All posts in Farm Life

A New Kind of Soup

“So Brian, what does your grandfather do again?”

Brian is a young man who helps around the farm who actually knows something about farming. “He takes the chicken poop, puts it in a feed bag in a 55-gallon drum, and adds water. Then, he takes a stick and stirs it around. He’s been doing that for years and it really makes the plants grow!” (Imagine this conversation with absolutely no expression on his 20-year-old face and a real southern drawl.)

“Okay, I want some chicken poop soup. Will you help me make it?”

I thought I’d stepped out of my comfort zone when I processed one of our hens who’d been played with to death by our livestock guardian dogs and made chicken pie. (It was NOT good, by the way–never eat a chicken after it’s been played with by big white dogs for an hour. Lesson learned.) But chicken poop soup…who knew?

I am famous for taking almost anything from my refrigerator and making something palatable for dinner. My kids often said I should host a TV show called, “Clean Out the Refrigerator Cooking.” (I am willing dear television producer.) But chicken poop soup is way off their radar, too.

We decided on a gray garbage can. “Where do you want me to put it?” Brian asked.

“Good question.” Where does one keep such a concoction. “Put it near the driveway but not too near the house.”

Brian mixed it up. I gawked as he filled the white feed sack with North Carolina Gold. Then he added water. Next he swished it up and down in the can and poked a stick in the bag several times. Brown liquid seeped out of the sack.

What can I say, but I was impressed. Impressed Brian knew about the soup. Amazed at his resourcefulness. Touched by the knowledge handed down from one generation to the next.

I’ve learned a lot from the people around me. I’ve learned that a bush hog is not a pig in the woods, I’ve learned not to lift your hand at a poultry auction to scratch your face, and that it’s okay to hold up the line in the store a bit to find out how a person really is doing.

I’d like to think I could teach them a few things. Like ordering at Starbucks. Or wearing your sandals all the way to the sand at the beach in August if you want to avoid 3rd degree burns, or cutting across 8 lanes of traffic to pull into your favorite restaurant.

Those things are good to know, too.

But for now, my soup is stewing. I just don’t know how to get it out of the can.

 

 

The Chicken Evacuation

Barnabas hypnotizing the chicks.

“You have to do what!” I thought I misunderstood my neighbor at the farmers market.

“You have to have an evacuation plan for the chickens in case of an emergency to be certified natural.”

I burst out laughing.

Anyone who is anyone who knows chickens knows that rounding up chickens for an evacuation is like herding 57 toddlers to bed by yourself.

It’s not like the evacuation drill on a cruise ship where all are cordial and follow directions by wearing attractive life vests while standing in line. Forever. Chatty cruise ship crew glide around the passengers telling jokes and promising drinks and snacks when the drill is finished. The passengers are slightly annoyed, but pleased to know what to do in case of an emergency–like the Coke dispenser breaking.

An evacuation plan and an actual evacuation of chickens is much more complex. And messy.

I know since Tom and I had to conduct our own chicken evacuation last Sunday night.

Picture this; 75 teenage chicks in our front yard for their protection. They are surrounded by a flexible, solar-powered, electric fence and covered by an old trampoline with neting. We charged our two dogs to guard them.

Sam, our standard poodle took his charge seriously. Since all night he barks at leaves blowing in the wind while actual people can walk in our house unharmed. Barnabas, our $1000+ rescue mutt mostly barks when Sam does but did watch the chickens intently.

We found out why. We caught him red-mouthed while he finished a poor bird. We grabbed him just as he swallowed the feet.

He wasn’t looking at the chickens as his charge, he was planning his meals. One thing we’ve learned in our new country life is “once a chicken-eater, always a chicken-eater.” It didn’t help that the teenage chicks had chicken brains and kept flying over the fence into the dog area.

Not only that, the other neighbor dogs who used to visit and get treats from me mysteriously stopped showing up.

Time for a chicken intervention-evacuation. We declared an emergency. The chicks had to be moved to our other field where Molly, our livestock guardian dog could look after them. (At 6 months, she played with one to death, but since then there have been no casualties–for more information on that disaster see my old blog titled, “When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Chicken Pie.”)

But how should we evacuate?

When they’re asleep, that’s how. Some kind of special pixie-chicken-dust-trance comes over them at nightfall and you can pick them up without incident. You could probably even vacuum and they’d sleep through it.

Or so I thought.

We set the date and waited until nightfall. Unfortunately, nightfall is past our bedtime.

“I’ll pick them up and you open the lid to the cooler, Pauline.”

Sounded simple enough. “What’s that on your head?”

Tom faced me as a bright red light shown in my face. “It’s an infrared light to be able to see the birds.”

He resembled a cross between a miner and a dentist with the light strapped around his forehead.

I continued, “So let me get this straight. We’re going to load the chickens into the coolers, drive them to the other side of our property and lock them into their new coop?”

“That’s right. We’ll keep Molly and the other birds away from these until they get used to each other.”

It sounded simple but I’m 57 years old and one thing I’ve learned is nothing is simple.

At first the girls cooperated. We quietly loaded 5 or 6 of them into the cooler while they made a cooing noise. Then one rebellious Americauna woke up and alerted the others. I think she said, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” in chicken language.

Almost two hours later we finished. Sweaty, covered with chicken poop, and tired we trudged back to our house.

“I’m too tired to take a shower, Pauline.” I noticed a grin under his infrared face.

“I guess you’re sleeping outside then,” I added. “Let’s strip on the back porch and throw our clothes into the washer.”

My boots already had holes in them. I threw them away along with my socks.

I forgot to tell you. Originally we had 75 chicks, as we loaded them into the new coop we counted them. 56.

I guess dogs have to eat too.

Maybe we need an evacuation plan for Barnabas.

 

 

 

YouTube and Pigs

 

The obstinate “Big Boy”

If you would have told me when I was a snarky college freshman I’d be searching YouTube for how to load pigs for market, I’d have told you that you’re a few straws short of a bale.

In fact, I wouldn’t have believed there would ever be a YouTube since when I attended college, phones still hung on the wall–in the hallway–by the communal bathroom and showers.

But yesterday, I looked up how to load pigs. The video looked relatively simple. A smiling man assured me loading pigs was as easy as riding a bicycle. He then backed his trailer up to the pig pen and began to call “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy.” Like magic they entered the trailer as if they had free tickets to the Super Bowl.

I think they were pig actors.

Our pigs did not cooperate. Tom spent all morning trying to load them with no luck. It didn’t help that a sleety snow fell as he worked. After a few hours, he came in.

“Any luck?”

The Eeyore look told me all I needed to know. “I’ve put food on the ramp, in their bowls on the trailer. Two of them came close, but the big boy wants nothing to do with me.

“I’ve been thinking. You need something that smells really good for them to bite. Well, I didn’t mean that literally.” I gave it some thought. I contemplated the smell that is irresistible–especially to the male species. Then it came to me, “How about bacon!”

Tom frowned.

We decided on table scraps and yellow rice. How could it fail?

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy, I have a treat for you…” The female squinted at me suspiciously and placed her two front hooves on the ramp. “Come on Miss Piggy, you’re going to like this.” I waved the bowl of aromatic leftovers in her face as I carefully stepped backwards.

Truthfully, I felt devious. Several passages from the book of Proverbs came to mind. One talks about a beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout. Quite an illustration. But that’s a whole other subject.

Mostly the verses I thought of centered on how following the wicked person leads to death.

I felt a twinge of guilt.

Then I thought of sausage and pork chops from piggy one and my mouth watered. (Piggy number one has already been ushered into pig heaven.)

“Come on, lady, climb in for the ride of your life!” I waved the yellow rice just beyond her reach. Her back hooves climbed the ramp.

“Keep it up, Pauline, you’re doing great! This is the farthest she’s come!” Tom whispered. “If we get one in the other two will follow.” I had my doubts but continued my seduction.

Just when she crossed the threshold of the trailer, the smaller male jumped on the ramp startling the female. They both evacuated.

It’s been over 48 hours and they’re still free. The farmer we bought the piglets from is coming over today to try and load them.

It’s not his first rodeo.

It won’t be our last.

I’ll have to choose another YouTube video next time.

One without actors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ball Drop Has Nothing On Me

I’ve been to Times Square. My kids and I climbed out of the subway as a wave of people threatened to carry my children down Broadway.

“Quick, grab my hand!” I managed to shout to them. My 8-year-old, Micah had a confused look on his face, while my 12-year-old gazed up at a sky-scraper-sized picture of a Victoria Secret model plastered above her head.

“Sarah, pay attention and follow me!”

Our visit lasted two days.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Especially at New Year’s. The thought of thousands of people crowded around, invading my space, waiting  for an enormous ball to drop is frightening to me. I can’t even handle Disney on a crowded day, much less Times Square at midnight.

You couldn’t pay me enough.

Besides, I’ve discovered something better.

The first time I experienced it, I couldn’t help smiling. I stood on fresh mulch inside a metal quantum hut, gazing into a white 5 gallon bucket. Feathers faced me as I leaned against the wall. Then it happened.

The Egg Dropped.

It was a golden brown, covered with a wet substance which immediately dried. The hen shook her bottom, turned around, and promptly exited the coop to look for bugs.

Amazing.

Here are 5 reason I prefer the Egg Drop to the Ball Drop any day of the week.

1. You don’t have to stay up until midnight. In fact, chances are minimal that any Egg Drop would occur at that time. First, you wouldn’t be able to see it and second, chickens–or the ladies as we call them–sleep at night and wake up at dawn. I prefer that time schedule for my past-menopausal-life. Plus, Molly, my Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dog, (LGD) does not take kindly to anyone or anything in the coop after dark. (And she has very big teeth.)

2. No parking problems. We tried parking when we visited the Big Apple. My friend drove around for hours until finally we found a space about the size of a glove compartment several blocks away from our destination. My capable friend parallel parked us faster than you could say Kelly and Michael. Good thing I wasn’t driving since I now live in Mayberry where people think it unnecessary to use their turn signals and no one gets upset when you sit at the light ’cause you’re changing your country western station and didn’t see it turn green.

For the Egg Drop you don’t even need a car. You can walk directly to the coop through the pasture and stand for a few minutes or even bring a lawn chair. Of course, besides mulch, there is a variety of organic matter on the floor, so don’t bring your favorite beach chair.

3. The third reason to forego the Ball Drop for the Egg Drop is to avoid the crowds. Sure, a Golden Comet “lady” might perch on your lawn chair bringing with her more organic matter and Molly the wonder dog might even lay her huge white head on your lap and stare up at you with her soulful eyes. It’s much more relaxing than a drunk singing a song in your ear to the tune of b-flat, whiskey.

4. Another reason to attend the Egg Drop is it’s free! Sure, they don’t actually charge to watch the Ball Drop, but if you want to have a Coke or adult alcoholic beverage, you’d probably have to take out a second mortgage on your own coop. Taking a cab would be a fortune, and who knows whether the Uber could get through the traffic.

5. Last and most important reason to skip the Ball Drop and attend the Egg Drop, is you can eat the egg. I’d like to see you do that with the Ball. Although I heard that the man who sings to the tune in b-flat, whiskey has tried.

Seriously, come to Peeled Poplar Farm next year and you too can experience the Egg Drop for yourself.

You can have it hard boiled, or over easy.

A Tail of Two Puppies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The asparagus popped and so did the bugs. We built a pond for irrigation and it leaked. Farmers markets began and we were behind the eight ball–again.

Tom and I drove home separately from our first market of the season. We’d made a little money and practiced setting up our booth so we considered the day a success. Tom texted me this message:

I’m on the way to the vet. Found a puppy. You’ll be impressed.

I met him at the vet. Cuddled in his lap lay a tiny brown and black bundle with a pushed in nose. “He ran across the road in front of me. I got out of my car and he came right to me. You see his back paw, it’s mangled. Looks like it was wrapped in barbed wire.”

My sweet husband held the puppy securely as we waited for the vet.

After we’d spent over half the money we’d made at the market, we took him home to the farm and our Cracker-Barrel-Sized front porch. It’d been a few years since adopting a puppy and we hadn’t made any preparations, so through the first few days of howling, crying, and general mayhem among our other animals we got almost no sleep.

“What shall we name him?”

We decided on Barnabas. He’s a character in the Bible whose name means Son of Encouragement.

That was a step of faith.

Within a few days we heard another howling in our yard. A second puppy moved onto our porch. We named him Cooper.

Puppies are almost the best thing on God’s green earth. Tails wagged each time we came to the house or visited the porch. The terrible two terrorized our three rescued cats and annoyed our standard poodle, Sam.

After a hard days work, Tom and I would lie on our backs in the front yard and let the puppies lick our heads and jump on our chests. it was by far the favorite part of our day.

Since we’d made no money in a very long time, we tried not to spend much money on them. But puppies needs collars and medicines and shots. We kept them in a pen on the front porch, but as time went on, we’d let them run in the yard as we worked. One day the dogs disappeared. After frantically calling and searching for hours, all three of them ran up from the pasture in front of our house.

It looked like a scene from Homeward Bound–Sam leading the way with Cooper nipping at his heels. Barnabas limped behind, barely keeping up, all three wagging their tails with smiles on their muzzles.

There were several of those days where one minute all dogs were accounted for and the next minute they were gone. We spent half of our time farming and half of our time running after dogs and half our time caring for my mom. (I know there are too many halves–you get my gist.)

I’d planned a weekend trip at the end of May with my daughter. Sure, I’d miss my family, but most of all I knew I’d miss those puppies. A few days into my trip Tom called.

“Cooper is sick. He can’t hold anything down. I don’t know what to do.” Tom tried feeding him rice and water from a dropper.

A holiday weekend, we didn’t even know if we could get our vet and we knew we couldn’t afford one. I tried to call, but another vet in a different city was on call and we didn’t know him.

Cooper died. Tom buried him in our yard wearing his bright red collar. The deed was done before I arrived home.

Sadness fell on our farm. But somehow Barnabas still made us smile. Often, he’d hide under the porch–refusing to come when called. Eventually, he’d obey. And as he loped onto the porch and into our lives, we developed a warm spot in our hearts just for him.

Barnabas continued to grow and fill out. He got to almost 30 pounds and began to look like a shepherd. He chased Sam and chewed on our cat, Brie.  (Who by the way likes it…) Often, we’d take Sam over to our other field where our chickens, pigs, and livestock guardian dogs Molly and Lacey lived. We decided to let Barnabas ride along, too. Letting them loose with our “girls” Molly and Lacey was the highlight of their little doggy lives.

One day, as we drove along our dirt road on the way to feed the livestock and visit the “girls,” we heard yelping. Barnabas decided to jump out of the truck and we ran over his legs. Gently, Tom picked him up and cradled him in his lap as we drove to the vet for an emergency visit.

“The back leg is broken, and this front paw may have permanent nerve damage. He’ll need to stay here for the night and we’ll get a good look at it in the morning.”

We drove home in silence. That night, the lack of whining and general porch mayhem kept us both awake.

The next day we picked up our puppy. One back paw mangled by barbed wire, one in a cast. His front paw wouldn’t work. He had only one working front leg. Each time we looked at him, our heart hurt.

The vet encouraged us to keep him quiet, so we confined him and administered medications and watched and waited.

An amazing thing has happened. Barnabas is adjusting. He’s running and smiling and chewing on Sam’s ear and Brie’s neck.

And he’s wagging his very big tail.

He’s gonna make it. And he’s happy about it.

So are we.

Farming is hard on the body. Caregiving for my mom is hard on the heart. And then there’s Barnabas. So many times I’ve been so discouraged I’ve not only wanted to quit, I didn’t even care if I quit. Not just farming, but life.

I think the Lord sent us those puppies. Because through loss and gain we experience both deep love and profound grief.

And joy.

Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, has lived up to his name.

And that is a tale of a tail of two puppies.