Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Little Remembering

Not very much of a surprise, but part of working at the farm means that I get to play with animals. I can watch them, listen to them, and take in their different personalities. I can feed them, smush them, walk with them, talk with those that wish to yack, or just sit with them against a pen rail and be quiet with them. The other week it occurred to me that I often have to remind myself that all these animals have terrible stories behind them.

The following may make you angry, but in a good way. It is also very much intended to make you smile. All of the following historical information comes from the written animal histories at the farm.

"Hollander" is a chicken who was found tied to a traffic sign in NYC. When I first came to the farm he was so heavy he couldn't walk more than several feet at a time and had to be picked up and moved at coop cleaning time. He now does a "running waddle" with the exuberance of a running toddler impressing a parent. All one has to do to see this is to approach the coop yard at feeding time. With "a leap, a bound, and a waddle" Hollander will come running straight for you.

"Olivia" is a goat who was left behind with two roosters when a family's house burned down. She was sporadically fed by a neighbor who eventually found Olivia a foster home before she came to the sanctuary. "Foster" is a word that Olivia is still familiar with. Olivia and "Dylan" (the farm's resident adolescent calf) are the best of buds. Dylan may now be spending much more time with the steer because he is a little older but Olivia has been Dylan's mentor, friend, and comforter from the beginning. Any success Dylan may have in the future will be in no small way directly attributable to Olivia.

"The Pigs". Many of the pigs came from some kind of truly wonderful and inspiring "Running of the Pigs" contest sponsored by a saloon in Colorado. The "winner" of the contest would be eaten by cheering local drunks. What would happen to the "losers" is anybody's guess. (Please DO NOT excuse the op-ed tone of this. These types of stories have always made my blood boil.) Thankfully, the owner of the saloon was convinced to cancel the event and the pigs were sent to a Colorado sanctuary. Later on, that sanctuary closed and the pigs then travelled across the country to their new home in Woodstock.

To spend any amount of time with the pigs means you will alternately smile, giggle, laugh, and feel all the right warm stuff. Your curiosity will be piqued, your ears will be alert to their repertoire of sounds, you will feel the pull to make some of the same sounds yourself, and you will walk away from them feeling better than when you approached them.

"Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis" are three adult male Holstein Steer. While in itself that might not sound so remarkable, as Jen explained to me, adult male Holsteins are not a common sight. The reason being that male Holsteins are killed for veal while they're still calfs as they aren't milk producers and they aren't beef cows. All three steer were originally found in dark, filthy barns as veal calfs tied to rails that wouldn't let them so much as turn around. As Jen also said, in terms of size "male Holsteins are Monsters!" Ralphie stands just about as tall as me (much taller if he fully picks his head up)and will stand even taller by the time he's fully grown as will the other steer. I drive a Hyundai. Weight-wise, male Holstein's top out just slightly less than that. They are huge animals.

Each of the steer knows exactly how powerful it is. Especially Ralphie. Ralphie knows his physical size and he knows yours as well. He is fully aware that he could cause you great damage. But that doesn't stop Ralphie from touching his nose to yours or letting you rub the vulnerable soft area under his two-foot long throat. And it doesn't stop Andy from licking your arm like a cat (complete with sandpaper tongue) or lowering his forehead close to yours so you can rub heads. Elvis doesn't approach people (at least me) much. As he always defers to Ralphie and Andy who approach first, he's content to just stand or lie off to the side, chew, and contemplate world affairs.

How often during your week do you encounter such power that equates with gentleness in such ways?

Naturally, every animal at the farm has a story. "Resiliency" is a word that I use whenever I describe to someone the animals at the farm. Each animal has experienced it's own horror show in the past and it's their ability to be just what they are despite their experiences that is truly amazing when one thinks about how past experiences changes us as humans. It's this same ability to be just who they are that makes me have to remind myself about the terrible places that they've come from.