Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Something I love about working at the Big Farm is the "can-do, make-do" attitude.

{Otherwise known as Norwegian Engineering.} 

Don't have the right tool for the job?  No problem!  Use something else!  Make do!

Need to move 90 gallons of water to the top of the hill where the ladies are in a rotational grazing paddock for the next two days?  Hoses can't reach that far?  No problem!

Take one 55-gallon drum.  Fill with water.  Balance on the forks of G the skid steer.  Top with 90-gallon stock tank. 

Drive it up to the top of the hill.  

{Please note:  I did not drive G up the hill loaded with 55-gallons of water as I would have wet my pants with anxiety climbing that hill.}

Lift the forks and drum over the electric fence line.  Open the valve.  Fill half the tank. 


{While Justin goes for the second drum refill, sit on the hillside watching several dozen swallows making a nice dent in the local insect population.}

Finish filling the stock tank and smile at the innovative way you just learned how to move water.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two weeks ago was heartbreaking at the Big Farm. Probably the worst week in over two decades of farming for my friends here. The prolonged heatwave took its toll on babies and mamas, and in turn, on everyone else here, too.

There were times I felt things so sharply I was afraid I might break inside. It was the kind of week that could make you want to quit farming, if you weren't tough enough.

It was with great relief we welcomed a change in the weather last week. My frequent trips to the pasture where the large female herd grazes, to rest my eyes on my girls and reassure myself they were still OK, weren't tainted with an edge of terror for the life of Brigid's cria.

But even so, Brigid kept me waiting, holding onto that cria past her due date.  I counted the days and hoped she would not deliver the moment I got in my car for the long drive back to MN last Thursday afternoon.

Back home at the Little Farm, life was exciting.  My peeps are 4.5 months old now.  I had a feeling we needed to get moving on switching out the feed for our laying hens (from grower to layer) and get them some oyster shell, not to mention, put nesting boxes in their coop.

Boy was I right.  Saturday morning when I went into the barn to put some oyster shell near their dust bathing box, in a far corner I found seven perfect tiny brown bantam eggs!


One of my girls has started laying! 


My very first eggs from our very own chickens!!

We're almost positive it must've been Dixie Chick.

For one thing, we only have two bantam-sized chickens - Dixie, and Frickin.  And I'm not sure Frickin is a girl.  Plus, he/she will lay blue or green eggs, not brown. 

For another thing, Dixie's been making quite a racket around 10:00am for a few days in a row, kinda like crowin' about herself. 

{I'd be proud, too, Dixie, you sweet little thing!}

We were so proud we took pictures of all her beautiful, perfect eggs. 

Sadly, an hour or so later, we accidentally dropped them all on the floor, prompting us to quickly mix up a tiny batch of scrambled eggs and fry two of them.  The yolks - oh my goodness me, those bright orange-yellow yolks, like nothing you'll ever see from a factory chicken. 

{Note: Most "free-range" chickens sold in grocery stores are raised without access to the outdoors until 4 weeks of age, at which time they have no instinct or awareness to go out the small door that is finally opened to the green grass outside. They are slaughtered just a couple of weeks later, wearing "free range" labels, never setting foot on real grass.}

No siree, these eggs from Dixie were grass-fed, free-range tiny bits of egg-heaven.

More good news - the two injured chickens I brought home from the Big Farm are recovering nicely.

Teeter is catching up in size to Raven, and Raven's broken leg is healing very well - she's even beginning to use it a little.  We were able to move the girls together into the wire dog kennel, and they get along just peachy.  They spend their days out on the grass under the shade of the trees.  At night, they come into the safety of the front porch.  We put Raven on the roost next to Teeter at night.  She can't get up there herself yet, but she will, soon, I bet. She seems to like being up there. She's so quiet, especially compared to the boisterous Teeter.

I didn't think there could be anything else to top all this good news.  And then, just as I was leaving for my weekly trek back to WI Sunday afternoon, I noticed a missed call on my cell phone.  The message?

Brigid had her baby!!! A healthy baby boy! Perfect delivery!

After keeping us on our toes for two whole weeks, he was born on a full moon, strong, healthy, alive, a "spitting" image of his mama, except for the addition of a white chin and two white ankle bracelets.

This morning I watched him romp around this beautiful valley for the first time, meeting his new herd, Brigid never more than a step away from him, humming for her baby. 

At that moment, there was no doubt in my mind about my choice to be a farmer and caretaker, a steward and a shepherd.

Through the tough times, and the good.

Gypsy Farmgirl celebrates new eggs and a new cria alpaca

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, until we find a farm of our own, we have no plans to expand our operations here at the Little Farm

But somehow, despite that fact, several weeks ago I found myself driving 4 hours home that week with a 2-week old chicken in a box in the front seat of my car. She was so weak in the legs she often tipped over, unable to right herself without assistance, prompting us to name her Teeter, as in Teeter-Totter. She was so weak, I was sure she would die.

She did not.

In the several weeks since that drive home, Teeter has grown into a strong, boisterous, talkative, entertaining, almost-big-enough-to-put-with-the-flock chicken. She spends her days outside in a wire dog kennel under the shade of an apple tree, where she can watch and interact (safely) with the rest of the flock as they gather around her cage on their many rounds around the yard.

We are so happy with her progress. When I am home on the weekends, one of my favorite ways to start the morning is to take my cup of coffee out to the front porch and sit with her on my lap. After investigating for anything good to peck at on my jeans, she will sit down and begin to preen herself and then, inevitably, her lower eyelids will slowly slide up and her eyes will close and her head will sink in a short snooze.

Having a chicken fall asleep on your lap is a pleasure hard to describe.

Adding Teeter to our flock brought our number up to 16. Then sadly, last week, we lost one of our laying hens, a sweet Barred Rock named Thelma. A predator attack on the coop where the chickens are locked in at night ended up with Thelma fatally wounded. We think the line of electric around the perimeter finally frightened the attacker off, but not before the damage was done.

Even though we expected losses when we got our chicks as babies in April, after four months of watching them grow up and bonding with them, it was still incredibly sad to lose one. Thelma was always one of the first chickens to run up to me when I brought out their carrot shred treats. She would spy me across the yard and start racing towards me, leading the rest of the flock in her wake.

Losing Thelma brought our number back down to 15.

Then this week I had a strange Deja Vu as I once again found myself driving the 4 hour route home from the Big Farm with a chicken in a box in the front seat of my car. This little 2-month old hen was injured when we were moving the coop to a fresh patch of grass one day. For the first 48 hours we left her near her flock in the shade of the coop but brought her food and water several times a day as she was unable to move to the feeders with her injuries.

I thought for sure she was dying.

After 48 hours, I found her standing up for short periods of time on her left leg, but her right leg still hung limply. I started to think she might not die. Then, as before, I was faced with the quandary of what to do with her when it was time to go back home to my Little Farm 4 hours away. She really couldn't keep up with her stronger, healthier flock mates. I feared she would slowly starve to death or get trampled by the flock. And the week had already yielded too much heartbreak. My hen, stillborn crias, a dead mama. I couldn't save those babies.  Maybe I could save this chicken.

I already had one chicken in a cage at home. My friends at the Big Farm already think I'm crazy. I had nothing to lose.

Thus, the long drive home with another chicken in a box on the front seat of my car.

On the drive home, I kept thinking about ravens, but just chocked it up to the fact that she is a black bird that sort of kind of resembles a raven. Later when I asked Papa Bear what we should call her, without skipping a beat he answered, "Raven." 

Raven has come to live on the Little Farm, bringing our flock numbers once again to 16.

What a beautiful and mysterious world this is.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recently I posted about the pathetic-ness of our garden at the Little Farm.

I didn't mention however that we're gonna have a helluva squash harvest this year.  From the remains of a squash or two I tossed in the compost pile some time last winter. The biggest, healthiest plant in the garden wasn't even planted by us.

Actually, the two biggest plants in the garden.  It appears there are two varieties of squash now competing for space in the compost bin.

I might have forgotten to turn the pile for a month few months.

I'm envisioned a whole new series of gardening books.  Maybe even a TV show. 

"Compost Gardening in 3 easy steps." 

Toss, Wait, Enjoy.

What surprises are turning up in your gardens this summer?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some days are too hard for words. This week has had several of them.  When I am heavy with the weight of the world, when sadness overcomes me, I turn to this poem for comfort.

When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.

I come into the presence of still water,
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

For a time I rest in the grace of the world,
and I am free.

-Wendell Berry

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

There's a a running joke around the Big Farm that when things get difficult, you just need to get tougher. I think it might be related to the expectation that to farm you must own a skid steer.

After all, you have to do a lot of tough things on a farm - physically, mentally, emotionally. If you're not tough enough, you won't survive it.

As Kristin Kimball so eloquently puts it in her book, 'The Dirty Life:'

"A farm asks, and if you don't give enough, the primordial forces of death and wildness will overrun you. So naturally you give, and then you give some more, and then you give to the point of breaking, and then and only then it gives back, so bountifully it overfills not only your root cellar but also that parched and weedy little patch we call the soul."

Some days, weeks even, I don't feel so tough. Some days my parched and weedy patch of a soul feels overgrown with burdock and thistle.

Like this week for example.

This week with the sweltering humidity, the flies, the stinging nestles burning my arms while I hack away at the burdock and thistle.

This week with the early morning phone call from home to tell me that one of my laying hens, a Barred Rock, has been fatally assaulted by a predator, my sweet girl bleeding to death in the coop surrounded by her terrified flock while I slept peacefully in my bed.

This week when nobody goes where they are supposed to - the alpacas, the chickens, the cows.

This week when first check on the pregnant dams yields not a romping newborn, but rather a tiny, stillborn baby with glassy eyes that will never see the valley.

This week when I pray for the baby in my dam's belly, anxiously watching for movement, a sign that this baby will be born alive.

This week when the last call of the day is to the vet to pull a tangled cria out of her mother's womb, a white female who will never romp beside her mother.

This week when tears blindside me suddenly in the field, and I don't know where I can go to cry because everyone around me is tougher than me, and I don't want to lose face, and I can't explain this sudden wave of grief over chickens and crias that aren't mine.

This week, I'm not so tough.

And then my dear sweet husband, from 280 miles away, who cannot even comfort me with his presence, says something so beautiful it makes me cry all over again:

“Tough is not just bottling it up inside until you are pressurized or kill that part of your humanity that feels. It is the ability to handle these kind of challenges and then keep on going.”

He tells me to cry it out, then I can move on.

So I do.

And my friends here comfort me. And I cry it out some more.

And move on.

I'm practicing being tough this week.

These tears are the proof.
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