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All we have, we owe to the animals on our farm

Rebecca Lampman Published on 11 June 2015

It is not uncommon for curious salesmen, nutritionists and other dairy producers that come to our dairy farm to ask, “Why do you have goats? Is that a peacock?” These people – familiar with modern dairy operations here in the West – aren’t accustomed and don’t expect to see anything besides a cow when they visit a dairy.

Conversely, when we conduct a tour of our farm for the local preschool each year in May, all of our many visitors from town do expect to see many different animals – some version of “Old McDonald’s Farm.” They have what modern dairy producers term an “unrealistic expectation” for what a modern dairy operation is. Our visitors want some farm animal diversity. Personally, I can’t blame them.

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These visitors love to see our cows getting milked, and one of their favorite activities is helping me to feed the calves right at the beginning of the tour. They quickly learn that the “dairy” portion of our farm is our primary business – what “butters the bread”– and they leave our farm understanding where their dairy products come from.

But their experience and ours would be so much narrower without the many other animals – peacocks, goats, chickens and pigs – we have come to raise and enjoy alongside our dairy cows and calves. It is this farm animal diversity that gives our farm a unique flavor and makes the place appealing.

Take Albert, our peacock. He has never cost us anything besides the little bits of grain he acquires for himself. He is breathtakingly beautiful, a great conversation piece. He keeps the rattlesnakes at bay and is a watchdog of sorts, alerting us with his honky caterwauling whenever anyone arrives at the farm.

A neighbor dropped him off years ago saying, “That bird has a strange affliction: He thinks he is a goat.” She wasn’t kidding. Albert’s favorite place is among our goats, and his spring and summertime are spent in the pasture below our home fanning his fancy feathers and parading amongst the nannies and their kids, hoping to gain some much-needed recognition of his gorgeous goatness.

And nothing is funnier than in the autumn, when we have the neighbor’s billy goat in with our nanny goats for breeding. Albert rules the roost, chasing the poor billy around the pasture, allowing him no peace and letting him know that Albert the peacock is in fact the alpha billy of the Lampman goat herd.

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Many mornings, we are blessed with the sight of Albert peering through the window of our back door hoping for a treat, and he and my daughter have been known to engage in peacock caterwauling contests.

We love our chickens too. In addition to providing our family and our employees farm-fresh eggs, our hens scurry in small feathered flocks around the barnyard pecking and scratching for food. They are first in line in the calf yard, waiting for their platter of milk during the morning calf feeding.

Chickens help us with fly eradication, and finding where they decided to lay today’s eggs provides added excitement to the daily dairy chores. I’m sure we don’t produce an egg in the most efficient or economic manner possible, but life isn’t all about efficiency and economy. Sometimes, life is about discovering a big brown egg in the golden straw of a calf hutch.

Our latest endeavor involves the pigs our daughter Rachel convinced us to get. I was resistant, believing pigs were dirty and stinky, but Rachel persisted, saved her money, and she and my husband found a pair of Hereford piglets and brought them home.

Winston Churchill said, “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” It took some time for us to gain their trust and unearth this mutual understanding Churchill spoke of, but we have found the pig to be a friendly, smart farm animal that is entertaining to watch.

They are clean, leaving their straw-filled shelter free of their poop, choosing instead to do their business on the other side of the pen. They have dug themselves a big dirt hole, and it is so fun on warm days to fill the hole with water and watch Lucy and Raisin run and snort and roll. Efficient? Economical? Doubtful – and who cares? We learn from them what it means to be a pig.

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With June being Dairy Month, I’m drawn to reflect on what it means to have been part of this farm these past 19 years. It’s easy to forget how much I have learned about the Brown Swiss and the Holstein cow until I visit with someone who doesn’t work with domestic farm animals daily.

Cows and calves, with their gently subdued temperaments, were my “gateway” farm animal. It is still a joy raising the calves and watching our youngstock grow into the future generation of dairy cows on our farm. There is always a simple satisfaction in walking down to the barn to tend to animals that depend on you for their food, water and clean bedding.

I am grateful for the responsibility. It is in perfecting the manner in which I have raised and handled these beautiful bovines that I gained the confidence to begin raising and keeping Albert the peacock, our goats, our chickens and now our pigs.

Looking out over our dairy farm, I try to envision what this place would be like now without these other animals, and I think I’d rather not. Writer Tom Robbins said, “To specialize is to brush one tooth. When a person specializes, he channels all of his energies through one narrow conduit; he knows one thing extremely well and is ignorant of almost everything else.”

By far, one of the most enjoyable aspects of living on a farm has been the opportunity to raise and learn about all different kinds of animals. Hmm. Are duck eggs any good? PD

Rebecca Lampman lives and works with her husband, Bruce, and their three kids on their 250-cow dairy farm in Bruneau, Idaho, where they enjoy raising all manner of interesting farm animals.

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