|By: Paul S. Cilwa
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|Topics: #Zachary #Arizona
|Zach's Cub Scout troop visit a dairy farm.
Last night I took Zachary to the Superstition Farm, a local dairy farm that gives tours, on a Cub Scout function. I lived on a wannabe farm in Vermont when I was Zach's age, but since we never actually grew anything while I was there, or milked anything but Nanny the Goat, I found the workings of a real farm to be fascinating. And the best part was, the farm was no more than ten minutes from our house!
When the Stechnij farm was first purchased in 1979, it was located about as far from anywhere as it was possible to be. Now the house we rent is in a maturing neighborhood, minutes from three grocery stores, numerous gas stations, a 12-screen movie theatre, a Wal-Mart, and an L.A. Fitness; and it is literally a ten-minute drive away. The Stechnijes have other suburban neighbors even closer than we, although their closest neighbors are adjacent dairy farms. Aware that neighbors who don't know their neighbors have a tendency to become suspicious and hostile, Casey Stechnij decided to address this potential problem pro-actively and got the idea of giving a tour of the farm to neighbors, and church and school groups. He promoted the idea and thought that as many as a five hundred people might show up. He was wrong. Two thousand tourists arrived, straining the amateur tour guide's resources but validating the idea that city folk do want to know where their food comes from.
We arrived at 6 PM as directed. The tour begins at the entrance to a charming gift shop with farm-oriented curios, such as rechargeable flashlights in the shape of a pig (the beams project through the pig's nostrils), locally-made jams and jellies,fresh eggs from the farm, and farm-oriented toys like plastic tractors and dollhouse-sized barns. The gift shop, called "Mooster's Moo-tique", was the idea of Casey's sister, Alison, who left the farm for the world of retail before recently returning and, as Casey told me, "reuniting the family."
Casey manages the farm, but we met his mother Glenda (who introduced the kids to a hen who, amazingly, likes to be held) and he pointed out his dad working after dark in one of the many work sheds on this 1000-cow dairy. So it is definitely a family farm.
Outside, beyond the Moo-tique, is the tour gathering area and an enclosure where petting-friendly goats, a donkey, and a horse wait to be caressed by the eager hands of eight-year-olds. Actually, what they wait for is snacks, provided by Casey, his mother and sister, and some employee-volunteers. In fact, Casey started the tour with a stern warning to the kids not to feed them the Fritos, chips and popcorn most of them had brought with them (presumably for themselves). It hasn't occurred to most eight-year-olds that the nutritional needs of animals aren't identical to those of eight-year-olds. (Actually, looking at the junk food the kids brought with them, it apparently hasn't occurred to their parents that the nutritional needs of eight-year-olds might not match what they see advertised on Saturday morning TV, either.)
But Casey knows what appeals to kids, and soon they were taking turns giving the little goats (including a darling little black Nigerian Dwarf goat named Oreo) their evening dinner.
When Alison introduced Zachary to Lovey, a 28-year-old gelding, Zach immediately gained the animal's trust by letting him sniff Zach's hand; then, where most of the boys had shied away from the creature which is, after all, many times their size, Zach stroked Lovey's nose like an experienced horseman.
"Have you ever met a horse before?" I asked him.
"Oh, yes, thousands of times," he asked. I have no idea when this happened. One of these days I'll have to get up the nerve to ask.
After petting and feeding the "farm friends", we boarded a hay wagon for a "hayride" which circumnavigated the dairy farm. Glenda had already pointed out to me that the place was clean: There were no flies and the smell, while strong, was not overwhelming. In fact, I remember dairy farms in Vermont I had to hold my breath for as we passed (though some of that may have been the exaggerating of an eight-year-old drama queen). Actually, the hay dust in the air may have been more of a problem; both Zach and I were still sneezing from it this morning.
With Casey narrating while a young man named Ethan drove the towing tractor, we saw the various pens in which "the girls" of various ages are kept. Pregnant cows are kept separate from yearlings and cows who have delivered calves and are therefore eligible for milking, to make it easier to feed each group appropriately. We saw the piles of feed as Casey explained how parts of various plants like wheat, corn and cotton that would otherwise go to waste, make excellent components of the cows' meals. He also emphasized that the cows have their own nutritionist who makes sure "the girls" get all the nutrients they need for optimal health (and, therefore, optimal milk).
We saw the extensive misting system used in the summer to bring the temperature down to the high 90s. That still may seem hot to some, but Casey was quick to point out the exchange: Warm winters. He recalled a cow they'd "adopted" from colder climes who'd lost her ears to frostbite. "The girls" are much better suited to our weather than that in, say, the Midwest.
We saw calves who'd been born mere hours before we got there, already on their feet. Ethan carried an 85 pound, 8-hour-old baby to the hay wagon so the kids could pet it. Zachary was surprised at how soft the baby's fur was. Another kid sitting near us was surprised that another, older calf in the pen was smaller than the baby. Casey explained that the older calf was a preemie: he'd been born two weeks before he should have. "In the wild, he'd have died." Casey emphasizes the lengths to which the farm goes to honor the contract between predators (humans) and our prey (the cows). Yes, when a cow can no longer produce milk, she is "retired" by becoming steak, as well as clothing, furniture, glue and any number of other raw materials—nothing is wasted, just as in the plant parts we humans would throw away, but which make good food for "the girls". But these cows, if they were not used in this way, would never have lived at all. In exchange for having a known, useful, death, they enjoy longer and much more pleasant lives than they would "in the wild"…and in far, far greater numbers.
Metaphysically, it's a bargain. After all, if death (as I believe) is an illusion, then it's an illusion for cows as well as for humans. Our souls and theirs are immortal and all aspects of the Great Oneness…but, meanwhile, we've still gotta eat.
So perhaps it was no coincidence that, when we got back home, it was to a delicious steak dinner prepared by Michael.
As A. Whitney Brown once said, "I am not a vegetarian because I love animals. I am a vegetarian because I hate plants."I do love animals. Especially with A-1 Sauce.