I like to think that our resident animals at Clarke Middle School develop attachments to individuals who visit them often. Sure it helps if you have a treat for them but I think by simply being in their presence, regularly, speaking sweetly to them and giving them a pat or scratch on the head helps to relax the animal.
As time has past and with our summer program more than half way done I’ve observed how some participants are wary of the goats, chickens and roosters while others find them almost entrancing. This fascinates me for I have always enjoyed the company of most creatures, especially farm animals, and I wonder what turns people off or on to our livestock. Could it be their smell? Habits? Sounds?
Furthermore, can these animals recognize when a human has fear of them? How do they build trust with one human and not feel the same way towards another, meaning how do they identify one individual human from another?
Let me help to put this into context with an example. At CMS, one of our three resident roosters, Mittens, has lived on site longer than any other animal there. He prowls the paddock with his head held high and he tends to spend most of his time with the goats. Some students experience a great amount of fear of him because he has a tendency to chase humans once they enter the paddock and occasionally will bite at ankles and feet. I get that he shows such behavior in order to protect his territory and what interests me is why he performs such acts to some humans and not all. After months of acting as a caregiver to our furry family Mittens has recently begun attacking me which hurts my feelings. Perhaps because I hear talk of his attitude more often than before I have developed a slight irrational fear of him and therefore he recognizes this change in my demeanor which he then uses to his advantage. Or maybe sometimes he feels the need to be more protective due to his own physical and emotional comfort level.
Despite the awkwardness that can arise for some individuals when they enter the paddock these goats, chickens and roosters present a great learning opportunity for students and adults. If there is invasive species removal required on site at CMS it is highly likely that our goats will enjoy nibbling on the branches and leaves-a completely sustainable process! Our chickens lay a substantial amount of eggs and these are used to cook with summer participants as part of snack or the Thursday pop-up Restaraunt as well as used in cooking demonstrations with agricultural science and food consumer science class participants. There are individuals who attend Clarke Middle School who assist in the care of our livestock during the school year which teaches responsibility.
I get a kick out of watching students and adults observe and interact with our livestock and I hope to increase awareness of the benefits of keeping farm animals in an urban setting. I have definitely gained a deeper respect for animal farmers and keepers and I look forward to continuing developing problem-solving skills, responsibility and compassion while working with our livestock and participants in the programming.