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.

Building Fort Knox

It seems like forever since I have taken the time to sit down and write a blog post.  Spring is a busy time even on a tiny farm like ours.  And Mother’s Day weekend was no exception – it was memorable.

We decided to (finally) move our daughter’s 4H pigs out of the barn and into the pasture which is lush with spring grass.  The poor little guys had never known any home but the spacious stall in the barn since their birth in February.  It was definitely time!  We backed the borrowed stock trailer up to the barn doors and coaxed the little rascals with a quart of vanilla yogurt – one of their favorite treats.  In they went with no trouble.  We proceeded to unload them in our training pasture.  Let me pause here to explain what a training pasture is.

Our training area is a large double-fenced area where young piglets or new-to-us pigs learn what an electric fence is.  We have three strands of electric fence around the area and field fence/sheep fence/woven wire fence (whatever you want to call it) on the outside of that.  The reasoning behind a double fence is that when a piglet is shocked by the electric fence, they have an uncanny tendency to run forward and through the shocking wires, squealing as they run.  The field fence prevents such a daring escape and makes them back up and learn that the wire means danger and do not cross.  Lest you think we are sadistic executioners, I’ve been zapped several times and it really is no more painful than a bee sting – it just depends on where you happen to get zapped as to how effective it is.  So, our little guys were securely enclosed in the training run, enjoying the fresh grass, dirt, and country air so we went to pick up a new-to-us tractor.

Three hours later we arrive home to find the six foot gate ripped off it’s hinges and our boar Henry and his bride Ruby lounging back in the hut within the training run.  You see, Henry is a little possessive.  He had the training run first, and therefore it did not matter that he had a huge U-shaped pasture, new hut with fresh hay, new water tank, and food.  That was his hut, and he was going to stay there.  Needless to say, Trigger and Bullet (the piglets) were on the lam.  After much coaxing and gentle guidance, we were able to run them into the upper pasture – with electric fence only, no field fence.  We watched them for a bit to make sure they didn’t give us the slip and we were satisfied that they just might be okay there.

But – and there is always a but – we had to castrate our youngest male piglets that morning.  Did I mention that piglets squeal very, very loudly when you pick them up?  Well, lets just say that Trigger and Bullet were not impressed with the squealing coming from the direction of our front pasture.  You can imagine what happened next – the discovery was made that they made a prison break.  Did I mention that it was raining all day Saturday?  Did I mention that we live on top of a hill?  Did I mention that we have acres of woods adjoining the pasture?  Did I mention the little stinkers were free and enjoying being elusive?  Hours.  And I mean hours later, soaked to the skin and looking like drowned rats, we found them at the bottom of our ravine next to the bridge.  It was like watching the Pied Piper – my in-laws on their 4-wheeler leading two naughty pigs out of the woods.  After another round of coaxing and gentle pushing, they were back where they belonged.

To make a long story short, the following two days were spent on pins and needles.  Constant vigilance to make sure they were staying where they belonged (and they didn’t).  And Fort Knox was built.  Yes, we purchased more field fence and made yet another pig proof training run.  They have learned their boundaries and have settled nicely into their pasture.  They are happily digging in the cool, damp earth making their cooling mud pits.  The are nibbling on the long grasses and clover as they explore.  They are happy little pigs – as is Henry.  He remains King of the Pasture, fat and content in his throne room with his Queen beside him.

And did you also know that Fort Knox was built in a day?

Perspective

Many of our attitudes in life have a way of changing as we age and as our lives change and morph into something different than we had imagined.  I call it perspective.

After a day in the garden recently, I went into the house to wash up.  And wash some more.   And wash again.  You see, my hands did not look clean – although after so many scrubbings, they really were.  There was soil (that is a nicer word than dirt) in miniscule creases and crevices of my hands.  There was soil and grass stains in the rough skin on my fingers.  Had I washed my hands?  Yes, many times.  Were my hands clean?  Yes.  But they had that “I work with my hands outside” look that I used to mock.

Okay, mock might be harsh.  When I was a single girl working at the local bank, I dressed up every day for my job.  I went through seasons of painting my nails, making sure my not-so-attractive-hands at least looked presentable to the public.  I would wait on many fine, hard-working farmers and their wives – and I never (in my youthful wisdom) could understand why these wonderful people didn’t do a better job of washing their hands.  The men I could understand.  But the ladies?  They had tough hands – and I could understand that.  But hygiene, people, hygiene matters.

Let me describe one of my favorite lady’s hands.  She was a dairy farmer and she was the toughest, gentlest soul around.  We would talk about farming and she taught me a lot about the ways of farmers.  Her hands had seen hard work.  They were permanently stained from decades of farming and gardening.  Those hands were calloused and scarred from working alongside her husband year after year to provide for her family.  Her fingers were crooked and knobby from aging and there always seemed to be dirt (not soil, as in my case – note the sarcasm) permanently embedded under her fingernails.  But her hands, in retrospect, were always clean when she came to the bank.

Fast forward twenty-five years.  I looked at my hands after multiple scrubbings that day.  I chuckled to myself because I really didn’t care that my hands still looked dirty.  You see, my perspective had changed over the years.  As my life changed from town-girl-with-an-office-job to farmer-with-a-few-hours-a-week-secretarial-job, my attitudes and preconceived ideas have changed.  When I look at my hands now, I can see clearly what I could not see from my ivory tower.

When I see my hands and the hands of those who work similar jobs, I now see character.  I see scars from fixing fences.  I see embedded dirt (it really is just dirt) that speaks of gardening, catching piglets in the mud, pounding fence posts, picking up chickens,  befriending a cow that isn’t really interested in you, wiping off newborn piglets in 25 degree weather so they don’t freeze, giving ear scratches to muddy pigs, and chores in freezing weather when you can’t wear gloves because you need the dexterity of bare fingers.  I see bruises from splitting firewood.  I see burn scars from cooking meals for my family.  I see hands that have lived and loved a family and farm – and by God’s grace will continue to develop more character in the years to come.

It’s all in your perspective.