ST. PETER'S – Liz Hughey has a passion for educating children in animal husbandry, environmental stewardship and living an organic, simple lifestyle.

This led the Franklin County woman to write her first book, "Barney, The Lopsided Mule," which introduces youth to the backcountry and the animals that live there.

The St. Peter's resident is no stranger to those areas, having spent a large part of her 20s working as a horse guide and mule packer in the national forests and wilderness areas of northwest Colorado. Hughey now spends most of her time with her 3-year-old son on the family's Red Angus cattle ranch, where she works as the grazing manager for the grass-fed beef operation.

Using every opportunity to teach kids and adults about mules and the beauty of the outdoors, the Franklin County High School, Brookville, graduate introduces Johnny Ray, the farm's resident mule. She explains, "Every mule has a mare for a mom and a donkey for a dad." A John is a male, and a Molly is a female mule.

On the farm, Hughey focuses on management-intensive grazing, where the cows only graze on a small portion of the pasture at a time and are moved to another area every day or every other day. Moving the animals on a sunny spring morning, the writer reveals that she loves listening to the sounds around her. "You can hear them (the cows) chew, and it's like the waves on the ocean."

Hughey recalls emailing Baxter Black, author of "Lessons From a Desperado Poet," and getting a message back from him. Eventually, "I was sitting in his living room (in New Mexico) with one of my heroes. I was starstruck, and it was good."

That led to finding Bonnie Shields, who is known as the "mule artist." The Hoosier native, who now lives in Idaho, has illustrated several books, including Hughey's. "She's famous at Bishop Mule Days in California, which is centered around mules and packing," the author announces.

"The mules in the book are all real," reports the Indiana University graduate who received a degree in geography. While corresponding with Shields, "she sent me paintings" of what she drew. "It was fun to make a real animal in a children's book."

Referring to author Dr. Seuss' famous line “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” the Hoosier emphasizes, "Why not teach kids about mules and hybrids? It gives them broader surroundings, and they see different parts of the world. I talked to a grandmother in Brookville, who said learning about hybrids is 'AP (advanced placement) biology for 3-year-olds.'"

This book "shows kids a different life and introduces them to the national forests. It also talks about healthy eating habits and that you have to eat your vegetables."

The cowgirl poet believes, "It's really important for kids to have a connection to the earth." She and her son "do a lot of things with animals. He lets the chickens out and gets the eggs .... (and) I'm the mom that will jump in mud puddles."

Hughey is working on a second book that will be out later this year. She also hopes to write other compositions that focus on nature and enjoying the outdoors.

Her book is available on Amazon. More information on the author can be found at https://www.thecowgirlpoet.com/.

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

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