What a Feeling

I have had an evasive feeling of late – in a good and pleasing way.  Evasive in the deep, shadowy depths of my inner being.  Feelings of joy, contentment, and peace that I cannot put into words.

The feelings of joy hover and flit like butterflies in springtime.  I cannot capture them, yet they are all around me as I move through my days.  There is the joy of seeing piglets born.  Joy in multi-colored chicken eggs filling a basket once again as spring inches closer each day.  Joy in the purr of a cat curled at my side as I drift off to sleep.  Joy in the prancing antics of a spoiled cow as he awaits his morning hay and grain.  Joy while sitting in the hay with piglets who are intent on nibbling every last protruding object off your coat, boots, and jeans.  Joy in the glow of the warm, crackling fire in the woodstove that pushes back against the cold and damp air that chills your bones.  Joy in spending the days teaching our daughter life skills, history, math, science, animal care – knowing she is safe and happy.  Joy in baking, cooking, and laundry that whispers, “You are blessed to have a family to care for.”  Joy in visiting our neighbor’s baby goats and witnessing their immature antics.  Joy in having family close by to love.  Joy in living.

Contentment has settled deep within my heart of hearts.  Contentment in a quiet life where nature surrounds me.  Contentment in the daily routine of chores and school.  Contentment with all the Lord has so graciously blessed me with.  Contentment is not something I take for granted – it does not belong to those who rush through life.  It belongs to those who are able to slow down and savor the beauty that God created on this earth.  I am content with my place in this world.

Peace that passes all understanding.  Peace that no matter what happens in this broken and hurting world, my God is on His throne and nothing can touch me without His permission.  Peace that He is bigger than all the evil and corruption that has infiltrated our world, our country, and our communities.  Peace that soothes and comforts every day as I walk this journey of life.

I doubt I have expressed this sometimes overwhelming feeling well.  It grips my heart and dances away quickly before I can fully appreciate or express it.  I do hope, however, that you have caught a glimpse of the inner workings of my heart – a heart that is on the farm with my family and bound to the land that we call home.

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Great Expectations

As optimistic humans, we look forward to the new  year with great expectations.  We are going to eat healthier, exercise more, be more available to friends and family, draw closer to the Lord through disciplined Bible study, stay organized – the list can go on for pages.  In reality, what happens is that we enter the year charged up and our new, improved selves falter in the daily grind of life.  So in my optimistic view on this New Year’s Day in 2018, I’d like to consider what this year may hold for our family and our farm.

I used to be a very organized person.  Then I got married.  Then a baby came along.  Then the farm evolved from dream to reality.  Then homeschooling began.  Organization sadly fell to the bottom of the never-ending list of things to do.  Little by little I have been clawing my way back to being an organized person.  I can proudly say that as of this exact moment, I am organized for the year ahead.  My menu for January is complete, the groceries for the first half of the month are bought, the year-end paperwork for the farm is complete, plans are made for spiritual growth, and our homeschool plan is in place.  I have great expectations that this stellar accomplishment can continue at least into the first week of February.

Eating healthy – well, healthier food consumption is always at the top of the list.  And I have a plan for that, too.  Menu planning is helpful, portion control is vital, and having the ingredients on hand for healthy snacks and meals is key.  I am pumped up and ready to tackle those junk food cravings and win the battle of the bulge.  I hear the mega-box of mini York Peppermint Patties calling – be right back!  My expectations for healthy eating are a little below the great rating.

The farm is organized chaos – there is no way to transfer the pretty visions of idyllic dreams into a concrete reality.  There is always a plan in place for growing the farm, keeping it well-maintained and attractive, and running smoothly.  It is with great frustration that the animals choose not to stick to the plan.  Life happens on the farm – babies are born and some die.  Hay needs to be cut and the weather wasn’t notified to cooperate.  Equipment fails and puts everything else on hold while it is repaired.  Plans have been made for improving the chicken coop and run.  Plans to add a couple of small-breed cows in the spring are in the works.  Plans are forming to improve our pastures and add fencing for rotational grazing.  We have great expectations for the farm this year – I expect those plans will last until our first farrowing of the year on January 18th.

I could go on with listing all the plans that are swimming around in my head, all vying for a coveted spot in reality.  Look forward to the year ahead and make those plans.  Great expectations are just that.  We are all optimists on January 1st.

 

 

 

It Must Be the British In Me

Today we have seen the last hurrah of Tropical Storm Nate pass through our area.  It has been breezy, overcast, and rainy.  It has been a sullen kind of day.  And I love it.

The sky has been changing all day – from the heavy black clouds that greeted me during chores this morning to a glimpse of sunshine and back to a steel gray, ominous sky this afternoon.  While many folks will just look out the window and see an overcast view, I see changing patterns of white and gray.  I see hundreds of varied shades of steely blue-gray piling up, stretching out, and moving away.  I see intricate cloud patterns that change within moments, never to be repeated again.  I see brilliant leaves, wet with rain, splash their colors against the sodden backdrop – and it is beautiful.

I love being outdoors when the mist begins to fall.  The clouds seem to envelope our farm and wash away the dust and pollen making the fading colors pop.  The mist is gentle and refreshing, not yet heavy enough to chase the chickens and pigs into their shelters and under trees and shrubs.  The breeze whispers of brisk, cold days to come as it caresses my damp arms and face – and it is refreshing.

I love being indoors as the rain begins falling heavily and the wind tosses falling leaves into every corner of our property.  Today was a productive day of baking and canning – warming the house and penetrating the air with the smells of freshly baked bread, currant pound cake, and the spicy smell of applesauce cooking on the stove.  I love these smells that speak of home and comfort, safety and plenty.

This is my favorite time of year.  Darkness comes earlier and the coziness of that early darkness ignites a warmth and joy deep within me.  The glow of lights, the spicy warmth of mulling cider, the savory aroma of roasting meat, the pungent smell of wood smoke mixed with dying leaves all combine into a glorious patchwork of fragrance that is only surpassed by the fresh, piney smell of Christmas.

Dark, damp, cold days are some of my favorite days.  It must be the British me.

Lucy

Before we entered into the realm of keeping chickens, we researched every last detail related to hatching, growing, health, feeding, and housing them.  We followed our list of do’s and don’ts faithfully (for the most part) until the chicken obsession overcame us – well, me – this summer.

I love having a variety of chickens.  After all, they come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.  I love to see the different patterns of their feathers, vibrant colors splashed against the backdrop of green grass.   Each of my ladies has her own quirky personality that is as unique as the patterns of their feathers.

Earlier this year, it became apparent that the number of laying hens in my flock was not keeping up with demand for farm fresh eggs.  With my husband’s approval, I began to search out new breeds to add to my already diverse array of chickens.  First on my list were six lovely Black Copper Marans – the ones that lay the dark chocolate brown eggs.  I happily brought these young pullets home and quarantined them in our nursery run.  You see, I knew not to mix new birds into an existing flock without a waiting period to ensure they were healthy.  I had encountered a couple of problems over the past couple of years through integrating birds too quickly, so was careful to follow protocol.

During the same period of time that the Marans were brought home, I placed an order for 15 chicks from a reputable hatchery.  I was able to add Silver Speckled Hamburgs, Speckled Sussex, Columbian Wyandotte, Whiting True Blue, and Salmon Faverolles to my diverse flock.  My littlest chicks were safely in a brooder in the garage.

Also during this same period of time, we had some folks buy chicken feeders from our mountainous stash of galvanized feed troughs.  They were local breeders and had a couple varieties that I had been looking at – so the barter system came into play and I acquired some Buff Polish and Blue Laced Red Wyandottes which happened to be the same age as the Marans.  Having run out of proper quarantine areas and because of their size compatability, I erroneously decided to put the new birds in with the Marans – which, by the way, were not cheap birds to acquire.  By the following morning, I new my error and would soon pay for it with the lives of two Marans.  You see, one of the Blue Laced Red Wyandottes had a respiratory infection that quickly attacked two of the Marans.  I have been fighting this respiratory issue for two months and I believe we have finally conquered it.  Which leads me to tell you about Lucy – the carrier of the respiratory infection.

Lucy is stunted in her growth – she is about half the size her sister Gladys.  She is the sweetest little bird in my flock.  She waits patiently for me to finish filling feeders so that she can eat her fermented feed from the scoop.  She stays close to Gladys, who watches over little Lucy all day, never straying far from her side.  Gladys is always perched next to Lucy in an effort, I think, to keep Lucy warm on these chilly nights.  Lucy does not free range with rest of the ladies (and roos), preferring instead to relax in the sun near our lilac bush.  She is never going to be a robust bird, but I don’t have it in me to end her life.  She is recovered from her respiratory illness, but will forever remain a small and somewhat fragile pet.

The coming of Lucy to our farm has reminded me again the importance of knowing where your livestock comes from.  She reminds me that quarantine is a must, not just a good idea to be followed when it is convenient.  She reminds me that good husbandry is essential to profitability and growth.  She reminds me that each animal – four footed or fowl – is a special gift to be nurtured and cared for to the best of my ability.  Lucy has become my mascot – a daily reminder to stick to the protocols of good management.

Sweat

Yes, you read that correctly.  Sweat.  The stuff that drips from your forehead, dribbles down your back, and coats your body as you work on a sultry summer day.  And all of that before 9 a.m.  Today began as one of those suffocating days – yet didn’t pan out and the windows could stay open and the fan cooled the house enough to be comfortable.

I always seem to pick the muggiest and hottest mornings to tackle the job of cleaning out the chicken coops.  It must be a subconscious need to torment myself that manifests itself in the desire for a poop-free coop.  This morning seemed pleasant enough as I fed and watered my flock of eager hens and roosters.  The sun was shining and it still felt cool as I collected the wheelbarrow, shovel, and bag of pine shavings.

I started with the nursery coop which was beginning to stink from my sweet young chicks.  They are about two months old and somehow chick poop seems to smell worse to me than adult chicken poop – probably it’s all in my mind, but I digress.  Their coop is small, so I made quick work of scraping, shoveling, and removing the soiled shavings.  Fresh shavings fill the floor and that little job was done.  And then I decided that I might as well do the big coop, too – since it was a pleasant morning.

I realized too late that the humidity level had apparently risen along with the sun’s heat.  As I shoveled the poop and shavings out of the big coop, I began to glisten – that is the polite term for sweating.  The glisten soon became dribbles that trickled down my back making my light cotton shirt stick uncomfortably to my wet (glistening) skin.  Pine shaving dust stuck to my damp skin and began to itch.  My upper lip was leaking profusely and I knew instinctively that my face had become as blushed as the tomatoes on my windowsill.  My socks were wet inside my barn boots as I plodded to the compost pile with the last load of poopy shavings.  I quickly spread fresh pine shavings around the coop and nesting boxes, put my implements of destruction away, and retreated to the coolness of the house.

As disgusting as sweating profusely is on a hot summer morning, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from working up a good sweat.  It is the feeling of accomplishment, a job well-done, another item to check of the never-ending list of things to do around the farm.  It is the feeling of hard work – of working toward a goal of sustaining one’s family and livestock.  I worked up a few more good sweats throughout the day – and they were all just as satisfying as the early morning sweat that began my day.

“A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic.  It takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”  -Colin Powell

 

Beauty in the Little Things

It has been a very busy summer here on the farm.  We’ve been adding critters left and right…or so it seems.  Piglets born in February, April, and July.  A calf born in April.  New chicks arriving non-stop for two weeks in June.  I do believe we are done for awhile.  During these busy times it is sometimes hard to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us even in the busy times.

During this hectic time I have taken my camera along to capture some of these treasured moments and I have shared them with my Facebook friends and family.  They are bombarded with pictures of glistening spider webs in the early morning sunshine, wildflowers swaying in the gentle breeze, new chick pictures almost daily filling their newsfeed.  There are pictures of colorful bugs and slimy slugs.   Images of pig snouts, mushroom sprouts, and wooded turn-outs.  The list goes on of the natural beauty that I capture with my camera during the most mundane tasks of farming.

Why do I take the time to capture these images?  Why do I continually post these images to Facebook?  Why do people continue to look at such ordinary images?  I’ll tell you what I think – I think that many people are not in a position to see the beauty in the ordinary.  They live in cities devoid of endless variety of natural life.  They are busy running from home to job to shuffling kids around to endless sports activities.  They live lives that are removed from the rhythm of nature and the heartbeat of country life.  I think in some small way I am bringing the beautiful into their lives – encouraging them to stop and see the intricacies of creation all around them.

I hope in some small way I am helping others to see a loving Creator that thoughtfully planned a beautiful world for His creatures to enjoy.  Take a moment and look around  you as you go out your door tomorrow.  See what beauty is in your own backyard – and relish every moment.

Chicken Math 101

In the world of chicken keepers, there is a phenomenon called Chicken Math.  In the real world, we all know that 1+1=2.  This is an unchangeable fact and that is why children learn math facts.  However, real-world math does not work when chickens are involved.  Let me explain.

About five years ago, our daughter, then six, decided to participate in the 4H Incubation and Embryology project.  It was thrilling.  We learned all about chickens, chicks, and the embryonic stages of chicks inside the shell.  We faithfully turned the eggs morning and night, monitored the humidity level and temperature – we took these little eggs very seriously.  After the 21 day incubation period, we started hatching – what a thrill!  We coddled those little chicks, socialized them to their humans and decided that it would be fun to keep a handful of chickens to provide our family with fresh, home-grown, healthy eggs.

Well, these little chicks needed a coop, so we over-built a coop and run for our handful of little chickens.  Our first loss came the day we moved them from the brooder out to the new palace.  Our favorite little Buff Orpington poked her head out between the gate and the fence while our dog was investigating these chirping young chickens.  Needless to say, we were crushed, the dog was in the doghouse so to speak, and Chicken Math was about to become reality.

You see, when you lose one chicken, it has to be replaced with a number greater than one.  And this continues throughout your chicken-keeping adventure.  Fast forward to Spring 2017.  Two of our hens were left of the original batch.  They were living out their lives as non-layers but we were too sentimental to euthanize them.  Sadly, Ruby died of old age late one afternoon while I held her.  I went in the coop to check on Belle who had been in a nesting box all day long.  She had difficulty standing and as I picked her up, realized that under all her fluffy feathers, she was skin and bones.  We euthanized her and another older and unhealthy hen than evening.  While this sounds cold and cruel, it is part of caring for the creatures entrusted to us.

This left us with 15 hens.  Now for most folks, you would think that 15 hens would be sufficient to supply a family of three with enough eggs.  However, I have friends and family that have taken a liking to farm fresh eggs that are raised in the fresh country air – pecking and scratching their days away eating grass, seeds, and bugs – being chickens.   This is where the Chicken Math comes in.

You see, we lost three chickens.  We have a waiting list of folks who want farm fresh eggs.  I have a husband who was having a weak moment – well, a weak week to be exact.   We decided to put in an order for 15 chicks which will be delivered next week.  Thrilling.  We picked five different breeds that we haven’t had before and began planning a coop renovation.  Along came an opportunity to purchase 2-3 month old Black Copper Marans from a local farm.  Well, as a chicken fanatic, I have always dreamed of having Marans – they lay chocolate-colored eggs.  Done.  We added six beautiful pullets (young female chickens) to our nursery run.  Then an opportunity came to barter for two Buff Polish chicks, two Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, and one Buff Orpington (one of my all time favorites).  Done.  Are you following the math yet?  Let me help you visually:

18-3=15        15+6+5=26       26+15=41      Oh, and we have one rooster plus one tiny chick that one of our hens hatched.   41+2=43

That, my friends is Chicken Math.  When you lose some, you gain more.   And my husband has been trying to figure out how this happened.