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Meanwhile, down on the farm

I have a new skill set 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, sweet grain and a cleaned 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 10 minutes later we’d be en route to Elsa, bypassing armadillos on Mt. Zion Road and a scattering of cars on I-55. The teenager would try to grab five more minutes of shut eye in the backseat while my husband hugged the wheel. The whole lot of us seemed to have taken vows of silence, so I had time to notice the crescent moon and blinking cell phone towers.

When we arrived, the teenager lit up the scene with her phone, swiping for THE LIST. 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.

“Hip, hip,” was our go-to command. The jersey is trained to that. I think my boots helped, too. Something about 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 little pigs. Filling the water trough for cows in the far field took the longest.

Each day, though, we lugged home our prize — precious containers of 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. The teenager mentioned she had at church enjoyed a cup of the grocery store variety and couldn’t help but think of all the steps it took to get it from a stall to a fellowship hall refrigerator.

In addition to experiencing new chores, 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 blacktop road just off Exit 48. At 6:29, 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 the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.