My family and I visited the SC State Fair when it was in town a few weeks ago, and although my children loved the rides, of course, I would have enjoyed exploring the animal and agriculture exhibits the entire time. Visiting the fair is a great way to see farm animals that are otherwise only visible out the car window or on an organized tour.
Sometimes, the visit was a little too close for comfort for me: in the cattle area, visitors can walk among the cows, alarmingly close to the rear end of the cow. My father raised beef cattle for many years, and my parents trained me from earliest childhood to make a wide berth around the backside of the cow, not only to avoid unpredictable emissions but also to avoid suddenly kicking hooves. Apparently, the cows at the fair, and milk cows in general, are much tamer than my father’s cows, although one cow-keeping teenage girl at the fair delighted in telling me about the hoof mark her friend sported on her forehead at school. I am glad the friend was not in a hospital.
I enjoyed the poultry barn the most, of course. The cacophony of dozens of roosters, confined in stacks of cages for everyone’s safety, crowing at adversaries both seen and unseen, was nearly deafening. One Barred Plymouth Rock rooster, in a cage above his hen, was apparently tired of crowing, and, between crows, yawned widely and closed his eyes in heavy blinks. We came by again later and he was asleep with his beak tucked under his wing.
I had not seen many roosters before these, and the size of the roosters in comparison to the hens awed me. As I have mentioned in this blog, I have had some adventures catching my relatively tame hens, which are small and do not have spurs. Trying to cajole one of these huge roosters into going somewhere he was not inclined to seems like something I’d rather not tangle with. I do like the idea of having a rooster, the resulting baby chicks, and a self-sustaining flock of chickens, though. He would also protect the hens. Until my children are old enough to defend themselves and to escape an attacking rooster, though, we will just have hens.
I admire the dedication of all farmers, and especially farmers of animals besides poultry. Chickens are relatively independent as long as their needs for food, water, recreation, and shelter are met. A farmer has to milk a dairy cow or goat, though, every day, usually twice a day. If the farmer misses a milking, the animal will suffer the pain of an overfilled udder, may develop an infection, and will eventually stop giving milk. Farmers cannot go out for the evening with friends and sleep late the next morning; they have to be home to milk in the evening and up to milk in the morning. I understand that dairy animals do not like just having anyone milk them, either, and so getting someone to fill in might be difficult. Chickens do not care who feeds them.
I visited my aunt’s neighbors at the milking time for her goats. She milked her goats, which behave sort of like hooved dogs that give milk, and took the still-warm milk into the house to strain it and to make cheese. We sampled some of the milk and goat cheese. The idea of having my own milk and making my own cheese does sound like fun, but I think I’ll let someone else make the commitment to the animals and to cheese making. I can keep my commitments to my chickens.