• Farmstead Shepherd


A little back story to kick off The Farmstead Shepherd Blog…

In 2015 I went on a wilderness course where I learned to hand carve a long bow. It had been almost 2 years since my Mast Cell Disorder diagnosis, and with the medications my health was stable-ish. I was doing very well on a vegan diet. I had gained some strength back, and I was going to enjoy communing in nature with like-minded people. As I drove up the lane to the property where we would be tenting for the course, rogue chickens scattered everywhere. Then feral children popped out of the bushes and a barefoot teenager carrying walking stick emerged from the tall grass to greet me. I had a hard time prying my focus from the red balls of feathers scratching at the ground around my feet.

Something inside me stirred and rose into my consciousness, in that moment I became aware of my own wildness. I wanted one of those chickens. I don’t mean in the cuddle and pet way. I wanted to eat one of those chickens. This was unnerving for me as I had gone 10 years without eating any chicken. While pregnant with my second son, my sense of smell was so heightened I could smell the bacteria on raw chicken meat and it turned me off chicken so thoroughly I hadn’t touched it since. Chicken had become one of the most disgusting foods I could fathom… but not that day. That day I was wild, and I want to pluck one up, start a fire and roast that bird.

Those chickens sent me on a journey that lead me to levels of happiness and contentment I never imagined possible, and a grief that almost killed me. It was those chickens that inspired me to take a job at Farm Camp, which encouraged me to develop my own Farm preschool. I have a background in outdoor education, camp, preschool and disabilities, but was lacking in some farm skills. So I picked up a job at a cow dairy to learn the ropes, took a sheep shearing course, read so many books and after several months, we bought a property!

It was hard folks. I was tired, and sore and fighting hard to keep up with my dreams. I was not yet diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia) or EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). However, just because I wasn’t diagnosed doesn’t mean I wasn’t struggling with the symptoms. I had a dream, and I was going in head first!

Ok, so in the beginning I may have had some goats living in my basement, and a buck who screamed like a banshee and peed on his own face while running up to ‘hug’ me - eeeew! But Soon everyone had a shelter and the preschool had children and my heart was full.

I clearly remember walking along the front porch with a line of chickens, sheep and goats following behind me, thinking to myself, ‘I have never been more content, or felt happier. I cannot imagine not having this life, I think I might die if I lost this.” For a moment I felt that sorrow like a rock that lodged in my throat, then burned in my chest as it descended to the pit of my stomach. I turned to see my entourage, smiled, relaxed and took a breath… How could that possibly happen?

Sometimes we just shouldn’t ask these questions. One of the students developed a fever during the program. When I called home the parents were not surprised. They sent her to school, knowing she was sick, they gave her Tylenol to mask the fever. Their whole house had influenza, and now so did everyone else, including me. This was the beginning of the end. I developed pneumonia, complications from asthma, was hospitalized for a week in critical care on oxygen. This tipped my scales. All the conditions I had in check flared. POTS was out of control, with my heart rate hovering at 280BPM at times, my lows were not below 140BPM resting, and the ER had difficulty bringing it down even with medication. Cardiologists were unsure how to adequately treat me, as they did not see any POTS patients in their clinic. I was having difficulty with balance and coordination, intractable migraine, dizziness, and cognitive issues. I had to take a few months off from The Farm and Forest School.

I wanted to know how to cure POTS, but sadly POTS was not my only problem. I did manage to pull myself together enough to run programs for one school year. Those children were my soul. They were the reason I got up in the morning despite the pain and unbearable fatigue. Watching them discover the world and grow was worth every minute. By the end of the school year I could no longer trust myself to provide a safe environment.

Without the income from the school I couldn’t afford the animals. I had to re-home all my farm animals including my livestock guardian dog. Every day my heart broke a little more. My relationship fell apart and ultimately I had to move out. In order to get proper medical treatment I had to move back to Toronto, and in that move I also lost my son (he stayed behind). At that point, I had lost everything that ever mattered to me. It felt hollow when I finally did get to the right specialists to get the EDS diagnosis, and proper treatment for POTS, intervention for hyperparathyroid disease, high blood sugar, and to finally see an Ataxia specialist. It took almost 2 years before I recovered from the emotional and psychological impact of all that loss.

Let me share with you the turning point…

CHICKENS!!!! Mid-COVID I went to a farm to pick up rhubarb, a convenient contact-less pick up. As I drove slowly up the farm lane way, there on the right I saw a small flock of red chickens. These were not free range, rogue chickens. These were penned, but well looked after chickens. The car rolled to a stop outside their coop. I starred. The walls I built up around my heart began to crumble as I heard the words of my doctor a soft whisper in my head… “Everyone needs hope, even just a sliver.”

And that was the beginning of my new journey as The Farmstead Shepherd. I’m really glad to have you here on this journey of discovery with me.

Have Hope,

Tara Mae

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