“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.
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