The Heart of the Farm

Growing up was one of my favorite adventures. My family’s farm was full of gardens, animals, pastures, forts, and a big magnificent barn. It was on a little patch of land that fed my creativity, began dreams, taught life lessons, and made me strong. The best moments growing up on the farm were hands down in the barn. I can picture every room vividly to this day because that is where I spent the majority of my time as a kid. I can easily picture myself sitting in the back of the hayloft with the door open, kitten on my lap, my legs dangling off the edge, goats below me, the sunset in the horizon, horses coming in from pasture for dinner, the pigs bellowing in the background… Stillness. Pure joy. What more could one ask for?

There is something to say about the simplicity of old barns. House livestock, store hay, repeat. The one I grew up in has countless rooms and a giant hayloft interconnected in some way all under one roof! There is a window from the hog barn into the horse stall and from the horse stall to the goat room. You can practically get from one side of the barn to the other by means of all the hallways. It is the coziest on a cold winter’s day after a snow storm and the coolest on a summer’s day with all the windows open.

Old wooden barns hold a kind of history you don’t find anywhere else. Every time I step into an old barn I try and picture it “in it’s prime”. What was each room used for? What kind of animals lived here? Who took care of them? When I think about the barn I grew up in, I think about how we used it and changed it over the years but there was a time BEFORE we lived there. It was home to another family before us. It has had modifications and additions over the years. It has layers of paint and old farm tools hidden in the back of cabinets. The wood its made of is worn and showing its age. If only the walls could talk!

What barns always have in common, though, is that it is the heart of the farm. Because of this, you have a unique connection to the barn and all of it’s history. It houses the livestock or shelters the shop. It is where you go on a snowy day or a sunny day or a rainy day. For me, my family’s barn is a part of my history. I can tell you there are marks on the wall for how many tractor scoops we filled up during goat barn cleanouts. I can tell you there is a cabinet door in the goat room painted macaroni yellow from a can of paint leftover from my sister and I’s bedroom. I can tell you there were 4 ways you could get into the hayloft, some a little more challenging than others. I could tell you where a cat would have her kittens or where the chickens would lay their eggs-most of the time in very inconvenient locations. I could tell you how to lift up on the doors just right so it would latch and why the window in the hayloft is broken. I could tell you where the snow will blow in and where the rain will flood in. I could tell you there is a giant crack in the horse stall floor you have to watch out for when you are scooping manure. I can tell you all the animals that have ever lived in that barn were loved. This amazing part of my life started a lifelong love for animals and I feel blessed to have had that. These memories bring me so much joy.

Live simply. Find your happy place. Enjoy the little things. Scoop out the shit. Celebrate all the milestones, big or small. Get an animal or two or three. Step away from the day to day to get “a fresh coat of paint” and gain a new perspective. Adapt when necessary. Watch out for the rotten eggs. If you get stuck in the mud, just keep going. If the rain floods in, just give it time; the sunshine will come out. Do something that makes you happy. Watch the sunset. Observe the beauty around you. But most importantly, grow from who you once were, be present and look forward to what’s to come. You goat this.

Navis Farms – The oxen pair

Gee, Haw, Whoa. Not terms you use when you are listening to an old farmer tell a story but commands to use for training oxen. Once trained, an oxen pair can move from A to B with only verbal commands and can pull up to 13,000 pounds, that’s two times their body weight! I can’t even get my dog to stay…

Ron Navis has had aspirations for training a pair but with a few trials over the years. What first sparked his interest in draft animals goes back to his childhood witnessing his grandpa open up cornfields. They always used horses. The tractor in this case was inefficient because you had to get on and off. The horses were trained to follow commands. This made it possible to get through the field in time to come home and enjoy a slice of warm pie.

Surrounded by fields of corn, beans, wheat, hay and livestock, Ron Navis grew up helping out on the farm in Shelbyville, IL. He found himself helping out a lot on the farm cutting firewood, raising chickens, tending to a large garden and helping can that produce. Both his parents had full time jobs so he and his brother had responsibility for a good part of the homestead. The brick house they lived in centered around fields surrounded by woods. Ron spent a lot of time in those woods walking to his grandparents that were both not too far. They always had cows and calves on the farm and every summer he would usually show a steer or heifer at the 4-H fair. He grew fond of the company of cattle which made it very difficult to sell them when the time came. He always enjoyed working with the animals so he pursued a degree in animal science at the University of Illinois. Today he lives on a small homestead now with his wife, Jill Navis. He ended up taking a career in crops but living on the farm fills the void of his love for gardening and animals that he knows so well. For him it is a way of life and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Ron always wanted a team of horses, but realizing this was an expensive hobby, he looked into oxen. They can pull more than a horse, calves are much cheaper, and you can build the yoke instead of investing in harnesses. The big challenge with finding the right pair is finding a pair that complements each other. He has had Holstein, Jersey, and milking Shorthorn teams over the years. The jersey pair were named Stop and Go. That didn’t work out as their names were given to them for their personalities and they did not complement each other. Winter 2020 he was blessed with Brown Swiss bull twins from a local dairy. Then the Navis Farms oxen pair Brutus and Cray were born. Bull twins are like finding a double yoke egg so one could say it was meant to be. He didn’t give up. As with any difficult task, the key to success is practice, patience and persistence. The best teachers are repetition, failure and repetitive failure. These words come from much experience as a man of many talents.

Ron Navis is my father and I am so proud to have his story be featured first in my blog. This is the story that started my story. I like to think my love for animals came from my father and his never ending passion to be connected to the farm.  If you see a Brown Swiss pair in your local community parade in the Bloomington, IL area, it will most likely be Ron, Brutus, and Cray. Until then they will be working on the farm and eating lots of hay. Follow along their story on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/tryingoxen\