Monday, May 17, 2010

Sheep Happens

The sheep barn (far right), where I mucked. Champagne, (near right) who I brushed.

Fetid and filthy. I like alliteration, but I generally use kinder words. Kinder words, however, could not have described the mess I was wallowing in.

The smell of one hundred outhouses was no match for the sheep barn I was mucking at Hess-Hathaway Farm Park in Waterford Township. I had been flinging the dirty hay into the back of a green pickup truck for nearly two hours and I wasn't even a third of the way done.

The sheep, who had been kicked out of the barn for cleaning purposes, bleated at me — taunting me.

"Sure, you go and play outside in the sun and eat. I'll keep cleaning your shit," I muttered.

I had signed up for this. I had asked for a dirty job, and Farmer Deby Steen had granted my wish. She smiled, knowing that my exuberance for farm work would fade quickly after this chore. She was right.

For two hours, I used a rake and pitchfork to peel layer after layer of hay that the sheep had used to urinate and defecate on during a long, cold winter. Then, Deby and I took the truck and dumped it out it in a field.

The truck is a well-used machine. A thick coating of dust covered the dash that held various tools. Passengers must roll down the window and reach for the handle outside of the door in order to exit the vehicle.

"I love my job," Deby said, while managing the bumpy road. And it's evident. She's strong and kind. She even brought me an egg salad sandwich on a Halloween paper plate while I worked.

A farm is a full-time job, and even with volunteers, I'm not sure how it all gets done. Before I had arrived, parents and children worked together to feed and water the animals. It's pretty amazing to hear a mother and daughter excitedly ask if they can clip rabbit toenails. I wondered, "Am I really in metro Detroit?"

The farm is host to an array of animals, including ducks, goats and a pig. A guinea fowl named Omelet followed Deby around like a little kid as she answered visitor questions. Parents pushed strollers and children petted goats through a wire fence.

Horses are the real thrill, though. Deby, who probably wanted to end on a more positive note, had me brush Champagne, a palomino. It was relaxing as I used a "wash and wax" technique on the surprisingly dusty hair. As a child, I was sometimes called "horse hair" because of my own unruly and course mane. I can now testify that it was never as bad as Champagne's tangles!

I did, however, wimp out on cleaning Champagne's hooves. Deby's stories of being bitten in the nose and having her foot stomped did not instill any courage in me. The tool looks like a medieval torture device, and I am a pacifist.

From grooming horses, to watering chickens, there are many volunteer opportunities at the farm, and not all of them require a pitchfork.Parents and children alike can learn more about the farm experience together at

As I packed up the rest of my belongings and waved a goodbye to Deby and the farm, I knew that I would be back – but hopefully, I will be feeding the animals, not cleaning up after them!


  1. I like to try anything once, but since you took one for the team, I'll remember to check custodial farmhand off my list ;-)

  2. Ha!
    Thanks for the comment Kanette. I don't want to scare people away — farm animals are pet ;)