recipe for lilac jelly

Share the Buzz, A free lesson guide about honeybees

Why just teach your children about honeybees when you could do something together to help save them? This lesson goes beyond “just” planting another pollinator garden by focusing on planting flowers which bloom when bees need them most, providing the maximum benefit for limited space.

free homeschool lessons about honeybees

Children learn best by doing. And by having someone to inspire their curiosity, encourage them to ask questions and help them find the answers. In this lesson guide, you won’t be creating a lapbook. I don’t have any notebooking pages for you. Well, I’ll include some links to some at the end, just in case you feel the need to have something for their folders. But really, my suggestion for teaching children about honeybees is to plan a pollinator garden together, tend it and talk about who comes to visit your flowers. Talk to your children as you work. Share your knowledge. Listen to their questions and research the honeybee and other native pollinators together.

Not many people outside the beekeeping world know this, but March is the most difficult month for honeybees. They spend winter semi-dormant in their cluster in the hive. They aren’t raising brood. They aren’t collecting nectar. They aren’t making honey. The colony’s population is at its lowest by the end of February, but to be ready for the clover bloom in June, honeybees start waking up and raising brood by early March. A good queen can lay almost her own bodyweight in eggs Every. Single. Day. The hive is preparing for the clover bloom, but the  presence of early spring flowers can make or break a hive coming out of winter low on stores and high on demand.

Importance of early blooming flowers for honeybee survival-min

This is a long post with a LOT of information. It contains just about everything you need to get started on your garden and teach your children “here a little, there a little” as you work and watch your garden develop. There is a link at the bottom of the post to turn it into a pdf which you can then print to refer to offline.

Teaching your children about honeybees

They will learn more and learn it more deeply when the information comes in small snippets, shared while their attention is focused and their minds are already working out what they are observing. You don’t need a lesson plan, a notebook or a lapbook. All you need is a garden you planted together, a sketch book and small, buzzing visitors to talk and wonder about.

Before you get started, think about the lessons you want your child to learn. Use this to guide your conversations with your children as you plan your garden and observe the insects that come to visit.

Look for opportunites to share the information in conversation while you are watching the bees in your garden. Dissect a flower together and look at its parts. Talk about how all the workers you see are female. Drones (males) are raised for a specific job and all they ever do is hang around eating honey and waiting for a chance to mate with a queen. Look for the pollen basket on the hind legs of a honeybee and talk about what that does. Talk about how the honeybee gets back to the hive and how she tells her colony where she found a food source. These conversations do not need to take place during a two week formal study or even in one growing season.

Have questions? Feel free to drop me a note here, via my contact page or on my facebook page. I am not a commercial beekeeper, but I have had hives for several years. I love to talk about this life we have out here, whether it is related to our hobby farm or our homeschooling.

Planning a Spring Garden

As you plan your garden, talk about the importance of habitat to all living things. Honeybees need food, water and a safe place to raise their young just like any other living thing. As humans turn wild spaces into lawns, businesses and farms, it gets harder and harder for pollinators to find the variety of nectar and pollen producing plants they need to survive. If you have older children, you could introduce the concept of a “monoculture.” I live in rural Nebraska and we have acres upon acres of farmland planted in corn and beans. Bees do collect pollen from these plants, but they have a need for variety in their diet just like we do. Kale may be a “superfood,” but it that’s all we ate, we wouldn’t stay healthy, either.  Also discuss why you are focusing on early blooming plants.

Look together with your children for a spot in your lawn to plant or extend a garden. Ideally, find the equivalent of a three foot by three foot area to plant because bees like clusters of the same kind of flower best. However, even a small container garden can be beneficial and your children can learn the same lessons. Research plants that provide pollen and nectar for honeybees. (Sap is not something bees generally have difficulty finding). Pay special attention to early blooming plants that will give honeybees (and other pollinators) a nectar and pollen source to replenish needed stores.

Crocuses are a wonderful addition to a garden. They produce a good amount of pollen which provides needed protein to a bee’s diet. They bloom early in the year, sometimes while snow is still on the ground. They also fit very easily into existing gardens because they are finished with their bloom before most other plants have begun to come out of their dormancy. If you have room for shrubs, hazelnuts also provide an excellent pollen source early in the year.

Wikipedia has an comprehensive list of North American nectar sources for honeybees which includes an indication of when the bloom period for each plant begins and how significant it is to the honeybee. When planning a garden, you do not have to worry so much about how many pounds per acre of honey each plant would produce, but this chart definitely demonstrates why the clover bloom is so important to the honeybee! This article from The National Gardening Association focuses on more popular spring-blooming garden plants that aren’t necessarily native.

Set aside time to watch them at work when they visit your flowers (or the weeds in your yard!). Talk about the parts of the bee, notice how they bury their head deep within the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar within. Let them know that all the workers they see are female. Look closely at the hind legs of the bee and see if you can see the pollen baskets where the honeybee stores pollen to take back to the hive. When they are ready to return, these baskets are full and look like yellowish or brownish (depending on the pollen color) bulges on their hind legs.

The bee’s year

While you work the soil and start planting your garden, discuss the importance of bloom times to the life cycle of the hive. Share the information in the infographic above to re-emphasize the importance of early pollen and nectar sources to beehives and begin to look for things that are in bloom in your area. Talk about where the bees are in their yearly cycle:

Winter: The hive slows down. A cluster forms around the honey and bees take turns eating honey and vibrating their wings to generate heat. Overwintering bees live the longest of any bees (besides the queen)

Late winter (Feb/Mar): The build up begins. The queen can lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs a day – almost equal to her own body weight!

Late March: The first bees from the build up emerge from the hive. The bees that overwintered begin to die. Large amounts of dead bees may be found at the hive entrance as bees clean their hives.

June: A strong hive will have at least 60,000 bees to be ready to harvest nectar from the clover which should just be beginning to bloom.

Summer: The hive maintains its numbers. Bees literally work themselves to death and will crawl away from the hive with tattered wings. Her average lifespan during the working season is just 40 days.

Fall: A secondary flow of honey begins as the goldenrod and asters come into bloom. The hive starts winding down for winter. Brood prduction slows. The drones are ejected from the hive. A northern hive will need approximately 80 pounds of honey to survive winter. Southern hives need about half that.

For a sweet treat, when the clover comes into bloom, take a moment to show your children just what all the “buzz” is about. Carefully pull a few of the tiny flowers (the flower of a clover is actually made up of many small flowers clustered together) and chew on the ends that were attached to the flower. You should taste a little of the sweet nectar. This is easiest with the large red clover, even though this variety is worthless to honeybees. Their proboscis isn’t long enough to get to that nectar! Bumblebees appreciate them, however!

Dissecting flowers

The garden you planted may or may not begin flowering this spring, depending on what you planted, however you will certainly have the opportunity to collect some early spring flowers. Pick a few flowers and bring them in to dissect. Help your children carefully cut the flower open and remove all of its parts. Some flowers, like crocuses, tulips and daffodils, are easier to teach with, but your children will enjoy taking a closer look at any flowers you can find.

diagram of a flower

 

After you separate the major parts of the flower and discuss what they do, consider sketching them in a journal and labeling the parts. Talk about how pollination works. Honeybees and our native bees collect pollen for their own consumption, but they also help move it from the female parts of flowers to the male parts of flowers, allowing the seeds to form and the flowers they visit to reproduce. This is good for the plant and for the honeybee!

The importance of pollination

Did you know that 50% of the United States’ commercial hives go to California for the almond harvest? Hives come from as far away as Australia to pollinate the almond crop . This creates problems of its own as far as spreading mites and disease to colonies across the country and around the world, but it does attest to the significance of the honeybee in crop production!
Honeybees are responsible for 80% of crop pollination for the plants we eat and their pollination service is estimated to be worth $15 billion a year! Naturalists are not exaggerating when they say no bees means no food!

Why are honeybees so important to pollination? Many insects feed on nectar and pollen, but honeybees practice “flower fidelity.” That means they like to visit the same kind of flower until they’ve exhausted the nectar or pollen supply. Once they start on apple blossoms, for example, they will continue visiting apple blossoms, ignoring all other flowers. This ensures the pollen from one apple tree is carried to another and not lost in trips to dandelions, henbit or whatever else is in bloom at the same time. There are other native pollinators (and some of them are even more effective pollinators), but they do not live in the large colonies that honeybees do and they are not as easy to transport from field to field to pollinate crops.

When the bees begin to visit your flowers, take time to just watch them work. Ask questions and wonder with your children what their day is like. Watch how they dig their faces deep into the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar. Look closely at the hind legs to see if you can see the pollen baskets. If the bee is close to returning to the hive, you may see large yellowish or brownish balls attached to the hind legs (depending on what kinds of pollen she is collecting). Encourage your children to ask questions and if you don’t know the answers, help them research the answers online or at the library. This is also a good time to discuss the importance of honeybees to our food supply.

For a refresher on the pollination process itself, including diagrams of the parts of a flower, Kids Growing Strong has an excellent article on pollination, written for children.

Remember, each visit by a honeybee is an opportunity to share a little more of the wonder of the honeybee world with your child.

The information I have gathered here focuses on habitat protection and the importance of honeybees to our food supply, but hopefully you will have many opportunities to watch the bees come and go from the flowers in your garden. Each time you stop to watch, consider sharing a little more about the lives of honeybees.

Other topics to consider discussing while beewatching:

Protect honeybee habitat

Rethink your relationship to “weeds” such as dandelions, henbit and even the clover that grows in your lawn. In some communities, you may not have a choice, but learn to appreciate them for the valuable bee food that they are. If you have to remove them, try focusing your weed efforts on controlling them before they bloom. Honeybees aren’t interested in your green lawn or even in the dandelion greens that are beginning to sprout up. What you do with your lawn between now and when the first flowers begin to bloom will not matter that much to your local pollinators.

Once the flowers bloom, try leaving them alone. If you have to control them, try popping the tops off dandelion for some dandelion jelly. At the very least, watch the flowers for bee activity. Bees will work over the average lawn in less than a day (less than an hour!). Some of these weeds will rebloom and draw the bees and butterflies back again, but when you notice that the activity has stopped, work quickly to destroy the weeds (that are a whole lot easier to see with that big yellow target!).

Spray wisely

Beekeepers and sustainability types will tell you not to spray chemicals at all. I’m not going to do that. Sure, I’d like for you to do that, but I know that’s when some people will tune out and go on spraying the way they always have, putting bees and even themselves at increased risk. Even whole states need to improve on this. During the Zika virus scare, indiscriminate spraying killed millions of honebees.  A few simple rules can prevent your lawn from becoming its own honeybee holocaust, making it safer for the insects you want (and generally saving a bit of money, as well).

  1. Read the package directions and follow them closely.
  2.  Control drift. Don’t spray on windy days and spray close to the ground so you are only spraying what you need to spray.
  3. Spray early in the morning and late in the evening when bees aren’t active.
  4. Try spraying only what needs sprayed rather than the whole lawn or garden.
  5. If bees are active in your lawn, try waiting a day or two and spray when they’ve moved on.

And of course, think carefully about whether you need to spray at all!

Share

OK, so really, a few extra nectar producing plants in your garden are not likely to have much of an affect on bee populations in your area. Bees visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. Appreciate that the next time you see shelves lined with this liquid gold. Your pollinator garden will be most effective at teaching your children to respect habitats and learn about honeybees and other insects sharing our lawns and gardens with us.

But imagine if everyone in your neighborhood gardened with bees in mind. A little extra planning put into our landscaping could mean that we could begin to give bees and other pollinators back some of their habitat. Share this information with friends and neighbors who might be interested in doing what they can to help honeybee populations. You don’t have to dig up your lawn and replace it with clover. You don’t even have to stop controlling weeds. All it takes is a little forethought and a conscientious effort to include plants that honeybees seek out in your landscaping and be mindful of their presence while controlling weeds.

Other resources for teaching children

I know, I know. I’m a teacher, too. Sometimes it just feels good to have them complete an assignment to put in their folder and sometimes you just have to have a lesson plan.

Suggested books:

(Contains affiliate links, mostly so you know what books I am talking about. If you were to purchase anything through these links, a few cents would be thrown my way.)

A Short History of the Honey Bee, by E. Readicker-Henderson. This is a beautifully illustrated book with a lot of good information, especially for older children. I bought it for myself and read it aloud to my children.

The Bee Tree, by Patricia Polacco. One of my favorite children’s authors. Mary Ellen gets bored and grandpa knows just what she needs: a hunt for a bee tree. Mary Ellen learns that the best things in life are the ones you work for.

Lesson plans

A free honeybee lapbook, including a printable game to play with your children

A Round Up of lesson ideas. Definitely go visit a hive if you have the opportunity! Consider calling your local beekeepers’ association to arrange a field trip.

An excellent collection of ideas for nature studies involving honeybees

Most important of all, have fun with your children. Enjoy the garden you plant together and look for opportunities to stimulate their wonder as you share your garden with the honeybee.

recipe for lilac jelly

A day in the life of a wannabe farmer

Recently, leaving the city for a more “sustainable” life on a hobby farm seems to be all the rage. Now, I love our life out here, but I thought I’d provide a little snapshot of life with animals. Both for those considering making the jump and for those who are more the armchair dreamer type. Because it is not for the faint of heart. Animals, like children, almost never behave according to plan.

Candy, not where she belongs

A system that works for months will suddenly break down at the most inopportune moment. And so this particular snap shot begins as I’m driving my children to town for tumbling/dance camp. An event they have been out of their minds excited about for weeks.

And I don’t see the cow in the pasture. Or the little bull calf that is her constant shadow.

Now, there are plenty of places in the pasture she could be and I wouldn’t see her. The grass is just tall enough, she could even be out in the open and I might miss her just driving by, especially considering how high above the road our pasture is. This doubt of my own observations sustains me all the way to town, but there is no way that lingering question mark is going to leave me alone. So I instruct the girls what to do if I’m not back when I’m supposed to be and head home.

And as I pull in the drive, Candy pokes her head out of the pig barn to say hello. Not catastrophic. She is technically still in the pasture, just not the section she belongs in. So I get a bucket with a little bit of grain and open the gate to let them out of the barn and the pasture gate to let them in with the sheep.

They aren’t interested in the grain bucket. Not one little bit. They run to the big barn and make themselves cozey in the corner. Which really wouldn’t be that big of a deal either, but this section is overgrazed and I really just need them to go take their morning snooze in the shade provided in the outer pasture where they belong.

So I shake the bucket which alerts the sheep who come running. The ram unnerves me. He’s never done anything, but I don’t know what’s going through his head when he looks at me. He stands too close, rests his head against the side of my leg and . . . thinks. I’m not sure if he’s planning on killing me for the bucket or claiming me as one of his ewes or if he’s just a nice ram that isn’t at all like the ones I’ve read about and I really should put more trust in his history of never doing anything than all I’ve read about how dangerous a ram with no fear of humans can be. After all, he only acts this way when I’m holding a bucket.

I finally give up on enticing the cattle out of the barn and lock the door, hoping to keep them in until they’re hungry enough to follow me back to where they belong. And I dump the grain on the ground to be rid of my uncomfortably friendly ram who doesn’t pay me any more attention.

Except now I notice that while I had closed the gates behind me, I had failed to tie the gate to the pig barn shut. This isn’t a quick task. It involves lacing baling wire through the gate and around a post because the gate is really just a collectiong of things we found in the barn and tied to an old metal gate to keep the animals from getting out. I think I had more hoped the gilts would just not realize that all they needed to do was push to get out.

That’s actually Mr. Freckles, but you don’t stop to take pictures when your pigs escape!

Normally, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal to have happen right there where I can see. Miss Tumble (the one who got out) is a friendly gilt and more than happy to go where I direct her, with or without a bucket. Except that this particular exit to the barn leads to the little “porch” I made for the boars to acclimate them to the electric fencing. And given the odd “songs” Miss Tumble and Mr. Freckles had been singing to one another the night before, I was a little concerned that Miss Tumble might be in heat.

And by “songs,” I mean deep throated growls. Roars, even. I went down in the middle of the night to collect some chickens I knew were out and thought there was a bear in the pig barn.

Perhaps it is relevant to also mention here that the chickens were out because the day before the gilts had knocked over my daughter’s poorly conceived fencing to steal chicken feed, allowing all of our most prized birds to escape. None were injured, but they all eluded capture until nightfall led them to roost. In the pig barn. With the roaring-bears-that-were-pigs. Where I collected them by the light of a cell phone and tried not to imagine all that crossed the boar’s mind when he trotted over to me.

I thought he might be on a murderous rampage. He just wanted scritches so I obliged and escaped before he changed his mind.

At any rate, the little gate that I had propped open to let the boys go in and out of their half of the barn was wide open and doesn’t close as easily as the main gate Miss Tumble wandered out of. So I threw a rabbit cage in front of it, hoping to thwart any attempts at blocking me from extracting the object of his affection from his “porch.”

With all the animals finally secured, I walked out to the far pasture to see how exactly Candy and her shadow had escaped.

The actual exit point wasn’t that bad. I live in continual fear that Candy will cease to even pretend to fear the electric fence and that will be the end of containing her. But the top two lines had been dropped, probably for the short legs of small children who were retrieving a bucket. It was a small hop over and a short walk to the pig barn where they know there is grain available.

What was inside the pasture, however, was a far worse sight. Half a mile of fencing down and criss crossed across the pasture, like a glistening spider web of metal. Worried that the horses would get tangled in it, I shooed them over to the pasture section with the least damage and put up a line of fencing to keep them from walking through the tangled mess. The horses are good. I think they’d stay in a fence made of yarn as long as they were together.

I walked back to the barn and told Candy and Endeavor they were hamburger. Candy walked up to the barn door and stuck her head over the bar. I thumped her brisket.

“You know why this is your brisket? Because that’s what you make out of it. Slather it in BBQ sauce and it is far better than restringing fencing.”

She nuzzled me. I’m pretty sure she thinks the various cuts of meat I have taught her over the years are various pet names for how wonderful she is.

I looked at my phone. 9:45. I would be right on time to pick up my youngest daughter and take her over to her sister’s five day club.

Not even lunch time and I felt like I had already put in a full day’s work without actually accomplishing anything. And I still had a half mile of fencing to untangle and restring before I could begin the projects I had planned for the day.

So if you ever wonder what this whole sustainability-hobby-farm-thing is about, now you know. Working, re-working, planning, re-planning and always learning on the fly.

That and the soft brown eyes of an impish cow who rests her head on your shoulder while you threaten to turn her into hamburger because even she knows you don’t mean it.

And this. Because in the end, it really does all come back to your children.

Micah with his very best friend.

 

 

recipe for lilac jelly

Round about the farm

So this is a bit of a hobby farm. In that we have a lot of animals and plants most people would consider crops, even if they don’t produce anything. These are a few of the main characters. You can tell because we took enough pictures of them that a few of them actually turned out!

This is Candy, our Dexter cow, with a beautiful little heifer calf at her side.

Dexter calf

This is Scout. At 15 and a half hands, he’s a big boy. Mouse’s pride and joy. And the horse I wish I wanted to ride? I was looking for something in the neighborhood of 14 hands and older. Maybe a retired trail horse. I thought that sounded like a good first “real” horse for my daughter, but this boy had been through quite a bit of training and was almost the perfect horse, even if he was only 8 when we got him and quite a bit taller than I had in mind.

horseback riding

My saskatoons. I have no idea why I was so excited to get these from the Nemaha Resource District. We planted a whole hedge of berries I had never tried before. Good thing they were delicious!

saskatoon

One of my honeybees. Drinking from the aquaponics tank. One of the many benefits of aquaponics: no more dead bees floating in livestock waterers!

honeybee

And finally, evidence that we take compassion even on garden pests. Maybe it has something to do with how beautiful the butterflies are. Or that we homeschool. But rather than disposing of these devourers of dill, we took cuttings, brought them inside and named them Bob and Crystal. Unfortunately, they escaped rather than building a chrysallis like a good caterpillar under observation.

swallowtail caterpillar

Well, out of close to 200 pictures, that’s all that seemed worth sharing. And why I don’t share pictures all that often. It’s just too much work!

recipe for lilac jelly

Livestock will keep you humble

There’s nothing quite like livestock to keep you humble.

I say that because we have these two steer. Calves, really. I mean, they’re almost a year old, but even their mothers get mistaken for calves by the cattle people around here because they’re not Angus or Hereford or Simental. They’re Dexters. And they top out at about 41 inches and 700 pounds.

And they lead like puppy dogs. When they see their halters, they come running. It means a walk. Fresh pasture. A visit with mom. All good things happen after the halter is secured. This is why it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and let the girls show them at the fair. Sure, they’ll look a little puny against those muscle bound products of our neighbor’s, but they shouldn’t take two grown men bodysurfing through the fair like that steer last year.

So getting them weighed on Saturday should have been a breeze. Nevermind the fact I can’t back up a trailer to save my life. I mean, I have sweet little halter broke calves that look like newborns compared to these half-wild beasts being unloaded before and after us.

When I said, “Load up!” they hopped in the trailer. When I said, “Back out!” they backed out and let us lead them to their pen.

Easy peasy.

It absolutely did not matter that I could not back the trailer up to that shoot.

Until I told Mike, the kind man opening and closing the gate that we were just walking them out to the trailer.

Open went the gate and off went the calves. All my daughter and I had left was the rope burn as they kicked up their heels, bucked around the parking lot and made for the grass on the other side.

For a moment, I just stood there. For a moment, I thought it would be fine. They’d settle in to grazing and we’d just walk up to them and pick up their leads and haul them to the trailer. After all, they were scared. Grazing is comfort. We’re security. It would all be fine.

That’s why I didn’t run.

That and the fact that thanks to an old hip injury I really can’t run. But at that moment, I wouldn’t have even if I could have. I even told my daughter to approach from the south but to walk slowly.

And then the train whistle blew.

And the calves bolted.

And Mike sprinted. I never knew a man wearing work boots and Carharts could move so fast. But he was at a full run, waving his arms and doing everything he could to get those calves to turn.

I was almost at a run and the searing pain that normally accompanies such endeavors was noticeably absent. And then everything turned to slow motion. Mike, my daughter, the train, the calves.

And I saw it all. They were going to reach the tracks just ahead of the train. Just in time to get hit and there was nothing we could do about it. But everyone kept running. And I just saw them spattered all over the train and started wondering since we were right there if they would be able to process anything we scraped off the tracks when it was over.

Then they turned. The relief was met with that searing pain I hadn’t felt a moment ago and I couldn’t keep up the pace that really wasn’t getting me anywhere, anyway.

They ran straight up ninth street and the vet’s office there on the corner emptied out — the vet, the vet tech and I’m pretty sure the third person joining the chase was a customer. It was like the running of the bulls right there in Tecumseh, Nebraska.

Except everyone was in workboots and Carharts. And they were chasing 375 pound calves that don’t even have horns. Or testicles, for that matter.

They finally got them cornered and tied them to a fence while I went to get the trailer. A fence that in no way could hold them if they decided to take off again.

Ask me how I know.

Ask me why we had to replace our chicken run this summer.

And after a short lesson in managing steers, and a simple, “Load up!” we had them back in the trailer and tied for the ride.

And I told my daughter we’re changing the family motto from the old McIntire “per ardua” (through hardship) to “Yes, we’re that family.” And I’m putting it on a T-shirt.

Though apparently that isn’t necessary. Because when I stopped at Orscheln’s to pick up a new halter, the checker greeted me with, “So I heard about what happened with your little calves.”

Word travels fast.

And livestock keep you humble.

recipe for lilac jelly

My dog was hit by a car

I was sitting at the computer, nursing, surfing facebook.

“There’s someone here!” the children shouted.

I looked up to see our neighbor at the door. I knew it couldn’t be good. Not many people just drop in, but especially not this late in the evening. I didn’t really have time to think, though, because the door was already open.

“I just hit your white dog.”

And I was stunned. The only thing I could even think to say was, “He’s not even supposed to be out.”

livestock guardian

And he wasn’t . . . supposed to be out, that is. But Flee’s a good livestock guardian, patrolling his pasture, looking over his animals and making sure everyone makes it home safely. That’s why he chases cars. And from his side of the pasture, it is a beautiful sight to see him at a full run, escorting the car past his domain and standing at the end of the fenceline like a king as he watches the car travel on down the road. Another threat averted.

But that’s only when he’s on his side of the fence and I know no harm can come to him. That’s also why I don’t intentionally let him out of the pasture.

But he also likes to look over his mismatched flock of animals. He’s particularly fond of the cattle. You see, we got him after our little calf was attacked by a coyote and we were determined not to have that happen again. He was raised alongside those calves. He romped with them, watched over them and led them to safety any time danger was near. He is happiest when his herd is together and he can look over them all.

Livestock Guardian Dog

In return, they look to him for safety. When he barks, they come and stand near him. When he naps in the sun, they graze and play. And when it was time for them to have their own calves, they just looked on as he helped clean their newborn babes.

And at milking time, as we lead the cows out of the barn to tie them in the stanchion, Flee likes to follow. He likes to lay down by the alfalfa and just watch his girls and their calves. He likes to make sure the shepherds don’t get too close because there is absolutely no reason in his mind that they should ever give his girls that eye.

But then there’s the car chasing.

And tonight, my daughter was milking. And tonight, my daughter didn’t think about it.

So I walked out to the road with the neighbor as she told me he came out of nowhere. That she hit him pretty hard. That he ran off into the corn field.

And I wasn’t upset with her. I was thankful. We lost Timmy to this road and the driver never even slowed down. But there was no sign of Flee and I could only hope that whatever his injuries were, he could make it home so that we could take care of him and so that he could be comforted amongst his people and his herd.

I walked down to the barn because if he came home, that would be where he’d head. The animals were all out of sorts. The sheep were bleating. The cattle were incessant with their mooing and I could hear them pacing in the barn. The horses were whinnying over and over. Candy in the stanchion lifted her head from her bucket of grain and was rocking against the sides as she turned to look at me when I walked in to tell my daughter what had happened.

“Really? I just saw him and he seemed fine.”

“It just happened. They said he ran off into the corn field. They drove up the road a little to see if they could see him.”

“No. I just saw him. I heard the car and he took off, but just like two minutes ago he ran through again. He was moving just fine. He was fast.”

I was confused. Had she seen him tearing off after the car? Or had she seen him coming home, scared but without serious injury?

So I walked around the property calling him and listened as all of our livestock called for him as well. But there was nothing. Flee isn’t like our other dogs. He was raised with cattle. They are his focus and his job. He knows us. He knows his name. But he comes when he wants. Even when he isn’t scared and in pain.

And a few minutes later, he appeared in the milking barn. Our steer returned to his feed. Candy relaxed and settled into chewing her cud. And as I ran my hands along his sides, back and legs, looking for any sign of pain, I noticed how quiet everything had suddenly become.

Flee was home. The guardian was safe. And everyone relaxed.