Friday, November 11, 2011

Feeding season again

It’s a mid-fall seasonal ritual: the resumption of livestock feeding.

From May through October, the cows graze. That makes life easier for the rest of us. I see them as I drive by or run alongside their pastures, but I don’t interact with them much. They graze and mingle in the fields; I focus on human pursuits.

But for the other six months of the year, I spend time with them daily. I head out to the barn in the morning and they follow me right up to the gate. I climb the ladder to the hayloft and they stand below, watching me. I shoulder my way among them to move a bale or cut the twine around the hay and they subtly shove back, reminding me that my shoving is no match for their shoving. Or even their gentlest nudging, for that matter.

I’ve been doing the cows’ daily feeding on my parents’ farm for the past three years, not out of obligation but because I was outdoors on the earlier side of the morning anyway, letting the dog run around and then going running myself, and it just made sense to take on this responsibility since I was right there already.

But for the past several months, I thought my job with the animals was over. The logistics of farm life have changed over the course of the year; now there is a significantly greater number of animals in the herd, and also more farmhands involved, so I was told there was no need for me to continue.

But rituals, like habits and water, have a way of carving their own paths. I had thought the herd had become too large in number for me to navigate my way around comfortably, but then for husbandry purposes they were separated into small groups in three different pastures. And it turned out I was still the first one out in the barnyard in the morning, letting the dog play and getting ready for my daily run. So once again, it just made sense for me to climb up to the hayloft and throw down some bales while I was out there anyway.

And even though it seemed like giving up this duty might not be such a bad change when I contemplated it a few months ago – surely that extra ten or fifteen minutes every morning that I’d save from not entering the barnyard would come in handy – now that I’m back into the feeding routine, I’m so glad I didn’t have to give it up after all.

I love the way the animals watch me walking toward the barn, the way they low in anticipation of their morning meal, the way they mill and shuffle and edge each other around as they wait for me to make my slow way to the hay supply. I like the way they lower their big faces into the bales once I finally deliver on my promise, and the way they ignore me as I make my way between them once they’re eating.

It’s not an affectionate personal relationship like the one I have with my dog…or my kids. I just like being around them. It’s been part of my day during the cold-weather seasons for the past three years. I know they don’t particularly care who shows up in the barnyard at eight o’clock each morning. My company doesn’t mean anything different to them than any other human’s. But their company means something to me. It’s a tradition, and I’m happy that once again this November, the bovines and I are spending time together.

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