The Un­usual Pet Is­sue

Ge­or­gia les­bian cou­ple finds fam­ily in farm an­i­mals

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Ev­ery week­day morn­ing at 5:30 a.m. on a farm in Fairburn, Ge­or­gia, Joan Sher­wood rises to let the dogs out and get ready for her job as se­nior ed­i­tor at Pro­fes­sional Pho­tog­ra­phy Mag­a­zine in down­town At­lanta. Shortly be­fore sun­rise, her part­ner Deb­bie Fraker is up and ready to do the day’s chores. Not your usual chores, but the kind needed to care for … take a deep breath:

… 88 chick­ens, eight ducks, five guinea fowl, five goats, two dogs and a gold­fish named Os­car, who spent two sum­mers in a rain bar­rel and has now re­tired to a fish­bowl inside the house.

When asked how they came to build this unique world of pets, Sher­wood, 48, says with a laugh, “Back­yard chick­ens are gate­way drugs.”

‘We just started adding to it’

It was 2010 and the cou­ple was liv­ing in East Point when they or­dered their first set of chicks.

“Then we just started adding to it,” says Fraker, 57.

They needed a larger prop­erty to have goats, so they made the move to three-anda-half acres in Fairburn, home of the Ge­or­gia Re­nais­sance Fes­ti­val about 20 miles south of down­town At­lanta.

Fraker says they were or­der­ing an­i­mals be­fore the un­pack­ing was done. Soon the goats joined the fun, and along came ducks, guineas and the rest.

The work in­volved in run­ning the farm is not for the weak. Fraker’s first chores are let­ting the birds out of their coops, milk­ing the goats, chang­ing out all of the wa­ter, clean­ing up and re­fresh­ing the food.

Then it’s on to the gar­den and the grounds, where she spends time plant­ing, har­vest­ing, weed­ing and mulching. By evening she’s milk­ing again and lock­ing the birds back up.

If Fraker is at her part-time job when Sher­wood comes home from work, she’ll feed the chick­ens, do the evening milk­ing and lock up the birds. “There’s al­ways some­thing to get mowed or clipped or cleaned out,” Sher­wood says. Then it’s up again the next day to do it all over again.

“We each have one morn­ing a week that we can sleep in,” Sher­wood says.

They also haven’t had a va­ca­tion in three years be­cause of the farm re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, which they’re plan­ning on train­ing a neigh­bor to do so they can get a solid break.

“The big­gest chal­lenge is mak­ing time to re­lax to­gether and not have it be about what else we have to do,” Sher­wood says. “And our time sched­ule is so de­pen­dent on sun­rise and sun­set, so you have to be here when it gets dark.”

Wit­ness­ing a mother’s big day

But the pay­off is more than enough for the cou­ple.

“Watch­ing the baby an­i­mals grow up is an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence,” Fraker says.

When one of the goats was ready to give birth re­cently, Fraker set her alarm clock for 2 a.m. two nights in a row to be with the mother, Dena, for her big day. She was there when the first baby goat ap­peared, and she texted Sher­wood, say­ing, “We’ve got one.”

Sher­wood came out in the freeze of that Fe­bru­ary night with tow­els and wa­ter for the goats and hot tea for Fraker. Soon enough, a sec­ond lit­tle goat ar­rived to join the fam­ily.

“I felt like a new mom, ex­cited and wor­ried all at the same time,” Fraker wrote in the cou­ple’s blog, “City Girl Seeks Farm.”

“The baby goats have made us very popular with our friends,” Sher­wood says.

They also love hav­ing the ul­ti­mate farmto-ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I’ve been gar­den­ing a lot and I get ex­cit- ed see­ing what’s com­ing out of the ground. I love find­ing eggs, bring­ing milk in and vegetables to feed us.”

Sher­wood notes that they haven’t had to buy milk in three years thanks to their goats. They don’t eat their friends on the farm and Sher­wood of­ten posts videos and pho­tos to Face­book of the goats and other an­i­mals play­ing to­gether—like oth­ers do with their dogs or cats, or chil­dren.

‘This is the kind of life I want’

The cou­ple ad­vises those look­ing to raise their own goats or chick­ens to find out what’s le­gal where they live.

“If you bring them in and get at­tached and they get taken away, it’s heart­break­ing,” Fraker says.

Chick­ens are fairly low main­te­nance, they say, but keep­ing them safe is a chal­lenge. Hawks or rac­coons are preda­tory when it comes to chick­ens and it can make for a tragic end­ing if they aren’t looked after and put away in the coop safely at night.

Ducks are typ­i­cally messy crea­tures, and goats can be very high main­te­nance, says the cou­ple.

“One of things we were sur­prised by was we fenced in a whole new area for the goats and they went through the for­age in a few weeks,” Sher­wood says. “So we had to give them another new area. Now we sup­ple­ment their diet with or­ganic fruit and vegetables. They go through a lot of food.”

The over­all mes­sage is to do re­search be­fore hit­ting the road to pick up new cluck­ing and bleat­ing friends.

But Sher­wood and Fraker wouldn’t have it any other way, even though they live out­side the gay-friendly ITP bub­ble.

There are “not a lot of queer peo­ple out here,” Sher­wood says, but all the neigh­bors know the two are a cou­ple and ev­ery­one gets along great.

“This is the kind of life I want,” Fraker says.

Phot by Rob Boeger

Joan Sher­wood, left, and Deb­bie Fraker started with just a few chick­ens in their back­yard be­fore hav­ing to move to a place with more land to hold the many an­i­mals they’ve added to their fam­ily farm. (Pho­tos by Rob Boeger)

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