It has been eight years now since I had a dairy cow. I look forward to having one again, but I know this is not the time for me to try to have one in our life. Our summers are spent so much at camp, and winters are simply too cold without an adequate barn (yet). The time will come again, and I will be glad for it.
For me, the best part of having a dairy cow is what for some folks I have heard is the worst: the chores. The daily ball and chain. The day in, day out, heading down the hill to bring her in, wash her up, and sit beside her with your head resting on her warm belly as you lean over to milk.
Chores are a funny thing. People either love them or hate them, and I’m not quite sure what makes the difference. Is it something inside us, or is it the way the “chores “ are presented, as in, are they demanded of us and forced upon us, or are they our choice?.
Me, I love my chores. And they are my choice. I choose to start my day with routine, caring for the critters, being the “shepherd,” doing what I can do to provide while receiving quiet appreciation in return. I find comfort from structure in my life, and find satisfaction in self discipline. I live where no one tells me what to do, or when to do it, but the animals know by the light in the sky when to expect me to be there feeding, just as my boyz have their expectations of when I will have meals on the table for them. For some, I know, such demands and structures may be anything but pleasant. For me, they give a purpose and make me feel good knowing I am caring for others to the best of my ability. This has been my choice, the life I created, and enjoy sharing and caring.
I took two weeks away from the ranch early this December and went to Texas to work on my horsemanship. At the place where I stayed, I found myself still waking before light, having my coffee, then looking around for something to do. I didn’t have chores there, but I looked for some. And found some – even if it was just feeding the two barn cats, who took to liking this early riser!
The ritual of chores, morning and evening, frames our day – gives us a start and a finish. It is a positive, caring, nurturing practice. It is both selfless and selfish at the same time. Selfless in the way that you are giving of yourself to creatures that so depend on you for their basic needs (food, water, shelter). Selfish in the way that I enjoy being with them, take pleasure from their companionship – more so often times than I do from the company of people.
It is a quiet time, quite peaceful as at first the animals rustle around to get to their food, and then slowly settle in and take their time and mill around and enjoy. They work out their pecking order amongst themselves, who gets which pile of hay, who may share with whom. I walk amongst them, touching them, perhaps just laying a hand on their back as they lower their head to eat and relax in my presence, taking in the smell of their warm hair, always observing their behavior, inspecting for soundness.
For children, chores can provide unspoken lessons of caring, of self discipline and responsibility, of humility. I don’t need to remind Forrest that the chickens are waiting to be let out or closed up. They depend on him, always have. He raises them from day old chicks; he cares for them day in and day out as well. He has left the coop unlocked at night had knows the guilt and sadness of the resulting loss (thanks to the raccoon), or let them free range on a day that was too quiet to keep off the coyote, forgetting that we share this mountain (but hopefully not the chickens). His remorse from his loss, love from his nurturing, and pride as he comes in at night with pockets full of eggs, has taught him many of life’s most important lessons.