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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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