Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve only been farming for 2 years. Even if you count the two years of gardening alone as farming, the total is still only 4. That’s not a long time at all, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time. Here are some highlights:
- If your wife is the better mechanic, just go with it.
I am not, and have never been, handy. My wife, on the other hand, is. I believe in the Yellow Pages. Brittan believes in doing as much as she can by herself. That’s true of carpentry and engine mechanics. She likes stuff like that. I don’t get it. I have rudimentary skills, in that I can do some rough carpentry, plumbing and electric when forced to. I have done roofing, drywall, laid blocks, taken apart starter motors and a few other things as well over the decades, but I loathe it and am poor at it. One should only depend on my handiwork in dire emergencies.
Brittan, on the other hand, is good at these things and enjoys doing them enough to want to improve and broaden her skill set. Silly girl. But she has saved us a ton of money on things like chicken coops, feed troughs, raised beds and even minor truck repair. Her latest wild idea is to replace the brakes (lines, discs and calipers) on the truck, by herself. Her logic is sound. Doing it by herself will save us hundreds of dollars. And since the truck is a 97, what have we got to lose?
I have neither the desire nor the attention span to do things like that myself. And yet, for the longest time, my ego didn’t want Brittan to do them, either. Eventually, I got over it. Saving money and having a happy wife are much more important than admitting to my macho friends, “My wife does that stuff around here.” Oh, did I mention that she’s pretty darned good at it?
- Pot Belly Pigs are liars and deceivers.
I love pigs. I love the pork they produce. What I never liked was seeing a field or pen destroyed by the rooting and burrowing that pigs are famous for. I figured the answer was Pot Belly Pigs. They are cute, tasty, smart and too small to do much damage. Besides, anything that can be leash and house trained can’t be too destructive, right?
We got our pigs back in the summer. They were just little weanlings and too cute to describe. We kept them in an old chicken tractor for a couple weeks to make sure they were acclimatized to us and our other livestock. We fed them some garden scraps and lots of whey and excess goat’s milk.
When we turned them loose, they went right to grazing and browsing, eating weeds and grasses that even the goats had ignored. It was perfect. Between the chickens and the pigs, we have not thrown a single table scrap in the garbage can for months now.
This idyllic scene lasted all summer. A handful of goats, some chickens and 5 little pigs sharing a pasture in perfect harmony. Brittan even trained one of the pigs to let her squirt goat’s milk straight into his mouth from about 3 feet. It was a great party trick.
Then winter came. The grass died. The milking stopped. The rains fell. The pigs got bored. Now, their pasture is dotted with pot belly pot holes. They have turned that idyllic space into the Iraqi frontier. The little monsters deceived me. They spent an entire summer like some sleeper cell, lulling me into a false sense of security, then out of nowhere, BAM, shock and awe.
Sure, they’re still cute. They love to get their ears scratched and bury themselves in the straw in the barn to nap, then pop out of their camouflage to squeal with delight when they’ve scared the wee, wee, wee all the way home out of me. But I am no longer deceived. They are terrorists. Adorable, heartwarming, loveable terrorists. It will not be forgotten at bacon makin time.
- Farming for food involves a lot of death.
Whether it’s eliminating rodents from the garden, processing animals, finding the remains of predation or dispatching the sick and injured, I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of death and gore in the last couple years.
Death never gets easier. Nor should it, I guess. I did not anticipate, though, just how emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting it would be.
Brittan and I are omnivores. With a couple of notable exceptions, our customers are omnivores. Fortunately, even the vegetarians among the East of Eden family of producers and consumers are appreciative of what we do here.
We started farming to produce our own food naturally, sustainably and ethically. We knew there was death involved. Brittan and I hunt and fish. We are not new to animal death, but shooting a turkey at the edge of field from a safe distance is a whole lot different than the up close and personal methods employed in pasture based poultry. I assure you that when you’ve spent 13 or 26 weeks with chickens and turkeys respectively, or 9 to 18 months with a feeder cow, the emotions change.
Over that time, we watch them grow from tiny, helpless little things, to maturity. I the case of poultry they are usually just a day or two old when they arrive. Rabbits and other livestock are often born here. In many cases we were there to watch and even assist in the birth. We have fed them, cuddled them and nurtured them every day. We have talked and sung to them, and they to us. They have made us laugh and they have made us angry. They have brought us something that too many people never experience; joy.
Processing days are hard. Anyone who does this will tell you the same. It is emotionally easier to pick up a plastic wrapped package at the supermarket. That’s just meat. To look a creature in the eyes and take its life, is an act of intention and is not done lightly.
It’s just as easy to ignore the fact that the steak, pork or chicken picked up already neatly presented at the supermarket very likely lived its life without a moment’s pleasure. In the case of poultry, the birds may have never seen daylight until they were loaded on a truck and taken to be processed. Most pigs have never had a chance to tear up a pasture or bury themselves in the straw. The cows that produced the hamburger lived the last months of their lives in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, without the feel of grass beneath their fee or the sheer ecstasy of lying down at the edge of a hay stack for a nap in the afternoon sun. That is why we do what we do. Our animals have a good life. They live as God intended, eating the food God created them to enjoy. Their end comes at my hand and I know their lives are taken with respect for all they have given me. When we sit down and the dinner table to enjoy a meal of vegetables and meat that we have raised, processed, preserved and prepared ourselves, we are aware of the connection we have to the soil and the life. We are more aware than at any other times in our lives that life is not cheap, but it IS precious.
While processing animals is stressful, having to put animals down is more so. On multiple occasions, we’ve had birds or bunnies, which due to accidents or illness had to be put down. For a while last summer, it was every day. We had a serious predator problem and we would come to the pastures to find killing fields. The carnage was awful. Each time, I felt more helpless and angry than the time before. Dozens of headless, partially eaten chickens and turkeys littered our pastures. Coyotes, hawks, owls and neighborhood cats and dogs were wreaking havoc.
If that wasn’t bad enough, there were ‘survivors’. Some animals escaped, but with mortal injuries. For weeks on end, I had to dispatch one or more birds a day. I remember telling Brittan that I was totally exhausted from the task. My soul hurt.
With the help of better fencing, donkeys and mules, my own .45 caliber pistol and the marksmanship of a good neighbor, predation has dropped to a manageable level, if such a thing exists, and I don’t know how I will cope if I ever have to go through a spell like that again.
To be continued…
Read Full Post »