If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate.
Here's the thing now where I have a bone to pick with some of the "fiber farms" who are marketing and selling their wool to knitters who have dreams of Utopia. On those farms, babies are born and most likely, half of those babies are girls and half are boys. Unless these farmers want to castrate all of those boys and keep feeding them all their lives just to keep their wool, those boys will all go away and become part of the food chain. It is not financially feasible to keep every boy born on a sheep farm just for fun.... I know many knitters do not want to think about this. They want to think of sheep as cute fluffy creatures living out their lives in some kind of Utopian Eden (just like I used to). But it just is not that way. Animals live and die - some of natural causes but most at slaughterhouses.
Last week I heard a pretty beautiful story that I wanted to share with you. It happened here at Phillies Bridge, with Farmer Nina and some of her summer camp kids. It’s the story of how something unexpected and potentially frightening for kids turned into a powerful teaching moment – one I imagine will stick with these kids throughout their lives. Just a taste of all of the learning and growing that happens at Phillies Bridge! I spoke with Farmer Nina to get the story.
Nina: It was early in the morning on a Wednesday…I wanted the kids to get a chance to spend some time with the chickens because they really love the chickens. So we were walking over there after I pumped them up for chicken time…
Me: How did you pump them up?
Nina: You know, walking like chickens, bawking like chickens on our way. We got there and I saw that the laying boxes, this metal structure where the hens lay their eggs, was knocked over. So I was like, “oooh nooo! What’s wrong with this scene, children?” The kids shouted, “the box is knocked over!” and I said, “what should we do?” And they said, “let’s go fix it!” So we all walked over to the laying boxes and we went to go lift them up and underneath, tangled…kind of tangled under the laying box was a dead chicken.
Me: Oh no!
Me: What did you think in this moment?
Nina: Well, at first I was kind of panicked because some of my kids are really young, like four years old. I didn’t know if I should try to block it from them...if they were ready to learn about death. But I couldn’t block it from them, they knew immediately. They were like “oh no, it’s a dead chicken!” they weren’t like “oh, it’s sleeping.” They knew. They saw it and they immediately were like, “what are we going to do with it?” I saw Farmer Katie and I told them that Farmer Katie was going to come and put it on a special animal compost pile. They wanted to have a burial ceremony for it with the whole camp. But I felt bad doing that because we have other deaths on the farm and it felt wrong to make this one ceremonious. We have animals that we raise for meat here, and their death is part of the farm. Death is a natural thing on a farm because you need things to decompose for other things to grow.
I said we’re going to put this on the compost pile and one kid knew about compost and said, “the chicken is going to turn into dirt…?” And they all started talking. “The chicken is going to turn into dirt! Yeah, compost!” And it was this kind of amazing moment because they all kind of got it at the same time. They said, “Yeah, and flowers will grow out of it!” and they started picking up the dirt around our feet and saying, “this is made up of dead animals?”
Me: Was there a moment where you thought, aha, this is a teachable moment?
Nina: I think the minute I saw the dead chicken I thought it would be a teachable moment because we avoid death so much in our culture, we really fear it. So many times people try to hide it from their children. Like I know people who wouldn’t even tell their children if a family member or pet had died. They’d say they went somewhere else, not that they died.
Me: Usually on the farm you spend so much time showing the kids this bounty of life, but this time you had this very different experience to share with them.
Nina: Well, you need death for life. I think the kids really got that. Later on I was walking back towards the Discovery Garden with my campers and this little girl who normally looks very thoughtful, she looked especially thoughtful and kind of sad. I was walking next to her and I asked her what was the matter and she said, “I’m just thinking about that chicken.” I thought, uh oh. “What are you thinking about?” and I was worried that she was going to say that she felt very sad, but she said, “I’m just thinking about what it’s going to become.” I asked her what she thought it was going to become… and she said, “a goat!”
Me: A goat?
Me: How did she think it would become a goat?
Nina: She was like, “well maybe, it’s going to grow a flower out of it and then a goat’s going to come and eat the flower and then it’s going to become part of the goat. Part flower, part goat.”
Me: What did you feel in that moment?
Nina: I just felt really proud of the kids for…there’s something that they intuitively understood because they’re so young that I didn’t have to explain in that moment about mortality and death and the circle of life. I was just really impressed.
- Amanda Thieroff with Nina Arlein (source).
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