NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 28th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Here’s a poem you’ve probably heard: “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”
An 18th century Irish woman named Cecil Frances Alexander wrote those words later used in a hymn.
WORLD Radio commentator Kim Henderson knows just what she meant.
KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: I have a new skill to list on my resume—farm sitter. At least, that’s what I’ve come to understand. I thought I was just doing chores for a friend while they vacationed, but it turns out such arrangements are big business in some parts of the country. The role can also be called barn nanny or critter sitter. There are garden gigs, too.
Our main farm-sitting focus was Elsa, a gentle Jersey capable of filling two-gallon jugs (easy) with the frothy white stuff. Milking her involved tail swats, grain, and a clean machine. Mostly, though, it involved early mornings. As in 4:30 a.m.
For five days straight we staggered out of bed at that unfamiliar hour and headed to the farm. When we arrived, the teenager lit up the scene with her phone, swiping for THE LIST. It told us to gather this, grab that. Start the hose. Unlock the gate. Things went according to schedule, and Elsa treated us like legit farm sitters. Every time.
I think my boots helped. Having red ropers on your feet makes you feel invincible. I let milk squirt down their leather creases like something in a Tony Lama ad. I trampled knee-high grass in the paddock with no thought of snakes. I hardly listened to the coyote sounds coming from a patch of woods to the west.
When we finished milkings, Elsa’s bag was soft and deflated. Her stomach (the first compartment, at least) was full of sweet feed, and my husband was usually full of instructions. Close this. Cap that. Over here. Let’s go.
We strained the fruit of our labors, then washed buckets and other integral parts of the homesteading system in something called Dr. Bronner’s lavender Castile soap. The scent hung to our hands as we moved on to feeding a dog and chickens and two portly pigs.
Each day we lugged home our prize—dairy gold—and watched it top out with an inch of cream. The teenager made butter, and we shared our surplus with anyone game to try raw milk.
By the end of our tenure we were tired. All agreed we appreciate our milk more now. Later, the teenager had a cup of the grocery store variety at church. She said she couldn’t help but think of all the steps it took to get it from a stall to a fellowship hall refrigerator.
Seeing a new part of the day was nice, too. On our way home after our last milking, we decided to chase the sunrise on a piece of blacktop off the interstate. We waited while a fiery, orange glow peeked over a stand of pines. Three minutes later, it was a blazing sphere, golden and metallic.
Off to my right, some Black Angus heifers dotted a pasture. The sight of them, backdropped by the sunrise, made me think of Elsa.
And the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.