It’s drizzling outside today. It is days like today when I sometimes regret my decision to let our new puppy in our home. I had been very firm about one rule that could never be broken if I agreed to move out to our franch. Which was, we can have as many animals as our sanity (and our land) can handle as long as they ALL live outside. Every wife needs a place of refuge from the chaos of life on a franch. Well, I soon learned the meaning of the expression “give somebody an inch and they’ll take a mile.” My eldest daughter wanted to buy some hermit crabs with her hard-earned chore money and keep them inside the walls of our home. I figured what harm could they do – they’re approximately one-inch long and live their lives hidden. I justified my leniency with the expression “out of sight, out of mind.” I softened on my rule one time, and it was soon as though it never existed. Months later, the children carried their brand new border collie puppy over the threshold without a moment hesitation. I remember opening my mouth to lecture the children about the rule violation, but their genuine smiles and infectious laughter as they played silenced me. It warmed my heart to see the bond so quickly cement between a child and dog. So, on rainy days such as today, there are muddy paw prints all over my kitchen. There are still moments when I’m frazzled and threaten to re-instate the rule. But, I calm myself, with controlled breathing, knowing our children will remember their relationship with their dog more than they ever will how well I kept our home. Thankfully, “a little dirt never hurt anyone.”
The simple rubber band is a nifty item with many different uses that range from simple, functional purposes (keeping bundles of papers together) to clever, creative ones (turning regular jeans into maternity pants) to downright silly pranks (we’ve all been victims of the slingshot rubber band to get our attention). You’ll find a plethora of them in all shapes and sizes and colors all over your home. You will also find them in a barn. If you are easily made squeamish, you might want to stop reading at the end of this sentence. Why? Well, there is method called “banding” that all ranchers know. It is the most common method used to castrate a buckling or ram lamb by placing a rubber band around the male parts of livestock. We’ve had to perform this act a few times now. Our kids do not shy away from any opportunity to learn something new on our franch. But, for this franch task, it was a little awkward to hear, “Can I do it too, dad?” It turned out to be an impromptu opportunity to teach our curious children some real-life anatomy. My husband explained the different male parts, and how to make sure the testes is pulled through the band with the scrotum without forgetting to detail why that was important. Eventually, the male parts shrivel up and simply drop off after a couple of weeks. That’s all it takes – a rubber band. Squeamish yet? Perhaps, Stephen Perry wouldn’t have followed through on his invention of the rubber band in 1845 had he known castration would be on the list of its many uses. This same method is also used to dock the tail of our sheep. My daughter likes to search the pasture for the tails once they are no longer attached. It’s like a treasure hunt for her. Thankfully, she has been lucky enough to only so far find tails… It’s likely you will never look at a rubber band again without thinking about how ranchers castrate their livestock.
Several years ago we were offered two beautiful Nubian kids (a.k.a. baby goats by the franch layperson) for free if we promised to provide them with a loving home. These goats came with paperwork verifying their outstanding pedigree with great milking lines. Yes, someone actually keeps records of how well certain goats produce milk over the course of history. We knew if we just left them in the front pasture to eat our weeds, it’d be a waste of all the careful planning and time of the breeders listed on the pedigree. Anyhow, I was ready to get them milking after reading all the existing literature on the health benefits of goat milk. The demands of the franch often leave little time for exercising, so I was all for a healthy beverage option. I was also starting to plan how I’d spend all our savings at the supermarket not having to buy milk every week. I think my husband was anxious to get milking because he wanted to show off his pinch-n-roll technique he mastered milking cows in his youth. At first, I thought this would be an easy endeavor. Well, of course, goat utters don’t just start producing milk because you want a cold cup with your cereal every morning. They need to have babies. So, the buck arrived and, if you remember, ruined the innocence of my children. After five months of waiting, there was finally milk! Though it wasn’t for me yet – the goat kids had first dibs. So, there I was with three more animals to care for and my cup was still empty. My anticipated savings at the grocery store was spent on a homemade milking stand, udder cream, teet wipes, milking buckets, milk jars, milk strainer and filter, and more. I needed to get drinking to make up for all that. Finally, the day came when the kids were weaned, and it was time for us to enjoy some wholesome milk. It was truly wonderful (after I got over that the milk was just squeezed with my own hands out of the udder of an animal in my backyard). Well, we certainly got what we wished for as the milk just wouldn’t stop flowing and flowing and flowing. Our goats were together producing about 1 to 2 gallons a day. That pedigree was no joke. We were milking twice a day every day. Our refrigerator was filled with gallons of milk. Initially, I didn’t want to waste even one drop. I made the children feel guilty for not finishing their milk by saying it’d make the goat sad (not my finest parenting moment, I admit). It just kept coming. We were soon exhausted. Instead of quiet evenings gazing at the stars, we spent hours learning how and making almost every kind of goat cheese possible. And still there were jars of milk on the counter. I’m tired even thinking about it again. It’s important to give goats some time off from milking for them to stay healthy and, we learned, for us too. After months of milking, it was truly a relief to see “milk” scribbled on my grocery list again.
Life on our franch is unpredictable. So, there are days when we don’t make it out the front gate as planned. Other times, we actually do make it beyond our fence, but it’s way later than intended. It’s humbling for us as parents because we teach our children the importance of promptness and how changing plans last minute is disrespectful of others. We also lecture our children to accept responsibility and offer simple apologies for doing wrong without giving excuses. We discourage “I’m sorry, but…” in our home. Yet, my husband and I are often apologizing and giving excuses for being tardy and changing plans after something unexpected happens on the franch. One day, dinner wasn’t ready for out-of-town guests because we spent the entire afternoon walking our colicky horse in circles. Our daughter missed basketball practice when our cow was noticeably in labor (and we didn’t want to miss the birth!). We were well over an hour late meeting friends at the town plaza for the Christmas event because we first needed to chase and catch all 15 of our chickens (who hadn’t yet gone in the coop on their own for the night). I missed a school meeting because I was hauling a calf we sold to its new home. Then, there’s the one time the children and I missed church while my husband was deployed because our sick dog, who was happy to see me, wagged his diarrhea-soaked tail and I didn’t get out of the way in time. Once the children were late for school because the cows were found grazing on the wrong side of the fence during morning chores. Unfortunately, we had to cancel a weekend getaway reservation when we were off on due dates and our goat unexpectedly gave birth to twins the night before. Sometimes, these excuses elicit a laugh from the offended party having never heard anything quite like it. Usually, there are just stares of disbelief in response to our excuses. Occasionally, my integrity is questioned with a suspicious response similar to, “And, did your dog eat your homework too?” Well, I know I’m not practicing what I preach to my children with all these examples of excuses for being late or missing events. I’m really sorry, but we live on a franch.