What Farming Really Looks like
So, of course, I fill our website, Facebook and Instagram with cute pictures of lambs and silly pictures of ducks and piggies and such. Of course we like to show the heartwarming and adorable side of farming. It's the part that makes it worth it.
Awww! Look at those wittle wambies! Who doesn't love pictures of lambs and ducklings and calves that look like deer. AW!
But there is another side of farming. Most blogs and websites and such aren't going to show the ugly side, the hard side, the times when things get rough. Most of it we don't even have pictures of because we are stuck in the muck of it, trying to solve a problem. Like being ankle deep in a mud hole trying to find an underground water line leak, or handling a medical crisis with an animal. It's not my first instinct to pull out my phone and take pictures when literal shit is going down on the farm.
But I was cleaning out my files the other day and came across some weird and fun images that took me back to the issues we have seen on the farm over the years. Some of these are the types of stories we can laugh about now, but maybe we weren't laughing then. Some of them just show the raw truth about farming.
This is one of our first attempts at growing veggies. Remember, I'm from Michigan where if you drop a seed on the ground, it grows perfectly. I discovered blossom end rot in our tomatoes, which lead to some research and how to fix it. It didn't solve what to do when the sheep open a gate and eat your entire garden in one swoop...
Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry, and this random chicken decided to brood her chicks under the front porch, and then raise them there. The benefit was they were safe from hawks and owls! They actually were all successfully raised, but out of the 3, 2 were roosters, of course!
This was a long day of digging holes and setting up electric fencing. I was building a wind break for our fruit tree orchard. The electric fencing was to keep the sheep out.
I went to the neighbors house (see the yellow house in the image above) and watched this little stinker go under the fence and pull EVERY SINGLE TREE OUT OF THEIR HOLES. I tried to replant them, but they all died.
This looks like an adorable photo, there are even cuter pictures that include Shannon as a 2 year old sitting in the tub with the duckies, she loved it! (Nope, not sharing naked baby pictures here!) The truth behind this photo is that ducklings are MESSY and STINKY. Their tub time was usually used for them to swim, clean themselves up (and they all instantly poop when you put them in the tub). Their swim time was used to clean their brooder and replace all the wood chips. The entire HOUSE would stink of baby ducks and wet wood chips.
This is a reminder again that best laid plans don't always work out. This is Bridget. She was our second cow after Marlow. I had been wanting a belted Galloway to call my own, but her life was not a pleasant one. We got her from a less than reputable breeder (we should have known better, no one takes a beef calf away from it's mother before it is weaned). We got her home and struggled to bottle feed her, then she got sick. The vet came out and told us she had pneumonia, and chances are, this wasn't her first time. He also told us her jaw was broken and she was covered in scars from a possible coyote attack when she was little. That's why she struggled to bottle feed.
Her illnesses at a young age made her susceptible to a 100% fatal cattle disease. We had her for months, and she was sick almost the entire time. I had hoped the diagnosis was wrong and she would get better. But months of hand feeding, antibiotics, supplements and more - she passed away while I was at work one day, alone in the barn. I never cried so hard at work. My boss asked why I was crying, and I said "my cow died" and he responded "your cat died?" and I said "no, my COW!" I went home early that day.
Cute puppy pictures also come with not-so-cute puppy antics. Like this day when the puppies covered themselves with mud, but Atlas wanted absolutely nothing to do with getting bathed.
Pet ownership also comes with vet costs and managing a pet's health. This sometimes involves surgery, like spay and neuter. Oh Atlas!!
Of course, we have filled our hearts with happy memories of Atlas and all the other dogs that have gone before and after him. Part of farming is also saying goodbye.
Work has to get done when it has to get done. The looks like a wagon that is long gone from this farm, filled with compost that we are likely dragging out to our new greenhouse. The only way to get there was through the mud. People who think farming is glamorous and sexy have never actually farmed.
Farming also comes with finding balance between nature and nurture. While we love wildlife, we'd be much happier if birds like these found mice and voles to eat, instead of our young chickens.
Being in the business as long as we have, we have found some weird stuff at vet visits. This one might take the cake. A newborn lamb had a weird defect in his neck. We didn't know what it was, so we had the vet out. She removed a TOOTH that was growing in the side of his neck. WHAT?
Did I talk about muddy dogs? How about a farm house that has a dog door where they can come and go when they please. Can I tell you how fun it is to clean up after our boys after a rainy day, or a trip to the stink pond? After a bath, he would go right back outside and roll in the dirt, again. Oh Goliath!
I'd do anything to take his muddy self back, because sometimes on the farm, your critters just lay down for the last time, and tell you their work is done.
During a power outage, you have to do what you have to do to keep baby chicks or orphaned lambs warm. We've had to bring plenty of critters into the house and in front of the wood fireplace. This was a tent we made to warm up some very cold lambs on a cold winter night, without power.
We've learned a lot of sewing skills on the farm, when we find a random wound on an animal. I think this one, on Shirley, was in the middle of a chicken butcher day, we saw her all bloody. No idea what she got snagged on, but the vet was out and cleaned her up. She healed like a champ, but he had to use a LOT of lidocaine to get her stitched up. She really put up a fight!
This is a super cute photo, but bottle lambs are not part of the plan and they are hard work! They take multiple feedings every day and overnight. Thankfully, we can find solutions to help make this an easier task.
Not all lambings go as planned. This was a birth defect. Her sister had no hard palate in her mouth, and couldn't suckle or swallow and died in 3 days, even with tube feeding. This little one, we tried to stretch and massage her so her neck would straighten. It felt like it was getting better, but she required bottle feeding. After three weeks, she started having seizures. They kept getting worse, so we had to put her down. That was a really hard day.
Sometimes lambies just don't make it out OK. You can see that this one had a super twisted umbilical. It likely starved her out internally by not allowing in and out flows. The glove was there as a size reference, to show how teeny she was compared to lambs that do make it to full term. This was one of our first stillborns. It's not common, and it breaks my heart every single time. I always question what I did wrong and how I could have helped.
These next few photos show the flood of 2013. Our farm fared well. Our house didn't flood, but all the ground was soaked. There was some overflow through the barn, but there were also plenty of dry spots inside the barn for critters to get out of the rain. What, didn't we have an entire year's worth of precipitation over the course of 3 days?
See, I told you birds, and sheep could all get into the barn and out of the rain.
This rooster decided to chill out under a lilac bush, looking miserable. Walking around outside to try and pick up birds and move them to safety was a challenge too. Boots were slipping, coats would soak through with water and it would just be really hard to try and catch anything without falling into the mud yourself.
These not-so-brilliant birds didn't make it back to the barn, and hung out under our pergola on the back porch. I think some of them figured out how to go through the dog door into the garage to get out of the rain.
The ducks, however, thought it was all so lovely. Have you ever heard Eddie Izzard's routine about ducks? If not, you should listen to it here. It's hilarious.
Of course, regardless of the mud, the snow, power outages, stinky ducklings and everything else that makes farming hard, messy and smelly. The hardest part is caring for all the animals and trying to make the best calls we can for them.
We've faced Malignant Catarrhal Fever, Tetanus, cancer, copper poisoning, caseous lymphadenitus, mycoplasma and whatever the fuck happened to Herc, that we will never know. We've euthanized animals on the farm, we've laid with them in our laps and watched them die, we've frantically provided care to try and turn around a fatal fever, we've sat in the barn and tube fed sick sheep, we've brought baby lambs in the house for care, we've splinted broken legs, stitched up wounds, taken pets in for amputation after they were shot. We've done it all. And we'd do it all over again. The hard parts are always worth it for the good parts.