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.

Tranquility

Tranquility, by definition, is the quality of being tranquil; calmness; peacefulness; quiet; serenity.  It is a quality that is sorely missing in today’s society of instant gratification, fast-paced living, and endless consumerism.  It is a quality I find every day on our little slice of heaven on earth.

Tranquility for me comes in many different forms.  There are times that calmness settles over me at a job that must be done – such as holding my old, dying hen while she breathes her last breath.  There is sadness, of course.  There is also a knowledge that she had a wonderful life on our farm.  She was loved and cared for.  She held a special place in my heart as one of my very first chickens – a chicken that always would stand behind me and peck at my boots, jeans, or shirt until I acknowledged her by reaching behind me to pet her.  That same mantle of calmness wraps itself around me hours later when making the decision to euthanize two other old and not-so-healthy hens.  A decision not taken lightly by any means – but a decision to sidestep a slow deterioration to death.  A swift end to birds entrusted to my care and protection.  Birds that had an amazing life and gave years of joy to our family.

Tranquility also comes in the form of quiet days lived without the constant noise and bustle of towns and cities.  It is choosing to say no to endless activity outside of our farm.   It is choosing to leave the radio and television off in order to communicate with each other as a family – to listen to the sounds of the farm and nature instead of the incessant noise of modern entertainment – and I use that term loosely.

Tranquility at is best is the peacefulness and serenity I find in the fields surrounding our house.  It is the gentle grunts of momma pigs as they call the babies to the milk bar for dinner.  It is the peeping and chirping of mother hens calling to the chicks to follow.  It is the sound of momma cow chewing her cud as her calf eagerly suckles his dinner.  It is the sound of crickets, bees, and all manner of insects busy among the flowers and grasses of our fields.  It is the peepers that sing their evening song as the cooling breeze floats through the open windows of our home.  It is the distant song of the birds in the woods bordering our fields that echo around me as I soak in the peace of nature.

If I could wish one thing for you, it would be that you take the time to stop, look, and listen to the beauty that surrounds you.  Pursue tranquility in this bustling, noisy world – and when you find it, don’t let go of it.  Return often to drink in the peacefulness that washes over your soul at the smallest delights that are all around us.

Rain on a Tin Roof

The skies were heavy this morning when I awoke from a good night’s sleep.  I knew the forecast was for showers and thunderstorms, but I took a bit of time for tea and a bagel.  Alas, by the time I had finished, the rain was beginning to fall.

As I made my way to the barn to fill up grain buckets, the sound of the rain pinging on the barn roof greeted me and the thunder rolled in the distance.  There is something quite nostalgic and comforting about the sound of rain on a tin roof.  It evokes images of simpler times from the past.

Rain on a tin roof brings forth images of cows and horses contentedly munching hay and grain in roomy stalls.  It evokes the smells of dusty haylofts filled with freshly cut hay where children would play, cats would pounce on unsuspecting mice, and chickens would hide clutches of eggs to set and hatch.  It recaptures a time when the family worked together, played together, and stayed together.

Our barn is a work in progress – it houses animals and hay in the winter, equipment in the spring, summer, and fall.  Our barn will be ever evolving as our farm grows and changes – but it is my hope that our barn will evoke fond memories for our daughter someday when we are gone.

The sodden landscape is now obscured by thick fog and the thunder continues to echo around the farm.  The rain is heavier now, creating a loud cacophony on the barn roof.  The animals are all tucked in, dry and comfortable in their shelters and I have another blog post ruminating in the back of mind.

You see, my father-in-law has taught me that a barn is a living thing….

The Sweet Smell of May

I think May must be at the top of my list of favorite months.  Bulbs are bursting forth in a glorious array of color, fruit trees and ornamental flowering trees are in full bloom, and lilacs are heavy with their gorgeous, fragrant flowers.  The hillsides have become a lush patchwork of varying shades of green as new leaves mature into their warm-weather adulthood.

The smells of May just might surpass the visual beauty that surrounds our farm this time of year.  As I meander through my morning chores, the air is heavy with sweet fragrances.  The unique and heady scent of lilacs is my all-time favorite.  The gentle morning breezes carry sweetness to every corner of the farm.

There is a giant lilac inside the chicken run that put on a dazzling display this year – in fact, thanks to cool weather, the blossoms are still intact and giving beauty and sweet aroma to an otherwise plain green area.  The chickens love the giant lilac bush.  It offers them shade from the hot sun in summer, perches in winter, and plenty of amusement in the spring as they jump straight up to grab the lowest lilac blossoms.

Another favorite smell of spring is freshly cut grass.  It is a fresh and earthy smell – hard to describe, but pleasing to the senses.  Somehow, the first grass clippings of the year smell the sweetest.  There is probably some scientific reason, but I think it is because our senses are re-awakening from a long winter’s nap.

Soon the smells of summer will be upon us – different but just as pleasing.  That will have to wait for another day of inspiration.

All Is Well

This morning as I set about doing chores, it crossed my mind that all is well on the farm.  A farm, even the smallest – such as ours, goes through seasons of change.

There is the gritty season of getting through the snow and cold of winter – including keeping piglets and mommas warm and dry, making sure hay is rationed but plentiful so you have enough until spring, and making sure water is running and not frozen solid.

There is the sweltering season of summer (I know I missed spring – I did that on purpose).  During the summer months, grass is thick and rich for the cows.  The pigs lounge in the fields or under trees taking several mud baths a day to keep cool, water is chugged by the gallon and it is a never-ending cycle of filling water tanks.  Chickens are fat with plenty of bugs and grass to eat – the feed bill goes down for sure!  Everywhere you look is lush and green.  Hay is made on the hottest, driest days of summer, stored under cover for winter use.

Autumn brings preparation for winter.  Moving animals to winter pastures or barns, stocking up on feed, sending pigs to Freezer Camp, prepping the chicken coop for winter.  Making sure equipment is winterized and put away until next season – the list goes on.  A busy time for sure.

Then there is spring.  The time of new life on a farm.  Hens tend to go broody and want to sit on fertilized eggs in the spring.  Farrowing of piglets which started in the cold days of February are easier now.  No concerns of frozen piglets during the springtime!  Momma pigs are taking long, leisurely walks with tiny tumbling piglets in tow.  The grass is emerging in rich, vibrant greens that the cows are eager to digest – gone is their hay ration – on to greener pastures!  That was bad, I know.  Waiting for the first calf on our farm to make it’s entrance into this world – hoping that it is born on a warm and dry day.  Pigs are eating the luscious green grass as well – yes, pastured pigs eat grass – pigs are omnivores (as are chickens) and will gratefully eat just about anything if you let them.  The trees are budding and the hillsides are awash with a patchwork of color – the reds of leaf buds, the soft greens of tiny leaves unfurling, the whites and pinks of flowering trees dotting the landscape to make a gorgeous earthen quilt.  Birds sing joyfully as they flit here and there gathering nest material for their homes.

Life seems to get easier when winter gives way to spring – busier for sure with baby animals to tend to – but easier.  Concerns melt like the snow and you decide that farm  life is a pretty good life to live.  All is well.

Whimsical Gloom

This morning was one of those quietly magical mornings where you could envision woodland fairies dancing in the forest.

Fog lay thickly over the pastures and wrapped it’s ghostly fingers among the still bare trees.  Pale gold leaves left over from last fall stood out starkly against the wet dark trunks of the trees and the creeping gray fog.  The birds were quietly chirping their morning songs – almost as if they were trying not to break the spell that seemed to be hovering over the landscape.  The animals seemed hesitant to wake – as if they, too might chase the peaceful shadows away and bring reality back to the forefront of my wild imaginations.

I walked quietly from barn to pastures, speaking softly to all my charges.  I paused in the front pasture to play with our youngest piglets while Momma Rose enjoyed her breakfast rations.  I fed Henry and Ruby then walked down the hill to find Sleepy nestled under sheltering trees.  Even the chickens held their peace on this magical day.

The morning cried out for silence and praise to her Maker as I made my way around the farm.  The sheer beauty of such whimsical gloom wrapped me up in its peace – contentment stealing into my very soul.  I knew the skies would remain low and heavy throughout the day and then give way to rain and storms by evening – not because the weatherman told me – but because mornings such as this do not release their hold easily.

So tonight as I listen to the dripping of rain off the eaves, I hear the peepers blending their voices to sing the song of spring.  The fairies have all gone back into hiding, blending back into the landscape and waiting for the next magical morning to reappear in the distant future.

There is joy in the little things – and I hope you take the time to seek and to find those little things all around you.