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Visitors enjoy the farm

On May 16 we held our annual shearing day where we took care of our sheep and llamas' haircuts.  Visitors enjoyed the sunny weather and got to see first hand how the ancient craft of shearing is done.  Our animals are now MUCH more comfortable!  To the right is a family (3 generations) who came out to visit their sponsored animals (Goldie the hen, Jean Claude the llama, and Mae West the bunny).
If you missed shearing day, mark your calendars for our annual farm tour! Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26, 10-5.

Our next volunteer orientation is Saturday, June 13 from 10-11 am.

In this newsletter, we give our event volunteers the Angel Award of the month, and we talk about the spring harvest.  Be sure to read the latest story in the Chronicles of Newman "Seeing things differently."

Hope to see y'all soon!

Farmer Anne, Star Gazing Farm
Angel Award: Our Event Volunteers
One of the most important things we can do as an animal sanctuary is to share our amazing animals with others.  This month we want to acknowledge the hard work that our volunteers put in for all of our events. We have dozens of volunteers who loyally come to our Shearing Day, the summer Farm Tour (a two day marathon with hundreds and hundreds of visitors pouring through), our outside gigs at farmers markets, and the annual holiday gift shops.  It makes me so proud to see the way our volunteers knowledgeably and caringly interact with the visitors, explaining the animals' stories, lifestyles, quirks, and demonstrating what they, themselves,have absorbed while working at the farm. Whether they are doing "Newman bodyguard duty", working in the gift shop, giving tours, welcoming visitors, helping people park, playing beautiful music - they are all helping build the community of animal lovers. Good on ya!!!

A Spring Harvest

Aside from broccoli and lettuce, I'm sure you are wondering what one harvests early in the spring.  The answer is .... fiber!  This is the time of year that sheep, goats, alpacas, and llamas need to get their annual shearing done. When Farmer Anne first moved to the farm, she knew that she needed to get the sheep sheared.  Who shears sheep?  Well, it turned out that the answer was ... "very few people." To make a very long story short, Anne decided to learn to shear, and to her surprise and amazement, she loved it. She decided to dedicate herself to offering a "kinder, gentler" service to people who wanted humane and caring treatment of their animals during this very necessary process.  She meets many wonderful farmers in her travels, and these relationships have helped the farm as well as helped with the out-placement service of farm animals in need. 

Anne now shears full time in the spring, traveling all around the mid-Atlantic states to over 200 farms - she even took a wild and wooly trip out to Wyoming in March and met several hundred Navajo Churro sheep as well as some real-life cowboys. You can see lots of fun shearing photos on her facebook shearing page.

The Chronicles of Newman

“Seeing things differently”

[read this story online]

When you live with animals, you either get frustrated because they are constantly doing things that are so extremely un-human (and often these things are not especially endearing), or you realize that you must try to accept that they are fundamentally different.  And that is that.

I am not always successful at the “that is that” approach, but I do think that giving it the old college try is a good thing.  Many humans have had instincts beaten out of them by millennia of “civilization”; but animals, even domesticated ones, still retain a lot of the wild. We’re lucky to live in close proximity to this, for I think that it helps us see better.
As a reluctant graduate student some many years ago in Michigan, I was fortunate enough to attend a course taught by Pete Becker called “Language and Culture”.  He was one of those professors that can turn an entire education on its head and, at the same time, enable all the things one has learned thus far to come bursting out like daffodils in spring - in totally unexpected ways. To put it plainly, he turned on lightbulbs. You could see them going on “ping ping ping” throughout the lecture hall at every one of his remarkable classes.  One of his favorite sources was Ludwig Wittgenstein, and one of the favorite quotes was from Wittgenstein was this – it may bear reading more than once:

“One thinks one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing around the frame through which we look at it.”

As a linguist and one who lives and works with animals, I have thought about this over and over again.  We animal lovers tend to anthropomorphize our favorite friends.  Probably they don’t mind a whole lot.  But the likelihood is that they are thinking and understanding quite different things from what we assume.
I think that trying to understand what others experience without imitation, judgment, or the need to react, is one of the sagest tasks any human can undertake.  

Recently I realized that our sheep Parsnip has become almost totally blind.  She has been here so long and is so robust and so utterly herself that it has not occurred to me, oddly, that she has aged a great deal.  She’s always sung off-key opera, but lately she’s been more vocal.  She’s always been a wild thing – a “real sheep”, if you will.  But over the winter she declared herself part of the “old folks club” and got to eat hot mash and chopped forage every night with Spenser (13), Miss Bea (20, now passed away), and Dee Dee Donkey (42).  Parsnip is pretty fat, grows healthy wool, head butts those who get in the way of her food, and generally gets around.  I didn’t realize until lately that Parsnip is 14 years old – this is quite elderly for a sheep.   I also didn’t realize until one night I saw her bumping into a fence, that she is functionally blind.

I am not sure that Parsnip really likes me.  I don’t think she likes humans in general and I can understand that point of view.  In fact, it’s only recently that she permits me to hand-feed her molasses cookies; either I’ve made headway in our relationship, or she’s come down in the world.  For Parsnip is really a sheep’s sheep.  All her life, her friends have been sheep.  She does not make the mistake of cross-species intermingling.  Jasmine (RIP), Miss Bea (RIP), Spenser, and Kimiko have been her closest friends at this farm.  They are the ones she hangs with, tells about her day, takes naps in the sun with, and with whom she makes the decision to venture out into the lower pasture in search of new grass.

But now that she is blind, things have changed. She gets lost, sometimes disoriented. The garden is now scary, the pasture, often inaccessible. Sometimes at night I have to lead her back to the “old folks club” for her dinner and while she lets me touch her (a relatively new development), she does not trust where I’m taking her.

Trying to see the farm from the perspective of an animal who cannot see is an amazing exercise.  I fret, wanting to protect her and guide her, lead her around – and she wants nothing to do with any of this nonsense.   I watch this old broad who has remained true to her nature despite numerous temptations to become a “pet” stoically pretend to all and sundry that she is not blind, refusing to admit she has a disability.  She baas out to her friends who, sadly, do not always respond. She walks carefully, finds hay and water and, eventually, her friends.  She is still 100% sheep. A brave, blind sheep.  I have now put a bell on her friend Kimiko (who is more active than Spenser who, frankly, prefers to sit on the couch in front of the TV all day) so that Parsnip has an aural point of reference.

But still, I now see my farm differently – a place with fences and gates that need to be navigated, obstacles like feed bowls and buckets that can trip an old sheep.  I need now to go to that word “accommodation” and really understand what that means.  Parsnip does not care.  She will not notice if I make changes on her behalf. She does not want my pity or my help, although I expect she is glad when I put down her hot mash in the evening.   This is not the first time that I’ve felt a deep love and empathy for an animal who gave me the cold shoulder, and it’s a lesson – things really are “that is that”.  Parsnip is a sheep who has no desire other than to be pure sheep.  It is I who am granted the privilege of her company.  Those who live with animals can, indeed, sometimes feel the slight brush of angels’ wings as they grace our earth.

Till next time,

Farmer Anne, Star Gazing Farm
Copyright © 2015, Star Gazing Farm, Inc., All rights reserved.
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Star Gazing Farm
PO Box 162, Boyds, MD 20841
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Tel: 301.349.0802

EIN#: 20-0882587
CFC#: 86412