“The Vaseline goes WHERE?!?”
The first day of every new job tends to be a stressful experience – but nothing has ever compared to my first day working on a farm for endangered livestock breeds.
It was mid-January on the Midcoast of Maine. Winter had descended months before, covering the entire world in a frozen blanket of white. The sun seemed to barely make its way above the horizon sky every day, struggling to rise in the cloud-crowded sky. The snowbanks reached to my hips.
The Freak Show Begins
I arrived for my first day of work on the farm at Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation, home to a motley collection of animals that were losing the popularity contest. They had difficulties mating and difficulties reproducing when they did manage to mate. Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs. Cotswold sheep. Narragansett turkeys.
As a farmhand, my daily duties consisted of shoveling manure, shoveling more manure, and shoveling a bit more manure. Hauling hay and bags of grain. Hard physical labor. I also had to water and feed the animals, and handle any random task that popped up. Which brings us to the Vaseline.
Who Will Save the Seeds?
Temperatures were plummeting far below freezing, which put into danger some of the most delicate parts of the animals. The livestock breeds on the farm were endangered, some highly so – and protecting their ability to reproduce was crucial.
Living in an outdoor shelter, the Cotswold rams were particularly vulnerable – or at least their testicles were, anyway. If future generations of these freaky little animals were to survive, their sperm production facilities had to be preserved.
Although they already boasted a natty covering of dreadlocks, the rams’ testicles were in dire danger of freezing solid. Someone had to coat them in petroleum jelly to prevent this tragedy from happening. Someone like the new farmhand.
Quite the Handful
It may come as a surprise, but rams don’t just sit back and let you rub Vaseline on their balls. They squirm and try to dash away, while their buddies do their best to live up to their namesake by ramming you in the butt. As my fingers grew numb in the winter cold and I rubbed ball after fuzzy ball with a thick coat of goo, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Weeks later, I would realize there were latex gloves readily available for such intimate tasks. But on my first day on the farm, I was clueless. I was freezing. And I drove straight to my other part-time job at the end of the day and begged them to hire me full-time. No go.
Wash It Away
Back home I stripped off my beyond-filthy clothing in my entryway and tried to wash away the memory of the day in a long, hot shower. I headed out for a drink with a friend, who shared the story of my erstwhile escapade with the entire bar. The bartender let me drink for free the rest of the night.
My first day on the farm was hell. But the second day, I fell in love. I sat on a fence filling a water tank with a hose, surveying the winter landscape and steeping in the natural beauty. It was an atmosphere of pure peace. The donkey was giving me an odd look, pigs were snorting around in the snow, and the rams’ testicles had made it through the night without freezing into test-sicles. Everything was going to be alright.
It turned out to be the hardest job that I have ever had – and also one of the best.
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