My memory isn’t good enough to say for sure, but I think I may have gone my entire childhood without setting foot on a working farm. My experience with farm animals came from petting zoos, game farms, county fairs, and books.
I’m not sure I appreciated the extent of the whitewash until I had real, live livestock in my care. We’ve only got chickens and turkeys, but even those gateway livestock are constantly reminding us that animals are one part wholesome cuteness to seventeen parts poop.
This past week, Kevin and I spent a few hours manning the beekeeping stall at the Barnstable County Fair. In between helping kids find the queen bee in the observation hive and directing people to the bathrooms, we got a chance to wander through the livestock barns and watch some of the animal judging.
First, we saw some of the world’s cleanest sheep, putting their best hoof forward while the judge evaluated their lines and felt their hindquarters. Then we saw some of the world’s cleanest goats, quietly munching hay while children petted them. We moved on to the world’s cleanest cows, watching us through the boards of their pens, not daring to mess up their hair.
Then there was the world’s cleanest llama, with a ridiculous, undignified haircut that made it look like a bobble-head doll.
When I was a kid, I don’t remember thinking that the animals at the fair were particularly clean. I must have assumed that they just came that way. I didn’t give a thought to the behind-the-scenes bathing and scrubbing and brushing and trimming that turned a real-life sheep into a county-fair sheep. Now, as a livestock-owning adult, that’s all I see.
Not that I want to bring the filthy, shit-caked sheep to the fair. It wouldn’t be in the spirit of the thing. The fair is for the wholesome cuteness component of animal ownership, and the kids who pet the nice, clean goats have the rest of their lives to figure out that filth and shit are part of the program.