Category Archives: Perspective

What’s it worth?

Ho. Ly. Mo. Ly. That just about sums up my thoughts on our first spring on our first attempt at a real homestead. Wow. It’s a lot of work. I’ve heard those words uttered before- yeah yeah, farming is hard work. Obviously. It’s manual labor and any type of physical job can be considered hard work. What I didn’t realize was just how constant and time consuming hard work can be. It’s not just that you’re tired and aching and sweating. It’s that you’re emotionally invested in October already- when you envision fields of corn stalks, pumpkins as far as the eye can see and a Thanksgiving feast made from all of your own ingredients. But. It’s only June. And all of that produce is sitting in a paper bag on your kitchen counter in the form of seeds that arrived in March, when you still had energy to be excited about them.

strawberry

Well, June came and went. It was the longest, but shortest, month I’ve ever seen. Does that make sense? It seemed as though everything needed to be done at once. The ground needed to be prepared, the seeds needed to be planted, the seedlings transplanted, the perennial gardens weeded, the strawberries and asparagus needed harvesting, the pregnant goat might be going into labor any minute, the fence needed to be fixed, the eggs in the incubator were hatching, the egg production in the barn was exploding, the turkey hen was setting on eggs- or was she?, the lawn needed to be mowed, the compost pile turned, the animal pens cleaned out and the chicks in the grow out pen needed to be moved into a larger space. Plus my husband (and muscle and mechanic and father to my children and support system) went to Alaska for two weeks. There was that, too. (And just so that it doesn’t sound like I’m looking for a pity party too much, we won’t mention the full-time job, 3 dogs or 2 children that require at least a little bit of my energy. Or the annual summer/birthday party that was looming at the end of the month.) Okay, I mentioned them. Pity me. Thank you. I may have overdone it by promising 10 gallons of homemade ice cream and much of the rest of the menu. It was my own darn fault and I learned my lesson. I digress.

iphone pics June 2014 266

The days got longer in June. Which was a blessing and a curse. There was so much to do that I needed the extra daylight- but that also meant that there was no excuse for bagging in early and getting a full night’s sleep. Once we got home from work and school, the goats were milked, the eggs collected, the animals fed and the dogs exercised, there was still more that needed to be done. The gardens needed to be weeded and watered, the kids needed dinner and a bath and we were overdue for a phone call with Grandma. Some of it got done, some of it didn’t. We ate spaghetti more than I care to admit and the kids weren’t always sparkling clean when they were tucked in much later than usual. Our gardens are smaller than they were in my mind, but they are larger than they were last year. It’s progress.

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And then there was the haying. I was lucky enough to be inducted into the haying team on a cool spring day, picking up first cutting bales in our family’s field. With all of the help and excitement it hardly seemed like work. But I know it will get worse. (And to be fair, Harley, his parents, and grandparents did the second batch without me on a much hotter June afternoon.) The hot, humid days of summer are growing the grass just fast enough to ensure that we’ll be out there again before the autumn breeze arrives.

Young Hay Field 2014

Between the rushing and planting and milking and watering and harvesting and cleaning, there is an ever so small window for fulfillment. But it is there. It is evident. And it persists. The reward is in the sun-warmed strawberry that you grab as you walk by the garden that is perfectly ripe- and you just can’t pass by without tasting it. It’s in the spinach salad that was washed by the rain from the thundershower that swept over your property to relieve you from watering after dark (again) and then kept on going. It’s in the raw milk yogurt that you toss into your lunch bag as you’re heading out the door, and then allows you to think about home and how you miss it during your lunch break while driving in the company car. And most of all- it’s in the smiles and giggles of the children as they play with the baby goat. It’s in the developing muscles you see in your son as he pushes his mini wheelbarrow around the yard. It’s in the flower that your daughter hands you from amidst the weeds she’s helping you to pull. It’s in the sense of pride that you have when you finally lie down at night to count your blessings. Dirty feet and all.

iphone pics June 2014 224

Come on July. Bring it on.

Baby Bump

Windy, our 1 year old Saanen goat, is the first mammal that we’ve ever gotten pregnant on purpose.  (Well, besides me, of course.)  In fact, she’s the first animal I’ve ever owned that has even been capable of becoming pregnant.  Even my pet rabbits have been spayed and neutered.  Most of the people in the pet world today (the world that I come from) are very pro spay/neuter- especially here in New England.  In recent years, we’ve done such a great job of promoting sterilization in the northeast that it’s almost impossible to find a mixed breed puppy that has not been imported from another part of the country.  Go us!  The problem of overpopulation and unwanted pet litters is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Windy 1 month until kidding
Windy- 1 month until kidding

But the problem that lurks on the other side of that achievement is one that never occurred to me until recently.  About 5 years ago, to be exact- the time when my husband and I decided to start a family.  I had no direct experience with anyone or anything that had been pregnant or had given birth.  Nada.  Sure, I knew people that had babies, but I wasn’t close enough to them to hear the nitty gritty details of how it felt to have another living being inside of you, or what actually happened in the months leading up to labor and delivery.  I had a lot of research to do.

Fortunately, we have the internet these days.  Or perhaps that’s unfortunate, depending on where you choose to look for information on said internet.  (Note to self- do not follow links to birthing videos or read horror stories of labors lasting longer than 36 hours while you are in your third trimester.  It’s too late to turn back and it isn’t a helpful way to stay positive about your impending future.)

Needless to say, I learned a lot about pregnancy in a short time.  But reading about the gestation period, measuring the growth of my waistline and comparing the current size of my growing baby to common fruits and vegetables just wasn’t the same as having witnessed an actual pregnancy before.  People didn’t used to be so isolated from the natural way of things in the past.  The way it used to be included numerous pregnancies surrounding each family, even if it was the animals in the barn doing most of the birthing.

My baby bump 2011
My baby bump 2011

Animals can teach us so much about the way of life.  Yet in recent decades, we have changed our relationship with our animals to such a degree that our experience has become more about control than reflection or learning.

It is frowned upon to leave your pets intact.  Veterinarians, trainers and rescue workers alike spout the many good reasons to alter your animals at an appropriate age.  For years I have done the same, (and I will continue to do so, but with the word pet clearly annunciated.)  There are too many uneducated owners and not enough responsible homes to start hailing the praises of leaving the family dog or cat unaltered.  (For more information on spay/neuter risks and benefits take a look at this article by the Veterinary Information Network: http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=27205)  But…

There is something to be said for witnessing the miracle of life in person before you go through it yourself, or with a loved one.  And I don’t just mean watching a chicken hatch from an egg (although that’s pretty cool too).  In mammals, the entire process of gestation, fetal growth, labor/delivery and finally nursing and nurturing a newborn is amazingly in-depth.  Being mammals ourselves, there is a lot to be learned from other mammals that experience a similar reproductive cycle.  And if there is a purpose for encouraging an animal pregnancy (like to produce more high quality animals , and/or to produce milk) then it is not irresponsible to do so.  In fact, it can give us a glimpse into a part of life that we have grown unaccustomed to seeing, and therefore are uncomfortable with.  Knowledge and experience are at the basis of building a comfort zone.  No one should have to go through a pregnancy without having some knowledge and experience of what it entails.  Goats and sheep and pigs and cows may not seem to have a lot in common with us humans in this area.  But I beg to differ.

I have watched Windy closely over these past 4 months as her belly has grown along with her adolescent body.  She has filled out, gotten taller (and certainly wider) and the lanky legs that she toppled in on are now solid and square beneath her.  She holds her head a little higher and moves a little slower as she learns to find her new center of balance.  Since she is shaped more like a swollen tick than an elegant deer these days, you might imagine that she isn’t quite as agile as she once was.  But surprisingly, she manages to jump around just fine.  (She moves much more naturally than I did at that stage of my pregnancy.)

I know the day that she conceived and I know the day that she is due.  I have a mental calendar that checks off weeks and months as May 29th (the day that we expect her to deliver) approaches.  We still have a lot to learn about livestock and this will be our first live birth experience here at home.  (Luckily we have some great support from friends that do have experience, in case we run into any problems!)  I don’t know if Windy has any idea what her body is going through at the moment, or what the inevitable end to this experience will be.  But I do know that nature will take its’ course and instinct will kick in when she needs it most.  That’s more than I can say for most people’s experience in modern day hospitals.

For now I am soaking up the calm before the storm.  I am spending time watching her grow and feeling her belly.  Each night as I feed her her grain and ready her for a place in the milking stand, I revel in the stolen glimpses I get of her baby bump undulating in the dim light of the barn.  Each time I feel the kid kick or shift suddenly, I remember how it felt to have my own baby adjusting inside of me.  It was scary and uncomfortable and amazingly wonderful.  I am so very grateful that I am able to relive those feelings by sharing our animals’ experience first-hand.   I only wish I could have learned from her earlier or was somehow able to give her a glimpse into what was to come.  But experience builds strength, and strength builds character.  Our hope is to experience this together for many more years.  By then, our character should be unshakeable.

Waiting for fetal movement
Waiting for fetal movement

In Limbo

“Look Mommy, a bird!” Kalina has been pointing out Robins sitting quietly amongst the branches and hopping effortlessly along the rock walls as we’ve been going about our business this past week.  I can’t say that I would have noticed their appearance if it wasn’t for her innocent observations.  I guess the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” rings true.

Kalina pointing

This time of year- the time in between winter and spring- comes and goes incredibly quickly.  New Englanders have a way of clutching onto winter far longer than we should.  It’s not that we want to.  We just know better than to trust a few warm days here and there.  March is still known as mid-winter for us, and not until the first crocuses creep through the soil do we admit to ourselves that spring might just be coming, after all.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the preparations for the coming change in seasons, as well as with the voice in the back of your mind wondering if you have enough sick days to take any more snow days, if you’ll have enough wood stacked up to get you through another cold spell or how long your ragged winter gloves will hold out.   But while we’re busy appeasing the worrier in all of us, we sometimes miss the subtle variations that only this short time in limbo has to offer.

But the children don’t.  The animals don’t.  The plants don’t.

One of my favorite things about having young children is gaining their perspective.  They don’t have to worry about all of the things that adults do.  They’re too busy watching and listening and learning to worry.

As I was trekking up the small hill on the way to the barn this evening, my mind was filled with thoughts of how unpleasant all of this mud was and what a mess the 2 feet of snow was going to make of the yard as it melted.  And then I looked behind me.

I saw two sets of tiny feet, covered with shiny rubber boots, stomping in the puddles and making waves.  I heard two tiny voices laughing and sharing observations about the little river that has suddenly taken over our walking trail.  I saw three happy dogs, playing exuberantly in the late afternoon sun and digging in the sandy slush that today’s warmer temperatures uncovered.

Kalina and Jacob in puddle

They weren’t worried about tomorrow, or thinking about how beat down they were from the frigid winter that we are still in the midst of.   They were fully present.   They were enjoying the now.  They were having fun.

Dozer with ball 4

I took the hint.  I put my bucket down and grabbed my camera.  I sat in the snow and got soaking wet.  I absorbed the smell of the earthy mud and the metallic dripping water.  I threw the ball and watched the sunset with some of my favorite people (and dogs).

Jacob in puddle blurred

Chores can wait.  We can wash our clothes.  Tomorrow’s potential snow storm is tomorrow’s problem.  I’m busy today.

Jagger with ball 2

This post was shared on The Homesteaders Blog Hop:

http://faulkfarmstead.com/2014/03/homesteaders-blog-hop-4/