Goodbye, Weasels!

by Laura Parker Roerdenblackandwhitekarina.jpb

Most games have a buzzer that goes off, signaling its end. Victory is declared for whomever is ahead at that moment. Life is not quite like that. Though, as my good friend and comedian Dana Gould once quipped, “What hasn’t killed you, isn’t finished with you yet.”

So, it’s with great caution that I announce that we’ve finally secured our chickens from the weasel(s). We could not have done it without the dedication of our handyman Keith, who not only spent two entire nights sitting in darkness in a cold barn staking the critter out, but also came every morning around 5 am for days in other attempts to secure the coop and to give me a chance to go to bed for a couple hours before I had to get up the kids.

As you know from following the posts here, this entire experience has been a barn raising, with so many friends and family showing up in so many ways. Showing up is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Even the texts from my friends asking, “How did it go?” or saying, “Take a nap” brought a certain feeling of security to me at a time when I at best felt like a failure and at worst felt under a certain siege.

These small problems in our lives, of course, happen in a backdrop of seemingly insurmountable societal problems. It’s been a crappy fall out in the world and in so many of the people I love lives. Every headless chicken lying in the mud begged me to try to make meaning of it.

I’ve tried not to take the bait. It’s just too big. The best meaning I can make at this time—in the wake of the Ferguson decision; in a world where the U.S. puts the most powerful climate denier in the senate in charge of our climate policy; in face of dear friends who are battling cancer, job loss, divorce—is that yes, sometimes it’s true that the fox (or in this case, weasel) is guarding the hen house. And we might not have the answers. Or feel like we have the words. But we need to show up, because it’s going to keep busting our butts if we don’t.

But since that doesn’t sound very Thanksgiving-ey,  I want to also offer this poem by Mary Oliver, who is better at making meaning from the world than I.

wildflowers
Our back pasture, reclaimed by the hard work of Ed Parker using heavy equipment for a solid week and our farm campers donning clippers and weeding for many, many days. Photo © Zophia Dadlez

Messenger
by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Wishing you all the gifts of gratitude in our lives. And for the times when you can’t muster gratitude, the gift of showing up.

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Seven Random Things I’ve Learned from Weasels

by Laura Parker RoerdenStanding

The news on the weasel front here at the farm is not good. Despite the heroic efforts of just about anyone who would be on my desert island list because of their superior survival skills, the weasel is winning. Killing has escalated, no doubt because winter is approaching and weasels are notorious for building a food cache. I’ve entered the barn in the morning to find as many as four more birds dead in one wild spree.

Since this whole weasel incident started three weeks ago, we’ve tried everything. We’ve airlifted sentimental favorites to a safe house. We’ve chalk dusted the perimeter of the barn each night with hopes of revealing the animal’s entry point. I’ve stayed up all night with a baby monitor crackling near my head, (not) sleeping in my clothes, flashlight and shovel at the ready. We’ve set traps; arranged for ways to re-home the entire remaining 80 birds. We’ve positioned two different types of critter cams using our most recent intelligence on likely entry points. We’ve had a team of friends, my nephew Ed and niece Tracy, farm campers, and our trusty handyman Keith helping to find holes as small as two inches and cover them with chicken wire; each time we look finding new holes. Hey, I’ve even got an former Marine on our team, so we’ve got some pretty good moves in our arsenal despite our ineffectiveness to end the slaughter.

I don’t like to lose. I never have liked it, but that’s not the point. Three weeks of awakening to birds you have nurtured since chick-dom decapitated and splayed on the ground of the coop affects a person. In my sleep deprived state, here are a few random things I’ve learned.

1. Chickens are surprisingly silent many, many hours each night, though they nearly always percolate with a low level cooing that sounds like the lapping of waves coming in to a dock.

2. Several roosters together have a call and response pattern to their crowing that makes visible the end points in a coop. I am certain I could navigate that dark coop now, using only their crows for guidance as if listening for a fog horn navigating dangerous shoals.

3. Roosters wake up at 3:00 am in the morning. Really. That might be the real reason the weasel is killing: to make them stop.

4. Weasels are the LeBron James of the northeast woodland community. They have nearly supernatural capabilities. Built like torpedoes to fit through the smallest of holes (2 inches or smaller), they are still have strong and big enough jaws and teeth to snap off the neck of an animal several times bigger than they are.

5. Front row seats to predation has a way of complicating things. Yesterday, despite the fact that I needed to get the beef stew I had planned on making into the slow cooker as early as possible, I simply could not stomach cutting chuck roast into smaller bits. I instead went to the barn and fed our cows their hay; lingering with them and appreciating the wisps of steam snaking up from their noses into the cold, thin air as they ate.

6. We have the kindest friends, kids, family, farm campers, handyman, and tribe around us who have showed up in ways too numerous to even list. I’m pretty sure that weasel didn’t intend to remind me of this, but as we head into Thanksgiving I am grateful for this deepening awareness.

7. Sometimes what we see when we lift the veil is admittedly not very pretty. But if you are willing to walk the perimeter of the dark, torn edges you’ll find a never-ending stream of new holes where light still gets in.

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A Farm Family

farmheadshotby Laura Parker Roerden

We’ve had a couple challenging weeks here at the farm. A weasel has been getting into the chicken coop and biting heads off of our newly-raised heritage breed Delawares. Mornings I’ll enter the coop and cringe—another headless chicken lying on the ground, already stiff.

At first, I could joke about it. “It’s either Ozzy Ozbourne or it might be a weasel.” Or “The least they could do is pluck it for me, too.” I’m not laughing now.

One of the birds killed was the smallest of the flock and my youngest child’s favorite. Most days Ben would come off the bus, go to the barn, and come back to the house with this little Delaware in his arms: he called her Lucy. He sobbed when I told him I had found her dead. Ben and I buried Lucy in a driving, cold rain. He made his own little homemade cross to put on the grave.

We’re up to about twenty birds taken, despite five separate attempts by three different men at closing holes in our 18th century barn. “The place looks like Fort Knox,” my nephew Ed said just last week, when he showed up again to help solve the problem. That was three or five chickens killed ago. I’m not sure. I’ve lost count.

Our handyman Keith is here again today, closing up more holes, investigating the crime scene, dusting for prints. It can feel discouraging, like playing Whack-a-Mole. Solve one problem on a farm and another surfaces.

Yesterday, I had our trusty Farm Campers here (ages 8-14), helping to close up more holes and restore order to the coop. Two of the eight year old boys found over seventy eggs hidden among the hay bales for the cows.  We laughed as the eggs in the pail mounted as more and more clutches were found: one clutch on the top of the bales; another between two bales; a third beneath the second and then a fourth in a nest of hay on the ground. I think we all have a soft spot for renegade hens, who make their own way in the world.

hiddeneggsLOTS

The Farm Campers left the barn last night confident, having safely tucked the chickens in for the night and turned off the lights.  We felt ready for our next challenge, discussing over dinner the lambs we were planning to purchase in the spring and the llama we thought it prudent to procure as a guard animal.

And then BAM, I found another bird this morning behind the nesting boxes, headless, when I went to the barn to feed the cows. Most of the time, I take these setbacks in stride. But this morning, I just couldn’t. I fell apart, my entire body heaving with tears, a new wave of grief about my father and my brother Dave’s passing washing over me. This sort of thing would have never have happened on their watch, I realize, and fresh sobs come. Grief is just like that weasel, finding holes to squeeze through.

Once I had calmed and disposed of the bird, I sent out a text to my gang: my nephew Ed, the farm camp manager Evan, our handy man Keith, my co-farm camp leader Yvette and within moments offers of help came in. One would find a critter cam; another was on his way with a hammer; and a have-a-heart trap was being procured. It can be amazing, just like that, too, this thing called farming.

My tasks for today included sorting through pictures of our recent Farm Camp Friend-raiser, which we held Columbus Day weekend. The Farm Campers, ages 8-16, had pulled off a wonderful afternoon and evening at the farm, complete with old fashioned games like sack races, donut-on-a-string eating, and egg ‘n spoon races; seasonal treats like maple sugar cotton candy and home-made baked goods; tractor pictures; a BBQ; a chance to feed the animals; songs by the bonfire; and an ending paper lantern ceremony with over 80 wonderful friends and family in attendance.

Potatosack

cottoncandyfiretractor

In doing so, they had raised enough money to buy their very own lambs so that they could learn how to run a farm micro-business.

As I opened and edited pictures, my heart filled with gratitude and a sense of a different kind of farm family, the kind that Evan Maeitta referred to when he surprised me with this, “We’re not just farm hands, we’re a farm family” on the back of the Jo-Erl Farm Camp t-shirts.

Yes, it’s true we’re a fifth generation family farm. But we’re also a farm family, the kind that sings around a bonfire, roots out hidden eggs, and does our best to keep weasels at bay.

highfive

The Jo-Erl Farm Camp is currently taking new members, ages 8-18 (meeting on Thursdays after school). There is no fee for being a part of Farm Camp, but the kids do run fundraiser here and there to fund their special projects. Farm Camp is currently selling two fabulous items.

mugs

bagsOwn a Jo-Erl Farm Camp sourvenir mason jar mug (16 oz.) or a grain bag tote bag, each for $10.00. The grain bag totes feature different animals and are a wonderful solution to mounting grain bags that can not be recycled.

Just leave a message here if you’re interested in purchasing either with your email address and we’ll be in touch.

Please consider yourself part of our farm family.

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