All posts tagged Farm life

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.




The Cows Came Home

We knew we were in trouble when the town didn’t come up on the iPad. It didn’t deter us. I made a friend. Just not in the usual way.

We met at our home church in Florida several months earlier. They were visitors from North Carolina. We found that the woman and her son lived less than an hour from the farmland Tom inherited. We were amazed at God’s providence and promised to visit them next time we traveled there.

We pulled our truck into a long driveway. A white-haired man opened the gate as we drove onto their beautiful property that over looked both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah mountains. The man greeted us along with three happy farm-dogs. He ushered us into a beautiful farmhouse with a gigantic kitchen.

“This is my husband,Michael. I can’t believe we’re finally getting together!” Kelly Josey exclaimed.

“I asked her, Kelly, where did you meet these people again?” Michael stated.

“I told him you were my new friends from Florida.”

We settled into their kitchen table.

She then proceeded to slice peaches and make homemade crusts for a cobbler. Tom and I talked to Michael. Turns out he’d served in the Vietnam War, and had physical problems that stemmed from that. He used to drive a truck, but now raised cattle, and maintained their 200-plus-acre property.

Tom and Michael talked tractors, land, and livestock. I joined Kelly in the kitchen. She peeled potatoes, shucked corn, prepped a chicken with special sauce, and cut up crisp vegetables for a salad. Earlier, she rolled out dough and let it rise. Soon after, she separated the dough into five pieces, rolled it out and stuck it in her oven.

We drove through part of their property and got out at the Dan River. Michael identified trees and gave us advice on cattle and fencing. Kelly and I compared notes about our grown children. We arrived back at the farmhouse and talked some more while the smell of fresh baked bread permeated the air.

We didn’t get phone service and they had no TV. All we could do was talk. And we did. And when we left, eight hours later, I felt as if we were back in the 1800’s. Where people traveled a long distance to visit and stayed the whole day. Where entertainment consisted of soulful conversation, smattered with work and prayer.

It was time to go home. Kelly sent home a loaf of heavenly bread and leftover peach cobbler. We went outside to say goodbye.

Michael moved to the fence that held acres of cleared land. After a while, we heard mooing. And then the cows came home.

And then we went home. Full. Happy. Grateful.

Back to the Farm—Farm School

“We’re trying to find a way to finish them off,” the attractive, young woman stated casually as she took another sip of her drink.

I was horrified! She was discussing the cattle she and her father raised. It must have registered on my face, since she offered an explanation.

“We can’t decide what kind of grass to feed them before they’re ‘processed’—umm, err, I mean ‘butchered.’”

How do the invisible people who kill my steak dinner commit the deed?Generally, I try not to think of where my food comes from, but in some vague, faraway recess of my mind, I always assumed it was humane. My picture went something like a Farside cartoon. From outside of the frame, a hand reaches in and hands Bessie a big bunch of clover and a cigarette. Then Bessie is simply not in the next frame. The last frame shows Bessie appearing on a dinner plate—’processed.’

My husband, Tom and I were conferencees at the NC Sustainable Living Conference. Our plan is to sell all that we own, move to his family’s old homestead, and be farmers and maybe even ranchers. The only problem is that we’ve never grown anything, except two children. We barely keep our dog alive.

We had a lot to learn, but thought the classes would give us a head start. I took an intensive mushroom class—the mushrooms weren’t intensive, although I’ve never asked one. The lecturer wore brown and green stripes (of course), grew mushrooms out of wood chips and drove around town ‘inocculating’ trees with mushroom spawn. He hasn’t been arrested,…yet.

I avoided the ‘mob grazing’ class. I already know about that. It happens every Friday night at my house when my 19-year-old son’s friends show up for a late night snack.

I learned about choosing chickens that are actually able to reproduce. They’re happy about that. The other chickens—the ones you and I eat almost every day are not only dead, they’re depressed.

Who knew that people not only knew this stuff, but even studied it. I’m looking forward to putting into practice what I learned at ‘farm school,’ when Tom and I move to North Carolina. We want to grow old working on a farm until the day that we’re, ‘processed.’

Before that happens, I think I’ll be a vegan.

A Caregiver’s Walk—Monday Musings

“Wouldn’t you like to live your last days somewhere that you could sit on the porch in the evenings and watch fireflies, and listen to the birds?” I asked my 90-year-old mama as she sat hunched over in her aging lift-chair.

“I think I’d like to live my last days right here.” She patted the forest-green chair with great affection.

I looked around. Crowded into that space was a lifetime of memories all compacted into her asparagus-colored, 11 by 15 foot room. She doesn’t venture out of it much. She takes 2 one-block walks almost everyday. We eat 3 or 4 dinner meals weekly in the dining room. Occasionally, we talk her into watching a Tampa Bay Rays game with us on TV. She attends church sporadically, Bible study often, and her weekly hair appointment without fail, unless of course,there is a nuclear explosion. (Which is what it would take to undo her hairspray-sodden style and cut.)

Unless that same nuclear explosion hits us, we are moving. Near a town in North Carolina that boasts of the childhood of Andy Griffith. It’s name is Mt. Airy, AKA Mayberry. We’ve inherited property there and during the winter, you can see Pilot Mountain. It’s beautiful.

We will be farmers. It doesn’t matter that for the longest time I thought that olives grew with the red things in them. It’s not important that when I purchase a houseplant, my husband whispers to said plant, “You’re coming home to die.” That’s beside the point. We are going. We believe God is moving us. And, we will need all the help He can give us—which I know is infinite.

But then, there is Mom. She wants to remain in her green chair, reading Christian fiction. Going to her hairdresser of 20 years. I don’t blame her. Change is difficult for anyone, but especially for someone who is pushing 100.

Change can be hard, but it can be good, and it’s necessary. Our kids can’t stay home forever, so they leave. (Unlike the Holiday Express son—no thanks.) We grow older, but hopefully, wiser. People move away—we make new friends. Our hopes are not in our green rooms, or aging lift-chair, or our best friends. Our hope isn’t even in sitting on the porch watching fireflies. Our hope is in the Lord.

He made the wood to build Mom’s chair. He made the fireflies to light up a country sky. He made us for His glory. One day we will meet Him, and our material eyes will fall away. We will see through the glass clearly and not, as C. S. Lewis states, through the Shadowland.

I’m hoping to get a better glimpse of Him in the country. I think Mom will love it. And we’ll be sure to bring her green chair.