I am learning to move at the speed each task demands. This is a lesson the barnyard teaches. It is a good lesson for me to remember out of the barnyard, too.
The animals — seven goats, two sheep, 30 or so chickens, a couple of massive guard dogs and Jack the cat — sense when I’m in a hurry. My need to have been at work 15 minutes ago is instantly communicated when I arrive to feed and milk. The more I rush and bustle about, the more uncooperative and stupid they become.
The sheep, a young ram and his intended mate, are the worst offenders. Lately they’ve been confined in a paddock. This requires carrying food and buckets of water down a steep hill twice each day. The inconvenience is preferable to allowing them with the other animals. Then the sheep rush the gate at feeding time, and the days I’m short on minutes they generally succeed in knocking the buckets out of my hands.
If I do manage to get through the gate unmolested, the ewe and ram still usually eat the goats’ food. The ewe is adept at bumping her head against the underside of the feeding troughs. This causes them to unhook and dump. The goats are too hoity-toity to eat food that has touched dirt. Not the sheep, however. Down the pair’s great greedy throats it goes.
The ram poses additional problems because of his ardor for one of the goats. She is a particularly winsome thing. Light colored except for a dark stripe down her back, dainty on her hooves, with a fetching, come-hither way of twitching her tail. When not confined, the ram follows his chosen love about with a creepy, lascivious gleam in his eyes.
Though I cannot deny she has pleasing physical attributes, he was not brought to the barnyard to develop a case of I’m Romeo, please-be-my-Juliet for a goat – he is, after all, a ram. I find the ewe a pest, but she seems good looking enough to me, as far as sheep go.
But, I digress. On days I rush, even with the sheep secured, chaos reigns. Sometimes it’s the five-month-old, more than 90-pound puppy that is the culprit. Forgetting he’s supposed to guard his flock, not menace it, Tuck will snatch up a chicken in his huge drooly mouth. He looks confused and shattered when screamed at, as if he can’t believe anyone could be so cruel as to shout at an innocent pup. The poor chicken emerges from his vast jaws like some loathsome creature of the deep, feathers slicked down, strings of saliva trailing behind, wild eyed and staggered by the shock.
At other times, Brownie the wether has been to blame for my barnyard angst. A wether is a male goat that is less than he once was — neutered, cut, fixed. Not allowed to propagate because, frankly, he doesn’t bring all that much to the table. Brownie, just recently, was given a purpose in life. To serve as the male companion of a billy goat, who, at the exorbitant cost needed to acquire his regal services, probably would be well advised to bring a whole lot to the table, and quickly.
Until designated the billy goat’s particular friend, Brownie existed on this earth to annoy me. His level of resistance seemed directly correlated to the amount of time I had available to fool with him. The more hurried I was, the fleeter of foot he became. Sometimes it seemed as if he flew about the barnyard on winged hooves, suddenly and inexplicably transformed into Pegasus.
I have learned to hesitate before going into the barnyard. To gather myself, no matter how hurried I feel, no matter how late I am. Someone wise once told me farmyard animals love routine. That’s true. They also respond to calmness. When I slow my movements, everything gets done quickly. When I hurry, the barnyard falls apart. There was a book written some years ago about learning everything you need to know in kindergarten. It is taking me much longer than that. And I require a barnyard.