It's the winter season of holidays and celebrations: Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year. This year of the pandemic is so different from others. Family gatherings are limited, warm indoor celebrations are banned, and chilly outdoor activities are the norm. Then Mother Nature dumped more than two feet of snow on us. After two days of cleanup, which included getting the 6-ton skid steer (kind of a small bulldozer) stuck in a snowbank twice, I have time to appreciate the beautiful blanket of white that covers the mud ruts and bleak, brown landscape. We lost a chain in a snowbank, but it'll turn up in the spring.
I also appreciate all the encouragement you, my readers, have shared, especially from two women named Karen. The first Karen and her daughters brought a carload of pumpkins to share with my cattle and told me about her late husband, Kevin, who enjoyed reading about Miles Smith Farm.
Another reader, also named Karen, gave me a Christmas ornament – a figurine of Santa riding a cow. She wished me, "Happy Holidays and a short winter." Amen to that!
Others have stopped by the farm, purchased meat, said nice things about this column, and shared their childhood experiences on an uncle's or grandparent's farm. I, too, have farm memories — sort of. When I was a kid, we'd visit my grandparents in Hillsborough, NY, a farming community near Albany. At Christmas, the extended family would settle into their house, which was a converted barn. One of the bathrooms had once been a stall for a horse named Daisy. My favorite room was a tiny alcove off one of the bedrooms. The nook had one window and space for a single bed and no other furniture. I'd spend hours snug in bed reading "Lord of the Rings" or some other masterpiece, occasionally looking out the window at the neighbor's cows pastured across the road. Even then, the countryside was my happy place.
Some of you have lived on a farm, some have not, but I bet most of you have a pet. Pets are one way many of us connect to our "farmer-selves." Raising a dog and raising a cow have similarities. For instance, a dog needs to express his "doggie-ness" just as a cow must express her "cow-ness."
Dogs descend from prey animals who spent hours hunting for food. According to Cesar "The Dog Whisperer" Millan, this is why they need twice-daily walks with their "pack" (you), followed by a meal – just as a dog would get at the end of a successful hunt. No matter how tired we are at the end of the day, a dog's need for an outing must be honored. I'd thought it was just for reasons of sanitation.
Cattle have a special need, too — for the companionship of other cattle. And that companionship comes with a hierarchy. A cow, or sometimes a steer, controls the herd, but there is always a leader. In the wild, she or he would be responsible for finding water and food. Thanks to the farmer, food, and water are easy to find, but the herd is still deferential, letting the leader drink and eat first.
Whether you own a dog or a steer, you and I are both involved in livestock care and feeding. So your connection to farming may be stronger than you'd thought. (Now, CATS are something else; they think we are their livestock.)
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com) where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.