“No animal understands its relationship to the farmer like a cow does.” Chickenman and I are walking Pepper back to the pasture — she hopped the fence in order to be near her calf, Creampuff, who was at a neighbor’s house. All night long they were mooing at each other. When asked why Creampuff ran away last night, Chickenman shrugs and says, “Maybe she’s having her first heat.”
If you have two cows, it’s better if they have their calves at the same time, so one can feed the calves and the other can provide milk. The first time I saw Pepper getting milked, Chickenman told me that Pepper was saving her milk for the calf. There wasn’t much milk that time — perhaps a couple of pints. I was skeptical of the idea that a cow could deliberately save her milk.
However, when Chickenman milked her last Saturday, with Creampuff stuck over at the neighbor’s house, Miss Pepper filled up the whole bucket. I haven’t felt brave enough to milk her yet. Which is fine, said Chickenman, adding that she has to get used to me first. I was watching, petting her intermittently, as she continued to fill up the bucket. “She’ll give a little burp, and that means she’s letting down because she’s not saving it for the calf,” said Chickenman. As if on cue, Pepper burped and the milk continued to fill up the bucket, full-force.
I was looking forward to getting some of that milk for myself. I had a jar of it once and the cream separated to the top, and E. Ho and I spooned it into our coffee. It was so incredibly delicious, and I think about it every time I don’t have it.
When we went to get Pepper, Chickenman handed me a stick with a big rubber thing on the end of it. Motivation for Pepper, in the form of a poke in the butt. I was feeling nervous about it, as I had no idea what she would do. Also, I did not want to poke her. “You probably just have to wave it around,” said Chickenman. “She knows the routine.”
He was right. Everytime she stopped, I waved that thing behind her and she moved on. Chickenman sighed as he led her across the fence. “Well, I can’t let her eat that good grass by the house tomorrow, because she didn’t behave.”
We fed and watered the chickens, then we sat and chatted for a bit. Leah, who will henceforth be known as Chickenwoman, came out with their baby, John, and told me that since Chickenman didn’t have much for me to do today, she would teach me how to be a farmer wife. “I’ll show you how to filter the milk, and then,” she quipped, “I’ll show you how to do the dishes and the laundry with no water.” There was a miscommunication with the water hauling company, and there was the threat of having to hook up the hose to a neighbor’s house. They still had a little, and were working hard to conserve it.
Conservation is a necessity on the farm. Whereas factory farms will likely toss materials that aren’t as good as new, Chickenman keeps everything. Partly because he can hardly afford to replace them, but also because he has a clearer idea of whether or not something has outlived its usefulness. He patches his tarps that cover the chicken tractors. He uses old, rusted baling wire to hold up the chicken nests. He forages for metal scraps on his neighbor’s property, the result of a tornado which hit Manor about three years ago. The tornado ripped up parts of an old house and barn, as well as pulling up mesquite trees in that area. Chickenman uses the metal scraps for siding for the house and barn.
The more I get to know Chickenman and the farm, the more I see how closely it is aligned with my own values. I love Chickenman’s integrity, and his deep respect for nature. I love being welcomed to the farm when I come there, and I love learning more about it every time I visit. I know I can’t go back to buying eggs at the grocery store again. Compared to going to the farm, seeing the chickens and knowing my farmer, $1.39 a dozen is a total ripoff.