You’ve seen bloopers at the end of videos or TV programs—those scrambled up or misspoken scenes that were edited out of the film. Usually, the actors burst out laughing at themselves in the ensuing pandemonium. But life, unlike film, doesn’t come with an edit button. So when bloopers happen, they happen!
Some of the funniest blooper moments with folks on the farm have been in relation to farm tours. Kids and adults who haven’t grown up on farms can offer the quirkiest questions or comments, leaving me with suppressed chuckles and a valiant attempt to come up with a good response.
Farm tours are an educational experience, especially for those who haven’t spent time on homesteads or been near livestock, and questions of all sorts abound. But there are a few gems worth a good chuckle for sharing after the event. If you find your comment in these excerpts, remember we’re laughing together, not at you. I’m sure I had my share of awkward farm questions when I was starting up too!
This last week, in connection with Independence Day, floods of folks were coming to Farmstead Creamery, many of whom were interested in seeing the farm. Over the weekend, it was nothing but, “We’re here to experience everything! Milk the cows, ride the horses…”
I stood on the other side of the gelato case, frowned, and offered, “Well, that sounds wonderful, but we have a little problem. We don’t have horses or cows on our farm.” For many people, milking sheep is a foreign concept, so the assumption is that our farm will have cows. In fact, the Wisconsin-cow connection is so strong that I’ve had people tell me that we’re not a “real” farm because of the lack of bovines!
“I think we should offer the kids a cow scavenger hunt,” our intern Jake suggested one afternoon. “Here, kids, the one who finds the most cows gets a free soda! That could keep them busy for a long time.”
There are also classic animal age mix-ups, like asking about “lamb’s milk.” I patiently explain that lambs are sheep that are less than a year old, ewes being adult female sheep, and you can’t milk a mammal until it has given birth—hence sheep’s milk, not lamb’s milk. This is usually met with, “I had no idea you could milk sheep…so with the goat’s milk…” But I’ve already submitted a whole story on that confusion.
Poor Belle the donkey inevitably gets called a mule. Maybe folks are only accustomed to seeing miniature donkeys and not the standard size. She takes it well, probably because she’s so far out to pasture that she doesn’t catch on. As I’m explaining about Belle’s important job as a guard animal for the sheep, terrified parents ask, “Really, there’s wolves and cougars up here?” I shake my head in disbelief, wondering if the recreation industry is just really good at covering up anything that would steer parents away from the Northwoods, or whether these folks haven’t been paying attention to the news.
Some of the questions or comments, however, are just plain bizarre. Earlier, when our intern Sam (who hails from Vermont) was trailing a large farm tour group, she was asked, “Why do they cut the beards off the turkeys?” I was near the front of the group and missed the event, but she asked me later about it. “I mean, Chocolate and Vanilla (our turkey Toms) are only two years old, and it takes a good four years for them to grow beards, but cut them off…really? Is that a Wisconsin thing?”
Here’s another precious specimen.
Tour Guest: “You said that your sheep are grass-fed, right?”
Me: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Tour Guest: “So, what do you feed them in the winter?”
Me: “We make our own hay for winter feeding.”
Tour Guest: “But then it’s not grass-fed anymore.”
I can’t help but wonder what this person is thinking, that we have covered football fields of pasture for them to graze in January? That we buy sod from parts further south and lay it out for them? Do they know what winters are like around here?!? But instead, I pause, take a deep breath, and offer, “Well, hay is dried grass, so think of it as stocking up the pantry with good food for the winter or packing freeze-dried foods for an extended camping trip.”
At the start of each tour, I asked the little people in the groups to promise me one thing—that they won’t touch any of the fences because most of them are electric. “And those fences bite and it hurts, so it’s better to know ahead of time not to touch them.” Most of the time, the kids understand and the little ones hold mommy’s hand, ride on daddy’s shoulder, or want to hold my hands to be safe from the biting fences. But last week, one precocious girl announced, “Oh, I already found that out!”
“Oh dear, what happened?” I asked, looking around. We hadn’t even cleared the parking lot yet of Farmstead Creamery. “Did you find the fence around the greenhouse?”
“Uh-huh, it felt like someone slapped my tummy really hard!”
Whew, well, at least it was her tummy and not her head. Sometimes those little people don’t look where they’re running. The mother shook her head and laughed, “She always has to learn everything the hard way.”
“Why do you need so much fencing? Can’t you just let the chickens run?” is another question that pops up from time to time. While I’ve tried several approaches to answering the need-for-fencing question, the most effective so far has been to list this areas predator load: foxes, coyotes, skunks, coons, weasels, fishers, bobcats, owls, hawks, ravens, and so on, and so on. Honestly, if we didn’t keep things fenced and lock everyone in at night, we wouldn’t have any livestock. It happens quite often that, at the Creamery, I hear stories about how someone “used to have chickens, but then the (predator of choice) got it and….”
In the end, despite the bloopers, the odd questions, the wondering where the men or the cows or the horses are, the confusion about milking sheep, and all the rest, hopefully folks take away a meaningful experience of our farm. But remember, life doesn’t come with an edit button, so I’m sure I’ll collect a few more bloopers yet this summer! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com