Wednesday, October 02, 2013

On the Same Page - Farm Animals

You can’t even think about farming without considering animals. From the tiniest critters in the soil to the larger birds and mammals, animals and farming go together like milk and cookies, like sunshine and flowers. Here are a few titles worth sampling.


The smallest, most important animal helpers on the farm- besides bacteria- are bugs that many of us would rather swat than respect. Entomologist Eric Grissell exalts one particular species in Bees, Wasps and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens, published in 2010.More than 300 pages of thrilling photographs, references and valuable websites make the case that these garden helpers are supreme; they are pollinators, predators and recyclers which gardeners and farmers would do well to encourage. The writing is a revelation of entomology at its finest, for readers who are scientifically inclined and anyone who wants to understand why killing insects upset the balance of nature.


Who would imagine that the award winning author, Alice Walker, had anything to do with chickens? Oh, but she does, in The Chicken Chronicles (2011). Chickens have been part of Walker’s life since she was a little girl. As a mature woman, she introduces us to chickens as conveyers of wisdom, emblems of life’s challenges and delights. We learn about Walker’s intimate connection to these yard birds, referring to herself as “Mommy” while her hens carry elevated appellations like Gertrude Stein, Agnes of God, and Hortensia. Join this celebrated writer in elegantly written, 37 chapter mini-sagas of life, death and love of chickens!


There’s a newfound appreciation for stories about animals who become unexpected friends, so it’s not too difficult to picture a ram and an ordinary black lab in that category. Lenore Finds a Friend, by Jon Katz is a lovely picture book, a tale told in large, expressive photos and simple text. Lenore is an unpopular dog, with lower status than the leader, a border collie called Rose. But one nonchalant kiss on the nose of a not-so- delightful ram named Brutus shifts the mood, and gives Rose a new opportunity. Lenore and Brutus develop a rapport that will make readers of all ages say, “Aww!”

Since sheep run in flocks, another book – Sheepish, by Catherine Friend (2011)-must get a mention. Friend and her partner of nearly 30 years own a sheep farm in Minnesota. And though Mary’s Little Lamb of Mother Goose fame followed her everywhere, the sheep in this book do everything but follow their “Pasture Goddesses”. This book- part memoir and part information rich text for wannabe shepherds- spells out the good, the ‘baaad” and the just plain awful moments, days and years of a full time writer and her Farmer spouse. Still, the love of the ewes, rams, lambs and friends who lend a hand weaves an oxytocin- rich spell over the author and her readers.


They are known to eat garbage and nibble on clotheslines. And yes, they give us milk and we make cheese. But in the lush illustrations and heart tugging story of author/illustrator Brett Helquist’s Grumpy Goat (2013), we discover an animal we can relate to. When goat arrives at a breathtakingly beautiful farm, he’s down in the dumps, can’t make a friend and carries his mood with him across Helquist’s dreamy acrylic and oil painted scenes. But one day, he glimpses a flower, and it changes his entire life- and his way of relating to his farm animal companions.

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