(Lessons Learned from the Animals at Flatridge)
The Energy-efficient Sheep
When I was perhaps 4 or 5, we had some sheep on the farm. The lambs in spring were cute, with little black faces and ears and gray woolly bodies that would whiten with maturity. The buck was a frightening fellow who challenged everyone. For that reason, he had to wear a rod attached to a collar and extending backward between his front legs. This prevented the backing up necessary for him to charge with his bulky head. Even with the rod, he was a force that I feared and avoided. In the early summer we took the flock to the pasture about three or four miles up the road. The sheep stayed together and what one did, they all did. So they would trot on the hot, sunny road until they reached the shade of a tree, then they would slow to a lazy pace. Dad would get annoyed, but my older sisters rather enjoyed their energy-saving plan. What worked for the sheep worked for them as well. So slow down and enjoy the shade!
The Maverick Cow
In every herd there was always one adventurer. She was not content with the status quo. Her reach always exceeded her grasp. She would stretch her long neck through the fence to graze on the other side. To prevent damage to the fence, Dad made a wooden collar to stop her habit, but did he stifle her perseverance? No! The agitation of the collar against her shoulders was a small price to pay for the succulent grass on the other side. A little stubborn determination gets you somewhere. After all, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
The Boastful Rooster
He was a strutting windbag. All noise and pomp, showing off his bountiful comb and colorful feathers. He acted as if he owned the barnyard. He never learned that one’s worth is not measured by the outward show. Clothes don’t really make the man.
The Faithful Hens
Almost every day we could count on the production of an egg from every hen. They never got the recognition they deserved. They were taken for granted. But lest we should forget, a hen always left the nest with the new egg in it cackling to let it be known that she had done her job. Then she would go out searching for food, scratching around in the dirt for bugs and worms. Sometimes you do have to toot your own horn, and you have to scratch for yourself. So do your job well and don’t hide your talent. Its something to cackle about.
The Persistent Horse
As he pulled the plow through the rows of corn, Pete would sometimes snatch a corn plant when he turned at the end of a row even though he knew that he would get the whip across his broad back for his actions. But he knew that some pleasures don’t come easy. Sometimes you have to take the bumps if you really want something. Be ready to take the bad with the good. Life isn’t a field of corn, you know.
The Unkempt Pigs
Live your own life, regardless of the opinions of others. There is nothing more soothing to a pig than a roll in the mud. Yuck! you may think, but what do they care about what you think? A pig’s gotta live his own life, his own way. So, don’t worry about what other people say or think about you. Do you like mud? Do it your way.
The Resourceful Dog
Tippy was the best herd dog in the county. She could herd cows, chickens, pigs or any other of the farm animals. She was indispensable. In late afternoon, someone would tell her to go get the cows from the pasture above the woods. She would race through the woods to the pasture barking, gather them together and bring them in. But one hot summer day she found a better way. She stopped in the woods and sat there in the shade, barking. She knew that the cows would eventually hear her and come running. The only problem was that the cows didn’t respond fast enough. When Dad went to speed things up, he discovered her sitting there in the cool shade. He wasn’t amused. But the plan would have worked if given enough time. New innovations take time and patience. You can’t rush good ideas.
The Social Cat
We always had cats on the farm. They served two useful purposes: they controlled the mice population and they provided companionship for my sisters and me. Occasionally a stray would take up residence with us. One such was Kazan, who arrived at our door dirty and half-starved. Mildred took charge. She fed him, brushed his fur and protected him from Joey, who considered himself the the top cat on the place. He had no intention of sharing his position with this interloper. Under Mildred’s care, Kazan grew strong and beautiful and Joey learned to tolerate him. In order to prove his worth, Kazan chose to be the lovable, irresistible greeter when one of us approached the yard gate. He would run to meet us, perch on the gatepost and wait for a pat on the head and a greeting. Should someone forget, he would tap the negligent one on the head with his paw. The greeting had to be carried out, even if it required setting down one’s load to do it. Kazan took his position seriously. Sometimes getting the job done requires exerting a little authority.
Animals are smart. We would do well to learn from them.