The animal program at Full Belly farm is a way for the interns to experience the responsibilities of caring for a diverse group of animals. As an intern, I have learned how to properly care for laying hens, cows, sheep, goats and pigs as an integrated part of an organic vegetable farm. Antonio Cruz is the shepherd here at the farm, and his wealth of knowledge and experience with farm animals makes every day dynamic and challenging.
Antonio has worked at Full Belly for twelve years, eight of which he has worked full time with the animals. He is from Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero in Mexico, where his three daughters, Almadellia, Esmeralda and Sulmarisandi still live. Besides a few months on a vineyard, he has worked at Full Belly since he came to the US to live with his brother in the Capay Valley. Before coming to the US, Antonio worked on a ranch caring for eighty cows. Every morning at 3am, he and two other men would spend the first four hours of their day milking the eighty cows by hand! As a new milker that finds milking one cow by hand challenging, the thought of milking for four hours straight is very impressive!
At Full Belly, Antonio’s main responsibilities are with the sheep and the cows, though he also helps care for the chickens, pigs and goats as well. One of my favorite things to do on the farm is to help Antonio move our herds of sheep. The sheep are moved every two or three days, depending on how fast they are grazing a particular field. First, we set up the new set of fences that we will be moving them to. Then we must set up fences along the roads we will be herding them to, in order to protect the growing vegetables crops from stray sheep. Antonio says his favorite herd are the ewes, or what we like to call, the ‘mamas,’ because they follow him very easily from pasture to pasture and don’t require many fences, unlike the lambs, who are less experienced at being herded and take a lot more guidance towards their next grazing spot. Antonio remembers herding animals in Mexico on horse, but here at Full Belly, you are either running with the sheep with a bucket of grain in hand, or behind on a four-wheeler making sure any stray sheep stay on course.
Working with Antonio has taught me the need to be fastidious and vigilant when working with animals. While we put up our electric fences, it is important to be sure nothing is tangled so the current runs smoothly, therefore assuring the sheep are secure. In the summer, checking that every group of animals has fresh, clean water is of the utmost importance. He has taught me everything from how to lift heavy bales of hay correctly to how to round up a flock of chicken escaped from their fencing. As new interns come every year to the farm, Antonio patiently trains future farmers in sound animal husbandry, and he has enriched the Full Belly intern experience.
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