A Mile in Their Hooves

Since starting my temporary position at Farm Sanctuary on December 15th, I’ve mostly been responsible for the daily feedings of the 400+ animals. This sounds like a lot, but considering that many animals are free-fed birds, it’s actually a manageable number. I learned quickly, however, that I’d need to hustle, big time, to get everything done. It also benefits me to act like I know what I am doing. Fake it ’till I make it, you know. The animals will pick up on, then exploit my lack of confidence. During my initial three days of training, I got nipped or rammed (by pigs, roosters, turkeys, and goats) every day. Since then, nothing.

My day begins full speed at 7am. I break for two hours around noon, then I wrap for the day no later than 5:30pm if all goes well. My housemate says she’s often worn a pedometer while doing feeds and logged a consistent 12 miles per day each time. I’m doing feeds five times per week. Walking, at a solid clip, farther than I would run when training for an ultra marathon.  This job’s going to make me skinny.

Most days are relatively uneventful, just a meditative and mindful practice in timing, compassion, and logistics. It’s tough to make any sort of systematic plan for the day. Though there’s a workable framework guiding my actions, it only takes one ornery pig or missing hen at sunset to delay things. Add to it the sub-zero temperatures and icy farm roads as of late and *BAM*, craziness. Every day I am reminded that I am in control of nothing. Nothing at all.

Still, keeping my eye on the clock is crucial. Some animals need to be fed by a specific time, some separated in a timely manner, and then all birds need to be accounted for and locked into their roosts before the sun sets. Knowing, to the minute, where and when I ought to be helps me juggle any changes through the day. For example, if I go too fast after separating and feeding the two 800-pound pigs at the top of the hill, I’ll circle back too soon and they won’t yet be done eating. Which forces me to decide if I should wait for them to finish or try to make the most use of the extra time and possibly work on another animal’s feeds. But pigs know what’s up. I swear, if they see I’m in a hurry they’ll eat slower. Considerably slower. They’ll look up occasionally with their human-like eyes to see if I’m getting anxious. They know I’d never take their food bowls away before they’re licked clean, so they’ll lick and lick and lick until the food is long gone and I’m still standing there like a jerk. I often hold this against them, but if roles were reversed you can be damn sure I’d do the same to my impatient ass.

So I’ve tried to do my best to put myself in the animal’s situation. I imagine that each day someone is scheduled to bring me a delicious plate of food. I trust it’ll happen, but I can’t be certain. I have a sense of when they’re coming, so I get excited as hell when I hear them plodding up the walk (even if it’s not feeding time). But when it is feeding time, the sound of the scoop filling my trough or bowl with pellets or scratch or treats is absolutely invigorating. Makes me crazy excited. I can’t contain myself.

By the time they start fumbling into my pen, unchaining and unlatching the locks on my gate or opening my door, I am frothing at the mouth. It’s like I’ve never eaten before. I appreciate it tremendously when they gently set down the food and let me at it. But if they drop my bowl in haste and it spills in the hay or the mud, I get super pissed. If they let one of my more aggressive sisters or brothers have access to my food, I wonder what they’re thinking. They know this will happen, so why not fix the problem before it happens? I get so angry that I scream and yell, maybe even give them a warning bite. I’m not trying to hurt them, just let them know that they are acting like an idiot.

Sometimes they stand and watch me eat. This is equally bothersome. I mean, who likes that? I grunt or chirp my frustration but they just ignore me. They lean on a fence or whatever, sometimes even try to distract me, like call me over or talk all stupid to me. Use a voice like I’m some kind of moron. Why can’t they just let me eat in peace? Let me enjoy my little moment of bliss.

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