By: Stephen Jackson
Note: This blog is written from the perspective of the off-farm worker here at Machaven. My wife is the actual farmer. This blog is intended to give a little insight from my point of view into what goes on and some of the hard lessons we’ve learned. Through it all, though, we’ve been grateful to be here.
I casually tossed my keys on the kitchen island and called out to a seemingly empty house. I had just arrived home from work. So, I headed to the master bedroom to get changed out of my workday scrubs. Panda, our brindle farm dog, wined and sniffed the bottom of the bathroom door, tail wagging in happy anticipation of getting inside. I became aware of a chorus of cheep-cheeps coming from the bathroom. I joined Panda at the door. Already pretty sure of what I’d find, I opened the door to no less than 100 chicks in a playpen. Thankfully, it was a big bathroom. The garish, red brooding lights hung high enough from the floor to give them the right amount of warmth. The girls gleefully sat around on the bathroom floor, each holding a fluffy, disgruntled chick. My wife and daughters are suckers for cute animals and I’m a sucker for my wife and daughters. So, I ambled in, plucked up a chick from the pen, and joined the girls on the floor with my own complaining chick.
If this domestic scene was a surprise for me that day, finding animals in our bathroom became much more the norm. We’ve since housed a goat, a piglet, lambs, and even Turkey chicks.
Probably my favorite animals on the farm are graduates of the bathroom/brooder/sick bay. We have some wonderful friends in the farming community and one of them had called my wife to ask if she might be able to provide some TLC to a pair of lambs that didn’t seem to be thriving. Enthusiastically, my wife took up the task. At that same time, we had a newborn goat kid whose mom had shunned her and wasn’t giving her access to milk. The runty kid wasn’t ready for regular goat food and wasn’t likely to survive without intervention. So, my wife bathroomed the kid. The unlikely trio, two lambs and one goat, unfortunately became a duo after one of the lambs didn’t survive, even with my wife’s intensive care. This left the kid, Katie, and the lamb, Baby Blue, a fast friendship that exists today. My wife and older daughter bottle fed them until they could live outside with the goats. During their time in the bathroom they could be found in the arms of my wife or older daughter attacking a milk bottle or joyfully bouncing around on our bed to the delightful laughter of our daughters. Since being with the goats, Katie and Blue have remained a steadfast pair. Whenever I clear the fence perimeter of the goat pasture, I always smile when I look over my shoulder to see Katie and Blue following along behind me, clearly still attached to me from our time together. I can understand what it must’ve felt like to be Mary being followed around by her little lamb and goat. Maybe she raised the lamb in the bathroom, too. From the comfort of my front porch I can discern the burp-like bleat of Baby Blue. The only other animals in the enclosure two large potbellies, more than once I have thought that Blue must think he is a goat, too.
Not all the bathroom patients have success stories. I remember sitting on my younger daughter’s step stool looking down at my wife while she sat on the floor, teary-eyed, leaning against the bathtub, holding a piglet, who was quite sick with scours, trying to get him to eat or drink anything. I remember the juxtaposition of feeling sad for the piglet and my wife while involuntarily smiling inwardly at the size six diapers the piglet was wearing.
While growing up, I would occasionally visit my Grandparents who were farmers. My grandfather was one of the Greatest Generation and his values were a little different. He would cull the herd of the sick animals, as it would’ve been a waste of precious resources to do otherwise. I don’t fault him his values and doing what he believed to be right by his farm. We didn’t grow up on a farm at all. So, we have a different value system and, thankfully, a few more resources. Watching Katie with her own two kids now, while probably leaving Blue a little confused as to his role in this new social structure, has been gratifying to me and, without doubt, to my wife. I understand that animals might not think like humans. Still, I can’t help believing she would never neglect one of her own.
Since our first batch of chicks I’m glad that we now have a proper outdoor brooding shed for them. It keeps them out of my bathroom. I don’t mind sharing the bathroom. Still, it is a little unsettling to have my wife say, “Honey, whatever you do don’t leave the bathroom door open, there are baby turkeys in the jacuzzi,” or “Hon, please be sure to turn on the fan when you’re showering tomorrow morning. I don’t want to steam the lamb.” Even still, I know that some sick animal will find its way back to the bathroom/brooder/sick bay. For us, the animals are like family and bring us joy, even the ones destined to become a meal get all the royal treatment.