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Today was a day filled with tasks and emotions. Up, down, and sideways. I felt like I was riding an emotional roller coaster, or a runaway train might be the more appropriate image.
Up early, because the heat rises by 7am, but at least today there's a small breeze making me feel a little better as I stumble through the morning routine...down the narrow farmhouse stairs and into the kitchen, coffee made, STRONG, heavy cream from a local dairy poured into my little cow creamer with the broken handle.
But, no coffee for me until my barn chores are done. Its the reward that waits for me in the farmhouse. Before I pull on my heavy boots, I feed the little brown house dog his breakfast and let him out for a bathroom break. Then I pour a glass of cold water, which will be waiting for me when I come back into the house after fighting the heat to feed the livestock and fill all the water buckets. That glass of cold water will taste like heaven when I come back inside! Lastly, I mix up a duck egg for Max the livestock guardian dog, to enhance his breakfast, put on my work gloves and boots, grab the egg basket (to fill w the morning duck eggs, the chickens lay later), and head out the back door.
Barn cats swarm at my feet, curling their body around my ankles. They've been waiting for the sound of the large metal can lids being yanked off, their own breakfast being poured. Max trots over, leaning his giant body against my legs, waiting for his morning greeting. I pat his head, say good morning, and let him get a sniff at the plastic container with his breakfast egg. That gets his tail wagging, and he leads the way to the barn!
But, I've got to drag the garden cart out first, filling the 5 gallon buckets inside with cold water, then popping a lid on them to keep the sloshing at a minimum. I usually try to let my mind wander as I'm standing at the hydrant, letting the water fill buckets and pans while I stare at the trees or the fields, daydreaming about future farm goals.
Next, it's up the hill I go, with the cart being dragged reluctantly behind me. I got tired of putting air in the tires, so I put hard plastic wheels on it awhile back, no more flats, but boy is it hard to drag when fully loaded! At this point in my morning chore routine, I always fantasize about driving my nonexistent John Deere Gator to the barn, with the back cargo area loaded up with water buckets. A girl can dream....
Now it's time to open the duck's gate. They wait impatiently, clustered around the entrance, slinging their bodies up into the air 3 or 4 feet as if to fly over, which of course they can't. As soon as the gate is opened, there they go, flying low to the ground just enough of a length to make them feel like powerful wild ducks. They're happy to be free. Next is the chicken gate, but the chickens have mostly already flown the coop. They're smart little buggers who fly up and over their coop door inside the barn, so only the heaviest or oldest girls are waiting around the chicken yard to be set free, to free-range the property all day to their heart's content. The younger, more agile girls are already roaming the farm.
Once inside the barn, it's checking the poultry feeders and waterers, and feeding those barn cats. They certainly do not let me forget about them! I can't count the number of times they've tried to trip me. Cats! So, now that the chicks have been moved into the barn (from their indoor brooder), I'm also tasked with feeding them their chick starter and checking their water. They have their own private "condo" inside the poultry room, next to the coop. Once they're big enough to stick up for themselves with the big girls, they can be integrated with the rest of the flock.
Max is now following me, anxious for his duck egg and kibble. But, he's fed last, after the sheep. By now the sheep are bellowing at me from the barn stalls, so I ascend the stairs to the hayloft, holding tightly to the railing if I'm particularly tired, and grab some flakes of hay from the current open bale. I also look around to make sure no rogue hens have laid their eggs up here. I'm careful as I go down the steep hayloft stairs, carrying hay in my arms. A fall here would be bad! The sheep are all gathered around the gate, but they've learned to stand back as I yank the chain out and open it while the swinging chain clanks loudly. Plop, each flake of hay goes into each feeder, I grab a 5 gallon bucket of fresh water, and fill the sheep's water buckets. Refill the mineral pans, shut the gate, and finally Max gets to eat. He's always right there, waiting for his breakfast to be set down in his special spot. With a pat on the head I tell him to eat up. Then, it's on to filling the outside water buckets.
My least favorite activity is dragging the hose. This is a summer only activity, because of course the hoses freeze in winter, so are not useful. Dragging the hose means filling buckets and pans at various locations, in paddocks and alleyways, keeping track of what obstacles are in the hose's way. Trying not to get tangled up, and having to yank it unstuck is critical!
Once the hose is wound back up into its snake-like coil, I can finally head into the farmhouse for some coffee. But as soon as I reach the kitchen that glass of cold water is waiting for me, and boy does it taste good!
Now, my day is really just starting. Time to check email, do some writing, go over whatever book work, record keeping, bill paying, communicating, organizing, planning, etc...that's on my to-do list for the day. I've got my coffee at least.
Breakfast for the human happens last. After I've had enough coffee, and worked at my laptop for a bit, I'll make myself a yogurt parfait or scrambled egg. Must have protein!
But, sheep-related or farm-related tasks are also happening throughout the day. This day, it was ordering minerals, replacing my lost hoof trimmers (more on that later), filling syringes with selinium/vitamin e gel, trying to unclog the Blukote (if you know, you know), ordering 3 different kinds of native wildflower seeds for fall frost seeding, weeding the garden, picking lettuces/collard greens/Calendula blossoms from the garden, watering the zinnias, setting up new fly traps in the barn, cleaning out the chick brooder, cutting the weeds in front of the barn, and sweeping.
Back in the farmhouse, I also make several phone calls, watch a video on weaving (I'm being gifted a 4 harness Harrisville Floor Loom soon, so time to begin the very complicated journey of learning to weave on it), wash a sink full of dishes, do some more work on my computer, sweep all the hardwood floors downstairs, wash some bedding and hang it on the line, fix the upstairs toilet stopper, work on the blanket I'm crocheting (with my own sheep's fiber of course), jar up some herbs from my garden that I'd been drying, and made a large salad for dinner.
Aside from all these mundane tasks, I also rounded up the sheep to do health checks. I did this alone. It included wrestling Mayme down and checking her hooves, trimming them, spraying them with blukote, but, the blukote was clogged so it leaked all down my hands, resulting in me rubbing the liquid on her hooves instead of SPRAYING the bottle like I paid money for! Then, I realized that I'd forgotten to grab the Vetercin spray, so I had to let her up while I went to retrieve this spray. Of course, just as I've got her in position and pull the spray trigger, it jams. Will not budge. I angrily unscrew the trigger spray and proceed to dump the contents on her hooves, once again rubbing it on with my now completely blue stained gloves (and hands underneath). This defeats the whole purpose of a SPRAY MECHINISM!! Well, in all the commotion, my (very nice) hoof trimmers seem to have disappeared into thin air! Even after crawling around on my hands and knees in the poopy straw on the barn floor for what seemed like HOURS, I couldn't find them anywhere. I'm sure they'll turn up the next time we do stall cleaning. Or they'll be composted along with the rest of the poop. The sheep thought this last activity, me crawling around in the straw bedding, was particularly fascinating. They all stared at me the whole time.
Other delightful tasks included individually wrestling each sheep to check their eyelids (a way of checking for parasite load), otherwise known to my sheep as, "she's trying to murder us". For added adventure, I even squirted a mineral and vitamin paste into their mouths while they tried to bite my fingers (never put your fingers too far inside a sheep's mouth!) or slam me into the barn wall, whichever seemed most likely to stop the horror of the nasty paste.
But, I'm pretty good with the Shepard's crook now, and can hook them by the neck and grab the horns in record time. I should enter the sheep rodeo or something.
But I'd rather have some handling equipment.
Which brings me to the real talk. It's hard doing what I do. There are moments of joy and peace, but there's many moments of physical exertion (I literally had to lean against the stall wall and catch my breath for awhile after today's health checks), and feeling like I can't do it (so many times asking myself why am I doing this???), and fear and anxiety (I need more handling equipment, how will I afford it? Will I be able to sell enough lambs, meat, or yarn next year?). There are leg and arm bruises, an injured back, sprained fingers, bruised ribs, frustration and just plain old worry.
So, why AM I doing this?
Hope. Hope for a better future.
Hope for healing myself and others. Hope for joyful moments singing to the sheep, watching them leap, watching the sun set, seeing native wildflowers show up after years of dormancy, hearing Bob White Quail call from the tall grasses, smelling the fragrance of my homegrown herbs in my little garden and then drying in my sunroom, working with the all natural fiber my sheep give me every year. Hope for a sense of community and hope for old ways of doing things, weaving and spinning ancient fiber grown in my backyard. Hope for us. Hope for this farm. Hope for our planet. Hope for connection to the natural world, and hope for you my friend. Hope for all of us on this crazy spinning orb that just keeps getting hotter and hotter, and crazier and crazier.
(and blue hands, ya, there's always that)