Recently the McLaughlin family needed to go away for nearly a week. When one has animals, especially dairy, leaving the homestead can be a real problem. It is rare to find someone you can trust, who also knows how to take care of everything. In our case, we needed someone to care for rabbits, a gecko, 6 dogs, a cat, goats, milking, chickens, ducks two bottle calves as well as keep an eye on horses. Ron lives nearby and grew up caring for livestock. He’s an expert gardener to boot. Below, you find Ron’s description of his first evening, doing chores. He showed up as we were hurrying to hit the road. As he turned to do the milking, and I to get in the car, the last glance I had of Ron was of him leading his adorable new beagle puppy toward the milking shed…
That evening, I felt sorry for our beagle puppy, Charlie, and didn’t want to leave him tied up at home alone, so I brought him with me to do chores.
None of your animals knew me yet, so they were all acting out. The dogs would not stop barking and the other animals knew something was up (it reminded me of being a Substitute Teacher). You know how, when the regular Teacher leaves, perfectly good students will act up because the figure in authority is no longer present.
It was too hot to leave Carlie in the truck. It was about 95 degrees outside, so I tied him to the rail of the trailer that is in your yard, so he could get under it and be in the shade while I did chores. I don’t remember which goat I caught to milk first, but when I came back out from the milk shed, leading her behind me, she spooked when she saw Charlie under the trailer and that spooked him, so he started bawling and crying and cowling at the end of his leash.
I couldn’t get the two of them to meet one another on their own terms, so I ended up tying the goat to the trailer and dragging the puppy out from underneath it so they could get acquainted. After they both calmed down, I lead the goat back to pasture and took Charlie to a less conspicuous place, where he wouldn’t be seen by every goat that passed by.
I was on the 4th goat when all heck broke loose. I had tied Charlie to a steel folding chair, out behind the building, in the shade. I was finished milking and was leading the last goat back to pasture. All the little goats were crowding the gate and I was trying to get it open when Charlie came running out from behind the barn, yelping, bawling, like a maniac and dragging the steel folding chair behind him.
The goat I was leading, bolted against the gate so hard, that she knocked it wide open and got loose with the lead rope still on her neck. I think everything but the steer, two calves, and the horses got out through the open gate. They all but trampled me while I was still trying to chain it shut.
I caught the goat that had run off with the lead rope and led her back to the pasture first. I chained the gate shut, then I caught Charlie and tied him inside the empty milk shed.
By the time I got back to the gate, the escapees had gotten into the feed room and were trying to get into the barrels and sacks of feed. Chickens and ducks were flying everywhere and making all kinds of racket. The dogs, not knowing who I was, were all barking at me, and the goats were going nuts.
I caught whatever goat was handy and led it back to the pasture, opened the gate, squeezed it through and went back to catch another one. Of course, the milkers all let me catch them first and easiest, but they were also the leaders of the pack, so I lost any and all organization that I had as a herd. All the rest decided to put up a fight or run away.
The more goats I caught, the more goats there were to rush me at the gate, until it was all but impossible to open and close the gate without losing at least one more goat. It got to the point where every time I put one goat back in, two more goats escaped. It was like taking the lid off a pot of popping corn and trying to put one popped kernel back inside before any of the other popped kernels could escape. The word, “Futile” comes to mind.
By now, the dogs were going absolutely nuts. The goats were going even nuttier, the chickens and ducks had discovered the feed room door was the gateway to their wildest dreams come true, and I was getting so hot and so tired, I could hardly take another step. Sweat was dripping in my eyes so bad I could no longer see clearly, and there was a sea of animals sweeping across the yard and toward the carport that leads to the open road.
I had to think fast! Then, I remembered the fence was lower over by where I fed the calves, so I ran the goats back toward the kernel, then grabbed the nearest goat up in my arms and ran across the yard to drop it over the fence. That worked pretty well, so I grabbed three or four more goats and put them over the fence too.
By now, the guardian dogs had realized that I had a generalized plan and they stopped barking at me long enough to ask for them for their help. By dumping a few goats over the fence, I caught the attention of the herd in the pasture, and probably thinking there was feed involved, they began to gather at the low spot in the fence.
While their attention was diverted away from the gate, I opened it wide and with the help of the two guardian dogs, I drove the rest of the animals through the opening, chaining it shut behind them.
I then returned to the milking shed to retrieve, Charlie, where I discovered that I had failed to cover one of the milk buckets with the muslin cloth and saw that there were about 20 dead flies floating in it. That evening, I fed the calves from the milk I had covered, and the hogs at my house got a special treat when I brought home the other gallon of milk, flies and all.
For some reason, it had taken me about 3 hours to get chores done that evening, so when I got home after dark, I took a long, cool bath and went to bed early. Poor, Charlie, never got to go with me to do any more chores ever again. I don’t think he regretted the fact that I left him at home next time.
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I grew up fishing, foraging and gardening with my parents. At age 13 I was introduced to an older man who taught me to hunt and trap. About the same time, our folks signed me and my brothers up for 4-H beekeeping and an older friend of the family mentored me in keeping chickens. When Jerreth and I got married, together we continued exploring and experimenting in the area of producing and preparing our own food.