Farmers Helping Farmers
4-H aims to develop "head, heart, hands and health."
Judging by the Morris family of Cliff, it's working.
by Pat Young
The Morris farm sits a short drive off Highway 180 in the Cliff area. A neat red house with white trim is tucked amidst barns, corrals, rabbit hutches, chicken pens, gardens, fruit trees and a "friendship bridge" to the widowed neighbor's house. A little bear statue out front holds a sign that says, "Welcome." That's an understatement.
Duane and Kim Morris and their three blue-eyed, blond-haired sons — Hunter, age 10, Dylan, 8, and Auston, 5 — are all ready to greet you with handshakes and smiles if you happen down their driveway. But four days before Thanksgiving last year, smiles were hard to come by.
The boys had been busy raising their 4-H projects, Nigerian dwarf goats (dairy goats), ducks, geese, chickens and bunnies, when a mountain lion, teaching her young cubs to hunt, discovered a lesson, and a meal, in the Morris' goat pen and nearby chicken pen. The boys not only lost some of their 4-H projects, but revenue they earned from selling goats.
Duane and Kim were philosophical — when you live in the country, they understood that things like this can happen. But for the young boys, it was a blow.
Through friends of the family, Jon and Susie Eickhoff of Silver City heard of their plight. They had recently introduced a desert adapted, heritage breed of cattle, Moris Criollo cattle, to this area (see "Solar-Based Cattle," April 2011), and soon they were donating and delivering two heifer calves and a bull calf to the boys.
"They ran out to peer in the trailer," Jon says of when he brought the cattle out to the farm.
All three boys helped build a corral for the cattle, and are planning to be the first ones to show the sleeker Criollo cattle at the 4-H fair this year. (The two oldest boys will show the cattle. The youngest, Auston, can show only smaller animals, like the bunnies, at the fair.) The boys are already saving money from selling "Three Brothers Country Fresh Eggs," plus bunnies and other projects, to buy another heifer from the Eickhoffs soon.
"They are enterprising," says Kim. With mom's help, they make and sell "Yum Yum" dog biscuits, cat, horse, cow and bunny treats, and fishing worms.
This "farm-raised" family has a flat-screen TV in their living room, but the boys prefer to be outdoors, building forts, searching for unusual rocks and tending animals.
They troop out to show their company the newest additions to the farm, Annabelle, Betsy and Bullseye. As they approach the corral with buckets of feed, the three young cattle run to greet them. Criollo cattle, known to be gentle, accept hugs like family dogs before diving into the feed.
"We bucket feed them," Dylan explains, then adds with a grin, "One time Bullseye burped right in mom's face."
Hunter adds, "Annabelle will even lick your face."
Kim says that Betsy has been known to "herd the chickens back to their pens." She adds, when she says "night night," all three cattle will head for the barn. So the young cattle are adding new experiences all around for this rural family.
Hunter says that he likes to play basketball and spend time with the cows. He sports a shiny belt buckle, and a healed broken arm, from riding a bull calf at the fair. The cows and chickens on the farm are part of his chores. Dylan says he likes to ride horses, when he's not taking care of the bunnies and dogs. Auston has a tool box and says he likes to "build stuff," when he's not tending the chickens. He carefully holds out a chicken and much larger goose egg for inspection.
They are "self entertaining," their mom says with a laugh. An energetic woman, she has a licensed kitchen for baked and canned goods. She plans to start a farmer's market at the highway this summer, selling her homemade goods and crafts.
Dad Duane points out that this will be "a new avenue for the boys."
Not that the boys haven't already learned the art of "entrepreneurship." They have learned that they can get tips if they carry bags for people at the market. And Auston has offered to trade the neighbor "some of mommy's canned goods" for some of his Alaska-caught salmon.
Kim is never without ideas, from pumpkin painting to marketing her great-grandmother's 100-year-old recipe for beet berry jam. Duane, a big man who looks like there is nothing he can't handle, works at the Morenci Mine in Arizona weekdays, and weekends on the family farm.
The Morris farm menagerie includes one goose, two ducks, about 50 chickens, two dogs, a cat, numerous rabbits, and the three young Criollo cattle. In addition to the farm and family chores, Kim does craft classes at the boys' school. When the basketball team needed some "cheering on," Kim took fresh-baked cookies to school. She also helped the boys' classes make soup jars for the senior citizen center and the teachers.
The Morris family philosophy of "farmers helping farmers" goes back generations.
As modern cars zoom by on the highway near their farm, Kim says, "I should have been born 100 years ago."
The Morris family likes living off the land in this country community, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Pat Young is a retired journalist who lives in the mountains near San Lorenzo.
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