School of Hard Knocks

Our farm is more than just a farm. It is a school where each member of our family is learning important lessons in life. The phrase “school of hard knocks” is an old saying used to describe lessons learned from life’s experiences as opposed to academic or college education. It is the hard knocks or difficult times in life that teach a person important lessons if the person is willing to learn.

We encourage each of our children to develop their own farming enterprise as they get old enough to do so. Our second oldest son, Nathan, is a true shepherd at heart and at 17 years old owns about 70 sheep. He also owns most of our breeding rams.

Several years ago he bought a purebred Texel ram for $400. The Texel breed is an old breed that does very well at finishing on grass, unlike many of the popular breeds that have been selected for their finishing on grain. The ram was an impressive, muscular animal. We divided the sheep into two flocks and separated them so that they could not see each other. The one flock had Nathan’s big Dorset breed ram. I once saw him ram one of our 700 lb steers and make him go on his knees! The other flock had the new Texel ram. The rams were with the ewes and bred the ewes for several weeks.

Then one day while we were away, a totally unexpected thing happened. Both flocks broke out of their fences and got together. The two rams battled it out, as male rams do, to see who would be the head animal. When we arrived home, the new Texel ram lay dead. Four hundred dollars gone! What a loss for a 15 year old. It was not only the loss of money, but the loss of valuable genetics for improving his flock. It was a lesson in the school of hard knocks. A hard knock from another ram can kill another ram. My grandfather used to say that it seemed like if something out of the ordinary happened, it often happened to one of his best cows.

To recover his losses, Nathan purchased some Texel ewes and another Texel ram who was the son of the one who was killed. However, the new ram was not as good a ram as the first one was. This spring Nathan’s Texel ewes gave him several nice ram lambs. The nicest ram lamb was Big Burr. His mother was nicknamed Mrs. Burr because she had found a burr patch and went into it, getting herself covered with burrs. Big Burr was the biggest ram lamb and he showed promise of taking the place of his grandfather who was killed.

At the beginning of July, Nathan noticed that Big Burr was missing. He had seen him two days before, but we couldn’t find him anywhere. There was no trace. We suspected that he had been stolen and reported him to the police and animal control. We also found out that a month before a 1200 lb cow and a calf had been stolen on Park Mills Road, several miles from our farm. Another place had 35 chickens stolen, and another two pigs stolen.

About a month later, one of the boys found a two pound sledge hammer in the front pasture where Big Burr was when he disappeared. The sledge hammer was a confirmation that he had been stolen. Another hard knock and another ram gone. Another hard knock in the School of Hard Knocks for a 17 year old. Not just the loss of a ram, but the loss of the genetics as well.

When Cathy heard about the hammer being found, she stated confidently that she was praying that Big Burr would return. I was surprised. We had found the murder weapon and she was still praying for his return. Nathan had also been praying for his return.

Several days later we got a call from Animal Control and they said that they had found a ram lamb with an ear tag that said Nathan Horst on it. They had picked him up on Bill Moxley Road near Mount Airy, about a half hour from our farm. The neighbors said he had been wandering around there for about a month. We picked Big Burr up from Animal Control that evening. He was in good health, although considerably thinner and very dirty. It was amazing that he was still alive. We wish he could talk and tell us his story. Did he escape from his captors? Did they dump him alongside the road? How did he escape from being killed by a dog or coyote in the month that he was wandering around? Where did he get water?

Nathan and Big Burr the night we brought him home. Note how dirty he was.

This was the second theft we had this year where the item was amazingly returned. The other time, Cathy left her purse in a shopping cart one evening and did not realize it until she got home. She immediately went back, but the purse was gone. It had not been turned in to anyone at the store. We prayed that it would be returned. It did not have much money in it.

About a week later, a man called one evening and said that he had her purse! His daughter’s friend had picked it up and given it to his daughter, and she had given it to him. Cathy met the man and got her purse back. Everything of importance was there except for a few items that a young girl might take: the pens, TicTacs, change, finger nail clippers, and an almost expired TracFone with only a few minutes left on it.

The lesson for us in these events in our School of Hard Knocks is that we have correctly named our farm. The literal meaning of the Hebrew words Jehovah-Jireh is “the God Who sees”. God saw what happened and returned the items. What a wonderful way to live. The School of Hard Knocks helps keep life interesting.

If I Had a Million Bucks

By Nathan Horst, age 11

If I’d have a million bucks,
I’d spend it all on sheep.
You wouldn’t catch me spending it
To buy a silly Jeep.

Of course I’d have to buy some land
And put in water tanks,
And then my sheep would smile at me
And baa their humble thanks.

My ewes would then have woolly lambs
That bounce and run all day,
While their mothers ate green grass nearby
And I would watch them play.

There is no other animal
That I like more than sheep.
That’s why I’d spend a million bucks
To get some sheep to keep.

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