Wednesday, March 2, 2011

because my darling, you're getting a bargain

I love my sister, I really do, even when she gets annoyed with me because in my life it is so hard to make plans for pretty much anything. I'll admit, I've never been really good at planning or much of a planner but know that sometimes having a plan works and is a good thing, like getting out of debt, it's a great plan, and we're getting there. She's a planner to the nth degree, I respect that, I get it, but even when I try to make a plan it's likely to be unattainable, for example the past 24 hours... grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in, you're in for a wild ride!

We were all set to head out the door to go to the feed store, grocery store, errands and to pay some bills yesterday afternoon when Andrew ran to the bathroom with a bout of "intestinal distress" so we decided to forgo the trip to town and stay near the toilet, er I mean home. Not a huge deal right? I decided I could just go tomorrow and it wouldn't really be an issue, so that's what I planned to do. At some point during the afternoon I think to myself, 'It's been a while since I did any knitting, I should try to finish up that second sock tonight.' I'd been reading and getting some things that needed being done on the computer which is much easier to do with the new laptop I might add, which hadn't left a lot of time for knitting so I planned to get to that after dinner and evening barn chores. When we got the the chicken coop we found a hen in obvious distress. She was separated from the rest of the flock and very droopy. I scooped her up and brought her into the house. I noticed she was as light as a feather; quite literally, and set her in a cat carrier until I finished the barn chores and could get to her. When I came back in I palpated her abdomen to see if she was egg bound but quickly discovered that was not the case. Leghorns; as she was, are not known for being especially winter hardy for this area, but it's not unheard of to have them in a laying flock here and we have two others that are doing just fine. I whipped up a batch of the only thing I could think of to get into her; warm water, sugar and a dash of salt, which is what I'd had success with in the past with a couple chicks we almost lost. I also made a batch of warm oatmeal, chopped apples, flax seed and apple cider vinegar. I'd read recently in a Mother Earth email where that worked for another flock keeper especially with the colder temps we've had recently, I figured I'd give it a try. So when the oatmeal was ready and cooling I took an eyedropper and tried to get a bit of warm sugar water into her as she would not drink it on her own. She was not interested in the oatmeal either.

Some may say I spoil my animals, and to that I say, "Well, that may be how you feel and that's fine, but as a caretaker of creation I feel it's my job to do what I can for the animals entrusted to my care. Besides, they spoil me with fresh eggs every day!" My gut told me that we would lose this poor girl but still I tried, sliding my fingernail against her beak to open her mouth and get the liquid into her, she swallowed, opened her eyes, looked at me and shut them again. Several times we did this but it was no use, she passed sometime in the night. I stayed up with her for a while and had her wrapped in a towel to help keep her warm. Needless to say, I did not get to the knitting last night.

When I woke up this morning I checked in on her and found her gone and felt sad because I couldn't 'fix it.' Later I headed out to the barn for morning chores, rolled back the door, looked down and saw water, quickly thinking it was strange to see that there as it hadn't started thawing yet, then looked down the rest of the isle and was devastated! The pipe had burst in the barn and was spewing water everywhere and obviously had been for sometime! It's an odd time for the pipe to have burst as we've not been using it since sometime in December, but it happened and now I had to deal with the issue now at hand. I ran back into the house and shut off the main water supply as it was the only one I knew where it was, I looked around for the barn shut off and could not locate it then went back to the barn to survey the damage come up with a plan.

Garlic peeking his head inside the barn trying to figure out what happened and why it is interfering with his breakfast! The center isle of the barn was completely flooded as were all the stalls! Standing water mid calf deep in some places!
At some point I went back into the house and called Ron, not expecting him to wave a magic wand from his office to make it all better, but just to have him listen for a minute, I was stressed! (Afterward I felt like an idiot for calling him at work because I didn't want him -or anybody for that matter- to think I couldn't handle this...) Then I quickly called my mom because I needed to laugh about this, before I cried. I detest crying! We had a good chuckle too!

I fed the animals outside in the paddocks instead of the stalls and once they were fed they seemed not so worried about the whole flooded barn thing. Then the kids and I grabbed buckets and started bailing the water out bucketful by bucketful.

As much as I miss Hyacinth I'm so glad that she was not here for this, I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been for her to have had to deal with this! It was at that point I realized the grace and mercy I was seeing and that was the beginning of my thankfulness. I was thankful Hyacinth was not here, she would not have been able to escape the rising water the way the other goats did. I was thankful I hadn't thrown hay down from the loft last night like I needed to. I was thankful I hadn't made it to the feed store and had had bags of beet pulp, grain and alfalfa cubes that would have been ruined. I'm glad the other goats had deep bedding that made an island type situation to keep them out of the water. I'm thankful if wasn't more water that had spewed out. I'm thankful I'd put a raised floor in the chicken coop instead of them being on the dirt floor where they may have drowned if they hadn't been able to get up to the perches. I'm thankful for the flat edged cat litter buckets which made bailing the barn easier. I'm thankful that I'd purchased a new muck bucket a few weeks ago so we could throw all the soaking wet hay into and lug it out easier; the metal one we used to have rusted out a while ago, and for the new muck fork Ron gave me for Christmas. Thankful for the tall rubber boots all three of us had so we could work and not have soaked feet. Thankful for the thin wool socks I'd knit last year to wear in those boots! Thankful that it wasn't a barn fire, just some flooding!

I was feeling so blessed that I was not expected at a j.o.b. somewhere and could deal with this situation and not feel like I might loose that j.o.b. because of it. Thankful that I had the kids to help me get the barn bailed out. I was thankful for so many things today and saw the mercy of God and His protection in all of this.

How does that saying go, 'work at doing something you love and you'll never work a day in your life.' or something like that. I don't know who said it but it's very apropos to today. We were in the barn cleaning up from the flooding for most of the day, and though it wasn't the most fun task I've had to do on the farm it didn't seem like work either. Andrew loved it though! It also got me thinking about small farmers, like myself (some people may not consider me a farmer and I'm ok with that, I've never lived my life by someone else's definition and I have no intention of starting now. Incidentally I believe these people would also say I'm spoiling my chickens.). Thinking how much of what we as farmers do is a labor of love and how we choose to live this life because we cannot imagine doing anything else or want to do anything else. How many people do you know would want or choose to spend a day in March (read really cold day) in Maine bailing out a barn that is completely flooded? How many would feel happy doing it because it means you are exactly where you were meant to be and doing something you love and cannot fathom doing anything else? See what I mean, a labor of love? I'm so thankful that I do not have to do Ron's job, I've peeked over his shoulder a couple time when he works from home, he's tried to explain what he's doing and mercifully stops when I start twitching and I shudder to think about having to do that. I'm so glad he enjoys his job and loves doing it but am thankful I do not have to do it, on the same hand I think he's glad he does not have to do mine.

I was watching a news clip recently about the struggling dairy farmers here in Maine and one farmer was interviewed and talked about how he didn't think that many people knew how little farmers make, what they actually live on. He said his farm yearly took in over $750,000.00 but netted around $20,000.00 that's what he and his family live on. Would you choose that? What would you do if you had to live on that or provide your own food? Would you consider paying a higher price for a gallon of milk, a pound of bacon, or an ear of corn a bargain of it meant you didn't have to invest your time in it? Why should a farmer (or soldier for that matter) work so hard and have to live on so little? What is the cost of that bargain? I am fortunate that Ron's job is what we live on and it has good benefits but I would like to get to the point of... well honestly I'm not sure, just further along that where I am with the farm currently.

Ron surprised me midday by coming home to help and with the help of a water pump he just picked up at Tractor Supply. I mentioned above that I think he's glad he doesn't have to do my job, farming is not 'his thing' which made his effort and willingness to help even more appreciated. His damsel was in distress and he was on his way. He changed out of his work clothes and put on some clothes to work in. Took the pump out of the car, read the instructions and lugged it to the barn to fire it up. Ron is a rule follower, me not so much, which makes the fact that the pump would not stay on even more frustrating, he followed the instructions to a t and every time he got it started and it was sucking water it would just die. Needless to say it'll be returned tomorrow. So I continued to use the buckets to bail the water out, knowing the weather was to turn very cold tonight, like -2! I had to get it done.

And we did! Then I decided to figure out what happened, which is when I discovered the burst pipe. (no idea why this is suddenly underlining itself.)

The barn water hose after the heat tape (which had stopped working), insulation and (burst) pipe were removed. It was tough because the temperature was dropping and everything was all wet which made our fingers freezing cold! I'd been through three pairs of gloves already! Ron and I muscled the old pipe off so I could take it to the local hardware store to get a replacement, because if we didn't get this fixed we had no water in the house until we could get a plumber out here to fix it!
Ron put the new pipe back on and I wrapped the heat tape around it and insulated it and we were good to go, hopefully not have to deal with this again for a while, or at least until we get a frost free hydrant!
We came in from the barn, thawed slightly and I cooked a huge pot of quinoa, stir-fried some veggies to add to it and looked forward to eating it. On one of the trips inside to the bathroom, or to get a drink, to warm up or something today, I ran to the basement, grabbed a frozen chicken from the freezer and stuck it in the crock-pot with a little water and an onion. It wasn't fancy, or the best thing I've ever made, but it was warm and there were a few other things that needed some serious attention.

So there you have it, another day in the life of this small farm farmer. A day for me that is not really unlike any other day really. I didn't go looking for a handout, grant, bailout, subsidy or any other 'out,' most small farmers I know don't. We just do what needs doing because it needs doing; so please remember that next time you're at a farmers market, joining a CSA, or stopping at a farm stand. The farmer may sell eggs for 4.00 a dozen or a pound of meat may very well be 7.00, the CSA share might run a couple hundred dollars and there is a reason for it. The reason is my darling, you're getting a bargain!


  1. Nicely written, and very insightful. I'm glad the pipe situation worked out, and everyone pulled together to get it done. Sorry to hear about your hen.

  2. Wow, what a day. I'm glad you survived, sorry about your hen (I feel the same way you do about my critters, glad you got it fixed and hope you have some down time, you deserve it! And your guy is pretty special!

  3. Well what a day ya'll had! What a great man coming home to help his "damsel in distress"!!
    Amazing the things we do to farm, and the ones who really appreciate it, really get it. And ya it is a bargain.
    Glad to hear all turned out well, and all the blessings of not shopping the day before... funny how providence comes when we least expect it. Thank God for it!
    Great post! Love the pics, funny how I now find more reasons to carry a camera all the time now. What to blog next, not that you want pipes to burst, but how to explain life on a farm... and all we do!

  4. I am pretty sure that you are talking about me and the planning? Well it sounds like you had a great day on the farm! Glad everything turned out okay!

  5. Robin LishernessFriday, March 04, 2011

    You did such a great job taking care of your sick chicken.  Kudos to you.I had a similar situation with a bantam leghorn.  She just seemed to be 
    giving up, a dull look in her eyes, no appetite.  I dropped water and 
    vitamins into her for several days and kept her isolated in a carrier in the coop.  She seemed to recover and for a few weeks was almost normal.  
    Then one morning I found her dead under the roost.  I had consulted 
    vets and friends with chicks, and everyone said, "There's really nothing 
    you can do for a sick chicken."  Well, she lived a few weeks longer than 
    anyone expected, and I felt better about comforting her.  But it surely 
    was sad laying her in the ground.  I never realized how attached you can become to a little bird like that.  And the other hens and her mate 
    mourned for her all that day.  Oh, yes, and I also had a partially flooded barn recently due to huge streams of melt-off.  Farming's an adventure, isn't it?

  6. You summed it up perfectly. Everything happens all at once, ready or not, regardless of well-meaning plans. Even if you enjoy it, it is hard work often under extreme conditions. And tired or sick, you can't opt out. No days off either.

    I wholly agree with your point about the true cost of food. I think you waste less when you produce it yourself too, because you appreciate the true cost of your efforts.

    As an aside, I've had a few older chickens die the exact same way. Thin, tail droops, pulls in head and doesn't feed or drink. Comb etc often goes reddish-purple. They just fade away over a couple of days. Vet says it's Leucosis (old age & tumor essentially). Incurable. Common in backyard flocks which allow their chickens to grow old naturally.

  7. Thank you for all your kind words.

    I think the most frustrating part with this hen was that she was not even a year, we'd just had her since the spring and had only been laying a couple months! But it's comforting to know that it has happened on other farms.

  8. If it happens to one of our young hens, the vet says Marek's disease, though the symptoms often include a wing down, or a leg pointing forward. Apparently, both are viral (one herpes and one retrcvirus) and all too common.

  9. hmm, thank you Jennifer, I've never heard of either, but it sounded more like the first illness you described. I'll have to check into them should I be concerned about losing the other hens?!

  10. If it's Marek's virus - sadly yes. You can vaccinate day olds against it, though the vaccine only reduces overall mortality. Definitely disinfect your henhouse with viricide (I use Virkon).

    I'm about to dispose of an old hen house because my only cases of Marek's affected hens housed here (affects hens more than roosters). It may be coincidental, but the vet agrees it could be harboring problems. Over 4 years I've lost about half of any unvaccinated bantam hens, just as they reached laying age.

    That's one of the reasons we've decided to stop hatching and keeping fancy bantams. We're sticking to hybrid layers and meat chickens only. With vaccinations, I've never lost either of those to Marek's.

    Leukosis is inevitable if you keep chickens into old age. It just means they have succumbed to a disease associated with a good long life.

    I'm no poultry expert; it's just what I've observed in my experience. We raise thousands of pheasants per year and have to deal with biosecurity and a myriad of diseases, so we get a lot of experience with sick birds.


So what's the view from your world about that? I'd enjoy hearing it.