A Way of Life

by Laura Parker Roerden

“Farming is a way of life,” was one of my father’s oft repeated phrases. Sometimes he used it to explain why he still farmed in a year when he didn’t make any money or when the work demanded more of him than any sane person would give, like during haying season when he’d rise at 4:30 a.m. to milk the cows and finish his day at 9:30 pm when light was finally too scarce to stay on the tractor safely. He said it the day he stood at the farmhouse window watching the entire herd be led onto cattle trucks when he went officially went out of the dairy business in the early 1980s. After that, my father stopped going to the window at all.

It’s only in the past years without him that I’ve come to realize that my father also meant that farming was a way of understanding life. Today was in many ways a typical–albeit eventful–day on the farm. But it also happens to be the anniversary of my father’s death.

Walking back to the farmhouse, I mentally recounted the many events of the morning. Fortunately, our handyman Keith was here and could be of help.

  • The cows come into the barn when I try to feed our calf Mark separately, requiring me to back them up out of a narrow passageway and down some stairs, which sounds like a comedy routine, except for the moment I am pinned between one and sidewall of the corridor. I call for Keith to help, but he doesn’t hear me. I find my own way out.
  • An older Australarp hen that I had separated into a brooder yesterday because it was ill and the other hens were harassing it, is now dead. I think about where to place it in the woods, so it might be part of a larger offering of rebirth and renewal.
  • A baby Silkie chick has naturally hatched and is running around the smaller coup. I replace the waterer and food with dishes the chick can reach.  I watch for a moment to confirm all is well, only to find that the mature hens are now pecking at the chick each time she tries to eat. So I move two possible mother hens (speckled Sussexes I had seen being broody) and the chick into a separate pen, which we secure and add food and water to. One of the speckled Sussex nestles into the hay, fluffing her feathers out and in one motion of her wing scoots the baby chick under her. Sure now I had found a mother hen up to the task, I bring the other Sussex back into the larger coop with the other birds. 
  • Keith and I walk the perimeter of the outside pen for the sheep to prepare it for our lamb Lulu to go outside. He adds some chickenwire and closes a gap between the fence and the wall so that Lulu won’t get separated from her mother. When it is ready, I open the door and both Juliette and Lulu bound down the stairs to the outdoors. It’s obviously they are going to like it.
  • I find our first 2 peafowl eggs in the pea pen. Our peahen has officially matured, so I make a nesting area with hay for her under her roost in a corner, where she can securely sit on eggs. I put the eggs on the ramp to bring to the farmhouse, only to later discover that the hens have tried to eat them. The eggs are now broken open, contents spilled onto the concrete.
  • I notice a nest of birds (probably sparrows) have hatched in the rafters of the calf barn. The sound of their peeping is deafening and suggests an abundance of birds.
  • I purchase 500 lbs of grain and we bring it into the various barns, where the bright sounds of grain entering bins and the clatter of lids captures the animals’ attention.

I don’t know for sure, but think my father would approve of a morning spent on our farm among the mad tiddlywinks game of life pressing forward, ever seeking to put death and birth on equal footing.


Related post: For the Love of Work

A Separate Peace

Welcoming Lulu

by Laura Parker Roerden

Last week the ordinary stuttered into extraordinary: our first lamb was born. My eldest son Eli delivered the news in a phone call to me when he went to the barn to close up the animals.

“Mom, I think there’s someone here you’ll want to meet,” he simply said, without offering more.

My first thought was one of my father’s old friends had stopped by looking for him, having seen the glow of light on in the barn, since for decades my father could always be found at this time of night milking our cows. But I was wrong. I was surprised how long it took me to even consider the alternative: Juliette, our rare Leicester Longwool sheep had given birth to her long-awaited lamb.

I had days before started a blog post I hadn’t yet finished entitled, “(STILL) Waiting on the Damn Lamb.” I had done preliminary research on buying a “lamb-cam,” since the word lamb irresistibly lends itself to word play of all sorts. “Lam(b)enting the wait for a lamb is a lamb-able offense,” I had written to no one in particular, as I failed to hit the publish button on that blog post for good reason. But the truth is, I was a combination of annoyed and worried by what seemed like the longest pregnancy on record for a sheep. Wasn’t there something I should be doing? Aren’t we always waiting on some proverbial lamb?

Lulu lamb with her mother, Juliette.

When I got to the barn that night, Eli was standing quietly by a tiny wet, white lamb and her mother. A separate peace had descended on the pen. Something about the scene made both Eli and I whisper to each other a mixture of instructions and excitement.

“Oh my gosh. She’s so beautiful.”

“We have to get the heat lamp on and get Juliette extra hay.”

“Oh, look at her little tail wagging!”

“Call your brothers and dad.”

All of a sudden there was so much to do; and yet there was nothing at all needed. The sense of peace in the barn stood thick like a protective fog, while we toggled back and forth between it and our desire to play a part.

For months I had procured information about lambing and tools were safely stashed in a chest we called our “lambing kit.” But now there stood a perfectly healthy lamb, still wet and rooting her mother’s under carriage to latch on. The lamb would occasionally lose balance. Or her knees would buckle to the ground. But she’d build her way back to firm purchase, discovering each nob of her legs unfurled like a jointed ruler.

Yes, this was a certain kind of peace, I thought, as I watched Lulu nurse. After all the waiting and preparation, the real surprise was to find such deep peace in not being needed at all.