Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Practice Practice Practice

This afternoon, I left work early.  Actually, I left earlier than the "early" I had originally intended.  We were due at our local packing plant before 6 pm this evening, but today's nasty wind & rain made C and I worry about impending darkness, loading conditions, and the safest trip possible.

I planned to leave the office around 2 or so, but by 12:30 I was so nervous I couldn't concentrate on the work at hand.  I alternated between bouts of feeling sick to my stomach, and welling tears.  I finished up and left at 1, thankful for the escape to my car and the radio.  Between tears and rainy it was a blurry ride home.  One of my old country favorites came on, and I had to laugh at how the love story might have been about farming...

Going out of my mind these days,
Like I'm walkin' round in a haze.
I can't think straight, I can't concentrate.
And I need to shave.

I go to work and I look tired.
The boss man says: "Son, you're gonna get fired,
This ain't your style," and from behind my coffee cup,
I just smile.

What a beautiful mess!
What a beautiful mess I'm in.
Spendin' all my time with you,
There's nothin' else I'd rather do.
What a sweet addiction that I'm caught up in.
'Cos I can't get enough,
Can't stop the hunger for your love.
What a beautiful, what a beautiful mess I'm in. 

This morning put salt in my coffee.
I put my shoes on the wrong feet.
I'm losin' my mind, I swear; It might be the death of me,
But I don't care.

Had you told me a year ago that C and I would own a little farmstead, in Michigan, and be taking our first pigs to slaughter before the year was out, I wouldn't have known what to say!  Not possible.  Too many moving pieces in Colorado, jobs, the house, our friends... but here we are, and it's a frightful and wonderful piece of work.  It truly does consume most of our time, energies, resources, but the rewards and satisfaction are immeasurable.  The relationships we have with the animals also are their own reward... but it makes parting such sweet sorrow.

When I got home, it was time for early evening feeding and chores.  The pigs get an afternoon snack of some kind every day when I get home from work— they know that when the car pulls into the driveway, snack-time is drawing nigh!  They came running from the back of their pasture, faces and legs black from the rich peat-y mud they turn over in their rooting exploits each day.  They make a particular grunt when they think food is coming to them— not quite a grunt, not nearly a whine, but a higher-pitched singsong call.  

For the last few days, we have had our trailer backed up to the pen, gate down.  We've been feeding them on the trailer so that they're used to getting on and off of it— the last thing you want while trying to load pigs is for them to panic or just plain refuse to go up the ramp.  The two pigs we planned to take typically hang out and eat together, and the two we're keeping tend to eat together.  That makes things fairly easy.  Put some treats in each of our two feeders, one on the trailer and one off, and the pigs will sort themselves out!  

All of the sleep I've lost over the past few days [and truly, weeks] thinking of every single detail I may have forgotten or overlooked, a what-if I may not have considered, a zombie invasion... it all fell away when Jack Sparrow and Rigatoni flung themselves up onto the trailer in their haste to get to the fresh apples and bread awaiting.  Ramp up, pins in, I climb out trying not to bust my nose open slipping on muddy Mucks... sigh of relief, laughter to diffuse tears.  It's go time.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Biting the Bullet

We've been lost in a whirlwind of activity as summer accelerated from the muggy days of August into September and October when everything is coming into harvest.  Jars upon jars of tomatoes are tucked away in our cellar with apple butter, pickles, and alcohol infusions.  Right now we have an entire cooler of the last of the vegetables from our garden that hung on until our first hard frost.  We took our first animals to slaughter a few weeks ago— 10 beautiful heavy ducks.

The schedule of a farmer is different than that of the modern person who considers "summer" to be over after Labor Day.  If tomatoes are still on the vine, I'd say it's still summer.  And only in autumn are meat animals typically ready for harvest.  The ducks were our first, but within the month we will also take 10 Thanksgiving turkeys and 20 chickens for processing as well.

But the really big one is coming up in just a few days.  We are taking two of our pigs to a local slaughterhouse, dropping them off Wednesday night and returning Thursday morning to get a tour of the place and see the kill.  I've been saying goodbye in some ways for weeks... extra treats, extra straw in their shelter, even just lingering near them, watching them play and root around and be themselves.  It is most definitely a mourning process along with the celebration of their life, the sacrifice they make to put food on your

Just before our boar Melvin was slated to go to the slaughterhouse, he succumbed to a week of brutal heat, with temperatures over 100 degrees during the day hardly cooling down at night.  In some ways, it was terrible to have to make the decision to put him down at home.  In others, it was a relief not to have to load him up onto a trailer and take him to a strange place for the last day of his life.  He laid down and it was over.  I took a shot of bourbon first.  I cried.  A somber mood settled over the farmstead.  It was over.

Hopefully, on Wednesday we will load up two of our pigs.  Jack Sparrow and Rigatoni.  They are accustomed to the trailer and we've been feeding them and giving treats on it so they're not afraid of it.  The best you can do as a caretaker of any animals is set them up for success, and do as much as possible to ensure they're calm.  We've done our best and can only hope that everything goes the way it should over the course of the next few days.  I struggle with the emotions of it all, and quite frankly, sometimes I don't do well with it.  I always cry.  It's exhausting but I wouldn't have it any other way.