My love of animals and the belief that we thrive when in connection with animals was the original reason I started a farm. I wanted to create a small dairy where kindness was central and the needs of the animals were put first. I spend my days with a motley collection of goats, a small family of jersey cows, two rescue dogs and a collection of barn cats. The daily tasks are varied, feeding them hay in the winter and bringing them straw for their bedding. Walking with them to the fields in summer and milking once a day, after their little ones have had their fill. The milk is sold locally or I make it into cheese, yogurt or sweet treats.
Connection with the animals I work with has brought contentment and confidence into my life and I’d like to share some ways you can deepen your connection with the animals around you. You don’t have to have a farmyard full of animals, you can start by developing a loving, trusting relationship with the animals you have around you. Family pets, robins that visit the garden or squirrels from your local park are all options. I know someone in central London that gets their connection from a group of ravens.
When getting to know a new animal, a calm and gentle temperament with quiet or soothing vocals is recommended. Creating a sense of calm in yourself before seeking connection with animals will help them to feel comfortable in your presence. But once you get to know them and their individual moods there is plenty of opportunity for excitement and play. I chatter to the goat girls at full volume, sing bawdy sea shanties while I milk and in spring when the new grass growth makes everyone a little giddy, I have been known to run, spin and yell in the field with the herd.
Underneath I’ve included eight starting points for anyone looking to start connecting with animals.
8 tips to deepen your connection with animals
Have patience – connection takes time, especially with wild or shy animals. But don’t let that dishearten you –connection with wild animals just takes a little more time. I have taken in rescue goats that have rightfully had very little trust in people. Connecting with them has taken time, but it makes the bond all the sweeter in the long run.
Learn about the animal you want to connect with. A general understanding is great, but take particular interest in their body language and social habits. This way you can respect their signals of stress or fear and communicate with them in their preferred way. This can speed up the introductory process. When cows say hello to each other they stretch their necks out and sniff. You can mimic this by slowly stretching your clenched hand out to them - they will often boop it with their nose or even lick you. Remember: it has to be specific to the animal in question, a toothy smile can be a sign of aggression to monkeys whereas goats are actively attracted to people who smile.
Spend as much time as you can with your animal. It’s tempting to fuss over them but with many animals a slower approach is best. Take a book or your craft project out with you so they can acclimatise to your presence without pressure to interact. Horse whisperers have a trick where the sit quietly in a paddock, next to the feed. They wait there until the horse is comfortable coming within range of them to eat. I have used this to great effect with feral cats. For especially shy animals, put the food further away from you and move it a little closer to your sitting spot each time you visit them. Animals with a more inquisitive nature will often interrupt what you are doing before you’ve finished your first chapter.
Observe the animal’s energy, once you spend enough time with your animal you’ll get to know their moods. Let them guide how you interact. When they signal that they would rather be left alone, respect that. If they are bursting with energy, play. Overtime you will be able to trust your instincts with this. For dogs with a high and excitable energy, going walking together is an excellent way to foster connection.
Continuity and routines are essential for bonding with wild animals who need them in order to build trust and recognition. Domestic animals benefit from them to. Routines can help establish security and boundaries but also help you to work together in a gentle way. I have a particular call for when I want the animals to come in from the fields. To get them used to it, whenever I had a treat or found a bit of forage I knew they’d like, I made the sound. Now I can move them through the farm with this low stress method.
Everyone like treats. Find out what food is safe for your animal companion to eat. It’s rare I meet an animal that isn’t food motivated. I have a friend in the next valley that grows vegetables. In her greenhouse she tames robins to land on her hand using meal worms as a treat.
Play. I am not a fan of dominance training. But training that is more akin to playing a game with your individual animal is a wonderful way to stimulate them and create a bond between the two of you.
Do no harm. If an animal chooses to trust you, you have a responsibility to act in a kind and nurturing fashion.
Hopefully these tips help to deepen your connection with the animals around you. If you’d like to know more about how I farm and the beautiful souls I work with come and visit @dyfidairy on Instagram.
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