Thank you Fire and Cracker, for all the many ways that you joined not only Caleb but all of us on a journey of learning; for greeting each and every one of us at the fence-line with rapt attention and the chance to scratch you both under the chin; for bellowing a “Farewell” as you watched us walk away — and mostly for letting us enjoy watching you grow from young, knobby-kneed calves to strong, strapping oxen — nurtured by the food, love and care that we gave you.

Caleb-and-OxenThank you Caleb — for taking on the task of training and growing along with these beautiful creatures – for learning to listen to their needs, discover the skills you have to train them, with such loving warmth and with such a strong will; and for finding the courage and inner strength to be the driver of such a large team … more than 1 ton of draft power under the yoke and at your hand!

When Caleb was invited to join the Kroka program for the winter and spring and experience a whole new way of living and learning in concert with nature, the question arose as to what to do with Fire and Cracker. As the school was not able to house them adequately over the winter, the Payne family kindly stepped in and offered their barn. And so Saphira and Johanna took on their daily care in Caleb’s absence. Over the winter, it became clear to us that with Caleb not returning until the summer, too many months would pass without the oxen having any training or possibility of continuing their work. With careful mentoring, it is sometimes possible to have two trainers work the steers together, but this needs to start at a young age and with the animals now being over two years old, the likelihood that they would have the flexibility and patience to accept another Hartsbrook student as their teacher was slim if nigh on impossible. With that in mind, it became clear to us that this was the right moment to recognize we had arrived at the end of an amazing learning journey with these creatures. Our good friend Mike Austin, who has mentored Caleb throughout this long journey, bought Fire and Cracker from us and with much love and gratitude we said our goodbyes and loaded them onto his trailer.

The steers’ barn seemed empty for a while, until all of our April Farm Campers settled into the hay to listen to Charlotte’s Web — looking for each spider in the crusty corners and wondering…

As farmers, our work continues — we will be re-seeding the pasture this spring, repairing the fencing, perhaps moving some of our other animals down there. We will mostly be waiting for the moment when another Hartsbrook student, perhaps with Caleb’s knowledge and help, steps forward to take on a young pair of knobby-kneed calves and turn them into a fine team, and perhaps along the way, learn a little about him or herself and the amazing world of animals.

Nicki Robb
Land Stewardship Program Director