On our (itty bitty) farmette we have 2 Old English Southdown Babydoll sheep, 18 chickens plus one rooster, 3 muscovy duck hens, 2 angora rabbits and a little rabbit of unknown breed that is just as sweet as sugar. These wonderful animals supply us with farm fresh eggs daily and the most beautiful fiber for spinning and knitting. And in return, we feed them and house them and protect them and care for all their needs.
Keeping livestock, or any animal for that matter, is a big responsibility. They depend on us, on a daily basis, to ensure all their very basic needs are met. It is such a beautiful, mutually beneficial relationship and not one to be taken lightly. It’s also a wonderful way to teach children about responsibility, healthy interdependent relationships, giving of oneself and also provides a great learning tool for understanding where the things we use really come from. Wool is not just brightly colored yarn that Mama buys from the store for knitting toys and woolens. It comes from sheep. Sheep that eagerly come running for treats whenever anyone even glances their way. Sheep that Mama sheared that wool from with her own two hands.
And eggs aren’t made by people or machines, lined up and waiting to be bought on grocery shelves. Eggs come from chickens and they come from ducks. Ducks that hide their eggs away and hiss if you try to take them. From chickens that like watermelon and, if you happen to walk into the hen house or barn at just the right moment, you can wait for and watch lay those eggs right before your very eyes. And when you scoop them up after the hen walks away, they’re dark brown and so warm.
The main gathering area for our animals is directly behind our house and you can hear the rooster crowing in the morning and hear the sheep, bleating for one another, come on now! We have a rule, people do not eat before our animals have been cared for. So, after my girls and I are up and dressed in the morning we all head outside.
The girls very eagerly help with chores, filling water tubs, feeding rabbits and chickens, ensuring the sheep have fresh hay and collecting eggs. It takes just a bit longer when they help, but it’s so worth it to have them involved. Such joy it brings them to interact with and care for our animals.
It isn’t practical for everyone to have a barn yard in their backyard. We are very blessed to be able to have such a close relationship with them. But, perhaps your family has a cat or dog your child can help care for. Even very young children can help scoop food into a bowl and then are overjoyed to watch the animal eagerly eat what they provided. They can also help groom some pets with a soft brush and gentle hands. Local farms are also a wonderful way to show children the origin of things we all use but frequently take for granted.
When approached with love and respect, human/animal relationships can be so beautiful and rewarding. Let’s not forget to teach our children this, as well. Through them we can witness a generation that treats animals with respect and dignity, instead of a means to an end.