It wasn’t until I was thirteen that I moved out to the country. My parents owned twenty-eight acres of woods on a dirt road that was home to one other house…a farmhouse down the road.
Up till now, my only experience with farms and farm animals had been at the fair where I would be envious of the kids my age who hung around with cows, sheep and goats and especially the horses. I had lived with my mother at the edge of the city in a small house with a postage stamp sized backyard always being reminded that some kids didn’t have a yard to play in.
Needless to say, moving out to practically the middle of nowhere seemed wonderful to me. It was quiet, albeit a bit lonely.
One day as I arrived home from school, I walked into the breezeway to find two cows standing on our wooden deck staring right at me through a sliding glass door. They were eye level to me with nostrils steaming up the glass and a slimy drool.
It took me a moment to realize that they were more likely staring at their reflections in the glass than me, but not wanting to take any chances, I ran inside and called my stepmother.
“Oh, those are the neighbors cows.” She didn’t seem too concerned. “They’ve visited before. Just stay inside and I’ll call the owner.”
Sure enough, about an hour later a man walked down our driveway, small boy in tow, carrying…a stick. That’s right…just walking with a stick. How in the heck was he going to move those big cows with just a stick?
By now the cows had moved on from their reflections and had found some nice grass…in the front lawn. They had even been kind enough to fertilize it for us.
I ventured outside to watch what the man with the stick would do. The boy came up to me and said hi so I asked, “How is he going to move those cows with a stick?”
“Oh, once he moves Bess, the bull will follow.”
Yes, folks, apparently the big one with the white face and tiger stripes (as I called them) was a bull and he had been following his “sweetheart” a Jersey cow.
The man wacked the cow on the rump and hollered at her and as he chased her up the driveway, the bull followed right along. Within a few minutes they had headed up the driveway and down the road.
I didn’t know it then, but that would be my first foray into farming and living sustainably though it would be many, many years before I really understood what that meant.
My parents had bought me a dozen chickens and we had been selling the eggs to pay for their food. Shavings back then were free if you went to the sawmill and packed them yourselves, so we essentially had free eggs. Later on, I would get a chance to milk “Bess” getting my first lesson in cows. We bought raw milk from the neighbors and I had my first taste of fresh yogurt and learned how to “zip” peas.
In the years that followed, I worked on horse farms and learned how to ride, I continued to raise chickens on and off and when I had a space of my own, I learned how to grow my own vegetables.
That day the cows came to visit wasn’t the last time. They came and visited (and fertilized) a few more times after that until the neighbor finally found the spot in the rock wall where they kept getting out. The next year a calf was born and the bull went from pasture mate to freezer. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, having finally gotten over my fear of the big guy. The kids who lived there told me that he tasted awfully good.
Today I have my own country fair in my backyard filled with friendly sheep, goats and chickens. I have a large garden and I zip my own peas. Next year we will be milking our goats and if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even get a “Bess” of my own.
It’s a lot of work maintaining a farm. There are always repairs to be done, wood to be stacked and, yes, fences to be mended. But when I get to share my wonderful organic zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes with friends and family and when we jar and pickle our wonderful crops, it is all worthwhile. I couldn’t ask for a better life or be any happier.
And it all started with two cows on the deck.