The Bluebirds are Back

And Other Good News

by Laura Parker Roerden

Juliette, a rare Leicester Longwool heritage breed, this past fall.

I was drinking coffee while doing chores in the dairy barn this morning when the vet, Rosario, showed up. “Thank you for coming!” I said, stepping out into the frigid air to greet her, clutching my mug to warm my hands. Rosario looked up to introduce herself, offered an outstretched hand, and hit the ground hard. Her rubber boots were no match for the unseasonable slick of ice left on the slanted ground.

The morning had started badly for me, too, so I was sure she might be hurt. I ran to her side to help her up. But she rose nimbly, brushed herself off, and then took my outstretched hand, “What? No hat in this weather?” she chided as we shook hands. I laughed.

She was there to provide a certificate of health for the ram we had on loan from a farm in New Hampshire that we are planning to return this weekend. You can’t bring an animal across state lines without one. There are so many things you realize you have no idea even exist until you jump into something like raising lambs. “Who knew?” is a familiar, if humbling, refrain for me.

As she examined Theo, she gave me advice and made positive comments about the condition of the barn: “Be on the lookout for hoof-rot. Once you have it, you won’t be able to get rid of it,” she warned. “But I can see from the condition of your bedding that you’re not likely to have it. Things look very well-kept here.”

“Aren’t you beautiful, Theo?” she coo’ed to him.

“He’s just the perfect weight, too. We rate them on a 1 to 5 scale and he’s a 3–exactly where we like to see them.”

Pride started to raise in my chest. I felt like I did when the pediatrician would tell me I was doing a great job when my children were babies: like someone had handed me a life-ring, which also meant she could see I was barely still treading water. The sheer kindness of the comment washed over me like a wave; I was surprised to tear up a little.

We chatted while she worked, updating the shots for our other two female lambs, giving me advice on lambing. “Can you tell if their bred,” I asked?

“No. Not really,” she answered.

“Oh, well,” I sighed, as I listened to the litany of signs. “They’ll bag out about six weeks before, though that’s notoriously unreliable. You’ll also notice lengthening in their vulva, and they’ll stop eating too.”

“Just like a cow,” I offered, trying to appear at least somewhat knowledgable.

“Yes, exactly,” she said. “But there’s one sign that’s always reliable,” she offered.

“There’s this ligament on the top of their tale that is taut like a pencil on either side. Just before they lamb it softens,” she instructed, taking my hand to feel the hard ridges. Once I found it, she described the jelly-like feel I’m looking for, equating it to the way our own hips became slack just before we gave birth.

“All animals have it,” she added for good measure. “It allows the hips to open for the baby to pass through the birth canal.”

“Ok, I’ll just keep an eye on them and then when I think they’re close, I’ll check the ligament,” I summarized.

“Yes. That’s a good way to handle it.”

Dr. Rosario filling out paperwork for the ram to cross state lines and return to his farm in New Hampshire.

“I have an ultrasound machine in my car. We can tell for sure if they are bred. Do you want me to get it?” she suddenly offered.

“Yes! I do,” I gasped, realizing immediately what she had done in holding back that critical information. She was putting herself out of a job by teaching me to do the work myself. She was reminding me that farmers deliver babies, trim hooves, give shots. She was, in fact, telling me not to call her.

As she retrieved the ultrasound from her car, I talked quietly to the lambs. “We’re going to find out if you’re going to have a lamb, Juliette.” And then it hit me: we’re going to find out if we are going to have lambs.

The ultrasound screen lit up with white halos around dark valleys, as she depressed the handle along the side of Juniper first. Things were moving; I thought I saw something round. “See that circle?” she asked.

“Um. I think so.” I squinted.

“That’s the lamb,” she said.

As she pressed the wand deeper into Juniper’s abdomen, something flickered. “And, there’s the heart-beat.”

This morning, I had seen the first blue bird of the season. Now I know assuredly that Juniper is going to lamb sometime this spring. Juliette is expected to have twins. Only time will tell how lambing will go, but I’m off to buy gel, rubber gloves, and a stethoscope to assist in their births as instructed by Rosario. For now, the bluebirds are back.

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At Jo-Erl Farm

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

 

Warm Eggs in My Pockets

by Laura Parker RoerdenLPRHeadShot

For the last several days, I have been collecting eggs for our incubator. It’s a spring task that a hardened criminal could get behind.

Since only still warm eggs can be successfully hatched, my morning chore requires sorting eggs by their temperature.  It’s blustery and snowing here at the farm, so I’m wearing gloves and a furry hat with ear-flaps. I remove my gloves to collect the eggs to assess the temperature of each individual egg.

I approach the first clutch of eight eggs, which are a varied mix of colors suggesting antique porcelain, paper bags, sea glass.

eggscolored

The first few eggs are stone cold, so I put them in the egg basket with a plunk. The fourth egg is so warm that I resist a strange unbidden urge to nestle it up against my cheek. I put the egg in the pocket of my barn jacket.

The next egg feels slightly warm; or so I think. I grab one of the cold eggs in my other hand to compare. “Yup. It’s warm,” I say out loud to the hen in the neighboring nesting box. She coos seeming approval and I pop it into my pocket.

I have seven warm eggs across my two coat pockets when I finish collecting all sixty-four eggs. Their combined heat warms my pockets in a way that I can feel through the thick insulation of my coat.

Hatching chicks is the trifecta of farm work, I think to myself, gently patting my pockets. Everything on a farm turns like a wheel of deadly routine. But this morning, that wheel has stuttered to a near halt. Something different is a afoot. There is a soothing sense of acceptance, mystery, patience perhaps, as if some mystery had fogged a window, leaving a quiet, yet reassuring note. One that I could have easily missed.

ropeonwindow

I’m finished tending to the chickens now, so it’s time to leave the barn. But I do not button my coat for fear that the strain across the pockets will break the eggs. So I hug my coat closed and lower my head against the wind as I cross the road and make my way back to the farmhouse.

trees-976974_1920

Winter is calling out one more time, reluctant to leave. The ice is pelting my brow as I navigate the slippery slope of the driveway. I gently pat my pockets. The warm eggs are like a secret talisman. They are a faint whisper against the wind: there is always this.

I have collected another sixteen eggs over the past days that are safely tucked inside awaiting their incubator mates. In 21 days, with the grace of nature about 80% of those eggs will hatch out into chicks. At least one of those chicks will have a life threatening deformation, and it will likely die with the first 24 hours. But the rest will grow into hens and roosters that will lay and fertilize next spring’s brood. The torch will assuredly be passed.

I consider how spring is the pat metaphor for how everything that ails us runs in a river of time whose only consistency is its cycles of decay and renewal. But as of late I am more struck by those times when we have fallen entirely out of the path of the river and can find no shore; of the times when hope, like warm eggs, is in shorter supply.

I am reminded of a poem I wrote on Thanksgiving when winter had unexpectedly wheeled into gear.

The Hinge
I love this world.
And not just in morning, when
the long, dark drug of night
opens like a clam to the light.

I love the hinge itself
that swings back and forth
as the tide washes over;
an attempt at renewal.

I love not just the mighty whale
but the plumes of his excrement,
that feed the tiniest plants,
that create the air we breathe.

I love not just a seat at the table,
But the debt we owe
each time we eat, a holy communion
with mineral, vegetable, or animal given.

I love not just the beauty of rivers
leading to oceans, but also the
black sucking microbrial muck
raising nutrients up foodwebs like spirit.

I love this world,
which suggests something whole in the
valleys between wave crests
and a chance at forgiveness.

I know it’s true for so many of us at times: hope can sometimes feel completely and utterly out of reach. Even then routine can be slowed down and seen with our newly shaded eyes, meaning can be found in the guts of the ordinary, and even in the dark there might be something worthy of a muttered sigh.

It’s March and it’s cold and snowing. And I have warm eggs in my pockets. Hallelujah, any way!

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