Carole Soule

Did you know that a steer can be a great companion? Joe, an oxen-in-training, shares a moment with author Carole and Flora.

Like many girls, I wanted a pony when I was growing up. That was a long time ago — in the 50s when the Sears catalog was the Internet marketplace of the day. When the 400-page catalog arrived, I would search for the page advertising a $200 pinto pony that, if ordered, would be shipped to my house in a crate. Would Amazon do that? Probably.

Since I didn't have $200, I created an imaginary pony. When my mom drove me to the supermarket, he would magically appear outside the car, and I would canter him up to the store door, where he would wait until I emerged with Mom. Then I'd mentally load the groceries into his saddlebags, and we'd canter back to the car — or maybe lope all the way home. I'd pretend to ride him in the woods behind my house, where he'd carry me to a pond and munch on leaves (what an 8-year-old thought was horse food) and watch as I caught imaginary fish. He lived in the garage (everyone knows horses are not allowed in the house), waiting for the next adventure.

Now that I have three real horses, I can see the merits of an imaginary horse. Little me had the joy of an imaginary pony with no hard work to keep him fed and housed. I dreamed of owning real horses, but not of owning dozens of cattle. Yet here they are!

Another surprise: Cattle be as much fun as horses with lots less fuss. For instance, cattle have four stomach chambers, which make them champion digesters. They aren't picky eaters like horses. Cattle tend to tolerate flies that would drive an average horse mad. And they can be ridden, too.

But mostly, it's the nature of cattle that has captured my soul. They are calmer than my horses and are more affectionate, in a gentle, soothing way.

Curious Bleu, a 9-year-old Scottish Highlander steer, doesn't question why I put a saddle on his back. He is happy to walk around the barnyard with a child on his back. Joe and Ted, my oxen-in-training, stand without complaint while I yoke them and cooperate when I ask them to pull a tire. They are willing partners, and as long as I'm fair, they listen and do what I ask. Of course, we do most of our real farm work with a tractor and other machinery. Using oxen to move logs and rocks is my way of turning a chore into a good time with my enormous pets.

My cattle are my special joy, and I've been sharing their good company with young people this summer.

I'm hosting another educational half-day summer camp with youth ages 10-14 on Friday, Aug. 13, here at Miles Smith Farm. There are still a few openings if your child would like to join in. For details, visit https://milessmithfarm.com/farm-camp.

By the way, two more calves have joined our herd. Rose and Francine both had bull calves last week. Like all babies, they are wicked cute, so stop by the farm during store hours (Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to say hello.

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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products.

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