said, but I couldn’t help laughing myself. The more Jackson laughed, the harder I laughed. Daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Schooner started laughing, too, even though I don’t think they knew why we were laughing.
“Oscar, Meyer and Frank are pretty happy pigs,” I said. “Look at their tails wagging while they eat. I think they’re cute. Did you get them when they were babies?”
“Yeah, we got them when they were 8 weeks old,” Jackson answered. “They were even cuter then.” Jackson seemed like a different boy than the boy standing on the porch when we got here.
The pigs finished eating and started running in circles all over their yard. I couldn’t believe how fast they could run for such big animals. “Their noses look like the end of an elephant’s trunk, don’t they?”
“Those snouts are very tough. See how all that ground is dug up?” Mr. Schooner asked. “Three pigs did all that with their noses. That’s a lot of ground to till.”
“Tinley, we’re going to a farm just down the road to get a part for Mr. Schooner’s tractor. Would you like to go with us?” Daddy asked.
I looked at Mrs. Schooner. “I thought I was going to watch you butcher the chickens?”
“I think maybe I should do that myself but if you get back and I’m still processing then you can watch if your dad says it’s ok.”
“We should probably get going then,” Mr. Schooner said.
“Can we ride in the back of the truck?” Jackson asked.
“I suppose that’s ok since it’s only a mile away, if that’s ok with you, Ted.”
“That’s fine with me.” Daddy said.
It seemed like we just got in the truck and we arrived at the farm. A lady in overalls met us in the driveway. “Hey, Buck. Who’d ya bring with ya?”
“These are my friends, Ted and Tinley. Ted and Tinley, this is my good friend and neighbor, Lorrie.”
“Nice to meet ya. Welcome to Hog Heaven Farm.
“Thanks. Nice to meet you too, Lorrie.” Daddy said. “It’s a beautiful place you have here.”
“Thanks. It ain’t as pretty as Buck’s place but we like it pretty good.”
“Miss Lorrie, Jackson says you have a bunch of pigs and turkeys. Will we get to see them?”
“I’d be glad to show ‘em to ya. Let me take care of that part Buck needs first and then I’ll walk ya out to the barns. Glad to see ya wore your boots. It can be pretty messy in the barns.”
“Mommy told me not to wear flip flops to a farm.”
“Your mommy’s a smart lady.”
We walked into a huge garage filled with lots of tractors and other farm equipment.
“Buck, I think this is what ya need. I took it out of my Dad’s ol’ Allis Chalmers. It should do the job for ya.”
“Thanks Lorrie. You’re the expert.”
Daddy looked at me and winked. I think he thought Miss Lorrie was funny.
“Ok kids, let’s go check on the porky pigs.”
Daddy held my hand. He could see the smell was getting to me the closer we got to the barn. We entered a very long building and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw and smelled. There was an aisle down the center and on each side were pens of hundreds of pigs. The moms were lying on their sides with babies nursing and climbing all over each other to get their share. The mom looked like she had no room to get up. I looked at Daddy and his mouth was open. “Daddy?”
“It’s alright, honey.” I could tell he didn’t think it was alright.
“Miss Lorrie, why don’t they have tails?”
“We cut their tails off so they don’t chew each others’ off and make a bloody mess.”
Jackson yelled, “Miss Lorrie, there are some dead babies in the aisle.”
“Every now and then a sow squishes her kid and kills it so we have to take them out.”
“Oh,” whispered Jackson. I could tell Jackson hadn’t seen this before and felt just as bad as we did. I wanted to ask when they got to go outside but I think I already knew the answer to that. This was a very different sight than watching Oscar, Meyer and Frank racing around wagging their curly tails.
“Can we go see the turkeys now, please?” I asked Miss Lorrie.
“Of course. I’ll meet ya outside in a minute. I need to take care of a few things in here before I go. Buck, why don’t ya take ‘em to the turkey barn and I’ll meet ya there.”
We walked out and I gasped for some fresh air. Daddy was squeezing my hand a little too tight and I had to pull it away. “You ok, Daddy?” Daddy was looking off to the side of the barn where we saw Miss Lorrie throwing the dead piglets into a pile outside.
“I’m fine, honey.”
Mr. Schooner walked us quickly toward the turkey barn. He turned to us and said, “I’m sorry you had to see that. I should have warned you. I’m afraid the turkey barn isn’t going to be a whole lot better. At least they’re still young and it won’t feel so crowded. In another few months they’ll be very large and packed tight in the barn so they can hardly move. Some will be so fat their legs won’t hold them up anymore.” Miss Lorrie walked up and Mr. Schooner stopped talking.
“This is just one of our turkey barns,” Miss Lorrie said. “We have another one next door where we have some that are older.”
Mr. Schooner said, “I think the kids would rather see the young chicks.”
It was very warm inside. “What are those lights for?” I asked.
“Those are heat lamps to keep the chicks warm until they get enough feathers to keep themselves warm.” The chicks were pale yellow and very cute and fluffy but it smelled pretty bad in this barn too. Miss Lorrie let me and Jackson hold one. It peeped and then cuddled under my chin. “We have over 500 chicks in here. These are fast growers, the kind you buy in the grocery store at Thanksgiving.”
“Mrs. Schooner told me a story about her turkey named Rocky who knew how to turn a faucet on and slept in a tree at night.”
“We don’t name our turkeys and these birds will never see a tree, let alone sleep in one.”
We watched them pecking at their food for awhile till Mr. Schooner said it was time to get back to his farm to feed his turkeys.
“Thanks for showing us around,” Daddy said.
“Sure, come back anytime,” Miss Lorrie replied.
I didn’t think I really wanted to but I didn’t say that because Mommy says if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Back at Schooner’s farm, Jackson took me to see their turkeys. He said, “We don’t have very many turkeys but ours get to live outside and eat bugs and grass. See that big pretty one? That’s a Tom.”
I knew that was a boy because we learned that at school. “The other 3 big ones are our hens. That one there hatched out these 3 poults. I don’t know if they’re boys are girls yet. They’re too young to tell.”
“Do you name your turkeys?”
“Of course. Guess what they are.”
“I’m not even going to try.” Jackson and I both laughed.
I heard Daddy call my name. “Time to go, Tinley.”
“I like your farm. Would it be ok if I came back to watch you milk the goats sometime? You can come to my house sometime too but we don’t have as much to do there.”
“I could teach you to milk. It’s not hard.”
“Tinley.” Daddy called again.
“I better go.”
We raced back to our car. Mrs. Schooner handed me a bag with some of her bread, blackberry jam, some goat’s milk and goat’s milk soap. “This is for you to share with your mom. Tell her to come with you next time you visit. I hope it will be soon.” She hugged me so tight I almost dropped the bag.
“I hope it will be too.” I said. “Jackson said he’d teach me to milk a goat. I want to learn to knit mittens too.”
“Well, Jackson’s just the person to teach you to milk and I’m sure we can find some time to knit too, Tinley.”
Daddy and I hopped in the car and drove down the driveway. I waved until I couldn’t see them anymore.
“Go slow over the cattle guard, Daddy. I want to feel every bump.”
When we got home Mommy greeted us at the door. I gave her the bag from Mrs. Schooner and told her we were invited back soon and she had to go with us.
“What’d you think of the farm, Tinley?” Mommy asked.
“I still want to be a farmer when I grow up and I want my animals to be able to run in the field and eat grass and play like at the Schooner farm. It made me sad to see Miss Lorrie’s pigs in that big, stinky barn where they had no room to walk. She said her turkeys and pigs are the kind that we buy at the grocery store.”
Daddy said, “Tinley and I had a real eye opening experience today. I think we should consider getting our meat from the Schooners or the farmer’s market where we can ask where the meat comes from and how the animals are raised.”
While Mommy fixed us dinner I got my markers and sketch book and drew all the animals I was going to have on my farm. I used lots of green to color grass for my animals to eat. When I was done coloring I showed it to Daddy.
“I like the way you drew smiles on all the animal’s faces.” He said and smiled.
I smiled too.