Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
What follows is an excerpt from In the Shelter of the Fold by Mari Jones. The book is a collection of stories from farm life which, although written some years ago, contain spiritual lessons for us today.
It always gives me great pleasure when Cae Fron (‘The Field on the Slope’) is re-sown, for it lies only a few yards from the kitchen window. My interest was aroused again this year as I watched the seemingly endless preparations for the sowing. The careful ploughing of the whole field came first, and then harrowing the soil into a fine tilth. Next came feeding it with the necessary chemicals, in order to make up for any and every deficiency found in it; then spreading it over with ‘basic slag’ to raise the percentage of phosphates, and then adding a compound to bring the nitrogen and potash up to the required level. And all this to make an acceptable bed to suit the growing requirements of the rape seeds, which will provide one year’s green growth to fatten the lambs, and the grass seeds, which it is hoped will be a continuous growth.
We kept an anxious eye on it all during this year’s hot summer. What, we wondered, would become of the seed in such a steeply sloping field — a field lying in the full glare of the sun the whole day through? It was very hard on the seeds at times and they had to fight for their lives. Yet I marvelled at how well they grew.
It was interesting to watch the first batch of lambs that were allowed to feast on the new growth. Naturally enough, we looked forward to seeing them taking to it greedily at the first go, but we were amazed to see them eating it very sparingly and cautiously. I had thought that once they had their teeth into such a tasty delicacy, they would have rushed at it for more. How quickly they were satisfied!
Before long, in spite of the goodness and richness of the food spread around them, we could see them thrusting their heads under the hedges, as though they were looking for some tasty bits to eat there! What could there be that they were unable to find in the new growth?
From their persistence in searching, it was obvious that their bodies were calling for something else, something that was missing from the rich grass at hand, something that their instincts told them was essential for their bodily well-being. Doubtless the plough, in turning the sods over, had deprived them of the very thing that they were now searching for. Good though the chemicals were, the lambs showed us plainly that the one thing, the missing item for which they were looking, was to be found in the strip around the field — that strip of land alongside the hedges where the plough could not reach.
In the end we had to open the gate into another field, so that they could graze on the old grass as well as the new. There they spent half their time, picking here and there between intervals of resting — picking the odd blade which was most to their taste and which they knew they needed. It was easy to see that they could take but very little at a time of the protein contained in the new green growth. Had they been filled with this concentrated food, very soon their stomachs would shrink, and that would mean less need to go searching for food, and more resting-time for the rich food to produce more flesh. So it was essential for them to search for and find this scarce necessity to be added to their diet in good time before they were too full.
In the past we have had some quite avoidable losses among the dams and the ewes in lamb through keeping them too long on ploughed and re-sown land. Because they did not get a balanced diet in the new growth, and because at the same time the lambs were a steady drain on them, these poor mothers would suddenly to all appearances become unconscious. Then what a rush to catch them before they breathed their last! They would, according to the signs and symptoms, be given an injection of calcium or magnesium as the case might be. It would be warmed up hastily to the temperature of the sheep’s blood, in case it proved too great a shock to its system. It is wonderful how quickly they recover, once the deficiency in their system is made up. They revive from minute to minute, and they will be on their feet again in no time. And the thing that humbles us every time is the realization that they would have searched themselves for the leaf that would have made up the deficiency, had it been anywhere within their reach.
I find myself asking whether it is possible that the animals know what is best for them, better than man knows what is best for him. Man will pursue what he likes best at the time, whether it is good for him or not. The animal will not go against its instincts; it will search, in so far as it is possible, for what is essential to its well-being. But, with all his so-called wisdom, man will ignore the greatest need in his life — the need for God.
We can fill our lives with things, which, in themselves, are good and lawful enough. We can also fill our heads with correct and orthodox knowledge — and our hearts still be weak and feeble and cold towards God. ‘Only one thing is needed’, said the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘and Mary has chosen what is better’ — that is, to know Him aright and to grow in that knowledge. Without that, the richest food and the best doctrinal teaching can become a burden to the soul, and lethal in the end. There must be, in life, a balance of understanding and emotion, of doctrine and experience.