Well, I did, yesterday. I sat on the stoop to the
sheep barn after my evening chores and the sheep, now 7, sat nearby and began to chew their cud. So I thought, “I can do that – opportunity to build some community here” and I started to make chewing movements. They totally got it. I was one of them. We were taking a siesta from doing, doing, doing and really digesting stuff.
Matilda, especially, was the picture of ovine ecstasy – she had her eyes closed, completely into the flavors and feel of the thing.
Then I realized that August 24 last year was the day the sheep arrived. So, this was our one-year anniversary, and the one-year anniversary of having a complete farm. It was time to chew the cud.
What took place over the past year?
I learned I am resilient enough to carry water buckets up and down an icy slope twice a day, every day, for as long as it takes. Also that I love to burrow into my comforter and listen to the silence of snow from there. And that that is a nice dream, always interrupted by Marsha's impatient "b-a-a" in the morning. Now she taught her kids to do the same thing, the witch, so we have an uproar in the morning. The chickens soon join in, and... it's a choral symphony. The other day, I got called by a cat to come and serve their food. But I am resilient enough....
I lost Coffee, my young ram last December, and learned how gut-wrenching it is to love and lose an animal. and what a complex relationship a farmer has with her animals because one attends their birth, helps raise them, cares for them, inevitably loves them, and as inevitably, send them to their death. Over the last 12 months, I discovered nuances in my heart that were far too subtle to hear before I turned farmer.
I learned a heck of a lot about the living organism that is the soil. It is God's face on earth, A visible from of the Divine's Grace. My heart learned to pray deeper than words, deeper than thought, deeper than emotion, working with the soil. The soil taught me reverence, palpably.
I discovered my sense of humor. Evey day is a hoot, no matter what is happening. For example, trying to get sheep poop and straw off the bottom of my boot, and trying and trying and trying as the sheep settle down to watch the entertainment. When I go into the coop where new chicks are, they all peep loudly and run as far away as possible. I can just hear them go "Oh no! It's the giant! Ruuunnnn!!!" Then the giant brings in the food and the water and leaves, looking hurt.
I learned how to farm from a sitting position. That involves finagling others to do the work. I longed to be out there mucking the barn, or liming the soil, or feeding the critters, but… I was in a wheelchair for 6 weeks with a broken ankle, then graduated to something
they call a “walking boot” (it is an accomplishment to walk in that thing ‘cause it makes one leg considerably longer than the other), then limped around with a cane, and finally after 2 months, walking! Yay! Then I promptly wrecked my back. That took 5 out of the 8 months of this year so far.
Everything is back to normal now, and I am hoping that I am not executing a subconscious plan to work my way up my body injuring and wrecking. Because next on the list would be my head. Of course, some of my friends may say, “You did that already – years ago.”
It is still a beautiful life, setbacks and all, and these experiences taught me how to become softer and receive. And receive I did – lots of help from those who care.
My sheep lambed while I was still in the walking boot, with my friend Roberta housing and midwifing them. We went from 2 sheep to seven in a week’s time; enlarged the barn and built brand new feeders. Well, Louie did, while I told him how wonderful he was. That was part of my learning to do carpentry from a sitting position.
Too bad that 4 of the 5 lambs are rams. They either find work as breeding rams in other farms (cushy job or what), or they go to Freezer Camp. It will be hard to send them to the butcher, but that is part of the cycle of farming. One seeds, grows, loves and kills. So far, no takers for the boys as breeding rams. People want to eat them -- I am
starting to get inquiries about freezer lamb. I told the boys they don’t have jobs yet. They said “M-e-e-e” and ran off to pasture.
I remember the anxiety and the power struggles with Matilda last summer and fall. Now, she trusts me, and lets me pet her, check her for health issues, and I know that I am "da boss" of the flock. Somehow, I am more willing to speak my mind, voice my limits, give more, and receive from others with a sense of OK-ness. There must be a lot of growing up power in that sheep and chicken manure!
I have a new flock of chicks that I am raising for this winter's broilers. We will keep some for our freezer, and I already have customers for 14 of the 35. And yes, they do taste divine! Working with my friend Janet, who retired from software engineering and now has a grass-fed beef farm, I am also raising turkeys for Thanksgiving, and as of yesterday we pre-sold 30 of our 40 birds. So, with lamb sales, maybe my tiny farm will break even this year. Wouldn't that be something!
My food products are now in our local Whole Foods Market plus two other smaller coops. I got my second
orders from all three, and some emails from out-of-area people who tried a sample when they were in our Whole Foods store and want to know how they can get the stuff where they are. I tell them to raise a riot at their Whole Foods store. I am happy, and I try to not do the math because it will take the rest of this year, maybe into next year, just to break even on the start-up costs. I have been doing demos at the stores. It is a hoot, and I love the theater of it!
I guess that financially, all of this means, I found a way to work my butt off for free -- and for joy. I think all my friends who are small farmers knew this but did not tell me. You learn it after you become a member of this secret society and have already downed enough of the Koolaid to think "this is a good deal".
Mornings are already getting cold here in the hills now. I am sitting with a blanket around me. The snow blower is ready to go, the firewood is in, got the winter hay for the sheep, and it is almost time to begin cutting down the garden and to bring down the heated buckets for the
animals’ water. And maybe a trip to Turkey this winter to visit my sister….
A whole year went by. I lived and grew a lifetime. It is a visceral, palpable thing, not of words, but of becoming. Myself, I guess.
I must have finished the entire barrel of the Koolaid....
Blessings to All!