It isn't often that a "city girl" gets to go live and work on a farm. Visit one? Definitely! But to be immersed into the farm life for several days? Not likely.
To be honest, I haven't always been a city girl. I grew up in a rural area in central Illinois, in a small town named Fairbury. I like to joke and say that my house was situated between a corn field and a bean field; however, the truth was that my entire town (of a bustling 4,000 people) was framed by corn fields on all sides. The beans were on the other side of the corn fields.
Just because I lived in a rural area didn't mean that I was a "farm girl". Many of my schoolmates lived on family farms, taking care of livestock and tilling acres of land. The fall harvest season and spring planting season meant reduced attendance in high school classes, as my classmates were needed to ensure the crops were tended to.
During my time volunteering at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary for my new book, I got an up-close and personal look at what it really takes to run a compassionate farm. I also battled some emotional barriers I had enclosed around my heart over the years.
5 Things I Learned About Farm Life While Volunteering
- The farm is a unique ecosystem. Tamerlaine Farm is dependent on people -- many of them -- and highly structured systems. Let me explain. Every day, 120 animals depend on humans to feed them, water them, and care for them. Two times a day, minimum. And because this is a farm where they give the utmost care to the animals, food preparation can be quite involved. We made "soup" for the pigs -- large gallon sized water bowls were filled with cut up potatoes, greens of various varieties, water, and pig feed. And the chickens received mixtures of vegetables we processed in the food processor -- an assortment of greens, carrots, herbs, liquid vitamins, and chicken meal. The humans also needed to eat their three meals a day. Vegan food was prepped by whoever had kitchen duty, dishes needed to be washed, and the kitchen needed to be cleaned. Every worker and volunteer had a specific role during each shift, so that things could run smoothly.
The work is never done. On one of the last evenings I was at the farm, we were finally sitting down to eat dinner around 8:30 PM. It was calm, the animals had been tended to, and the humans were happy to take a break. Then, out of the blue, we learned that while Ferdinand the pig was on his walk, he decided to eat a powdery, yellow mushroom. Was the mushroom poisonous? Did we need to check the pig for symptoms of respiratory aspiration? Who would watch the pig throughout the evening? A flurry of Googling took place and phone calls were made to friends who were vets, in an attempt to see if Ferdinand had ingested a poisonous mushroom. In the end, Ferdinand was fine, and the humans finally got to eat!
Animals poop a lot. No one really prepared me for the amount of poop I would be dealing with. The chickens might have been the worst offenders. Hen houses needed to be mucked and new straw laid down every couple of days. The poop from the poultry in the chicken hospital had to be tended to multiple times a day, because many of the birds weren't able to move themselves out of the mess in the cages, due to damaged wings and limbs. I haven't dealt well with poop in the past either, often dreading when it was time to change a niece's or nephew's diaper. And, I didn't deal with it too well at the farm either. In one particular instance, I was glad no other worker witnessed my negative reaction when it was time to clean Mr. President's (a large turkey) cage. Maybe I did it wrong? I simply put on some gloves, grabbed some paper towels and began wiping. But, the poop really just smeared and seemed to increase tenfold. My eyes were watering, and I was trying to breathe through my mouth -- but that was strange because it then felt like I was "eating" the poop fumes. Then, the intense gagging started. Not pretty. Pretty embarrassing, actually!
Sad things happen and animals die. This book project is not only about volunteering and learning new things through service, but it's also about learning how to handle situations better. It took me years to have the courage to own a pet -- after almost every childhood pet died tragically (The school bus driver ran over my dog one year.), had to be put to sleep, or ran away. At a young age, I decided it was wiser for me to put walls around my heart and not own pets, because I wouldn't have to deal with death and sickness. These reasons were some of deciding factors I chose to work on a farm. I'm an animal lover, and I know that I needed to get past the emotional barriers I have built and learn to deal with my discomfort in a positive way. While at the farm, I cared for chickens who were lame and couldn't move, turkeys who were limping and crying out for attention, and Clara, the pig, whose eyes had contracted a yeast infection. It was sad. I spent time talking to these animals, petting them, and massaging them. Thankfully, they all were making progress, and none of them died, but I was seriously wondering how I would react if I had to witness a death on that farm?
The right clothing is essential. Thankfully, I bought some work boots the day before I left for Tamerlaine Farm. I was considering wearing sneakers, but Gabby, the founder, talked me out of it. And -- I now know why! Had I worn sneakers, they would have been caked in poop and soaked with the morning dew present in the fields and grass. I would have been miserable! I also realized that I needed to pack more clothes than I had anticipated. It wasn't uncommon for me to change my soiled, sweaty clothes at lunch each day in preparation for the second half of my shift. I severely underestimated how dirty I would get and how much clothing I actually needed!
I left Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary a changed person, as well as grateful for the experiences I had while volunteering there. I often say, "live is for living". To me, living fully means learning new things, meeting new people, and being stretched out my comfort zone so I can continue to grow as an individual. This volunteer experience did all of that for me -- and gave me time to snuggle some really adorable animals in the process!
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