Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Ups and Downs of the Family Farm

I had longed for a simpler life, more connected to nature, to animals, to my food. Farm animals had always seemed the way to achieve this state.  Besides the pretty pictures in magazines, there was this idyllic family feeling to it all.  I always heard people's farming stories with pleasure.  I knew there would be ups and downs.  But I don't think I realized what a roller coaster it would be, exactly.

I can still remember walking out the other evening.  I had the baby in the carrier, lulled to sleep by the sound of my husband's mowing the pasture.  The sweet smell of fresh-cut grass and honeysuckle were hanging in the evening air.   There was the warm glow of the setting sun breaking through on a perfect summer evening. The ducks were happily honking in the pond.  The hens had laid five total eggs - the most we've had in a day yet.   It was one perfect moment, savored all the more because it was well, very short-lived.

One moment all is perfect with the world, the next moment you are looking for your lost, beautiful ducks, wondering what animal destroyed them, or dealing with one hundred other things that need your attention. It's work, for sure.  It's stress, for sure.  It's cheaper to buy your eggs at the grocery store, for sure.  Even with the heartbreak and the stress all I can say about this farm thing for now is that, so far, It's all been worth it.

Nothing could have prepared me for all of this.

The delight I felt when I first brought home a cardboard box of little peeping chicks.  I felt I had finally crossed a line somewhere into a world I had only dreamed about.

The redneck coop we built by patching up an old outbuilding.  We even found the perfect sign among the junk in the old barn, that said, Egg-stractor.  It went over the door.

The first crowing of the rooster.  That sound, first thing in the morning, connected me to all the generations of women before me who've done this too.  It said farm to me like nothing else.

Blazing a trail through 8-foot-high blackberries while 9 months-pregnant to chase down our rooster, who managed to get himeslf stuck on the other side of the creek.

Our kids having to deal with the harsh reality of the animal world:  Their favorite bird, Ninja the rooster, is no child's pet anymore - he's mean, and if you don't play by his rules (aggression first, baby) he'll even attack you. He's needed though, to keep our hens safe.

OUR FIRST EGG!!!!  My boy went to fry his hard-earned prize, and as he picked it up to crack it into the hot pan, it slipped from his fingers and fell onto the floor!

Trying to figure out why our hens wouldn't lay in our nesting boxes, and instead preferred to make their own nests in the coop, bringing new meaning to the term, 'Easter Egg Hunt.'

And finally, as far as chickens go,

We are starting to get more eggs, about 4 per day on average.  Enough to fill up an actual egg carton with our own eggs!

Yes, that olive-green egg is actually speckled - I didn't know that was possible.

Then of course, there are the Ducks.

While in the course of learning all about chickens this year, I hoped that maybe ducks would find their way to us.  As fate would seem, some friends had an opportunity for us to own some.  We brought them home: beautiful, white Welsh Harlequins.  While I thought the chickens were charming, I was unprepared for these creatures.  They were beautiful, peaceful, and so happy to be in our pond!  It was like watching a bunch of toddlers splashing around in a wading pool!  The kids and I would sit on the bank of the pond in the sunshine, lulled into tranquility by these creatures.

For us, the ducks presented a unique opportunity to work together as a family. The tricky part was herding them back into their house at night.  It was a job where all hands became necessary.  All of us took up positions around the pond to turn them into the direction we wanted them to go.  Even my little four-year-old.  The more of us that were out there, the less likely the ducks would turn and 'duck' (I know) under the blackberries instead of going up into the crate. It took several nights of fumbling around before we got the hang of it.  And while all the kids wanted to do things differently, in the end, it was a job that required listening, leadership and all hands working together in a very coordinated manner, leading the ducks to where they needed to go for protection.

This week we set a family record, only 3 minutes to get the ducks into the crate.

That was before we lost them, of course.

They have never left their pond yet, so it's all still a mystery. But for now, they're gone.  I've shed a few tears, and said a few prayers, and I'm still clinging to some hope that they are hiding and not dead.

And for an update:  (This was written this morning, now it's 3:00 pm)  I just found them!  Seems last evening they wandered off.  Some neighbors down the road saw them crossing the street and put them behind their fence in with their own ducks.  As I drove by (right after uttering a prayer for help finding them, no kidding) I saw them behind the fence.  They had put up a 'Lost Ducks' sign!  (Now, you don't see that everywhere.) That's country living for you!

I guess this is the reality of the Family Farm experience.  One moment we are learning together, lessons that we could not learn any other way, the next moment, we are frantically chasing something, other times dealing with disappointment.  

I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, and this 'Farm' of ours is no doubt a comedy of errors more often than anything else. I don't think I knew what I was getting into, and I still don't.  I have heard many people recount their farm experiences with pleasure, and others with disdain.  Either way, they had the experience of it all. And crazy as all this is, I still haven't completely dismissed the dreams of goats and sheep looming in the back of my mind.........

Maybe, as my sister-in-law says, "Chickens are the gateway drug of farm animals." If that's the case, I think I might be addicted now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


This month has been so full.  I've been to the point of utter exhaustion and back so many times.  Generally I've had pretty easy babies, but this sweet baby of ours has had a fussy tummy in the evenings.  I'm definitely not recovering from birth the way that I have in the past.  I must be getting older, not-to-mention the fact that this is number six! Almost all of the naps I've tried to take since I had the baby have been interrupted by sneaky kids, usually to ask me something quite trivial, like, "Can I play the Wii?"  And only cause Dad just said 'No.'  I tried locking myself in my room to take a nap, only to find that having my four-year-old bang on the door was even more disturbing than the constant comings and goings of our busy family.

While the past month has not been very restful or easy, it has been a close time for our family.  We are getting to know our new little one, watching our kids play hard outside in the sunshine most of every day, and observing the progress on the treehouse.

In the meantime, everything around our place is dirty and messy.  We have half-finished projects everywhere, including a bathroom remodel that has sprawled out into the hallway and Living Room, and gardens and landscaping that are starting to be taken over by our blessed NW blackberries!  With Mom tied up with nursings, all the kids home, and being outdoors, there's no hope of getting the house caught up on right now.  The baby keeps me from staying on top of the kids chores.  Even when it's clean it it stays that way for about 30 seconds.  I know, I should just give up entirely, but having a clean house is one of those things that makes me feel more comfortable.  I don't clean for anyone else, but to my own comfort level. With that in mind, it's been hard living with toys and shoes everywhere and dirty laundry piles.

My husband started his paternity leave with a big list of projects he wanted to do, and I had a list of my own, but in the end, the thing that got done was the treehouse.  I guess the kids won't remember our half-finished bathroom, or our disaster of a yard.  But for the rest of their lives, they will remember that their Daddy helped them build a treehouse.  I am so grateful for a guy in our lives who would do that!

I will post pictures of the finished treehouse as soon as I get them taken and uploaded.  More to come!