I can’t remember where I read it but apparently Orson Wells came up with the idea for Animal Farm after seeing a boy with a string leading a mule. He thought it was strange that such a thing could be done. What if animals realized their own strength compared to ours. From that idea sprung his book.
It’s a strange concept to think about. We have taken what was once a wild creature and domesticated it to follow us with a little string. Domestication boils down to selecting for animals that can be manipulated or convinced that doing something for us will benefit them. It’s certainly a two way street. We have to do lots of work to keep them fit and safe. Bale hay in the summer to feed in the winter. Protect them from other creatures that haven’t taken up our offer of domestication. Give them access to water and minerals that they would have to have found on their own in the wild.
We use plenty of physiological tricks to keep the animals doing what we would like them to do. The biggest trick we perpetrate on the animals is the electric fence. The goats and the chickens get white and black electrified netting. There is a potential for getting entangled in the fence but with out electricity pulsing on and off, the fence is no barrier. Only the threat of the shock keeps the animals in. The pigs and the cows have wire to keep them in place. The cow needs a measly one wire to keep in, the pigs a few more. They learn that the shock from the fence is far too scary to mess with. But they test and test and test the line. They some how can sense when the fence is not too hot or off. When the animals start getting out we know we need to move them. Hunger makes them more likely to challenge the line. Our giant sow became immune to the smaller chargers really early in her life. She would lead her friends out on walks especially when she was looking for a man. We had to buy a super sized energizer to retrain her to the wire. Now she doesn’t try to crash the line and we make sure they always have enough to eat.
The animals and the plants are always playing tug of war with us. I can understand why farmers switched from the very diverse family farm ditching the animals and going to the single or double crop system. It is by far easier to handle then all the chaos you can find yourself in with all these living things pulling in every direction. The animals need moving to new forage, but the weeding in the high-tunnel needs to get done. We need to put up a new fence but there is seeding to be done. Or the worst, the animals break free and eat our precious veggies. We try to walk a fine line where animals are getting what they need and all the plants are being cared for as well. We sometimes slip up but animals roaming free or undersized produce and oversized weeds quickly remind us.
But while the animals and plants feel like they are fighting for our attention they are helping each other. With the compost we can make from the winter bedding of the animals we can feed the vegetables and fruit trees. With the excess or vegetables that have gone by we can feed the pigs. In the orchard the goats and the cows mow the field giving our little trees more room to grow. And then there is the happiness that comes with having these animals on the farm. Knowing that we are a team that helps each other out.