Being five plus years a city dweller, I find it easy to become caught up in the random rhythm of the average urbanite. Sleeping well past dawn and being awake long past dark is normal for most. It is easy for one’s schedule to become full with social commitments and work obligations at any and all hours of the day and night. The simple act of living in accordance with nature’s rhythms is not only lost but often foreign and strange amidst the rigid and dense spaces between the buildings. But it is those natural and organic rhythms that makes be love the farm.
Farm sitting at Stonecrop Farm of my friends Greg and Jenney is one of the most welcome odd jobs I hold these days. It is not often that I spend time here but when I do it is filled with personal benefit for everyone involved. The farmers just to take a break from their daily routine, the animals still get the care they need, and I get to find the rhythm again.
The old and once forgotten plot of land is the home of chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigs of all ages. My experience with livestock was nearly zero the first time I took on the roll as temporary caretaker while Greg and Jenney took their first and most welcome vacation from the farm. It was my own expression of curiosity and their amazing trust in me that brought me to looks after their birds and beasts. The combination of my can-do attitude and Greg’s thorough lists (and check lists) made my first experience here a wonderful success.
My second occasion to farm sitting was for a mere two nights this February. I drove out to the farm at dusk on the eve of the Snow Moon and, although I had a full and slightly rushed exit from the city, I took a sign of relief when I took my first turn off the highway. With frozen, snow spotted fields on either side of the roads I traversed, I found peace in the fact that evening chores were soon to come.
On a farm, particularly one with animals, there are morning chores, evening chores, and a variety of work that fills the space in between. Of all three, evening chores are my favorite. It is this set of chores that reminds me of the earth’s natural rhythms of activity and rest, of waking and sleeping. As it is winter, the variety of animals on the farm right now are small: eight piglets, three full grown pigs (one boar and three pregnant sows), and one hundred and twenty laying hens. Tonight’s chores include freshening water for all the pigs, feeding the full grown pigs, collecting eggs, and closing up the hen house for the night. All this happens during the dusk hour. I like to do my best subtly. This clear evening presented a big bright moon and a techincolor sky of pinks an purples.
As I made my way back to the house once chore were complete, I could see the pigs starting to settle down for the night. The chickens were still making some ruckus in the house but all the ladies were in so I could close up the house. Now it was my turn for food, water, and settling down.
In my city life, I can easily get swept up into late evening stimulus and therefore staying awake well past when I intended. But here, I know it’s time to rest just as the pigs and the chickens are. The house is empty and quiet. It is just me, my dinner, and a bit of music to keep me company. It is only 7pm but the sky is dark and the world outside is silent. I am not far from bed and I am full of gratitude to sleep until just before dawn.
For all of the romantic phrases I was able to sing last night about evening chores I am capable of singing twice that about morning chores. Well, during the high summer month of July at least. A nineteen degree February morning is another story, especially when you start at the first sliver of dawn when the earth is at its coldest for the day. As I digested my breakfast and let my eyes adjust to the darkness I recalled that roughly have of small scale animal husbandry involves carrying around buckets of feed and water, especially in the winter when waterlines can easily freeze. I feel safe in assuming that the other fifty precent is divided up into moving fencing, treating sick animals, shoveling manure, wrangling your animals, spending time getting to know your animals, and, in some cases, slaughtering and selling your animals. It is the getting to know them part that I believe draws a person to the task in the first place as it is one of the most rewarding and joyous parts of the job. Considering I had to be back in the city by 8am, starting at first light when the animals are just stirring is pretty important to me.
The chickens had been squawking in the house for a bit now and their calls only intensified when they heard me coming over the fence with water and food. Once food and water was set up (ideally a thing that happens before releasing the 120 hens), I opened up the house and set of their ramp. Off all of the idyllic and quintessential things one can do on a farm, letting the chickens out in the morning takes the cake. It is the farmiest of all things farmy. They pour out of the house all feathers and happy squawks as they find their way to the food. The day has begun!
Boris the Boar and his three ladies were ouut and about once they heard me rustling around the hoop house for chicken feed. These pigs are very food motivated and make it know with the persistence snorts and grunts. Each pigs has its own food trough as they find sharing to be challenging. And because none of the ladies are willing to compete for feed with Boris. Considering he’s a 350 fully endowed pig, I don’t blame them in the least.
The piglets are the last to be cared for, but certainly not the least. I find them to be the perfect age and size at the moment. Large enough where they are sustainable creatures but small enough were they won’t be able to do real damage to a person and young enough where they are still adorable yet old enough to be friendly (although some have skittish tendencies). They were slow, sleepy, and food focused this morning but I know that they will be more engaging in the evening time. Because they have a large feeder, they only need to be watered. I know that everyone’s waters will be frozen before too long and am already planning to come out when I return in the mid-afternoon to freshen everyone up.
With each animal cared for, I have one more chore to complete before I leave the farm. It is the modern chore of scrapping off one’s windshield for the morning commute into the city.