Upon the request of a friend, this post is about a day in the life at the farm. I think of life as ordinary activities disguised as large metaphors for the magical interconnectedness of the universe. I rarely consider ordinary activities as interesting on their own merit - without the grandiose undercurrent of philosophical significance. Trying to honor the request, here’s a try at the mundane.
This morning it was cold but the sun was shining. As I stood in the mudroom, I decided how much gear I was going to put on today. Sometimes I feel like an astronaut as I prepare in the small space to cross the airlock of the door to the outside. I suited up in my Carhartt coveralls, coat with hood, ankle barn boots and gloves. No Carhartt face mask/hat combo today because the wind didn’t look too brutal. I chose the Thinuslate gloves with the rubber exterior. It makes life much easier for me if I choose wisely at this point because coming back to the house is such a time waster once at the barn.
Appropriately clad, I hope, I go outside and walk to the barn. I am immediately, observing the condition of the animals, taking in how everyone is doing. I feel to be a good shepherd, farmer or mother, for that matter, I need to be present and observant. A lot of intuition is just knowing what is normal and what is out of place.
Several cats appear from nowhere to escort me to the barn. We have a little parade of sorts. Cats seem to be happy as they trot along. I glance over at Tiger, the Livestock Guardian dog who had night duty. She ambles across the front field to the edge of the fence to say hello. She is soon distracted and starts chewing and dumping her black rubber water bucket. It’s her way. Goofamus!
I unlatch the large roller door and slide it open. I announce my arrival with a cheery, “Good morning everyone!” I always talk to the animals at the barn. I do believe they understand me and appreciate the conversation. I unlatch the corncrib door and enter the room with a very large step. My grandfather and great-grandfather who built the barn 100 years ago, were very tall men. And they custom-made everything at the barn to fit their large stride. I think of them often as I climb the stairs to the barn loft or enter the corn crib. Even though they both left this earth before I was born, I feel we are connected as I “walk in their steps”.
The cats are waiting for me near their individual bowls. I fill each bowl as they wait patiently. There is a definite hierarchy among the felines. Cats with seniority eat on the repurposed chest of drawers in the corner. Lower echelon cats eat on the floor. Thirteen year old tortoiseshell sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley are first, followed by Socks, the Mayor, and Odie, his son. In no order Bella, the midwife, and Ash, former inside Russian Blue (who thinks he’s all that) eat on the floor. Clawhowser, a sweet boy that showed up at the farm almost a year ago, waits his turn for an available spot and digs in. Everyone gets a pat and a greeting. They enjoy life as barn cats. I scoop a bit more cat food in a cup and exit the corncrib and fasten the latch so no ornery chickens get in and eat cat food. The cats have secret passageways to access the crib that chickens don’t know about. SHHHHH. The extra food is for Mae, 12 year resident who is waiting patiently in the equipment stall for her breakfast. She prefers to eat alone. Marley is the last to get her fare. She came to the farm a couple of years ago a very ferrel, afraid young orange and white cat. It took me a long time before she would trust me. Marley spends most of her time with the sheep but likes to eat on the shearing stand in the barn-isle. I love that she lets me pet her now.
Since, Kristof, our older LGD, is showing some arthritis symptoms he slept in a nice cozy stall last night so he does not work himself into paralysis. I give him his meds and let him out to do the less-taxing day duty and let Tiger in the barn to eat and nap. Since she has been the solo night guard for the past week, she is ready for the rest. Most mornings she does farm chores with me so I can give her corrections as needed with the sheep or chickens etc. The young dog's training requires constant fine tuning as she matures and learns her role. But today, she just wants to eat and is soon fast asleep in the middle of her hay fort.
I then let the chickens out, who have been roosting overnight in their converted stall coop. As usual, they have decided not to use the provided nests for egg laying but have opted for a more covert undisclosed location for me to discover later. It’s a love/hate relationship with those hens. I check their feeder and waterer and do a quick head count as they file out for a day of free range on the farm.
I turn on the water valve that starts filling various heated buckets and get hay to feed Dreamer, the ram, and Maggie, the donkey.
I don't do any of this in the same order each day nor are any two days alike. Some days are peaceful and routine, other days the wheels come off, requiring all my problem solving skills and includes a vigorous “gym workout”. This chronicle is just what happened on this particular day.
The mornings that the sheep are extra loud it is much more pleasant to feed them first so as not to have to endure their loud bawling. Today the sheep were content to enjoy the morning sunshine, so they got fed last.
I walk around the barn with my bucket of grain and open the gate into east lot. Everyone is glad to see me and tells me so! I pour the grain in the two long troughs and then into several individual feeding containers fixed to the wall. There are more available containers than sheep but this does not deter the usual pushing and shoving. Seeing everyone up bullying for grain is a good sign though . Yearlings are in with the adults now so I supervise to make sure the young ones are getting their share.
I know my sheep more as friends and this daily interaction is enjoyed by both flock and shepherd. It also provides me with a great opportunity to give them a once-over. When they settle in to eating in a nice long row, I take the opportunity to inspect their wool. The young ones are growing their second fleece so it is interesting to see what their adult fleece will look like. Sandy is winning best fleece right now. Those lovely Wensleydale X locks! Polly is definitely with lamb! She looks really far along for 3.5 months. Big twins? This is the first year I have bred her and am glad to see confirmation that I have little BFL/Teeswater cross lambs in the making! I make a mental note to keep and eye on her. I may have to limit her grain as she progresses. First timers don't need gigantic lambs. I still can’t make a definite call about Duchess. She has never struggled with good body condition so the jury is still out on her pregnancy status.
I open the gate to their pasture and observe each sheep as they file past. No limping, wool looks clean, “Is Duchess pregnant or just fat?” . I check their water and pet the stragglers who wanted some attention instead of going out with the flock.
Back in the barn, I climb the large-rise stairs to the loft and drop a couple of bales of hay into their feeder from above. I let the sheep out to their pasture first so no one stands and tries to get collateral hay in their wool as I fill the big bale feeder. I also grabbed a small bucket of corn to sprinkle on top of the hay in the feeder as a little treat, it was cold.
Pretty uneventful day today. Yes! Maybe I will have time for a little extra writing with my second cup of coffee this morning.