Thursday, June 8, 2017

50 new. I taken. I gone.

My morning started with death. While doing the morning rounds I noticed only 8 of the 9 sheep were out. The oldest ewe, Split Ear, who came here 6 years ago wasn’t accounted for. It didn’t take long to find her in the pole barn. She had died in the night, by all accounts peacefully. I sighed and got the chore cart I usually used to load hay bales with up into the field. She would need to be buried straight away. It was a somber way to begin a sunny day.

Martha called from the Post Office this morning. It was some time after the dead ewe was removed from the farm and hay was fed but before milking. I could barely hear the ring from outside the farmhouse.

Side note: I need to get one of those landline outside ringers I see attached to the old dairy barns around here. They still sell them on Ebay, and they are loud as alarm clocks. I ran inside and pulled the yellow receiver off my wall-mounted yellow dinosaur.I played with the cord as I turned down the stove so the boiling-over coffee would stop vomiting.

”Jenna, I have your babies." Was what the voice said to me. I thanked her and said I’d be down in twenty minutes. My chickens had arrived.

The sun was out and that’s a novelty these days. My county is about 6 inches above the seasonal average for rain. Great for growing hay/horrible for harvesting it. But today there were rays of light and clouds of fog coming off the road and trucks. Sun was hitting wet things with such force it demanded changes in physical states. I wasn’t going to argue. Time to get moving.

The chicks were 50 meat birds from Freedom Ranger Hatchery. Sturdy little nuggets and all arrived in good health. It didn’t take long at all to take them outside to a chicken tractor and get them settled in with feed, water, and extra electric fencing around the perimeter. I had learned that just because animals are inside a pen doesn't mean predators can't get to them.

As I worked on settling in the babies the sows from the pig paddock watched in interest. Were these chicks snacks or neighbors? They grunted and the little piglets above them on the muddy hill darted around. With the boar out of the picture it was just the ladies and their combined litters. All the piglets born were hail and spry. They sleep together, nurse together, raise them as a combined unit. Good for them. Don’t say that rural America isn’t progressive.

This is farming. Before I had my coffee I had held a funeral and set up a nursery. It’s not for everyone.

Later in the afternoon my friend Tara would be arriving. She’s launching this amazing new food site called The Woodland Kitchen. I am so proud of her, beyond proud. She’s traveled the world, nested in Vermont, and now wants to share her passion of food. Her site will be about local foods and seasonal meals in her world and I thought she’d want to be a part of the process of harvesting a pig. I invited her to photograph the process and blog about it if she liked. She was game.

Tara arrived and shortly after the butchering crew did as well. It amazes me how fast they work. From the pull of the trigger to the time the animal is skinned, gutted, and halved and being set into their truck to be returned to the shop is under an hour. Tara took some photos and was okay with the whole endeavor. Not everyone is, but as a cookbook author and world-watcher - she was fine. Soon we were bagging up leaf lard, cheek meat, and liver into separate bags to share for recipes. Around here things with names go to things in recipes pretty fast.

And just like that the farm's tally changes. My brain slides the clumsy census abacus around a few knocks. 50 new. I taken. I gone.

There's a lot of life here now, far more than death. The piglets, the chicks, the ducklings and silkies. There are still more animals to come and go but among the green and the hope of this place the blood and bodies are rare. Part of that is luck, but mostly its doing the same thing for years on end. As a new farmer I made mistakes that meant animals died. Proud to say death comes far rarer these years. An old sheep dying quietly in her sleep is okay. A pig harvested for people who ordered shares of him is okay, too. The chicks will be in the freezer here and freezer of friends soon.

Personally, I am working to sell another book and share more of my story. The time between book sales has gone from months to years. I learned to be resourceful. I learned to share and sell skills and items besides words for profit. In a few weeks I am teaching beginner archery lessons here at the farm. People who bought shares of this particular pig will be notified. Right now things are so tight I can't actually leave the farm until some income comes in, but that's okay. I have what I need. The animals have what they need. There is food and sunlight and work for all. There's a new proposal to work on, designs and illustrations, and my weekly fitness goals to smash. I got a lot of books to read, rivers to fish, roads to run, a farm to care for, a hawk to fly, and a horse to ride. and most of all, I got a place to fight for. I still feel like I am proving the endurance test that lets me stay here. That proves this is home. I can't wait to pass it. To get there.

I think this is it for me - this writing thing. It's part of every day and there's a stack of six books I managed to publish so far. I want to see that stack grow. I want to keep up a life of good deaths and hope in the form of fluff balls like those chicks. I want to keep getting better at understanding all of it.

I think it might be love.

6 Comments:

Blogger Sharon said...

Jenna, Things have been tight here on my farm too. We have had several very expensive repairs and replacements of important things. We spent about about 5K on our well with new pumps, pipes, pressure tank, etc. Now, we had found that the underground power line is 325' to the well and must be replaced. We have been putting electricity into the soil because it is not in a plastic conduit pipe. That will be over 1K in July. It is the kind of thing that happens to everyone who lives a rural lifestyle.

June 8, 2017 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger EZ said...

Sorry to hear about Split Ear! Even our grumpy roommates are hard to lose after they've been with you for so long. Do you think you'll be replacing her in your flock?

June 9, 2017 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger Robin Follette said...

I'm glad you're sticking with writing books. Everything else you do is interesting but I enjoy reading about your writing process and your books.

It's raining here (Maine) today. After a cold, long, wet spring it got very dry so this is much needed. I think we'll have a dry summer here. Enjoy your day, Jenna!

June 9, 2017 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

Best of luck with the chick security system. I'm trying to set up my own right now.
This year I'm playing around with breeding my own meat birds after doing various things the past few years and I really don't want to loose any of my "special" birds. We'll see what I get. It's a fun project and would be great side income if I get enough to sell or simply don't have to buy birds for myself. Just lost one of my sheep as well. It was a freak thing. The ram hit the wether in the wrong spot while they were horse playing and broke some ribs that wouldn't heal and most likely bummed up something inside. Death and growth are certainly a part of all of this. Looking forward to the next book:)

June 10, 2017 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Erin O'Connell said...

It's easy to talk about life and death in the abstract but I imagine living on a farm and seeing it every day is something else entirely. It must be so jarring to come out and see an animal that you've cared for hs passed away. Jenna, how do you separate yourself? Do you? If an animal that you've named (don't name the puppy!! As people say) such as Split Ear passes, do you cry? I feel such a strong attachment to my dog - and I feel like one of the things holding me back (besides finances) from farming is becoming emotionally attached to the animals. How do you cope?

June 11, 2017 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Yarrow said...

Good luck with it all, you're such an inspiration.x

June 12, 2017 at 5:52 AM  

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