By Kevin Williams
Harper was riding on a zebra colt. A few feet away, a baby bison, camel, and peacock watched our family with curiosity. What kind of zoo is this? Or have the Bauman’s started raising exotic animals? Neither! We are at a farm in the middle of Kansas, and this little zebra was following us around! Ok, so that doesn’t explain much either. Here’s the scoop: We really needed to do some long-range planning for our family farm operation before spring planting. To do this, we had to get outside our “box” and away from our daily responsibilities on the farm. We selected the only farm-based Bed and Breakfast in Kansas that had accommodations suitable for our family: Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Nickerson. They had a conference table for us to focus on the numbers as well as indoor and outdoor play areas for the little girls. The little girls were convinced that this whole adventure of “sleeping at the zoo” was in their honor. It just so happened that the only suitable time was right over Ava and Harper’s birthdays, so they thought it was all just one big birthday party.
The planning session went wonderfully. We defined our Holistic Context, and fed giraffes. We addressed operational weaknesses and petted kangaroos. We planned our farm production and rode camels. Devoting an entire day to family farm planning was pretty intense, so we were glad for a chance to rest our brains and connect with animals, even if they were camels instead of cows! It was a rich time of being totally honest with each other about the condition of our farm operation and each family member’s role in it. We clarified our family vision and asked “Why” with merciless frequency. Our family has become somewhat notorious for our “Why” culture. Why do we do things this way? Why haven’t we fixed this problem? Why do we want to work together? Why do we accept the fact that farming is a non-profit endeavor?
The price for room and board also included a farm tour and camel rides, so we took a break from our planning to enjoy the animals. Everyone (even Mom!) took a camel ride. She figured, Why not? It was probably the only chance she would get, and it wasn’t going to cost any extra. I was surprised at how smooth their gait was, for such a gangly animal.
We learned more facts about these exotic animals from our 14-year-old guide than we ever had in any zoo. One of my favorite stories was about the Narraganset turkey. In the pen with scores of long-legged ostriches strutted a short fat turkey. Poor turkey, he probably had a hard time keeping himself from getting trampled flat! Not so, said our host. This turkey was the only one on the farm, and he ruled the roost! In fact, those mighty ostriches are scared of the turkey. How does a two-foot turkey go about intimidating an eight-foot ostrich? He jumps up and pecks at their knees! Even though the ostrich could deliver a killer kick, a little pecking at their tender knees reduces them to cowardly retreat.
And the kangaroos. Definitely the family favorite. We were allowed to walk right into their pen and feed them apple and carrot slices. We had seen ‘roos at zoos, of course, but never up close. They are adorable! We all wanted to take a kangaroo home and add it to our farm menagerie. “What?” gasped a friend when I told her all about petting the kangaroos in their own pen. “Those things can be dangerous! They can, like, kick a grown man to death!” The caretakers did warn us to not stand Papa Roo up on his hind legs, as that would trigger kicking and clawing. We could see from his muscular shoulders that he was a very powerful critter, and treated him with the same respect we give a bull. Later that evening, as we went to bed, we looked out of our bedroom window into the kangaroos sleeping quarters to see Papa Roo zonked out, all four feet sticking up in the air! We nearly fell over laughing at the ridiculous sight.
We went home strengthened in our family values and ready to tackle the tough year ahead. Living and working with your family can be a challenge, but God placed us here together, so we are trying to follow the wisdom of His plan. And, after seeing the giraffe’s penchant for licking every possible surface, we just had to wonder why Hedrick’s hadn’t started a Giraffe’s Gutter-cleaning Service! There are folks that have a Goat Lawn-mowing service, so why not a giraffe? Obviously, the Hedrick’s environment helped to stimulate our creative thinking and planning skills, but we’d better get back to our own farm before we start Baumanizing this farm!